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May 13, 2010
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Geoff Plunkett and
HOW would you feel if you sought
compensation for exposure to mustard
gas only to be told, "Wrong war, mate.
We never had any in WWII" and were
then referred to a psychiatrist?
Yet that was the bizarre situation
in which the former CO of one of
Australia's most secret units found
He was the CO of the RAAF's
Chemical Warfare armourers and on
November 11, 2009, three surviv-
ing members of the unit attended a
plaque-laying ceremony at Glenbrook,
NSW, to commemorate the men who
cared for Australia's stocks of chemi-
cal weapons during the war.
They were Geoff Burn, Doug Bain
and Arthur Lewis and they had waited
64 years for their service to be recog-
The men had served at a top secret
weapons storage facility at the old
Glenbrook railway tunnel, near RAAF
The plaque depicts armourers sit-
ting on filled mustard gas canisters,
the Glenbrook tunnel entrance and a
written passage acknowledging their
service from 1942 to 1946.
Mr Burn said the plaque had
brought them some relief.
"This plaque will be great for suc-
cessive generations to know about.
"This should have happened years
ago but we couldn't get any recogni-
tion out of the government," he said.
"I had lots of burns from the mus-
tard gas and I've had treatment all my
SGT Jon Marshall
SADLY 1SQN lost the opportunity
to meet a former member who was
renowned in the Air Force and in ci-
vilian life when one of our own, SGT
John Bingham (ret'd), passed away
on March 16 in Hervey Bay.
We did, however, have the oppor-
tunity to have an insight into his life.
CO 1SQN WGCDR Glen Braz
got the message about Jack's passing
and tasked the unit to organise rep-
resentation at his funeral. "A large
group from 1SQN were in the US
at the time but those who were still
at Amberley did not hesitate when I
asked for volunteers," WGCDR Braz
"1SQN has a proud history and
it is a privilege for the unit to hon-
our those who have served before
us. We remember their sacrifice and
we strive to honour their legacy. We
enjoyed spending time research-
ing SGT Bingham's service and it
was quickly apparent that he had
achieved so much in serving his
From our research we found that
Jack had done more in his seven
years in the Air Force than many of
us do in a lifetime.
Born in Bombay, India, on August
28, 1914, Jack joined the RAAF at
Laverton on December 4, 1939 as
an aircraft rigger. He was posted to
1SQN in Singapore in April 1940.
1SQN moved bases several times
as the war progressed and each time
the base was bombed.
In April 1942, he surrendered
to the Japanese and spent the next
three and a half years in POW camps
working on the Burma railway.
He was released in August 1945
and returned to Melbourne and dis-
charged in January 1946. He then set
up an engineering business until he
retired to Hervey Bay.
He also wrote his autobiography
in his book My Life.
Deadly duty acknowledged at last
1SQN farewells one of its own
life," Mr Bain said. "You could taste
it in the air."
Air Force was represented by
GPCAPT Graeme Davies.
"I talked with the three gentle-
men and enjoyed that very much,"
GPCAPT Davies said.
"While such occasions are always
special, this one was particularly so
for me as these gents and I share a
similar background. I enlisted as an
armament fitter and then commis-
sioned as an armament engineer.
"I subsequently undertook special-
ist EOD training with the US Navy,
which included chemical weapon
training, and went to Iraq as a UN
Weapons Inspector in 1992.
"So we shared a chemical weapon
Known as the Mustard Gas Men,
the armourers handled the one million
chemical weapons that were imported
into Australia from the UK and US
between 1942 and 1946.
The weapons were vital to the
defence of Australia. Intelligence had
reported that as the Japanese swept
down through South East Asia, they
carried a range of chemical weap-
ons and during their invasion of
Manchuria in China they had shown a
willingness to use them.
Initially, unloading of the drums
of bulk mustard gas was the respon-
sibility of untrained stevedores on the
However, after the disastrous
unloading of drums from the ship
Idomeneus where stevedores were
gassed and one died, the RAAF
formed a specialist, trained chemical
weapons unit to handle, transport
and then destroy the stocks.
A primary duty was to release
the excess pressures which con-
tinually developed in the bombs
and bulk storage drums. The bungs
were unscrewed and the lethal
mustard gas vapour was released.
As the temperatures often reached
the high 40s the men were unable
to wear the anti gas gear designed
for the cooler UK climate and suf-
fered gas burns.
After the war, the RAAF's
director of armaments, GPCAPT
Ivor James Lightfoot, described
their service as outstanding and
noted their "arduous and danger-
"The intake of chemical war-
fare stocks involved much hazard-
ous work in the off-loading from
ships," GPCAPT Lightfoot said.
"From November 1945 to April
1946, chemical warfare personnel
engaged in the destruction of mus-
tard and phosgene gas stocks. The
disposal of these gas stocks ranks
with the more difficult and danger-
ous tasks undertaken by RAAF
ground staff personnel.
"Personnel have worked for
long periods in respirators ... men
at times literally paddled in liq-
uid phosgene ... service respirators
broke down and nearly all person-
nel became casualties."
For more information, visit http://
from left, Geoff Burn, Doug Bain,
GPCAPT Graeme Davies, David
Bradbury MP and Arthur Lewis
reminisce in front of the Mustard
Men commemorative plaque.
DEADLY HAUL: Left, the
Glenbrook tunnel storage depot
with some drums of mustard gas
stored outside for pressure vent-
ing. Photos: courtesy Geoff Plunkett
GASWORKS: Above from left, CW
armourers at Glenbrook pause for this
1944 photo. Geoff Burn is third from
left. Note Doug Bain's name on the
RECOGNITION: Right, the new plaque,
featuring the photo above.
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