the care of an Aunt and Uncle who lived on a farm at Jenolan Caves. That was when I was 5. And I stayed there at Jenolan Caves in this little farm just down the creek from the Blue Lake, ‘til I suppose I was almost 7. Then my sister and I who was also with me, we shifted with the Aunt and Uncle to a new job. They went into the post office.
My Uncle was a digger [soldier] from World War I, Gallipoli and France, right through. So Repat [government repatriation] looked after him. They moved into the post office at a little place called Trunkey Creek which is out between Oberon and the Wyangala Dam sort of thing…the south of Orange I suppose.
We were there for just over a year and moved on to a better post office at a Soldier Settlement [post war rural resettlement program for servicemen] area called Leadville. That was between Dunedoo and Coolah. I was there from 1937 through til 1943,
but the last year I actually spent boarding at Mudgee at a high school. That was only possible because I had won a high school bursary. Things were difficult in those days. Everyone was very short of money. Fortunately at the end of that year the Aunt and Uncle moved back to virtually Taree where I was born.
They had the post office there at a little town, Cundletown on the road from Taree. So I was back to my birth place, and back to high school at Taree. I completed high school at Taree and left there in 1948 at the age of 17…having obtained my Leaving Certificate to do an apprenticeship with de Havillands [aircraft company] at Bankstown in Sydney.
I boarded in Sydney for several years and worked as a builder’s labourer on my days off…if you could call them days off. There were very very low wages for apprentices in those days. And before I completed my apprenticeship I found out that the air force was taking pilots.
I had already done a little bit of private flying while I was at school. I managed to get my pilot’s licence. So I was possibly a good candidate for the air force. There were a large number of applicants, 1200 I believe. However I was fortunate enough to get in. I went on 5 Course…post war course at Point Cook.
That was an 18 month course and it started in February 1950 and finished in August 1951. Now the Korean War started in the middle of 1950. Before we finished our course we had a fair idea that if we did go on to fighters we would proceed on to the operational training unit at [RAAF; Royal Australian Air Force base] Williamtown and from there to Japan and then into Korea.
That’s precisely what happened. I went from 18 months at Point Cook to a few weeks at [RAAF base] Archerfield to do a Mustang [aircraft] conversion. That was the single engine fighter which was used as a trainer in those days, and then to Canberra to do some more of that because the OTU [operational training unit] at Williamtown was busy. As soon as they had a position for us
at the OTU, my group of five moved up to Williamtown and we spent a few months there completing the Mustang, and then we did our jet engine conversion onto the Vampire single engine jet. That put us amongst the very first Australians actually to fly jets. At this stage the squadron, 77 Squadron was just getting their twin engine Meteor jets.
When we finished our training we went to Japan and had a brief conversion onto the Meteor and then we went across to Korea and spent most of 1952 in Korea on operations. When I had finished there I came back to Australia, had a bit of leave and I was posted on to Mosquitos which was the aeroplane
that everyone wanted to fly. I was one of the ones who wanted to fly it. I had actually been involved to some extent in the manufacture of these. And I was delighted to get onto the Mosquito. I had good fortune I think to be on them at the very beginning. Twelve months later there wasn’t to be any Mosquitos. We put
them in storage at Tocumwal after 15 months on operation in photographic reconnaissance. And then I moved to there onto 11 Squadron and anti submarine twin engine aircraft…you might call it for what of a better phrase. And
we did the joint anti submarine course at Nowra, the naval station at HMAS Albatross at Nowra. Then we participated in Operation Satex at Manus Island at the north of New Guinea. That was a big operation. Took about a month. Then came back and I was still on the aircraft for another 6 or 9 months.
Then they posted me to a Senior Weapons Officer’s Course at East Sale. Now this was quite a thing because there was a good chance that it carried with it a permanent commission and promotion and all that sort of thing. It was a specialist course. But it didn’t fit in with my plans. I had been married for a while and my wife was having
our first child, and we had almost finished having a house built out at Wentworthville. And all this was going to disrupt these plans very badly. So Qantas were taking pilots. So I resigned my commission and went to Qantas. I was on the Super Constellations [aircraft] and a couple of years later…it worked out from the point of view of my wife’s health
that my job with Qantas was untenable. They did offer me as an alternative a posting to the UK [United Kingdom] which would have had promotional probabilities. But that also would have been the wrong sort of living conditions for my wife who was an asthmatic, and we had a new baby. So I got a job…I resigned from Qantas and I got a job with what you might call
Singapore Airlines. Actually it was Malayan Airways Limited in those days. It was the forerunner for Singapore Airlines. My family and I were there living in Singapore. We had a daughter while we were up there as well. Jeanette was born in 1960 at which time Geoffrey was 4 years old. We kept on there for another few years and
then when it looked like it might be difficult to get back into civil in Australia and the kiddies were really starting to need to be back in Australia for school purposes, I resigned and got a job with East West Airlines in Sydney. And I was with them for the next 25 years based in Sydney. Then
I suppose that is pretty much the end of my flying career. I had a stroke in 1986 and that put me out of flying. I was 56 years of age. And that put me out of flying. The stroke was quite debilitating.
