to enrol in the for World War I but he had a… What’ll I say? His arm had been broken as a young fellow. As I say I was a young boy about three or four when I was brought to NSW [New South Wales] to Lithgow for my father to work in the small arms factory there. At that stage I
had one sister and one brother. Brother younger, sister older. Afterwards when I was about seven the younger sister arrived and she and I are the only survivors of the family. The other two have died since. But we lived up at Lithgow, oh twenty odd years. We got there in 1917 and left… well I left
in 1937 to join the air force when I was twenty-four.
was quite interesting. I, but I got fed up with the place. I tried to get to Sydney but I couldn’t get to uni [University] of course because I hadn’t matriculated as you had to in those days and I came to Sydney with the idea of getting a Diploma at the Sydney Tech [Technical College]. When I say I came to Sydney I
used to come down for interviews for jobs but they’d always say, “Preference is given to returned soldiers” and so I didn’t get anywhere. But finally there was a big campaign on recruiting for the air force and I and two others from the factory and one out of the town, we applied and we were accepted to join the air force.
Do you recall any, knowing any German Australians when you were growing up in Lithgow?
No, I don’t think there were any. No, in fact there weren’t. Australia in those days when we were young, it was pretty well, how will I say, mainly British. There were a few Chinese and Japanese but very few. There was one Russian, I can remember he worked at the factory but the rest
of them were born Australians or they were British.
as a girl of 18. Landed in Adelaide with the intention of meeting a cousin and family in Adelaide. When she got here they’d left to go to the goldfields and she was more or less stranded. And she was helped down the gangplank from the ship by a German sailor
who subsequently married her. And she lived to 100 and she died in, can’t remember now. But and then my grand mother, I don’t know who she married. All I know is I never met him but my gran was still alive when I went to the war.
She was 96 then so, which she had a pretty good life. But I can’t remember what my grandfather did. My father’s father kept a hotel in Bendigo, I know that. And he was killed by a
horse rearing up and coming down landing on him. But my maternal grandfather, I don’t know much about him at all.
talk in the, in the media through the media. And the fact that I was keen to get out of Lithgow. The interesting side of that is I didn’t recognise it at the time but the management in the factory were giving me special training and I joined the air force in what May of 1937 and in
August I got a letter from my father to say that the fellow who was in charge of the Power Plant and that side of things at the factory had left and the manager had told my father that they were training me for that job. And it wasn’t until I sat and thought about it afterwards of the different things they’d given me to do that it dawned on me. But of course it was too late then. I would probably never have had the life that I’ve
had if I’d stayed in Lithgow. One of those things that happens. I had a good job I suppose but that was where it ended. And I can recall the fellow in charge when I said, “I was joining the air force” trying talk to talk me out of it. But I was determined to get out.
What about flying? Had there been any triggers of interest in your childhood about flying?
No, I can’t say there were any. I can remember seeing my first aeroplane and that would be about when I’d be about six. Well I wouldn’t have been that, would I when Ross and Keith Smith - men you probably don’t know of. They flew the first flight out from England to here. They flew out a World War I bomber and
that passed over Lithgow going from Sydney to Melbourne and that would’ve been probably 1920. What would I have been- about five then. No, I’d have been a bit older, seven.
later on that well the idea was given to me by my uncle. We used to have to sign up for six years then you could resign if you wanted to. But he, my uncle said, “When he comes out of the air force if he does it, what we called a signals course, he can open up a repair shop for radios and the like.” But
that’s about the only side that I can think of.
they called for people who wanted to be observers and I applied for that with about eight others. They weren’t all on the same course as I was. They would advertise right throughout the service for anybody wanting to do an observer’s course. And in my case there were
nine people on the course. One other fellow who was on the same signals course as I was pulled out after a week for some reason I don’t know. The people came from Point Cook and from Richmond and so forth amongst the nine to do the observer’s
course which lasted six months. Principally radio people or signals people. I think on my course of nine, there were five signals people, one photographer and three armourers
mainly Hawker Demons. For instance when towards the end of the course they asked us “Where we would like to be posted to when we finished the course?” I said, “Richmond,” together with two others on the course with me, so that the three of us came to 3 Squadron. To join about
nine others observers, so that we had a full compliment of observers. Twelve observers. There were twelve observers and twelve pilots so in 3 Squadron at Richmond.
was there. But such is the map making with photography, whereby you map the whole countryside, they’d put a professional photographer in rather than an observer, it was a pretty, what will I say? Easy life. Disciplined but
you know you weren’t worked hard in any shape or form. Not until war came. Pre war there was always the restriction on money so anything that cost money you didn’t do much of. There was flying - we used to get a few hours flight a week but relatively
little when for instance at Richmond in a Hawker Demon, they’d have what they called the met flight where you had to go first thing in the morning to 18,000 feet and observe the pressure and temperature and so forth for the weather map and it’d take about an hour a day. Well that might be the only thing you did during the day. You sat around and read magazines,
kept the aircraft tidy and so forth. Gave a hand generally but when war was declared of course that was a different thing entirely. I think I can remember on occasions of getting about eight flights a day. You’d sorta go up for half an hour for
for gunnery practice. Either the pilot’d do front seat gunnery or do backseat gunnery or you’d go on bombings and so forth which was pretty concentrated. Money didn’t come into it then.
But as single blokes we were all established in the barracks there and I don’t think, I don’t think they’re any bigger than they were then because of most people live out rather than live in the barracks. And we would probably be the interstate people or people
living away from home who would be in the barracks at all times, weekends as well. Mind you, we used to go into Sydney for the weekend but principally we would stay around Richmond itself.
London I think and at nine o’clock at night it was declared here. They must have known that it was coming because we were on duty and I can remember being in the hangar in what we call flight office where everybody gathered with the officers and the observers
and so forth and you know thinking we were talking bout what was going to happen, what was this and what was that. But can’t, I can’t remember much about it. All the pilots were quite excited because they imagined they’d be going with the army and I think the next thing that came up would be when
they would call for volunteers. The government decided that they were going to send what they called an expeditionary force of six squadrons or the personnel for six squadrons. They didn’t have the aircraft for it but they had the personnel they reckoned. Where they were going to get six squadrons from I don’t know because that would represent about eighteen hundred fellows and that’d be half the air force as it was then.
They were going to have an expeditionary air force of six squadrons and it was going to be commanded by the CO [Commanding Officer] of the station. I won’t name him. But then they called for volunteers and we decided that we weren’t going to volunteer because we were part of the service and if they wanted us to go here, there or anywhere we were quite happy to go. We
didn’t think we should volunteer.
we’d go wherever we were sent. We didn’t consider we should have to volunteer because we were permanent service. And that’s what we joined for. And I can remember he was a very nice bloke and he said, “Well look, will you sign a paper to that effect if I produce it for you?” Which we did and he sent it to the CO of the station and the next thing we knew was
that our CO had been posted somewhere else onto a seaplane or one of the war ships. In other words he’d be disciplined for putting up the note to that effect. In retrospect you could call it mutiny I suppose but it wasn’t. And after that when they called for volunteers for
10 Squadron bearing in mind that about sixteen people had been sent in July of ’39 to England to collect six Sunderlands to bring them out to Australia to form the basis of a squadron here.
After that they decided to leave the six Sunderlands in England and send 10 Squadron over to operate out of England.
who would comprise the air crew to fly them out. And then they decided to leave them there and send the rest of 10 Squadron over. Still called for volunteers to go over. I don’t know how many of the people who were in 10 Squadron at Point Cook volunteered but we got I think about seventy or eighty at
Richmond to volunteer and we went with that in mind. Amongst them there were a lot of Englishmen going back to England you know, young blokes of all ages who were taking advantage of the trip back to England
despite going to the war.
secret and all we left Richmond by the truck load at night when it was dark and nobody was supposed to know. Well everywhere between Richmond and Parramatta, there were people out cheering. But the word had evidently got around from a lot of other people who lived around that area.
I don’t know whether it was dark when we left Richmond for the secrecy side of things. But on the ship of course it was the Oranje, which was a passenger liner and we were probably the most comfortable troops going to a war that there could be.
The basis of the observers in those days when we completed our course was that we were made corporals and you had to serve as a corporal for twelve months before they made you a sergeant. But you couldn’t get higher than a sergeant. There was no promotion after that; the only promotion after that would be in your basic trade.
