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Pinpointing the location of a wartime photograph

Daniel Leahy
10 August 2017

While scouring the collection database of the State Library of Victoria I came across a photograph of RAAF Tiger Moth A17-76 during World War II (see Figure 1). The library’s catalogue provided no specific information as to where the photograph was taken, other than suggesting it was in Victoria (SLV c. 1940).

Fig. 1 - RAAF Tiger Moth A17-76 (SLV, c. 1940)

Similar photographs of A17-76, probably taken during the same flight, were located in the collection database of the Australian War Memorial. These suggested that the aircraft “could be from No. 5 Elementary Flying Training School, Narromine” (AWM n.f.d.). Examination of the aircraft history card (RAAF Form E/E.88) for Tiger Moth A17-76 showed that the aircraft was never received by No. 5 Elementary Flying Training School, so the chances of the photograph being taken in the Narromine area were slim (NAA 1945).

Although an accurate date was not listed in either collection database, the fact that the aircraft’s roundels were of the ‘Pacific type’ (i.e. missing the red dot used pre-war) provided a terminus post quem for the photograph as approximately mid-1942 (Pentland 1980:62). On 3 October 1942 Tiger Moth A17-76 was received by No. 2 Aircraft Depot at Richmond, NSW, after being serviced by de Havilland and was subsequently received by No. 1 Air Observers School at Cootamundra just nine days later. On 30 November 1942 the aircraft was received by No. 11 Elementary Flying Training School at Benalla in Victoria, and remained with that unit until after the end of World War II (NAA 1945). It was probable that the photograph was taken during the aircraft’s time at Benalla.

The presence of a large forested area to the left of the photograph in what was otherwise a sea of farm paddocks (see Figure 1) provided an ideal landmark to target in modern aerial photography. Upon loading Google Earth and locating Benalla, just one large forested area appeared obvious – the Reef Hills State Park. Manipulating the view in Google Earth to an angle similar to that in the original photograph allowed a direct comparison of the landscape (see Figure 2).

Fig. 2 - View of the area south of Benalla, Victoria (Google Earth)

Matching features visible in both images include the presence of two rows of trees in the lower part of the images (i.e. the Broken River); the original Hume Highway and/or railway running diagonally across the images; as well as a number of other roads and field boundaries. Modern developments such as the Hume Freeway, Benalla Golf Club, and residential expansion can also be seen in the Google Earth imagery (see Figure 2).

This analysis has placed the photograph as being taken somewhere south of Benalla, probably between 30 November 1942 and the end of World War II. The Australian War Memorial have been contacted in regards to changing their current caption for the photographs in their collection and this is currently under investigation.

References

Australian War Memorial [AWM] n.f.d., DH-82 TIGER MOTH, SERIAL A17-76. DATE UNKNOWN, COULD BE FROM NO. 5 ELEMENTARY FLYING TRAINING SCHOOL, NARROMINE (NSW), AC0135. Retrieved 10 August 2017 from <https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C22536>.

National Archives of Australia [NAA] 1945, Aircraft status cards - Tiger Moth A17-1 to A17-99, A10297, BLOCK 85.

Pentland, G. 1980 RAAF Camouflage & Markings 1939-45, Volume 1. Dandenong: Kookaburra Technical Publications Pty. Ltd.

State Library of Victoria [SLV] c. 1940, Training aircraft of the RAAF, H99.206/2394.


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