A man who gave much


susancFriday, 28 August 2015 - 6:19am

A man now in his nineties, Jim Clayton is a wonderful example of a life well-lived.

He was born in Carlton NSW in 1923 and went to school in Clovelly and Hornsby and then attended Ultimo Tech to do his Intermediate Certificate.   He always did well at school, usually coming 2nd or 3rd in the class, but not at Ultimo Tech where uninterested teachers only managed to get Jim and one other out of the whole class through the Certificate.  Jim’s reaction to these experiences of school seems typical of his life:  when much was expected – he gave much.  When little was expected, he found other interests.

In 1938 Jim did a business course in Sydney, and in 1939 the war started.  The Government took over wool buying in Australia and Jim’s Dad was put in charge of the Brisbane Wool Department.  Jim became the office boy in the Queensland Wool Shipping Office.  Much was expected and he did well, being promoted to shipping clerk after about 12 months.    

Jim turned 18 in 1941, walked 100 yards down the road from his office to the Air Force recruiting office and joined up.   In the same year the Government called him up for military service.  He joined the Area Signals for wireless and Morse Code plus normal discipline and training.  He was to defend the Brisbane line  - a line drawn on the map from Goondiwindi  to Brisbane which was supposed to prevent a Japanese invasion through Queensland.  Jim smiles as he recounts a dozen blokes with no guns being told to stand against a possible invasion.  Little was being expected of Jim and he started to look for the next interest.

It seemed the Air force has forgotten him, so Jim joined the AIF (Australian Infantry Forces) to serve overseas, and completed a commando course at Toowoomba prior to going to New Guinea.   But he was called out of parade, and sent to Maryborough to do an 8 month course in wireless operation.  The RAAF had priority over the AIF.  He did well, earned his sergeant stripes, and then went to Evans Head to do a gunnery course.  Jim was now qualified as a WAG (wireless operator and air gunner).

After a leave spent with his family in 1943, Jim was sent off on a troop ship first to the US and then on the hopelessly over-crowded Queen Elizabeth to the UK with 21 000 US troops who had to take turns to sleep on deck, while the 400 Aussies had a cabin for nine. 

In the UK, Jim went first to Brighton, Sussex for debarkation, then on the Millom Cumberland for Advanced Flying Unit, flying over the UK and learning how to operate wireless.  The next stop for Jim was the Operational Training Unit at Oakley near Oxford where the men were told to form themselves into crews of seven: a skipper, a navigator, a bomb aimer, an engineer, two gunners and a wireless specialist – this last was Jim’s position.  There is an old sepia photo in Jim’s lounge room of his crew – all handsome, eager young men who look as if they enjoyed life.  All survived, although now all except Jim are dead.  Jim remains in contact with the sons and daughters of these young men.

They flew some 30 trips over Germany in the 12 months they were together and Jim has some hair-raising stories to tell of those trips.  There was the time the skipper copped a bit of shrapnel between his legs – he’d been unable to get up to bombing height of 24 000 feet, so they carried out the run at 20 000 feet where they were in reach of ground guns.  Hence the stray piece that landed on the skipper.  Getting back to England when the land was covered in fog could be tricky.  Jim explains how they used to land at Woodbridge because the air strip there had two big channels filled with petrol which was burned to guide the planes down the runway.  Twice the rear gunner passed out from the ice, and it was Jim who had to get back with oxygen to revive him – one time during an actual bombing run.  ‘The plane was shot up a few times’, says Jim, ’but we did our job and got back’.  Much was expected and Jim gave much.

And then there was the leave – after a month of service, there was a 48 hour leave and Jim talks of going to London, which he says, was wonderful – even in war.  Servicemen were given free entry to all the theatres and historical sites – and Jim took full advantage of what was offered.

Jim came home in 1945 to prepare for the war with Japan but the atomic bomb brought an end to hostilities and Jim was able to resume his life’s work with wool.

Australia then ‘rode on the sheep’s back’ and Jim became one of the top wool valuers in Australia, working with a firm owned by Sir James McGregor, whose firm was the major buyer of wool till the 1960s.  It was clearly an occupation which Jim enjoyed immensely, and did well at. 

But in 1949 there was a truck strike and wool couldn’t be moved.  So, one Thursday during the strike, Jim rang St Phillip’s church in Sydney and asked how much notice he needed to give to get married.  He was told 48 hours was necessary, so he booked for the following Monday and phoned his girl friend, Lal, to say, ‘we’re getting done on Monday’.  Lal laughs when she says that she made him propose properly. 

Jim and Lal had met at the golf club at Asquith, and had danced together at a ball sometime later.  Jim had taken another young lady to the ball, and Lal had gone with another young man, a friend of Jim’s named Max.  After that dance Jim was certain he’d met the girl he was going to marry but Max was something of a complication.  Jim and Max came to an agreement – Jim could take Lal out when he was in Sydney, but when he was away, Max could take her out.  Six months later, there was a truck strike and a wedding.

Together Jim and Lal had two beautiful children – a son who has three children, and a daughter who lives in the Cove with her daughter and two of Jim’s great grandchildren.

When they moved to Cove in 1978 and built their house, there were only a small number of people living here permanently.  Jim and Lal have seen lots of changes in their 34 years as residents of the Cove.

Each year in June Jim and Lal go to Bomber Command reunion in Canberra, where underneath the wings of a Lancaster, such as Jim flew in during the war, they meet up with others who lived through those days.  They eat a meal, and remember old mates – other men, who like Jim, found much was expected, and who gave much.



We meet a person in the street. We sometimes stop to have a quick chat about the weather or our sore knees. Rarely though do we take the time to understand and appreciate the truly interesting background behind the person we are talking to. Great stories. Thanks Susan.

Tony H

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