for the strengthening of democratic tendencies among the Japanese people. These objectives were to be supervised by General Douglas MacArthur.
The Australian Government assessed that involvement with the occupying force would enhance Australia's political, economic and military prestige in the Pacific region. After discussion between the Australian Chief of the General Staff, Lieutenant General Northcott, (who subsequently Commanded the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces), and MacArthur in October and representations to the United States Government by the Minister for External Affairs, Dr H.V. Evatt, it was agreed that forces from Australia, Britain, New Zealand and India would comprise the British Commonwealth Occupation Force (B.C.O.F) and be responsible for the Hiroshima Prefectures The air contingent of this force was known as British Commonwealth Air Group (BCAir). The Australian element of the group was 81 Wing, which comprised three Mustang fighter squadrons, and supporting units, one of which was 5ACS. This construction squadron was answerable to RAAF Headquarters in Melbourne and not formally under the command of BCAir.
A works survey party departed from Labuan for Tokyo on 6th October 1945 to select airfields and accommodation for 81 Wing. The party consisted of Wing Commander W.A.C. Dale, Squadron Leader J.F. Liberty, Flight Lieutenants M.E. Collard, N.F. Binks and W.L. Harrison, Sergeant R.M. Kilpin, Corporal T.E. Davis and Leading Aircraftman M.G. Maher, J.H. Symes, D. Frost and G. W. Park.
The party travelled in two Dakota aircraft, arriving at Tachikawa airfield, Tokyo, on 12th October. The airmen were billeted with members of the US 5th Air Force opposite the Imperial Palace in the Marunouchi district of central Tokyo, where each man had a private room, slept `comfortably on stretchers and ate particularly well ... fresh poultry, fruit and ice cream etc'. The group stayed in the Tokyo area until early in January 1946, undertaking the survey of the Narimasu airfield, absorbing culture, and noting the effects of the American bombing of the city. B 29 fire bombing raids at the end of the war had gutted vast areas of suburban Tokyo, but the better side of civilisation was still in evidence. On the evening of 26th November, George Park attended a performance of Dvorak's New World Symphony in Hibiya Park and, at a later date, an outstanding performance of Handle’s Messiah at the same venue. Tokyo supplied both cerebral and earthy diversions. Black marketers were rampant and there were a multitude of premises opened ready to exploit young men in search of wine, women, and song.
Travelling from Tokyo could be a cultural shock. George Park recounts that on 24th and 25th November:
I travelled by train with several American servicemen to Atami where we stayed in a Japanese hotel. Excellent accommodation and being in a thermal spring area the hotel had a large communal spa bath where the hot springs water flowed through continuously. One entered the spa room, undressed, took a shower and then lowered oneself into the water very, very slowly it was so hot.
It was a pleasant experience for a young fellow like me, nude bathing was something I had only read about, and every time I thought of getting out another attractive Japanese girl arrived to take a bath, and I would remain a few minutes longer.
Next day George visited the mountain resort at Nikko, where the `temple with its gold leaf finish to the ornamentation was breathtaking' before seeking `accommodation in a Japanese guest house where we donned kimonos and when we went to bed, laid out our sleeping roll and slept on the tatami mats under warm eiderdowns'. It was exotic and hedonistic, a sample of an alien culture.
On 11th January 1946, George Park and Flying Officer J.T. Georgeson (who had left Labuan on 27th November 1945 with Pilot Officers S.R. Scott and A.J. Robertson) departed from Tokyo for Hiroshima. The flight hit severe turbulence as it closed with Mount Fuji to enable the men to photograph the Japanese icon. Georgeson was standing in the aisle when the aircraft dropped in a severe air pocket; he hit the roof before sprawling unceremoniously on the floor. The last half hour of the flight was made at sea level, below the cloud base. On landing, the passengers, tired and disheveled, welcomed the presence of a vehicle, which took them to their billets at Kure. A preliminary survey of the Hiroshima airfield was made, but it was found unsuitable for RAAF operations. At the landward end of the airstrip was the Hiroshima jail, and the two Australians approached the jail governor for discussions regarding the possible extension of the runway through his establishment. Naturally, the governor was not pleased with the prospect. An inmate proved a helpful interpreter during the discussion. As a paymaster in the Japanese Navy he had exploited the pandemonium resulting from the atomic bomb explosion to abscond with the paymaster's safe and its contents. On 20th January 1946, the two Australians drove by jeep to Iwakuni to assist with the survey of the airfield preparatory to the arrival of 5ACS.
