Archive number: 180
Preferred name: Lofty
Date interviewed: 20 May, 2003
You are listening to the interview audio
Tom, I was wondering if you could just start by telling us a bit about your family and your life growing up?
Oh I suppose the best thing to start with was as a very small boy I was brought from Victoria, from Melbourne for my father to work at the small arms factory in Lithgow. He tried
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.
Lithgow was also a mining town, wasn’t it?
Principally mining. There was a steelworks there and they established the small arms factory there in about 1911, 1912 because of the proximity of the steel works.
But the steelworks left in 1927 and went down to Wollongong. Well there was a big railway up there where they used to service the steam trains. The place then was principally coal mines. There were coal mines everywhere you looked. But it’s interesting you go back there now and you don’t see one of them.
They’ve all closed. But down at Clarence, which is between Sydney and Lithgow there is an open cut mine. But all the other ones are closed up.
And what sort of work was your father doing in the small arms factory?
He was a machinist. Operating one of the machines there. I don’t know how many worked there during World War
I. I went there to work when I was fourteen because father had an accident in a car and I became the breadwinner as it were.
Did you take his direct job?
Oh no. I started as an office boy and then I was office boy for about two years and then I served my time as an electrical fitter. Which
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.
Before rushing too far ahead to your enlistment I’d like to do a bit more with the sort of place that Lithgow was like, post World War I? Was there an overhang or a hang over of World War I that was evident in Lithgow?
Oh I don’t think so as far as I can. I can remember only Armistice Day in Lithgow 1918 when there was a fair amount of unemployment.
Well that was in the in the late ‘20’s but the number of people employed at the factory would be reduced considerably because they used to work three shifts. I think when I went there were about five hundred. And then in 1929
we were all given our notice of dismissal and only about three hundred were engaged as a result after that. And it was pretty stable at that number. But…
Were there a lot of returned servicemen in Lithgow?
Yes, it was quite interesting because there were returned servicemen everywhere at Lithgow.
In the factory we used to say to them as young fellows, “Well next war it’ll be preference for returned soldiers, so you can go to that as well.” They didn’t like that comment but that’s the way we used to have a shot at them.
How did your father feel about missing out on the First [World] War?
I really don’t know. He had an arm which was bent like that and they reckoned he couldn’t carry a rifle but I think he could’ve
if he wanted to. But he was, he was very active in all sorts of matters. He was union secretary for the whole of NSW in the munition workers, then he was a union secretary for all of Australia and he was an alderman. He was in everything. Whatever was going in the town, father was in the middle of it.
So he had a lot of civic duty or a sense of civic duty
or community mindedness?
Oh he was on the, what they call the Hospital Board which controlled the hospital and he was always running something or other to raise funds for some function around the town. He was always into something. But I don’t know that he ever resented not going to the war.
The name Jensen, is that Danish?
It is Danish. Yes it’s really Yensen
Yensen. Was your father born in Australian or overseas?
Yes, he was born in Bendigo. His father, well I don’t know bout his mother but his father was as they say Danish and his mother was Irish and his father came out in from Denmark
in 1860. In my father’s family he had two brothers, one brother elder and one brother who was younger and a younger sister, so that’s a relatively small branch of the family. At present day
I’ve got a cousin alive and I’ve my son and my cousin’s got two sons and that’s about one patch lot of Jensens. We’ve got no relations in name that ring all the other Jensens around the place. Well maybe going back far enough but we don’t know any contact.
Did the name Jensen attract any
trouble from people around the time of the outbreak of war? The fact that it sounded quite Germanic?
No.. Never got anything like that. I suppose if I’d fallen into German hands if I was a POW [Prisoner of War] it might’ve had some effect. But fortunately that didn’t happen.
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.
How important was the Empire to you?
It’s rather hard question. I
Did you identify strongly with the British?
Well, we did yes. Because we always talked about England at home rather than anything else.
There was a completely different feeling to the present day as I imagine it to be.
And you had that even as a child did you? That sense of England of being home, the Mother Land?
Yes, well because a terrible lot of our friends were English. Particularly when we went to school in the early 1920s there were a lot of migrants
around cause there were English people everywhere.
Can you tell me about your mother?
In what way?
Where did she come from? How’d she come to meet your father?
My mother was interesting. She’s of German descent. Her grand mother came out here in about 1820 I think
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.
Was that sense of family history important in your upbringing? Did your parents emphasise it?
No it wasn’t. I only learned all these things later on. Lot later on. Probably when I was about in my 50s
and the information had to come to us.
Just out of interest, what sparked that interest in pursuing your family history in your 50s?
I don’t know, I got copies of it all and gave them to each of the children, so that they’ve got it all but I don’t know that they’re that much interested in it. My cousin
was very keen on it. He followed it all up but I didn’t.
So we’ll move back forward now to where you’ve been trying to get work down in Sydney. Could you describe for me the advertising , sorry the recruitment campaign? You said it was quite extensive. Can you describe what sort of images were involved?
Oh there used to be photographs in the paper of Hawker Demon
aircraft which you probably don’t know. But it was a, it was a two seater open air, open cockpit type of aircraft and they’d be lined up on Richmond Aerodrome and there’d be a whole splurge in the media about it and they were wanting people to join the air force.
I can’t, I can’t think of anything other than that.
Do you recall the reason why they were having such a large drive for people?
Oh just, well this was in the 1930s and of course Hitler was beginning to emerge in 1934 and they were building up their air force here in line with the, with everybody else to try and combat any
trouble that way.
So you did have a sense of that threat building in Europe during the mid-30s?
I can’t say that I did. I know we used to read about it but I don’t know that it affected us.
So you didn’t have much interest in the political side of things at that stage in your life?
No, I don’t think so. I can’t recall anything like that.
There was always lots in the paper about Hitler marching into the Ruhr and all that sort of thing but I don’t know that it left much impression on us.
So what was it that finally triggered you or motivated you to enlist in it was 1937, is that correct?
1937, yes. Oh probably all the, all the
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 were his arguments?
Oh mainly that there were a lot of new things coming up. For instance in the factory they didn’t have arc welding, if you know what arc welding is. And he said, “Well, we’re gonna have to get an arc welder and we’re gonna do this and we’re gonna do that” and so forth and “There’s a lot to be learned here” and all the rest of it. But that didn’t have any effect on me. I was just determined to go and away I went.
Did you have ambitions to travel?
No, I’ve never had ambitions to travel. It hasn’t worried me. Even now I hear people wanting to go to this place and that place. Never appealed to me. I was very happy with my life generally.
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.
And so what was it about the air force as opposed to the navy or the army that made you enlist with them?
Probably the propaganda that they put through the
media. Oh, there were one or two local fellas that joined the army but I don’t know of anybody with the navy. Although in those days they used to send people from the navy and the army up to Lithgow to learn how the rifle was made and how to repair them and this sort of thing.
And we used to get probably a dozen - what they call them? - Articifers out of the navy and at a time I’d spend about a week or up to a month doing all sorts of things about the place but that never appealed to me.
So what would be your main reason do you think for joining the air
To get out of Lithgow. I was determined to. The idea was that to get into the air force and probably do something in connection with aeroplanes and a new outlook on life. Probably but I can’t say definitely but I thought about it some time
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.
Did you have any sense that you may find yourself in a war? Did that side of the services make sense to you?
No. I didn’t, even with Hitler carrying on the way, that never dawned on me. I never thought afterwards that that might be so.
You mentioned signing up with a couple of mates. Were they friends from at home in Lithgow?
Yes. One fellow worked at the factory and the other was a motor mechanic and we were there right through, well for the first three months we were
on the drill square doing drill and nothing else but drill.
Tell me first about they day that you signed up together. Where did you do it and what was the procedure for enlisting?
Oh we had to report to Victoria Barracks in St Kilda Road in Melbourne where I can remember being lined up with all the others and given the number 2845 and said, “Well,
you’ll never forget this because everywhere you go you’ll be asked your number so that it’ll be imprinted on your mindlaw And then
Just to interrupt 2845, what did that number indicate?
That I was number 2845 in joining. They’d started at 1 when the air force started they somebody carried the number 1. It’s interesting because when we went
to England I got a nominal roll of all the people who went with us. All 186 of us and actually the lowest number was 111. And he was a sergeant. We were then put on trucks and sent out to Laverton and of course when you arrived at Laverton all the people who where there, I would suppose there would’ve been about a thousand
there at the training depot, and the cry went up whenever they saw anybody new coming in. And the cry was “You’ll be sorry.” We always stated “You’ll be sorry.”
What did you think when you heard that?
I don’t know. Don’t know but I distinctly remember it, “You’ll be sorry.” There were probably two or three intakes before us that were still doing this
on the parade ground doing the square bashing as it was.
You were 24 years old at this stage?
I was 24 then, yeah.
So were you quite mature compared to the other lads that enlisted?
There was a number older than I was. One fellow I know was 32. There were a lot of young fellows but they were mainly recruiting people who had been trained
as fitters or mechanics or electricians or one of those, so as to have trained people in but there were a number of what they called aircraft hands general, who could become anything. You know be roustabouts or even mess hands in the kitchen and the likes. Or a pride of blokes who were trained as wireless operators.
But when you first arrived at Laverton, you didn’t have a sense of what your specialisation would be, did you?
Where you recruited for a specific job?
I think I was pretty sure that I was going to be what they called a wireless operator/mechanic. I had to change that to wireless electrical mechanic but most of the other fellows, the fitters
and the like were given the task of fitters or riggers or armourers and there were a few cooks and what do I say- bottle washers and things, general roustabout fellas but mainly I’d say probably 90% were technically trained people.
