86 Squadron & The Thomson Foundry Eagle

THE EAGLE & ITS HISTORY:

This first section has been repeated here in part in order to tell the whole story of the eagle’s history.

On one of the last Squadron Parades before the squadron departed Gawler the CO; SQNLDR Meehan, voiced his dissatisfaction with the rate of progress in preparing the unit to go into action, he stressed the need to develop a spirit and a bond that would bind the men and their efforts together, to enable them to endure the realities of combat that they would all have to live through while on active service.

On the eve of the squadron’s departure, a number of men took the CO at his word having seen the eagle sitting atop of the verandah at the front of Thomsons' Iron Foundry in King St, Gawler; a plan was hatched to “knock it off for the duration of hostilities.” The eagle with wings outstretched was a cast iron affair and in plain view to all. The following account is related in the squadron history and is repeated here in its entirety.

“Alan Weir climbed the building one night but was unable to remove the eagle as it was set in concrete. Forewarned, the kitchen staff led by Jack McGregor took a pick along and uprooted the bird and stowed it away. Before the local authorities became aware of the unroosting the squadron had departed.”

The eagle was smuggled aboard the train under the watchful eyes of the Service Police and first used by the squadron in Merauke, Dutch New Guinea.

Once the squadron had established itself at Meruake at the beginning of its combat tour, the Carpentry Section produced a fine polished pedestal, the eagle mounted on its new roost was placed in the Airman’s Mess where, it became the centre piece of the Mess and was admired by all and sundry. It is here that a lasting tradition was established. Every man entering the Mess would rub the palm of his hand on the head of the eagle resulting in the head of the Eagle becoming highly polished over time. 

Later, whilst at Merauke there were several funeral services conducted by 86 Squadron and it was during these that the eagle played its second role, for it was carried to all these services, the Squadron Padre used as the reading for these services from the Book of Isaiah Chapter XL Verse 31.

"But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wing as eagles;
they shall run, and not be weary;
and they shall walk, and not faint." 

When the Squadron had completed its combat tour and returned to Australia on another CO's Parade this time at Townsville, the CO asked for a show of hands on whether the eagle should be returned to the people of Gawler. It was a unanimous decision made by the full complement of the squadron personnel. 

Subsequent correspondence between the Commanding Officer and the Town Clerk of Gawler, Mr F J Richards confirmed the desire of the squadron to see this was carried out. 

In the letter penned by SDNLDR  S W Galton; the following quote has been extracted:

“While this Squadron was situated at Gawler, it became deeply indebted to the citizens there, and the feeling  inspired has and always will remain with each individual member of the Squadron. On behalf of all members of the Squadron and myself I ask you to accept return of the "Eagle," and trust that it will serve as a token of remembrance to the late Pilot Officer Ivor Hatcher.”

The Mayor through the Town Clerk replied.

Dear Sir, 

In reply to your letter of the 19th idem. Having obtained the consent of the owners of the "Eagle" I will be pleased if you will forward it to the Gawler Corporation at your early convenience, where it will be on a suitable pedestal to the memory of the late Pilot Officer Ivor Hatcher, as per your letter.

It is now on permanent display in the Foyer of the Gawler Town Hall with a plaque attached to the pedestal it sits on; memorialising PLTOFF Ivor Hatcher, who went missing after entering a storm front whilst flying from Horn Island to Merauke on 8 September, 1943 and was subsequently officially listed as missing presumed dead. Ivor, a local lad of the region, was the third son of Mr & Mrs R G Hatcher of Kangaroo Flat, he was educated at the Kangaroo Flat School and the Gawler High School and following this he enlisted in the RAAF and trained as a pilot. From OTU Training he was posted direct to 86 Sqn as the baby of the Aircrew.

By all accounts he was a fine lad greatly admired and liked by the squadron. To be lost in such circumstances was a shock to all and brought home the problems of operating aircraft in other than combat operations, Mother Nature can be violent and unforgiving just as much as the enemy.

If you are ever in Gawler, call in to the Town Hall  in Murray Street; seek out the Eagle  and give him a rub on the head. Pause for a moment and reflect on those crucial years of the Second World War and the sacrifices our men and women made.