Despite being seriously under strength (only 14 officers and 189 airmen had volunteered for service in Japan) 5ACS prepared for deployment to Japan while the survey party was enjoying its first contact with Japanese culture. LSTs 321, 324 and 403 arrived at Labuan on 5th February 1946. The convoy departed on 11th February. Alan Robson was one of the volunteers and recalls that the convoy ran into a typhoon. The shallow draft, flat-bottomed LST on which he was travelling was not the most comfortable ship at the best of times and the fully loaded LST bent, twisted and turned with the motion of the sea. A D 8 caterpillar tractor broke loose, threatening to ram the bow door of the ship. The men, battling the slippery combination of water and fuel from a burst fuel tank, secured the runaway machine. To retain the stability of the ship, much of the upper deck cargo had to be thrown overboard. When the weather settled and an assessment of the damage was made, it was discovered that vehicles containing spare parts and the winter clothing for the men had been jettisoned.
The three LSTs grounded at the seaplane base slipway at Iwakuni on 22nd February. Three days later the unit established itself in the hangars and existing buildings at the slipway, thus ending George Park's comparatively luxurious life style. For the newcomers it was even worse. They had landed in summer uniform. To sleep, a blanket would be placed on the ground on which four men would lie, cover themselves with three more blankets, and trust that the combination of body heat and the covering would counter the freezing temperature.
Clothing deficiencies were a vexing problem for the unit's equipment staff. The clothing supplied did not meet the extremes of the Japanese climate all personnel had been issued with blue battle dress before departing from Labuan, but many did not have overcoats or gloves to counter the bitterly cold winter. In the summer appropriate uniforms were unavailable. As late as August members travelling off the base on leave were forced to wear dress 5A, which was incompatible with the heat.
Flight Lieutenant P.G. Lings and Flying Officer A.L. Clarke supervised the rehabilitation of seven accommodation blocks at Iwakuni. Work on the replacement of windows, doors, ceilings, and electrical and plumbing installations commenced on 1st March. The rehabilitation of another six buildings commenced on the 13th. On the same day, an agreement was made on an acceptable policy under which Japanese tradesmen would be employed. However, 5ACS was not to benefit from their toil; on 11th April the Squadron Headquarters and all personnel moved into new quarters at the Toyo cotton mill employee’s dormitory. Don Holdsworth, who `still does not know why [he] was posted to an ACS as my mustering was an airframe fitter wrote that:
The barracks were in the two storey wooden dormitory ... They consisted of about seven parallel buildings joined by a covered walkway and in each building there were [about] eight bedrooms on each floor, sleeping six or eight [men]. The floor was rice straw mats (tatami), made to be walked on with slippers not air force boots. The ceiling was light loose board and a home for large rats, which would race across it at night and occasionally falling through and landing on some unsuspecting airman below. The problem of rats was soon overcome after someone came up with the idea of putting a few snakes in the ceiling. However, one snake happened to find its way into an N.C.O.’S bed...
