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Bylands plane crash, wartime history remembered

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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

A LOST piece of wartime history from the Kilmore district was recalled at a service on the weekend, as members of the Returned and Services League, RSL, family members and servicemen and women gathered to remember two men who were killed in a plane crash at Bylands 80 years ago.

On January 15, 1943, a prototype CA-4 Wackett Bomber crashed on a Bylands property owned by Tom and Ann Comans, hitting a shed and narrowly avoiding the Comans family and their house.

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Squadron Leader Jim Harper, Commonwealth Air Corporation, CAC, test pilot Jim Carter and power plant engineer Lionel Dudgeon were the three men onboard the bomber on that flight, but only Mr Harper survived the crash after escaping by parachute.

June Ryan and Don Comans, two of the Comans children, were four and seven respectively at the time of the crash. They attended the service in Kilmore on Saturday and recalled their experience of the incident.

“I was seven years of age and for me it was a real event, I didn’t realise the significance of two people losing their lives, but my father did. It must’ve been very hard for him because he had to assist the local undertaker,” Mr Comans said.

“It didn’t frighten me one bit, we were only about 35 metres from [the crash]. It crashed about 70 metres from the house, but June and I were actually standing about 35 metres away from where it hit the ground.”

Both siblings were pleased to see the strong turnout for the service, especially as it had initially seemed unlikely that a service would be held before the Kilmore-Wallan RSL sub-branch became involved in hosting the event.

“I think it’s been a wonderful event, it’s great that [the pilots] were remembered,” Mr Comans said.

“I thought it wasn’t going to happen, especially when [Lionel Dudgeon’s son] Ian lived in Canberra, but it’s amazing what can be achieved with technology now,” Mrs Ryan said.

Ian Dudgeon, who was six months old at the time of the crash, said it was an opportunity to get ‘closure’ on the incident and reflect on the joint contribution of members the Royal Australian Air Force, RAAF, and the CAC during the war.

Ian Dudgeon, son of Lionel who died in the plane crash at Bylands, shared his story on the people involved with the wartime efforts. ​

“I never knew [my father] obviously, but it was an incident that was a footnote during World War Two and a very small thing compared to the size of the war,” he said.

“It was an opportunity to put closure to him, but also to recognise the service of the co-pilot and to recognise the contribution to aviation of the survivor. It’s not just one issue, it’s not just the Dudgeon family – it’s a collective recognition and a collective memorial.”

To his surprise, Mr Dudgeon was presented a certificate of gratitude by Kilmore-Wallan RSL sub-branch president Rod Dally, signed by both Member for McEwen Rob Mitchell and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in appreciation of the direct involvement in the war industry in Australia.

“I’m still getting over it, it was a tremendous initiative on behalf of the RSL to do that. I’m very proud to get it on behalf of my father,” Mr Dudgeon said.

“In the sense of civilian participation [like Lionel Dudgeon], to me it’s appropriate that they are all recognised together with the military elements from other areas.”

The Kilmore-Wallan RSL organised and hosted the event after being approached by Mr Dudgeon, and Mr Dally said it was a strong example of what RSL was all about.

RAAF Wing Commander Rob Gill speaking at the service to mark the deaths of two men who were killed in the prototype CA-4 Wackett Bomber crash at Bylands in 1943. ​

The service featured a range of speakers including Mr Dally, Ian Dudgeon, historian and granddaughter of Tim and Ann Comans Liz Pidgeon, RAAF Wing Commander Rob Gill, and Air Force Association national president Carl Schiller, while a CAC Mustang fighter plane performed a flyover.

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  1. It was great to see the crash finally commemorated for my cousin Ian, his family, crash witnesses and the plane’s occupants. It took Ian a lot of organizing and getting through red tape to organize it. We even had a bugler play the last post and reveille, and a vintage Mustang flypast. I did the research for possible descendants of the two plane occupants unrelated to us and found nephews & nieces of the pilot who survived & the co-pilot who didn’t. They were informed so that they could be involved. For me personally I was reunited with cousins I hadn’t seen for over 20 years & those I’d never met. Pleased to see the event covered by the paper with photos.

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