And how did you adapt to the military discipline?
It was a bit
hard. I sort of took it as it came along. I don’t know that there was any sense about it yet. It just grew on you. You learned that if you had to be somewhere at a place at five at eight o’clock or nine o’clock you were there on time because if you weren’t you were bawled out for it.
You weren’t punished in anyway but you’d be bawled out for it. Which was a good thing.
And was the physical training quite strenuous?
I can’t say strenuous, no but it was, it was constant. And we’d sort of drill for about say three quarters of an hour and then you’d have about a quarter of an hour spell and back in
or you might go and be lectured on air force law or Kings Regulations, so that they broke it up and. But you always had an hour’s PT [Physical Training] at the finish of it for push ups and running at the double and all sorts of things. All gymnastics but it did us a lot of good I’m sure.
So you spent three months
there at Laverton?
I spent 18 months at Laverton or more. I spent 12 months on a signals course where you learned Morse Code, up to 25 words a minute. We had to learn all about the different radio sets that were employed and all that that sort of thing and then after that
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
I just want to get a sense of the time frame that we’re talking about. You enlisted in May of ’37
and was your initial training at Laverton about three months?
That was just purely your drill and basic air force and Kings Orders and?
Yes that’s right
Then you stayed at Laverton but did your specialisation in signals?
And that went for?
And then I did the observer’s course
For six months
Which was at Richmond, is that right?
I left Richmond in December of ’38. I beg your pardon. I’m sorry,
I left Laverton in December of ’38 to come to Richmond in ’39. January ’39.
Did any of your mates pass through into the observer course with you? The two that you started with
Were there strong bonds made amongst the groups out there at Laverton?
Oh yes, I think so. There were fairly strong bonds all around.
Were you feeling happy with your decision to join the air force at that stage when you were doing your observer’s course?
I never regretted it. I don’t think I ever regretted it.
And what sort of planes did you think that you would be observing within at that stage?
Well, the only planes we could be flying in were Hawker Demons or Avro Ansons,
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.
And you mentioned that on the observer’ course that people were drawn from armoury, photography and signals. Were they basically the three skills areas that you need to learn as an observer?
I’d say they would be yes. Yes.
Can you tell me about the training that you did on the observation course?
Well the people who weren’t signals people had to learn Morse code to up to fifteen words a minute. We didn’t have to worry because we had twenty five words a minute. We were instructed about navigation and
meteorology and armourment. The guns and bombs that we would be using and the like in pretty full detail. Then there was the practical side of it. You had to go and do gunnery flying
and bombing. With practice bombs. It kept us fully occupied. As well as the lectures you had to do the practical side of going and doing a bit of navigation which was pretty basic. You’d fly along the coast and
pick out points on the land and so forth. But it was fairly basic.
Do you remember being particularly challenged by any of the stuff in that early course?
No . The instruction was always very good and very thorough. We all followed what the RAF [Royal Air Force] did, which was a pretty efficient crowd. So we followed that
in fine detail in every way.
Were there any elements of the job that you particularly enjoyed?
No, I don’t think so
Did the Ansons or the Hawker Demons use
photography equipment at that stage?
Yes, well the Hawker Demons. Number 3 Squadron at Richmond was called an army cooperation squadron and I don’t know that we did that much of that in the nine or eleven months that I
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.
Interviewee: Thomas Jensen Archive ID 0180 Tape 02
Could you describe for me what the base at Richmond was like in 1939, early 1939?
Well, it wasn’t nearly the size that it is now. There was a hangar for 3 Squadron. Well there were three hangars which are minute compared to what
it is now and the main gate where we all used to go in and out of the place- that’s now in the middle of the station. It’s still there but it’s the middle of the station. They extended the road considerably.
It’s hard to say to what extent it is it has expanded. It’s hard to remember.
How was the air force regarded within the community out at Richmond at that stage?
I don’t know. Most of the people lived in Richmond or Windsor itself.
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.
Would you wear your uniforms into Sydney?
No, no never. We were always
in civvies [civilian clothing]. You only wore your uniform if you were on guard duty which we didn’t have to do or we were on a guard of honour such as for the opening of Parliament or the like, some special occasion or a funeral party but no, you were just always in your, in civvies.
Even on duty at the base you’d be?
Oh well when we were on
duty we were in overalls with a beret or in summer uniform-shorts and socks and so forth. But when you’re talking about uniform I’m talking about blue uniforms. But when the war started you donned your uniform and you never got out of it. You wore it all the time then.
In 1939 the air force was still very tiny. There were about three and a half thousand
Can you describe for me what it was like to be in such a small organisation at that stage?
Well it was like a big club. As I think I said earlier you knew everybody if not by sight you’d know them personally. It’s been described as a big club and that’s what it really was like.
And did you enjoy
Oh yes. There was a real spirit in it.
I guess we’d better go one step at time. Can you tell me about the outbreak of war and when on the 3rd of September you heard about war how you responded?
Well it was quite interesting. The 3rd of September, war was declared at twelve o’clock in
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.
Did you expect to be sent to war when you heard the news?
Oh yes we did. We were quite prepared for that. And as I said, we were talking to the CO of the squadron in the middle of the hangar, the four observers in B flight of 3 Squadron and we expressed our thoughts this way – that we were quite happy to be sent-
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.
There were already sixteen members of 10 Squadron over there, is that right?
Yes and they had started to form 10 Squadron at Point Cook in preparation for the Sunderlands coming out and
they’d sent sixteen of those over to fly them out.
Both air crew and ground crew?
I beg your pardon, they acted as both. But we didn’t have what they subsequently called air crew and ground crew. There were I forget how many pilots but there were wireless operators and fitters and riggers,
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.
What inspired you to go back? Sorry, not to go back, what inspired you join Mark 10 Squadron?
Well I really don’t know. Probably I got the feeling talking amongst the fellows. It was interesting that out of the twelve observers in 3 Squadron there were four of us volunteered all out of the one flight.
Four out of the B Flight all volunteered and the others didn’t.
Were you good mates the four of you?
Pretty well, yes. Pretty good mates, yeah.
Was it a group decision in that sense? Was it group consensus or did you individually decide?
I think we individually decided, yes. But out of B Flight there
was one fitter and one armourer. There was a clerk out of well that wasn’t B Flight but out of 3 Squadron. There was a photographer, a fitter and an armourer and we four observers and a clerk out of the orderly room. We comprised the lot out of 3 Squadron. As I remember
And what did you know of the Sunderlands at that point?
Nothing, nothing whatsoever. Hadn’t seen one either. It was interesting that of the initial crowd that went, there were no observers. The officers were going to do the navigation and fly them. And so it was interesting that we as observers were going to do
the navigation. In 9 Squadron where a friend of mine was an observer, he was told by the agent of the squadron that they didn’t need the observers; that the pilots were going to do the navigation. Consequently, he didn’t volunteer.
So were you given any information or idea of what to expect either with 10 Squadron or with the Sunderlands before you left?
Nothing about the Sunderlands. All we knew it was going to be convoy duties and flying over the sea.
Did the concept of a flying boat sound at all ridiculous to you?
I don’t know. The only thing I thought subsequently was that I couldn’t swim. And that seemed ridiculous.
But at the time that didn’t occur at all.
So how long did you have between your volunteering and your departure?
That’s interesting. That’s the quickest thing the air force ever did. It was relatively short. I know they called for volunteers at the end of October
and we had to do several medical tests and we were sent on leave for about three days in November. It was a very short time. We sailed on the 17th of November. I can remember
that it was a Saturday. And we’d been home on the previous Monday and we had about two days’ leave and a couple of days back at Richmond where we were inoculated for all sorts of things and I think that about sums it up.
Who did you visit on your leave?
I went home to Lithgow to family. My mother had died by then. I don’t think I’d have volunteered if my mother had been alive. Cause she’d have been too worried. My father was as excited as I was. But mother was a different. But we only had about two days back at Lithgow.
You’re father was
excited by your opportunities?
Well, I think excitement probably wasn’t the right word but I think I was given high remarks for volunteering. Let’s put it that way by father.
He was proud of you?
Did you have any concern about leaving him after he’d
just lost your mother?
No, I didn’t I’m afraid. I’m probably very selfish at that but I didn’t. I didn’t, no.
Did you have a strong sense that you might not come back or was that too far beyond your understanding at that stage?
Well, I knew men who were observers during World War I.
They had a different job to do then World War II. But I went away with that idea that it would be fairly short, I can remember that.
Tell me about boarding the ship on 17th of November?
I think the funniest part of it was it was all highly
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.
There was 160 air force personnel on board?
Did I say 160? A hundred and eighty.
A hundred and eighty?
We left on the Oranje as I say mainly Richmond and Laverton and Point Cook and nobody from Adelaide, a couple from Western Australia, there was one who had come down from Darwin
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.
You don’t know the full story behind that?
No. I know that subsequently or years later when I was living here I had to go to Concord Hospital for injections
for my arthritis and one day I went in a Commonwealth car to Concord [Hospital] and there was a fellow and his wife there and when he heard I was in 10 Squadron and he asked me if I knew this fellow with the wife? and I said yes. And he said they were divorced shortly after he came back here. And I think she was
in hospital at that stage and that’s how I gathered all the background to it. But it was a fascinating story.
Did you enjoy your trip on the ship across?
