Many of the young men and women who signed up for the war were as ready as they could ever be to take up the fight against German and Japanese empire-building. Eric Kime for example had enlisted early in the Air Training Corps (the ATC was part of the RAAF Reserve) while he was 16 as part of his personal preparation. Then two days after his 18th birthday, he enlisted in the Air Force.
"My brother was a POW at the time, my sister had joined the WAAAFs and we were a pretty Australian sort of family."
This was in 1943. He could see that Australia was "starting to get out of trouble and get confidence that things would be finished in a few years," and he wanted to be part of that. It was a huge shift in direction for an ordinary 18 year old not long out of school. Eric rolled with the setbacks - one of which was the discovery of his colour-blindness which meant he was ineligible for flight training. After six weeks of rookie training, the Air Force sent him to do a wireless course in Point Cook, Victoria. He took to his new life with typical enthusiasm. "I found meeting new people, mixing with new blokes your own age with ideas the same as yours, very interesting."
Eric Kime in uniform
In those days you couldn't go overseas until the age of 19, so Eric and his cohort did a lot of training in Australia. He was in No 1 Air Support Unit and its role was to go into action with the Army. If the Army struck real trouble, Air Support would contact the nearest air base or American aircraft carrier and have the air force provide support with an air attack as a final resort.
Much of the training was outside of Townsville, Queensland, to acclimatise the young servicemen to the conditions they might encounter in New Guinea and the Pacific Islands, including living in the bush and setting up communications with base. Communications were always in Morse code which was a fundamental part of his training, but in that time the Americans began supplying Australian forces with high frequency RT (radio telephone) packs that enabled voice communications.
"It was magic to everyone and so different to Morse code. Morse was something you spent a lot of time learning but this was so much easier and more efficient."
Eric's Air Support Unit sailed from Brisbane in late 1944, arriving in Morotai Island, an Allied staging post on the Equator. There they were drilled in unloading from ships to landing crafts and this was all preparation for planned landings in Borneo at places like Balikpapan and Brunei. For Eric, going over the side of the ship was daunting, given he'd be carrying a heavy wireless on his back and his rifle on his shoulder. However, when the landings took place, the training held Eric and the others in good stead.
"It was a bit dangerous going over the side, a bit slippery. Then we were rocking around in the landing craft going right up onto the beach. There were still Japanese firing on us on the beach and one of my mates got shrapnel in his side."
The Brunei landing was a success and Eric's mate was back with the Unit after a month's recuperation. As for nerves, Eric says:
"There was no fear. You're still only 19 and you still have your mates around you to protect each other. You're pretty confident at that age, you've been trained to do that thing."
The plan was to stay with the Army which was on the march across the island to enemy POW camps where they would free captured Australian troops. Soon after the landings, however, news had arrived of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima then Nagasaki, and soon the surrender was announced. "I do remember the moment we heard the war was over. People were going a bit mad, blokes were firing guns and I was a bit worried."
The horror of the war was not lost on him and they'd regularly walk past dead bodies as the Sergeant barked at them to look away.
"When you think back on it, you think, there's some poor bugger that won't go back home."
Erick Kime (right) and two others
Eric moved back from 7th Division to his own unit in the Air Force. He was still in Labuan and he was told they'd be there for another 12 months. Or, they suggested, he could volunteer for the British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF) in Japan. He arrived in Japan in February 1946 and was tasked with aircraft communications in the No 381 Fighter Wing. His time there was an extension of his wartime experience but he describes it as being a whole other "adventure".
"You didn't know how you were going to be received, especially after Hiroshima, but they were very peaceful." There was less stress and the troops there were much more at ease.
"We didn't have a lot to do but we had lot of restrictions on ourselves. We couldn't go into a Japanese house and we had to be back in camp by 6 at night. But the acceptance seemed alright. I don't know how the Japanese were feeling but they were hospitable."
Now a Leading Aircraftsman, LAC Kime returned home after 14 months in 1947.
"The hardest thing was when we did get back and discharge, I found it hard to convert to civilian life. They used to say you were troppo after being in the tropics for too long."
He undertook an accountancy course but studying was a challenge. "It was more about the new lifestyle, having different people constantly around you. Whereas in the service you're around the same people doing the same thing. In Sydney I just wanted to be back in camp."
Eric's strongest memory of the war was the companionship. Many of the people he served with became longstanding friends whom he'd see at regular get-togethers where they would talk about their experiences and how it had changed their lives.