RAAF Vietnam Veterans Association

UNVEILING OF THE RAAF VIETNAM PLAQUE
Australian Flying Corps Memorial: RAAF Base Point Cook
28 March 2010

A MAGPIE FLIES
by Dalton “Fred” Neville
A223174 LAC – Armourer, 2Sqn 1970/71

2 Squadron RAAF Crest

FLGOFF Mike Herbert (Pilot)
FLGOFF Mike Herbert (Pilot)

PLTOFF Bob Carver (Navigator)
PLTOFF Bob Carver (Navigator)
The ceremony held at RAAF Williams, Point Cook on 28 Mar 2010 to honour all of the RAAF units that served in Vietnam was quite a moving experience in its own right and was particularly so for me because I was an Armourer at No 2 Sqn, Phan Rang forty years ago in 1970-71 and was involved in bombing-up one particular November day’s Magpie 9-1. Just a few hours later I was detailed to be the observer in the second of the search aircraft sent out as soon as it became light enough to look for the missing Magpie.

At Point Cook a monumental cairn and standing stone marks the position of all of the dedicated plaques and tablets commemorating RAAF participation in the various conflicts that have occurred since our Air Force was formed. At this dedication on 28 Mar 2010, there were quite a few attendees from the various units that served in Vietnam who congregated to hear the officials’ speeches and to witness the dedications and the laying of wreaths in remembrance. This group of more than two-hundred comprised Service, civilian and parliamentary dignitaries as well as ex-RAAF service personnel and their partners and children. Also proudly in attendance was a uniformed group of ex Vietnamese Air Force members and other members of the Vietnamese community in Australia.

Apart from honouring the units, a narration of the November 1970’s “Magpie 9-1” incident that concerned the loss of a Canberra bomber and its two crewmembers – and the nearly forty years later search, discovery, retrieval and return-home exercise was related and praise given to the whole discovery and repatriation effort. Then, after tributes had been offered and wreaths had been laid a totally unexpected and probably mostly unnoticed event happened. Just as the Ode had been read and the Last Post was being beautifully and poignantly played by a RAAF Band’s trumpeter....

From the green wall of pine trees that part-surround the monument had come the warbling sound of a group of magpies that had been quietly carolling-away in the background whilst the speeches and dedications were made. Then, as the pure and clear notes of the “Awake” rang out, a single magpie flew out from mid-centre of those trees to a point almost directly over the stone, banked left, and then flew back again to the place from where it had taken off, to be joyously greeted on its return by its mates whose calls rose in volume as they welcomed the solo bird home. Call me superstitious or sentimental if you like, but for me that out-and-back flight of an Australian magpie, our No 2 Squadron’s iconic emblem and call sign, to coincidentally happen at just that particular moment in time and at such an honouring celebration was highly symbolic and it brought me completely undone!

I don’t think there was a better celebration of Mike Herbert and Rob Carvers’ 2010 repatriation... forty years since they flew out and never made it back.... and on this day forty years on, one other lone magpie also flew out... and the rest of its mates called it home in salute.