Stan Gajda  Western Australia


What got you interested in WWII History?
I guess I was interested in the war because my dad lived through it all in Poland and Germany and when I was a kid I used to listen to him and his mates always talking about it. Pretty well every time they got together they used to talk about the war and I came to the conclusion early on in my life that it must have been a pretty big stir. Anyway I grew up in a little country town far out in the deep bush of south-west Western Australia where nothing ever happened and the war had passed this place by with scarcely a ripple. A few guys who where my friends dads had been in New Guinea etc but there was never anything to show for it. As far as I could tell they were glad to be home again and these Aussies never used to talk about the war. I thought that there was nothing left over from WWII and because of this I never used to chase up war relics etc.

What got you interested in restoring vehicles?
There was a Bren carrier near my place in Western Australia in the back lane without tracks or engine but my friends and I fought many campaigns from this old chariot. I remember it was still green with white painted markings and had a number of bullet hits in it in the left rear side area. These dents had parts of the bullets jackets impinged in them and I remember chipping a couple out. They were nickel jackets, but I never found out the history of this tankette. When I left home to work in the city 220 miles away in 1968 I began to learn that there was still a lot of war junk to be found around Perth WA even though this area was many miles away from the combat zone.

During visits back home I discovered that the Bren carrier was gone and I never saw it again nor did I found out what happened to it. In Perth I discovered scrap junk yards with WWII aircraft parts stacked 20ft high containing Beaufort and Vultee Vengeance fuselages, wings, engines etc. I set about saving this stuff, buying it with my savings and eventually restoring some of these items which today are in the West Australian Aviation Museum.

Off Roading With A Valentine Tank
The chap I worked for in 1971 had a farm about 60 miles north of Perth and there he had two British Valentine tanks which were brought from England in 1946 to be used as relatively cheap bulldozers to clear virgin bushland (with chains). Both were without turrets and were out with dead engines.


When the farm was sold I helped the boss tow them to another farm and I eventually rebuilt an engine and got one of these tanks running again. I drove it seven miles through the bush to the town of Lancelin where I lived. After better repairs and installing a 60 gallon fuel tank I used to go bush with my friends on this thing. I never worried about roads except to get out of town and it never let me down.
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Scrap Yard Finds in the 1970's
This Vultee Vengeance from scrapyards in Kalgoorlie and Perth stored at Lancelin before going to the museum in Perth. There were artillery shells, gun barrels and all sorts of other stuff. I remember seeing a small shed in one yard with an open door and one window filled completely with the British-type helmets. These helmets were spilling out of the door and window.

Once, I found a Spitfire Merlin engine as found in Krasnostein's scrap yard in Perth 1972. This engine is now on display at the West Australian Aviation Museum. The second photo shows the same engine after fixing it up. Other finds include a complete Emerson front turret from a B-24 and a large wheel which had been fabricated out of sheet aluminum which was probably from some old airliner from the 1930's.

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At about this time I heard about a Catalina that was lost on the coast nearby in a storm during the war. This was one of the US Navy "Black Cats". I spent ages looking for it and eventually found the wreck in shallow water at the base of some cliffs about 20 miles south of Lancelin.

The Catalina wreck is about 3 miles north of the mouth of the Moore river. It put down off shore with engine trouble and anchored. A storm blew up before it could be towed to safety and it ended up at the base of the cliffs, and got wrecked. This was the first plane wreck I ever saw and it got me well and truly hooked to look for more of the same. This WWII photo shows two PBYs on the ramp at Crawley Bay, Perth Western Australia during WWII. The Lancelin PBY is from this outfit. I used to swim here when I was a kid.

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I found the wreckage of a Mustang P-51D in 1972 at the mouth of the Moore River. Later, another P-51D near Perth. There were a couple of Vultee Vengeance crash sites I dug up later on and once I took a truck 450 miles to Kalgoorlie for a Vengeance cockpit and fuselage for the aviation museum.
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Steve McWhirter at Pearce Airbase with the wreckage of RAAF P-51D Mustang A68-13. Most of wreckage still buried after vertical impact in 1951. Recovered prop blades and one engine cylinder bank which was compressed 90 degrees. 1975.

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Here is a 50 cal mg from the B-24 A72-71 at Derby 1982. I found a F2A Buffal A51-5 near Derby which had NEI markings, orange black-bordered triangles, with code 'B3-174'. The Buffalo must have escaped from Batavia during the Japanese invasion and pressed into service with the RAAF. This wreckage is now in Sydney.

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