Mona Bradley hardly ever splashed out on treats for her grandsons. Having lived through The Great Depression and World War 2, she was one of a frugal generation. So it was unusual when, on August 16, 1966, she took the two boys, Peter and Richard, across the road from her house to a nearby ice cream parlour.
Mona’s house was at the back of a converted former cycle shop at 60 Glebe Road, The Junction, an inner suburb of the industrial city of Newcastle, NSW. Some Newcastle people might remember the ice cream parlour as the shop which later became the popular Arrivederci Italian restaurant. Nine-year-old Richard and his brother had been dropped at their grandmother’s house by their parents, who were having a night out. Their Uncle Terry, who usually lived in the house, was away in New Zealand at the time.
“We were in our pyjamas,” Richard recalled. “We were sitting in the lounge room watching TV when Grandma decided to take us over for an ice cream. That wasn’t something she normally did – it was a really unusual treat. We went over and got our ice creams and we were sitting in our little booth to eat them.” That was about 6pm.
Suddenly the quiet night was rocked by an ear-splitting explosion, and when the boys raced outside they saw a column of smoke rising from behind their grandmother’s house. People appeared in the street from all around, and the two boys – with their grandmother – went to the front door of her home. “She looked in the front door and screamed. She tried to stop us looking, but being boys we looked anyway. The place was a disaster,” Richard said. A hole had been smashed through the ceiling directly above the chair where Mona always sat to watch television, and the torn remains of a parachute and cords were hanging down. Mona’s chair had been smashed to splinters and driven through the floorboards of the room, into the dirt below.
It wasn’t immediately clear what had happened, but it was soon apparent that a Sabre fighter jet from nearby Williamtown air force base had exploded in mid-air, with most of the plane plummeting into the yard behind Mona’s house. Pieces rained on the surrounding streets, damaging homes but – remarkably – not causing anybody any serious injuries. The pilot of the single-seater had ejected but he was clearly falling at a tremendous velocity when he hit the corrugated iron roof of Mona’s house and fell all the way through. His shattered body was not visible to Mona or the boys when they peered inside.
“We were incredibly lucky,” Richard said. “I feel like some strange sense warned Grandma to get out of the house. If we’d been sitting where we were before then Grandma would have been killed and so might Peter and I, from all the debris that flew around the room.”
The dead flyer was Pilot Officer Warren Goddard, 20, from Perth, who had been participating with other pilots in a night-flying exercise. When it became clear that his aircraft was doomed he tried to take it out to sea, but it disintegrated before he could make it.
Most of the plane’s fuselage fell behind Mona’s house, crushing a car, killing some greyhounds and apparently injuring some horses in a bakery stable. A number of houses were damaged and firemen were kept busy extinguishing blazes.
Mona Bradley never set foot in her house again, moving away to stay with relatives. She declined an offer of compensation from the RAAF, and Richard said she suffered a nervous breakdown and never worked again.
Thanks to Kathy and Richard Bradley for the information in this post.