Home' Air Force News : March 31st 2011 Contents RCE
90TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL
March 31, 2011
Geoff 'Swampy' Marsh is part of
an elite club of pilots who flew
Spitfires in the Pacific in WWII
FLTLT BAZ BARDOE
Times are a-changin' says Dags
THAT TAKES ME BACK: Geoff 'Swampy' Marsh sits in the cockpit
of a MK VIII 'Grey Nurse' Spitfire aircraft, just like he did when he
Main photos: ACW Joanne Larsen
Engine: Rolls Royce Merlin or Griffon
Combat range: 1060km
Armament: 0.303", 0.5" and 20mm guns
FORMER RAAF fighter pilot Geoff
'Swampy' Marsh has a gait and an
attitude that belies his 84 years of
age.When he sat in the cockpit of a
Spitfire at the Avalon International
Airshow recently, the decades dis-
appeared and he was once again a
19-year-old sergeant about to face an
aggressive and determined enemy.
Mr Marsh is part of an elite club:
Australian pilots who flew Spitfires
in the Pacific theatre during WWII.
He flew with the famed 457SQN,
known as the Grey Nurse Squadron
because all their aircraft had shark
jaws painted on their fuselages.
He started basic training in
March 1943, straight out of the Air
"I was 18 and went straight in," he
said. "First there was initial training,
which was studies only, then Tiger
Moths for about two months and then
"In May 1944 I got my wings.
The altitude training was the most
valuable part of the training; it saved
my life a few times."
It was this component that taught
him valuable lessons about what his
body could stand up to in many of
his flying situations.
WOFF Geoff 'Dags' Dorward is
well placed to judge how times
have changed in the Air Force.
He is one of the service's
longest-serving members, hav-
ing enlisted as an apprentice on
January 18, 1960, just 39 years
after it was formed. He was 16.
He celebrated 50 years service
in April last year.
"I enlisted for 15 years as an
apprentice and lived in WWII
Nissen huts with eight boys to
a room, with a communal wash
room and toilets 100m away," he
"In winter, you had to be quick
as there was little hot water and
we had no air conditioning or
electric blankets. Only some of the
classrooms had wood heaters."
Things did improve in his third
year after new brick accommoda-
tion was constructed.
Apprentices were not permit-
ted to wear civilian clothes for
the first 12 months, and keeping
their uniforms in acceptable con-
dition had challenges not seen
"There were no washing
machines, only boilers. Our
uniforms were starched and our
shirts had removable collars.
"We had to attend compulso-
ry church and daily parades and
because of our age we were not
allowed to drink alcohol."
Food was adequate but never
really enough for young, hungry
boys and monotonous. WOFF
Dorward said "it was thrown on
to your plate, take it or leave it".
He believed pay and allow-
ances generally kept pace with
the cost of living or higher back
then. Apprentices received a
few guineas a fortnight and
when he graduated his pay was
10 guineas (equivalent to $21) a
"I received a massive pay rise
as an AC [receiving the adult
wage]. On pay day you lined up
and received your pay in cash," he
Single members all lived on
the base and paid no rations and
"Because you lived in, you had
a bed, you were fed three times a
day and your work was virtually
next door to you, therefore if you
had no pay left you were OK and
waited for next pay day.
"For married people it was
compulsory for a percentage
of their pay to be paid to their
wives into her bank account. This
ensured there was always money
coming into the household for
The Avalon airshow allowed Mr
Marsh the opportunity to talk to
77SQN Hornet pilot FLGOFF
Adam Grinyer. The pair talked
about the Spitfire and the Hornet,
It was in some ways a strange
time for a young Spitfire pilot. The
Japanese air force was largely absent
from the skies, but the ground forces
and navy were still very much a
threat. He spent time stationed at
Darwin, on standby, waiting for
attacks that never came, and then
was sent to Morotai. Although there
were virtually no aircraft at all in the
skies, there was a persistent enemy
presence on the ground and he spent
his missions strafing barges, trucks
and any other enemy assets he could
find.He recalls the squadron shot
down a 'Dinah' reconnaissance
aircraft, but for the most part it was
strafing and dive bombing.
The Spitfire was a superb aircraft
but Mr Marsh said operations were
hampered by its restricted range.
He said that every aircraft had its
own distinctive smell, a combina-
tion of what went into making it, the
fuel it used and other intangibles.
So when he entered the cockpit of
the Spitfire painted in his squadron's
colors at the airshow, he was instant-
ly transported back to 1944. He even
graciously posed for a photo in the
same pose as the one taken of him as
Past meets present:
and exchanged stories. It was
clear that despite the gulf in
time and technology, there was
an instant rapport between the
"It was great hearing sto-
ries from back when he flew in
WWII," FLGOFF Grinyer said.
"Nowadays we go through
four or five years of solid training
before we even think about being
put in a similar situation, whereas
Geoff would have been put into a
combat situation very soon after
"You have to take your hat
off to those pilots; it was pretty
impressive what they did. Just
talking to Geoff made you realise
that they haven't changed much
from then to now; his love of flying
and all that.
"Talking to him was really like
talking to any of the other pilots
at 77SQN. Pilots back then were
really the same as what we are like
now, so it was really great to meet
Geoff and have a chat."
IMPRESSED: FLGOFF Adam Grinyer talks to Swampy Marsh.
A LIFETIME OF AIR FORCE: WOFF Geoff Dorward was 16 when he
enlisted in 1960.
Photo: LAC Aaron Curran
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