Mat McLachlan Battlefield Tours
Tracing some of my families connections to WWII
Mat McLachlan’s Battlefield Tours has an excellent tour in New South Wales. From Sydney to Canberra, onto Temora, then to Cowra followed up by travelling to Bathurst and Lithgow, before returning to Sydney. All done in a private coach with an expert guide, who in this case was Mat himself.
My connections – The first call is to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, a must see for everybody. Inside is one of the midget submarines that attacked Sydney Harbour on the 30th May 1942
My father Ronald Osborne and my grandfather George Palmer, a well-known Watsons Bay identity, were on their way to fish the flathead grounds off Palm Beach. As they cleared the northern headland of the bay, the boom nets were still open after having let a 60-miler into the Harbour. After hailing the attendant they were advised to hurry up and get through. After registering they proceeded along Camp Cove and my father was setting the troll lines when they noticed a disturbance in the water near the nets. Thinking it was a school of fish they circled towards the event, but as they got closer they realized it was a mass of air bubbles and they alerted the person on the boom net boat/barge.
Next boats came out of Middle Harbour and dropped some depth charges onto the area of the bubbles, but the water was too shallow and they didn’t detonate. They were then advised to leave the area and head out to sea, because if it was a sub there might be some shooting!
The next stop was the Temora Airfield where the Warbirds Down Under Air Show was on. Part of the flying show is the only airworthy Hudson bomber, which was in 32 Squadron RAAF, my father’s squadron and also a plane that my father had actually worked on, as a ground engineer and also had flown in.
Onto Cowra and to inspect the ruins and the memorial for the Cowra Prisoner of War Breakout, where the Japanese POW’s decided it would be more honourable to die in battle rather than be a prisoner. My great uncle Vin was a cook at the camp at the time of the breakout.
Day 1. Leaving the meeting point in Sydney, we headed south towards Canberra. Stops were made for coffee and breakfast for some, as it had been an early start.
Arriving in Canberra we leave our luggage at our overnight accommodation and head to the memorial. The Australian War Memorial is recognised as one of the finest in the world https://www.awm.gov.au/ and is worth the trip to Canberra on its own.
The exhibits are astounding and are being continually upgraded and maintained. I have visited here many times and always find I haven’t enough time to see all of this extremely important part of our history.
Members of our tour had the option of being escorted or to do our own thing.
Our group stayed until the closing time, when we attended the sunset service. A very moving experience as the ode was presented and a lone bugler haunted us with the Last Post, while relatives laid wreaths in memory of those who fell and those who served.
The first evening we enjoyed a private dinner and a chance to get to know our fellow travellers a bit more.
Day 2. After an early breakfast we are on the road, heading off via Harden and its memorial to the Light Horse and a plaque ‘Bill The Bastard’! Bill was actually a horse from the Light Horse, who defied all attempts to ride him except for a Major Michael Shananan.
Temora and one of the greatest air shows in the Southern Hemisphere, Warbirds Downunder.
During the war Temora was home to No 10 Elementary Flying Training School, where more than 2400 RAAF pilots learnt the basics of flight before serving in combat in Europe and the Pacific. Today Temora is home to the Temora Aviation Museum, a collection of significant Australian aircraft used during wartime, nearly all in flying condition.
We are given our admission tickets (a part of the tour package) and let loose to enjoy the flying displays from dozens of aircraft including Spitfires, Hurricanes, Mustangs, Kittyhawks and my father’s 32 Sqd Hudson bomber.
The planes are something special, the aeronautics are mind boggling and try and imagine the sound of 6 x 12 cylinder aircraft flying in formation.
One sound you couldn’t imagine is the F/A18 Hornet taking off less than 100 metres away. The earth shook as did everything else.
There were plenty of static displays and aircraft to walk around and some even to explore. The facilities were more than adequate with many food and drink set-ups and souvenir stalls.
Day 3. As Temora was totally booked out, we took the short drive to Cowra where we were booked for two nights.
An early evening arrival and checked into our motel. The good news was that we were opposite a bar/bistro and a hotel was only 50 metres up the road, so we were able to quench our thirst and relive the sensational day.
Once in bed, my mind was still flashing back to the aerobatics and the shock waves of the F/A18 – the almost impossible turns as it rocketed across us and the sight of it flying in formation with a Gloster Meteor, one of the earliest of jet fighters.
Day 4. We visit the Cowra Japanese Garden and Cultural Centre and it just happens to have a great café serving breakfast.
The Centre was established to recognize and develop the relationship between the people of Cowra Shire and the people of Japan, a relationship that has its origins in the Camp that housed the Japanese P.O.W’s during World War II.
In 1960 the Japanese Government decided to bring all their war dead from parts of Australia to be re-buried at Cowra. This was the beginning of the friendship between Japan and the town of Cowra.
The gardens are a delight and should be added to your ‘not to be missed’ list when visiting Cowra. The breakfast was pretty special as well.
Prisoner of War Camp Site.
At 1.50 am on the clear moonlit night of August 5, 1944, the largest Prisoner of War breakout in modern military history occurred at Cowra. More than 1000 Japanese prisoners launched a mass 'suicide attack' on their guards, Australian soldiers of the 22nd Garrison. To the Japanese, the disgrace of capture could finally be overcome by dying in armed battle.
Armed with crude weapons, four groups each of approximately 300 Japanese threw themselves on to barbed wire fences and into the firing line of Vickers machine guns. Protected only by baseball mitts, blankets and coats and using their comrades as a human bridge to cross the tangled barbed wire, more than 350 Japanese clawed their way to freedom.
All escapees were captured during the following week. A total of 107 POWs were wounded, 231 prisoners died along with four Australian soldiers. (As told to us by Mat McLachlan).
There are audio visual displays to show where the camp was laid out.
A group dinner at the Cowra Services Club tops off another very interesting and informative day.
Day 5. We leave Cowra and head towards Bathurst and Lithgow, making a stop in Blayney and to have our group photo (See header) taken at their War Memorial Gates.
We stop in Lithgow and a visit to the Lithgow Small Arms Factory Museum.
Situated on the existing Factory site, this unique museum is widely recognised for its comprehensive collection of modern firearms from around the world, but more than that, it is a showcase of Australian manufacturing. Displays show the production processes and social history of this renowned facility. We were also amazed by the myriad of commercial items produced which provided the Factory's lifeblood between wars and preserved the valuable skills of its workforce
This was our last stop for the tour and back on the coach, then we head back to Sydney to the arranged drop-off point. Taking home our wonderful memories of an excellent tour.
Reflecting on the tour, it was the experience of travelling with a historian who brings the history to life. Mat McLachlan has made such an effort in researching this history and finding individual stories about the prisoners or prison guards which made it all the more interesting.
Also, nearly all of the group had been on many previous international tours with Mat and were also booking for next year.
The new brochure is out, so use the contact details below to get yours.
For complete details of all tours: https://battlefields.com.au and 1300 880 340 for any phone enquiries in Australia.
Words and images: Michael Osborne who travelled as a guest of Mat McLachlan Battlefield Tours.
Header. Blayney. War Memorial Gates
AWM. Midget sub
Temora. Husdon bomber
POW. Camp Cowra
AWM. 62,000 Poppies
AWM. Wreath laying
Harden. Light Horse Memorial
Temora. Warbirds Downunder
Temora. 72 cylinders sound beautiful
Temora. Gloster Meteor and F/A 18 Hornet
Cowra. Japanese Gardens
Cowra War Cemetery. Our group lays a wreath
Lithgow Small Arms Museum display