decided I’d be a boarder at this stage because rather than evacuate all the family, he couldn’t leave because he was in the police, he wouldn’t let him go anyway. So he decided to make me a boarder, which was good fun, so I decided to be a boarder. I’d only been there a little while and early one morning there was a noise and lights and things, we used to often see the searchlights from South Head. So we got out on the veranda and looked, or whatever it was, up in the second or third floor, I think it was Burl Street in Waverly,
and we saw these lights flash in very low cloud, and out of the cloud popped this low wing aeroplane with these big things, which I thought were bombs on. And it flew up towards the Macquarie Lighthouse. Now Macquarie Lighthouse was going round and the light from the lighthouse was reflecting on the clouds, you could see everywhere. And I saw this thing and I thought, “That’s interesting,” and it popped back in the cloud and disappeared. And I said to the brother who was in charge, who was us making go back to bed, “That’s an aeroplane.” He said, “Oh, it’s only the practice.”
And the next day we woke up and found that the Japanese float planes had come into Sydney Harbour, Japanese float planes the Japanese submarines had come into Sydney Harbour and they’d torpedoed, or tried to torpedo the USS Chicago and the torpedo had missed and hit the wharf over near the navy ship the Kuttabul, which capsized and drowned a few naval ratings on board the thing. And this fellow had actually done all the survey around the area,
and the place. And we looked, this fellow named Geoff, and I, Geoff Clinton, he and I said, “This is not the way it should be. We’ll fix these buggers. We’re going to get out of here.” So we both decided we were going to join up so we left Waverly College, we had one of my mother’s sisters lived at Bondi and we went over there and took our uniforms off and put our ordinary clothes on and went down to Sydney,
to Victoria Barracks in Sydney and said, “We want to join up,” and the fellow said, “You need this, this and this.” So I borrowed my uncle’s birth certificate, who was about five or six years older than me and his name was Parker, and Geoff and I went down there and we enlisted. Because the fellow said the way to get into the air force is join the army cause they’re transferring people from the army very quickly into the air force, whereas in the air force you’ve got to wait.
Worst advice I’ve could have ever been given, but I accepted it. But of course at that stage of the game I was only 15½ anyway and we joined the army. And they took us in and I became Private Parker, and for the next six weeks or so we marched around the Sydney Cricket Ground with a broomstick with a bit of wood nailed on it simulating a rifle, and a backpack with three house bricks in it simulating a full backpack,
and did drill backward and forwards, all sorts of things up and down. And after about six weeks of this I thought, “Look, I’m not getting any closer to flying an aeroplane. I want to be in an aeroplane.” So I went over to a fellow who happen to be a corporal – I thought he was God but he was a corporal – and I said, “Look, I don’t want to sort of be here, I’m sick of this.” And he said, “Get back on the parade ground,” so I did. But then I found within a couple of days or so, it’s very hazy to me now, a fellow who was a lieutenant,
and I thought a lieutenant must have been one above God because he was real high, and I said to him, “I don’t want to be here,” and he said, “What do you want to do?” I said, “I should be back at school.” He said, “Why should you be at school?” I said, “Well I should be getting ready for my Leaving certificate at school and I don’t want to be here.” And he said, “How old are you?” and I said, “Well I’m not quite 16.” So within I suppose 48 hours I was out. But they made a classic error. In those days you had to go to a place called a Manpower Authority, and the Manpower Authority
game permission to move anywhere, from A to B. They used to have protected industries and people could only work in certain places. So they said to me, “Oh you tried to join up, did you?” and I said, “Yeah.” And they said, “Oh, they caught you,” and I said, “Yes.” And they said, “Oh well, they’ve given you an honourable discharge but it’s in the name of Parker.” He said, “Your name’s not Parker?” I said, “No, Flemming.” He said, “I’ll get that fixed.” So he went and had that re-done and came back and I got an honourable discharge in the name of Flemming. And he said, “Well what are you going to do now? You going back to the bush?”
And I said, “Yes.” I didn’t know what I was doing. I said, “Yes.” So he gave me a Manpower clearance to travel, which mean I had an honourable discharge from the army and clearance to travel – the only thing that I was missing was a birth certificate. So in those days I’d learnt the difference between boys and girls and I had a girlfriend that was in the air force, a WAAAF [Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force] and I said… Well we got a birth certificate, I think we paid two [shillings] and six [sixpence] for it
and instead of being born in December 1926 we changed the six to a four on the typewriter, and she got some of that pink rouge stuff on her face and rubbed over it. And it looked pretty good, I’ve still got it to this day, it looked pretty good and she folded it down where the four and the six should be and it looked like 1924. So I took this down to Woolloomooloo where the recruiting depot was, put it in and said, “I want to join the air force.” And then I got the second worst advice I’ve ever had in my life.
A fellow said, “Well don’t try and get into aircrew because you won’t get in, there’s too many people waiting to get into aircrew, Join the ground staff and then it’s very easy to transfer.” So young and stupid I said, “Yes,” and joined the ground staff. And I was taken in as AC1 [Aircraftsman First Class] JH Flemming and away I went. And the fellow said to me, “Well, what do you want to do?” and I said, “Well I don’t really know.” He said, “Well you can do so-and-so and so, or you can be
an aircraft rigger or an engine fitter.” I thought engine fitter would be good because up home in the bush we used to take engines out with the trucks and put them back in again, I thought that would be good – you put engines in. I said, “I’ll be an engine fitter.” They said, “Okay, you’re in,” so I became an engine fitter. And they sent me down to a place outside Melbourne called Ascot Vale where there’s a mechanical training organisation, and for days I used to be in this big, cold windy, hangar with a hacksaw cutting metal
and doing stuff. And I thought, “This is not fitting bloody engines like I do,” and I never forget, the fellow said, “There’s a block of metal.” Rough metal and there was four files. “I want you to make this one-inch cube by file.” So file, file… And then you’d measure it best you could and say, “Right,” then the inspector would come along and he’d get his micrometer out and say, “It’s out by so-and-so,” so I’d file a little bit more. And I never ever got it because I’d always take too much off one side, little bit off one side,
I never got anything close to it. So eventually they said, “It doesn’t look like you’ll be an engine fitter.” I said, “I don’t want to be an engine fitter any more.” So they made me an airfield defence guard. So I got sent over to Tocumwal in west New South Wales and they said, “You’re an airfield guard.” So I’m in the guard, they give me a rifle. I’ll never forget to this day. They gave me two rounds of ammunition, two 303 rounds of ammunition, and I had to sign a piece of paper for them to accept it and I had to sign a thing
I was not to fire them without permission from the warrant officer who was in charge of the guards. So I’m now… Tocumwal’s a great big base, it was built like a town with all the barrack blocks were houses, looked from the air like a town. And we were about 8 or 10 miles from the main gate, where the guard box was round the back in a sort of wheat field way over the side of the airfield. And I’m walking up and down this thing like that and under no circumstances am I allowed to fire without permission. Now how you got permission from anybody I don’t know, but anyway
I don’t know what I was guarding against. I thought to myself, “I’m not getting any closer to the bloody air force.” Now I’d been in the services since about August of ’41 and this is about June, May or June of ’42, ’43 I mean, ’42 to ’43. So I went back, I’m sitting that night in the airmen’s canteen, and I didn’t drink in those days but there was a couple of wild fellows alongside me, these were three or four army guys who had come back from the Middle East,
and they were pretty old blokes, they were 22 or 23, they were real old buggers. And they were chatting away about various things and they said, “Oh we’ve all been accepted were going, soon we’ll all be in aircrew,” They’d made it very easy for ex army people to transfer from the army, particularly if they had combat into aircrew. And the fellow said, “Hey, young Jim, why don’t you come and join us?” and I said, “What have you got to do?” They said, “Oh, you’ve got to have one of these forms and you need a, got to have a discharge and got to have this.” I said, “Well.” He said, “I’ll get you a form.”
