The 5 Squadron RAAF 2017 Centenary of Formation Reunion
Canberra ACT 20-22nd October
On the weekend of the 20th October 2017, a total of 478 ex-serving members (and partners) of 5 Squadron gathered to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the formation of 5 Squadron RAAF. The reunion ran over the entire weekend.
Members attended the Last Post Ceremony at the Australian War memorial (AWM) to kick things off. Starting at 1655 hours, the Last Post Ceremony was a solemn and reflective moment where the President of the 4/5 Squadron Association, Bob Watts, laid a wreath by the Pool of Reflection. The members then moved to the 5 Squadron Plaque located in the grounds of the AWM where the RAAF Chaplain, Robyn Kidd made a short speech and rededicated the memorial. All the while the rain slowly fell from the sky. Few in the assembled throng being aware that many hours had been devoted to having a UH-1H Iroquois overfly the ceremony. Until the rain...
A rather happy and upbeat crowd then started to rekindle old friendships causing somewhat of a headache for our poor Photographer. I vaguely remember hearing something along the lines of 'herding cats'. Some amazing photos ensued. Photography done, we retired to Poppy's Cafe for a quick drink whilst the AWM caterers readied the ANZAC Hall for our arrival. 60 Bottles of red wine and 20 bottles of white wine, unknown amounts of beer and one hour later, we moved into the ANZAC Hall. The evening was amazing with friends waiting to say hello at every turn. I have NEVER seen so many smiles and hugs. The buses arrived around 2100 to take the older members of our fraternity home but the stayers hung on as long as the AWM staff would permit. I heard a rumour of a taxi ride to some poor unsuspecting members home at 0200 on Saturday morning.
Hanna lands at Defence Establishment Fairbairn
Saturday morning saw clear and cool blue skies over Canberra. The day was left free so that members could catch up with old mates in a more intimate environment. A number of groups got together during the day for lunch. Meanwhile the committee continued with the hangar 46 setup until we were visited by sounds very familiar to all present, the familiar WOK WOK WOK of an Iroquois helicopter approaching the tarmac hardstand. I could swear I heard the hangar expel a gasp of excitement. The Huey named 'Hanna' is a firefighting appliance based at Cessnock, and is painted, somewhat uncharacteristically, red in a salute to her new role, but that didn't concern anybody present. The sound, smell and touch was enough to have more than one member shed a tear or two.
Hanna was ground-handled to her exhibition spot near the hangar entry door where the excited organisers arranged for a group photo. The sound of Hanna overflying Canberra was also heard by nearly every 5 Squadron alumni in town with one member stopping at a car park exit and alighting from the vehicle just to watch her fly over much to the concern of those stopped behind him.
Saturday afternoon the buses started transporting 478 members and partners to Defence Establishment Fairbairn. Our Reunion Credentials were all that were needed to access the base and members de-bused adjacent to Hanna so generously loaned to us by Phil O'Driscoll the mayor of Humpty Doo in the NT. We owe Phil an enduring debt of gratitude for his generosity. In fact a number of members have offered their LAME skills at no cost to Phil, so now Hanna is part of our family. We must also thank Richard 'Broomy' Brogham and Dave 'Rowie' Rowe for flying her in for us. Broomy and Rowie missed the Friday night gig as they were socked in at Cessnock.
The arriving members walked down the entry corridor next to a fence wrap depicting the history of 5 Squadron and into our Ancestral Home, Hangar 46. The hangar had put on her best clothes and completed the ensemble with a marquee generously funded by you, the Wokers! Many a drink (I will post the numbers when we have finished counting the empties) was had and many a tale, tall and otherwise was told. I saw many a grown man with a tear in his eye as they chatted to and remembered old friends.
'We had a fence, inside a hangar, inside a three metre fence'
The evening got off to a loud start. How do you get a raucous crowd of 478 to stop talking and pay attention? Just play a high resolution video of the arrival of an Iroquois helicopter at full noise... Peter Rat Cullerne then got proceedings underway by giving the obligatory housekeeping address. One of the funnier 'Rat' quips 'Please don't get lost - believe me that was one of the things we had to cover on the risk assessment. We had a fence, inside a hangar, inside a three metre fence and I got asked to make sure people don't get lost.' Housekeeping covered, the members gathered next to Hanna for a group photo with one of the more 'enthusiastic' 34 Squadron staff trying to 'herd the cats' Thank you Abby, your presence at our reunion was one of many rays of sunshine.
'As you know VIP transport has very little in common with Search and Rescue'
Back in the hangar, Rat introduced 'the Man who said yes in the first place', Wing Commander Gus Porter, the Commanding Officer of 34 Squadron. If it were not for Gus, our Saturday night venue would not have been Hangar 46. He gave enthusiastic initial support for the Hangar Bash and helped fight a rear-guard action when third parties tried to rain on our parade.
A beautifully crafted welcome address followed. Gus, whose father Don, (a 5 Squadron alumni himself) was in the audience, outlined the similarities between 34 Squadron and 5 Squadron and commented that his fathers' stories about 5 Squadron, told to him as a child, was the primary factor for his Air Force career. ‘When I was at home around Thomas’s (Gus’s Son) age, I remember my dad telling the stories of helicopter crews, the adventures that they had - to be honest as a kid they sounded like super heroes flying magical machines. They rescued people, they fought bad guys, and they even flew along foreign borders to stop entire nations fighting each other…’
A simply amazing speech. Gus you are forever an honorary member of the 5 Squadron fraternity.
