Friday, 29 March 2013

A WARTIME CRASH OR CRASH-LANDING ON MOUNT AINSLIE

A WARTIME CRASH OR CRASH-LANDING ON MOUNT AINSLIE
   My maternal uncle, the late Bill Guard the 3rd, was born in September of 1930 at Nurse Johnston's Private Hospital in Queanbeyan. If a child could survive the Depression 1930 was a good year to be born, as it meant being too young to go to WW2 but old enough to enjoy the post war boom years when we had virtually 100% employment, affordable housing and little or no congestion. 

My maternal uncle, the late Bill Guard the 3rd circa 1940

The late Bill Guard the 3rd in 1996

   Uncle Bill was the son of a sign writer, the late Bill Guard the 2nd, who was a well-known identity in the Canberra-Queanbeyan area. The Guard family moved from Queanbeyan to live in a new govie house in Canberra at 6 O'Connell St, Ainslie, in 1939. 
   I always liked Uncle Bill, although I did not meet him until he was in his thirties. I remember him as a friendly bloke with a good-nature who was much loved by his family. 
   He did not like school when he was living in Canberra, but he stayed until the end of the war and then moved to Sydney to do a fitting and turning apprenticeship. He did some boxing while in Sydney and excelled at the rugby codes, playing at a representative level. He eventually joined the merchant navy and went to sea as a maritime engineer. He settled in Sydney after he married and carried on in his dad's footsteps as a sign writer.
   I am writing about Uncle Bill because during WW2 he and his cobbers saw on Mt Ainslie the aftermath of a plane crash or crash-landing, although they did not see it happen. Please note; this incident has nothing to do with the wartime air disaster at Fairbairn. 
    The boys ran to the scene as quickly as they could but were told to go away in colourful language on arrival, as the plane had been cordoned-off by officials and emergency personnel were going over it. 
   Bill and his mates hid behind some bushes at a safe distance to watch the proceedings, but they never found out if the pilot and/or passengers had been killed or injured or had walked away unscathed before they arrived. It was wartime and there may have been some secrecy involved if it was an RAAF plane, as they were led to believe was the case. 
   When the officials left the scene and night began to fall the boys crawled through the cordon and took some "souvenirs" from the plane. Bill had a screwdriver with him, and when he saw a nice brass engine plate he unscrewed it and kept it for many years before it was passed on to me. It can be seen in the photo below.

   Above is the engine plate from crashed plane. It indicates the motor was a Gypsy DH6 Series 2 and the engine number was 4819. Please note, this accident has nothing to do with the 1940 air disaster at Fairbairn.

  I wished I'd taken in more information about the plane crash before Uncle Bill died, which was only a few years ago. His mates who were with him at the time were also no longer with us when I tried to find out what had occurred, which was in 2013. I looked on the net through old editions of the Canberra Times to see if there were any articles on it and could find nothing. 
   I wrote to England hoping I could  get some information about the plane the engine plate was attached to but they had no records. They did however, tell me the plane was not a Gypsy Moth and my own investigations told me it was probably attached to a Dragon-Rapide, although my ignorance of aviation was, and is still, unlimited. 
    My uncle could have told me if he thought the plane would have been written off, but because I did not ask him for all I knew it may have had only minimal damage and gone on to live a long and productive life after it was returned to its hangar and repaired, albeit without an engine plate.
    As I could find no details of the crash I called for the help of others, and with the efforts of David Ellery of the Canberra Times for whom I am very grateful, the mystery was solved.
    David did two excellent articles on the crash in Gang Gang. One told the initial story and the other gave details of the mystery after he was able to solve it with the assistance of the research of Bob Piper. I am also extremely grateful to Bob for his efforts. Bob is a private aviation historian with a business called "Military Aviation Research Services." He was also an RAAF Historical Officer for 15 years and is a pilot and journalist.  
   See the links below to David Ellery's online Canberra Times articles. The first calls for assistance in solving the mystery and the second gives the response. 
http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/plane-mystery-on-mt-ainslie-20130526-2n5fu.html
   http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/wwii-crash-mystery-solved-20130530-2nexs.html
   Bob Piper was initially unaware of the incident but with dogged determination and the bank of knowledge he had accumulated over the years, (such as him having once read a book which gave a passing reference to a particular type of aeroplane which would have had that sort of engine plate going down in Canberra during the war), he linked what he had to go on and eventually got the details of what occurred. 
   Had it not been for Bob I would have looked like I was making the whole thing up despite the existence of the plate and I would have had to have committed harakiri to hide my shame. 
   The crash occurred on the 15/6/42 and the plane was an RAAF Tugan (or Wackett) Gannet no A 14-5, which at the time was being operated by No 2 Aerial Ambulance Unit (2 AAU). It crashed a kilometre short of the Canberra aerodrome on takeoff on what was reported to be Mt Russell, which was regarded then and now as the slopes of Mt Ainslie. 
   The accident report described the event as a forced landing as a result of a port motor failure. 
Above is a photo of a Gannet, which is the same breed as the one that crashed on Mt Ainslie, supplied by Bob Piper. Thanks Bob. The photo was taken in Wilcannia in 1936.
   The plane was piloted by Flight Lieutenant Bruce Graham-SN 589-born 1919-who suffered a fractured ankle. Others on the flight were Sgt Glenn Smith SN-408530-a radio operator who suffered shock, Sgt John Craig-SN 19736-a nursing orderly who suffered a fractured shoulder blade and Sgt Reginald Kupsch SN-4369-a Fitter 2E  (aircraft mechanic) who was officially recorded as being unharmed, but I was to find out later from Reg's son that he sustained head injuries.The plane was written off. 
    
