‘Pure torture for a north Queenslander’
Howard Baskerville was a teenage bank clerk in Townsville, north Queensland, when he enlisted with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). He was just 18 years old but already had personal references espousing his ‘excellent character’, and his RAAF assessors noted his enthusiasm to join the war effort.
Howard was billeted at Melbourne’s Exhibition Buildings as a trainee wireless mechanic at the No. 1 School of Technical Training. But if Howard thought he knew what to expect, he was in for a shock: ‘I will never forget the straw palliasse on the bare floorboards on the balcony overlooking the main hall of the Exhibition Building.’ He also described the ‘unforgettable marching to and from the technical college’.
‘It was pure torture for a north Queenslander to suffer his first Melbourne winter. I recall showers which seemed a mile away from our bunks, the long queue for the basins and the showers, the even longer line up of bare bums, all shapes and sizes. Not even a female one among them to add a bit of spice.’
Howard’s brother, Ron, was serving overseas with the RAAF—but any hopes of their reunion were short-lived. Howard remained in Melbourne at the RAAF Telecommunication Unit Headquarters, providing vital wireless maintenance.
Finally, in July 1945, Howard was given a more challenging assignment and transferred to the secretive No. 1 Wireless Unit, back home in Townsville. Japanese messages were intercepted and decoded there, contributing to the vital work of the Allied Central Bureau for signals intelligence. It was a short assignment—two weeks later Japan surrendered, and the war was over. Howard remained with the unit until October, and stayed with the RAAF until 1948, rising to the rank of corporal.