Anzac Day: WWII veteran Ted James recalls remarkable war adventure


World War II veteran Ted James saw the world and found a wife during his service. Picture: Matt Jelonek        d452603
World War II veteran Ted James saw the world and found a wife during his service. Picture: Matt Jelonek        d452603

Born in Subiaco on February 8, 1924, Mr James joined the Royal Australian Air Force shortly after his 18th birthday.

“I first looked at the Army but didn’t fancy crawling around in the mud and having to stick a bayonet in somebody,” he said.

“Then I thought about the Navy but I looked out to Rottnest and it was a bit rough and I did not fancy getting seasick either.

Left with the Air Force, Mr James nominated for aircrew in the hope of being selected as a pilot.

“At the end of basic training everybody got called up to find out whether they would become air gunners, navigators or pilots,” he said.

“I got selected as a pilot and sent straight off to Southern Cross to fly Tiger Moths and then Geraldton to learn how to fly Avro Ansons.

“I got my wings up there in Geraldton and then got sent home to wait for my posting – and that was when a love story started. My mother was invited to a church function by the minister and my father was away working in the country, so I went along with her.

“The minister also invited a Mr Holten, who I’d never met or heard of, and it turned out his wife couldn’t come so he was accompanied by his daughter Mavis. Mavis and I got talking and I was rather impressed, so the next morning I rang her up and asked her to go to the pictures with me.”

The blossoming romance was put on hold when Mr James was called up for service in Europe in early 1943.

“I went over to Sydney and then travelled by boat across over to San Francisco,” he said.

“Then they piled us into trains and off we went across America – we stopped about halfway across and the whole town was covered in snow, which we had never seen before.

“When we eventually got to New York it was about midnight and they gave us ice cream for tea.”

Mr James woke up the next day with a temperature of 40.5C – he had caught pneumonia.

After recovering in hospital he reported to the Air Force base, only to find he was not yet needed for duty.

“They told me they didn’t want me yet and to go get a motel room and call them each morning to see whether I was needed,” Mr James said.

“So that’s what I did – I rang up each morning and they’d say ‘no, not yet’ so I’d go around New York – up the Empire State Building, out to the Statue of Liberty; it was a great time.”

Eventually the call came and Mr James was shipped off to the UK, where he would spend close to four years as an advanced flying trainer.

“Of all the bombing raids in Germany, 8000 Australian air crew did not come home. The casualty rate was very high,” Mr James said.

Meanwhile, Mavis had joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force.

“Mavis and I wrote each other all the time but I wouldn’t make a commitment because as a pilot up in Europe you never knew what was going to happen,” Mr James said.

“When the war finished the first letter I sent her asked if she would marry me.

“Back came a letter from her with one word on it – yes.”