When Mr Derek Olley started his apprenticeship with the Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1947, George VI was the King of England.
CAPTION: 91-year-old Mr Derek Olley volunteers in the Restoration Support Section of Air Force’s History and Heritage Branch. Story by Flight Lieutenant Karyn Markwell. Photo by Leading Aircraftwoman Kate Czerny.
“I was given the King’s shilling as a new recruit,” Mr Olley said.
Mr Olley served the RAF as a flight mechanic, working on various aircraft types including Avro Ansons, Avro Lancaster bombers, de Havilland Mosquitos and Hawker Hurricanes.
During his 25 years with the RAF, he was awarded a diploma in non-destructive testing (NDT) – a discipline which evaluates the properties of a component or system without causing it damage, such as through radiography.
Just one career highlight from Mr Olley’s time 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 Mr Olley’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 Mr Olley 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, Mr Olley 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,” Mr Olley said.
After retiring from Air Force in 1996, Mr Olley ran his own NDT company for 15 years.
It wasn’t until he turned 80 that Mr Olley 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 Mr Olley 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,” Mr Olley said.
A true team player, Mr Olley bakes his own sausage rolls to share with the RSS team at morning tea every Thursday.
“They’re a really good bunch, and ingenious in the way they solve problems,” Mr Olley said.
“The team does work you’d never believe volunteers in this situation could do – such as using 3D printers to recreate missing components of the Anson.”
When asked what his plans are for the future, Mr Olley 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.