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Trenches, trees and tributes: air-war heritage in a suburban park

Diving into Traces edition 12, contributor Dr Peter Hobbins uncovers the air-war heritage located in a Sydney suburban park.

To the children playing nearby, a small relic in their local park probably seems quaint, if they notice it at all. Yet it links Allison Playground in Sydney’s Dulwich Hill with communities across Australia, England, Germany and the Netherlands. All suffered from the horrifically costly bombing campaigns of World War II.

What the children don’t realise is that their playground equipment also sits atop another remnant of the air war, recently rediscovered through historic aerial photographs. In a corner of the park squats a small cast-metal box, painted red with lettering picked out in flaking white:

A TRIBUTE TO THE MEMORY

OF OUR

DEARLY BELOVED SON

FLIGHT SGT JACK DUDLEY WORMALD

R.A.A.F. AND HIS CREW

LOST OVER BERLIN FEB 15TH 1944.

AGED 21 YEARS.

‘GOD GAVE THY BRAVE SOUL WINGS

MY SON MY SON.’

The second son of William and Hilda Wormald, Jack grew up at 32 Terrace Road, just a few doors from Allison Playground. The family probably shared happy memories of picnics and frolics in the park with Jack’s collie dog, Peter. Leaving school at 15, Jack worked as a messenger and a clerk until he applied to join the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in June 1941. He learned to fly at nearby Mascot Aerodrome, piloting the yellow de Havilland Tiger Moths that regularly buzzed wartime Dulwich Hill.

In April 1942, Jack was posted to Mallala in South Australia, developing skills in all-weather flying, bombing and managing a crew. Departing for Britain in December 1942, he witnessed firsthand the effects of bombing on cities and civilians. While German air raids had largely ceased, emergency shelters were widespread and practice drills remained common. Promoted to Flight Sergeant, Jack joined 466 Squadron in November 1943. Based at the village of Leconfield in Yorkshire, this RAAF unit had just begun flying the four-engine Handley-Page Halifax, each bomber requiring a crew of seven.

As the aircraft’s captain, Jack was now responsible for the lives of six other young men: fellow Sydneysider Rex ‘Charlie’ Newell from Balgowlah; Francis ‘Frank’ Williams of Adamstown near Newcastle; Queenslander Colin Sheldon from Stanthorpe; Victorian Hubert ‘Cecil’ Thomas from North Fitzroy; Thomas ‘Tom’ Eastcott of Yarloop, Western Australia; and Briton John ‘Sam’ Darwood from Daventry in Northamptonshire. Jack often wrote home about his ‘ace’ crew, while they referred to their pilot as ‘old Joe the Chauffeur’.

To continue reading, pick up a copy of Traces edition 12 at your local newsagency, or subscribe to edition 13.

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