Community & Business

5 March, 2024

Veteran’s legacy lives on

A LOCAL World War II veteran has been remembered as strong, brave and fun-loving man, after the 102-year-old passed away peacefully last month.

By Ellie Fink

World War II veteran George Gnezdiloff has passed away aged 102.
World War II veteran George Gnezdiloff has passed away aged 102.

George Gnezdiloff was born on 3 September 1921, in Khabarovsk, Siberia, to Anna (nee Potapov) and Kirill Gnezdiloff, and moved to Australia at one year of age. 

He and his parents moved around Queensland, settling in Chillagoe for two years when he was just two years' old. 

He the moved to Innisfail and Tully for his schooling years, where he discovered his love for planes.

At 15 years of age in 1936, George had saved up enough of his pocket money to go on his first flight over the Tully region. 

After graduating from high school, he worked in Tully at a pharmacy, cordial factory, at a motor garage as a bookkeeper and at the sugar mill. 

He then became an engineer while working on the sugar train, and eventually became a fireman. 

In 1941, George’s life changed. The Royal Australian Airforce had stopped in Tully to recruit men for World War II, which had broken out two years beforehand. 

Determined to serve his country, George applied to the RAAF, passing his medical and physical exams with flying colours, but was enlisted into the army on 29 January 1942, while he is waiting to be accepted into RAAF. 

In April, he began training with the 51st Battalion as a Bren Gun Carrier driver and was deployed to Hughenden, Gordonvale, Redlynch, Clifton Beach, and Townsville. 

He was in Townsville during a number of air raids carried out by the Japanese.

On 5 December 1942, he transitioned from the army to the RAAF, and following training in Sandgate and Kingaroy, he was chosen for aircrew training in Canada. 

Travelling via the Nieuw Amsterdam to San Francisco, then by truck to Canada, he underwent training on various aircraft types, including Bristol Bolingbroke and Fleet Fort. 

During a training flight, an engine fire necessitated an emergency landing. The aircraft spun around, and they ended up coming to a stop in the high snowbank on the side of the aerodrome. 

Uninjured physically, George then set sail for England to do advanced training on Anson aircraft before doing more training on a Wellington and then converting to Lancasters.

A former RAF Squadron Leader Pilot, Terry Forshaw, who had graduated as a fighter pilot in 1936 and was reclassified as a bomber pilot because of his age, selected George to be a member of his crew.  

George and Terry got along well, spending their spare time playing squash together. 

After moving around England and securing various jobs, George was discharged from the RAAF on 21 January 1946 and returned to the Tully Sugar Mill. 

He married Mary Savage, whom he met while in England, and had five children - Robert, Michael (John), Raymond, Carol and Vicki.

He pursued a career in carpentry with his father’s company before transitioning to become a Health and Building Inspector for Townsville City Council and, later, Mareeba Shire Council.

He spent 20 years with Mareeba Shire and then transferred to Proserpine Shire Council (Whitsunday Shire Council) from 1972 till his retirement in 1986.

In Mareeba, George organised and was involved in mass school polio and smallpox immunisation programs during the 1950s and 60s and he was a member of the Rotary Club for nine years and the Lions Club (Mareeba and Proserpine) for 16 years. 

He founded the Mareeba Contact Group of Cairns Legacy and was in charge of the Mareeba Shire Council aged persons unit project, where he designed and supervised the erection of over 50 units in the shire before relocating to Proserpine. 

During his time in council, he also helped reclaim Brady Park, which has now been turned into the Mareeba State School oval and part of the Bicentennial Lakes. 

During the 60s, George joined forces with FLTLT Norm Studt to establish a permanent drill hall for the Air Training Corps. The building still hosts the Airforce Cadets No 106 Squadron today. 

George was also a recruiting officer for the Citizen Military Forces in Mareeba in the 1960s and 70s.

His final years were spent in Proserpine, where he was heavily involved with several community groups. 

George’s legacy will continue to live on through the Mareeba and the surrounding community through the several projects he helped bring to life. 


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