I couldn’t speak properly. I couldn’t speak at all at times and I was very distressed by it. But I was one of the very fortunate ones where the brain sort of patched itself up and slowed me down a bit but I’ve been okay really since then. After 6 months or so I thought I had been find something else to do and a policeman friend suggested
I might like to see a friend of his who was in charge of private investigation with the Government Insurance Office. So I did. I saw him and I had a few interviews with them and they agreed that if I could get a private investigator’s licence they would not exactly employ me but they would take me on contract work. So I was successful in doing this. It’s a bit of a long story but I then had
work from them on a consistent basis. I formed myself up as a company. I then found that work came in from the Crown Law Office. So I was very busy on government work for the next 7 years. Very busy. And it was very fulfilling. That came to a bit of a stop all of a sudden when I had heart problems and I had to stop work and have a quintuple heart bypass.
I was subsequently offered work again by the Government Insurance Office. I said I was finished. I wasn’t going to do any more. “I’m going to play the guitar from then on.” So that brought to an end my working career and at that stage we had moved. Very comfortable and very happy and I’ve
just been enjoying myself with other things. That’s it.
born in 1954, another one in 1960 and the last in 1964. So about four years apart. Boy, girl, boy. Geoffrey, Lynette and David. Geoffrey who is a Qantas Captain now on 747s [large commercial aircraft]. He’s been a Qantas Captain for some years now actually. David is also a Qantas pilot. He was an Ansett pilot but lost his job. But he was very fortunate. He got into
Qantas. Sometimes they actually fly together. That’s quite something. Our daughter who lives below us here with her 2 children has been running a wonderful dancing school since she was about 19 or 20.
And that’s been doing very well indeed. So we’re very proud of all of our children. And we also now have 5 grandchildren. Four boys and one girl only unfortunately. She lives downstairs. And interesting enough…did I say five? No, six.
Three grown up grandchildren and 3 babies under the age of 2. So it’s hard to come to grips with it really. You think of them as being as almost being great grandchildren.
We had vegetables and fruit trees, pigs, chooks, turkeys and plenty of foxes I might add. It was quite sparse and wild living there. We were right down amongst the…well the bush and animals and the trout in the stream.
There were no other people around. No other buildings or roads or traffic or anything like that. I caught my first fish there. A rainbow trout. I caught it on a bent safety pin, and I remember it clearly because it was then that I saw my first aeroplane. I flipped the fish out of the water and I grabbed it with great excitement and at that very
moment my very first aeroplane flew over the hills and I forgot about the fish for the moment, and I could actually…I thought I could actually see the pilot. He was very low and it was turning slightly as it passed over head. I said to myself, “I’m going to be a pilot.” And that was it. I never changed from my mind from that day on.
Can you tell us a bit about your Aunt and Uncle? Obviously they became almost like your parents I suppose?
Yes. Well the Aunt was one of 10 children. My mother was the only other girl. There were 2 girls and 8 boys. And they were people who were brought up on the Manning River. Strict sort of Church of Christ people. Their father was a Lay Preacher in the Church of Christ and he would
have them all off to church of a Sunday. They’ve all served in the wars in one way or another, and it’s quite a story attached to most of them actually. And of course my father was a regimental sergeant major. My Uncle served at Gallipoli and France. So I came from a military background.
And my Auntie had 3 children of her own, and she had been divorced also. And then she met who I called Uncle Eva. That was the Uncle from World War I. He had been very badly wounded but he became quite an active man.
They sent him under Repat to Hawkesbury Agriculture College. That was his wish and that’s why he got the little farm at the Caves. There was no money of course.
What about that Soldier Settlement area. Can you tell us about Leadville?
Yes. It was a very thriving community. What they’d done after World War I, they had parcelled up this land and given it to the returned servicemen and they paid for it as the years went by but at a very good interest rate I would think. And sheep. There was a small village called Leadville. They had a lead mine there but that
was closed. The actual mine building and derrick was still there but it wasn’t working. The industry there was the wheat and wool and nearly all the farms were peopled by ex-World War I servicemen. And there was a train that came through. The line has gone now. It came through up to Coolah, from Dunedoo, through Leadville and
to a little station called Wearyman, and up to Coolah. It used come through about twice or maybe three times a week. And if I wanted to go to school at Mudgee I got on this train and it ran me through probably Dunedoo…I can’t remember, but it took me down to Mudgee. It was about 50 miles away. The village itself
was about 30 or 40 houses I suppose. All rather decrepit. But the farms and properties were generally pretty good. They had nice enough houses and they were fairly prosperous people out on the farms. There was a school. A single teacher primary school. And there were 2 churches. A Church of England on the hill
and a Catholic Church down on the highway.