Yes. We used to have PT every day. The four observers or the eight observers as we were then were given instructions in astro navigation by the ship’s officers,
which was interesting. We did the observers course here before the war but didn’t do astro navigation, so that we got a bit of an outlook on it before we got to England. But after we got to England on Boxing Day of 1939 and in early in 1940 we all in turn
had to go and do an astro navigation course lasting about a month. Up at a place near Cardiff in Wales. But we were kept occupied on the ship generally.
Did you have any fears of submarines or aerial bombardment at that stage of the war?
Only submarines. We had to keep watch at various stages. Like the ship
zig-zagged all the way from Sydney to England. And we used to have to keep watch when we got closer to England. In the Mediterranean we were watching for submarines.
Did you stop at Ceylon on the way?
Yes at Ceylon, Aden, Port Said
and then Marseilles. From Marseille, we went overland to Cherbourg across France by train. I think we were in Cherbourg on Christmas Day of 1939.
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.
What was the mood or morale of the troops at that stage?
Oh it was very good. I think the excitement of it all was pretty contagious.
Was there a noticeable lift in that excitement once you had actually landed in Europe itself?
No, I can’t say that. Fascinating crossing France although I can’t remember much of it. Apart from a Red Cross Nurse who was quite interesting. She appeared at the train at some station or other and everybody
started to talk to her and she couldn’t understand English too well. Poor girl didn’t know where she was with the wild Australians.
Excuse me a minute. We’re rolling.
Oh no, the trip across France was pretty uneventful other than that. At Cherbourg, the
army provided - I think that was Christmas Day- stew for lunch which nobody would eat and because they had it served up on the wharf on a big copper like the one that mother used to do her washing in those days. Nobody would eat it and all we got was a route march. We weren’t
allowed to go anywhere to buy any food or anything which was wasn’t good. And then we were put on a ship to go across to Southampton. Or when I say a ship, a small little tub of some sort.
Was that a particularly dangerous journey at that stage?
It probably was but we didn’t realise it. Didn’t think about it. But it was probably the most dangerous part of
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.
How many Sunderlands would be in a squadron?
We had nine and three in reserve.
That was in 10 Squadron?
That was 10 Squadron. I think they’d have been the same in the RAF squadrons.
So there were maybe between twenty and thirty Sunderlands kept there at Pembroke Dock?
At Pembroke Dock.
What was it about Pembroke Dock that made it a good base for the Sunderlands?
Oh well, the amount of water that was there. It was a bit inland.
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.
What were the Sunderlands housed in there? Or where they simply out moored on the water?
Mainly on the water. They were only brought up the slip-way for servicing and when it was a major service they’d be put into a hangar. The tail wouldn’t go in, it’d be too high, just the front part could go in.
about the moment when you laid your eyes on the first Sunderland you’d seen? When you arrived at Pembroke Dock and you saw your first Sunderland?
Well, the first Sunderland we saw was in Colombo in Ceylon and they were on the water. Just sitting on the water there and that was the first impression we saw of the size of them.
And what impact did that have on you? What were your first thoughts?
I don’t know there were any on that except the size of them.
They were much bigger than anything we’d seen. Cause in the 1938 I think they bought out and flew a number of London Zero flying boats, which were a much smaller flying boat than the Sunderland.
Can you tell me about the integration of yourself and the other new arrivals into 10 Squadron there in Pembroke Dock? What was involved in the integration?
That was quite funny. We were all lined up as a squadron on the tarmac besides the hangars and the
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.
So the people who chose to become air crew at that stage, the fitters and turners and those people doing those jobs were
then assigned to particular Sunderlands?
Not necessarily as I can remember. They weren’t even selected by saying, “Well you, you and you are a crew, you are just going to fly.” I think they sorted it more into crews as time went by. But even when we
all started flying operationally in about February 1940 the observers and pilots would fly with a different crew every time they flew. We never became a permanent crew. The observers didn’t even fly with the same pilots everyday.
And that was a difference compared to once the [Empire] Air Training Scheme started, wasn’t it?
Oh completely different.
They were made up in a crew at the operational training unit, then they remained so unless something happened or the like
Which would you have preferred?
Oh I think it was better the way we went. Because looking back on it, I don’t think I preferred it either way.
What do you think would have been the more effective
of the two methods?
I think the selection of air crew as a complete unit is better. Because I know in our case if pilots didn’t like you they gave you a hell of a time. So much so that one fellow who was with us at Richmond
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.
Interviewee: Thomas Jensen Archive ID 0180 Tape 03
Tom, could you tell me about the sort of work you were generally doing out of Pembroke Dock? What was the main duty of the Sunderlands?
Convoy escort. You know you’d go and pick up a convoy wherever it was and stay with it for whatever time you could. I’d be
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.
That must have been particularly challenging at night-time, was it?
Well until we did astro navigation, we didn’t do
night-time work because we couldn’t find our way round. And the night-time work was very interesting. Particularly if it was a clear night you could pick up the stars and so forth. Flying in the Northern Hemisphere’s very helpful from the point of view of the stars because you’ve always got the pole star.
On a clear night when you get a shot on the pole star you know your latitude immediately. Whereas if you were in the Southern Hemisphere you’d need at least two or three stars in order to fix your position clearly.
Was your principal area of operations generally off the west coast of Britain?
we were in Pembroke Dock and Plymouth and they flew principally west of Ireland or down into the Bay of Biscay. At the end of 1940 we were in Oban in Scotland and we were in the North Atlantic then. And that was a different kettle of fish. It was
much more difficult operating over there.
Was that due to weather conditions?
Weather conditions. Yes, yes. The weather in the North Atlantic was pretty horrible. One story we didn’t figure in but the crew of one of the Sunderlands appeared in our mess and told us all about it. They ran out of fuel and they had to land in the sea
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.
And were the great challenges then in determining things like the
wind speed? In those blustery conditions did it make navigation particularly difficult?
Oh yes. You see in the Bay of Biscay and around that area we could fly and we could look at the water and say the wind was in that direction and it’s so many knots and you’d be very accurate just looking at the water but you would take drift on the white caps and measure it and it’d be
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.
Now you mentioned one of the Sunderlands being rescued by the Australia. Was part of the Sunderlands role to look out for crews in sunken ships?
Oh yes we…
Survivors at sea?
We were always on that duty. You’ve probably never heard
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.
Can you tell me about the challenges of landing a Sunderland in a rough sea? Either landing or taking off in a rough sea?
Well I never experienced that. I know people it did happen to but you had to be very particular,
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 sort of circumstances would cause you
to request a landing on the ocean?
I don’t know. Can’t recall that. I know that a number of people tried and I don’t know the conditions under which they would’ve been given permission to land. I know one fellow landed and couldn’t get off again, the sea was too rough and he was being towed and
they had to finally abandon the flying boat. Sink it. I can’t answer that question.
Were there any other types of aircraft at Pembroke Dock?
I beg your pardon, any other types of flying boats or aeroplanes?
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
And there was quite a camaraderie?
Oh yes. The boat people were distinct that way.
Is that what you called yourselves, “The Boat People”?
Yeah, “Boat People” yeah. Well, a lot of the idioms and so forth in relation to expression were equivalent to the navy. For instance
you might be at the base and you’d say, “Are you going ashore tonight?” You know typical navy talk, whereas all you were doing is going into town. You’re going ashore. Things like that.
Were relations relatively close then with the navy, or at least was there a closeness to the naval culture?
Fairly close yes, yes.
Would you be in frequent contact with naval
vessels from the Sunderlands?
I wouldn’t say frequent but if you were on convoy escorts you’d probably talk not so much by radio as by Aldis lamp. You were flashing the light to pass messages and so forth and you wouldn’t speak to them by the radio. My
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.
Now you mentioned that had a lot to do with the Australians that were in the RAF around the countryside at various points. Were the Australians well respected amongst the RAF?
Yes, very much so. Well, because in every service you had some rough necks who gave the service a bad name but generally the RAF people were very good. Because in some RAF squadrons there
were Canadians and RAF Englishmen and Australians all making up crews and so forth.
Amongst the Sunderlands at Pembroke, were there any other Dominion personnel from South Africa or Canada?
Not that I know of. My most direct experience of that
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.”
Was that sentiment of having to prove yourselves as Australians something that was with you throughout the war?
No, I don’t know, I don’t think so. It was just that he sort of wanted to just show
off a bit. One of those things. He’d been flying on with Bomber Command prior to that. He’d finished his operations. But the only other course I was on where there were Australians was on the navigation instructor’s course.
And there was a mixture of everybody there including the fellow who became the Commissioner of Police in South Australia. He and I were the only Australians. But there was no competitiveness about that course. It was just complete it.
Did you remain constantly aware of your difference from the RAF personnel throughout the war or did it get to a point
where you just felt and saw each other as part of the same team?
Much the same team. Yes, we were all there for one purpose and we concentrated on that principle.
What motivated the move from Pembroke Dock to Plymouth for the squadron?
I don’t know but the
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.
Can you describe Plymouth to me?
Well of course Plymouth is famous for Drake and the Spanish Armada.
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
During the war was it primarily a naval port?
Oh yes. I say
yes. That’s not right. The army was there. There were a lot of army barracks all around there. Across the water from us there was an army barracks.
And was it very, was it a very busy place? Was
it constantly coming and going ships?
Yes, war ships particularly. I don’t know what in peacetime it’d be. We had everything anchored close by where we were. I’ll get out a book which might tell me something
a bit more about it.
What were the conditions like that you were living under in terms of your accommodation and food and that sort of thing?
First class. When we first went there I was only an NCO but I was commissioned in the end of ’41 and in the officers’ mess, it was first class.
Well, even as airman, it was a good place to be generally.
So you were there for quite awhile from April ’40 to the end of ’41, is that right?