The manpower situation was alleviated with the arrival of 95 personnel from Labuan on
1st April 1946. Another 78 arrived on the Duntroon direct from Australia on the 13th, enabling the work force to be better utilised with the tasks of rehabilitating the three airstrips assigned to BCAir Bofu, Miho and Iwakuni. On 4th March 1946 Jack Georgeson (newly promoted to the rank of flight lieutenant), Jim Symes, and George Park travelled by train to Bofu to survey the airfield. The 80-kilometre trip took two and a half hours, and the men found the work difficult due to the icy winds and snow covered ground. The heavy equipment was transported by rail. There was no passenger accommodation on the train so the men had to sit in on the vehicles, exposed to the elements and the irritation of coal dust in the eyes and nose. The road from the disembarking point to the airfield was windy and narrow. Where the graders could not negotiate an `s' bend, the D 7 bulldozers were used to cut the corners.
The wisdom of including a construction element in the RAAF contingent was vindicated when the concrete runway at Bofu `failed' unexpectedly in June 1946. The original runway had been completed just prior to the end of the war and appeared to follow then current Japanese construction practices. The concrete used was low in cement content and not reinforced, to a depth of five to ten centimetres on an ungraded base. Expansion gaps consisted of timber fitches a natural surface runway and taxiways were completed by August, pending approval for the construction of a 1,615 metre permanent runway of 16 centimetres deep reinforced concrete. In January 1947, 235 Japanese and 15 Australians were employed on this task, which was completed in July. The following month the taxiways were prepared to handle the first Qantas Lancastrian courier from Australia.
The facilities at Bofu were also improved. A service road was constructed between 81 Wing Headquarters, the city, and a hospital and dental facility was built. An amenities room was provided. Hangars were refurbished and an armoury constructed for the use of the fighter squadrons of BCAir. During April 1947, construction of 42 family units was commenced. All this refurbishment, new construction, and the maintenance of existing facilities placed a heavy workload on the unit. During March 1948, 5ACS personnel worked 591 man hours and the Japanese employees 20,494.14 The base was in good shape when it was handed over to the US 5th Air Force 347th Fighter Wing on 19th October 1948.
Wing Commander A.M. Harrison, Group Captain D.G. Christie, and unit civil engineering officers inspected the airfield at Miho, east of Kure on the Inland Sea, on 26th March 1946. The runway at this base was found to be satisfactory Miho became BCAir's main armament training base but a vast amount of work was required to rehabilitate camp and engineering facilities. Flying Officer H. Pannell remained at Miho to direct the work being controlled by the Japanese technicians of the Tittori Prefecture. Flying Officer S.R. Scott, who continued with the work of building water and electrical reticulation systems, fuel installation and camp buildings, replaced Pannell on 13th May 1946. By the end of May sufficient buildings had been refurbished to accommodate 500 personnel. Two months later, plans for the semi permanent development of Miho involving the building of personnel amenities and facilities such as a canteen, recreation hall and messes were developed. Hangars were re roofed and a station sick quarter built before the commencement of the construction of homes for 56 families in April 1947. During September work commenced on the Sakae jetty for use by the Air Sea Rescue launch assigned to the base. Miho was handed over to the 5th Air Force on 7th May 1948.
The development of a major base at Iwakuni followed a similar pattern. The squadron was involved with the rehabilitation of the facilities at the base and, from early 1947, the construction of dependant housing. Japanese contractors who were supervised by members of the squadron undertook these projects. Hal Pannell recalls one incident-involving dependant housing which had scalding repercussions: Heating of the buildings was by reticulated steam. The Commanding Officer Arthur Harrison's wife arrived and, after the usual receptions etc, arrived at the house and wanted to use the toilet. However, when she flushed the convenience, it was found that the Japanese contractor had connected the steam to the toilet. I got the rounds of the kitchen by Arthur Harrison [as a result].
Not all the incidents involved the misreading of plans. Eric Graham was a carpenter who recalls working with a fiery tempered tradesman. The two tradesmen had been tasked with the installation of interior fittings in the married quarters and were hampered by the daily vacillation of certain ladies of the house regarding the installation of interior fittings. Eric's partner's patience, never long, was at breaking point; he advised the ladies to `stuff off. As a result the two tradesmen were required to explain the situation to the commanding officer. Next day, when the ladies in question commenced to give instructions in Harrison's presence, they were told by him that `they had been told what to do on the previous day, and that they should do [as they had been told]'.