After I finished my radio course or signals course I was promoted to leading aircraftsman and then corporal and then sergeant and in 1941 I was a flight sergeant as a wireless electrical mechanic but working as an
observer. And everybody in their trade was promoted in that way. So that I can remember that of the four observers who left Richmond, one was a flight sergeant - he was the senior - and there was one fellow who was a sergeant and when I became flight sergeant as electrical
wireless electrical mechanic he was still only a sergeant because he hadn’t been promoted. He was a rigger normally and he hadn’t been promoted in his basic trade. But any rate all the NCOs [Non Commissioned Officers] on the Oranje were given first class cabins. I had a single cabin on my own with a porthole I could see out and all the rest of it. We had dinner in
second class. But there were two officers with us- the agent and an equipment officer. I think we finished up with 160 by the time we left Point Cook and collected a couple in Western Australia as well. But it was very comfortable.
and joined at Perth. But the interesting thing is that one fellow from Sydney took his wife with him all the way to England and I imagine he’s the only fellow that went to war with his wife. I don’t think he could trust her to leave her behind somehow. I don’t know. But one other fellow, an observer from Richmond, well
his wife travelled with him to Adelaide and she left the ship at Adelaide. But the first one, she went all the way to England and back again with him.
What were your first impressions of France by train?
Not much at all. I can always remember in Marseille, the first thing we went for was a drink of champagne and we thought that was the highlight there. We were given a nice dinner there which was arranged by the British Army by an officer who was a famous cricketer at that stage. I can’t remember his name.
And we got on this train to go across to Cherbourg. I think it took practically all day and part of the night or all of the night as well. Can’t be very clear on that. But the highlight of that was there was no food provided for the troops but the officer, the agent
and the equipment officer arranged for a dinner for themselves on the train but the dinner disappeared. I don’t know who got it but one of the troops got it.
the whole journey because the submarines would have been out and around then. And south of Southampton we went straight from the, from the ship onto a train and the notable thing about that was that it was a very
good set up. I never saw anything equal to it all the time we were in England. There were about six of us to a compartment and they produced a table from underneath one of the seats and put it up in front of us and we had a three-course meal in the compartment. I’ve never seen that in a train in England before or since. We got to a place
in Wales called Pembroke Dock which was a major flying boat base. There were about two squadrons of Sunderlands there already and we arrived at late evening to sit down to what was to be our, was Christmas dinner.
If you look at the map, the main port there is Milford Haven which was a very deep port. So much so that even the biggest war ship could get in there. Apart from that Pembroke Dock during World War I was a naval base and the RAF took it over after
World War I. So it had all the facilities for flying boats and it was very good that way. All the perimeter fences were stone
and there were a number of buildings there. There was a building in there where Nelson and Lady Hamilton had lived, if you know the story of Hamilton and Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton. She wasn’t his wife but they lived together. Which was a notable thing in those days or when Lord Nelson was alive. But that house stood inside. It
was a very good base. A permanent base.
I’m not quite sure how to put it. But the thing was all those who wanted to fly fall out over to the right and all those who didn’t want to fly well you were going to be ground staff. And that was the way they decided the ground, the air crew and the ground staff. Apart from the observers and the pilots of course as we knew we could only fly. Whereas the rest of the crew had
to, had to indicate whether they wanted to fly or not. And there wasn’t any question of rank. There were just plain airmen or leading aircraftsmen and it wasn’t like the Empire Air Training Scheme where everybody was a Sergeant when they finished their course as an air gunner or wireless air gunner and the like. They made what was a pretty sore point because those who flew
didn’t get any increase in rank. They got flying pay, I think it was two and six a day and that was that. They only became sergeants through their basic training and carried on from there.
had a pilot who took such a dislike to him that he asked to be sent home. And one of the other pilots who turned out to be a very decent fellow said, “In future, sergeant so-and-so will fly with me.” So I think the
team of an air crew as one basic unit is far better. The particular officer who took exception to this fellow, who was a friend of mine from Richmond days, was objectionable in lots of ways. Because I know there was another fellow who this pilot gave a rough time to on one occasion and he threatened to throw one of the others out of the aircraft.
He was, he was just a nasty type person. Nasty.
up say twelve hours from when you took off to when you got back. And it was fairly monotonous- in some cases you flew around the convoy. Other cases you’d do what they called the creeping line search ahead, which was pretty hard work. You’d sort of move up a certain distance, then out a certain distance, then up a certain distance and then back across in front
and then back again. From a navigation point of view they’re quite tedious. The interesting part was that if you went out to meet a convoy and picked it up at point A and the convoy was going in a certain direction at a certain speed, the navigation
around the convoy was all you worried about then. But if you were on with the convoy and you picked it up at point A and it was going in a certain direction for six hours at six knots, that was thirty six nautical miles that you moved it along and then you took off at a point for home. That worked all right until your convoys varied their speed. And sometimes
you’d say the convoy was going six knots and it might have been doing eight knots. Well, at the end of six hours you’d be twelve miles out and it made a difference when you got back to base. Cause sometimes when you’re supposed to see base it wouldn’t appear- you’re still in open water or something the like. And that used to be a bit of annoyance to some pilots. It was our
inexperience. We couldn’t tell what speed the ships were doing. I mean if he was fast you could see from the wake of him that he was going very fast but if it was just plodding along say at eight knots whether he was doing eight or ten knots didn’t mean anything from the look of the sea, the water.
and they were being belted around by the sea until HMAS Australia appeared and HMAS Australia rescued them. But evidently the sea was so rough that when Australia was trying to get them aboard they were side on to the sea and they were rolling at 45 degrees which was pretty severe. The, I think the
RAF fellows were very lucky to get out of that, out flying boat. But the weather conditions were terrible up there with some of the heavy seas. You’d go faster sideways than you’d go forward. You’d fly for hours and hardly move but if you sort of got down wind you’d race away but into the wind it was very difficult. You might only be doing
in nautical terms say fifty knots whereas the normal speed you’d fly at would be 110 knots - that’s 110 nautical miles an hour. But turn round and you’d fly at about 150 knots. Quite different.
very accurate You became so accurate that afterwards when I was training navigators in 10 Squadron we could fly out west of Ireland and aim at what they called Fastnet Rock, which was the South West point of Ireland
and the navigator under training would be aiming at that and there’d be no sight of it. And the whole time we’d be just sitting down watching the water and making mental notes and so forth and you’d say to the navigator under training “Well, turn 45 degrees for five minutes” and you’d come across Fastnet Rock. Just experience. But at night time
we used to have be able to measure the drift. You knew how the aircraft were moving by dropping a flame float in the water which would produce a light, you know a flame and the tail gunner in the turret would measure the drift
by looking at his sight in the gun on the, on the flame float in the water and that would measure the drift. And that would help us. We used to calculate from that but the navigation at night was quite interesting. This didn’t happen to me but one of my friends had one occasion I can remember
when he took three Royal Navy Admirals down to Alexandria. To fly from Malta to Alexandria is about eight or nine hundred miles and that would take six or seven hours. And this particular night the navigator was able to fix his position by stars all the time. You used to plot the stars and position the lines
and it’d form a triangle with the three bearings of the stars and you’d either get a big triangle if the conditions were rough or you’d get a small triangle if the conditions were smooth. Well on this particular night it was so smooth you couldn’t put the head of a pin in the triangle in the centre. And one admiral came up and said to the navigator “Where are we?” And he pointed, he said, “Well, that’s
where we were half an hour ago” with this triangle very small and he came up about an hour later and he said, “Where are we?” And the fella said, “Further along here.” Well another very small triangle and he was so impressed he got the other admirals up to have a look and one of them said to our navigator, “Is that what you do all the time?” And he says, “Oh yes.” But it wasn’t, it was just one of those steady nights. But if you got a
triangle like even if it’d have a big ten mile side on it, you’d position yourself in the middle of it and go from there. And that could be very accurate.
of the City of Benares Well that was a ship that was taking children evacuees from England to Canada and the Germans sunk it in the North Atlantic. And one of our blokes discovered a lifeboat with about a dozen children in it and they guided a destroyer onto it to pick up the survivors.
I don’t know how many children were lost overall but when he got back to Oban the whole town wanted to buy him a drink. But it was very emotional that side of it because the poor kids had no hope. But we were always looking for lifeboats and you’d find lifeboats with bodies in
it and nothing else, you’d direct ships onto them and so forth. But it’s a pretty horrible sight to see a ship sinking or a lifeboat sinking.
very careful and not many people got away with it. One of our sister Squadron 461 went to pick up a somebody out of the sea and the whole thing just smashed up, lost the whole of the plane. A good friend of mine was beheaded in it and one of the pilots.
