Phil Agnew looks through the autobiography he has written.
Phil Agnew looks through the autobiography he has written. Erin Smith

War veteran on a new mission

PHIL Agnew lived through the depression, a polio outbreak and survived as a pilot in the Royal Australian Air Force during the Second World War.

But the regret of not knowing much about his family put the 92-year-old on a mission to pen his autobiography.

"When I was younger, family history held little interest for me," Mr Agnew said.

"I didn't pay enough attention to the numerous stories of my grandparents or ask any of the questions which I would like answered now it is too late.

"This thought, together with frequent urging from my wife Joan, has prompted me to make various jottings from time to time.

"I think I should make an effort to put these notes into a more coherent form whilst they are still clear in my memory.

"I really would like my descendants to hear about how we lived in the old days."

The veteran has penned part one, which covers the fondest memoriesfrom his childhood, as a teenager and his time as a flying officer in the RAAF.

"Myself and my friends desperately wanted to join the air force but we were apprentice electricians and at the outbreak of the war it became a reserved occupation.

"And we were thereby prevented from joining the armed services."

But the bombing of Pearl Harbour on December 7, 1941 changed everything.

Mr Agnew can remember exactly what he was doing when he heard about the attack.

He was 20 and enjoying his summer holiday at his family farm in Lamington.

On the return trip home, he was driven to Lamington siding to catch a ride to Beaudesert on the tram.

"There was a number of small flat-topped wagons running on a narrow gauge railway, to carry cream from the dairy farms to the butter factory. It was not designed for passengers. We sat on cream cans on one of the wagons.

"It was at Lamington Siding on that morning that we heard for the first time that the Japs had bombed Pearl Harbour."

Phil Agnew’s family photos.
Phil Agnew’s family photos. Contributed

 

Mr Agnew and his fellow apprentices once again asked if they could enlist in the RAAF.

"This time we were given approval on the condition that we joined a branch of the service that would make use of our apprenticeship training," Mr Agnew said.

"We continued our jobs and after what seemed like a very long time received notice to report for duty at South Brisbane Station on May 11, 1942.

"We were to be taken to Melbourne for training."

A newspaper clipping about Phil Agnew and his fellow air force officers.
A newspaper clipping about Phil Agnew and his fellow air force officers.

 

After completing his training in Melbourne Mr Agnew was posted to Bundaberg, carrying out tests and maintenance of the electrical systems.

"After about six weeks I was posted to Richmond where three Spitfire squadrons and all their supporting units were being assembled in preparation for a move to Darwin," he said.

"I was to be one of the maintenance electricians with the fighter sector.

"When we reached Darwin it was a quite a surprise.

"We had previously heard of the bombing raids on Darwin but it was still an eye-opener to see the extent of the damage in the town and the harbour."

At the end of 1943 Mr Agnew was given the chance to re-muster to Aircrew Trainee.

"Some of us were to train as pilot, others as gunner, or radio operator or navigator," Mr Agnew said.

"I chose to train as a navigator/wireless operator, the course had been designed to produce air crew members who could both navigate and handle radio communication using Morse code."

In December of 1944 Mr Agnew was then reposted to Darwin.

"Whilst operating from Darwin we carried out some long-range reconnaissance flights and also attacked some targets defended by A/A guns," he said.

Mr Agnew retired from the air force in 1945.

He was then given financial support from the repatriation service to go to university and study.

Mr Agnew walked away as a qualified engineer.

The qualification eventually landed him a role working for Warwick's Transport and Main Roads department.

By this stage he was married and had had several children of his own.

He fell in love with the town and in his words, "never felt like leaving".

Part one of Mr Agnew's autobiography is on display at the Veteran's Support and Advocacy Service's military museum on Tooth St.

Mr Agnew said he was putting the finishing touches on the second half of the book, which will detail his time in Warwick and the joys of retirement.

Phil Agnew took these photos with a cheap box camera while flying on a mission during the war.
Phil Agnew took these photos with a cheap box camera while flying on a mission during the war.


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