We were there from April ’40 to the middle of ’41 or March of ’41. Or between March and June. We
were so badly bombed that we had to get out of there. The whole of Plymouth was destroyed. When I say the centre of Plymouth was destroyed. At Mount Batten, we lost the hangar and we lost a boat in it and one on the water. We just had to move away to back to Pembroke Dock in June of
Until December of ’41 when we came back to Plymouth.
When did those bombing raids get particularly dangerous or escalate?
In March of ‘41 they blew the centre of Plymouth away. That was nasty. It was the one of the times I was scared. In July of
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.
Was that a danger? Did a lot of people turn to the drink to cope with the trauma or the stress?
I think a few did, yes. I know after I was married when the air-raid sirens would start, my mother-in-law would have a good glass of whiskey and go down the shelter. But it helped.
No, they were something you lived through but we caught a few around Mount Batten. A lot of people got worse of course.
So was it from Pembroke Dock that you left for Gibraltar
in December of ’41?
December of ’41. No
You said you were at Pembroke Dock til December of ’41, was it? From March to December?
No. I think I left for Gibraltar from Plymouth and that would be about June before Italy was in the war and
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
Did you ever travel with fighter escorts?
No. We were used to what I would call baby-sit for fighter aircraft. They used to send fighters into Malta.
The aircraft carrier would go so far and the fighters would take off to fly to Malta and we used to follow well behind in case any of them landed in the sea and we were supposed to pick them up. You could do that in the Mediterranean as it was a relatively quiet sea.
Interviewee: Thomas Jensen Archive ID 0180 Tape 04
Yes, we were just discussing Gibraltar and the sort of operations you were running out of Gibraltar. They were generally convoy escorts in the Mediterranean?
Not so much convoy escorts as naval escorts and as I say the fighter pilots came in to Malta but
don’t think there was anything special about them. No, apart from the Casablanca thing. That was the only interesting thing to do.
The Casablanca thing taking the photos, was that in a way the Sunderlands acting as a satellite?
It was reconnaissance.
Yes. We wanted to know where the
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
it was highly dangerous.
How did your nerves cope with the operations you were flying?
Oh pretty well I think. I never suffered nervously that way, no. I think I might have got a bit nervous up there - I had a skin rash but it might have been
caused by something else. Drinking too much whiskey I think. But it wasn’t nerves, no.
So, it was only a month that you spent down at Gibraltar during 1940?
Nineteen-forty, yes a month. I think other aircraft or other boats may have been down there at different times but I only spent a month there.
Pembroke Dock the second time or from Plymouth?
From Plymouth you went back to Pembroke Dock ?
In June of ‘41
June of ’41 and how long were you there for?
Six months until December of ’41.
And where was the squadron sent then?
Back December ’41. I don’t think we went anywhere after December ’41.
No, I’m pretty sure we were there the whole time.
Ok, so from
From then until the end of the war.
So what was the idea of six months that you had?
Well the base was one hangar which was burnt out and the various facilities were knocked about. They had to rebuild the hangar and so forth.
There was an oil depot close by that was set alight but that didn’t really affect us. No, it was just that it was just considered too hazardous for us to be there.
In Plymouth, yeah.
So after that six months in Pembroke Dock you then returned to Plymouth for the duration of your?
The duration of the war, yeah.
Sorry that’s where I was confused. And from once
you entered into 1942, is that when you began flying operations up into the North Atlantic?
No, we were up in Oban from about September of 1940 until about March of ’41.
But prior to that
No worries. I’ve got it in my head clearly now.
That’s all right.
And so from Plymouth you
were continuing to do operations out into the Irish sea and continuing down the coast?
More in the Bay of Biscay.
And the nature of those operations continued to be convoy escorts, naval escorts?
Or submarines. Looking for submarines or odd things. We did a lot of ferry work. For instance
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
Did you have any contact with the evacuated troops from Crete?
No but the Sunderlands that we were attached to, 230 Squadron, they were flying troops out
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.
Tom, why did you want to come back to England rather than going home to Australia?
Well of course the war wasn’t on out here then. See Japan didn’t attack America until December.
So that as far as we were concerned in October, there was no war on out here and we wanted to go back to the war. But there was no hesitation .We were given the opportunity. The wing commander came from Cairo to see what we wanted to do. He just said, “Well, what do you want to do? Go home or go back to England?” Everybody said, “Back to England,” so back we went.
Did your feelings
change at all when you did hear of the attack on Pearl Harbour and the landings in Malaya?
Don’t think so. Don’t think so. The most I can remember about that was shortly afterwards I can’t say when but how long afterwards I don’t know. We had two Americans, two American army
Doctors I think they were, who came to the squadron in Plymouth and I can remember their comments. Of course, when we got to Australia we changed everything. We did this and we did that and the other thing. And we felt resentment at that. How dare they change Australia? That sort of thing.
But no, I don’t think we had any feelings that way about it.
Were there frustrations or concerns as news came back of the steady Japanese advance?
Can’t remember. We were probably too occupied with our own problems. We were getting reinforcements from
Australia at that stage but no I can’t remember anything like that.
Well, you’d decided to stay in England and it was fortunate because you met your wife early in ’42, didn’t you?
Can you tell me about meeting her?
Yeah. Well January the 14th we were commissioned in just prior to Christmas and three of us decided to go
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.
And what was her background?
She had two brothers in the navy and one in the army and her father and her younger brother were working in the dockyards on engineering staff and she was working in a timber
yard. She wasn’t in the services. She was the same age as I was but she hadn’t been called up for some reason or other. I’d imagine because they might’ve regarded the timber workers or timber yard as a, what did they call it? A protective industry. But she wasn’t in the services -she was talking of joining the navy
like the rest of them but she never did and…
And your relationship continued to blossom over a period of six months or so was it before you got married?
Yeah, well we were married in August. That was about six months I think after I knew her or met her. That was quite fascinating. We were due to be married on the 8th of August and
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.
What inspired you to get married so quickly? Or to get married at that particular point?
I don’t know.
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.
Did the dangers of the work you were doing
create a spirit of spontaneity or a desire to sort of live as much as you could?
I don’t think so. No, I don’t think that had anything to do with it.
Did you make any plans about what you would do at the end of war? Whether you’d stay there or she would come back to Australia?
No, that’s something that I often
regretted. It was just taken that she would come back to Australia with me. And afterwards we often said we never considered staying in England because a lot of our fellows got married and stayed in England. A lot of them got married and came home here and then went back to England but we never considered it. Just one of those things. And I think if we’d have thought about it we’d have probably stayed because she was very close to her mother.
She’d had four brothers there and one sister but it was never considered.
Why wouldn’t you have considered it?
Never thought of it. Never thought of it. See I was permanent service and she thought, “Well, as permanent service you’ll come home and it’s part of your life.” I never thought of it, I must admit. Cause I wouldn’t have minded staying
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.
Did you expect to enter the Pacific area?
I expected something of that sort.
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.
So the end of war for you is quite anti-climactic?
From that angle, yes.
Do you recall hearing of victory in Europe?
Do you recall hearing about victory in Europe?
Yes, that that was a very funny sensation. I was in Melbourne on a course and I can remember walking up across Princes Bridge and thinking, “Well,
the war’s finished, there’ll be no more flying out of Plymouth at three or four o’clock in the morning,” and all that would be finished. It was a very odd feeling. I can’t describe it really but it was an odd feeling.
Did you feel a sense of relief that your wife would be safe as well?
Yes. Though she didn’t worry about those things. I used to say to her before I left Plymouth
to go up to London, she’d know that I’d be going off flying at sometime during the night and I said, “Did that ever worry you?” She said, “Oh no.” People just got used to accepting those things. What’s to be, would be.
How long was it til she joined you in Australia?
She got out here in September.
Immediately, war was finished they got her on a on a ship very quickly and she was down in Durban while the war was still on in with Japan and just after they left Durban by ship, Japan capitulated, so there were no worries.
Interviewee: Thomas Jensen Archive ID 0180 Tape 05
Tom, I’d like to start off by asking you about the Sunderlands in particular and I’d just like you to tell me what the Sunderlands were like to fly in?
They were like a home. They were very comfortable, very roomy.
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.
What was your work space like?
I had a chart table which was about
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.
Tell me about that incident where you. You said there was one incident where you had to..?
Oh well, we lost the float and on landing, I don’t know whether it was the pilot’s fault or the sea was a bit
rough but it dug in and I thought, “It was going to break off” but it didn’t and I dived out and opened the hatch pretty quickly and there were others dived out before me, so there was no real emergency whatsoever.
And how far off shore was that?
How far off shore was that?
Oh, that was in
Plymouth Sound, it wasn’t out in the water. I only landed outside the break water once and I can’t remember why but we had to land outside. Visibility must have been bad but I’m not too sure, I can’t remember.
Tell me why you tended to work standing up over the table?
easier at the time. See you could move quicker and it was hard to reach to the back of the table if you were seated. I don’t know that it was an exactly comfortable seat. But I found it much easier to stand and bend over the chart table.
Why was it easier, why was it important to move quickly?
Oh, you might want to go forward to
look at something or other over the pilot’s shoulder or talk to him. Although we were all equipped with head phones and a flying helmet, we didn’t use them much. Only, just with our cap, not with the helmet on all the time.
Tell me a bit about the tools of the trade? What were the most important things that you used to work with?
Well, mainly a protractor for measuring angles and a calculator for calculating, making allowance for the wind,
to finely track a course we had a sextant. We didn’t have those early on - they developed those after about twelve or eighteen months and that was a sextant with a bubble in it which you used just by looking straight out and you’d had to keep the star or the sun or the moon in the centre of the bubble depending
upon how good you were with that. But we didn’t have anything else that I can think of.
