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23 April, 2021

Val's happy memories of air force days

ONE of Cairns’ few remaining World War II veterans, Val Veivers, will have an honoured role as part of a ‘passing on the torch’ ceremony at this year’s Cairns Anzac Day.

Air force veteran Val Veivers, with former National Serviceman Neville O'Brien. Photo: Tanya Murphy

Ms Veivers grew up in Freshwater and joined the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force as an aircraftwoman in 1944, when she was only 18.

The 95-year-old trained and served as an engineer who worked mostly on engines for the B-24 Liberator, a heavy bomber aircraft.

“I got on a train to Brisbane, and from there we got onto a big truck and they took us to Sandgate for a couple of months of training exercises, then I went to an engineering school in Melbourne,” she said.

“When we got to Melbourne, we were holding each other’s hands, afraid we’d get lost. It was such a big place for us, coming from Cairns.”

Ms Veivers attended lectures and worked producing metal tools at the training school before transferring to Amberley to work on planes, where she refused to let men of equal rank boss her around.

“A chap said to me one day, ‘Will you go and get a spanner,’ and I ignored him,” she said.

“He kept saying ‘Go and get me a spanner,’ so I got up and said ‘No, you went to school, and I went to school too.’”

Ms Veivers’ first time traveling on a plane was a hair-raising experience, as she adventurously begged a ride with a pilot who was en route to New Guinea, rather than take the train home to Cairns for leave.

“He had no passenger seats, so I stood behind him on that tiny rickety plane for a five-hour flight,” she said.

Ms Veivers said army life was disciplined but said she loved every minute of it.

“We never got sheets or pillowcases, we had bags of straw. You had to make your bed in the morning and have the sheet on exactly straight. We had to have our hair cut an inch above the collar. We got our food rations in dixie tins.

“But I enjoyed every minute of it! It was a wonderful time of my life. I cried when I got out. I met so many lovely people, and made so many friends. Those were good days.

The war ended and Ms Veivers returned to Cairns and worked at Woolworths for the next 20 years.

She has two children, and several grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Ms Veivers had two brothers who between them served in Tel Aviv, New Guinea, and Borneo and both returned home after the war.

Ms Veivers’ carer Neville O’Brien was enlisted into national service in 1957 and then spent two and a half years in the Citizen Military Forces.

“I believe the national service should be brought back in, because it really gives you a different attitude on life, it really does. Discipline too. But on the condition that they stay in Australia and don’t get sent overseas,” he said.

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