But there was another occasion where one fellow got down and when he was getting off, the sea was so rough that it tore a great hole in the bottom of the flying boat and they had to land it on land. Which they did at a place called Angle Bay just outside Pembroke Dock and it scooted along on the surface on the keel
and just toppled over sideways. But several of them were knocked about landing on the water. Some got away with it but we weren’t supposed to land on the water unless we were given permission to do so and you had to fly back to base to get permission to land.
what they called as we knew here Catalinas and they were called Lerwigs, which was a two engine flying boat. They weren’t very successful. There weren’t many of those. But there were lots of land bases around there of course. People don’t realise exactly how many landing places there were
in England. When I finished my flying on the flying boats I was attached to Overseas Headquarters in London and I toured all around the country where there were Australians and Australian squadrons. And if you went up into Lincolnshire where an awful lot of air bases were, when a thousand
bomber raid was on, you would stand outside and the big aircraft taking off everywhere and the noise with aircraft circling one minute and then they’d all set course for Germany. Whether they were ten feet off the ground or whether they were ten thousand feet off the ground and there’d be all this noise and the next minute there’d be dead silence. They’d all be gone.
And there were aerodromes dotted everywhere. People just couldn’t realise it. It was quite amazing the numbers.
Did you and the other flying boat crew personnel, identify yourselves as quite distinct from the other air force personnel would you say?
Well a lot did. You know with the, what’ll I say brass with the gold braid that you had on the badge on your helmet, the thing was to put a lot of salt water on that, make it verdis gris so it was green and it might be a flying boat base. So it was the equivalent sign to a flying boat of a fighter pilot undoing the top button of his
first experience of that was when we met a convoy coming up from the South Atlantic at the south of Ireland and the first thing he did to us was to say, was to flash us W-A-I. And none of us could understand what WAI was and we flashed the light back at him and said, “What do you mean?” And he says, “Where am I?” He’d been coming up
all through rough weather and he wasn’t sure of his navigation. He was south west of Fastnet in Ireland and we flew on to Fastnet to get a very accurate position and flew at him and gave him a direct course as accurate as you could possibly get it. But I’ll always remember WAI.
sort of thing wasn’t to do with the flying boats at all. Three of the regional navigators were sent on an astro navigation course near Cardiff and there was a flight lieutenant RAF in charge of the course. The first day he appeared in a RAF uniform and the second day he come out in an
RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force] uniform. Before the war in the ‘30s they used to train a hundred pilots at Point Cook each year and about fifty of them would go to the RAF and fifty would stay in the RAAF and he was one of the ones who went to the RAF. So when he appeared in the
RAAF uniform he came up and spoke to us individually and I always remember this. He said, “Now you blokes have got to really show what the RAAF can do.”
So we set out to prove this fellow right. And we topped the course. We came first, second and third in the course. And as part of the course you had to take a number of sextant shots on the stars and so forth and
up until our time there I think they used to do about fifty each course. I don’t know how many courses had been there but prior to that they were all RAF. And he said to us, “Now put your best foot forward.” Well, we finished up with eleven hundred sights and I was the lowest - I had about eight
hundred - and afterwards he met one of the three of us in London and said, “Nobody ever got near where what you did.”
higher-ups probably claimed that it gave us a base of our own at Plymouth at what they call Mount Batten. We were the only squadron there whereas at Pembroke Dock it was a bit crowded with three squadrons. Although afterwards there were always three squadrons there. We went to Mount Batten in Plymouth in
April of 1940. And an RAF squadron that was there, Number 204 had to go out and they went right up around the Shetland Islands, which was a horrible move for them. They must have been very fed up with us for taking up their prize spot. But Plymouth was a nice
spot before it was bombed. But I don’t know the basis behind it all. Because at Mount Batten 461 squadron RAAF was formed whilst we were there and they subsequently moved up to Bournemouth which was a completely unsatisfactory base and
then they moved to Pembroke Dock, so they were back with three squadrons at Pembroke Dock. I think they had Canadians there at one stage also.
But it was right on the South of England and had a relatively small harbour. There was a navy base there and a dockyard at Devonport where a lot of the war ships were serviced or some were built. Submarines were built there. It had a breakwater to
protect the sea from getting into the place but it was a good base, I think. But I don’t know that you’d call it an ideal place because you could only take off in one direction safely.
It was a permanent flying boat base, I know that. I can’t remember what Mount Batten was used for in earlier days. With the passing of flying boats in the RAF it was subsequently closed down
and everything changed over. It is now a suburb of Plymouth with a marina there for yachts and the like. But
1940 the first experience of an air-raid was an aircraft appeared overhead and everybody stood out to see. The air-raid sirens went and we all stood out watching it until it’d pass overhead and somebody said, “He’s dropped something.” And then they realised there were bombs and we’d all make a dive for the, for the air-raid shelter and we all got in except the CO.
There were no room for him, so he ordered that in future whenever the sirens went we should go into the air-raid shelter. But in the March of ’41 when the real blitz started there was a concert party on at the station in the gymnasium. And I was there. I don’t know how many other people who I
was with and the bombing raid started and all the guns started and all the rest of it. There was a heck of a lot of noise. And nobody moved – the concert party still carried on until all the windows and doors were blown in with something that landed close by and I know I went to the air-raid shelter then and I was scared because you could feel the bombs getting closer.
And everybody was scared except one fat bloke who’d been in the sergeants’ mess and he had tanked up quite well and he was just sitting back there half asleep and rolling around. And I decided then that the next night we knew that the raid would be on again, I decided to spend a couple of hours in the mess having a drink. That didn’t worry me the second night but the first
night it wasn’t very nice.
we were detached to Gibraltar for a month on escort duty doing various things. It was a quiet period then because Italy wasn’t into the war and we used to fly in and out of Malta. That was a lovely place. Very solidly built. The RAF sergeants’ mess
there I can remember. Sitting in that and looking straight down the Mediterranean at night drinking beer and the like. But there wasn’t much activity around there then, not until the Italians came and they were a bit of a nuisance. In Gibraltar about the most exciting thing I did then was to fly over
Casablanca. We had to go up and take photographs of the war ships that were around there. And I can’t remember why war ships were at Casablanca. But I know we got up to 10,000 feet which the highest I’ve ever been in a Sunderland. And took some photographs. I can remember there were some fighters on the ground- free French. This was after France fell in June and we saw the fighters taking
off, so we shot out of the place. They never caught up with us. But
French warships were. Because at about that time the Royal Navy endeavoured to get the French navy to come over to the British and of course they didn’t, so they fired on them, which was a pretty horrible thing to do. Particularly as they were
what’ll I say? Allies of the French at the beginning of the war until France fell. I forget how many war ships were involved and what damage they did but I know that we never saw any of the French war ships at all or Italian war ships.
We were there for about a month in June of 1940. The most interesting thing about that was another Sunderland. One of our Sunderland’s came down and we flew back together. How it happened I don’t know. But we went into a cloud,
we were on one side and the other Sunderland was on the other and we came out and we were the reverse way round. How the devil we didn’t crash or run into one another or how we got like that I don’t know. Because we were the same height. Something odd went on. I know there was a lot of talk afterwards about it and how it happened. But
prior to being in Gibraltar we took Lord Lloyd down into France into Lake Biscarosse to try and talk the French Government over to sort of staying in the war. That was only a day trip, that was all. But we were taking passengers doing ferrying work, taking different
people down to Malta, Alexandria and around the place generally. One notable thing, they took Lord Gort to Rabat down in North Africa to try and talk the navy over too I think. That was quite a notable feat.
Our pilot got Lord Gort out virtually at the end of a pistol. He got in by some means or other and they flew out or took off from the water at Rabat with a police launch just so far
behind him. Can’t remember all the details. That was quite a notable one.
When did you do your trip down to Alexandria?
