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Cecil Sullivan

Cecil Sullivan

Wireless Operator, Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF)

“I was 18 and really excited to be part of the RAAF and to help with the war effort.”


Cecil Sullivan was 18 when he joined the Royal Australian Air Force in November 1944 and was discharged 22 months later in 1946.

He was in the midst of training to join the air crew when the war in Europe ended and the RAAF pilots, attached to the Royal Air Force in England, were sent home to Australia.

“England was having some financial strife and had to cut costs so the Aussie pilots were surplus to requirement because they had more pilots than aircraft,” Cecil says.

“I was a trainee wireless operator when the Americans dropped the Atomic bomb in August 1945 and it was game, set and match. The Japanese had no choice but to surrender and I never got to see action.”

Cecil said he was disappointed he missed the opportunity to go overseas and do his bit for his country. “I was 18 and really excited to be part of the RAAF and to help with the war effort,” he recalls. “Of course, I was relieved for the sake of Australia but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed to learn how to fly and serve a bit more.”

 Cecil’s first round of training when he enlisted was at Cootamundra at a rookie depot. “It was hot, there were flies everywhere and the instructors were mad as cut snakes. So when I heard we could volunteer for special duties in Brisbane I jumped at the opportunity,” he says. “We took a troop train to Brisbane. There was a wharf labourers strike on so we were sent to work in their place. As luck would have it my Dad was a wharfie and if he had known I would have been tarred and feathered. “I saw news reporters taking photos of us working on the wharf in our uniforms so I pulled my hat right down in case my family saw me on the news.”

Cecil also spent time at the Archerfield air base in Brisbane loading aircraft going up to the war zone in Papua New Guinea and the Pacific region.

“We were mostly loading equipment, ammunition and machinery parts. It was a very busy air base. I got to see spitfires and bombers. I really enjoyed that experience,” Cecil says fondly.

Cecil’s older sister Diane joined the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force and was one of the first radar operators. “It was the latest in defence technology at the time,” he explains.  “I can remember asking her about her job and she replied ‘it is secret’. Our parents weren’t keen on us signing up but they didn’t stop us.”

Cecil says it was very competitive to join the RAAF because there were limited places.

“They were trying to raise money for the war effort and were holding a recruitment rally at the same time. I think they were more interested in the dollars than getting extra recruits. I had people from the Navy and Army try to button hole me, but I wanted to join the Air Force because of my sister. Plus I had two cousins who had joined the defence forces – one was in the Army and went missing, presumed dead and the other one was an air gunner with the RAAF so that was definitely more appealing to me.”

Cecil says while his time in the RAAF was limited to two years, he has fond memories of that period of his life. “They were the best years of my life. You come out of that experience with lifelong friends.”

In 1947, he joined the War Services Homes where he spent the next 19 years of his life. The program enabled servicemen and women to apply for government assistance to finance homes either designed by the department or by private architects. “It was a very popular scheme and helped hundreds of thousands of people who otherwise couldn’t have afforded their own home. They just needed a five per cent deposit and they were given a loan they could pay back over 45 years,” he recalls. “I remember the applications started as a trickle and turned into a deluge after the end of the war. We were very, very, very busy particularly during the 50s. But it was a very rewarding job handing over the keys to people who had fought for our country.”