Diary of Garth Edward Sommerville Clabburn, 1942-1944
Diary relating to the Second World War service of 205745 Flight Lieutenant Garth Edward Sommerville Clabburn, No. 3 Squadron.
In his diary entries, dated between 11 March 1942 and 3 June 1943, Clabburn records his experiences of serving as a pilot in the Royal Australian Air Force. His first entry is a retrospective account of events that occurred between December 1941 and April 1942, the period in which he underwent training at Narromine, New South Wales, embarked from Sydney, travelled across the Pacific Ocean, and disembarked in Canada to undergo training at Uplands, Ontario. While there, he records that the Hollywood film, “Captain of the Clouds” was filmed at his base and his voice was used in one of the scenes. Clabburn then writes that he graduated, holidayed at Chicago, United States of America, and completed specialised training at Halifax, Canada, where he drank lots of spirits. He then travelled to England and noted the living conditions of the civilians, had a long period of leave and used it to sightsee, and was posted to Number 59 Operational Training Unit. After further training, he embarked from Scotland and travelled to Egypt, where he learned to fly Kittyhawk aircraft.
Clabburn’s regular entries begin on 15 April 1942, his 25th birthday. Through these entries, he records his experiences of serving in Northern Africa, such as learning the shadow firing technique, air to air flight training, the death of his good friend, leave in Cairo, swimming in the Mediterranean sea, being posted to Number 3 Squadron, flying in regular reconnaissance and bombing operations, coming under enemy anti-aircraft fire, and having run-ins with enemy aircraft. In late May 1942, Clabburn describes an incident in which he was shot down by three enemy aircraft and crash landed in the desert. After misleading the Axis pilots by taking off his overalls, laying them on the sand nearby, and hiding under his aircraft, he walked through the desert for a day before meeting Allied troops, who helped him return to his squadron. Other experiences that Clabburn records include supporting Allied infantry retreats and advances from the air, flying with a broken oil pipe in his cockpit, driving through minefields, moving to new aerodromes as they were captured, going to Alexandria on leave, bargaining with the Bedouin for a sheep, celebrating Christmas, being promoted to flight lieutenant, attending a large Air Force conference, hearing that he had received a Distinguished Flying Cross, and spending time in a rest camp. Clabburn then describes his farewell and journey back to Australia.
Throughout his diary, Clabburn includes many human details and often reflects on his feelings on flying, the fates of his friends and fellow-pilots, and his motivation for being involved in the war. Also contained in this document are signatures of members of Number 2 Operational Training Unit, Mildura, where Clabburn went on to teach flying in 1944, and a copy of a poem by Allison Geoffrey Park titled “Garth Clabburn’s Ruse”.