3 Squadron LIFETIMES

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President of 3SQN Association Western Australia.

The Very Last of 3SQN’s WW2 Veterans.
14 May 1920 to 12 April 2023.  Aged 102. 

Felix in 2016.

“A character through and through - ‘til the end - who truly embodied the SPIRIT of 3 Squadron and his mates. 
We have been privileged to have known Felix, and his generation, in our lifetimes.”  - Vinny IERVASI.

“Felix ran out of friends - so he pissed off too!  Farewell MOGGY.”  - John SAINSBURY.

A heartfelt, respectful celebration of Felix’s life was held on 3 May at Fremantle.  [The video of proceedings is available online.]  Two 3SQN F-35s made the transcontinental journey from Tindal via Curtin to Pearce to honour Felix, and one of them made a memorable fast and low pass over the funeral – just the way that Felix would have wanted it!

Felix’s War Experiences:
[As recorded in an excellent Remembrance Day 2016 interview - featured in The West Australian newspaper.]

They endured scorching heat; fierce dust storms; constant attacks by enemy aircraft, which sent them diving for protection in slit trenches chiselled out of the earth; and desert scorpions.  They had to toss a coin to see who was first to wash in the meagre water supplies; their poor diet left them with nasty sores on their bodies; and they endured long stretches on duty without leave. 

And they lost many of their mates during the titanic World War II struggle that played out in the Middle East and North Africa.  But the mates of No.3 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force, stuck together, worked for each other and got the job done.  Among those who did their country proud in those dark days was Felix SAINSBURY.

Felix was working for Sydney Atkinson Motors in Perth when the war broke out.  One lunchtime he and a group of mates decided to go and enlist.  “Every second guy was joining up, all my mates at work said ‘come on, let’s get into it’.  I got into the queue to be a pilot, there were thousands in the line.  I said to the chap ‘What’s something interesting?’, and he said ‘Armaments’, so I went into the Armaments section.”  And so on October 28, 1940, Felix joined the RAAF and, after learning about servicing and fitting all types of guns, arming bombs and loading them on aircraft, bomb disposal and air gunnery, he shipped out from Fremantle in July 1941, headed to war.

He stayed in the Middle East and then Africa for almost two years - and while there he defied regulations by keeping diaries and taking photos.  The original diaries are now with the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, but he has also put his recollections together in a book, Ground Crew: A Middle East Diary.  In it he has recorded his journey, including the hardships and the close calls when under attack by German and Italian planes - but also the humour which used to see them through.

The dust was a never-ending problem: “The sand sticks into the surface of the eyeballs and has to be removed by deadening the eyes and the sand flicked out by some metal instrument.”  And then there were nights such as October 14, 1941: “Slept in our bedrolls next to our truck during the worst sandstorm we’ve had... dust and sand everywhere.  When we rolled them up in the morning there were dozens of big black scorpions clinging to the bedrolls underneath.”

When they got leave, it often meant heading for Cairo, or Alexandria.  Leave on March 25th 1942 in Alexandria didn’t go as planned:  “After a good hot bath, shave and into our Air-Force Blues, we book in at the Syracuse Hotel. Seventh-floor room with a little Mediterranean style balcony.  Lovely soft beds.  Everything looks rosy!  Well, did we get a surprise.  Bloody bugs in the bed like roos,” he wrote.  They shook out the sheets and lay them on the balcony marble floor, hoping to get rid of the bugs, “when all hell broke loose”Ack ack guns on the hotel roof opened up.  “Would you believe it?  We copped two air raids, one on top of the other,” he wrote.  “Bombs poured onto the city, explosions echoed through the streets... We might as well go back to the bloody desert, at least we can get into a slit trench there!”

On January 11, 1942, he wrote of the terrible toll of war“Often a pilot went out on a dawn operation and did not return.  It is not long before his empty place in the tent is filled by somebody else.  Later, somewhere out in the trackless desert wasteland, a wandering Arab will find the tangled wreck of an aircraft and the remains of its pilot.  Others are still waiting to be found and others will never be found.  The drifting sand has covered them...  This must be the loneliest, (most) unforgiving place on this Earth in which to finish your life.”

Sometimes it was a close mate who was lost.  On December 3, 1942, Felix wrote about fellow Armourer and tent mate, Don “Curly” RILEY, from NSW, who had finished cleaning his gun and was walking past another mate who was working on a weapon.  It accidentally fired.  “Curly passed in front of it.  A million-to-one chance.  Five rounds struck his body, wrist, arm, upper body and head, killing him instantly.”

Then there was the fate of a recently-arrived pilot, whose plane burst into flames after it crash-landed.  “We could see him (the pilot) desperately trying to pull himself up and out of the cockpit,” Felix wrote.  “There was nothing we could do ... (we were) forced to just stand and watch Sgt Beard slowly burn to death.”  Such losses had a profound impact on them all, for they were an exceptionally close group.

Their mateship was sealed early on by their commanding officer, Peter JEFFREY.  “He said if we are going to survive, we have to work as a team,” Felix said.  “So no saluting, and if you see someone digging a trench and he needs a hand, go and help him - doesn’t matter about rank.  That’s how we survived.  We were such mates, we would do anything for each other.”

In July 1943, Felix made it back to WA, and went to Geraldton, where he passed on his Armaments skills to others.  After the war he returned to his old job, married Muriel McLeod and had three children.  But his days in the desert stayed with him for some time.  “When I first came back I had some pretty terrible dreams,” he said.  “All of us did, you would wake up yelling.  It gradually receded.  I try not to remember the bad things.  I remember the good times.” 

Like the humour in the lighter moments - such as the exploits of the Squadron mascot, a monkey named Buzz“Boy, could he drink a can of grog!” Felix said.  “But when he had a hangover he was cranky and you could not go near him.”  Buzz was looked after by pilot Tiny CAMERON, who was eventually taken as a POW to Italy.  Once the war ended, Tiny collected Buzz and smuggled him onto the ship back to Queensland.  [Buzz ended up retiring in Brisbane Zoo.]

Then there were the stories about beer, which was a precious commodity in the desert.  Naturally the Squadron was delighted when given a case.  But how to get the bottles cool? 

“One of the boys said he would sort it out and the beer would be cool by morning,” Felix wrote.  
- When morning came, they followed him to a beach, where he had buried the grog close to the water’s edge, and marked the place with a stick.  The tide had come in and the stick was nowhere to be found.

“You should have seen that beach a few hours later,” Felix wrote.  “It looked like a ploughed paddock! 
- The grog was never found!”

Obit. compiled by James Oglethorpe, with 2016 quotes (Malcolm Quekett) from the West Australian newspaper.

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