Oh that was in that was in June of 1941, we were in Pembroke Dock
And it was quite amusing. At that stage we were doing patrols off Brest in the Bay of Biscay looking to keep watch on the Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau, two German war ships in case they came out of Brest. But we knew they were in there. We used to have to fly cross over patrol just out of Brest. That was pretty dangerous
because we knew that if war ships came out they’d be escorted by a lot of aircraft and we’d be a hundred to one on being shot down but that never happened. We were flying in both day and night with other RAF people as well. The day they decided to come out, the radar on one of the patrolling aircraft broke down and they weren’t sighted until
they got out into the English channel and they got away up around the Kiel canal quite unharmed. But we were doing these cross over patrols down in off Brest and one particular night I had a particularly good night navigating so much so that after about ten
hours over the sea all night doing this cross over patrol we landed right back where we should’ve been within two minutes of time. When we got back to Pembroke Dock the CO we had then never allowed an aircraft or a boat to land unless he was there. Even if you landed at three o’clock in the morning he’d be there or get up at for it.
And when we got back the pilot I was flying with said that I’d done a good job. Well the next day I was on rest and another observer was on duty as duty crew and in the sergeants’ mess the CO rang me up and I always remember this. We called him the “Old Man” but he was only about a couple of years older
than I was but he looked and behaved a lot older. He asked for me and he said, “Look there’s a Dicey Do.” That was one of his favourite expressions. “A Dicey Do going to Alexandria tomorrow. I’m going, will you come?” Because what can you say? He’s the CO so you had to say, “Yes.” So I said, “Yes.” So we
set off that morning in dirty weather. You could hardly see your hand in front of your face and went to Plymouth and loaded up. It was when Crete was falling and the only aircraft that could harass the Germans were Beaufighters because of the range on them and they were running short of spares, so they sent five flying boats loaded with spares
from England to Alexandria. And we took off on the morning and flew to Gibraltar, took about nine hours to get there and that night we left Gibraltar to fly into Malta in the dark before we could be attacked
by the Germans and into Alexandria at about nine o’clock in the morning. Which was 24 hours straight. I was dead tired. We unloaded the gear. I don’t know what we were carrying - I never saw it. But they unloaded
it all and Alexandria harbour was completely jammed with ships. It was just row after row of ships and the only way you could land or take off was down the rows between ships and in order to get from one row to the other they’d leave one ship out and you’d go in through the gap to get in there. And as we were taxiing between
the ships the pilot swung a bit wide and the wing tip touched a ship and it swung around and we smashed the nose on the side of the ship. We had to beach the flying boat which we did. We were due to take off to go to Aboukir further over on the Nile which was the
RAF base at Aboukir for the flying boats, for it to be serviced. I can’t remember what service it was. It must have been a fairly major one and we beached the boat and had to go ashore into makeshift quarters. I’ll never forget this when I say never forget, it was very makeshift
and there was nobody in the sergeants’ mess to allocate me a bed, so I decided I’d sleep on the floor, which I did. I was dead tired. I’d have slept anywhere. I don’t know how long I slept for but when I woke up the lice had travelled up my legs
up to my belt and bitten me all around the belt and they’d come down from the top and struck me on the belt and I had a white band around the middle where the belt was. I was lousy. It was terrible. The rest of the crew were either corporals or LACs [Leading Aircraftsmen] and lower rank. In order to make them give up beds they had to take the bunks in the Sunderland.
They had to take the frameworks off and put them into the airmen’s quarters where it was every bit as bad as what I had struck. So much so that once a week every bed had to be picked up and a flame put around the joints in order to kill the bugs and the like there. On the floor they’d then have to go along
and spread kerosene and sweep the floor up and the bugs would move along ahead of the kerosene. So lousy, completely lousy, it’s disgusting. It was terrible quarters but still we survived through that
of Crete the whole time loaded to such an extent that they’d only get ten feet off the water and fly at that height all the way. It was highly dangerous. I stayed in Alexandria to have the boat repaired. The fascinating thing was that out from Aboukir they had a big maintenance depot.
They sent about six or eight men of all nationalities in charge of one fellow who could speak about seven languages and he had all types working for him. And they made the nose of that aircraft - beat it out of out of aluminium and the like and formed it up but the chine of it which went up like that at the nose it just had a bit of a kick in it half way - I don’t know what had happened there but
it flew again. I was there until it was flyable and then they handed it over to the 230 Squadron of the RAF to take over from there. The two pilots and the CO had flown back to England and left us there with the boat until it was ready. I thought they’d come back and then pick it up. That would be in June and I suppose it was
October before they decided that they’d send us back to England. Although they decided to send somebody from Cairo to see what we wanted to do. Whether we wanted to go back to England or come home to Australia. So everybody said back to England we’d go. And we finished up getting on a ship and going down to Durban
and around the bottom into Cape Town and then up through the Atlantic back to Liverpool in England. We got back there sometime in November. Funny thing about that particular ship. When we left Cape Town it was on a White Star Liner - I forget the name of it but there were a about a half a dozen
RAF and there were nine of us and the Captain of the White Star Liner got us together and said, “Now we’re going up through the Atlantic on our own. We’re not going to be in a convoy, we’ll be on our own.” And he said, “Any of you fellows, when you go to bed at night don’t go putting your false teeth in a glass of water beside the bed.”
We were all in our late twenties and he said, “Because if we’re hit with a torpedo it’s a hundred to one that the lights will go out,” and he said, “You’ll never find your teeth again.” And he said, “I don’t want to sit in a life boat with somebody without their teeth in.” But how he thought that blokes who in their late twenties would have false teeth I don’t know. But we never saw anything and we got back
to England. Back to the squadron in November, so that we were away about five months and that was quite an episode.
over to a dance in Plymouth one particular night to a hotel called the Duke of Cornwall and I can remember seeing her standing on the side of the floor not on the dancing but on the side of the floor there. And any rate I went up and danced with her and got talking and the other two had met
two girls at the dance as well. And we were all sitting in the lounge and talking and at that stage it was a common thing amongst the navigators in the squadron that we were never called by our proper name. You know I might call you one minute “Percy” or “George” or whatever name came to my mind and all this talk went on so that the three girls didn’t know
what our names were. It wasn’t done purposely but we were just carrying on that same way.
that was a Saturday and they used to get married midday or round about midday in England in those times. And about the week prior on a Friday night, I was in the mess standing by to go and search for an aircraft
which had come down in the Bay of Biscay. I was going with the flight commander. And the CO of the squadron and the CO of the station came up to me about eight o’clock at night and said, “You’d better go and pack your gear including a tropical uniform and report to a place in Somerset.” I can’t remember the name. It was a transport command place. He said, “You’ll be away for a month,” and I said, “Well, I
was going to be married next Saturday.” And they just laughed and that was that. So I packed up and went over to Eileen’s place and she thought I was being sent home. But I told her that I’d be away for a month and I had to go up to this place, which I did, and arrived there at about midnight and they said,
“Go over and stay in the mess. We’ll tell you when we want you.” So Saturday night I was in the mess, Sunday I was in the mess, Monday I was in the mess. Tuesday night, I went to the picture show on the station. In the meantime several other aircraft came in. Liberators they were, including one civil airliner. And sitting in the picture show and so forth and I heard somebody come in and say, “Don’t go outside there’s service police
everywhere, you can’t move.” So I didn’t attempt to go out. When I went out I found out it was Churchill going to Russia for the first time. So it was obvious that I’d been called as an emergency in case of somebody being sick or something happened to them like one of the navigators. So Wednesday morning I went to the CO of the station and said, “Now can I go back
to Plymouth? I’m going to be married on Saturday.” I don’t remember his comment to me but he had to ring up the group controlling the place and said, “Can we send Jensen back to Plymouth? He’s going to be married on Saturday, poor fellow,” with a laugh. And they evidently said, “Yes,” so Jensen went back to Plymouth on the Wednesday. And Eileen in the meantime had
cancelled all the arrangements and then she had to go round and un-cancel them to get everybody back on stage. And they were all saying, “He can’t make up his mind,” and so forth. But we were married in due course. It was Saturday and we went on our honeymoon standing on the bottom step of a bus. No cars or that sort of thing.
We were standing on the bottom of the bus. And arrived at a place where she had arranged to spend a week. I was in uniform of course. The following morning at breakfast the landlady produced a paper at the table and put it in front of us, which had big captions all about our wedding in Plymouth. I think just letting us
know that she knew we were married. But any rate that was that. Other than that they described me as six foot five but they reckoned my wife was six foot but she wasn’t. Luckily we went to a place called Salcombe which is on the South of England not far from Plymouth. And any rate my wife was keen on fishing so
we got a row boat and rowed out into the middle of Salcombe Bay. It wasn’t a big bay by any manner of means and whilst we were fishing quietly there, three German aircraft flew close by. There was a bit of a boat yard where they were either reconditioning or doing something to an armed trawler. It was about
fifty to a hundred yards from where we were and these three aircraft came over and bombed and gunned the trawler and killed a couple of blokes. But we rowed for the shore after that. We didn’t go fishing, we decided that was enough.
