An aircraftman in the Royal Australian Air Force, veteran Don Bayles’ favourite memory about the war is after it ended.
He said he was 19 years old when he joined the RAAF and while he said he did enjoy his service, for the most part, he will always remember where he was when it ended.
“I was in Indonesia then, and the message came through, they said, ‘the war’s over you all have to go back home’,” Mr Bayles recalled at a ceremony honouring five veterans held at the Launceston RSL. “All I could think of was that I had to get back to Tasmania, Australia, and how in the world would I get back,” he said.
Hanging around the airfield for a lift, Mr Bayles eventually snagged a place on an emergency flight back to Cairns.
“It was packed, there were no seats, the pilots had a job getting it off the ground,” he laughed.
But it wasn’t the return journey to Tasmania that will stick in his mind, it was what happened when he turned up to the Salvation Army in Melbourne along the way.
“I got to Melbourne and there were no beds anywhere. We had to stay overnight but we couldn’t find anything,” he said.
“Someone said to me to try Bourke Street, at the Salvation Army, that they’d find something for me.”
When he walked into the Salvation Army, he found a familiar face among the crowd – his brother.
“I hadn’t seen him for four or five years, but there he was standing in front of me,” Mr Bayles said.
The pair both had malaria and spent the next few months recuperating in a hospital in Melbourne, before travelling back home to Tasmania to reunite with their family.
Military service runs strongly in the Bayles family, Mr Bayles’ brother had been deployed in the Army and his younger brother had also served.
And the Bayles brothers weren’t short of experiencing some skirmishes along the way; Mr Bayles said his younger brother had been in Darwin and his older brother at Kokoda.
“We had all been in service,” he said.
Mr Bayles said he thought his mother had been happy to see her sons returned after the war had ended.
Mr Bayles said his younger brother retrained and became a teacher, but when he himself returned from the war he “did as he was told”.
“I just did what I was told, that was all I needed.”
Mr Bayles joined the air force at the age of 19, and said he wanted to join because he thought it would help him see the world.
“I suppose it did do that for me,” he said.
“I was brought up on a farm at Ross, and I got a bit older and thought I wanted to see the world.”
With postings all around the country and in the Pacific, Mr Bayles said he still had fond memories of his deployment.
He said Australia and the Allied Forces owed a great debt to the United States, for it was only on their entry into the conflict that it ended.
“The bombing of Pearl Harbor, that was really the event that triggered the end of the war,” he said.
“If it hadn’t been for America, and I think, the fact of Pearl Harbor, it wouldn’t have ended.”
Mr Bayles said he believed the Allied Forces would have had to invade Japan, if the war had continued to amp up, but once the US had entered the war, the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima had brought the conflict to a swift half.
Mr Bayles shared his story at a ceremony that celebrated the achievements of ex-service personnel Max Christmas, Don Bayles, Harry Reeves, Ronald Jones and Marie Brearley.