Official history of the crashed Gannet. 
  Bob also supplied a copy of a telegram which indicated the only crew member with a local address was Reginald Charles Kupsch, service number  4369, who lived at 32 Alice Street Queanbeyan with his wife Agnes. The National Archives military records say he was born on the 25/4/1912 and that he was born in Regent, Victoria and enlisted at Laverton, Victoria. I wonder if any old Queanbeyanites can remember Reg and Agnes. 
    I became conscious that if Reg was still alive and living in Queanbeyan it would be unlikely he would be playing 1st grade Rugby League for the Queanbeyan Kangaroos or the Queanbeyan Blues, as he would be 101. I thought however, he may have some relo's in the area, so I rang the only local Kupsch's, who were living in Weston, and they told me they had never heard of Reg and Agnes. 
   I subsequently googled the names of Reg and Agnes Kupsch and found they were interned in the Kyabram Cemetery in Victoria, although Reg's date of birth according to the Cemetery register was not the same as the records in the archives.
   Bob Piper then contacted me to tell me he had found out that Reg Kupsch died at Nathalia Hospital, Victoria, aged 91, having lived at Preston, Kyabram and Nathalia, Victoria. This matched the Archives documents.
    My next task involved looking up the white pages to find the closest Kupsch to Kyabram, which was at Moonabel. After phoning the latter number I spoke to a Mr Graeme Kupsch who told me he was Reg and Agnes' son, and a very nice bloke from the sound of him. We had a good yarn about the accident and Reg's life.
   He told me Reg had snowy hair and as such was given the nickname "Snowy." Reg did not talk about his war years very much to his kids, which is not unusual, but Graeme told me he did see war service in New Guinea, which would have been harrowing to say the least, and that he had been in three aircraft crashes or crash-landings.
   Graeme could recall Reg telling him about the plane crash-landing at Canberra and it was Graeme who told me Reg had received head injuries at the time, contrary to the official report.
    Considering the fact that the plane was written-off and the crew received the injuries they did, they were very lucky to have got out alive. I am also sure the seriousness of it would have been deliberately kept very quiet. 
   Graeme could not give me details of what actually occurred during the crash landing but told me he would get in touch with his brothers and sister to get further information. He told me however, that after the war Reg worked as an engineer and at one stage invented the press button toilet flush, which would have led to the dual flush we use today. Unfortunately he could not take out the patent on the device because he was working for Brent, the toilet cystern manufacturer, at the time he invented it. 
    As Bob Piper told me, Reg died in 2003 at the age of 91 and according to Graeme he was fit and active until not long before his death. Agnes died at the age of 92 in 2007. 
   If you scroll down you will see several relevant photos. The first is of the actual Tugan Gannet (no A 14-5) which crash-landed on Mt Ainslie that we are talking about, obviously sometime before the crash. Again, many thanks to Bob Piper for the work he put into tracking down this photo. 