During May 1947, the existing concrete strip at Iwakuni began to break up. As it required constant maintenance, work commenced on a new 1,829-metre foot runway in November 1947. One of the major problems was that `there was very little land available. We had to rehabilitate or resume a square mile of sea adjoining the mainland at Iwakuni and construct a bund round [the southern end] and then pump out water and ... fill [with material] on which to build the actual runway."' Work proceeded using Japanese contractors and airfield construction squadron personnel expertise to supervise the task. The runway was constructed of 516 concrete slabs, the last of which was laid on 23rd April 1948. During the period of construction 22 tip trucks of the unit travelled 73,730 kilometres and moved 8,195 cubic metres of gravel from pits along the Monzan river. These activities were not without humour. On 7th June 1947 the men were loading decomposed granite onto tip trucks. A small bulldozer was being used to push the granite into a chute, from where it dropped into the tray of a truck below. The bulldozer did not stop in time and slid down the chute onto the truck. A crane, applied with typical ACS ingenuity, extracted the dozer and the undamaged truck went on its way.
All these construction projects depended on local Japanese labour. The members of the ACS provided expert plant operators, drivers, and other specialists. Percival Lings was the area labour officer, responsible for the employment of a total of 10,000 Japanese labourers and tradesmen employed on the three bases. Another example of Japanese labour being supervised by Australians was that of Don Holdsworth's Engineering Stores Section, where 150 Japanese were controlled through three Nishi (Japanese who had lived in continental USA or Hawaii) interpreters. Obviously work contacts between the two nationalities could result in social contact, disregarding the official policy of non fraternisation between BCAir members and Japanese nationals.
By June 1946 the initial morale problems had been virtually overcome. The men worked ten days without respite, followed by four days of relaxation. During this time, they could requisition a truck and driver and undertake one day exploration of the spectacular scenery or use the improved welfare amenities and facilities at Iwakuni. Australian Rules, Rugby Union, Cricket, and individual sports were available to unit members to play competitively or as relaxation. Leave facilities had been established in Tokyo to cater for the Australian airmen on leave. For those seeking something different, American leave hostels in Tokyo and Osaka, although officially off limits, welcomed the Australian Servicemen. Travel was by Special Forces trains. However, it was more challenging to travel by normal civilian train. A visit to the ancient city of Kyoto, which was officially off limits, was a battle of wits between the men and American military policeman intent on discovering their presence on the train.
Trains are prominent in the folklore of the squadron during this period. Enterprising members would board a train at one station, travel to next, and catch the return train, selling sweets to the confectionary starved Japanese. At the end of a series of transactions the train would be stopped outside the barracks, halfway between Fuzyu and Iwakuni, and the entrepreneurs disembark. When alighting they were within sight of the commander's office, and the order went out for the practice to desist. As a result the men got off on the blind side and Harrison could truthfully say that he did not see anyone alighting from the stopped train.
During this period Japanese trains stopped for tea, and this practice was the reason for drastic action by two members of the squadron. The delay would mean that the men would be absent without leave. After considering their options, a decision was made to `pinch the train'. To an accompaniment of gesticulating passengers and a slamming of doors, the train puffed towards Iwakuni, where it literally ran out of steam. The two tyro train drivers disembarked and took to their heels through the paddy fields with the Service Police in hot pursuit. A shot over the evader's head from a service revolver only added impetus to their flight. After evading pursuit our heroes, freshly bathed, were sleeping like innocents when a check of the barracks was made.
During 1948 the British forces withdrew from the occupation forces and the Australian Government decided to reduce the Australian air commitment to a single squadron and supporting services. In November 1948 the responsibility of works projects was assumed by the Works Engineer of 77 Squadron and equipment to be returned to Australia was withdrawn from operation. 5ACS, Iwakuni, was disbanded on 15 February 1950.