RAAF centenary brings back flood of memories for Mike Galvin

mike galvin
Mike Galvin shares his experiences with local school children prior to ANZAC Day. Photo: Supplied


CLAREMONT Sub-Branch Member Mike Galvin RFD has strong family and personal ties to the RAAF and the RSL,  as he writes here.


I was born in December 1942 at St John of God Hospital, Subiaco. My father, George Joseph Galvin, was serving in 13 Field Company, RAE of the 2/AIF. He had been a pre-war member of the Militia, but converted to the AIF in 1941.

At birth, I was named George Michael Galvin. The family wished to name me Michael Galvin after my paternal grandfather, but in the event that my father did not return from overseas, I would assume the name George. My father did return, so I continued to be known as Michael but, to avoid confusion with my grandfather, I was always known by the diminutive ‘Mike’. This still caused confusion later in life when as person known as Mike always said that his name was George.

There was a RAAF connection to my family.

My mother’s brother, Fredrick Wheatland (but known as Eric), served throughout the Pacific War as a Flight Engineer on Catalina flying boats with 20 Squadron and was a Warrant Officer when discharged. Log book records show 162 operational hours by day and 175.50 hours of night operations.

One of my father’s second cousins, Francis Edward Sander, who was the best man at his wedding, flew a total of 30 Lancaster missions over Germany and was discharged as a Pilot Officer (he flew for Qantas after the war).

Another of my father’s cousins, John Anthony (Tony) Galvin, had trained as a dentist prior to the war and established a dental practice in Harvey. On enlistment, he lied about his occupation and stated that he was a non-agricultural labourer. He was Killed in Action  (flying battle) as a member of 113 Squadron RAF. The crew of his Blenheim also consisted of a South African Second Lieutenant, and a RNZAF Flight Sergeant. On the day he died, Tony was wearing the rank of Pilot Officer and his temporary grave marker showed that rank. He had actually been promoted to Flying Officer but the notification had not been received at Squadron HQ. His permanent headstone shows his rank correctly as Flying Officer. He is buried at the Halfaya Sollum Cemetery, Egypt.

After the war, my father was an enthusiastic worker in the RSL, concentrating on pastoral duties. I sometimes accompanied him as he visited RSL Members in their homes and I met men who had participated in the Charge at the Nek – and one man (TPI) who had served in a medical unit on Anzac Beach for many months, and later as a medic in a Field Ambulance on the Western Front. My father would change their library books and enjoy morning or afternoon tea with these men. In the days before the TAB, betting on races off-course was illegal, but at many hotels around Perth there was established SP bookmakers. My father would collect envelopes containing wagers from RSL members, place the bets and later return the winnings (if any) to the members. An illegal, but highly valued social service. In later life, I came to appreciate just how valuable these pastoral visits were to ex-servicemen.

I was commissioned as a member of the RAAMC in December, 1964. My commissioning certificate hangs over my study desk, signed by Malcolm Fraser, Minister for the Army and Casey, Governor General.

Subsequently, I served as Officer Administering Command and research scientist at the Malaria Research Unit, which involved a number of field trips to Papua New Guinea. In 1973 I was appointed as Commanding Officer 4 Camp Hospital Townsville and later Staff Officer (Grade One) on HQ District Support Group North Queensland. My next appointment was Medical Officer-in-Charge 1 Military Hospital, Yeronga Queensland.

In Jan 1997 I changed service from Army (RAAMC) to Medical Branch of the Permanent RAAF. I attended an Aviation Medicine Course at the Institute of Aviation Medicine (Point Cook, Victoria) following which I assumed the role of Senior Medical Officer at RAAF Base Edinburgh, South Australia. This was a very interesting appointment as 92 Wing was being formed there. The Wing comprised a HQ, Maritime Aviation Training School, 10 Squadron and 11 Squadron, equipped with P3C Orion Aircraft forming part of Operational Command. Support Command Units were Aviation Research and Development Unit (with two of every type of aircraft operated by the RAAF other than F1-11s) and 1 Recruit Training Unit, which handled basic training for all other rank recruits. There was a Base Medical Flight with a bed status marginally short of a RAAF Hospital.

While at Edinburgh, I had the opportunity to fly in all aircraft types. I did frequent trips to Woomera in the back seat of a Mirage, flying supersonically, during the development of the Karinga Bomb. I also did deployments to New Zealand. On the training side, I attended the course to qualify as an aircraft accident investigator at Glenbrook, NSW. I was required to use this knowledge when I was a member of a panel investigating the crash of a 9 Squadron helicopter at El Alamein training area with the loss of five lives in November, 1977.

I was selected to attend the USAF Flight Surgeons Course at Fort Brooks, San Antonio, Texas. This was a great experience, which my family also enjoyed. Our Married Quarter was just 800m from the Alamo. I used the weekends to drive our 6.3L V8 Dodge along the big interstate highways. This included several trips to Vicksburg, Mississippi, where I was able to walk the battlefield from the Civil War (next to Gettysburg, Vicksburg is the most well-preserved battlefield from the civil war). As part of the course, the USAF flew the student body around the USA visiting some 20 different bases. I qualified on the course and was awarded the USAF Flight Surgeon’s Wings. Following the course, I had two weeks leave which we took in Mexico City before flying back to Australia.

My next appointment was Officer-in-Charge, Specialist Flight Penang Malaysia. The appointment meant that I was very much involved with day-to-day clinical medicine as at that time there were some 3,000 servicemen and their families. It was hard work as we needed to provide medical services 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. I was also required to be Temporary Commanding Officer, 4 RAAF Hospital Butterworth from time to time. I certainly did not enjoy the one hour journey each way from Penang to Butterworth each day when I was T/CO. Our Married Quarter was quite enormous with spectacular views out over the straits. I had a driver (sycee), a gardener and there was a cook/housekeeper. In a way it was like living in British India. I was a member of the Penang Club and used their excellent dining facilities to entertain official visitors from Australia, which seemed to peak as the temperature in Canberra dropped.

After Malaysia I still had a few months left before retirement. My final posting in the PAF was as Senior Medical Officer, RAAF Base Pearce.

On termination from the PAF, I was immediately appointed to the RAAF Specialist Reserve and later became the Principal (Reserve) Medical Officer. This required me to render a minimum of one months’ service year. As a reservist, I was posted for relief manning to Amberley AFB, 3 RAAF Hospital Richmond NSW, East Sale AFB, Edinburgh AFB, 4 RAAF Hospital Malaysia (4 times), and major military exercises in the Northern Territory. One unusual posting was to Special Air Services Regiment to conduct a patrol medic course utilising my skill as a specialist in Emergency Medicine. Very unusual to see an officer in RAAF uniform on what is essentially an Army base!

During my service time I had qualified in Tropical Medicine (DTMH) and as an Emergency Physician (FACEM). After service in the PAF I was appointed as Director of Emergency Medicine at Fremantle Hospital and later Emeritus Consultant in Emergency Medicine to that Hospital.

On my last parade at RAAF Pearce, I received the Reserve Force Decoration (RFD). On 24 August, 1997, I was discharged from the RAAF, my rank on discharge being Group Captain.

Postscript: When the problems arose in East Timor in 1999, the ADF were short of both Emergency Physicians and Tropical Medical Specialists. Since I was qualified in both specialties, I attempted to be recalled. The answer was a definite NO. Once retired you are “retired”. Not to be defeated, I arranged a position with the UN as part of UNTAET and established a medical centre in the mountains at Ainaro. This was as a civilian and strange to say, the Australian Government recognised this service with the award of the Humanitarian Overseas Services Medal, Clasp E Timor.

– G M (Mike) Galvin RFD



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