{THEY PREPARED THE WAY

Extract from Always First by David Wilson

On 16 January 1943 Flying Officer Flemming and 25 men of 2MWS arrived at the 5MWS camp at Wards to arrange for the former unit to take over residence. 2MWS had been raised at Pearce, Western Australia on 10th June 1942. Flying Officer T.M. Scott, who had been appointed commanding officer on 15th June, arranged for storage of equipment at Chittering Road, near Pearce. However it was not possible to fill all the requirements of the new unit from resources in the west. On 31st August Scott wrote that having no direct representation in the eastern states after the posting of a Flight Lieutenant Reardon had been cancelled did not ease this problem. This was remedied with the departure of Pilot Officer G.E. White to Melbourne on 15th September. However, the urgent requirement for mobile works squadrons in New Guinea resulted in arrangements being made to transport the unit by rail to Brisbane during December. Three special trains departed from Midland Junction for Kalgoorlie, one each on 15th, 16th, and 17th December. Five special trains then transported 2MWS to Port Pirie, from where it deployed by rail to Brisbane and embarked for New Guinea on 4th January 1943.

The Jason Lee travelled via Townsville to Port Moresby, where it arrived on 14th January 1943. With the exception of guards, the 361 officers and men disembarked and proceed to Konedobu, to be greeted by one of the ubiquitous Japanese air raids on the area.
By 21st January all members were settled into camp at Wards, where they were employed building taxiways capable of handling heavy bombers, revetments, road culverts and repairing the airstrip. The work was undertaken in conjunction with the US 46th Engineers and was not restricted to work at the airfield. Men from 2MWS undertook construction work at the Sogeri Convalescent Depot and the Konedobu hospital before being ordered to move to Lae. Two LSTs were loaded with unit personnel and equipment on 1 December, and the unit disembarked at Lae on the 5th, before undertaking the gravelling of the Lae   Nadzab road.

There was one notable incident, which involved members of 2MWS during the unit's stay at Wards. At noon on 18 October 1943 Corporal F. MacRae and Leading Aircraftmen G.G. Dean, L.J. Milligan and J. Roberts were driving along the Baruna Road. At the same time Lieutenant Rosenbloom from the USAAF 36th Fighter Squadron was turning his P 39 Air cobra onto his final approach to land at Wards. To the horror of the watching men in the truck, the fighter rolled over onto its back and plunged into the slope at the northern end of the airstrip. The fighter burst into flame on impact. Dean sped to the burning aircraft, and the three passengers, MacRae, Milligan and Roberts leapt off. Milligan doused his overalls with water from a nearby water truck and joined MacRae and Roberts in an attempt to free the pilot. The heat forced potential rescuers to retire twice, but still the three Australians persevered. Exploding ammunition added to the hazard as Milligan, using a piece of engine cowling as a shield from the heat, led MacRae to the cockpit, where they succeeded in tearing the left cockpit door from the aircraft. Rosenbloom was still strapped into the cockpit.

The crash truck and fire tender arrived. MacRae commenced spraying the cockpit with foam as Milligan and Roberts continued their attempt to release Rosenbloom. The nozzle broke from the hose. Undeterred, MacRae directed foam to suppress the fire in the cockpit, before handing the hose to Dean and joining Milligan and Roberts. Milligan, in the meantime, had obtained a pocketknife from a bystander and was able to cut through the pilot's harness and the three airmen were able to extricate the pilot from the inferno. The men were exhausted from their efforts, and
Milligan received minor burns to his hands and arms. For their heroism MacRae was awarded a British Empire Medal, Milligan a Mentioned in Dispatches and Roberts a `commendation'.