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Airmen’s lives remembered at memorial service

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Max Davies
Max Davies
Max is a journalist for the North Central Review. He joined the paper as a cadet journalist in 2021 and graduated from La Trobe University in 2023. He takes a keen interest in motorsport and the automotive industry.

By Max Davies

AUGUST 6 marked 80 years since a Royal Australian Air Force, RAAF, Beaufighter crashed into Mt Disappointment.

A commemoration at Wandong Hall on Saturday remembered all airmen who lost their lives on the mountain between 1942 and 1953.

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An RAAF memorial plaque was unveiled at the summit of the mountain on August 5 last year, however due to COVID-19 restrictions many relatives of the pilots who died were unable to attend the event.

The Friends of Disappointment and Wandong History Group contacted 44 relatives of eight airmen who lost their lives on the mountain between August 5, 1942 and July 21, 1953, with 37 attending Saturday’s event at Wandong Hall.

Dignitaries from the RAAF, Returned and Services League, RSL, and Federal Parliament were also in attendance.

Friends of Disappointment administrator Trevor Viénet said it was special to be able to invite relatives of the lost airmen to attend and remember.

“For the families, they’ve heard the stories from their parents about the loss of a brother or sister, and that’s been handed down,” he said.

“They’re honouring their memory on behalf of their families.”

On August 5, 1942, pilot officer Leslie Langusch and sergeant Norman Greasley died when their RAAF Beaufighter Mark 1C crashed on Mt Disappointment.

The plane had departed Richmond, NSW, en route to Laverton in Victoria, and after the aircraft failed to arrive within the flight endurance time, it was reported as missing.

Following an extensive search, the wreckage was located about 300 metres north of the summit of the mountain on August 8, 1942.

Relatives of both airmen from Queensland and Victoria attended Wandong Hall.

On May 25, 1944, two RAAF Vutlee Vengeance dive-bombers crashed into Mt Disappointment during a period of low cloud and fog on the mountain.

Pilot officer Ralph Erskine and flight sergeant John Hall, along with crew members sergeant Phillip West, flying officer Kenneth Wood, and corporal William Falahey all died on a ferry mission from Laverton to Bowen, Queensland after their original route closed, forcing them to fly directly over the Whittlesea township and eventually Mt Disappointment in poor weather conditions.

Relatives from Queensland and Victoria were in attendance on Saturday.

On July 21, 1953, trainee pilot Terence Hallinan lost his life when his RAAF Wirraway crashed into Mt Disappointment during a night-time training exercise.

Flying in a cross-country exercise that took him from Point Cook, to Cressy, Ballarat, Bacchus Marsh and then back to Point Cook, Mr Hallinan’s last radio contact reported his position as Bacchus Marsh, however receivers felt the transmission came from further north.

A Trans Australian Airlines aircraft near Kilmore also heard the transmission and felt the aircraft was nearby, with its pilot instructing his co-pilot to keep watch in case evasive action was necessary.

The next day the search began with a focus on Bacchus Marsh before extending as far as the Grampians, however it was not until August 16, 1954 when the wreckage was located by forestry commission workers in a clearing near the top of Mt Disappointment.

Mr Hallinan’s three sisters, who waited 69 years for the recognition of their family’s loss, attended the Wandong event, along with other relatives from Queensland.

Mr Viénet said this year would provide an opportunity for relatives of the airmen to view the plaque after difficulties last year.

“Events last year sadly prevented the attendance of many of the family members, and today we hope to provide some comfort and peace for those families, a chance to see the plaque erected in honour of those loved ones,” he said.

“So today for those family members that are able, we will show you the plaque, you will get a sense of the area where your family loved one died and have a chance to reflect and remember them and take some peace from knowing your loved one died in this beautiful place.”

Also acknowledged at the event were the lives lost in the helicopter crash that occurred on the mountain in March this year.

Attendees visited the Mt Disappointment memorial on Saturday afternoon, following the official proceedings at Wandong Hall.

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