Flying with the Skippy Squadron
A Vietnam veteran and a Qantas crew member seconded to the RAAF share their story of flying with the Skippy Squadron.
At a glance:
- Qantas made more than 600 chartered flights to and from Vietnam between 1965 and 1972.
- The Qantas Qantas staff on these flights had volunteered for the dangerous work, and became known as the Skippy Squadron.
- Veteran Barry Carroll served in Vietnam as a forklift operator.
- Former Qantas load master Ted Haslehurst flew the Sydney-Saigon route for four years.
Between 1965 and 1972, Qantas made more than 600 chartered flights to and from Vietnam, transporting troops and technical personnel. The Qantas staff on these flights had volunteered to take part, and became known as the Skippy Squadron.
Former Qantas load master Ted Haslehurst flew that Sydney-Saigon route for four years. He is now President of Ashfield RSL sub-Branch.
Barry Carroll served in Vietnam as a forklift operator and is one of thousands of veterans who flew with the Skippy Squadron.
Now, more than 50 years later, Ted and Barry share their experience of flying with the Skippy Squadron.
Joining the Skippy Squadron
BARRY: My dad was in the Air Force and my mum was in the Voluntary Aid Detachments in the Middle East and New Guinea. That sort of rubbed off onto me.
Later, I was drafted into the ‘Nashos’. During core training, we were asked, “Who wants to be a forklift operator?”. I said, “Yeah, I’ll do it. Which of us are going to Vietnam?”. The bloke said we were all going and that was that.
TED: I grew up in Sydney. After leaving school, I worked as a salesman at a menswear shop. One day, I was at a ball. I had a dinner suit on and everything, so I looked pretty presentable. This guy approached me and asked if I would be interested in working for Qantas.
I joined in 1963 and never looked back. It was a great company to work for.
“We made sure we looked after them on the way home. When we landed, the boys got off and kissed the ground, and so did I. We were happy to be home.” – Ted Haslehurst
BARRY: The whole flight was quiet, for the simple reason that me and the other blokes didn’t know what we were getting into. It was a very subdued flight. There was a lot of apprehension. The crew looked after us as best they could. We even got menus.
We were flying over as replacements for engineers, signals and transport; that’s what the flights were designed for. Me and my mate, we were supposed to go to air dispatch. We walked into headquarters and said we were the two air dispatch operators for 176 Air Dispatch. They said, “No you’re not. You’re two forklift drivers here to move supplies”.
In the Army, things move fast and you say “yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir”.
TED: I was stationed in Singapore when troops were coming through to Vietnam. The local loadmaster on the way up became sick, so the aeroplane wouldn’t have gone had I not jumped on. That was towards the end of 1968.
We were seconded to fly on a voluntary basis for the RAAF, carrying 165 troops each way between Sydney and Saigon. They were very quiet on the way up because they didn’t know what they were going into. Many of the guys had never been out of Australia. We brought boys up and brought men home.
We were always escorted into Saigon. Some of the takeoffs and landings were a bit hairy. There were anti-aircraft guns down the side of the runway to protect us.
BARRY: The Qantas plane flew in and parked out the front of the hangar with its big red tail. We got on the plane and, because there was a bit of sniper fire coming in, the pilot said, “Sorry lads, we’re going out low-level”. Once we were out over the water, we heard the cheer go up.
The beers on the flight were free. Everything was free for veterans coming back. It was probably the same going over, but no one drank on the way over. We got into Sydney at about 10 o’clock at night. They said, “Here’s your pay, here’s your leave pass. See you in six weeks. Thanks for serving your country”.
TED: The troops had done all the hard work; we made sure we looked after them on the way home.
The best experience I had with the troops was on one particular trip, we came in over Sydney Harbour at about 6:30 at night. That was unusual – normally we snuck the aircraft in and out, because we were supposed to be phantom flights. On this trip, we came down over the harbour and there was the Sydney Harbour Bridge. My City of Sydney was playing over the PA system. When we landed, the boys got off and kissed the ground, and so did I. We were happy to be home.
I did those charters until 1972.
Legacy of service
BARRY: I came back to Australia in 1969. There was a local ANZAC Day march in Glenbrook in the Blue Mountains. That was probably the first and last [march I was involved in]. Then we had the Welcome Home parade in 1987. That was because the government wouldn’t do anything for us, so the vets did it themselves.
We’ve had a few reunions with our unit. After the 1987 Welcome Home March, I heard the RSL looks after veterans, so I joined an RSL sub-Branch. For the past few years I’ve been on the committee.
TED: I’m very proud of my service with Qantas. It was certainly the best airline when I was working.
I’ve been a member of the Ashfield sub-Branch since 2007, and we have a good 20 members who flew with the Skippy Squadron. This year, we’re marching on ANZAC Day with the RAAF, who have welcomed us with open arms. We also marched with them last year for the 100th anniversary of the RAAF and Qantas.
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