Tell me a bit more about the sextant and how you used it?
Oh yes, well that, that was interesting. It was an automatic thing. It took sixty shots in two minutes and you sort of had to hold it up to your eye
and look out for two minutes at a stretch. It would be wound up at the start and then it would unwind for two minutes and taking sixty shots.
Shots of what?
Of the sun or the moon or whatever star you were onto. And it would average out the reading so as to give you one single reading and it proved very accurate as well. But
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 what was your approach?
Well, I used it
whenever I could because I found it so useful. Even when I was sent off as the emergency when Churchill went to Russia I took my sextant with me from the squadron and when I got to the place and the other navigators turned up none of them had one. I was the only one with a bubble sextant,
which was interesting.
How do you mean interesting?
Well, I’d have thought they would have been certain to use one. Particularly, the crews who are now BO well they were BOAC [British Overseas Airways Corporation] then. They’re now British Airways and I’d have thought they would have been. Maybe they weren’t issued to them because they were a wartime issue to us, so I was surprised they didn’t have
a sextant. They even wanted to borrow mine but I couldn’t pass it over because it was a valuable piece of equipment.
Tell me about the issue of equipment then? A sextant didn’t stay with the plane. Are you saying it stayed with the..?
No, you were issued as a navigator with a speed and
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.
How was the wind measured?
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.
Did you find the wind would
change a lot?
Oh yes. I mean quite a bit. If you for instance, if you flew out and there was a front you might find that the wind could be 90 or 180 degrees difference one side of the front to the other. So it was important to keep a track of the wind the whole time. At
night we graduated the tail turret and we used to then drop a flare out at night or a flame float which burnt on the water and the tail gunner could measure the drift by turning the turret to look
at the flame on the water and we’d alter course in order to get two or three different readings and then plot it on a chart to actually calculate the wind speed and direction.
So the angle that it had drifted from your course determined the..?
Yes. Well of course if the aircraft was flying in that direction and the wind was coming from there you
would have a track making good in that direction but if you wanted to maintain that track the aircraft headed that way. So that they measured that angle between the aircraft and the way it was moving through the air.
So you’d have a time limit to do that obviously?
No. You could take as long as you liked or
you could be as quick as you liked. At night time you couldn’t calculate the wind speed and direction by just one reading and at night time you’d fly along and then change course for 60 degrees for three minutes to get a different angle and then turn back 120 degrees to get on the same
course that you were on originally and you’d get three different readings and when you plotted that you could tell the wind speed and direction accurately. Which was a big help.
Wouldn’t there be a risk in drawing attention to yourself by doing that?
Well that’s a point. But they wouldn’t know which direction the aircraft was flying or not you
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.
Tell me about dead reckoning? Navigating
by dead reckoning. You said some pilots preferred it?
Well dead reckoning was just plotting the track and the ground speed without seeing any land or anything to position yourself. If you’re flying over the water all the time unless you’re taking sun sights you would only get a position line if it was all done by dead reckoning
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.
And tell me a little bit more about the watch
that you were also issued with?
Oh well, it was just, it was a normal watch with a second hand on it. I mean everybody has them these days but in those days it was a high class Swiss watch and as I say extremely accurate. You didn’t interfere with it in any way. You just noted
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.
So you were issued with a calculator, watch, sextant - was there anything else?
No, the calculator, watch and sextant - they were the main things that you had to have. Of course you needed a pencil and that sort of thing. Parallel rules to transfer position lines on
the chart and that’s the main thing.
Did they become your property or were they returned?
No, they were all air force property. If you lost them you had to pay for them.
Were they expensive?
I don’t know, I never lost one.
If you were allotted to an aircraft you had a watch, which was normally allocated to each aircraft and it was given to you to use and if the aircraft was lost for some reason or other well you won a watch because they wrote everything off against the aircraft whatever was supposed to be on it. Same as a motor car,
if you lose your spare wheel as well as the four wheels that are on it.
Yeah, I never thought of that.
If you could win a watch it was good. Sextants were a bit different - they didn’t write them off the same way. Cause they assumed that you carried that with you. Although you carried
the watch too but for some reason the watches were written off and charged out to individuals.
Was there equipment to use to navigate that was built into the plane?
Only the drift sight where you measured the drift over the water.
Can you tell me a bit more about it? Could you describe exactly what that looks like and where it is on the plane?
Well, it was
just over to the side of the navigator’s table. And it was graduated around on a circle a number of degrees either port or starboard and it was essential that when it was installed that it was lined up parallel with the line of the aircraft otherwise
you’d be inaccurate. But they never varied when they were installed. They were lined up and that was that.
You mentioned before you were lining it up with the movement of the waves, so are you looking through to the sea?
Down looking through a sight glass down straight over. A course, mind you the waves were moving too but the amount that they’d move
was minute compared to the speed of the aircraft. The wind blowing on them would cause the white caps to move.
So wouldn’t current affect that?
It probably did but we never reckoned on that. Currents would affect the white caps. But of course that might have been opposite to the wind direction or the like
but it would only be say the current was normally about five or ten knots, whereas the wind would be, oh anything up to sixty knots and we never allowed for it in any calculations.
So when you’re looking through the sight, how wide is it?
Oh, only about three inches diameter.
Like a little telescope?
And was there a compass?
There used to be a compass up beside the pilot, which he used to fly by. Later on they developed a distant reading compass which was a gyroscopic arrangement and that was fitted down the back of the aircraft and there was a
repeater at the navigator’s table and also at the pilot. But the, I never used that much at all cause the trouble was if it got into a storm or a bad storm and the aircraft was tossed about a lot it could topple the
gyroscope and it was useless then. But I think a lot of people used those later on. Excuse me.
What about radar? Did you ever work with that later on?
Oh yes, we had what they call the ASV [Air to Surface Vessel] radar. I think I flew on one of the first trials of it. It was interesting because the pilot said, “This thing was installed
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.
How was it received?
Was it considered good equipment or?
it was considered good. But it like everything else it improved with time but the early ones as I say were about eleven miles whereas later on you’d get up to eighty miles and it’d be a very big help.
What were your first impressions of ..?
Were you asked to make any report on your
first trial of that that equipment?
No, but whether the pilot did or not I don’t know. But I certainly don’t remember making any.
When was that?
I suppose that would be about the middle of 1940, late 1940. We were in Plymouth. It’d be about
then from what I remember. I couldn’t say that with any degree of accuracy though.
And were the Sunderlands then fitted out with the ASV?
Oh yes, all the Sunderlands were and most of the aircraft were fitted out with it. The various models of it then came up
but I forget how many. I remember the Bomber Command used to use it a lot because they could pick up cities and lakes and so forth on it when they were flying inland. But that didn’t concern us so.
Can you just tell me again what it looked like? How big it was? Where it was?
Oh, it’d be a box about
nine or ten inches square and about eighteen inches long and it had a dial on it about six-eight, six-seven inches. Green in colour graduated down the centre so as to say how many miles and so forth. But it wasn’t anything very fancy.
Something about what the ASV was supposed to do or?
Well, it was supposed to be injurious to you in some ways. A lot a people claimed they got cancer as a result of the rays from it and
I know I was quizzed about it all about ten or twelve years after about “How close it was to us?,” you know from point of view of likely effect. But I don’t know anybody that was affected by it. I’ve heard people say that it did affect you.
How close was it to you?
Oh it’d be about a yard away from
where we were standing normally.
Was it difficult because they had to fit it into the plane afterwards and was there space for it or?
It was normally fitted into the plane after the plane was made and might have been flying for some time but they were added equipment, but it wasn’t lot of equipment. It had an aerial
on it - an aerial for sending a signal out and the receiving aerial for picking up the signal back from whatever the you were looking for.
Interviewee: Thomas Jensen Archive ID 0180 Tape 06
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.
Where would you likely be when you got your form green?
Where were you when say you got a form green?
Well, we were told to go to the operations room. As I say, early on as a navigator you’d be on board the aircraft
and the pilots would come and show you the form green. Then later on you might be in the officers’ mess waiting to be called and then you’d go to operations room and they’d give you the form green.
What’s in the officers’ mess?
Just living quarters and an ante room where we used to sit and wait to be called if there was anything needed. The
dining room and the like but when we were waiting to be called we’d normally play patience cards and so forth. Maybe sleep in the chairs. The same thing with the sergeants’ mess. We used to spend all the time playing cards or billiards or the like. Just to keep ourselves occupied. Because you couldn’t, if you were on the call you couldn’t
go anywhere off the station and you had to be where everybody could collect you if needed.
So was boredom a factor?
Oh yes, you got a bit bored with it all with waiting around and practically doing nothing. Cause you couldn’t even drink in the bar cause you were going flying. The only time we got caught on that
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.
What sort of rules did they have about drinking and flying?
Well, you just didn’t drink if you were going on operations. If you knew you were going on operation you didn’t drink. Because as I say, you could get caught, you got caught occasionally.
Ok, you’d get your form green and that would tell you
would it, when you would be taking off next?
Oh yes. It’d tell you when you were taking off and where you had to be at a certain time and all that sort of thing. What time you had to be back and quite an interesting thing on that, how they were, how they were strict about it. The Sunderland that I was on and which we damaged in Alexandria harbour…
When it was repaired it was taken over by the RAF and the crew in it were shot down off North Africa and the aircraft was wrecked. And when they got back to base it was quite a story. They were taken prisoners by the Italians but in turn they took the Italians prisoners and when they got back to base the pilot was court
martialled because he was a minute late taking off. And the argument being that if he’d taken off on time he probably wouldn’t have met with the German aircraft that had shot him down. He got out of the court martial but that’s how strict they were about the times of take off. And it was most important that you were accurate with those things.