So he got me a form and it had all the things, it had an army number and an army discharge thing on it, but when it had combat I didn’t fill that in at all, I just left that cause I didn’t have any, and I put it in like that and I was accepted. They all went together, and these five ex army blokes and me we were accepted for aircrew, so the next thing I know I’m posted from Tocumwal over to Bradfield Park. And at Bradfield Park I’m doing all the normal things you do, you know, training there, and then
they elected, wanted me to be an air gunner and all this and I knocked it all back and said, “No, I want to be a pilot,” and eventually got through.
start a machine and it would rock you from the vertical that way to the vertical this way. And they do that to see if you become airsick, had nothing to do with bloody airsickness as I found out later on. But everybody would get sick eventually. The thing was… And then they’d time how long it took you to get sick. And we used to call it the flying vomit room, it was, everybody would get sick, it was just like being at Luna Park on a thing you pay to go on, but just on a stretcher like that,
that’s one thing. Then there’d be another thing you’d have a control in your hand which would control a green light on a screen and they’d have a red light moving around which someone would control, and you’d try and chase it with the green light, try and catch it. You did all sorts of Morse training, you did all sorts of Aldis lamp training, you did everything, all the basics of everything you could do. Then based on the results of your tests they then say well you’ll people would be selected for
navigator, you’d be selected for pilot, you’d be selected for air gunner. All these things came through. Well now this particular stage we came through, I got selected all right and I was going to be a pilot but I went up to be interviewed by a fellow named Ashton, I’ll never forget his name. He came from a polo-playing family which were very well known in Australia’s polo playing, and we had an interview and he said, “Oh, you’re
from the bush?” “Yes.” “And you ride?” “Yes.” “And do you hunt?” And hunting! I thought he meant with my dog and rabbits – he meant jumping – I didn’t know what he meant so I said, “Yes.” and he said, “Well how do you jump a normal fence?” and I said, “I don’t jump a normal fence, I get through it” and he said, “Don’t be bloody smart with me, son.” He said, “You know what I mean,” and I really didn’t know what he mean. And he said, “When you’re riding and you jump.” And I said,
“Oh, you mean riding?” and he said, “Yes.” He said, “Do you jump with a loose reign or a tight reign?” and I said, “Gees, I jump with a tight reign cause if I don’t the horse will fall over.” “Oh,” he said, “that’s complexly wrong.” He said, “You let the horse take its head. He selects when he jumps.” And of course he’s talking about bloody prize polo pony that had been trained, I’m talking about bush scrubbers that you’ve got to hang on. So he came out there unlikely to become an efficient pilot because he’s no coordination with jumping.
So I went back to the thing and did another several, so they put me back through this coordination test again, with the lights and things and I passed that again. And they eventually said, “Well we’ve decided you can become a navigator or a wireless operator.” I said, “I’m not going to be either of those. I’m going to be pilot or I’m out of here.” And the fellow said, “You can’t get out of here,” and I said, “You’ll be surprised if I can.” Cause all I had to say was I was under age and I would have gone. And eventually the bloke said, “Oh well, if you’re determined to be a pilot,” he said, “well try you one more time.” So they gave me one more aptitude test and I went through it like that, and didn’t
do an interview about jumping horses any more, which was good.
were all holding depots for people. And sleeping in the stand of the Melbourne Cricket Ground where they had the tiered seats and we had metal stretchers. To make the stretchers level they had two house bricks on that seat with the legs on, and the legs on the seat there so that the stretcher was level. So you had all these tiers. And the big trick is if you come home at night-time, late at night-time and kick the first two house bricks out of the top bed,
and he’d fall over and hit the next one and you’d have 40 beds all in a heap down in the bottom. And if they caught you’d they’d kill you, but they never did. That was part of the trick of it – good fun. Then we got on a troop train and decided we had to go to Brisbane, we had to sail from Brisbane into Sandgate and we were on the train for six days from Melbourne to Brisbane. six of us to an 8-person carriage and every time we’d stop,
we’d stop for breakfast and morning tea, every time we stop we’d have the same meal. We’d have bread and butter and sausages and mashed potato and gravy and tea and jelly and custard, that was the same meal every meal except breakfast for the whole time we went up there. Because the people, the country folks who’d been told by the authorities that we were coming through, this is what they want for their meal, but they didn’t realise that over six days you got bloody sick of sausages.
But it was good. We had a lot of fun as normal kids do. Did some terrible things, used to get out of the train window and walk along the side of the train hanging on and get in the next window and all that sort of ridiculous thing. Got to Sandgate and stayed there for a couple of nights and got put on a ship called the SS Lurline, one of the Maximum Line ships, and it had been made as one of the big white passenger,
you know, the Love Boat pre war. The only trouble was that we were on board and there was I think 2,000, 3,000 American, what were they, Americans, I think marines. Anyway coming back they’d done the landing, a lot of landing up north and they were on their way back through Australia, they’d had some R&R [Rest and Recreation] on the way back to the States again and we had…
This ship was absolutely stocked to capacity so we had a meal ticket, a coloured meal ticket, and we were only allowed to eat twice a day; we’d eat morning and night depending on what your hours were. And I’ll never forget this day our breakfast in the morning was 5.30 was our breakfast time and our dinner time at night-time was 7.00 at night. And we had nothing in between except they had a canteen on board which you could buy things and they used to have chocolates called Hershey bars, and we’d buy them by the box full and we’d eat these bloody
chocolates all day and play cards and do things to fill in the time. But we were on that ship for, oh, nearly a month.
I had to work hard. I had to listen to what they told me and don’t try and think for myself do what they told me, and they were usually right. And I found I could fly the aeroplane very well. I had great trouble early with instrument flying. They used to put a hood over you like that and you had to fly on instruments. And I used to get all sorts of vertigo feelings in there because I had great trouble making myself believe that by looking at the instruments you could do it. And it’s like anything, it’s only a learning process –
eventually you can do it. Some people never can. I mean some people can never fly, some people just can’t do two things. See flying is all to do with doing more than one movement at the one time, you move your hand like that and your feet like that and the throttle like that, and you’ve got to move the three of them. Now some people can’t do it, some people do 1, 2, three or 1, 2, three but they can’t get all the coordination. And I got three children, I’ve two boys and a girl. One bloke’s a very good pilot flyer, my daughter’s the best of all, she flies
beautifully, the third one’s absolutely bloody hopeless because he’d can’t do, he can’t coordinate. He can do it by numbers, and I got them all solo and I said to him, “Don’t do it any more, you’re going to kill yourself or somebody else cause you just can’t.” See what happens is there are people who can learn to fly but there are people who are pilots and there’s the difference. And one of the troubles nowadays with aero clubs, cause money’s so tight they teach people to fly, whereas in the air force they teach
people to become a pilot and there’s a very big difference between the two of them. But mine wasn’t easy but by listening to what you were told to do and doing it, you found bit by bit a bit rubbed off, bit by bit. And there’s no other teacher other than experience. You’ve got to keep doing, got to keep doing it, keep doing it. That’s why if you don’t fly regularly you can have an accident.
thrust and drag, and once they’re all balanced the aeroplane’s in balanced flight, no problem, and you can do most things with it. When you want to stall you cut out the thrust vector so the nose has to come out to give you lift to increase the lift factor, get a high angle, and it gets to a stage there where no longer there’s the air flow over the wing. What happens, it breaks away. And when it breaks away the weight of the aeroplane centres around the centre of gravity will fall like that. So you see all of a sudden
way up here and it goes boom. Now it’s not a nice feeling but if you know what it’s going to do and how to do it, all you have to do is just do nothing and it will recover, and to make it recover earlier you put some power on and it will recover earlier. But a lot of people it’s the fear factor. Now you get an aeroplane like a Wirraway, for example, which is a little different, when you stall it it’s not always perfectly balanced. If it’s not perfectly
balanced when it stalls, not only will it drop, it will flick. So you go from up there real high and it goes whack, and the next thing you know you’re on your back this way. Now if you’re not careful there it will spin, and once again a spin’s not difficult but the first time it’s frightening. But all you do in a spin is take recovery action opposite to what you’re in, so if you’re spinning to the right you put on full left rudder like that, which will kick it out, and then you put the stick forward will make it come back again. And it’s a matter of teaching,
that’s why the instructors were good because they would do it all and show you. But the first three or four stalls and spinning were quite terrifying because you’re completely and utterly out of control. But when, later on when I was instructing up at Archie Field for a few years I used to go up, another fellow and I, and we’d get side by side and we’d stall, in two Tiger Moths and we’d spin and we’d do 11 turns of a spin from 3,000 feet. And then we’d recover and we’d recover head on,
like that. It used to really bring the crowd on their toes. But it’s only just technique and we used to use that as a show thing. But learning to do it the first couple of times, I can understand people saying it’s difficult.
Were there any other, you said the aeroplane had no vices whatsoever in your opinion, were there any things you found difficult about converting onto this aeroplane?
