AIR Force pilot Captain Ron Magrath reflected on those who gave the ultimate sacrifice and the toll it had on those left behind at Kalamunda’s Remembrance Day service this week.
Commemorating what was lost was the crux of the Order of Australia recipient’s address at Kostera Oval on Wednesday.
“The effect World War I had on Australia was huge because 50,000 men weren’t there as husbands for young ladies at the end of the war, and without 50,000 couples we didn’t have an odd 150,000 children,” he said.
“What a tremendous influence, or lack of influence, that has on the development of the country.”
Remembrance Day occurs every year on the eleventh hour of November 11, originally to mark the signing of the armistice that ended World War I, but now serving as a time to remember all fallen soldiers.
A wing commander stationed at Royal Australian Air Force’s Butterworth base in Penang, Malaysia from 1967-69 and again from 1975-77, Capt Magrath lost friends and colleagues alike to the Vietnam War but said the loss rate in training was often higher than that of combat.
“Working in the military is high risk enough even before battle,” he said.
“In the Mirage fleet, I lost around 15 of my associates in accidents, some of them very close friends I had trained and been stationed with.
“I’m not one for self-aggrandising or telling gory stories but we all experienced pressing moments where it was a life-threatening situation.”
On several occasions he also faced the hard task of delivering sad news to the deceased’s families.
“For a time in Butterworth I had to be temporary Commanding Officer and after an unfortunate accident I had to go over to the house with the [priest], and tell the wife Margaret her young bloke Perry, wasn’t coming home,” he said.
“It’s not something you get used to each time you do it.
“You never got any training for it and it was difficult, realising what the consequences were on the affected party, though the other wives were very good at comforting each other.”
Capt Magrath thinks of his Kalamunda RSL family, which includes Minister for Defence brigadier Linda Reynolds, similarly to the one he had in the Air Force.
“I’ve always said the Air Force was one big family and the main thing that I miss is the camaraderie – I never had any doubts about my commitment nor the commitment of my friends,” he said.
He said among that family, and often forgotten in recounts of military hardship, are the wives of the servicemen.
“Though we were the ones out doing patrols in jungles or on a ship or flying the planes doing the demanding tasks, I felt the utmost respect for wives and families,” he said.
“I’ve seen a lot of marriages break because they couldn’t put up with the pressures dad was going through every day.”
A common joke told amongst Air Force men was that they all married air hostesses, teachers or nurses – as it were, his first wife was an air hostess and the second a teacher.
In 1986 he retired from the Air Force so his wife Diane could sustain a permanent teaching position.
He ran an aviation company for 23 years until 2016 and now flies commercial charters.
He counts Diane as the one that kept him together over the years.
“I was on several committees and forums mediating for aviation safety when my wife, unbeknownst to me, was running around behind my back getting everyone’s endorsement for me to receive an Order of Australia Medal,” he said.
“I was pretty chuffed about that, though I really wasn’t expecting anything for it – it’s in everyone’s best interest to conduct aviation safety efficiently.
“Without a doubt the greatest loss of my life was when she died in May from an undetected block in her artery.
“Big tough fighter pilot, doesn’t cry unless he’s on his own.”
Capt Magrath said though he misses the ones he has lost over the years, he would do it all again if he could.