What was the feeling leading up to waiting for an order? Were you looking forward or apprehensive or?
I don’t know that there was any feeling that way because most of the time it was innocuous; you were just going flying but if you didn’t know what you were going to do while you were waiting. It wasn’t until you got the form green that you knew what you were up
to but you didn’t worry about any of that.
So how did you prepare to go on an operation?
I don’t know there was any preparation. The only thing was if you knew that you were likely sometimes you would know say at eight o’clock at night you were
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.
What did you take with you?
Mainly ourselves, that’s all. Nothing else. A lot of fellows used to write letters and leave them behind in case they didn’t come back but I didn’t do any of that sort of thing.
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.
Ok, so you were describing how the flying boats were moored?
They were moored up on a buoy.
There was a certain drill for landing and tying up at the buoy and a certain drill for slipping the buoy to take off. But that was mainly done between the pilot or the captain of the aircraft and one of the other members of the crew. We weren’t involved in that
How would you get aboard?
With a dinghy. A dinghy from the shore. Sometimes you would be half drenched getting from the shore into the flying boat because of rough seas and that used to be a bit uncomfortable but generally it was no trouble.
Would you all go together?
Well all the crew other than the pilot and the navigator would all be aboard, so there’d only be pilot and navigator go at the one time and they’d be last on.
So would you come aboard as a group or would you go out individually?
No, the pilot and navigator would go as a group. Yeah. You’d
make sure everybody was there for a start. If somebody didn’t turn up, well you know you’d be delayed.
You said that some of the crew were accommodated on board?
Oh yes. Well most of the crew other than the pilot and navigator would be on board.
Did they live there permanently or?
Not what you’d call permanently but sometimes
they might have been on say for twelve hours or eighteen hours before they flew and in what we called “State of Emergency,” so as to get off in the quickest possible time.
Just run through again, the make up of the crew on your Sunderlands?
Well that normally would be two pilots, sometimes
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.
And when you went on board to start an operation to get ready for take off, what was the first thing you did?
Get out the
appropriate chart and put all the relevant information on it, so that it’ll be handy and work out the first course we had to fly and be ready for the pilot to ask.
Where were the charts kept?
In the navigator’s table. You lifted the lid up and all the charts were in there. So we would
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.
And was the pilot waiting for you to do your calculations?
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.
So why wasn’t it done before you boarded then?
Well, you wouldn’t know what the wind was.
So the first thing you’d do was to measure the wind?
Well, you would
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 would you make a wind measurement before take off?
No. You’d just kick off and
So how long have you got by the time you got on board until the pilot wanted to take off?
Oh, probably five or
ten minutes. He’d have to start the engines up, warm them up and slip the buoy and that would take five or ten minutes.
So were you under pressure to get your charts done in that time?
Not really, no.
But you set to work as soon as you got into?
You’d start immediately you got onboard, yes.
you’re at the navigators tables, what’s around you? Who is next to you in that space?
Well the back would be the wireless operator tucked away, he wouldn’t be in the way. You’d have all clear space to operate in the whole time. The flight engineer there was a main bulk head along that side of the table and the flight
engineer would be sitting behind that and at this side would be the area where the pilots were and there’d be a walkway at the back of you and the wireless operator would be tucked into his little corner on the side of that walkway. So there were no restrictions that way.
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.
What had to be done before he could take off?
Practically nothing. He could take off without us doing anything at all
And so in the take off are you strapped into something ?
No, we were just standing behind the table or as I adopted the pose of standing and holding onto the handle of the astro dome, so that you’re ready to jump out if necessary. But you normally had by the time he got off the water and sort of circled a bit, you had time to work out a course
if necessary to give him as well. So there were no restriction of time or that sort of thing.
So while your plane is continuing on a course what are the sorts of things you’re doing as he’s flying along?
Mainly checking what the drift is to see that it’s in line with what we reckon it was. If it was within
one degree of what we reckoned it was, we wouldn’t do anything about it but if it was more than one degree we would make the necessary allowance to correct it.
Was that something that required constant attention?
You would check it every half an hour the wind, wind speed and direction. Check the accuracy of what you’d put on the paper, so that you didn’t make a mistake. And plot everything
very accurately or as accurately as you could.
And were there times in the flight when you had nothing to do?
Yes. It was very quiet and nothing to do, I used to sit down and doze but immediately the aircraft moved in any position you’d be wide awake but you’d be resting, but not asleep.
And what proportion of time would you be busy to unoccupied?
I’d normally be kept fully occupied you know, checking and rechecking things and so forth. Checking with the flight engineer as to how much petrol he was using and all this sort of thing. The wireless operator normally never got many messages in, so you weren’t worried about that.
Well tell me about your working with the flight engineer? Was it..?
I don’t know that well. You’re only asking him how much petrol he used the last half hour or something and then you’d check to see how many hours flying you had left in case of emergency. Because sometimes you would be sent on a patrol and be told
to stay as long as you possibly could, so you were trying to calculate that ahead as to when you were going to have to come home After allowing for the wind and various other things.
Were there any times when you came close to running out of petrol?
Not that I can think of. I know
on one occasion one of our boats up in Scotland landed with tanks practically empty. But that was a real emergency. They had a flight up the Caledonian Canal in cloud and an emergency and they sighted water at a place called Invergordon and they just had time to land and get on the water and the engines cut out due to
no fuel. But that was the only time that I know of but I wasn’t on that flight.
Was the galley used during operations?
Oh yes. The rigger normally did the cooking on board and he could prepare a good three course meal if necessary. But funny story in
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.
What were some of the menus?
Oh I can’t remember them now but. They’d have a roast or they’d have a steak and you know vegies and so forth. No trouble at
all. If you had an important visitor they’d be amazed at the meal that’d be provided for them in the ward room.
So you’d all eat together or how did that work?
Oh no, you couldn’t all eat together because we didn’t have space enough for that. But I used to eat at the navigator’s table and I think the pilots used
to go one by one down to the ward room and sit at the table and eat there in the ward room and the rest of the crew used to do the same thing.
So at what point on an operation would you have time to eat?
would vary. Sometimes you’d put the meal up on the navigator’s table and you’d just ignore it because you were too busy. You’d just have to let it get cold or just wait until you were free to eat it.
Was airsickness ever a problem with your crew?
No, not with me fortunately. I know a lot of people who were airsick
but it never worried me.
But did it happen on your flights occasionally?
Not that I can remember. I know fellows before the war, they used to be flying out of Richmond and so forth and they’d be sick every time they flew, which was a bit of a problem but it never worried me, no.
Tell me about the, your typical
operations that you went on - convoy escort?
Convoy escort, or looking just looking for submarines in a certain area. Looking for a ship that might have been damaged or looking for aircrew who had come down in the sea and seeing if there were any around, anybody remaining.
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.
How did you go about escorting a ship or a convoy?
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.
Did you ever escort a convoy
in company with other planes?
No. You would quite often be relieved by another flying boat or another aircraft. You’d be due to arrive at a certain time and you’d be looking for him but you never patrolled together. Apart from one time in the North Atlantic when
a big Condor four engined German aircraft attacked the convoy that we were escorting and there was a bit of a gun fire between the two of us. But no damage was done to either one but that was the only time that there was any enemy action like that.
Can you tell me a bit more about that day?
I don’t think there was much more to tell except that you know
he was firing pot shots at us and we were firing back at him but.
How far off was he?
Oh, he was too far for us to reach but they, we still fired at him but it didn’t last more than a couple of minutes and he cleared off. See what the Germans used to do, they used to send these Condors out from Norway and they’d circle right around the British Isles and come
back into France looking for convoys to direct U-Boats onto but they did that quite a lot but that was the only time that we struck one of them or saw one of them. Whether anybody else saw them at other times I can’t remember.
Did he, did they attack the ship?
No, they didn’t attack the ships. After we’d fired a few shots at him he cleared off.
Where there other occasions where you
saw German aircraft?
No, I had a very uneventful tour or two tours I should say. I didn’t see much at all for which I was grateful.
Still you never knew what could happen, every flight was a possibility?
Well there was always the possibility, yes.
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.
Interviewee: Thomas Jensen Archive ID 0180 Tape 07
Ok, can we continue with that story you were telling me about the blockade runner and…?
There’s not much to tell really except that we were flying along quietly minding our own business and the tail gunner reported somebody was firing at us. Next thing he said there was a ship at the stern of us and
he could evidently see the tracer of the shells that they were firing at us. But it only lasted say ten seconds and it was all over. We never actually saw the ship, at least I didn’t. I just heard all the comments from it.
Whereabouts did this happen?
Oh somewhere in the middle of the Bay of Biscay. He was trying to get into
France running supplies I suppose from some German place or even Japan in those days. They used to try to bring all sorts of things in.
How far would you escort a ship?
Oh well, talking about convoys. Convoys used to travel
at about average of ten knots. Well you might be with them for say six or eight hours and we’d travel anything up to about eighty miles before we would have to. We’d normally spend about twelve hours away on one of those things.
But not that long really.
So you were escorting them when they were coming six hours into land?
Yeah, relatively short distance away. The Catalinas had a longer endurance than we did and they were known to
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.
What sort of communication would pass between the ships and the plane?
