A digger's life, a son's Anzac Day reflection

Tim Messiter sent this photo of his dad's class from Forbes Public School in 1931.
Tim Messiter sent this photo of his dad's class from Forbes Public School in 1931.

Thirty seven young boys, in the third class at Forbes Primary School in 1931. Born after The Great War, with no way of knowing another world-wide conflict was just years away.

Those surviving would be in their 90s now, do any of our readers recognise any of them?

In the front row, second from left, is John Messiter, whose son Tim shared this photo with the Advocate in the lead-up to Anzac Day.

"Every one of the boys would have a story," he said.

John and his brother Richard spent their early years in Forbes, moving to Wollongong in 1936.

It was here, during the start of John's long banking career, that he joined the services like many of his mates, Tim writes.

John joined the RAAF under what become known as the Empire Training Scheme. He went to Canada for bomber crew training, graduated as a radio operator / tail gunner and was posted to Swanton Morley in Norfolk, UK in November 1943.

John Messiter went on to fly 51 missions, one of those the German Panzer General Headquarters in La Caine in 1944.

"It involved 61 Bombers escorted by 33 Spitfires. 42 Typhoons. Firing 136 rockets and dropping 536 / 500 lb bombs," Tim writes.

The entries in his log book are brief, around D Day "great activity in area" is noted.

John's letters to his mother, found by his family after his death, tell more of his story.

Half joking in a letter to his mother he wrote. "Now what was it I wanted to tell you, yesterday I met the King and Queen. They were here for an investiture parade. Then later came round and talked to all we aircrew. The King, in Airforce uniform looked smart and really fit. He made me rather envious of his tan. He and Air Marshall Cunningham, the Australian, in the RAF, kept us laughing with their wisecracking at one another. The Queen, a beautiful woman, was just as charming as she looked, and talked and laughed with us with an ease which only she could possess. Although dressed plainly, as asked by the times, she seemed to set off the clothes, and the small jewel RAF wings and pearl ear rings helped considerably."

"General Eisenhower gave us an informal talk one day just before D Day, to let us know what was expected of us. We had had talks from Air Chief Marshall Leigh Mallory, and A.M. Cunningham before. I'd had quite a talk with the Secretary of Air, Sir Archibald Sinclair and his wife, some while ago, and even once had the chance of meeting General Montgomery the idol of the hour. A couple of days ago I saw Wing commander Guy Gibson VC of dam busting and Lancaster fame doing his stuff in a Spitfire, and of course too, noted RAF men such as Culan, Johnny Johnston, top scoring ace, and Braham."

In one letter to his mother his mother dated 17 Aug 1944: "The other news is not so good. While I was away on leave. Tom Hood and his Aussie pilot and crew went missing, There is know knowing, they will be OK, but the boys don't give them much of lot of hope."

Bomber Command crews also suffered an extremely high casualty rate: 55,573 killed out of a total of 125,000 aircrew (a 44.4 percent death rate), a further 8,403 were wounded in action and 9,838 became prisoners of war, Tim writes. On average 27/100 would survive a tour.

John Messiter retired to Taree in 1981 after 40 years in banking. He died in 1997 aged 73.

He devoted a lot of his time working for Legacy before he died in 1997 aged 73. He was survived by his wife Pat, three children and four grand children.

His brother Richard returned to Forbes and started the building company Messiter and Son, carried on by his sons Robert and Allen.

A Mothers Prayer

From Tim's father's collection of letters

Lord of the air, keep safe my son

till he returns, his duty done

from shrapnel shell, from fire and blast

protect his plane until the last,

bequeath to him a courage fine

to brace him in the firing line.

make straight his aim, make keen his eye

make brave his heart to face the sky.

O Lord Almighty, God of air,

keep thou his mind from dark despair.

steel thou his nerve, so sorely tried

by strain of war and friends who died

and grant to me when war is done

the blessed sight of this my son.