War secrets uncovered

JUST over four years ago Lismore man Charles Betteridge was helping his sisters clean out his late father's old wooden trunk when he unexpectedly came across some amazing Anzac treasures.

Under several blankets he discovered a false bottom to the trunk concealing hundreds of old photographic negatives, details of secret First World War Morse codes, armed forces papers and other Great War memorabilia.

His father, Richard Betteridge, who died on Remembrance Day 52 years ago, had been an aircraft mechanic and wireless operator on early fighter planes in Egypt, Palestine and the Suez from 1916 to 1918, then in France where the famous German fighter pilot the Red Baron Manfred von Richthofen had ruled the skies till April 1918.

Mr Betteridge said his father had never spoken much about his war experiences or the photos, many of which would have been taken "illegally" of planes, Allied equipment, personnel and the damage done by German air raids.

"My father told us over the years not to ever go near that trunk," Mr Betteridge recalled yesterday.

"Later as our lives changed we didn't even give it a thought."

From the long-hidden photos and paperwork Mr Betteridge has learnt his Dad, born in 1892 in England, joined the Australian Imperial Forces in 1916 after moving to Melbourne in 1911.

He was the sole wireless operator in No 67 Squadron, the Australian Flying Corps' second reinforcements to the Great War and would have sat in line with the pilot on hundreds of missions in the two-man planes.

"According to his records Richard was 'in the thick of it' ... not back at the relative safety of an airfield."

Mr Betteridge said the wireless operator's job, which included letting out a 36m aerial then winding it back up quickly before landing, was sending coded messages to Corps HQ about enemy locations and artillery.

After the war his father stayed in Sydney for a year, taking a course in motion picture projection, then moved to Lismore in 1920.

It was not until 2008 that, with his twin sisters, Charles helped clear out blankets and other items from the old wood trunk his father had kept with him throughout his war service.

The negatives were neatly stored in 100 paper pockets and despite being over 90 years old most were beautifully clear when printed.

The photos include one of his Dad standing in front of a fighter plane at Weli Sheik Nuran in the Middle East in 1917, taken by another aircraft mechanic using his father's original 1916 Kodak camera.

Mr Betteridge said his father several times received wounds from shrapnel in German bombing raids but he had continued on at his radio "no matter what".

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