The Kenmore-Moggill RSL Sub-Branch holds an informal morning tea each Friday in their rooms located within the RSL Care Pinjarra Hills Aged Care Community. Many residents from the Aged Care service (who are also veterans) regularly attend the morning tea and enjoy the casual conversation and fellowship offered by the Branch members.
On Friday 14th August the President (Trevor Dixon) surprised one attendee (Michael Swain) with a chocolate birthday cake. Michael turned 86 and the event was celebrated by the attendees at the morning tea and his wife Mary.
Upon talking to Michael and his wife, it was revealed that he has an interesting service history.
Michael joined the Royal Australian Air Force in 1949 and trained as a Flight Rigger. After training at Wagga Wagga he was posted to Point Cook, East Sale then back to Wagga Wagga for training as a Fitter 2A. This trade later became what is known as Air Frame Fitter. Following Fitter 2A training Michael was posted to Archerfield (Brisbane) where he worked on Tiger Moths.
During his service career Michael had many more interesting postings including the British Occupational Forces in Japan, Korea with No. 77 Squadron and Iwakuni (Japan) with DC3s supporting the local R & R run from Korea to Japan. His combined deployment duration was over 15 months in these overseas locations. Additionally, he served at Richmond (NSW) and the VIP Flight at Canberra – he assisted with the aircraft which transported the Queen during her visit in 1954. Postings to Uranquinty (near Wagga Wagga) Advanced Flight Training School, and Amberley No 3 Aircraft Depot where he worked on Lincoln aircraft followed.
While at Amberley he was selected to train on helicopters which saw him attend training courses with Hawker De Havilland at Bankstown. The conversion from fixed to rotary wing was conducted on Bell 47G-2 helicopters which the Army were using. After the conversion, Michael continued to work on helicopters with ARMYAIR for more than seven years until he was posted to No. 9 Squadron Amberley. He spent the usual tenure of 12 months in Vietnam (1967/1968) based at Nui Dat with the Army’s 161 Recce Flight. Following his service in Vietnam he returned to No. 82 Wing Amberley as a Warrant Officer Engineer until 1970 when he retired for family reasons after a distinguished 21 years service.
During his posting to ARMYAIR Michael was test flying a helicopter with the pilot on 1st November 1961 when it lost power, crashed and immediately caught on fire near Amberley. Michael escaped quickly and was running away from the crash when he heard the pilot calling for help. Unselfishly he returned to the aircraft and released the pilot with little thought for his own safety. The rescue was successful although the pilot was on fire but Michael managed to extinguish the burning pilot by taking off his overalls and smothering the flames. Both men survived their injuries, Michael returned to his work with ARMYAIR but sadly the pilot’s army career was over due to his injuries. For this act of bravery Michael was awarded the George Medal – the Citation is below.
The photo below shows Michael being presented with the George Medal at Government House by the then Governor of Queensland, Colonel the Honorable Sir Henry Abel Smith KCMG KCVO DSO.
“On 1st November, 1961, Sergeant Swain was flying as a technical crew member of a Bell Sioux Helicopter of No. 16 ALA Squadron when the aircraft crashed. On impact the port side fuel tank ruptured and burned fiercely, particularly on the pilot’s side of the aircraft.
Sergeant Swain released his harness and escaped from the burning wreck with his clothing alight. He then heard a call for assistance from the pilot, who was unable to release his harness. Sergeant Swain, with complete disregard for his personal safety, returned to the flame-enveloped cockpit to assist the pilot from the aircraft. At this stage there was a very great risk of explosion of either the whole of the wreckage, or from the starboard fuel tank.
After assisting the pilot from the aircraft, Sergeant Swain attempted to smother with his hands the pilot’s clothing. This was unsuccessful so he attempted to remove the pilot’s flying suit. Being unable to do so he removed his own overalls and with them extinguished the flames enveloping the pilot.
Sergeants Swain’s face and hands were severely burnt by his action. At hospital, after the rescue, the pilot was placed on the dangerously ill list and sergeant on the seriously ill list.
During this emergency Sergeant Swain showed a complete disregard for his own safety. His coolness, self-discipline and courage in the face of great danger were in keeping with the highest traditions of the service.”
History of the George Medal
“Instituted in 1940 by King George VI as a second level to the George Cross. It is awarded for acts of bravery in a non-war setting by civilians and members of the armed services involving circumstances of extreme danger where military honours are not otherwise available. Holders of the Medal are entitled to use the post-nominal GM. The ribbon is of crimson with five equally spaced narrow blue vertical stripes. The last award to an Australia was in 1982 representing the 118th awarded to Australians since 1940.”