As 40mm shells arced into the sky, aimed at a balloon towed by an aircraft, the anti-aircraft gunner was confident they were hitting close to the mark.
CAPTION: Australian Army soldier Bombardier Jordan Whicker with grandparents, Sue and Dean Wilkinson, in Townsville during a tour of a Patriot missile launcher in 2021. Story by Sergeant Matthew Bickerton.
However, the pilot’s urgent radio message revealed otherwise: “You’re shooting at me, not the balloon,” he said.
They promptly switched to using blanks for the rest of the exercise.
This was one of many stories from the 1960s that Dean Wilkinson, a veteran gunner from the 111th Light Anti-Aircraft Battery, shared with grandson Jordan Whicker.
Inspired by his grandfather’s service, Bombardier Whicker followed in his footsteps and is now at 110th Air Defence Battery, 16th Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery, commanding a radar detachment to identify enemy aircraft.
Bombardier Whicker said every Anzac Day his grandad would march up the main street in Mount Gambier with all his old Army mates.
“I enjoyed seeing these guys catch up all these years later,” Bombardier Whicker said.
During the 1960s, amid the Indonesia-Malaysia confrontation, Mr Wilkinson was deployed to Malaysia.
His unit’s operational stint there lasted two years, marking it as the longest continuous deployment since World War 2.
In 2022, during an open day, Mr Wilkinson took the opportunity to revisit his old stomping grounds at Woodside Barracks, where his grandson is posted.
He said the place had completely changed.
“We think the base is really old, but he said none of it was the same,” Bombardier Whicker said.
Three years ago in Townsville, Mr Wilkinson had a full-circle-moment with his grandson when he got an up-close view of a Patriot missile launcher.
The event underscored the advancements in ground-based air defence technology since his days operating a Bofors 40mm anti-aircraft gun.