The history-making Queen Elizabeth maiden visit to Newcastle today has rekindled Cunard Line’s strong wartime connection to Australia and the Hunter region in particular. On April 11, 1941, hundreds of men from the newly established 450 RAAF Squadron Williamtown boarded the original Queen Elizabeth in Sydney to sail to the Middle East. Proud veterans of 450 Squadron and family members today boarded the new Queen Elizabeth, the youngest of the Cunard Queens, for a special commemoration service to mark the 75th anniversary of the formation of the squadron.
The 450 Squadron veterans honoured on Queen Elizabeth today were Victorians Frank Hall, 93, and Kevin Murphy, 95.
The noon service held on the aft deck of Queen Elizabeth began with a three-gun salute from nearby Fort Scratchley, which also hailed the ship’s arrival and was due to farewell her on departure from Newcastle.
450 Squadron was nicknamed the ‘Desert Harassers’ in becoming one of the most famous RAAF Squadrons of the Second World War.
Carnival Australia Executive Chairman Ann Sherry said it was a privilege to welcome the 450 Squadron veterans and 450 Squadron families on board Queen Elizabeth.
"It is again a reminder that there is a deep connection between Cunard and Australia going back over many generations," Ms Sherry said. "It is a humbling experience to meet people who have given so much to their country."
Sandi Nipperess, the Secretary of 450 RAAF Squadron Association thanked Wing Commander Amanda Cornell Commanding Officer RAAF Base Williamtown and Base Warrant Officer Lloyd Hamilton, along with the personnel representing units from RAAF Williamtown, for their continued support and contribution to the day's events.
"Today has brought back many memories for our veterans," Ms Nipperess said. "Thanks to the amazing generosity of Cunard, Captain Clark and the crew of the Queen Elizabeth we have been given the opportunity to commemorate the formation of No. 450 Squadron in a manner never imagined. Our veterans can return to their homes knowing that although 75 years has passed by since they left the shores of Australia to fight for their country, the memory of No. 450 Squadron and its four and a half year long valiant war effort is still very much alive, never to be forgotten."
450 RAAF Squadron was raised as part of the Empire Air Training Scheme and was established at Williamtown on February 16, 1941, just months before departure on Queen Elizabeth.
Most of those who departed on the converted troopship were ground crew who, on arrival in the Middle East, formed an operational squadron with Hawker Hudson pilots from the Royal Air Force 260 Squadron.
450 Squadron eventually resumed its own identity with pilots and ground crew and was active for the remainder of the war operating in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Sicily and Italy.
With the war’s end, 450 Squadron was disbanded in Italy on August 20, 1945 with its proud service still remembered