No, just the compression of time. Things happen so much quicker and you’ve got so much more power. I mean for takeoff you’ve got to have the rudder trim in so you’ve got full trim on, full rudder on, otherwise the torque of the engine will make the aeroplane go that way. But once you get used to that it’s easy. No, I think it’s the complete viceless aeroplane. Stalls perfectly flat, if it spins it will
spin and recovers the first turn, nothing like it. One bad thing, it had a fuel tank behind the seat, called a fuselage tank, and that used to hold, I think it’s 60 Imperial or 60 US [United States], doesn’t matter, of fuel, and with that fuel the C of G [Centre of Gravity] was back. It was a terrible unstable aeroplane, very unstable. And you had to be careful if you put on too much G [Gravity] you could actually pull the wing off, and that happened
in Japan. An young American colonel had been a visitor to Bofu and he did a fly past and pulled up too quickly and the bloody wing fell off, cause of the fuselage tank. So with those full, when you go on long range mission if you got jumped by anybody or had to fight you couldn’t fight, cause you couldn’t jettison and you couldn’t drain it. So what we’d do is get airborne and as soon as we got airborne switch on the fuselage tank and use that fuel up
as fast as you could in the climb. The drops tanks were all right, you could drop them off, no problem. But the fuselage tank. But that was one failure, but they put that in so as the aeroplanes could go to Berlin and back. They used to go from England to Berlin and back and that’s why the fuselage tank was there. And on our long range trips in Korea too we used to use it all the time. But we lost a couple of Australians the same way.
left Morotai flew up to Clarke Field in Manila. That’s the place where it was inundated with volcano a couple of years ago, you remember. Hard to imagine being 8 feet under that. Anyway it was a wonderful huge big base. Are you interested in anecdotes? Had a very interesting one at Clarke Field. We had aeroplane, a whole bunch of us landed there and we were
all getting ready to go the next day and my aeroplane had a very bad magneto drop in it. The CO said, “Oh you won’t be able to go. You stay and pick up the next group,” cause they were going from base. And I thought, “Gees, I’m going to be here for another three or four days on me own. It will be bloody awful.” Anyway I was down in the NCOs’, in the, they used to call it the Rocker Club, which was the sergeants’ mess, cause
they’ve got rockers under their strips. I was complaining about this and this very big tall coloured guy, great guy, Leon was his name, staff sergeant, he said, “What’s your trouble?” and I told him and he said, they used to laugh cause we were warrant officers, NCOs flying aeroplanes whereas all their pilots were all commissioned – they thought it was the funniest thing all the time. Anyway I told him what the problem was and he went down, at Clarke Field there must have been,
oh I suppose there must have been 500 Mustangs all over the place there and they were all ready to go back to the States eventually. And about six o’clock that night he came up to me and he said, “Hey, I think we’ve fixed your aeroplane,” and I said, “Oh okay.” He said, “Come down and have a look at it.” So I came down and had a look and he said, “You run it,” and I ran it beautiful, not a problem. So I went back to the boss and, it was Glen Cooper in those days, the CO, and I said,
“Listen, my plane’s right again, I can fly.” He said, “Oh right, you can come with us.” So anyway, cut a long story short, I got in and next day I go up, all the way up Okana, all up in Japan. Landed no problem at all, and flew from 1948, 1949, the war started in 1950. And early in 1950 there was an enquiry came round about aeroplanes and this aeroplane of mine,
A68757, they found that the engine number in the aeroplane didn’t match the airframe number and the engine number didn’t match any aeroplane in the inventory. Now what had happened, the Staff Sergeant Leon and his mob at bloody Manila had gone down taken the engine out of one of theirs, took mine out and switched the engine over, which you could do in about four or five hours and never told anybody. And I, no-one ever knew.
We never ever checked and they were having all sorts of enquiries about what was going on. And that was the aeroplane that Graham Stroud was killed in in the first week of the Korean War, was my aeroplane, A68757. He got killed and that’s all that stopped the enquiry because it went kaput, it was written off and the enquiry stopped. When I was the Deputy Chief of Air Staff I went through all the records and found it had got to that far and nothing further.
But I had no idea that that’s what had actually happened, they’d actually changed the engine over, which is a typical American way of fixing something, which is great. So that was good fun, good trip; everything went well.
and beautiful place. And the hot springs are big, they’d be, oh, 50 metres or more, and each hotel has them. And this hotel we were at, it’s a three-storey hotel and each level has a walkway down to the hot springs. And in Japan they all bathe before they get in the hot water so they had like a round pool where you’d come down and you’d bathe and then get in and soak in the water. And this, another fellow named Bill Mitchellson
and I are there one morning, about 7 o’clock or so and were having a quite Kirin beer just for fun, for breakfast in the pool, were sitting there. And all of a sudden on the second floor opens up and these, must have been 50 of these nubile maidens pop out and they walked down the little catwalk and all dropped their Kanakas off and all giggled and hopped in the water. And were looking at each other and he said, “You know something?” I said, “What?” He said, “I can see a hundred nipples.”
And he said, “You know something else?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “And no-one will ever believe us.” And this was the Takarazuka Girls’ Opera were on tour and they were having their morning bath, because up there everyone bathed together so no problems at all. Make sure nothing unusual in this except these two bloody round eyes in the pool. I’ve never forgotten that, goodness me, it was true. You probably don’t believe me but it was true. A lot of good fun there and we had,
everybody had a room girl, a full-time room girl do all your laundry and all the cleaning up you wanted to do. The mess was completely staffed by Japanese, all the waitresses and everything in the mess were all Japanese, beautifully trained, well mannered. All the guys had Japanese girlfriends and they had second homes set up all around the place – life was good. As a mater of fact that bloody Korean War ruined a wonderful occupation,
it was great up till then, then the Korean War came and we had to go and do something. But it was a great aero club, we’d fly all the time and no-one shooting back, do what you like around the place, great fun.
big squadron, 77 Squadron, that was in 1949, they thought they’d only keep one squadron there. They made a big squadron, I think we had 28 pilots. And we’d been going and they got the word that we were going to come home towards the end of 1950. So in about February or March we got the word, yes, were going to pull out. So in May we started to fly our last missions and June they started to put the aeroplanes to bed, so they
got all the Mustangs and spent weeks unihabiting them all, they did, put the oil cocoon around all of them. And we decided to have a big farewell party at Iwakuni. Now because half of us were still NCOs we decided to have it in the sergeants’ mess. So we were in the sergeants’ mess and we organised this big shipwrecked party – the idea was everybody was to come dressed as they could come from a shipwreck. So it started off and we had a big outline of a boat built at the front of the sergeants’ mess and a gangplank.
And Blue Thornton and I were dressed as pirates, we had little bucket full of scotch, and a water pistol. And to get into the mess you had to walk up on the gangplank and open your mouth and we’d squirt a scotch in. And that got the party going pretty well, of course. And they had a full dance band playing inside. No furniture, dinghies and pool, like a boat, and everybody was there from Lou Spencer, CO, and everyone down. And we had a hell of a party and it went right through, to such a degree
that the next morning at 8 o’clock that we got the band back again – it was still going. The band had gone home about two o’clock. And we so we got the band back at 8 o’clock and it still going strong and about 10 o’clock at night we rang up the CO and said, “Come back to the mess,” and he said, “No,” He’s going on leave, he was going on leave and couldn’t come back but carry on if we wanted to. And it was pretty good and all of a sudden we got a phone call from the duty officer, who was Rachel Wilco, and he went in and took the phone
call and he came back and we said, “What was that?” He said, “Oh one of those silly bloody Yanks, he rang me up and said wanted to talk to the duty officer and told me we had to get prepared for the next order coming in. The bloody North Koreans have invaded South Korea and we’re going to be involved and war will be declared soon.” And I told him to stop pissing us off cause he knows were going home, and he hung up on me. Next thing the phone ring again and this bloke saying,
“This is not a bloody joke. I’m fair dinkum. I’m really fair dinkum.” So old Ray of course is trying to sober up at this stage of the game and he came back and said, “He might be right.” I said, “Well we’d better tell the CO.” So he hopped in and drove down to Lou Spencer. Lou was just getting ready to go on holidays up in Kawana in Tokyo. So he said, “Okay, I’ll take it.” He got the phone call and rang up and sure enough it was the 5th Air Force, they’d called us from Tokyo and the South Koreans had been invaded that night, and they said,
“We have been asked to get 77 Squadron and were involved and to get ready.” And he said, “We’ve got nothing were inhabited.” Anyway he came back – I admire him very much, Lou Spencer – he came back to the mess and said, “Listen fellows,” about 12 o’clock, he said, “Party’s got to stop as of now. Here’s the situation. We look like being in combat, we’ve got to get the aeroplanes ready and I want everybody involved.” So we all went down, everybody, every rank went down to the thing and were trying to take all the crap
off these aeroplanes, which we did, took us three or four days I suppose, and we got them all back, everybody together. And on the 2nd of July we flew our first mission, first mission over Korea. And the rest is history. I mean Lou was killed 10 days later and the whole thing was just out of, completely out of the blue, no warning at all. And we’d gone from living the life of sublime luxury to all of a
sudden sitting in a bloody one-man tent at Taegu – that’s another story.