Practically none at all. We used to count the ships and sometimes the navy vessel escorting
would flash an Aldis Lamp and ask us a question or pass information but not often. Mainly we’d identify ourselves to him and that would be the end of it. And we’d float around after that.
What do you mean by float around?
you weren’t landing the?
Oh no, we never did that.
So why would the flying boats not land on the water at any stage?
Well in most in most cases it wasn’t needed. In some cases it did and some cases they were lost by
landing - they wrecked it and sometimes they didn’t. This didn’t happen often. It was, very occasionally one would land and then couldn’t get off again because the sea would be too rough or it’d be damaged when it got off. But it was only very rare that they landed.
What were the main difficulties with
navigating in the Sunderland?
The weather principally. If it was bad weather and rough and so forth it was very difficult doing anything accurately, even to taking drift. But normally it was no trouble at all. I know one particular time in the North Atlantic,
we flew for hours and hours and didn’t seem to get anywhere at all. The wind was so high and we were miles out in our navigation when we turned around to get back to base. But that was the most difficult one that I can remember.
And what was the most common operation you would be on?
Well I suppose just looking for submarines generally. Then came convoy escorts.
Tell me about looking for submarines. What sort of position would you be given to fly to for that?
Oh, probably just an area you know.
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.
And would you have depth chargers and things?
Yes, at one stage we carried bombs but then we had specially made depth chargers. Used to carry up to eight of them and try and drop those on him but the
only time we dropped anything was when we were doing it for practice and that was all very uneventful. I was one of the many that flew for hours and hours and saw nothing. It all helped I suppose in the long run.
Was it frustrating not to find the submarines
Oh, you’d get a certain satisfaction I suppose if you did. But I never experienced it. Some fellows were always seeing something but I never saw anything at all.
So tell me a bit about some of the men that you worked with?
You were quite affectionate about the planes, the Sunderlands? I’m just wondering about the team?
Oh yes, they all thought they were marvellous things to fly in. There was a certain affinity between the flying boat and the crews because they were so comfortable. I don’t know that they were so reliable.
The engines used to give quite a bit of trouble. At one stage we were getting engines due to be changed, we’d get reconditioned engines that had been used in Bomber Command and they seemed to give a lot of trouble but later on bout the Mark Five Sunderland they
put Pratt and Whitney Wasp engines in them and they were a big improvement. They made it faster and much more reliable. But it was quite common for it happened reasonably often but a boat would be coming home and it’d blow a cylinder off one engine. Come home on three engines. That used to be a bit scary. It never happened to me fortunately.
Tell me a bit about some of the characters that you worked with on the Sunderlands? Your pilots that you worked with or?
The pilots were normally pretty run of the mill [average] except one of the very early ones. But I don’t know that there was anything
particularly interesting about them generally. Most of them were good fellows except that one. He was a bit snakey. But the rest of the crews, well they were fairly general run of the mill of people you know.
And how were the crews put together for operations?
Well it just happened, I think. I don’t think it was organised in any way.
There was no selection done early on and later on they sorted themselves out and organised themselves better but the original crews, it was just a case of who wants to fly? And all those who want to fly move over to one side and the rest of
them will be ground maintenance people and that’s the way it went on.
But the people that you flew with in the Sunderlands, did that crew stay as a single unit?
Well they did principally, apart from the navigators and the pilots. And as a navigator early on we’d take it in turns to fly. There
were eight navigators and if one flew today it was somebody else’s turn to fly tomorrow. Even if the pilot that you flew with today was still flying again tomorrow you didn’t fly with him. Somebody else took their turn so that everybody got an equal share of flying. Later on the crews more or less separated themselves out and became permanent crews and they always
flew together but we didn’t. We got used to flying with everybody. Every pilot in turn. Good bad and indifferent.
What are the advantages of that system or do you think it’s a..?
Oh, it seemed to work the system we had. Except as I mentioned yesterday one particular pilot took a dislike to one
navigator and the navigator got such a rough time that he was thinking of being sent home until another pilot said, “In future, sergeant so and so will always fly with me to avoid the nasty character.” We didn’t have much trouble that way generally.
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.
Tell me then about the operations where you were looking for survivors
of sunken ships?
In what way?
How did that differ from other operations in what you did or?
You would normally be told “That a ship had been sunk in such and such a position” and you’d go and look to see if there were any survivors in the water, not that you’d find people in the water but there might be a boat there with bodies with
individuals in it, dead or alive and you’d see one of those occasionally. Or you might find the ship still burning and sinking but they normally indicated that there was something in trouble in that area. Nothing fancy about it.
So, would you pick up any survivors or?
We never attempted to pick up anybody.
So what was the role of the plane?
Just to find them. Just to find them. I suppose if the seas had been reasonable and you know not rough they might have attempted to land but it never got to that stage.
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.
Were there other occasions where you came across people in boats?
No. I think I saw one or two boats with bodies in it but nothing else.
How long they’d been at sea adrift and when they’d died I wouldn’t know.
So the main role was a spotting role for the..?
OK. So tell me about coming back from an operation and then
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.
So what happened when you came back to your base?
Well, you’d normally go ashore to the operations’ room and hand in your
log and say what you’d found and seen and so forth and they might ask some questions as to “The furthest point you went and also what the weather conditions were like on the way” and the like for generally forecasting as to what it was likely to be like in the future.
And what was the mood on returning?
Well, if you were out in your navigation you were a bit fed up but generally you were quite happy to be home again sort of thing.
Was there a sense of danger about what you were doing?
so because you never knew what you were going to strike, whether you were going to strike other aircraft and German aircraft, I mean and, or anything in the way of warships or submarines or the like. But I never experienced that. Most uneventful.
Were there times though when there was an element of fear about some of the things you were doing?
Oh yes, there was always that. For instance when we were doing what they called the cross over patrols looking for these two German warships coming out of Brest you knew that if they attempted to come out whilst you were there, there’d be so
many aircraft patrolling to shoot the likes of us down and that you’d be certain to be shot down because they would make sure of that, so that we couldn’t report any movement of the ships back to base for the Royal Navy to do anything about it. So that was a danger and there was always a dread.
What about accidents? Was that an ever present risk?
Oh I suppose that that was always present. As I said though the only time that that we looked in any danger of losing a float but that only happened once. No, I ’m very lucky I didn’t get into any trouble those ways.
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.
And what did it feel like that time you came under enemy fire?
Oh a certain amount of fright because you know when you’re under
enemy fire. At least if you’ve got something to do and you’re occupied it doesn’t seem so bad. But if you’ve got nothing to do other than sit at a navigator’s table and listen to what’s going on, it’s particularly frightening I found.
Did you react physically?
Except that my knees knocked together with fright.
So at that point you didn’t have any navigational..?
Nothing to do. I was just sitting at the navigator’s table. No, in the bombing raids I also found that if you’re just sitting in an air-raid shelter, cold sober it was rather frightening because you could hear
bombs falling and getting closer to you and they’d drop a stick of bombs you could hear the noise in the distance. It gets closer and closer and you don’t know whether the next one’s going to hit where you are. And of course as I said yesterday, the worst one in Plymouth was the first night they raided Plymouth and there was a sergeant who had been drinking in the mess and he was sitting in the same air-raid shelter and he was oblivious to all the noise and
trouble. So I finally got a few beers in the next night and it didn’t worry me. It helped absolutely.
What were people doing in the air-raid shelters when the bombs were falling?
Just sitting. Sitting. You could see some people crouching as though they were trying to get out but you couldn’t do anything else. Nobody was reading a book or anything
Did people talk?
To a certain extent, yes. One funny incident. This wasn’t to do with bombing. In London, it was quite interesting. I was living at a place called Ealing Common, or boarding there with another Australian air force fellow and we used to get the train at Ealing Common
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.
Did a similar sort of camaraderie develop in air-raid
I guess so, although you were normally in an air-raid shelter with different people each time. I used to feel sorry for the people in the tube stations in London who used to sleep - whole families would sleep in the tube station. We would only get in there to travel from
point A to point B but these people were virtually living there each night. The air used to get a bit foul and you were stepping over bodies in order to get into the trains and so forth. And they had a particular affinity with one another, they made real friends of one another with children and the like but I never struck any of that.
Tell me what you were doing in
In Ealing. Oh living in a private home, we were boarding there. And I was in London for about twelve months while the flying bombs were coming over. They’d be the rockets which were the dangerous things the V2s as they were called,
they were being shot into London from Northern France and also from Holland and around that way. But you wouldn’t hear them coming, you’d only hear the explosion when they hit which was rather frightening. But fortunately they kept the news from most of the people in London by telling them that a gas main blew up rather than it was a rocket but
that didn’t continue for long before the invasion took those places over and stopped it all. But by that time I’d left. I was on my way home.
What were you doing in London?
I was stationed at overseas headquarters and
travelling all around England but London was my base. And I was investigating and checking up and learning all about the latest radio aids to navigation. Had a roving commission.
Was that interesting work for you?
Oh very interesting, yes. I used to get home to Plymouth, this was after I was married, about once a fortnight. The rest of the time
I was travelling anywhere from Scotland or up to the Shetland Island or anywhere where there was anything going on.
Tell me a little bit more about the sort of equipment you might be looking at?
Oh well, the most notable thing was the radio aid called Decca,
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.
Was this a promotion for you? Was this a kind of a promotion that you got into this job?
Well the thing was after I finished my flying, I thought that for the future
it’d be helpful to get into signals in the radio side of things and all the latest developments and I found myself doing that before I came home to Australia, so as to have all the latest information. Not that it was any use out here but they thought that they should have it all.
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.
So what sort of places would you be visiting?
