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RAAF Beaufort Discovery
by Graeme Leech Courtesy of  The Australian

FRANK Wells has a vivid memory of being called into the principal's office at Ballarat College soon after his brother Geoff went missing in action during a 1943 torpedo attack on Japanese shipping at Rabaul in Papua New Guinea.

"I was 16 when he was killed. Geoff was only 20. He was a great fellow, good at cricket and football _ he was a normal young Australian man,'' Mr Wells recalled yesterday at Melbourne's Glen Waverley Bowling Club.

``I still remember being told the principal wanted to see me. Yeah ... it was pretty traumatic alright. Mum took it very hard.''

The remains of radio operator and air-gunner Flying Officer Geoff Wells, pilot Flight Sergeant Jack Woodgate, navigator Flight Sergeant Stewart Drakes and radio operator and gunner Flight Sergeant Byron Maclean were recovered last week from the sandy bottom of the Solomon Sea near the island of Kawa in the Trobriands.

The wreck was originally discovered in January last year. The original 1943 search found a fuel tank which can still be seen in the island's only village.

Dog-tags and dental records have confirmed their identity and relatives of Woodgate, Maclean and Wells located after a two-week search. So far, however, Flight Sergeant Drakes's next of kin have not been found. (Contact Greg Williams on (02) 6265 1027 with any information.) Ken Maclean from central Queensland, whose brother Bryon, 22, also died in the crash of the Australian-built Beaufort fighter-bomber, recalled a sibling seven years older who had a great enthusiasm for life. He, too, has sharp memories of his elder brother.

``He loved riding. He loved all horse sports, bullock riding and anything to do with country life,'' Mr Maclean said.

``When Byron was killed, he wasn't flying with his regular crew who all survived the war. They were a man short, so he volunteered for that mission. `It was devastating for the family.''

Mr Maclean was the youngest of four brothers. The eldest, Malcolm, was a Mosquito pilot attached to the RAF in England. He was killed in 1944. ``Bryon had been awarded the British Emprire Medal in training when an aircraft crashed at Canberra airport. The wind changed 180 degrees and the pilot hadn't realised. Byron and his mate got out but went back for the navigator, who was unconscious, and for the body of the pilot who had been killed.

``He got them out before the aircraft caught fire and exploded.''

Mr Wells's wife Bet said they had named their son Geoffrey Stewart after her husband's brother.

``He was like a replacement,'' Mrs Wells said.

The family of Jack Woodgate have requested their privacy be preserved. In May, the four airmen will be buried with full military honours in the Bita Paka war cemetery at Rabaul where they will rest with 1000 Allied war dead including two RAAF Beaufighter crew members Robert Stone and Edward Morris-Hadwell whose remains were buried last year 57 years after they were killed near Rabaul.

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