I was, what was I then? That was 1942 I was twenty-nine, we were both twenty-nine. I must have decided that it was time to get married or the… what probably triggered it off was one of the fellas that I went to St Athens with for the astro navigation school. We were only there a month. In the first fortnight he
was there, he met a girl who he married. He was married before we went back to the squadron which was about a fortnight after he’d met her. I think that must have had something to do with it. But despite everything they’re still married, living in Canberra so that he did the right thing. But other than that I don’t know. I probably thought I should have been married at that time.
there. I could have lived there very easily. Although she never regretting come out because when did she go back? She went, she got out here, she didn’t go back for eighteen years, I know that. She went back in ’63, that’s right. And she couldn’t get back here quick enough because everything was so different in England.
Her brother I think was a commander in the navy at that stage and she went to some naval do in Plymouth with her sister-in-law and they came up to a big marquee where they were serving afternoon tea and there was a queue outside of it and she said to her sister-in-law, “Why are they queuing?” And she said, “Oh, I suppose they’re waiting to
go in.” Any rate Eileen said, “Well, let’s go over, they went into the marquee,” and just sat down and had afternoon tea. But the queue still stood outside. I think that was the turning point as far as she was concerned. They were just so used to queues that it was hard to take.
Tell me about being recalled to Australia? That was in ’44 about May, was it?
I don’t know that I was recalled. I was in Overseas Headquarters in London for twelve months before we came back and I had given up the flying. I’d gone off flying and I was specialising in radio aids to navigation. And that
was my main task and after I’d been there about twelve months the CO of the squadron who did a turn up there too before he came home. He said to me, “I think it’s about time you went home.” So I said, “Oh ok.” No argument. I just accepted what he said and I came home. And
I flew all the way across the Atlantic in a big Boeing Clipper, the one that Churchill flew back from America in. I flew as a civilian with a RAF fellow. And when I got back here they said to me, “What leave do you want?” And I said, “Oh, I’ve come back to do a job.” But there was no job to do.
So after about a week, “Oh, I’ll take a few days’ leave,” which I did because there was just no job to do. It was a completely different atmosphere and I’d been used to being on the move and doing all sorts of things and to come back and do practically nothing just didn’t suit me.
Early in ’45 on the way home through America I did a special course on one of the navigational aids there and I came back and in ’45, I was given the job of a lecture tour to fly in an Anson up through the centre of Australia and around all the air force bases lecturing
people on the latest radio aids to navigation in Europe with two other quite well decorated pathfinder navigators. They were really characters, these two blokes. And we did that and at the end of that they told me that I should go back and lecture the navigators on a navigational aid, which the Americans
had developed and on which I did a course on in America to teach the people up in round Darwin how to use it. So I did that for about three months and came back to Melbourne and just sat. Didn’t do anything. It was soul destroying after being used to sort of really being active in everything.
I think they weighed about nineteen tons and they were small in comparison to present day aircraft, well of course they were small but they were about nineteen tons and the wing was about a hundred and twenty feet – I can’t convert that into centimetres for you. They were very roomy inside and it had six bunks and a ward
room with a table where you could have a meal. It had a galley and a toilet and further back there were four bunks through the back and then it had a tail turret and two upper lookouts rather than turrets and a front turret, which normally wasn’t manned unless there was
some air attack of some sort. The tail was normally manned and the two upper lookout positions were manned. They were practically open. They got up to about five different models and the earlier one was quite open up there but later on they put a turret up part of that
with a couple of guns in it. But generally there was a lot of room in it. That was well below decks and what they called the ward room upstairs, there was a position for the flight engineer and a wireless operator and the navigators table was the other side of the aircraft and then there was space for two pilots up the front.
But generally it was a very comfortable aircraft and quite often the crew lived on board I often wondered what happened when there was eight or nine crew- they wouldn’t all have a bunk but I don’t know how they slept but they did stay on board on occasions for twenty-four hours. Pilots and navigators were normally ashore
but the crew stayed there. The whole time that it was moored in the water there were always two crew members on board in case of emergency such as a storm or the like. You didn’t get much action. Didn’t have to take much action normally but if there was a storm and the wind got very high you might have to start the engines in order to
control it in some way. But generally it was a, regarded as a home from home and everybody grew very fond of them in every way. I think that just about describes it all.
four or five feet long and about three feet wide with a seat in it. You normally never sat in the seat though you always stood and bent over the table to do what you wanted and you had to move up to the pilots to pass instructions to them. There was an astro dome right up above for taking some shots and generally
to escape by if anything happened. Of course most things that happened when you’re landing - you could dig a float in and rip the float off and the thing would turn and capsize. We used to always stand - at least I did. There were four what’ll I call them? Latches to hold this
astro dome in position and I used to stand with three of the latches undone and my hand on the fourth one, so that in emergency I could open it quickly too and get on the main plane to keep it from capsizing. But the only time it happened that I had to get out there were about four people who got out before me even after I’d opened the hatch, so that I always thought that was funny. But of course if you
got out too early you’re likely to slide into the water rather than stay on the wing on the main plane. But it was very comfortable in every way.
it wasn’t anything like the, what you call “The Marine Sextant,” which sailors used - that was entirely different. You used to have to sight the sun or the moon or whatever it was and take it down level with the horizon. But of course when you’re up in the air you didn’t get the horizon well - you got a horizon but you were say five or six hundred feet up or even higher,
so you had an artificial horizon by the bubble in the in the sextant. It was very accurate as a matter of fact. The present day 10 Squadron told me that they gave up using it about two years ago. The never even carry it in the aircraft now. We’d have been lost without it.
They relied on dead reckoning rather than taking sun shots and the like but once you became accustomed to using it, well you would never go on a trip without it.
and course calculator. It had, that had several words CSC [Combination Communications], I think it was and they called it and an astro watch, which was very accurate. That was a war issue to you and the sextant. The watches were pretty valuable. They were Longines, which was recognised as the most accurate
at the time. And you had to be careful or had to make sure it was always on time - you were looking for a time signals say at twelve o’clock each day and check to see how many seconds it was, fast or slow. But they were very accurate from the point of view that it didn’t vary much at all. But that was only equipment we were issued with. Although
there were what do they call them? Tables which, I forget what they call them. But they varied depending upon the latitude in which you were operating. They were all predetermined calculations which you had to refer to when you were working out what the sight
meant as to how you plotted it on your on your chart. No, they were about the, they were the only things that I can think of.
Tell me about the calculators. What did they look like?
They were quite small and you could turn them over, so that you could mark the chart in it, which you turned over in order to show the speed that you were going at and you marked on the transparent face of it
the track that you wanted to make good and then allow drift on it and so forth to get the course in which you had to fly. Pardon me. But they weren’t that accurate we found. Well we found that to get accurate they’d give you a course within one or two degrees but we found the most accurate
thing was to then mark the course on a chart and apply the wind onto it, so we’d work it out that way. That was much more accurate. Because you’d realise that if you were a mile out in the course that you worked on the calculator and the pilot flew that course no matter how accurate
he was after sixty miles you were a mile out of a position which - quite an error. But by plotting the courses and the wind directly onto the charts you were much more accurate. Not every navigator did that. But all our people did and we became, what’ll I say? Known for our accuracy on account of doing it and there was always
an argument as to whether you would you would plot your track or your ground speed on your chart. But we never changed - we would always plot the course and then apply the wind to it in order to get the accuracy. But I don’t know whether anybody else changed afterwards. But we were right onto that, right at the beginning.
you had a drift sight which you could look at down through the side of the aircraft and as you passed over the waves or the white caps on the waves, you’d get them moving down the drift lines and you’d adjust the thing so that the white caps would always move
down the lines and then it had a graduated scale around it which you read off the drift whether it was port or starboard. But flying at five hundred feet after a while you could look at the water through a port hole and say, “Well, the wind is so many knots from such and such a direction” as accurately as you could measure it. It was quite effective that way.
see. It’d only be a small light on the water but it could be seen if there was another aircraft around - they could see that but they wouldn’t know which direction we were going in. Although the exhaust fumes on, the exhaust flames on the engines, if they got reasonably close they would see the exhaust flames and pick us up that way. But I’ve never heard anybody finding an aircraft as a result
of dropping a flame float. I can’t remember how long they burned for but it wouldn’t be a great length of time. On occasions flying in an area you’d find one burning which somebody had dropped but you’d never see the aircraft.
and that’s where your accuracy had to be correct. For instance we flew for about ten hours out of Brest in France and flew all around the Bay of Biscay for the ten hours and then came back into Brest right on track where we were supposed to be. Dead on time which
was very accurate from that point of view. And the thing is that if you were flying in, the hardest thing is to fly in a straight line from one point to the other because you know the slightest error would put you out. If you flew out and flew in a square and so forth the errors would cancel themselves out. But the
errors such as the pilot not flying accurately he might fly one wing low and get off on an angle slightly unbeknown to himself. And if he went out straight out that would show up but coming back he could come back the same way and then finish up dead right at the finish but it was due to the errors cancelling themselves out. But dead reckoning can be very accurate.
