It was standing room only in front of Moruya’s Air Raid Tavern on Saturday morning when a World War II hero returned to be immortalised on Vulcan Street.
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A former First Lieutenant in the Netherlands East Indies (NEI) Air Force, Gus Winckel made a fashionable entrance in a vintage Chrysler for the unveiling of a statue, which was modelled on him, to honour the airmen at Moruya Aero-drome during World War II.
Politicians, military personnel and veterans, along with the general public watched as the 97-year-old New Zealand resident saw the wooden figure revealed. The carving took sculptor Bryan Carrick more than two months to complete.
Mr Winckel was all smiles as residents and visitors commented on the statue and recounted their wartime stories. He said he was de-lighted to meet them, many of whom knew of his heroic actions during the war.
“It’s been very nice indeed,” he said. “It’s amazing how friendly they all are and helpful.”
Moruya was just a fuel stop for the NEI Air Force but one pilot ended up staying a little longer than expected, according to Mr Winckel.
“This was only a refuelling stop, except for one who had a bit of trouble,” he said.
He would not give up any names but said the pilot did not realise he had damaged the nose wheel of the aircraft and remained in Moruya for three days.
Netherland’s Deputy Head of Mission, Erik Strating, addressed the audience on the importance of remembering the people involved in past conflicts and the connection between Moruya and his home country.
“This statue pays tribute to all who served in Moruya during World War II . . . we must remember all who served and suffered for our freedom,” he said.
This was a sentiment shared by Eden-Monaro MP Mike Kelly, who described the moment as part of a developing tradition in the town.
“It’s so important that we do commemorate what happened down here on the coast,” he said. “It was part of the frontline.”
Saturday also marked 65 years since the D-Day landings in Normandy, which Dr Kelly described as a struggle against “one of the greatest forces of malevolence and evil”.