The bombing of Darwin in February 1942 resulted in the establishment of 10 main airbases with two additional satellite bases for each main base in Australia’s Northern Territory. Coomalie was one of Batchelor’s satellite airbases and was home to Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) squadrons 31 and 87 (87 was born from No. 1 Photo Reconnaissance Unit at Coomalie). 87 Squadron was a photoreconnaissance unit that flew Mosquito aircraft.
The F–52 camera was a World War II British photoreconnaissance camera and the Coomalie Mosquitos were fitted with these advanced cameras for the duration of the war.
There was only one fatal aircraft crash at Coomalie for the entire war. It occurred in August 1945, resulting in the death of pilot Gillespie and serious burns to navigator Haynes. The aircraft crash occurred due to the aircraft suddenly veering off the airstrip during take-off (Mosquitos were prone to do this on occasion). The aircraft then flipped and caught fire. The crashed aircraft was cleared away with a bulldozer and dumped in the Coomalie Creek.
In the mid 2000s the current owner of the airbase, Richard, located a ‘frosted crystal like object, the size of a fist’ (pictured above, image courtesy: Shanahan 2013) at the site of the Gillespie Mosquito accident. Considering the location of the find and the size of the item, Richard asked a geologist to test its lead content. The results of the examination confirmed it was most likely the F–52 camera lens as it contained the expected 7% lead found in lens from the time. Upon further inspections of the crash site and the Coomalie Creek the severely burnt back casing of the F–52 camera was located.
This find not only adds to the ever evolving narrative and living history of the airbase, but it is a physical item that the Gillespie family have been able to connect with (Gillespie’s family are heavily involved with the living history at Coomalie).
If you would like to know more about the site or the F–52 lens please send an email to [email protected].