will say to you, “There’s a target, the enemy are 50 metres to the north of those fluorescent panels,” or the area so-and-so, or, “That area over there is cleared.” So we were called in and said to do this and that areas there, and we checked twice, the CO was leading, Lou Spence, said, “The area’s clear. Attack.” So we attacked and we all of a sudden got called off, called off , friendlies, friendlies. And what had happened the Gloucesters had moved forward and the forward air controllers
hadn’t worked out where the front line was. The front line was still, well they thought it was and the Gloucester had moved forward, and that’s just one of those things. I mean we were coming back one day in the afternoon in four Mustangs, and you can’t get anything more identifiable than four Mustangs and all of a sudden an American flight of F80s came round the corner. My number two said to me, “Hey, they’re attacking!” I said, “Don’t worry, they’re F80s.” And as soon as I said that all of a sudden I heard this break, we broke, and an American voice said, “Oh, sorry Aussies,”
cause they thought we were the action and had a go at us. But that happens in wartime, it can happen any time and the Glousters was an unfortunate incident, but there it was. But I don’t know about the train one, we didn’t see many trains in Korea. Saw a lot of animals pulling vehicles along, it was hard to make yourself shoot them but if you didn’t shoot them they’d get through. And when you would shoot the ground they’d all blow up, including the Korean peasant dressed in their white robes and their big black hats on.
Very hard to shoot those but every now and again they’d make a target there and every one you’d hit would go boom, cause their all carrying explosives under their robes. They’d infiltrate behind the American front line then blow everybody up.
and tells you what the targets going to be, the targets then allocated to the various squadrons around the place. We were flying out of Taegu with the Americans. We’d fly, we’d have two Australians two Americans, three Americans one Australian, three Australians one American, whatever made up 4. And we were given all these targets. You’d eat at a field kitchen, get in the aeroplane get airborne, contact the forward air controller. He would identify where the target was, you’d have to identify where the target was,
he’d confirm it and if it was friendly troops and they had panels down, no problem. If it was friendly troops and they put smoke up, they put coloured smoke up, no problem. If there was nothing like that it was a problem because you’d have to identify where they were and then what you’d do you’d target the opportunity. Whatever would move or wouldn’t move, or whatever the forward air controller would call in, he’d say that’s the target, we’d fire on that. If we had bombs, it was usually a bridge or vehicles
together or tanks under a orchard, something like this, and that was straight conventional. With rockets it was the same because you once you knew where tanks were. But when it’s with troops and people moving we’d drop napalm quite often across the top where they were, which would burn right across the top and anyone moving then your number three and four behind you would start to strafe, and then when you identified where all the troops were then you’d strafe everything until you were out of ammunition. Then you’d bore back as quick
as you could to Taegu, out into a taxi rank, big taxi rank at the end, while you were there they were all going along rearming, refuelling, and the next four that were ready away they’d go. And by the time you’d had a cup of coffee and looked around your four would be up again, in you’d go and away you go and you’d do the same thing. And you do that till first light till last light. It was very hard work in the early days. See Taegu for example was an airfield about three or four kilometres from a walled city, old walled city,
very historic old city, and the North Koreans owned that and every night at night fall the North Koreans would attack Taegu and take the airfield and everything would be gone, everything would be erased, the whole thing. The next morning our first mission from Japan would be to secure the airfield, so we’d be attacking, strafing and rocketing all around the airfield and gradually force them back bit by bit by bit until it gave time for the South Korean troops and the American troops to get in to take the airfield again.
So they’d put a perimeter around it and we’d operate there again all day and the C54s and things would fly in tents and seats and food and stuff and fuel and all the ammunition and they’d do that all day long and build us up, build us up again. Now we’d be able to fly to last light, after last light if they could hold they’d hold, if they couldn’t hold they’d have to retreat and once again the North Koreans would come through and knock everything off and we’d start the thing again. So the first couple of months of the war
we were doing that all the time.
two-man tents and put up so if we could stay the night we’d stay the night. And all they had was a two-man tent, nothing else, so we found it a good idea. When we made it a bit more secure so that they weren’t taking the airfield every night we said, “Well we’d better take…” So we took a blanket each and put it in the back of the canopy of the Mustang and took it over so that if we stayed overnight we had a blanket. And luckily it was warm so we didn’t have any problem except for the bloody mosquitoes of course. But
it meant that every morning we could get up and be fed, and then do our… The idea was to get aeroplanes on target at first light. So we all took these blankets and after a while we thought, “This is a pretty good idea,” so we used to carry them with us. And this particular time we left them there cause we thought we’d be back that day. So that night we left them again and that night, oh just about on dusk, the bloody bugle blew and said, “Everybody out! We’re under attack!” So we all leapt in and took off and landed
back at Iwakuni again, Americans all went down south to Pusan, and the gooks took over the whole airfield again that night. And the next morning everything had gone, so the bloody equipment officer back at Iwakuni wanted to charge us all for the cost of one blanket because we’d taken it and hadn’t returned it. You can imagine how popular he was round the place. He was the same fellow that we had a mid-air collision in Japan between ‘Bay’ Adams and
Blue Thornton, and ‘Bay’ had to bale out and Blue was ejecting the canopy and about to bale out and found he could still fly it. So he managed to fly it and landed it back, this same fellow wanted to charge him for the cost of the canopy cause he brought the aeroplane back without it. So with people like that you didn’t need enemies on the bloody ground. But we did it again next time, went over again, took blankets again. Then one day the Americans bought in some little wooden plank
stretchers and left them there, we could use those at night-time. But it was just a matter of walking around and finding one empty and get into it and sleep the night, and they fed us and looked after us and brought all the stuff for us. We had one old DC Dakota that was flying from Japan backwards and forwards every day, backwards everyday brining over rockets and things for us. But life was pretty primitive after living the way did it was a bit primitive.
jet fighter, level flight jet fighter, because it had an afterburner. And the squadron I was in I’d been with them for 8 months flying F100s and they were selected to get the first Star Fighter, and because I was the operations officer I was the second guy in the squadron after the CO to go and pick the first two up. And did exactly the same that we did here in the days of the Vampire. They put you in and told you start it and bring it back when you’re finished with it, cause there’s no two place one. So we just went round and flew them
and it was quite fantastic aeroplane. The first couple of trips you had to hang on because it goes like… It’s called the missile of the man and it goes like cut cat [very fast] when you put the afterburner on. And when you rotate on takeoff you can pull the nose through about 65 degrees and it accelerates vertically, which is quite dramatic. And when you’re at 25,000 feet you look back over your shoulder and the airfield’s still down below you, right where you were there. And that was the thrill
a minute for a while. And then we went through all the normal training procedures with it and went through the jet runs and the high speed runs and things and then flew them all round the world. Took them over to Spain, had a period in Spain, flew the Atlantic, did three refuels on the way over and four on the way back. Did a lot of long-range stuff, did one particular mission 11 hours and 40 minutes, no George [automatic pilot], no nothing, just hand flying all the way. The biggest problem there was
trying to get something to eat and trying to have a pee [urinate] after 11 hours and 40 minutes, not good. But we got caught in the weather on the way back cause the Atlantic and the eastern seaboard of America was socked in so we diverted over to Oklahoma City and that was socked in and got diverted down to Big Springs and that was socked in. So I said, “Listen, where’s a place where’s there’s no bloody cloud?” and the bloke said, “Oh, the base at Big Springs, Texas, is open.” I said, “I’ll take that.”
