Wartime gave Ron wings
IT'S BEEN 70 years since former RAAF pilot Ron Timbs had his first flying lesson in a Tiger Moth, yet his face lights up when he talks about it - as if it was yesterday.
"It was fantastic," Mr Timbs said.
"I loved the Tiger Moth and still do."
A veteran of the Second World War, Mr Timbs became hooked on the idea of becoming a pilot after taking a flight off Brunswick Heads beach when he was seven years old.
Not long after, he took a joy flight in the Southern Cross flown by Sir Charles Kingsford Smith from the old Lismore Aerodrome.
With a keen desire to become a pilot, but not the means, the young Ron Timbs never gave up his interest and when war broke out in 1939, he applied to join the RAAF.
Much to his disappointment, Ron failed the entrance exams.
"I could never understand trigonometry - it was foreign to me," he said.
Not deterred, in 1942 he enlisted in the militia and completed his training to become a signaller in Sydney.
His unit was transferred to north Queensland, where Ron again applied to join the RAAF, this time successfully.
All went well until exam time and this time he scraped through, thanks to his education officer giving him one more chance.
"I was obviously delighted to be sent to Narromine, where we learnt to fly the Tiger Moth and put into practice what we had learned," he said.
Moving on to the Airspeed Oxford, a then-modern twin engine aircraft, he gained his wings and graduated as a sergeant pilot.
The pride of that moment still lives with him today.
At 20 years old, Ron was keen to see some action, along with his mate Ray Marsden.
"We were classified for low-level work. As far as we were concerned we wanted to go to New Guinea and fight Japanese, but that didn't happen," he said.
Instead Ron and Ray found themselves on an old Dutch ship called the Kota Baru going to the United Kingdom via the United States.
"We spent three to four weeks in America and it was fantastic. The hospitality of the Americans at the time was out of this world.
"One of the most memorable occasions was going with friends to Billy Rose's Diamond Horseshoe (a famous nightclub in New York) to see Eddie Calvert playing trumpet.
"It always stuck with me. It was the only time I ever got to visit New York."
After arriving in England, Ron found there wasn't much to do.
"There were thousands of airmen sitting around doing nothing, waiting for instructions and filling in time," he said.
When it became obvious there wasn't going to be a lot of action for young pilots, Ron and his mate Ray volunteered for training courses.
He was moved on to Digby in Lincolnshire and became attached to RAF squadron No 527, where he was once again flying the Oxford on radar training exercises.
"I was lucky to be given the opportunity to fly the Miles Master - a single-seat, dual-control aircraft - before being turned loose on what was my most memorable flight in the Hawker Hurricane.
"Going from a relatively low-powered aircraft to sitting behind a 1200HP Merlin caused quite a rise in the adrenaline on take-off and landing."
With the war drawing to an end, Ron took some leave to visit his relatives in Kent and it met his future wife of 67 years, Yvonne.
"I saw this beautiful, fair-haired, tanned, nice legs and figure to match ride past me on her pushbike," he said.
Marrying in 1946 before returning to Australia with his new bride, Ron said it was difficult to settle down.
"I missed my friends and faced the problem of employment," he said.
"Eventually I got a job as a proofreader with The Daily newspaper in Murwillumbah until 1963 when I joined the NSW Public Service as a sheriff's officer."
He moved to Grafton as the officer in charge and remained in the role until he retired.
"I never lost my love of flying and on retirement I bought a Piper Cherokee," he said.
Purchased for $13,000, it was powered by a 140hp single engine but maintenance costs, insurance, fuel, repairs and general expenses forced him to sell it.
Yet Ron was not going to give up on flying, so he and a few mates built a single-seat aeroplane, powered by a VW engine, called the Evans Volksplane.
This, too, he had to give up when, aged 84, Ron suffered a health scare and had to surrender his licence.
Now aged 91, Ron lives at Dougherty Villa in Grafton and still enjoys flying when he can.
As an honorary life member of the South Grafton Aero Club, he's regularly treated to a joy flight with a local flying instructor.
This Anzac Day, Ron Timbs will attend the Grafton dawn service - as he always does.