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Bobby Gibbes Writes on Fear...

Bobby Gibbes, one of Australia's most distinguished fighter leaders, has written (below) surely the most poignant example of heart-felt honesty on record in the Squadron’s history, concisely describing his innermost feelings after air-combat.  It certainly conveys to those of us who have never experienced the proximity of possible death; just how the pilots who faced it, day-in and day-out, had to learn to cope with it.

 

 

 

"...I have already written about the peculiarity of air fighting, in that one minute the air is full of twisting, turning, frantic aeroplanes, and the next minute not a single enemy machine can be seen.  The enemy has completely disappeared.  You then collect the remnants of your Squadron, count them hastily, then the fires burning below.  The feeling is a strange one.  Some of those fires down below contain the mutilated bodies of your friends but as you look down, you have no real feeling other than, I hate to confess, probably terrific relief that it is them and not you.  It must be the animal in us really I suppose, and the strong spirit of self-survival which has become uppermost.  Man becomes animal when he thinks he is about to die.

As you fly back to your base, now safe at last, a feeling of light-hearted exuberance comes over you.  It is wonderful to still be alive and it is, I think, merely the after-effect of violent, terrible fear.  I am not afraid to confess to being frightened.  I was almost always terrified.  On landing back, you look for your squadron aeroplanes at the dispersal sites, and if your friends' aeroplanes are there, you heart fills with gladness for you have become a caring human being again. 

Then, there is the anxious wait for other aircraft.  Sometimes, after you have given up all hope, an aircraft comes into the circuit area.  You look eagerly for its identifying letters, hoping against hope that it is one of the missing, returning.  If it is, you feel terrific gladness and relief.  Then again, you might wait for days to learn the fate of missing people.  Sometimes they have been taken prisoner, sometimes word comes through that they were killed.  If you had seen the aircraft go down, you have a good idea as to its fate, but you can never be certain. 

I have seen pilots return from the dead…"

There are several more passages as moving as this in Bobby's autobiography: "YOU LIVE BUT ONCE" .

The photograph of Bobby at left was taken by the Allison Motors US representative who provided technical assistance to 3 Squadron in the desert, Sam Wikham.

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