The other thing is that you may not have heard of him but a fellow before the war flew out in a Tiger Moth and he flew to Lord Howe Island from Sydney and he flew on a position line of the sun which was a bit dicey but he did that by flying, not aiming at the Island to hit it, but be
say thirty miles to the south of it and he’d get a position line from the sun and then calculate when the position line from the sun would pass through the island and he could turn onto that course and fly straight onto the Island. And that was done quite a lot in the early days.
the number of the seconds it was out each day so as to allow for it throughout the course of the day. For instance if you took a time signal at twelve o’clock and it was showing dead right today and you then took another one tomorrow and it was say twelve or fifteen seconds
out, well you’d know that it’d lost twelve or fifteen seconds in a day. Well now, if you flew later on then six hours say at six o’clock at night you would allow a correction in the watch of about six seconds to make up for the time that had been lost in that interval between twelve o’clock and six o’clock. And those seconds all mounted up to accuracy as far as the
navigation was concerned. With astro navigation it wasn’t as accurate with dead reckoning of course.
on our, the navigator’s table.” And I can remember the pilot saying to me, “There was something on it.” There was a ship ahead of us and I watched it intently and at about eleven miles I said, “I can see something overhead now,” and the pilot said, “Yes, I’ve been looking at that for half an hour. I saw it about
thirty miles away.” But that was a very early form of what we called radar. It was called ASV, which was Anti Surface Vessel. But they developed that into beacons whereby you could pick up your position off shore by the beacon. When you’d tell the distance you were away from the land and the angle at
which the beacon was to you. That was very helpful. That was before they developed what I’d call the real radar where you looked at the scope and could see the outline of the coast and everything on it. But the ASV was the earliest development.
We’ve got a good idea of the equipment on board. What I’d like to do now is I’d like to find out about the procedure that was followed when you were going out on a patrol? So like starting at the beginning was there a time of day you would usually be called to go?
Any time, any time. You might be told, “You’re stand by aircraft today.” That meant that the crew would all be on board bar the navigator. Or in the early days, the very early days the navigator and all the crew were on board and the pilot and if the something came up that we had to
go for something the pilots would come aboard with all the instructions, what they called “The form green,” which said, “What you had to do, what you had to look for and what position” and the like and they just handed it to the navigator and we would work on from there. As time went by and things changed, the navigator would go with the pilots to the operations room and be given all that information
first hand. The rest of the crew would be on board and you’d go away with that. Then when you came back the navigator and the pilots would go to operations room and report on what happened and what they had seen or what they hadn’t seen and all that sort of thing. But it all
changed over time. The rest of the crew would always be on board.
was when Churchill was coming back from America the first time. We didn’t know it but a number of us had been out the night before and when we were called early in the morning to go off we were still feeling the effects of the night out. And I remember the CO he came aboard and off we went. We were going as a decoy aircraft in
case the Germans picked up the aircraft that Churchill was coming in on and we were down along the route where he was coming. We never saw him or never saw the plane and when we were called immediately when they sent a signal to say, “That so and so had landed well,” we were recalled and we realised then that
we were a decoy but we didn’t know up until that time. And I remember the CO when he went off the aircraft he said, “When I came onboard today somebody or a number of you looked the worse for wear,” he said. I was much the same, so don’t let it happen again. That sort of thing but that’s the only time I remember the drink affecting us.
due to take off at three o’clock the next morning, well you went to bed early. Otherwise, you did nothing, you’d just wait until you were called. There was always what they called a duty pilot and duty NCO who used to call the officers and the pilot and the duty NCO would call the rest of the crew to have them out of bed and at the
ready to go onboard the boat at the right time. So some fellows used to get them out of bed and they’d stand there for awhile and get back into bed still half asleep, so you had to watch some blokes and other blokes would be ready to get up. You didn’t have to call them, they’d be awake when you went into the room to call them. I
was one of those. I never had to be woken. If they said I was going to be called at three o’clock, I’d be awake at three o’clock. I was lucky that way.
But just take myself. We never operated at any great heights, so it was never really cold. It could be cold but not really cold. Wearing ermine jackets and the like, you know those fur lined leather jackets and pants, we had them as well but I
never wore the pants. I wore the jacket a few times but that was too awkward to work in, too cumbersome. Some days you’d take your coat off to work in.
three. Particularly the third one would be, let’s say a newcomer and he’d be just learning and he’d get a turn at the controls. Then normally, only one navigator, sometimes two if one is under training, as well as the main navigator. There’d be two wireless operators. There would be two fitters
and a rigger and an armourer. And sometimes an automatic pilot, mechanic instrument maker and an air gunner on occasions. And we could get up to say thirteen in a crew on occasions. But normally it would be
ten or eleven. But there were all sorts. For instance if the first Sunderlands didn’t have an automatic pilot and they had to be flown by hand by the pilot the whole time. When they got the automatic pilots installed they gave a bit of trouble, so the mechanic used to have to be there all the time to adjust them and fix anything that went wrong. After
the equipment was installed at the works rather than in the squadron the instrument maker would only come if somebody reported that on a certain boat- I sometimes call them aircraft and sometimes I call them boats. But if the crew reported
that an automatic pilot was playing up two or three times it was reported, well the mechanic would fly to try and fix it or find out why it was playing up and that sort of thing. Sometimes we’d even take a newspaper reporter. We became known as the ‘Women’s Weekly Squadron’ because they were always writing stories about us. And
they used to have male and female reporters fly. Not a great deal but they did. And then somebody, some specialist officers of some sort from the RAF would want to fly for experience and so forth. It was quite interesting. And on occasions you’d have
some prominent politician like Mr Casey. You probably haven’t heard of Mr Casey, have you? He was Australian who was something to do with Egypt and we flew him out to Egypt and he was a pilot. Well he flew the flying boat for part of the time. You got a great deal of variation of people that way.
But it’s funny to talk about say the RG Casey and find some people younger people not knowing him. Whereas, he was very familiar to us all.
carry all charts for all around England and all the British Isles and down into the Mediterranean. They’d be part of the standard equipment. They weren’t fancy charts, they were very simple with outlines of the coast on and they
used to rub all the information off and use them three or four time before discarding them because they’d be damaged. But they were very light, relatively light paper, not a heavy grade of paper.
we’d have all that done by the time he was up and before he checked things with the rest of the crew as to whether they had looked at this, that. For instance all the oil tanks were full and that sort of thing and there was no petrol in the bilges which was highly dangerous. And we’d have the course worked out by the time he got up onto the bridge
and into the pilot’s seat. Mind you out of Plymouth you had a certain way you had to go. You first of all had to fly about eleven miles out to Eddystone Lighthouse and then down to one point of land and then another point of land right down at Lands End before we left the land and you’d know all those courses fairly reasonably depending
upon what the wind was, you adjusted the boat to that. But so that you could take off and be in the air before you gave the pilot the final accurate course. But we normally had it all before he took off.
reckon on the, what the wind would be and settle for that first of all. And say flying the eleven miles to Eddystone Lighthouse you would get an idea of what the wind was reasonably accurately to fly the next leg. Which was used down to Lizard. How long was that? That was about forty fifty miles away, so that by the time you got to the Lizard, you knew what the
wind was but the wind would be different when you got to the open sea as to what it was close to the sea, close to the shore because it varied a bit.
So what was the procedure for communicating with the pilot?
