VIDEO: Huge crowd welcomes Catalina back to Rathmines

THERE were mixed emotions as 19 former World War II personnel watched the Catalina seaplane returned to Rathmines on Saturday. 

More than 15,000 people attended the Rathmines Catalina Festival, which was held at the former RAAF seaplane base at Rathmines.

It was once the largest flying boat base in the South Pacific and key to Australia’s war effort.

The event marked the second time a Catalina flying boat has landed at the site since the end of World War II.

Rathmines Catalina Memorial Park Trust registrar Penny Furner said the war veterans had tears in their eyes as the plane flew in.

Richard Udy, 89, from Sydney served in WWII between 1942 and 1945 as a wireless operator on Catalina aircraft.

‘‘It was a great thrill to see the Catalina there again. It was a large part of my life from the age of 18 to 22,’’ he said.

‘‘Everybody appointed to Catalinas began their time at Rathmines and would came back to the base every one to two months during the war.’’

Mr Udy said his happiest moment was bringing Australian prisoners of war from the Philippines back to Rose Bay in Sydney.

‘‘The Americans would bring them from Japan to the Philippines where they were so happy to be sent home quickly,’’ he said.

Mr Udy is one of just two men still alive from his crew.

‘‘They were a great crew and we kept together right through till after the war,’’ he said.

There were 3000 personnel stationed at Rathmines at the height of the war.

Of the Catalinas based there, 32 went down in combat, with 332 lives lost.

The annual festival raises money towards plans for a hangar and museum at Rathmines that will display artefacts from the base, including, one day, a Catalina.

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