So we did another refuel and got there in 11 hours and 40 minutes. We could hardly straighten up, we got out of the cockpit we could barely straighten up, that was a long trip, four refuels. But great fun, whole new technology, first ones that had radar, had a radar screen with a, you get a target on it with a circle and there’d be a break in the circle, you’d turn towards the break and when the circle became full you could guarantee the target was in the middle, you couldn’t see him but he was in the middle. And you keep on flying, flying and then eventually
pop you there he’d be, and that was all new stuff to us.
and the idea is to fly that knob into that circle. And when you do it’s got a cam over each side, you run over the cam, when the cam locks over it turns the fuel on in there and the fuel runs down into your tanks. The other way is the way they fly F111s and things. They’ve got a receptacle on the aeroplane, they fly up behind the aeroplane and you’ve got a flying boom, an operator flies the boom above you and gets lined up with your receptacle and goes, and shots a probe into you and then he refuels you from
there. That’s easier from the pilot’s point of view but it’s not as good as the other one from a tactical point of view cause you’ve got to stay exactly with the aeroplane like this, the other way you’ve got a little bit of manoeuvrability. So what you do is you, well I’ll tell you about over an ocean first, you fly out to a point of no return, so before you get to the point of no return you come back 20 minutes and that’s where you’ve got to start taking fuel, cause you’ve got 20 minutes to get fuel on. And the tankers sit out and do a big racetrack,
and the idea is if you can get the tankers coming towards you because if you get the tankers coming towards you and they start turning if you can hook on there you get the full length of the race track for fuel, you can fall off the other end full of fuel. So what you do is as you’re coming towards them they give you a voice steer, you make a transmit, they give you a voice steer and say, “Steer so-and-so towards me.” And you eventually get to the stage where you make eye contact. Then you get from the tankers and you find there’s always a spare tanker for the number of aeroplanes you’ve got,
there’s always a spare couple of hoses, so each tanker has a hose on each wing and a hose on the tail. The hose on the tail is very hard to hook up onto cause you’ve got all the slip stream, coming all the time, the wings are pretty simple. So what you do if you’ve got six aeroplanes, you usually fly in 6’s, you’ve got six aeroplanes you’ve got four tankers, so you take, ones a spare. So you’ve got three tankers and you come round and two of you take a tanker each and the idea is to hook up on each side of the two tankers. And what you have to do is you stabilise behind the tanker, fly formation on him
and gradually close and close and fly formation on the drogue and this is not bad on nice calm day, but at night and in cloud it’s very, very difficult cause it’s doing this. So what you have to do is stable like that and when you’re already about ready to go you then accelerate into it and hit it. You’ve got to hit it enough at about a five or ten knot overtake speed so that you put a kink in the hose and that will come back and it’s refuelling. Sounds easy, but it’s not
easy at all. But once you’re hooked in, the theoretical thing is you’re all hooked in, six of you on six, and they’ll carry you and at the end they’ll throw you off, which is great. If, for example, one of the hoses won’t work you can always take the boom one, and you can get on again, it’s not as easy. If the whole lot fail, if one tanker doesn’t work you’ve got a spare tanker. So you always refuel within a 20 minute time so that if you don’t get any fuel…
and the tanker came up and said, “Look, we’ve got an emergency we’ve got three navy A3Js,” which were the Vigilante, “and they’re short of fuel and they’ve got to get into Wake,” or something. “Have you got time for tank?” And I said, “Well we’ve got 35, 40 minutes.” I said, “If they can be here in the next 15 minutes we’ll be right.” And he said, “Okay.” And we found the tankers and we flew up here, six of us watching the tankers and round the corner came these three Vigilantes. We had four tankers and one aeroplane each, took one of those and away they sort of
come. And they got halfway through and the guy on the left-handed side said, “I’ve just lost starboard engine, I’m going to keep going,” and the other boss said, “Keep going, keep going.” Number two bloke, who was the leader, said, “I’m plugged in.” He’s taking fuel, which is great. The other bloke said, “I’ve just lost starboard engine over here, keep going.” He said, “No, I’m plugged in on one, I’ll restart,” The other guy said, “I’m still on one, haven’t got there.” And he said, “Oh shit!”
And he’s lost the port and he’s about, oh, I suppose 200 metres short of the tanker. And he called up, “Mayday, mayday, lost both engines over so-and-so.” Up came Wake Island and said, “Received Mayday the duck but is airborne so-and-so-and-so this is your position.” And they said to the guy in the aeroplane, “We understand you’re so-and-so, what is your intention?” And this guy came back and said, “I’ve got no power. I’m 20,000 feet
over the Pacific Ocean, I’m going down at the rate of 8,000 feet a minute and you mean I’ve got a f….. choice?” And the guy came back and said, “Yeah, well we understand that. We’ll have the duck but there for you in 20 minutes or so.” Anyway, they went down and all banged out and got picked up, we heard later, and picked up and taken back. But I’ve never forgotten that, “What is your intention?”
They thanked us later on, they got an official thing and thanked us for allowing the tankers, cause we’ve got the tanker too. The other two came off and we caught on them and went on our way, which was great, but this poor mob was still in the water when we left. But that old duckbut [amphibious craft] was a great thing, the ones they had out there. They used to come alongside and pick you up.
You said there were a couple of funny stories refuelling, what’s another one that comes to mind?
I mentioned to you that it’s very difficult to refuel at night cause you’ve got a light on your probe and the light shines through a cone of about 40 degrees, like a little headlight. And as you come to the tanker you can see it’s got a fluorescent ring around the drogue, you’ll find at night-time when the weathers rough it’s going up and down, and all you see is it going through it like this. And what you’ve got to do is estimate where it’s going to be and when you coming down have a stab at it. And quite often you make
four or five stabs and miss, quite often you go through the spokes of the side and tangle up sort of thing. And this is very serious if you’ve got no time. If you’ve got plenty of time you can go back. This particular night we had one fellow trying to go and he’s stabbing and stabbing and eventually he went whack too hard and it put a big bend in the hose, which whipped back and whipped his probe out of this wing. And it was still in the drogue and the whole
probe took part of his wing and went up and went whack, whack and hit him on the canopy and broke his canopy. Now he’s sitting about four or five nautical miles of Santa Barbara in a pitch-black night with a great hole in his wing with fuel out and the canopy gone and the tanker waving in front of him. And he said, “I think I might have a problem.” I said, “You’re dead right you’ve got a problem.” So the other two of us aborted and got each side of him
and started coming back with him on the way through and about, oh I suppose 50 or 60 miles short of the coast he actually ran out of fuel, the fuel was draining overboard and he had no choice. So we took him down to 5,000 feet, pitch black, pitch black, by this time we had the duck but and the lifeboat aeroplane airborne and 5,000 feet he ejected. And we took two fixes, one off Santa Catalina Island and one off something else, had a pretty good fix where he was
and he hit the water and got into his dinghy. He was only in his dinghy about 20 minutes and the old big searchlight found him, found him in the water and picked him up and brought him back to shore again – quite remarkable stuff. But I’ve seen those things do everything. I’ve seen the hose come over the drogue wrap round it and wrap itself around the wing, and the drogue beating itself on the bottom of the aeroplane, things like this. I saw one guy once in a F100, the F100 had a
peto tube right in the very front of the intake, the probes up there and the peto tube’s down here, and this guy was a bit rough coming in and he made a stab and went off to one side and he actually stuck the peto tube into the drogue, which opened the valve and he got raw fuel ran down into his engine and it went kaboom, and he had as much flame coming out the front as he had out the back. It looked like a flying Roman candle and he panicked and went off it, and the engine went out and he stopped and he was all right again. But he was too shook up
to go and get any more fuel so he had to go back home again. Oh the stories like that all the time, cause it’s not in your normal way to hit something in the air, you don’t want to do it. You spend all your life learning to fly formation and you don’t want to hit it. You don’t mind flying formation on it, but the last minute you’ve actually got to whack it to lock it in, you don’t want to do that. That’s when you’ve really got to be mentally on top of things so you can do it.
all, now all Mach II is it means the aeroplane’s got more thrust available so you can go along faster. And all that happens is the instruments keep reading and reading and you get up to speeds, once the instrument gets to 600 it doesn’t work any further, it becomes then Mach, Mach number then. And about 1.5, 1.7 and when it get to Mach, and all the way .7, .8, and when it gets to Mach I what will happen it will flicker and then reverse a bit, just for a
second and then as you go through the sound barrier it will hop back up again and starts reading 1.1, 1.2, 1.3 and that’s all, from then on there’s nothing. From then on you can go right up to 2.12 and nothing happens at all, just indication of speed. And you’ve got no reference against what’s on the ground, so you don’t really know you’re going that fast. But what you do, you’re laying a hell of a sonic boom on the ground behind you as you go along it and using up fuel at the rate you can’t afford because you can watch the fuel gauges going down while you’re using it. But
the, one of the troubles in the F104s was it had the intakes in the engines used to get too hot, and if you went too fast they’d start, the metal would start to melt. And the leading edges of the aeroplane is knife sharp, the wings of a 104 are solid piece of mill metal, solid, and it’s got holes drilled through it for fuel and hydraulics and stuff but the front edge is like a table knife – sharp. And on the
ground it has covers on them so that the ground crew won’t hurt themselves, but when you’re in the air and the whole wing is painted with an anti-corrosive heatproof paint and it’s good up to about 2.1 so we were limited, the aeroplane was limited to 2.08. But everyone worth a damn would try and get them as fast as they could go. So this day the whole thing, I think one guy got to 2.12 or something and I thought I’d beat him. So what used to happen, a red light would come on to indicate that the intakes were getting
hot but I knew you had a bit over when that came on. So what I did I took my glove off and hung it over the red light so I couldn’t see it and kept going. I got to 2.21 and no problem, came back and landed again. And I was all full of myself till I got out of the bloody aeroplane and the old crew chief said, “Look at the bloody aeroplane!” And all the paint had been burnt back, oh, I’d say 10 cm from the leading edge, it all burnt and rolled back.