Any technical, experimental
places and so forth. I’d fly on aircraft that were developing night fighter aids so that they could find enemy aircraft getting
into England without being seen and find them without the Germans knowing that they’d been found, so that they could be shot down. It was all highly technical.
Was it private industry that you were?
Private industry and development and Government institutions developing all these things. Quite interesting the amount that was going on.
And how long were you doing that before you came back?
Oh about twelve months. Then they sent me home to do nothing.
Interviewee: Thomas Jensen Archive ID 0180 Tape 08
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
unbeknown to us. In other words we weren’t kept up to date with any developments out here and that was very surprising. But no frustration. We were always, I think, busy with what we were supposed to do. The only frustration I felt was when I got back
and found there was inactivity here compared to what I was doing in England.
Did you ever feel that your role in the war had been diminished by serving overseas for the duration of the war?
No, I think the reverse to that. By
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
Were you surprised that you weren’t sent up to the Pacific theatre?
Well I was. I went to Darwin for three months instructing navigators but I was dead scared of being sent up to New Guinea amongst the horrible skin diseases that everybody got up there because I was rather sensitive to that sort of thing and I was glad I didn’t get that. But I
wouldn’t have minded going anywhere else . Whilst I was training these navigators I went on one or two trips where they bombed nothing. They used to drop bombs in the jungle in certain areas on islands here and there. You never saw anything move and you’d never know whether you hit anything or not. But it seemed to be a waste of time to me. But this was
what actually happened.
What was the recreation like when you were posted in England? Give me an idea of the sort of things you used to do on leave?
Oh, we mainly visited all around in whatever city or area that was interesting. Visiting all the cathedrals and the like. Not
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.
Thanks. Did you feel any prejudice existed against any Dominion air crew?
No. It was quite fascinating the welcome we got. People couldn’t be more pleasant. For instance they’d come along, they’d stop you in the street and say,
“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.
Ok. Thank you. How did you feel about the German tactic of bombing London and other cities?
Not very nice. When France fell, I didn’t realise the
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.
And how did you feel about the tactics of mass bombings adopted by the Allies?
Well I think the Germans deserved all they got because they started it in the beginning. And they started it on London. I think it was unnecessary but I
think the Germans deserved all they got. I had no worry about that.
How fatalistic were you?
Oh, how would you judge that? I just accepted the fact that what happened, happened; it
was what was going to be. If I was going to be shot, well I’d do everything to prevent it but if it had to be it would be and so forth.
Did you feel a bond with other Australians being so far from home?
I can’t answer that accurately. But there was a
certain bond there definitely. Because if somebody was going on leave and you normally leant them if they didn’t have any money - you leant them money and so forth and they reciprocated, so I think that was in the majority of cases. There were some characters you wouldn’t, because they were unreliable but that created a
bond I feel, sure.
Was it a stronger bond than perhaps you felt with other nationalities or was it no different?
Oh I think, no I think the services generally you bonded in pretty well.
So you weren’t sort of closer to other Australians than you were to other servicemen of other nationalities?
Well, the only other nationalities of servicemen we struck were the RAF
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.
Were there a lot of losses in your squadron?
Overall, yes. When I say overall yes, relatively. I think we lost about 230 bodies.
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.
Was there any sense of respect for the enemy amongst the air crews?
I don’t say that.
Respect for the German pilots for example?
Oh I suppose there was a certain amount but I can’t be specific.
Did you make distinctions about the different opponents you had? The Germans? The Italians?
Oh yes. Well the Italians were a joke but the Germans were viewed quite differently.
In what way?
Well I dunno. The Italians didn’t seem to have the same fighting ability as the Germans. The
best way I can describe that is when the Sunderland that I left behind in Alexandria, when that was shot down by the by the Germans in North Africa, the crew when they got ashore they were taken prisoner by the Italians and after a few days
the RAF took the Italians prisoner of war. So I think that speaks for itself. That wouldn’t have happened with the Germans.
How did they manage to do that?
I don’t know. I don’t know.
What about the French enemy?
Oh, there were very mixed feelings about the French.
As I say, we had this one Frenchman with us and he was highly regarded but there was another Sunderland squadron in Oban who had two Frenchmen with them. Two or three Frenchmen and they weren’t very highly thought of as individuals. I think the fact that France capitulated so
easily, there was a certain feeling against them by pretty well everybody.
Can I just extend that perhaps and just ask then about the Japanese enemy - did you have any particular feelings about them?
No, because we didn’t have any contact amongst them at all. The stories you can get of the way they executed the number of Australians
of course, that created a lot of bad feelings, particularly the pilots who were executed and beheaded by the Japanese in New Guinea and the nurses who were shot as a result of escaping from the hospital ship.
You’ve probably heard that story where they were machine gunned when they were in the water. Sister Bullwinkle and company, and that created a lot of bad feeling towards them.
When you were in Darwin there was the possibility you might have fought the Japanese?
Yes but we never saw anything of them. The Japanese were virtually defeated then
you see in ’44, when I was there. ’44, ‘45, that was close to the end of the war generally.
But did you feel differently about Japanese to the Germans as an enemy?
Only, principally to the fact that they’d executed so many of our fellows when they were taken POW. They didn’t recognise people who were POWs - you weren’t supposed to surrender,
regardless of the circumstances.
Can I ask how badly did the loss of fellow squadron members affect the squadron?
Not too bad. Normally you had a drink towards the fact that they didn’t come back but
that was the general atmosphere. There was no other feeling that I can recall.
Was that a sort of ritual? Did you always sort of toast the ones that didn’t come back?
Oh, not so much a ritual but we remembered them that way.
we’ve got a question here about the flying itself. Why did you like flying?
I did like flying. I think in the preliminary interview you asked me “Did I ever want to be a pilot?” No, I never did for some reason, I can’t say why. But I don’t know why I didn’t.
I was quite keen to become an observer or to fly generally but I never wanted to be a pilot. A number of the fellows on my signals course, originally at least two of them got flying courses after they’d completed their signals course. But it
didn’t worry me, I never thought of it.
What did you like most about flying?
I don’t know. I can’t answer that particularly.
Were there any parts of the experience you liked more than others?
Flying in a Hawker Demon in an open cock-pit in the backseat of a Hawker Demon or in the back of a Tiger Moth
with the fresh air around your ears and so forth, that was a good feeling. Flying in an enclosed aircraft was completely different.
But there was a certain thrill about flying in the open aircraft.
So what sort of things did you think about while you were
up in the sky?
Well as observers we were mainly occupied. Don’t know that you could say you could think of anything particularly. No.
Was there any difficulty focusing on your job?
Oh, on occasions it could be very
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.
What were the relations like with the ground crew?
Oh good. They were quite good. Just after war started and you were allocated an aircraft and you used to look after it with the ground crew as well. Then at the end of the week we’d have to have to wash it down and all this sort of thing and.
What about the ground crew at like Pembroke?
We didn’t have much contact
with them at all. We knew them all of course but we didn’t have much contact with them.
Why was that?
Well they just seemed to be occupied with other things. We weren’t in the hangar with them. We had crew rooms away from the hangar. So that the only time you saw them was after work when you went to the pub or the, if you had to go in the hangar. You didn’t see that much
of them. They mainly made friends amongst themselves and we made friends with the rest of the people who were flying.
So was trust in the ground crew a very important element?
Oh yes. We always trusted them. We always knew that everything would be right.
Was there ever any circumstance where the trust was compromised?
Can’t recall any.
Ok. What about your relations with the other services? Did you have much to do with the army for instance?
Not much at all. A bit with the navy, practically nothing with the army. The navy a bit, but not as much as it could have been. We had a lot of contact with the RAF of course. And
we used to associate with them quite a lot.
Well that’s the end of those questions. I’ve finished with the campaign.
Tell me, I’m interested to know what your personal opinion of the Empire Air Training Scheme is?
My personal opinion of it?
Well, the first we knew of it was when
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.
There wasn’t any divisions caused by the..?
I don’t think so. The only thing I can remember is towards the end they used to say to us, “Oh you people are in the air force, you’d never get a job outside.” Because you know they were so service minded and so forth and that worried
me a bit when I left the air force, until I found that in the job I got in Melbourne, I was equal to anybody that was working around me. I knew as much if not more than them. But that used to irritate me a bit but it was only certain individuals that carried on like that.
Tell me a bit about adjusting to post war life? Was it difficult to settle back into civilian life?
I thought it would be but
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.
So how do you think going through the war affected you or changed you?
It broadened my horizons in lots of ways. I became much more confident as a result of what I’d been through.
Cause I was virtually a country boy when I joined the air force and wasn’t sure of things at all.
Do you ever dream about the war?
No. Oh no, never dream about it. I think about it but all I think of are the good times and I never think of the horrible times of which were a few. Oh good and bad in everything.
No, I often think of how inexperienced I would have been if I hadn’t joined the air force. Inexperience from the point of worldly matters. As I mentioned yesterday they were training me for a certain job at
Lithgow which I knew nothing about and I’ve often thought if I’d stayed there, what a limited experience I’d have had.
Well we’re just coming up to the end of this tape. Is there anything else that you would like to say for the record?
Yes. I would like to say that I think the air force did me the world of good in lots of ways
and so much so that I’m convinced that it would be a proper way for every young bloke or if necessary for every young women to be in one of the services at some stage. Even to the extent of completing their education at university to do it under miliary discipline. I think we’d
be better for it. Not everybody agrees but I think it would be a better thing.
OK. Have you anything more to add?
I don’t think there’s anything else.
Well thanks very much for all your time.
That’s all right. It’s a pleasure.