Schoolboy prankish humour helped Don deal with war drama

STILL GOOD HUMOURED: Don Pitt and his wife, Joyce, at their Southside home.
STILL GOOD HUMOURED: Don Pitt and his wife, Joyce, at their Southside home. Craig Warhurst

SOUTHSIDE Second World War veteran Don Pitt could not face Anzac Day until a few years ago when a friend convinced him to attend Gympie commemorations.

"Until then he would not think of it," his wife, Joyce, said.

He does mention the fearful task of delivering an unarmed boat full with 1200 tonnes of TNT from Townsville to the battlefront and the time he thought an enemy submarine had surfaced beside the vessel, but he does not dwell on the horrors.

"We'd just left Australia behind when it came up alongside the boat," he said.

"It was only a whale, but if it had been a sub we'd have been finished.

"I couldn't face Anzac Day because of what happened to two of our blokes.

"We all came home except for two.

"In one case, we were supposed to be flying home to Melbourne, but we landed in Townsville and caught the train from there.

"One bloke was so excited to get back to his home town he hailed a cab and rushed out into the middle of the street and got run over.

"One pilot shot down our first Zero, and the next day he was waiting to take off at one end of the runway.

"A Kittyhawk was waiting at the other end.

"They both got clearance to take off and they collided.

"Everything was dangerous," he said, but he then describes the schoolboy prankish humour that helped him deal with the loneliness and threat.

"I started off in 79 Squadron and finished in 33 in the islands off Papua New Guinea.

"When we got to New Guinea the weather was against us.

"The army blokes, with only a camouflaged log for protection, were starving.

"We threw a loaf of bread to them.

"When we got to Good Enough Island, they taught us how to take our gas masks to the trenches and how, if the enemy came, we were to fire on them.

"It was raining. And, when I say raining, I mean it was teeming down.

"They told us to get in a trench, but we sort of just lay there. The officers jumped in and it was full of water.

"Overnight, the Yanks came in and made an airstrip.

"There were big bombers, Kittyhawks, Mustangs, Corsairs, Thunderbolts.

"The idea was to bomb Rabaul from there.

"I was a messman. I had to be working by about 4.30am to get the pilots their breakfast. So it was my job to dish out the tinned beef.

"I left school at 14 to train to be a jockey, but by 18 I wanted to be a pilot.

They didn't take me at first because the doctor said I was too small.

"The second time I had to stand up on my toes - and that's how I got in.

Being seven stone (about 49kg), I had trouble marching with a 180lb pack (just under 90kg).

"It came to dinner time but I was too tired. I went to bed.

"About 10pm they came and woke me and told me it was morning and I had to be on parade. They got me, but I snuck into their tents and kicked out the legs from their stretchers so they fell flat on the ground.

"We never got any mail for six months and then there was nothing for me.

"So one of the blokes wrote me a letter saying, 'sorry you didn't have any mail'. It made me feel a little less lonely," he said.

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