As RAAF marks 100th anniversary, WWII Spitfire pilots reunite at Fighter World in Williamtown

TRIBUTE: WWII Spitfire pilots Clem Jones and Sid Handsaker with Williamtown RAAF Flying Officer James Bailey in front of a replica Spitfire at Fighter World, Williamtown on Wednesday, April 21. Picture: Jonathan Carroll
TRIBUTE: WWII Spitfire pilots Clem Jones and Sid Handsaker with Williamtown RAAF Flying Officer James Bailey in front of a replica Spitfire at Fighter World, Williamtown on Wednesday, April 21. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

Royal Australian Air Force veterans and former Spitfire pilots Sid Handsaker and Charles 'Clem' Jones have much in common.

They were born in the same year, 1921, they have spent nearly all their lives in Newcastle - Mr Handsaker was born there while Mr Jones sailed into the port from England at just three months old - they enlisted in the Air Force around the same time and both became fighter pilots during World War II.

In fact, the pair first met at around the age of 17 in the Air Force night school in Newcastle.

From there, their paths took greatly contrasting directions.

Mr Handsaker, who turns 100 in November and is a resident at the Eleebana Calvary aged care facility, became a fighter bomber flying the Spitfires in Europe for the Australian RAAF, which is marking its 100th anniversary in 2021.

On the other hand, Mr Jones, who celebrated his 100th birthday on April 23 and resides with his wife Freda, aged 97, and son Chris at their Newcastle home, flew Spitfires and Hurricane bombers while attached to the British Royal Air Force.

And although both would return to their Newcastle homeland after the war, the pair would not meet again until about eight years ago at an RAAF Spitfire reunion.

The proud military men were reunited again on Wednesday at the Williamtown Aviation Heritage Centre, known as Fighter World, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the RAAF and tour of the museum and adjacent air base.

They were also treated to a spectacular flypast by a Spitfire, which had flown to Port Stephens from its home base in Temora.

Fighter World manager Bernie Nebenfuhr said the flypast was to honour "the service and commitment of the Air Force veterans".

Both men are strong admirers of the legendary Spitfire, a much loved fighter by its pilots having served in several campaigns during WWII, and played a series of roles in the ensuing years, including as an interceptor, photo-reconnaissance, fighter-bomber and trainer.

To watch and hear the sound of the famous 'spit' under the Williamtown skies on April 21 brought back many fond memories for the pair and had quite a profound impact.

The spectacular display, complete with aerobatics and manoeuvres, did not disappoint the guests and their families.

"Just incredible," was how Mr Handsaker described the experience. "They are amazing machines and I feel very honoured to be here today. It was great to reunite with Clem and watch and hear the Spitfire again."

The Spitfire flying over Fighter World at Williamtown on Wednesday, April 21. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

The Spitfire flying over Fighter World at Williamtown on Wednesday, April 21. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

Mr Jones was equally impressed.

"To see the Spitfire in action was quite a sight ... this has been a tremendous morning and one that has brought back many memories."

Both men say that family has played an important role in their upbringing, their careers and now in their retirement.

The men had two children each; Mr Handsaker has four grandchildren and four great grandchildren, while Mr Jones has three grandchildren and six great grandchildren.

Military service runs deep in Sid Handsaker's family. He has five brothers - Reg, Ron, Harry, Wal and Stan - all of whom served in the Armed Forces at some time or other.

"They all wanted to do their bit for the country," said son Greg Handsaker, a longtime resident of Port Stephens.

In an article written for the Spitfire Association, it summed up Mr Handsaker's military career this way: "Sid had served four years in the RAAF - two years overseas - circled the globe - flown eight different aircraft, did not prang one, and thanks to the Air Force had enlisted as an immature young man and returned home mature and a much wiser person".

Chris Jones, accompanying his dad Clem, said that it was not uncommon back then for Australian enlisted men to undertake some of their training overseas before attaining their wings.

"My dad completed his pilot training in Canada and went to fight with the British RAF. Learning to fly was a boyhood dream for him. He never spoke much about his time in the war, I think he wanted to suppress many of the memories but when he was recently asked to sum up his experience during that time, he replied: 'I would do it all again'."

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