Now for all you hard core reality TV junkies, don’t think for one minute that this week’s article is about the recently completed Australian Survivor show. Sure, the unlikely success of Kristie Bennett being crowned Sole Survivor and taking away half a million dollars after a gruelling six and half hour final endurance challenge, with the ocean crashing all around her, might have been just a little captivating. However, throw in all the deceit, alliances and con jobs that contestants poured on each other and you have to admit that this is not real life as it should be played out.
So it might have just been coincidental, when 2 days later I attended the book launch of ‘Sole Survivor’, written by WWII veteran, Brian Walley, at the Margaret River Book Shop. The contrast between the TV show and this evening could not have been greater. Here was a remarkable man, all of 94 years of age, with his family around him, celebrating a life well lived. Brian enlisted in the air crew training at age 17 (bumped his age up a year to get in), received his flying wings at 18, then flew four missions as a 19 year old before ditching the Whitley bomber in the North Sea, in pitch black, horrendous conditions on his fateful fifth mission to Berlin. We are talking 80 knot winds, 20 metre seas and 5 young blokes trying to survive a 100 miles out to sea. Brian was initially trapped in the aircraft, suffered a broken kneecap among other injuries and was the last to exit into the soon leaking open inflatable life raft. Sadly the duffel bag with hot coffee and sandwiches was left behind in the rush and so they were left with meagre life raft rations. “Many is the time I have watched the dawn break, but never have I experienced such a scene of desolation as those first few grey streaks heralding the morning of 8 November.” On the first morning the liferaft capsized after surfing down a massive wave and the rear gunner and wireless operator were never seen again. The next night the navigator had “simply frozen to death” and on the second day the Skipper passed away, leaving Brian all alone. All seemed lost, but then on dusk a Heinkjel seaplane roared overhead with the front machine gun pointed directly at Brian. Fortunately they did not fire, were able to land and Brian was rescued. The squadron Kommandant told Brian that the war was over for him, but nothing could have been further from the truth as for Brian it had only just started. As his story unfolds, he spends three and a half years as a prisoner of war, attempts two escapes, but when caught during the second attempt and punished with bread and water for twenty eight days, thought better of it after that.
The enthusiastic crowd at the bookshop ‘peppered’ Brian with questions about his experiences and afterwards he happily personally signed all the purchased copies. I managed to chat with the book’s editor, Alex George, during the evening and it was obvious he played a pivotal role in bringing all Brian’s life together in one piece of work. There is so much more to this story, including dairy farming, mining, even prospecting and camping in Australia, but I guess you will just have to go and buy a copy to find out about this ‘Sole Survivor-A Life on Borrowed Time’.
To answer last week’s question, Sint Maarten is an island country in the Carribean Sea. This week’s questions is, “What was Brian Walleys’ mothers’ maiden name, that is closely tied to a famous Antarctic explorer?”
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