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Serving 'POM' in R.A.F found refuge at 3rd attempt during Cyclone Tracey

by Stephen Mawdsley
(Lancashire, UK)

During 1974/5, I was 1 of 4 UK RAF personnel attached to RAAF Darwin. 3 of us were in Darwin on Christmas Eve 1974 and 1 was on holiday in Perth.

I had taken a girlfriend to a Christmas dance which was planned to be held in a marquee at the rear of a Darwin hotel/bar. The wind started to whip up around 10pm ish and we decided to return to the RAAF base. We went to the girl's sister's house in the 'married quarters' area on the base. Around mid night, the roof of the house started to lift and deteriorate so we left and went our seperate ways. She took refuge in a nearby house and I started to walk back to my accommodation.

I now realise that this was somewhat foolhardy given that the air was full of flying debris. Fortunately, I was picked up by a passing friend from the RAAF. He drove me to my accommodation and I took refuge on the floor of my hut, lying on a mattress, with pillows over my head !
By this stage, overhead power cables had been brought down by the storm and therefore we were in total darkness. I then could feel water around my feet, and I initially thought that surely water could not have risen to the height of the hut on stilts which stood approximately 12 feet above the ground. I then quickly realised that the roof was damaged and rain was pouring in. The roof started to lift so along with my colleagues in the RAF and RAAF, we moved quickly into a more substantial 2 storey building nearby.

Some families had aleady been evacuated from their vulnerable houses and were being housed in this barrack block. I remember helping to place wardrobes against the shutter windows in order to provide some extra protection. During the lull of the storm, we went outside and surveyed the devastation and this made us realise the dangers that we had endured so far.

As the storm came back from the opposite direction, we re-positioned the wardrobes against the corresponding walls and hoped for the best. I had just taken off my footwear in order to dry my feet, when the wind blew-in the windows and almost demolished the wardrobes. We quickly jumped up and pushed back the wardrobes and other pieces of furniture. This is when I sustained a cut foot whilst standing on some glass. Fortunately it was only a minor injury, and we managed to keep the wind at bay.

My abiding memory of these few hours was seeing the evacuated excited children opening a few of their Christmas presents which their parents had quickly packed as they were collected from their houses. When daylight came, we all helped with the general evacuation of Darwin. I helped with sanitation, whilst 1 of my RAF colleagues (an electrician) in the RAF helped provide temporary power to a hospital and the other (a ground equipment fitter) provided mobile generators and air conditioning units etc. We also drove around the RAAF married quarters and collected various families in order to bring them to designated emergency centres.

The area looked as though it had suffered a nuclear explosion. The trees were bare and there was neither sight nor sound of any birds. A quite eerie feeling. We then worked for the next 36 hours without rest in order to assist with the evacuation by emplaning evacuees onto the multitude of aircraft which descended on Darwin.

A couple of days after the cyclone, I handed over to a visiting RAF Group Captain and received a bottle of whiskey in return!

Eventually we were "pulled out" of Darwin in February 1975 and returned to the UK via Adelaide.

Comments for Serving 'POM' in R.A.F found refuge at 3rd attempt during Cyclone Tracey

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Cyclone Tracy
by: Steve Mawdsley

It’s taken me 40 +years to realise that the Cyclone was Tracy and not Tracey.

Reply to ‘POM’ in RAF during CT.
by: David Gill

The RAF detachment was housed in the same hangar that I worked in. At that time I was a Corporal MT Fitter (RAAF) in GSE and your Office was next to mine. You stored your GSE alongside ours.
I remember assisting you all to get uniforms so that you could get back to UK. Most of you had second jobs at the airport to boost your RAF pay, which wasn’t all that good at the time. I have a photo of one of you standing next to an inverted Dakota that was blown over during the cyclone. We went around various places in Darwin installing and servicing emergency generators. You can PM me in messenger if you wish. I should be able to provide some info and photos. Amazing to catch up with one of you after such a long time (46 years). Regards.

Small world!!!!
by: Carl Nightingale

Well what a small world, Having lived in Darwin when the Cyclone Hit,myself(aged 12yrs) and my family were hastily evacuated by either, RAF OR RAAF Hercules,along with some British government workers from Mandora to Singapore, then on to England.
Now retired from the police service after 28 years I found myself with a new career in the NHS. During a clinic today in Rossendale a town I have never been to before. I met a fellow Royal Military Police (VOLUNTEER) Colleague who I haven't seen since 1987, then a short time later whilst talking to a patient about the remembrance day Parade found that we had both been in Darwin and he(Stephen Mawdsley) had probably been the young RAF member who had help us to safety all those years ago, its a pity my Father(Brian Nightingale) isn't with us today to talk about the evacuation and members of the RAF who were stationed in Darwin in 1974 as he had great friends at the air base, in particular members of 617 squadron (Dam Busters)when they arrived in Darwin on exercise.
Once again I would like to thank all the members of the RAF and RAAF who helped evacuate everyone to safety after the cyclone Stephen thanks again, it was nice to meet you and share some wonderful memories.
Carl Nightingale

St. George The Lancastrian
by: H8037415 Ralston

My hero!
Thought your story was going to be about Darwin in Lancashire! Doh!!!

by: simon

Thank you from one who lived through it

Did it last
by: Dave Schofield

Probably made last Christmas without heating and this Chistmas' -14*C temperatures in Rossendale seem like just a minor inconvenience for you.

Did you get a second date with the girl or did she decide somebody was trying to tell her something?

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