Normally, we didn’t rely on word of mouth to give him what course to fly in and what time to alter course. We used to write it on a little docket and hand it to him. He’d put it on a clip up in front of him so he could see it all the time. Occasionally you might tell him “To alter course 10 degrees” or something like that but you’d always confirm it by writing
it on a little slip message pad, which you handed him within a couple of minutes to put up in front of him so as he’s got an accurate story. Or an accurate course to fly.
connection with that. We had one rigger who might prepare a good meal for lunchtime and coming home when you were getting towards dark and so forth he’d put up on the navigator’s table a plate of sandwiches. And I used to say to him, “What, sandwiches again?” Much as to say, “Can’t you do better?” Which he used to get irritated about. I realised that he
had to clean the galley afterwards if he did any cooking but he was trying to avoid that so as not to be delayed getting off the aircraft. But that carried on after until back in civvy street [civilian life] and I used to see him quite a lot. Oh well, as a matter of fact we used to visit one another’s houses in the days when everybody went
square dancing, particularly in Melbourne but not in Sydney. And when supper time came and there’d be sandwiches handed around. I’d say to him, “These are better sandwiches than you used to make.” And he’d get very annoyed, very irritated. So much so that he’d lose his temper on occasions we had to stop it because he was getting so angry about it. But we all, we did it principally to tease him. And I think if you said to him
today - he’s still alive in Melbourne - he would still flare up. But some of the fellows would prepare a really good meal.
On occasions the British used to send raiding parties down into the Bay of Biscay to land on different parts of the coast of France to do odd things damage and so forth and you’d have to fly down and act as an escort with them. Or when the
big raid on St Nazaire, when they sailed a destroyer into the docks to blow it up to put the docks out of out of operation for the U-Boats [German submarines], we used to have to patrol down around there to keep an eye out for things.
And as I mentioned yesterday when the two big warships were in Brest we patrolled for that. Odd things such as that. They were the principal things.
go to a position at a certain time and you’d fly to that position and if it wasn’t there you would know which track it was coming on, in like which direction and you’d fly back along that track til you met up with it. And if you didn’t meet up with it then you’d look for it. But they’d be out of position due to bad weather on occasions not often.
As I mentioned yesterday one of them coming up through bad storms in the South Atlantic didn’t know where he was and asked us “Where he was?,” which was amusing. But generally they were pretty well on time. I remember the first convoy that brought Lend Lease Aid from America before
America entered the war. We had to go out and find that west of Ireland. The RAF had been out one day to look for it and couldn’t find it and we flew out and picked it up immediately, which was highly pleasing to everybody. But various odd things like that.
The only time I ever struck anything was one night we were flying, I forget what we were doing. But we came across a ship, a blockade runner which fired at us without us seeing it, which was rather frightening. I can’t remember what we were doing that night
but I know, it really scared me because I couldn’t do anything, I just had to sit and listen to what was going on.
fly for about twenty-five hours. We’d only get up to about a maximum of twelve, thirteen, fourteen hours but the Catalinas could go out for twenty-five hours. They’d go out and find a convoy, pick up a convoy and cut off one engine and float around the convoy for hours at a stretch, which was quite a long period comparatively.
Or we were comparatively short. Sometimes we’d only get out and locate the convoy and count the number of ships and get back again because we couldn’t stay any length of time. The first convoy that, as I said would be Lease Lend equipment and material from America. We only just sighted it
and we had time to get back again. We couldn’t stay with it for any length of time. But the most important thing was to find it so as to report where it was.
You would be told “To go to a certain area and to patrol in that area” and it might be any size or do a square search because somebody had seen something
in that particular area. And they’d give you a spot to start from for that but it was very difficult to say. Well there was one occasion they decided that a submarine leaving France to go out on patrol
and this happened at night, would normally travel on the surface so as to save his batteries. Because his batteries, if he was under water, his batteries wouldn’t last that long and he’d have to come up to recharge them. And we had an area, say a hundred miles by fifty miles and you’d have to
arrange to have an aircraft in that area to pass over any particular spot every half hour to make sure that the submarine came up and he could hear the aircraft, he would dive and use up his batteries and hinder him in that way. And you’d have a reasonable chance although it never happened to me but there was a reasonable chance that the submarine would be sighted by an aircraft and he’d be bombed but.
I know of occasions when it happened, but. So on a particular night if you had enough aircraft in the area you’d find more sightings occurred than if you only had part of the aircraft in there, so that the question of density and number of times an aircraft passed over an area would greatly
improve the number of sightings.
So what was your relationship like with your pilots?
Well apart from this nasty one, quite good. They never interfered with what we did. We navigated and we were allowed to do it. We weren’t checked in any way, we just did our job and that was it but the nasty one was always interfering and trying to sort of show you up.
But it was claimed that he threatened to throw one of the navigators off the flying boat. Was always a bit of a laugh but it mightn’t have been nice for the fellow concerned.
You mentioned the City of Benares yesterday?
Yes, that was early in the war, they evacuated children to Australia and also Canada, and the City of Benares was one that was taking children to Canada and it was sunk by a submarine in the North Atlantic and one of our boats found the boat with children
in it and directed a destroyer along to pick up the children, which was very satisfactory from their point of view. The crew of the Sunderland, I mean.
how was the return trip, different from going out?
Well, principally in anticipation to find out whether you had been accurate or not in your navigation. Whether, if you got within where you should have been, you see within say a couple of minutes of when you reckoned you would be, with only a mile or two off
to one side of the spot. But it was normally a lighthouse which they called Bishop’s Rock, off Lands End, well that was highly satisfactory. If you got to where Bishop’s Rock should have been and there was no sign of it well that was rather upsetting in more ways than one. You then had to find it but you could normally find it by heading
in a certain direction because the Scilly Isles which are off Lands End in England are spread over quite an area and you could normally pick them up, then it’d be a matter of checking to see why you were out of position and that sort of thing.
Did you lose any of your friends?
I suppose I was lucky in one way. In June of 1940 after France fell, General De Gaulle you may have heard of him. He was the leader of the Free French. He escaped to England and his
wife and one child were left behind in France. And one particular night I was duty navigator with the pilot. We were supposed to do any particular job that came up and a job came up to take a
Walrus, which was a float plane into France in the middle of the night and pick up General De Gaulle’s wife and his son. I think it was a son, I’m not particularly sure of that. To bring them to England but I was a relatively inexperienced navigator at that stage and the pilot asked that “He get the most experienced
navigator to go because it was night time and I hadn’t flown in a Walrus or a Seagull” or whatever you like to call it before, whereas he had, so he was, he went with the pilot that I was supposed to go with. And they were shot down over France by the Germans. They were the first Australian casualties of the war. But
that was my escape. I’d have been a goner in that, I think. But that’s the only one I can remember.
to go into headquarters in London and sit in the same carriage with the same people each morning. And you were usually reading a paper and didn’t talk to anybody, didn’t say a word to anybody, you just minded your own business and a flying bomb landed on the rail tracks, oh fifty or a hundred yards behind us and the train rocked side ways and people fell off the seats
and then they got up . And the train kept going although it was rocked from side to side and they all got up and started to talk to one another. From that day on, each day as we got into the carriage, we’d say, “Good morning,” but prior to that we never said a word to one another, which I always thought was rather funny.
which was so accurate that you could in the dark and in the fog or anything of that sort, you could moor a ship alongside a wharf. The Decca company developed that for the invasion and I went on a trial of that in Invergordon to see how it worked and on a minesweeper, whereby they
put minesweepers on either side of the landing areas in France to accurately clear a path for ships. As I say, it was so accurate in the dark you could get within a yard or two of the wharf without any trouble. It was very accurate. But it was only
useful for ships really. It wasn’t useful for aircraft but we looked at it from the angle of being useful for the aircraft.
What was your main responsibility in that job?
Oh, to actively report and gather information on how far the invention had got and what they were aiming at doing with it. For instance they developed a
radio set for use in fighter aircraft. Normally the radios in the normal aircraft had only about six channels that you could use with different frequencies and this thing they developed, I forget the name of it now, you could dial it on the phone and you could dial any number, any frequency that you liked, so there were five or six
hundred different channels which was very helpful from the fighters point of view. No use back here because we just didn’t have that number of fighters and activity to make use of it but it was particularly helpful in England.
