A memorial honouring the Empire Air Training Scheme (EATS) is nearing completion at the entrance to RAAF Base Wagga, in recognition of the contribution to the RAAF by many local communities.

The new memorial located within RAAF Base Wagga’s Heritage Precinct honours the local towns and aviators who were part of the scheme between 1940 and 1945. The memorial at the base now forms another of the permanent legacies created during the Centenary of Air Force program (AF2021). 

The EATS memorial highlights the significant role that regional towns played in support of the RAAF during World War II.

RAAF Base Wagga AF2021 base liaison officer Wing Commander Tony Wennerbom said the memorial was commissioned in recognition of the Centenary of Air Force and was designed in a way that fulfilled the expectation required from AF2021. 

“Particularly, engaging with the community and veterans created ownership and pride amongst locals through highlighting the regional contribution the Riverina played in supporting the war effort, and finally inspiring a younger generation,” Wing Commander Tony Wennerbom said.

RAAF Base Wagga commissioned mural artist Sam Brooks, and collaborated with the local RSL sub-branch and its veterans to deliver the project.

“The role of EATS was a critically important project for RAAF Base Wagga to include in Air Force’s Centenary year,” Wing Commander Wennerbom said. 

“It represented the biggest growth period in its 100-year history. It also represented the single largest combined undertaking of the Commonwealth air forces during World War II and remains to this day an incredible example of a coordinated global wartime mobilisation.”

More than 200 training bases were constructed throughout the Empire for the scheme, including 37 in Australia and nine such bases across the Riverina region in NSW. The RAAF Base at Forest Hill aerodrome was developed in direct response to the infrastructure requirements of this mobilisation.

Air Force personnel who trained as part of the Empire Air Training Scheme in World War II have been depicted on murals at RAAF Base Wagga. Photo: Wing Commander Tony Wennerbom

When the memorial project is completed, it will include storyboards and a memorial stone detailing the locations where EATS activities were undertaken around Australia. With the support of Air Force’s History and Heritage Branch, the storyboards will specifically detail the locations across the Riverina where aircrew were trained with airmen and the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force employed in support of EATS. 

The other aerodromes in the Riverina where training was located include Narrandera, Temora, Cootamundra, Uranquinty, Parkes, Narromine and Deniliquin. 

Tocumwal also played a significant role during this period, being the home to the RAAF’s heavy bomber support and operational conversion units. 

More than 27,000 aircrew were trained in Australia through EATS before being sent to Britain for employment with the British RAF. A further 9600-plus personnel completed their training in Canada, along with nearly 600 who received pilot training in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). In total, just short of 40,000 young Australians were trained under the scheme.

Based on the initial feedback and social media interest (exceeding 80,000 views in the first week), the RAAF Base Wagga Heritage Precinct is expected to become a significant tourist attraction for those visitors who follow the Silo Art Trail. 

“The significance of EATS is best summed up by then British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, where he is reported in July 1943 to have said: ‘The fact that Australia has been over here … some of their very best airmen, and the share they have taken in the Empire Air Training Scheme, leaves us heavily in their debt’,” Wing Commander Wennerbom said.

The official opening of the EATS memorial is planned for July 1, 2022, marking the 82nd birthday of RAAF Base Wagga’s formation.

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