"I WAS proud to serve my country but not proud of all the human beings I killed."
War will haunt Ted Kirk until his last breath.
The 91-year-old Gayndah grazier knows this as well as he knows the inside of a Spitfire cockpit.
This week Mr Kirk relived his war experience as he and his 87-year-old wife Grace travelled across outback Queensland on the Anzac troop train re-enactment.
In 1942 the 18-year-old lad had the world at his feet and dreams of reaching the clouds.
He farewelled his colleagues at a Maryborough bank and set off on a great adventure by enlisting in the Royal Australian Air Force.
"I wanted to fly," he says of his arrival at the RAAF base in Brisbane.
And he did.
From airstrips in Brisbane to Kingaroy and Bundaberg to Dubbo, the young officer soared high above the clouds in Tiger Moths.
"It was a real thrill," he says.
Towards the end of 1942, Mr Kirk's great adventure continued as he headed for England, the Middle East and Italy where he practised the tactics needed to survive deadly sorties high above enemy soil.
From Spitfires to Typhoons, Mr Kirk spread his wings alongside his mates in 198 Squadron.
"Our first target was the German headquarters in Belgium," he recalls.
"I got one of the four direct hits (on the target).
"I was so eager to make an impression that I waited to the very last minute to fire my rockets.
"Then I had to fly back through my own debris and ended up with a hole in the fuel tank.
"I tried to eject but my canopy was broken so I couldn't get out.
"I had no choice but to bring it home."
Mr Kirk had many close tangles during his Second World War service.
"It's strange to say I was never scared," he says.
"They (the enemy) would be firing as they came at you, I'd see it but I just thought about hitting my target."
During four years at war, Mr Kirk flew hundreds of missions and fired hundreds of rockets.
"I don't know how many direct hits I had, but even when you miss a target the rockets do a lot of damage," he says.
Mr Kirk was also a life-saver.
He would sneak his plane into enemy zones on daring and dangerous rescue missions when pilots were downed.
He also flew much-needed supplies into Berlin during the Russian occupation.
In 1946, the young Aussie returned to his Gayndah property.
"I was restless," he says of going from acclaimed war pilot to grazier.
"And I had nightmares for a long time."
Mr and Mrs Kirk married in 1949 and raised four children.
They now have 13 grandchildren and eight great-grandkids.
They still farm two massive cattle properties.
Vision problems clipped Mr Kirk's wings two years ago, forcing him to stop flying his beloved Cessna 182.
"I miss flying very much," Mr Kirk says.
"I've had a good life but I'll never forget the people I killed."
- APN NEWSDESK
Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.