    Bob also put me onto the youtube link below in which some 8mm film captures the first flight of the first Tugan Gannet in 1935. "Alexander's Ragtime Band" is played on the piano as background music. It can be viewed on the following link.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NyC40KRpuVw 
    I eventually spoke to Reg's Kupsch's daughter, Helen Wrest, who is living in Victoria. She was able to find and scan for me photos of the actual crashed plane on Mt Ainslie, and she has also sent me an earlier photo of the plane and crew which is shown below. Many thanks Helen.

    Above is the crew of the crashed Gannet prior to the crash. Reg Kupsch is the bloke standing closest to the plane. I don't know who the other blokes are but they are probably the same crew members who crashed the plane in Canberra, although this may not necessarily be the case. Maybe someone can help identify them. 
   The first four photos below are of the crashed plane on Mt Ainslie. On the first one is scribbled "Tree broken off here." Following on from them are RAAF reports of the accident as well as details of Flight Lieutenant Bruce Graham which refer to his injury after the accident. One of the reports shown relates to  another Gannet which had a forced landing a year earlier but received no damage.






    The above document relates to another forced landing at the Canberra Aerodrome on the 18/11/40 by another Gannet which was piloted by a Flight Lieutenant LW Law who was accompanied by a Corporal MA Boddington. Neither were injured. . The probable cause was a seized supercharger on the port engine. The report said its engine required a complete overhaul. It would seem the Gannet was not a great plane.
    The document below relates to the pilot of the crashed plane on Mt Ainslie, the subject of this post, F/LT Bruce Graham.

   David Ellery did another excellent article on the crash for the Canberra Times on the 15/8/13 which includes the above photos of the plane crash. See the link below for David's latest Canberra Times online update.
http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/rare-pictures-of-world-war-ii-air-crash-20130814-2rx6j.html

UPDATE 13/3/15
  I was contacted last night by Ben Gray, the husband of a granddaughter of Bruce WIlliam Graham, the pilot of the Gannet we are discussing. Ben came across my blog while searching for info on the man. 
     Bruce William Graham, known as Bill Graham, lost his leg during the war. Ben was not sure as to whether this was a result of the plane crash on Mount Ainslie or from another crash, although according to Helen Wrest, Reg Kupsch's daughter, she thinks she can recall her father saying that the pilot's leg was lost as a result of the Mount Ainslie crash. 
   Ben was also unsure as to whether Bruce William Graham was in the photo of the crew standing next to the plane.
    If one or more of Bruce William Graham's closer relatives or friends could contact me to clarify these details or to add to the information I have it would be appreciated.
  Bruce William Graham served as a Federal member of parliament after the war. Below is a summary of his career courtesy of Wiki. I will keep the blog updated as soon as I find anymore relevant information.
Bruce William Graham, OBE (22 August 1919 – 18 February 1995)
   Was an Australian politician. Born in Sydney, he was educated at Sydney Grammar School before becoming an announcer on the ABC. He served in the military from 1939 to 1948 and was a company director before entering politics in 1949 as the Liberal member for St George in the Australian House of Representatives. He held the seat until 1954, when he was defeated by former Labor minister Nelson Lemmon. Graham defeated Lemmon in 1955, but was defeated again in 1958, this time by Lionel Clay. He returned to politics in 1966 when he was elected to the seat of North Sydney, a position he held until his retirement in 1980. Graham died in 1995. 

  Above-Bruce William Graham.
  The above is a group photo of half of the RAAF NSW Richmond Flying School graduates, course number 26, 1940-1943. The other half were at Laverton. Bruce W Graham is identified as being 3rd from the left in the back row. 

  Below is a link to an article in the Canberra Times that appeared on the 20/2/1950. It is entitled "Introduction to Canberra-New Members of Parliament." It states:
Mr B.W. Graham.
  "Twenty nine years old ex-airman, Mr Bruce William Graham is Liberal member for the new St George seat. He enlisted in the RAAF IN 1939 and served on operational squadrons in the South West Pacific, attaining the rank of squadron leader before being discharged in 1948. Mt Graham is a fellow of the Royal Empire Society, and a member of the RSL, Air Force Association, Limbless Soldiers' Association and the United Services Institution."
 http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/2767523

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