WHEN Derek Olley started his apprenticeship with the Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1947, George VI was the King of England. “I was given the King’s shilling as a new recruit,” Derek said.
“I served the RAF as a flight mechanic, working on various aircraft types including Avro Ansons, Avro Lancaster bombers, de Havilland Mosquitos and Hawker Hurricanes.”
Just one career highlight from Derek’s 25 years in the RAF was servicing the King’s Flight Vickers Valetta aircraft on which the late Prince Philip travelled after giving up his command of HMS Magpie.
Prince Philip shook Derek’s hand and informed him that he was leaving Malta at 5am instead of waiting for his official farewell at 10am.
Fast forward seven decades and 91 year old Derek is now a volunteer in the Restoration Support Section (RSS) of Air Force’s History and Heritage Branch, located at RAAF Base Amberley in Queensland.
After discharging from the RAF, he moved to Australia with his wife and three daughters, firstly working in NDT for commercial companies, and later for 16 years as a civilian NDT specialist for Air Force at Amberley.
“I even built a house on the site of what is now the Amberley officers’ mess,” Derek said.
After retiring from Air Force in 1996, he ran his own NDT company for 15 years.
It wasn’t until he turned 80 that Derek retired for good and started travelling the world with his wife, often attending NDT conferences in locations as varied as China and Canada.
It was after his wife passed away in 2017 that Derek started volunteering with the RSS. Simply happy to be useful, he started out working on ‘anything and everything’, but he’s now in charge of sandblasting for the RSS, predominantly cleaning corrosion and paint off aircraft components undergoing restoration.
My favourite project is restoring the Anson because it brings back so many memories from my time with the RAF,” he said.
A true team player, he bakes his own sausage rolls to share with the RSS team at morning tea every Thursday.
When asked what his plans are for the future, Derek didn’t hesitate: “I’ll be here at the RSS until I die.”
That could be a good many years yet – his uncle lived to age 108.