Today is Remembrance Day and we mark the anniversary of the ending of the First World War (Armistice Day) with what is now known to us as Remembrance Day. A day in which all Australians are hopefully observing just a minute’s silence in memory of those who died or suffered in all wars or armed conflicts.
But there are other service men and women who have died in peace time, on their own soil, serving their country. Their names will not be on any war memorials or honour rolls, but they might have been, had not fate intervened. Where will these people be remembered?
We’ve recently been researching Pakenham Cemetery and we’ve recently ‘come to know’ Andrew Fisher Chalman, better known as Fisher to everyone apparently, so that’s what we’ll call him. Born in 1913, Fisher came to Pakenham as a boy and attended Pakenham State School. When he left school he commenced work at the Pakenham East Post Office and was known for his cheery, efficient and courteous manner but he wanted something more so he returned to school and got his Leaving Certificate, enabling him to join the Air Force.
He rapidly advanced to the rank of Flying-Officer but was unspoiled by success and continued to spend weekends in Pakenham with his mother and sister. He was a keen and enthusiastic member of the local football and tennis clubs.
Flying-Officer Chalman was killed on Anzac Day 1938 when the Wapiti aircraft he was piloting crashed near Whittlesea. He was returning to Laverton after participating in an Air Show in Sydney. There were severe dust storms over the Victorian border and a dense storm near Whittlesea. The plane was flying at about 200 feet when it got out of control and skimmed the tops of trees as the pilot tried to right it, but he was not successful and the plane crashed heavily. It did not burst into flames but the pilot was killed instantly. Loading Air-craftsman Ray Pine aged 25 from North Williamstown was also on board, he survived the crash and was taken to Melbourne Hospital with a fractured skull and knee in a critical condition.
Witnesses thought that the pilot was looking for somewhere to land owing to the bad visibility when the engine cut out. It started again and the plane rose to about 300 feet when the engine cut out again and the plane nose-dived. The four other Wapitis flying back from Sydney made forced landings on the return flight.
Fisher’s funeral was accorded full Air Force Honours and was the largest funeral ever seen in the district. Flags flew at half-mast and shops and businesses closed for two hours. The coffin, draped in a Union Jack was carried to the cemetery on an Air Force carriage with an AIF escort joined by detachments of the Pakenham Militia and Fire Brigade. Local school children stood at attention and there was an endless procession of cars. The last post was played and three rounds were fired in salute.
“No previous event in Pakenham’s history has cast such a gloom over the district as the news that Flying-Officer Andrew Fisher Chalman was killed when his Royal Australian Air Force plane crashed at Whittlesea last Monday afternoon.” “He was held in such high esteem and affection that every home and individual in Pakenham has felt in his death a sense of deep personal loss.”
So, if not for that fateful Anzac Day in 1938, Fisher would almost certainly have played a part in the Second World War, hostilities commenced just a year after his death. But what a legacy to leave behind for someone so young, just 25 years old.