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Rene Colebatch (nee Ford) on John Bell

John Bell and my brother Norman Ford [always called Phil) were accepted by the RAAF in 1935. I had no idea until lately that Johnny was two years younger than Phil and only one year my senior.

We met when Phil rang to say that a group of cadets were doing a training flight to South Australia, with permission to stay in Adelaide over the weekend. As was too far for his friend to go home to Farina [Farina? Where was that?), could he stay with us? My parents were delighted to say yes and in due time the two young men arrived to the warm family home and a warmer welcome for the quiet boy who said very little.

We did not believe in probing so we learned very little about John’s life before enlistment. Until recently I had no idea that he had brothers. I remember a not very tall boy (like my brother) who had very little to say, and never mentioned his family.

We were great friends, and on one visit he gave me wings and buttons made of brass, which the cadets had to polish with Brasso. I had the wings made into a brooch and wore it with pride. When I married in 1939 I gave it to my mother to wear, I never knew what happened to it.

One day my brother rang and said John’s ship was going to Outer Harbour and that he would contact me. Ship? I thought he was in the Air Force! Some weeks later I was wakened on Sunday morning at about 6am by a shattering noise that made the whole house shake (or so it seemed), it happened three times and every dog was going mad. After a couple of hours the phone rang and a quiet voice asked, “Did I wake you?” It was John Bell himself, asking if I would like to come down and see his ship? Ship?

So my father and I drove down to Outer Harbour and Johnny met us on the wharf. I said “what’s that?” and he said “Oh that’s my plane, the one I flew over your house”. By that time he was a pilot officer at the age of nineteen. The plane was on a ship on which John served while in Australian waters.

I laugh when I remember being given a very extensive tour of the ship. Everywhere we went heads popped out or around corners – I was embarrassed.

Then Johnny Bell went off to England to his destiny and I married a farmer who didn’t like flying. But I still remember vividly the quiet boy from Farina.

MB In the family photo, John stands far left