THE launch of new website commemorating all the men of the Ballarat No.1 Wireless Air Gunner training school (1WAGS) has seen renewed calls for a permanent memorial to those who trained in the city, but never returned home.
The website, which was launched on Tuesday, provides all known records, photos, details and ranks and known war time service of the 6000 men who studied at the air training school in Ballarat which ran at the airport from 1940-1945.
Incredibly, of those that trained at the school, 1182 did not return home from their service.
Tom Runnalls, 95, who trained in the 32nd of 58 intakes, spending many hours learning Morse Code, said he was thrilled to see the work that had gone into the website, discovering names of friends that he had not seen or heard of decades.
"I think this is a great idea, it really is," he said. "I have a lot of time for the people who have created this, it's so easy to forget what happened.
"I'm very interested to read what had happened to the people in the course, because as it turns out, a quarter of our course never came back."
After training, Mr Runnalls crewed on Catalina Flying Boats that were involved in mine-laying operations in the South West Pacific.
"I'm sure very few of us wanted to be there at the time, but you had a job and you had to do your best," Mr Runnalls said.
"Most of our job was mining, it was a dangerous job. We were doing the mining because the Yanks couldn't do it. Their navigators weren't as well trained as ours, you had to be very specific to find the harbour you were searching for.
"Usually this meant travelling 800-1000 miles from the base mostly through enemy territory, and when you found the harbour you had to find the exact shipping channel, you couldn't just strew the mines anywhere. To do that we flew to as low as 300 feet.
"If you were the first one into the target, you were usually fine, but if you were second or third, it was quite dangerous as the enemy had woken up to what you are doing by then.
"I find it difficult to comprehend we did that."
The initial intake into Course 1 was 80 Wireless Air Gunners in April 1940 with about 80 men arriving each month. Training traditionally took up to eight months, but some who struggled with coding stayed longer.
Accommodation at the Ballarat Showgrounds was in the large galvanised iron pavilion, with its concrete floor. As more recruits arrived at the base, accommodation was to be tents until the school was transferred to the Ballarat aerodrome.
The website has been created in Ballarat through the painstaking research of Janet Bates, whose father was a trainee, Airforce Association researcher Peter Schoutens, and former president of the Ballarat branch of the RAAF Association, Tom Roberts.
Mr Schoutens said the research included an entire history of the RAAF
"Here in Ballarat they made records every day and we managed to get hold of, although some were very much illegible.
"We went right through that and managed to get names of people and what we've done is matched it up with those that we know of who were killed in action, there's 1182 who were all in Ballarat at some stage.
"Now we've got this website, which is just fantastic, we'd love to be able to build a memorial somewhere in Ballarat for those 1182 who were killed."
Cr Samantha McIntosh said the history of Ballarat Airport was one of the great untouched tourist opportunities in the city.
"Many people are not aware of the significant and important history to our city and I think it's our responsibility to listen to the ladies and gentlemen who have contributed so much to collating and protecting that history and making sure it's so beautifully presented on a forum that now everyone can access," she said.
"The website is very sharp, very easy to navigate and it's a wonderful opportunity for others who have even further information to be able to contribute to it as well."
Cr McIntosh said she supported the idea of a permanent memorial, with her personal preference to see it placed at the Ballarat Airport if the opportunity was made available.
The website was funded through a contribution from the City of Ballarat and was created in Ballarat by UBC Web Design.
To access the website, visit 1wags.org.au/
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