The Bristol Beaufighter was flying over the waters off the Netherlands on June 29, 1944, when it spotted two German mine sweepers and 11 smaller boats heading for port.
The two-man torpedo bomber from the “ANZAC Strike Wing” made a wide turn before launching a diving attack from 800 feet. During the strike its starboard engine was damaged and, taking fire from the land, the pilot Edmund Francis Collaery flew parallel to the coast as he prepared to ditch in the sea. Collaery would have liked his chances because he was a strong swimmer and had survived an earlier crash landing in the North Sea.
In the minutes after the plane hit the water the navigator, Horace Pearson, swam clear and would report that Collaery seemed to be fighting to free his boots from the pedals as he disappeared below the water. Pearson could not reach his friend and the 29-year-old’s body was never recovered.
Ted’s English wife, Alice, was pregnant when she received word he was missing, presumed dead. Her numerous letters to the Red Cross in the bitter months that followed chart a hope that burned long after her husband was lost.
Her son, Bernard, would be born in October and, a year later, the two were on a ship to a distant and strange land on the other side of the world.
Bernard would grow up on his father’s farm on what is now the Wollongong suburb of Fairy Meadow but the son was not made to be a farmer. He would study law at Sydney University before following his father in the service of his country.
Bernard served with foreign affairs as first secretary (immigration) in Paris for five years sometime in the mid to late 1970s. The length of the posting and other hints of his time in France are curious and might indicate he was working in intelligence.
He would go on to a career in the law in Canberra where his caseload included a bulging list of pro-bono work. His interests in politics stretched from local planning laws to the liberation of East Timor.
Banished to the backbench after toppling the government he helped forge Bernard amused himself during sittings by providing a running commentary on the debates in the tiny chamber to the media, which sat within stage whispering of his backbench seat.
I was the sole journalist in the gallery one day when Bernard tracked the arrival of a media adviser to the government benches.
“That new Labor staffer is gorgeous,” he said.
“Yes she is,” I agreed.
“She looked fabulous in that red dress yesterday.”
“Bernard it was black.”
“I know,” he grinned. “But in my mind it was red.”
After politics Bernard rebooted his legal practice in Canberra where he tilted at some big windmills in his search for justice. No giant would prove greater than the Commonwealth in his quest to defend former Australian Secret Intelligence Service agent “Witness K”.