John Clarkson

A young John Clarkson, as a new Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) apprentice, standing in front of a white building. He is wearing a RAAF uniform with a RAAF flying cap, black tie and beige-coloured pants and long-sleeved shirt.

When asked if there’s something he’s proud of from his time in the Australian Defence Force (ADF), John answered, “Plenty! During those years, I managed to be endorsed to carry out all levels of servicing on 8 different types of aircraft within my trade.”

He further added, “To the best on my beliefs, I believe that I amongst others belonged to the last Fighter Squadron to have carried out live scrambles (less than 3 minutes between the alarm and being airborne) with full loads of HE ordnance against a perceived foe. That squadron was No 79 Squadron in Ubon Thailand. Slightly previous to that, No 77 Squadron was performing live scrambles at RAAF Base Butterworth with full loads of HE ordnance during the Indonesian Confrontation. Some have said that some of those scrambles were reminiscent of ‘Battle of Britain’ days! Of all the fighter aircraft the RAAF has had in its inventory since the Sabre, I don’t think there was one which could achieve a three-minute scramble from a stationary position at the end of the runway — with the pilot and ground crew on standby in a nearby hut.”

Having joined the ADF at a young age, John learned several surprising lessons and developed a real passion for operational service.

“Early in my service, there were many who would promote the possibility of achieving a fine career path in the RAAF, and this was a constructive thing to do. However, it was on my very first posting to an operational squadron, (No 1 Squadron — Amberley) in 1964 / 65, that I was to learn that the desire to be of service was a far greater emotional driver than simply desiring a career.”

A young, shirtless John Clarkson, standing in front of a helicopter with other military personnel during the Vietnam War.

“When I arrived at No 1 Squadron, I had been a leading aircraftman (LAC) for a whole 3 months and was 3 months short of my 20th birthday! I looked around the Armament Section to view my colleagues and non-commissioned officers, as well as looking at the Warrant Officer Engineer (WOE), and thought, when I look at the seniority of all these men, the last thing I felt was to chase a career path. Of the six LACs, the most senior had seven years’ experience and the others were not far behind. The two Corporals both had Second World War experience, (one with the RAAF and the other with the Army), and the Flight Sergeant had joined the RAAF from Australia House in London, having served with the RAF since 1940. He had been a young Armourer in a fighter squadron in the Battle of Britain! The squadron Warrant Officer Engineer (WOE) told me that he had been a Warrant Officer for longer than I had been alive — and it was true! During my first 10 years of service, I never met a Warrant Officer of an aircraft trade with less than 26 years of service.”

“It was from then on, all that I ever wanted was to serve on operational squadrons…when I look back, I have been very fortunate indeed to have served during a period of considerable change…So, one may bravely say that I didn’t really have a career in the RAAF, but I had a strong commitment to operational service.”

John Clarkson, with another Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) aircrew member. They are both seated at a desk or table with a lot of paperwork.

Transitioning out the ADF in the mid-1980s, John found it difficult to find civilian work. Although he worked several different jobs, he was unable to settle in any of them. This was until 1988, when John joined Qantas, where he remained until he retired in 2003, drawing on the extensive knowledge he had gained in the RAAF.

“Whilst at Qantas, I had two rewarding posts. For 6 years, I was part of a team who planned and implemented all long term maintenance on all international aircraft. Secondly, after that, I was a Technical Coordinator for Flight Operations who adapted the Boeing 747-400 Operations Manual for Qantas use. This included a trip to Boeing and discussing our issues with the actual authors of the manual.”

Now retired, John has enjoyed being part of several ex-service organisations who look after ex-servicemen.

John Clarkson, a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) veteran, standing in front of a Number 9 Squadron banner.

Reflecting on his service in the RAAF, John stated, “…I believe the RAAF is an outstanding service. We are certainly not the largest air force in the world, but we have often been regarded as one of the ‘best’ air forces in the world. I was fortunate to have been trained in the best training system (RAAF Apprenticeship Scheme) this country has seen.”

Thank you for your service John.