In 1939 Australia entered World War 2 following Great Britain’s declaration of war on Nazi Germany. During this time the Royal Australian Air Force (R.A.A.F) established twelve Elementary Flying Training Schools (EFTS) across Australia to meet the rapid demand for pilots and aircraft to support the war effort.
One of the locations selected by the R.A.A.F to establish the 7th EFTS was Western Junction, the site of the current Launceston Airport. Western Junction was the first R.A.A.F. training establishment to be located at a civil aerodrome which was being used by the Tasmanian Aero Club. It was also the only EFTS that was established in Tasmania during the war years.
Construction of the site started in August 1940 with the aim to build 43 hutments which was to accommodate the aircraft and personnel. By August 1941 hundreds of men were working day and night building a small city at Western Junction aerodrome to house the No. 7 Elementary Flying School. The buildings being erected at the aerodrome included workshops, offices, recreation and canteen huts, sleeping and messing accommodation, a laundry and boiler house, garages, stores, armoury and a special hut for wireless telegraphy instruction and link-trainer courses.
Flight training commenced in September 1941 with the first contingent of 21 pupils arriving from throughout Tasmania and the mainland. They were quickly followed by a second contingent of about 100. The capacity of the school was about 300 students per course intake. 11 Tiger Moth aircraft were sent from Laverton Victoria to Western Junction to be used for the flying component of the training. Students were required to complete 50 hours flying (25 hours dual and 25 hours solo). In addition to this, they were required to complete lectures and ground studies such as administration, airmanship, air frames and armament, aero engines, theory of flight, navigation, parachutes, and signals. The training courses extended over eight weeks, after which the trainees would enter a service flying training school on the mainland to commence their intermediate training on heavier and more powerful aircraft.
Training conditions in Tasmania were hard on those who had travelled from the mainland. The weather was cold and wet, with the runway often being turned to mud instead of solid ground. These conditions were both a blessing and a curse. The weather proved good practice for the conditions that the trainees would later face overseas; however, it also resulted in some tragic accidents and minor incidents during training exercises.
One of the most significant accidents at the site occurred on 31 May 1941, when two No.7 EFTS Tiger Moths collided as they were taking off. The pilot of one of the two aircraft was killed, while his passenger was badly injured.
By the end of October 1944, No. 7 EFTS was equipped with approximately 60 Tiger Moths, and had trained 1801 pilots. No. 7 EFTS' efforts were reduced as the war came to an end. Training was suspended in December 1944, and all flying ceased on 28 March the next year. The school was disbanded on 31 August 1945. Many of the Tiger Moths previously used by 7 EFTS were sold after the war, and three hangars constructed for the RAAF at Western Junction were donated to the Tasmanian Aero Club.
Today, there are two memorials in the area that are dedicated to all those who trained and served at Western Junction. They commemorate the ten servicemen who died while based there and honour the approximately one third of the 1801 pilots trained there who died whilst in training at other bases or on active service during the war. On the airport site, you will see a propeller which has been erected in dedication to those people who served or trained at the No. 7 EFTS Western Junction. This memorial is in the garden near the hire car parking area.
The second memorial, which displays an honour role of all service people who lost their lives while training in Tasmania, is located at the Memorial Hall and Gardens in our neighbouring village of Evandale.
We will be forever grateful to all who risked their lives so that we could live in peace. We will always remember the dedication, commitment and sacrifice of our Defence forces, past and present and are proud of the part that our airport site had in helping the war effort.
Western Junction Flying School 1941 – 1945; Tasmanian Aviation Historical Society Report Number: 2021.002.0; Author: Paul A.C. Richards, AM, February 2021
Fatal Aircraft Crash – Deaths Accidental; Examiner (Launceston, Tas.: 1900 - 1954), Saturday 5 February 1944, page 4
Units of the Royal Australian Air Force – a concise history; vol. 8 Training Units; Royal Australian Air Force Historical Section, 1995
The images used in this article were from the Burrows Photo Studio, Argus, Melbourne. Images sourced from the State Library of Victoria: http://www.slv.vic.gov.au.