And that’s why the aeroplane was a bit unstable while I was flying cause the airflow was breaking up by this paint. And I had a ‘Please explain about that’, I can tell you, cause that wasn’t a good thing. But I still had the record. I still think I’ve got it to this day cause no-one ever went faster.
One thing that I wanted to pick up before we go onto to finish your career is the issue of your age. You’d spent most of your early air force career two years older than you were, when did that officially get corrected and what was that circumstances there?
In 1963 or ’64, or ’65, I can’t think, somewhere around there, they decided for the very first time to give aircrew flying insurance. We’d never had any insurance up till then and they decided to give the aircrew insurance. So we all applied, everyone applied and the first thing I know we get the AMP [Australian Mutual Provident] company came back and there was a tilt saying tilt, tilt,
Group Captain Flemming, says born in 1924, actually born in 1926. Oh so the fellow who was working in personnel rang me up and said, “What’s all this about?” and I said, “Oh Jesus, popped up after 20-odd years,” and he said, “Oh.” He said, “Well you’d better write about it and say it’s an error, otherwise they won’t give you insurance and they’re going to question it.” So I wrote a note saying, “I’m sorry to be an administrative nuisance but I did apply
under age and so forth,” and gave a little bit, and put it in. And they went through and said, “Okay,” and the AMP okayed it but the file got through to the chief of personnel and he was a crotchety old fellow from pre-war and he said, “This is dreadful, this is dreadful. We can’t have this. We’ll make an example of this fellow.” And the fellow said, “Well you can’t make an example of him.” Well anyway to cut a long story short the commander in here, a bloke named Fred Rovey, who’s now passed away, he said,
“Well I’ve got to hear this.” He said, “You’ll have to come and be charged.” So I was charged with fraudulent enlistment and under the regulations, because I was a group captain I was entitled to a court martial. So I got marched in before him, me and an escort, and he said, “This is the charge.” He said, “You’re entitled to a court martial or,” he said, “you can take my punishment.” And I said, “Well I’ll take the punishment.” He said, “First of all,” he said, “what have
you got to say with the charge?” I said, “Well it must be right cause I’m here.” And he said, “Hmm, what is your correct age?” and I said, “Well I was born in December 1926.” He said, “Hmm, very, very serious fraudulent enlistment.” He said, “You will accept my punishment?” “Yes.” He said, “All right, you are hereby admonished and don’t you ever do that again,” and he wrote it off. Now once you’ve been charged and punished you can’t be charged again. So that got back to the chief of personnel
and he nearly had apoplexy, he went round the corner, “Ahhhh!” But what happened was he couldn’t do anything about it. So then they had to go back and re-run all the records again, which they did, and updated my correct age, which made me then two years ahead of all my contemporaries at the same period of time, which meant the DFRB [Defence Force Retirements Benefits] board had to pay me two years more retired pay money at the end of the period of time. But I picked up then in ’65 my right age and I went through from thereon in.
And I was promoted very rapidly then from then on in. But that’s how it happened.
’73, ’74 I was the officer commanding, I was promoted to air commodore and I was made officer commanding Williamtown and that was great because it meant I’d been at Williamtown then every rank right through from flight sergeant right through to air commodore. And the saddest part was leaving Williamtown in ’75 because it means I could never go back ever again. 75 I got sent to London to do the Royal College of Defence Studies, which was fantastic, for a whole year. I came back in ’76 and ’77 I took over as the head of the
new fighter replacement division, and the idea was to find a replacement for the Mirage and I flew some exotic aeroplanes, went right round the world had all sorts of great fun. And towards the end of ’77 I had the air force leading very heavily towards the F15. What was even worse I had the minister, Jim Killen, who was a terrific man,
and wonderful minister, Minister of Defence, very heavily towards the F15. The powers that be said, “This is not the way it should be. We don’t want this. We want to do our own thing.” So they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. They said, “We’re going to send you up to Malaysia. We’re going to promote you to air vice marshal, send you to Malaysia and run the air defence system.” So debated very heavily whether I’d take that on and go or stick to my guns and fight the F15. I thought, “Oh, stuff it. After 35 years, I’ll go
and have some fun.” So I went over and took over the head of the Five Nation Air Defence System, and that was the next five years was fantastic. I lived the life of the white rhage and did all sorts of good things and back here they went through the political who ha and they, they had a new aeroplane coming out the F18N which was a hybrid and something else was coming out and then they decided the F18A, FAAF was a multi
capable aeroplane that could do everything, which is rubbish because the pilot can’t do everything, but they reckon the aeroplane could, and they decided to buy that. So by this stage I’d been up in Malaysia until ’82, I’d been there for nearly five years and they said, “Were going to buy the F thing.” And I got offered a back door thing through the Chief of Defence Force, said, “Look, were going to make you the chief,” and I said, “No you’re not because I don’t believe in F18s and I’ve
got to spend the next three or four years of my life rubbing my head against the wall for something I don’t believe in.” I said, “I’m going to resign.” He said, “Well you can’t resign because were in a very difficult position because we’ve got you air marked to be the chief.” I said, “I’m out.” So that’s when they went and got Dave Evans, who’d just about reach retiring age, wonderful guy, and put him in as chief, which is terrific, and I got out, which is great. I had a lot of fun. I bought a couple of aeroplanes and formed little airline and used to go and deliver newspapers and all that sort of stuff. Then I got head hunted for the War Memorial and I had
five wonderful years at the War Memorial. So that’s the whole period to there. But actually my air force career finished virtually 40 years after I joined in ’42, finished then.
