Gum leaves : Leading Aircraftman V J Hibbens, RAAF, Empire Air Training Scheme

Accession Number REL38775
Collection type Heraldry
Object type Heraldry
Physical description Cardboard, Paper, Plant matter
Maker Hibbens, Ethel C
Place made Australia: New South Wales
Date made May 1941
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945

Six dried eucalyptus (gum) leaves of varying sizes. Each bears an ink inscription: 'Mrs E Hibbens Orange N.S.W. Aus'/ 'From E Hibbens 18.5.41 Orange. N.S.W. Aus'/ 'Viv from Mum. 28.5.41 ORANGE. AUS.'/ 'From E. HibbENS. 18.5.41 ORANGE N.S.W AUS.'/ 'FROM. E. HibbENS. 18.5.41 184 MOULDEN ST ORANGE. AUS.'/ and 'from ORANGE. 18.5.41. AUST Love from Mother to Vivian AT CANADA'. The leaves are contained in their original packaging consisting of two pieces of cardboard cut from a box that once contained cutlery made in Sheffield, England, tied together with fine cotton string. One side is addressed 'No 400712 LAC. HIBBENS. V J. RAAF Base P.O. Ottawa Canada. from E Hibbens Orange N.S. Wales'. The other side has a label adhered to it reading 'To/ Dear Viv, With much love from all at home. Give Jim Leahy one of the gum leaves if he is still with you. lots of love Mum.'

History / Summary

Associated with the service of Vivian Joseph 'Smoky' Hibbens who was born at Bemboka, NSW in January 1922. He was working as a bank officer in Melbourne when he enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) on 13 October 1940, at the age of 18. Hibbens had previously served for a year in the militia, in the 8th Light Horse Regiment (Indi Light Horse). Assigned the service number 400712 Hibbens was accepted for aircrew training in December 1940 and promoted to leading aircraftman. After initial pilot training at 5 Elementary Flying Training School at Narromine, NSW, Hibbens was sent to Canada for further flying experience with the Empire Air Training Scheme, arriving there in April 1941.

In May 1941 his mother, Ethel Hibbens, then living in Orange, NSW, picked and dried these gum leaves before writing messages on them and sending them to her son in Canada. Hibbens graduated as an airman pilot on 13 September 1941, after training at Camp Borden and Halifax, and was promoted to sergeant. Shortly afterwards he moved to the United Kingdom to undertake training as a Spitfire pilot, attached to 234 Squadron at Ibsley in Hampshire.

In April 1942 he was posted to service in the Middle East to fly Spitfires with 145 Squadron RAF. he travelled to his destination in Egypt via Sierra Leone. After completing only eight operational sorties with his squadron, Hibbens was detailed to transport a Hawker Hurricane fighter to 33 Squadron RAF, at Landing Ground 154 near Alexandria during the First Battle of El Alamein, on 18 July 1942. Hibbens encountered a sandstorm, turned to the east to avoid it, and was then blown off course by wind and attacked by 13 German Me109 fighter aircraft. His aircraft was badly damaged and running out of fuel when he crashed close to German tanks near the El Alamein front line. He was not injured but was immediately captured and taken to Mersa Matruh on the coast, before being transported to a prisoner of war camp at Frankfurt-am-Main in Germany.

In August 1942 he was transferred to Stalag VIIIB (later Stalag 344) at Lamsdorf, where he remained until January 1945. He was twice promoted while a prisoner, to flight sergeant in May 1943, and to warrant officer in May 1944. In January 1945, during an exceptionally cold winter, the Germans began moving many of their Allied prisoners across Germany in a series of forced marches, later called by the survivors, the 'Death Marches', or 'The March'. Hibbens was not among the Lamsdorf prisoners who left the camp on 22 January to move west through Germany. He had been sent to work at a sugar factory 40 miles south of Lamsdorf, close to the Czech border, and was part of a group of men marched south into that country . As these prisoners made their way across Czechoslovakia Hibbens made his final, and successful, bid to escape, the fifth he had attempted.

Sheltered by members of the Czech resistance for three weeks he eventually reached the US Lines of Air Signals Corps attached to the US 2nd Army at Kdyne, near the Austrian-Czech border, and accompanied them to Berlin, from where he was evacuated to Britain. Despite his request to be repatriated to Australia as soon as possible to fight the Japanese Hibbens returned home after the end of the war in the Pacific. He was discharged on 20 November 1945.