Lloyd Roberts has always been fascinated by aircraft and model planes which is why he signed up to the Royal Australian Air Force at 18.
“My brother was also in the Air Force, he was a pilot in the spitfire squadron. He got shot down in France and it took three months for him to escape.
“I was really keen to be in the cockpit too. But I missed out on that because the training school expected you to do 22 words a minute of Morse code and the best I could do was 20.
“So in the end, I qualified as a truck driver and was sent to Milne Bay in Papua New Guinea in 1943 and was there for 13 months before being shipped off to Borneo in 1944.”
Lloyd remembers the PNG region as ‘hot, steamy and very busy’.
“The Army, Navy and Air Force all had bases there. The Japanese had just been defeated at Milne Bay and there were still bodies lying around. I was attached to the storehouse. Our job was to load up the aircraft with food, weapons, machinery parts and general stores. They were mostly Douglas DC-3 which were the largest cargo planes.
“It was an extremely busy base. Planes were coming and going all day long. The airstrip was made out of steel sheets when I first arrived and it would often sit on top of six inches of mud because of the tropical rains.
“They’d land and the mud would fly everywhere. In the end, the Americans put down a concrete strip.”
Lloyd remembers the tropical conditions being hard going.
“We slept in old huts made out of Masonite, about six people to each hut and we all slept under mozzie nets because you would get eaten alive. The food wasn’t real good. We ate a lot of stew! I was lucky because I shared my digs with two carpenters who built us beds. Our mattresses were hessian bags stuffed with straw. We did have blankets but I eventually got sheets sent from home because it was too hot to sleep with a blanket.”
Lloyd made the most of his down time playing rugby league with his Air Force mates when it wasn’t too hot. “We also went swimming a bit in Milne Bay, it was a picturesque bay but the road down to the beach was just thick mud when it rained. I couldn’t get over how much rain there was.”
Weather conditions were the same when he was based at Morotai, a small island in Borneo. “It was busier than Milne Bay. We had planes coming in and out every ten minutes. The spit fire and bomber squadrons were going into Japanese territory and dropping mines into the sea and bombing them,” Lloyd recalls.
“You would hear attacks from the Japanese – it was just bang, bang, bang. It was just very loud! When we needed to get out of the way of the bombs you would get down a fox hole which was about four feet underground."
“My job there was mostly driving the petrol tanker and loading the planes up with fuel. “The camp was pretty crude when we first arrived but it got better with time.”
Lloyd was serving in Borneo when Victory in the Pacific was declared.
“Someone yelled ‘the war is over’, there was a big cheer right across the base. We didn’t have anything to drink but we certainly did make a bit of noise,” he laughs.
Lloyd flew back home to Sydney via Darwin and Queensland and got discharged at the end of 1945 at the age of 22.
He returned to the Northern Rivers region of NSW and began working as a carpenter and draftsman and retired to Ballina when he hit 62.
“A lot of things happened during the war, but at 96 your memory begins to fade. I had a lot of friends in the Air Force but they’re all dead now. I am still a member of the RSL, but can no longer do the Anzac Day March but I caught the bus and joined the service last year.”