job came up I was interviewed, they’d been round the world and I think they had 18 on the list and they knocked the 18 down to 7, then they knocked the 7 down to 5, then they knocked the five down to three and the last interviews I got it. I think probably it’s the best job I’ve ever had, apart from flying, I like flying but apart from flying. It had such a lot going for it,
it’s unique in the world, it’s truly Australia’s history in there. There was so much needed doing to it, there was so much needed to build it back up again and I was full time 24 hours a day 7 days a week and I loved every minute of it. Actually I would have worked there for nothing I enjoyed it so much. The only thing I had trouble again, me I suppose was I couldn’t stand the politicking, terrific amount of politicking behind the scenes. A lot of the public servants who work
in there would do anything to get on, they’d kill their mother to get on, they are self-serving and stab you in the back if you’re not careful. I didn’t know that I hadn’t been brought up this way and I had great trouble with people on the council. The council were a group of people who were appointed by the government to run the War Memorial. And the chairman of the council is a, usually retired senior officer and this was Admiral Synott, who was probably one of the best soldiers in the land. And he
and I got on famously and we were running the place but we’d object to thing that were being pushed in. What happened was unbeknown to us, what was his name the head of, Sir William Keys, the head of the RSL [Returned and Services League] who’s on the council, he was not appointed on the council, he was on there because of his position, head of the RSL. He lobbied to get the War Memorial taken from the Department of Arts and Heritage
into Department of Veterans’ Affairs without us knowing. And both I and Admiral Sinet were dead against it for the simple reason is when you’re fighting for funds, instead of fighting against the National Library and the National Gallery and the other heritage organisations, you’re fighting against repatriations hospitals and widows’ pensions and bloody War Service Homes and things, and that was anti to us. So we were not for that at all and we let it be known we weren’t for it all
and things were not happy there at all. And because we went under Veterans’ Affairs the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs was Arthur Gietzelt who was known as anti-service anyway, completely anti-service on his previous record. And they set up a campaign, he and a lot of the public servants in the War Memorial to get rid of us. And they wanted to have a gallery of the Aboriginal struggle against the British
aggressors, which I wouldn’t have a bar of – it was nothing to do with that. They wanted to have a StaliNgrad Corner, our gallant Russian comrades and all this sort of stuff, so we agreed to disagree. So they went to a lot of witch hunting around the place and they went into a whole bunch of enquiries and they eventually had five enquiries into my administration of the War Memorial and on the five enquiries couldn’t find anything at all. So on the fifth one
they made up a phoney thing that I’d given a false information to one of the tribunals about something or other, which I had corrected the next day, which I had corrected and written in the next day but they brought it up and said that’s missed out. They couldn’t prove misbehaviour so they proved that this was not according to so-and-so and so-and-so and they… And I’m the only head of a statutory authority ever dismissed by the government. And they did it on a Friday afternoon
while the governor-general was away and he didn’t know until he came back on the Monday, and by that time I’d been gone. But I had five years of great time and it was just bad, bad politics, that’s all it was, and nothing I could do about it. I had all sorts of legal advice and a fellow in Melbourne who’s a QC [Queen’s Counsel], Charles Francis and his friend up in Brisbane was… I mentioned his name before, the Minister of Defence…
We arrived in Bufu on a nice warm summer’s day, right on the edge of the Inland Sea. Beautiful green, brown mountainous countryside, so different to Australia and greeted by a bunch of our friends who were there, had already been there. There were three Mustang squadrons and a Dakota detachment at Bufu and up at Irakuni just around the other side of the bay there was a New Zealand squadron and a RAF [Royal Air Force] squadron of Spitfires flown by Indians strangely enough,
Indian Sikhs. And shortly after we’d been there for a while at Bufu, we actually moved to Irakuni and that became the home base for 77 Squadron and the wing, 81 Wing. 77 Squadron was one of three squadrons in the wing and we were there for some years doing the normal occupation duties which are just policing the area, looking after coastal patrols for customs, smugglers, and all the various things you do in that part of the world. On our first trip we
went to have a look at Hiroshima because Hiroshima at that stage had become world headlines after the nuclear weapon went off there and I have never ever seen any such devastation in all my life. It looked like the Simpson Desert with a few building stubs left. And in the centre of the town there was a pagoda like building which today is the Peace Memorial, and the interesting thing was that you could look from one side of Hiroshima to the other and not see a standing building of any sort, and it was completely flat. And what
intrigued me were the people. Now if it had have been us and the occupiers arrived, they would have a vastly different reception to what we got, because you couldn’t tell from the people they had any animosity at all, which was a bit surprising to us being young and sort of that way and expecting the worst, but it was just the reverse. When the Emperor said, “The war is finished and you will co-operate with the troops.” well they did and they were tremendous people. I mean we couldn’t fault them.
Well we’d been in Japan for a few years and the word came out that we were going to be pulled out and go home and the word got around that the 23rd June 1950 would be the last day we were going to fly. So that week they started to put the aeroplanes into mothballs and we all sort of put things together and said, “Okay we’ll start to help pack up.”
start to pack up, very reluctantly so I might add because Japan in the occupation days for a single man was absolute paradise. You can imagine that everything being done for you, having your own room, your own room servants, own waitresses in the mess, very, very cheap prices. For example in those days for ten shillings, which is the equivalent of a dollar, we would get a thousand yen. It’s a little bit different nowadays where you get about eighty three to one of our dollars. So with the result for example in our sergeants’ mess
we had continual free beer because the simple reason is somebody would put a thousand yen note on the counter and the beer was only about eighty five sen a bottle, so less than one yen a bottle so no-one ever paid any money. You’d just walk in and ask for what you want and it was served to you. And interesting for younger people is there was a shortage of bottles in Japan and you needed to have something to mix with drinks and things, lemonade and stuff like this but there was no way of knowing what it was because the bottles were all old,
pre-used beer bottles, so they christened the whole lot ‘lolly water’. So you’d have a gin and lolly water or whiskey and lolly water or just lolly water and you wouldn’t know until you opened the bottle what it was, what colour. It would come out either pink or green or blue or any thing of that nature. And it was quite funny of a night time to watch people drinking blue drinks and green drinks and things like this. But we had such an amount of money stored up we thought, ‘Well look, we’d better do something with this.’ and the CO [commanding officer] of the base at that stage said, “Well, we should have a bit of a farewell to go.” So the sergeants who are usually
noted for their wonderful mess parties jumped in first and said, “Look, we’ll organise it.” And because we had the different ranks we said, “Well we’ll have it in the sergeants’ mess and everybody from sergeant and above can come to it and the airmen will, we’ll have one in the airmen’s club for them.” which we did. So the sergeants’ mess one we plotted it and planned it and we planned a shipwreck party and the idea was that everyone would come dressed as they were the moment they were told to abandon ship. Well you can let your imagination run wild
and see what came out. All sorts of things came out. So on the night of the 30th of June, which was just a week later, all aeroplanes were in bed, we hadn’t flown and we decided we’d start this party on. Well Ray Trabucher [?] and I were both dressed as pirates standing, we’d built a ship in front of the mess, a pseudo ship with a boarding platform to go up to it and then a plank you had to walk off, jump about two feet down into the mess entrance and
a lot of the ladies were, cause as you remember in those days we had the dependents living on the base with us, the wife and children of the, a lot of the people and they were a bit apprehensive so what we had, I had a water pistol and Ray had a little bucket full of scotch and we’d fill the water pistol up with scotch and everyone had to open their mouth and I’d squirt a little drop of scotch in first which gave them courage to jump off the end of the gangplank into the, to walk the plank into the mess. And that got the party away to a heck of a good start because by the time they, all the guests had arrived they were
in good shape and talking to each other. The whole mess had been cleared out completely of furniture. It was four bare walls. It was a great big, big building and they had rubber dinghies on the floor to sit on. They had tropical islands built. They had a big brig [prison] down the back with two armed guards on it and there was free everything. They had an enormous spread of food and the drinks flowed. There was a full place, a twenty piece Japanese band playing full time and the place
got into a heck of a go, just a big fancy dress ball really, but no ball. We were having a ball but the thing was there wasn’t that sort of dancing. And if you did anything wrong, if you sort of smiled too loudly or laughed too quickly or did anything at all you were put in the brig and to get out of the brig you had to have two more squirts of scotch from the water pistol and with the result people were getting arrested and happier and happier as the night went on. Well the whole place had this most magnificent feeling. We were saying goodbye to people. We had been there together for a
long time and the party went right through the night. At about half past four in the morning the band please asked, could they go home because they were going to sleep at the thing and we said yes they could, but we said they’d have to come back and they said well we’ll have to pay and we said we’ll pay. So we whipped around then and got enough money to pay for the band that morning and they went home about five o’clock. About half past nine they came back again and started to play again and all, everyone was still there, the only one who went home was
Lou Spence, Wing Commander Lou Spence and his wife, being the CO, it was normally the custom for the CO to leave because he felt he put a bit of a dampener on things so he and his wife went home very early, about three thirty in the morning and they went before this and we kept on going. So we stayed there and pressed on and pressed on and the band’s playing and we’re dancing and they’d serve another enormous breakfast again to keep us going and Ray was the duty officer. You always had somebody on duty and they said, “You’re wanted on the telephone.” And he went into the office
and the phone rang and there’s a voice on the phone said, “This is Tzuki [?] Operations, are you the duty officer?” he said, “Yes.” He said, “Well, North Korea just invaded South and 5th Air Force have been called into action and I think you’ll be wanted.” And Ray said, “Don’t be bloody silly, we know Tzuki, we know who you are.” you know, we used to fly with the Americans down there. “Don’t be ridiculous, we’re having a party here, don’t waste my time!” and hung up and walked out. Well of course the people down at 5th Air Force were almost having a heart attack because they needed to tell us so they rang back and this
time Ray got the phone, they said, “Look it’s for real, please tell somebody!” So Ray went out and told our Ops [operations] officer and he immediately told the CO who was just getting ready to go on holiday and had to, or he did unpack and came back. He came over to the mess and said, “What is it?” and they said, “Well, we think you’re on call because the 5th Air Force have just been told that they’re going to support South Korea.” and he said, “All right, well okay, stop.” So all music stopped, everything stopped, and he got all the pilots
in the squadron and everyone was there, every one of us of all ranks and took us into the billiard room and he explained that this, all of a sudden we weren’t going to go home but we’re going to go to war instead which was a bit of a shock for a bunch of us because we’d had a wonderful existence up till then. Now the wonderful thing was that from that day, almost immediately, even though we’d been up all night, people were sober again, practically straightaway and by four in the afternoon all the pilots were down with the maintenance people in the hangar starting to de-inhibit the
aeroplanes. And a tremendous job the airmen did because within five days they had de-inhibited every aeroplane and they were all serviceable again and we were flying again and test flying, towards the end of that week. And the Friday just before the 30th June, the Friday Lou Spence was flying with a bunch of us and he got called back to take a message and they said, “Right, here’s your first FRAG order.” which is the operations order to go to war, “And you’ll be flying tomorrow.” So that,
we were into the war and the weather was terrible. The weekend weather was terrible and the first, our mission was completely cancelled because you couldn’t get out of Japan and we flew our first mission on the 2nd July 1950 and we were the first in, apart from the Americans who had flown that same afternoon or the day before.