'Pilot Officer get your hands out of your pockets'
After dinner our keynote speaker Sir Angus Houston took to the lectern to deliver the keynote speech. Full of amusing anecdotes, Angus tells the story of his first day at 5 Squadron ‘It was a bloody cold day, it was the middle of July, I put my hands in my pockets then there is this almighty roar – "Pilot Officer get your hands out of your pockets you’re setting a bad example to my troops"… Little did I know at the time that this was the normal warm welcome from Clive Cotter [WOE 5 Squadron]’ Angus went on to talk warmly and extensively of his time at 5 Squadron.
A couple of presentos were then given out by the committee. Rat Cullerne was the first on the list. Rat has been volunteering to the community for over 25 years. He has helped the Scouts, Rural Fire Service and Vietnam Veterans. He has held every position in the 4/5 Squadron Association in the more than 20 years that he has been involved with us. Angus Houston presented an internal etched crystal to Rat. The inscription reads
'To Peter 'Rat' Cullerne. The world would be a far better place if filled with people like you. For 25 plus years of volunteering to the community and especially the 4/5 Squadron Committee. With the greatest admiration and respect from all the members of the 5 Squadron family.
Rat was speechless which was a good thing. It was getting late!
Sid McGibbon was a member of 4 Squadron. In WWII 4 and 5 Squadrons were sister squadrons. The two associations merged when age got the better of the 4 Squadron members. Sid was actively involved with the 4 Squadron Committee for more than 70 years until Rat and Neil 'Thommo 2' Thompson suggested at their final meeting that the two associations become one. Sid was presented with a photograph of him sitting in front of a Wirraway (that he had worked on during the second world war) at the 4 Squadron Centenary in 2016. Sid turns 100 in November 2017 but he still had the energy to get up walk to the lectern and thank the assembled throng. Sir Angus presented Sid with his Presento. The Inscription read 'Presented to Sid McGibbon by the 4/5 Squadron RAAF Association Members in recognition of 100 years of service to life and 70 years of service to the 4/5 Squadron RAAF Association Sub-Branch'
Dutchy presented Gus Porter (Commanding Officer 34 Squadron) with a presento for his assistance in making the 2017 5 Squadron Hangar Bash a reality. Thanks Gus we are forever in your debt.
Neil 'Thommo 2' Thompson presented Rob 'Swanny' Swanwick - WOFF of the RAAF - with a presento for assisting the committee in getting use of Hangar 46. Swanny worked in the background and was instrumental in getting the quest for the hangar started. The Presento also acknowledges the efforts by RAAFHQ which culminated in a most successful event.
WOFF Matt Davis was our point of contact for all of the work that went on within the hangar. Matt was a pleasure to work with and both he and his team worked tirelessly to ensure that we had a wonderful evening in our old home. Matt was presented with a little something from Rat Cullerne and the nameless volunteers from 34 Squadron were also recognised. Matt you and your team are the best! Thank you.
The final presentos for the night went to Dutchy and Averil Holland for their efforts in organising the 2017 Centenary of Federation Reunion. Averil was presented with a gift and Dutchy received a framed photo of an ARDU Iroquois silhouetted in the sun. The inscription reads
Presented to Dutchy Holland for your exceptional efforts and unwavering persistence culminating in the 5 Squadron Centenary of Formation Reunion 2017
The presento was given by Angus Houston
Lady Houston then cut the 5 Squadron Centenary of Formation ceremonial cake
The evening concluded with the last bus leaving around 2330 but the committee and a group of dedicated helpers including Tania Strain started to clean up and then had a drink with the 34 Squadron volunteers
Sunday morning dawned bright and cool and the committee and a few helpers cleaned up the remaining rubbish and got the hangar ready for the bump out on Monday morning. It had been decided the previous evening that our bubbly Abby from the 34 Squadron Volunteers should accompany Hanna the Huey across to the Canberra Helicopters Hangar for the Canberra Helicopters Open Day. Where our intrepid pilots Richard 'Broomy' Brougham (R) and David 'Rowie' Rowe (L) got in on the photo action. Brommy and Rowie missed the Friday night AWM event as the were socked in by the rain at Cessnock. Thanks guys for making the 2017 reunion such a memorable event.
About 170 people came to have a closer look at Hanna and Canberra Helicopters Squirrel which were open for display and a bit of a touch and feel. A sausage sizzle was provided by the Association with help from Bungendore Rotary.
The final official event of the weekend was held at the Ainsley Football Club where a larger than expected crowd of about 300 gathered to continue the camaraderie of the previous days. The Ainsley event was purposely low key and I saw more than a couple of addresses change hands.
The evening finished about 2130 but there is a rumour of a certain Bob Fenwick and Boaty among others who left looking for Maccas around 0230 the following morning.
The weekend of festivities finished much to soon an members departed for their home ports. 5 Squadron left Canberra with some impressive records set. We drank the Australian War Memorial dry. On Saturday night we drank in three hours an amount that had been calculated as 1.5 times the amount consumed at similar civilian events and had to get two additional trailer loads of grog from Bungendore cellars. We renewed old friendships and spent time chatting with people we would not have known during our years in Hangar 46.
On behalf of the committee I would like to thank each and every one of you for attending the 2017 reunion. The Committee spent a year organising this event and at times it almost got too much for a couple of us. We spent a fair amount of time putting out bushfires created by people that seemed to have nothing better to do than make life difficult for us. It is somewhat ironic that our Huey, "Hannah" after serving a life in the military, now does the same job!