9:30pm – Thursday, April 19 on ABC1
A Very Short War follows the life of pioneering Australian aviator, Cliff Carpenter, one of many Australians whose life was lost to war. The story is told through the eyes of Cliff’s nephew and Australian actor, Bill Young (The Pacific, Hollowmen), as he embarks on a personal trek – travelling from Australia to New Zealand, Wales and Norway – to unearth the truth behind the uncle he never knew, and the details surrounding his lonely death in a country half a world away from home.
By the early 1930s, 21-year-old Cliff Carpenter had designed and built his first aeroplane, initiated the first series production of Australian-designed aircraft, and was soon barnstorming rural New South Wales with his aerial circus. With jobs in the fledgling local industry limited, this young daredevil aviator sailed to Great Britain in late 1938, acquiring a job with Imperial Airways piloting the magnificent Empire Flying Boats between Southampton and Singapore. With the outbreak of war on 3rd September 1939, he enlisted with the RAF to be stationed with 210 Squadron (Flying Boats) at Pembroke Dock.
On the evening of 8th April 1940, an urgent call went out for volunteers at the RAF base at Pembroke Dock on the south-west tip of Wales. Ten men from the far corners of the Empire – four from England, two from Wales, two from Northern Ireland and one each from Canada and Australia – hastily came together to form a crew to pilot a Short Sunderland Flying Boat on a mission deemed vital by the Admiralty.
At 1.30pm they took off to the east. Once in the air sealed orders were opened – the mission ‘Proceed to Oslo. Reconnaissance’. They were not to know that Germany had invaded Norway that very day. At 5.50pm nine of the men were killed including 28-year-old Cliff Carpenter.