NINETY-year-old former World War Two flight lieutenant James Nolan cheated death three times during his RAAF service. Having survived the war, Mr Nolan continued flying planes for fun and only stopped last year. ‘‘That was only because I now have trouble getting in and out of the cockpit,’’ he said.
Mr Nolan and his wife, Dorothy, live in Leonay and have lived in the Penrith region since they moved to Emu Plains in 1979. He joined the Australian army in 1939, when World War Two broke out, but transferred to the RAAF in 1941. ‘‘I did my airforce training in Canada then went to England,’’ he said. Japan then entered the war on Germany’s side, posing a possible threat to Australia.
‘‘[Australian Prime Minister John] Curtin demanded of [British Prime Minister Winston] Churchill that all Australian pilots be returned to defend our country,’’ Mr Nolan said. However, he said that once they did, American General Douglas MacArthur relegated them to garrison duty.
By agreement, General MacArthur commanded all Allied forces, including Australians, in the Pacific theatre. ‘‘MacArthur insisted on putting our wonderful fighter pilots on garrison duty,’’ Mr Nolan said. ‘‘He insisted on capturing different Pacific islands and moving on, leaving us to reinforce them. ‘‘But he sacrificed a lot of lives of inexperienced American pilots, who could have carried out garrison duties while our more experienced fighter pilots could have been used.’’
He said this caused deep bitterness among Australian pilots, some of whom threatened to resign.
‘‘I myself was devastated,’’ Mr Nolan said.
‘‘I saw little active service because we were essentially reinforcing [the Papua New Guinea capital] Bougainville, where there was little Japanese activity. ‘‘You can’t imagine how disappointed we were; with far more skills than the American pilots had, only to be given garrison duty.’’
But he said this did not mean the Australians were out of harm’s way.
‘‘We had a greater risk of being killed in an accident, than by the enemy,’’ he said…