We were partying on, it was in full swing, the band was playing and it was about half past ten in the morning and we were having a great time thinking what we’ll do for the rest of the day and the phone came for the duty officer and the duty officer was Ray Trabucher and he went in and answered the phone. A voice from, on the phone said, “This is the operations officer at Tzuki Air Base and North Korea
have just invaded South Korea and 5th Air Force will be committed and you may be called.” And Ray, and of course being fairly happy from the whole night session said, “Don’t be ridiculous!” he said, “You know we’re having a party up here and it’s too late to pull these practical jokes we’re all going home, the aeroplanes are all packed up.” and hung up on him. Well it caused a lot of consternation in 5th Air Force headquarters because they were trying to let our CO know that we may be going to war. So the phone rang back and eventually they got Ray to
answer it again and the fellow said, “Listen it’s for real, they have invaded South Korea and 5th Air Force are committed and we think that you will be committed also!” So with that Ray contacted Graham Strout, who by the way was the first pilot we lost in Korea, he was our ops officer and he got onto the CO who was getting ready to go on holiday and he very reluctantly said, “Look I’ll come back to the mess.” He thought we were kidding and he came back to the mess and when they explained what it was he called all the pilots
from the festivities into the billiard room and sat round and briefed us and said that we would be involved and that we would not be going home and that we would be ready to fly and we had to get the aeroplanes uninhibited and all of us, all the air crew were down that same afternoon, they sobered up immediately which sounds strange but they did and helped the maintenance people de-inhibit the aeroplanes and then from that next week on by the 30th we’d actually been flying aeroplanes again, test flying them.
On the Friday, the week before the 30th, yeah the 30th, the CO was flying and he got a call, “Please return immediately we’ve got a message for you.” When he got back there it was General Strackameyer from headquarters, Far East Air Forces saying, “77 Squadron is committed and your first FRAG order was in, you’ll be flying tomorrow to escort some aeroplanes into South Korea.” Unfortunately, well unfortunately but the weather was bad, very, very bad, raining and horrible and this stuff so we didn’t fly
on that day but on the morning of the 2nd just before dawn was our first flight. We went from Irakuni across to Korea for the very first time. The most marvellous thing was the way that the airmen had got together and completely de-inhibited all the aeroplanes that had been packed ready to go home in that short space of time. I give them the greatest credit for what they did up there. They were terrific.
Just talk about your first mission.
Well I was on that first mission of the war and just before we crossed the north coast of Japan to go across the straits to Korea I had a very, very severe engine problem so I went back. I had to go back, very reluctantly had to go back and land again and they did the flight as a three. They went over and escorted an American aeroplane going in to somewhere, I can’t think where and didn’t see much activity at all and then
all returned back. By the time they’d landed the next mission was ready to go and I was on the next mission on the same day and this was a real eye opener for a young fellow from the bush like I was because we took six aeroplanes from Irakuni and we flew across the north coast of Japan almost to the Korean coast and we escorted with twelve B29s, who had come up from Guam which is a long haul from Guam through Okinawa and up. And we were their escort and
they were going up to bomb an airfield at Hamhung, which is right up on the North Korean/Russian border, not too far south of Vladivostok if you look at the map, way, way up north, way up behind the line. So six sort of half terrified fighter pilots were flying with these twelve enormous which we thought B29s and we flew with them right up the coast all the way through and the most amazing thing was that we were flying
two on each side of them and one high behind them and we were weaving to stay with them and whenever we turned towards them every single gun in every B29, there were an awful lot of them, would point at us because they was the way they were, turned towards them was enemy and the minute we turned back again we’d turn back and the guns would come off us again. It was quite a lesson. When we got to the airfield at Hamhung it was a big strip, big strip. A normal airfield, big buildings
and the first time we really saw flak, the very first time I’d ever seen it and it was amazing. The sky was full of little white cotton balls and little brown cotton balls and bigger black cotton balls everywhere, all through the B29 formation and the thing that intrigued me was that they didn’t vary one inch from their heading. They kept on going straight across like that and of course we were flying with it also and it dawned on me that this stuff could hurt you because every one of the little puffs
was an exploding shell and of the B29s, eight of them were hit. Eight of them were hit in that actual raid and we watched them bomb and they did that famous pattern bombing the Americans do and the bombs dropped just inside the airfield fence, walked all the way down the runway and stopped just inside the airfield fence and didn’t touch a single building, which I thought was quite fantastic. And we turned a big wide arc turn to the left back over the water again
and half way down the coast we flew across the big city of Waywan and once again the flak was incredible stuff. It came up and that’s where we saw some Yaks for the first time, the Yaks were the piston driven aeroplanes the North Koreans had, but they were over there and they didn’t come near us. They saw us and they buzzed off which was good. Shortly down the coast we heard a report that a submarine had been sighted just off the coast about twelve miles and they wanted someone to go and have a look at it.
So the B29 captain said well he, oh the leader not the captain, the leader of the lead aeroplane said he would do it and could he take a couple of Mustangs with him. So we, two of us, old Brick Bradford and I latched on with him and we went down and we were flying at about a thousand feet over the ocean about ten miles off the Korean coast which really got my attention because I thought you know, we really shouldn’t be here. Anyway we didn’t see any submarine, they’d gone whatever it was and we climbed back up again. They headed off back to Okinawa
and they said, the thing I remember, “Well thank you Aussie, we felt a lot better with you being here.” And I’ve never forgotten that sort of statement. So they went of course and we went back to Irakuni and we landed, we’d been airborne for six hours and ten minutes which is a long time in a Mustang.
we’d pushed them back so far that it was in friendly territory and we were there to help the marines who were up on the Indian reservoir, and at that stage the Chinese came into the war and there was an enormous demand for close air support so they moved us up to Hamhung and I’ve never been in such a desolate, frozen, cold place in my life. And because in the RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force] we had no decent equipment, we had no winter clothing, we didn’t have any flying suits. We used to borrow
all we had from the Americans and a lot of times people were flying in army shirts and jungle green pants and things. When we got there we had to have wet, cold weather gear so we operated alongside aeroplanes. Now what we had was a two man tent about fifty steps from your aeroplane, which you slept in and a latrine bucket and they would bring food along the line because you were on call continually. Because as these poor
marines were coming down the valley they were getting decimated by the Chinese who were on each side of the valley in the hills firing down at them. And the only thing that kept them down was the fact that the close air support aeroplanes, the Australians, the Americans, the navy were all flying full time close support keeping these Chinese heads down and we could do it until it got dark and as soon as it became the last light, I’ve never been quite so frustrated because you could see the flashes of the Chinese firing
and we couldn’t see what to fire at and we’d have to come home and they would decimate them during the night and then the next morning at first light we’d be in there again. But we were so close to being overrun that we were only allowed within about a hundred yards of our aeroplane and we’d sleep in the little tent and get up and the thing that always sticks in my mind and I’ve got the greatest respect for the Salvation Army, way up in the top end of Korea, in Frozen Chozen, we used to call it along the line, came this Salvation
Army man with a big tin on his back full of tea and a big bag full of buns and went to everyone, all the ground staff and said, “Do you want a cup of tea digger?” you know. How he got there and how he ever got out I’ll never know because when the Chinese were about to overrun us, we all evacuated. We got our aeroplanes and went whacking back down south and the two fellows we left behind and the Salvation Army fellow they went out with the marines when they went out. And as I say I have the great admiration for them because of all places
and of all things to see it, it was quite inspiring really. And the interesting thing was we were sitting in there one night around a little fire around the tents and we all said, “Look, you know, I wouldn’t be with those marines for anything.” A week or so later we were down at Pohang again where we were and the marine colonel came down to thank our CO for his support and he said to the pilots, “You know there’s one thing about you fellows, I wouldn’t be in the air force for anything at all, watching what you fellows were doing.” So it’s all very relevant isn’t it?