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Charlie Braithwaite





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Date of Passing:


Charlie Braithwaite was born on 10th October 1915 into a farming household near Bellingen, about 500kms north of Sydney.
His childhood was very typical of many young Australians growing up in the shadows of WW1 but hardly prepared anyone for the World’s slide into WW2 20 years later.
He enlisted in the Army, but a serious injury during training cut short his military career and he was excused further service, working instead for the Lithgow Small Arms Factory and later de Havilland making and repairing propellors.
A chance conversation with a mate at de Havilland, saw him report for work with Qantas on 21st May 1945, at a time when there was only about 250 staff on the Qantas payroll.
The war in Europe had finished a week earlier, but closer to home, Japan fought on, and wouldn’t surrender until mid-August.
He was 30 years old and his first “posting” was to Rose Bay, where he and his 7 colleagues looked after the Company’s Short Empire Flying boat “Coriolanus”.
They also provided handling services for TEAL’s (later Air New Zealand’s) 2 flying boats.
His introduction to his new life as a Traffic Officer was short and brutal and comprised his supervisor George Ward spending a day with him on the theory of aircraft weight and balance, take-off C of G calculations and trim determination.
The next day Charlie’s supervisor pointed to the stationery and told him he’d be doing that day’s load sheets and trim calculations.
The rosters would make present day staff blanch. No shift penalties, no overtime, split shifts with morning starts as early as 0230 and a return to work later in the day. There was precious little time to return home by public transport so the staff often shared a hotel room with the crews at the Rose Bay Hotel, sleeping on the floor.
All this for £7 a week.
From this point Charlie’s career reads like an abbreviated history of Qantas in the 40’s, 50’s 60’s and 70’s.
At Mascot Lancastrians and B-24 liberators were doing the heavy lifting.
The first B-24 was ferried into Mascot by Bert Ritchie, later Qantas’s CEO, and it was CB who marshaled to aeroplane onto its parking position.
On the day that Japan surrendered – 15th August 1945, Charlie’s duties included driving the day’s accumulation of incoming mail into the GPO in Martin Place - accessed off Pitt St - and he had to share the Sydney streets with about 300,000 very emotional people.
In 1946 Charlie was transferred to HQ at Shell House to setup a department which looked after daily load estimates, Statistics and Flight Planning. It had a staff of 10 including his secretary Beryl, and was called Load Control.
Beryl became Mrs B in 1947 and in 1948 he presciently gave a job to a newly fledged young Traffic Officer named Keith Hamilton.
1953 saw Charlie transferred to Mascot as Base Traffic Officer, responsible for all Traffic activity at Mascot’s old Terminal, and 1955 saw Charlie back in town managing the Company’s Wentworth Hotel Air Terminal.
In 1956 Charlie was back in Hangar 11 at Mascot responsible for Traffic Development, Standards, Regulations, MHL, Personnel, Legal, Recruitment and Postings.
His affection for Weight and Balance processes endured and he was involved in the design and use of the unwieldy slide rules used for the 749 and 1049 Constellations.
No chance you could accidentally take one of these home with you. They were about 3’ long.
He was heavily involved in the introduction of the 707s and accompanied the aeroplane, before its entry into service, on a series of proving flights up and down the Kangaroo Route, while Roy Whitton looked after the Pacific and he also found time to design the pack that could be fitted to a FCL seat on the 707’s for the carriage of Dip Mail under the supervision of those chaps with the little silver greyhound badge in their lapels - Queens Messengers.
Once the new type had been ‘proved’ on the route, Charlie was posted to SIN to oversee it into service, a very busy time with all flights - configured 20F 84Y from memory – heavily oversold. He stayed at the embassy Hotel which must’ve been up at the top of Orchard Rd as he found time to relax in the Tanglin Centre’s swimming pool. This would have been around 1959.
Charlie’s written notes read like the history of Qantas during its long period of steady growth, and the 800 word limit on this “Bio” doesn’t do them justice.
I wish I had known him better, and had the chance to talk about all this history.
In 1970 Charlie and his secretary Marilyn Smith would plan and execute Traffic’s move from Sydney’s old Terminal to the new one on the other side of Runway 16/34 and he’d continue in the new building until 21st January 1976 when he retired.
In writing this, I couldn’t help wondering what Charlie and his mates would make of the present day Qantas where the Base Traffic Officer has become the Manager, Airport Experience.
By John McHarg from notes supplied by Stephen Braithwaite

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