Tom, I’m just about to ask you some campaign questions to do with the air force in the North Atlantic. The first one is, did you ever experience any frustration by being in Europe while knowing that Australia was under
I don’t think so, no. I was amazed when I went to London to find the extent to which the air force in Australia had developed. The number of landing grounds and all up in northern Australia that were
serving overseas I learned a heck of a lot more than I’d ever learnt if I’d stayed in Australia. As I was saying, I came back at the end of 1944 and apart from doing a lecture tour
up north and going up there instructing navigators on a particular radio aid, I can’t say I did a useful thing. I sat on my tail and did nothing for so many months that I got completely fed up with it. The only thing I did until I left the air force in
what, 1947… In 1946 we did a survey of the rocket range in Western Australia whereby they had to do a photographic map from Mt Eba near Lake Eyre in South Australia. A strip twenty miles wide right up through the centre of Australia to Broome
for the purposes of the rocket range where the British were going to do atomic tests and fire rockets. That was about the most useful thing I did and the only thing I did after I got back. And that was particularly interesting in that there were no radio - there was nothing there to make
the navigation accurate. And the fellow who I knew he was one of the original fellows went overseas with me as a navigator, he was the director at headquarters and he organised a project where we could accurately photograph
this whole area by navigating using the sun and the moon to position ourselves. He had a Lincoln aircraft modified so that there were two astro domes in it for two navigators to sit and to take sun shots and moon shots. During the day, bearing in mind that the moon only
appears during the day time, a short time each month, you had to have the moon above a certain altitude for it to be accurate. And he arranged for five navigators to be on including himself and myself and three others. Two to do all the navigation and the
photographic work. Excuse me. He then had to work out by knowledge of when the moon would be available during the daylight and above a certain angle and each month and we took several months before it was completed and we
would fly in the aircraft, me taking the moon sights with these particular sextants - the bubble sextant - and another fellow taking the sun shots every two minutes. It was hard work in that you had a two minute spell then you did another
series of shots for two minutes and then every two minutes you were taking the sun or the moon. I was on the moon as I said, and one fellow was this, the particular fellow who organised it was working out the information and as a result of taking all these shots and another fellow was doing dead reckoning and the other navigator was operating the cameras.
And it worked out that for the first trip that we did I think we could only go from Lake Eyre up to MacDonnell Ranges west of Alice Springs and then we had to stop there. And the next time we went right through from Lake Eyre right out to Broome. That was one long trip and we then had to refuel the Lincoln aircraft with
four gallon tins of fuel and sleep under the aircraft at a place called Lincoln Bar, which was a bit rough. And then we did another month, we did the second half of one leg and took about five months to do it all. But that was interesting and as I say, it was the only job I did. I don’t know that anybody else had thought of doing it
that way. I don’t know the end result of it because I left. Well I know only part of the end result because I left the air force then. But one thing I learned which you may not realise, that every aircraft has a period whereby it flies and it might fly in that direction. But it’s supposed to be flying straight on but during the
characteristic of the aircraft it flies slightly to the left or it might be slightly to the left, to the right and the automatic pilot corrects it and puts it back again, so you got this period of going like that. And they worked out that as a result that particular aircraft did that every so often sort of thing. That’s about the most useful thing other than the actual photographs of the whole area. That was interesting but this was the only thing I can say that I
that I was a particularly religious or anything of the sort but historical facts are very nice to see and so forth and the different areas. Some fellows would go on leave to Edinburgh, something like that from London and you’d get a lot of train travel. But the difference in the way things operated in England from that
leisure point of view was quite interesting. It never stopped anybody from travelling by train. If you wanted to go anywhere, civilian population or anybody else, you went. There would be queues at the railway stations and the trains would fill up to go to one spot and the people would wait til the next train maybe an hour or so.
Trains being more frequent here, say Sydney to Melbourne or Melbourne to Sydney then they’d just wait for the next train and go on holidays. Bearing in mind that if there were troops moving say five or six or a dozen or twenty army, navy or air force moving from one town to the other under orders
that the, a transport officer at the railway station would just go along to a certain carriage and order all the civilian population out and let the service people in, so they’d go to where they were supposed to go on time. Which was completely different when I got back here. My wife came out and I was still in the air force. I had to come up to Sydney University from Melbourne
in order to do a course for about a month. And in order to get my wife on the train a friend had to bribe a railway official with ten pounds in order to get a seat on the train to come to Sydney. Now I was thoroughly disgusted with that. But as I say in England you went if you wanted to but you had to be prepared to wait for the transport. They didn’t restrict anybody, there was no
bribery or anything like that.
“Thank you for coming.” On the prejudice side of things particularly in Scotland you’d walk along the street and they’d stop you, say a man or woman and so forth and say that, “If you got any spare time and you’d like a meal out or anything of the sort, that’s our house up on the hill,”
or give you the address and say, “You’ll be very welcome to come any time,” and so forth. It was complete, no prejudice, it was the opposite.
danger that we were in but when the bombing that went on, well it wasn’t very pleasant in any shape or form. Ok, we expected as troops to be for something to action taken against, but women and children the way, particularly in Plymouth, the nights that the raids were on they were going out into the country and sleeping
under hedges and so forth, which wasn’t very nice. We felt rather poorly about that.
apart from one Frenchman in the squadron. He had escaped from North Africa after France fell and got to Gibraltar and he arrived in England and he was a sergeant pilot flying on a seaplane,
which was attached to a French submarine called the Surcouf. It was the only submarine that carried an aircraft that I know of. And the British became suspicious of the behaviour of this
submarine and when we were in Plymouth the seaplane was put ashore with us and we were told it was supposed to be repaired. We were told not to repair it, just to keep it ashore. And the pilot came ashore with it. He was a very nice fellow and when we were leaving Plymouth to go back
to Pembroke Dock because of the bombing he was wandering around down at the jetty where everybody was leaving and feeling very sorry in being left and one of the officers said to him, “Well look, come as well. You come with us too.” Which he did and eventually he got a, an
Australian uniform with “France” on it instead of “Australia” and he was commissioned and he was an Australian in every way. With his language, and they taught him how to swear and all the rest of it. But we lost him in July of 1942. He was shot down with one of our
crews. He was a very nice bloke but there was a real bond there with Jacques - he was a good fellow.
I forget how many flying boats. We lost a few while I was there but after I left we lost most. 1943 was the worst year, when the most losses occurred. I knew most of the people
who were lost, particularly the pilots and navigators. Not so much the rest of the crew. They were mainly Empire Air Training Scheme people by that time because all the old original permanent people had been sent home. I think at that time there were only about eighteen of us left out of the just on two hundred that were there originally
and the rest were Empire Air Training Scheme.
rough. I can remember one occasion after war started, 3 Squadron was an army cooperation squadron and we were supposed to go up to Scone to cooperate with the army and we got there and it was cancelled for some reason or other and I had in the back of the aircraft with me
enough radio gear to make up a ground station, so that we could communicate with the aircraft in the air when we were on the ground. And coming back it was fairly rough and bearing in mind that we used to fly with a parachute harness on and a flexible wire lead
hooked on the tail of the seat of the parachute harness onto a fixture on the bottom of the cockpit. And it was so rough that a lot of the stuff that I had packed in the back of the aircraft began to move around and I’m trying to hold it all in rather than hold on with the rough. And every now and again it’d
bump and I’d come right out of the cockpit hanging on the end of this string or wire rope, which was quite amusing. There were three aircraft and the other two were highly amused to see me on the end of this wire coming out. But that gave you something to think about. But it was quite fascinating.
we landed in Marseilles on the way to England. We were met by Mr Fairbairn who was the Minister for Air. And he told us that whilst we were the first overseas, we would be joined by any number of people afterwards because they had just signed up to form the Air Training Scheme.
I don’t think there was any differentiation between the two and a number of the earlier Empire Air Training Scheme men when they arrived in England didn’t even know we existed and they were inclined to brag a bit until they learned that we’d been there twelve months or eighteen months before them and then they changed their tune a bit but generally
it was one big happy family. Generally.
as I say I had this in mind where they were always saying that “The permanent people wouldn’t get a job in civvy street” but after about six months I didn’t have any worries at all. I was lucky I made up my mind fairly suddenly to leave the air force because I was doing nothing as I said
and I walked into an Australian General Electric office in Melbourne and enquired as to “Whether there were any jobs available?” When they heard what I’d done during the war they offered me a job on the spot. So I had no trouble. I only stayed there twelve months and I joined Australian Paper Manufacturers, who were
a very good crowd to work for and I was there twenty-seven years before I retired.