It was a very small building. There was an office in the front and living quarters behind. And we had an outdoor toilet which was a pit with a board and a rickety door. That was a terribly ordeal but you got used to it and you didn’t think anything was wrong with it. The place was very hot in summer and dashed cold in winter.
We would get as much as 30 or 40 nights of frost in a row. The temperatures well below zero. I had to sleep on the verandah for lack of room and I remember I used to catch very bad colds. It was very cold in the winter and I thought it was normal to be very cold in the winter. I had no concept that you could be warm in the winter. And it wasn’t until I came to Sydney and
was in charge of my own destiny that I knew how much clothing I should be putting on and that I should have, that I started to be reasonably warm. When I joined the air force which was down at Point Cook which is a very cold place, I was as warm as toast the whole time because we were dressed for it. Korea which was umpteen [a number of] degrees before zero, I never
felt cold. So it’s a matter of being dressed for it really. But what was your last question?
Well the only thing that I had much to do with personally, bearing in mind I was only 13 when we left there, was the telephone. Now the type of telephone we had was the old fashioned one where you had to rotate a handle to generate the current
and you had to put plugs in. You pulled plugs out and put them in all over the place on a big board. I got quite good at it after a while. And then you operated a little switch to switch that particular connection on. We had party lines. The people around the district didn’t have an individual line. Some did I suppose but lots of people had what was called a party line. And it meant that there wasn’t too much privacy.
There would be 2 or 3 all hooked up on that one line, so if they picked up the phone they could all talk together. And we used to have a lot of telegrams. During the war there was a lot of business. The Aunt and Uncle did very good business during the war. There were War Savings Certificates and they were all handled by the post office. So there was a lot of money passing through the post office which
generated more salary for the Aunt and Uncle. Also there were a lot of telegrams. A tremendous lot of telegrams flashing around the country. People going into the services and telegramming home that they were on their way overseas and so on. I remember one telegram: “Mum can I join the AIF? Bill did. Signed Bob.” And he was in fact a member of the Militia
and wanted to transfer to the AIF [Australian Imperial Force]. You know the difference? The Militia couldn’t serve overseas and they were looked down upon by some people which was some people which wasn’t fair. But by a special act of parliament they were allowed to serve in New Guinea and they saved the day up there on the Kokoda Trail. They were the militia from Victoria. And
there were lots and lots of telegrams. The Uncle used to sometimes delivery them, as a matter of fact quite often. Particularly when there was a death or a serious occurrence. He would carry it maybe miles and miles to personally present it. There were lots of those that came through.
But he was in great anguish. I remember how he used to listen to the news every day without fail. We were amongst the few people who had what we called a wireless. A radio today. It was quite a bit box about that size and we had an aerial about a 100 yards long out to the peppercorn tree, and without that you wouldn’t have picked up anything.
And we got good reception. We used to listen to the ABC [Australian Broadcasting Corporation] News every day. We’d hang over that news. And the Uncle used to become quite distraught about things. France fell; the Battle of Britain and it looked like Britain was going to fall; and then of course the Japanese and so forth. I remember he….when on the 22nd of June 1941,
that’s before Japan came in. That was the date of Barbarossa, that is the attack by the Germans on Russia. We heard the news and I said, “Oh great, now we’re going to win we’ve got the Russians on our side.” And the Uncle said, “Huh, just another country going to be overrun by the Germans.” He had become quite
pessimistic about it. He was very worried. However…
I followed it very very closely. I remember first of all in 1938 the school teacher didn’t have a wireless, and I used to carry the news to him everyday. I remember distinctly being told, “Now you tell Mr Weaver that there has been a Four Powers [Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Italy] conference at Munich and the four men who have met are
and you remember this Col…are Mr Chamberlain [Prime Minster of Britain], Edouard Daladier [Prime Minister of France], Benito Mussolini [Prime Minister of Italy] and Mr Hitler [Chancellor of Germany].” I remember that. So I went and told the teacher and I was able to go and tell him there was going to be “Peace in our time”, because Mr Chamberlain had a piece of paper [the Munich Agreement] signed by Herr Hitler. However we didn’t get peace in our time.
And I used to not only hang on the radio but we got the Sydney Morning Herald and cut out all pictures of aeroplanes. That was in one pile of books which became a big pile of books, using tax stamp books which were extinct, previous year models from the post office.
And I eventually developed a pile 1 metre deep of all these books. So I had one lot for the air force and one for the navy, one lot for the army and one lot for maps. And I cut out from every newspaper of the Herald….right throughout the war. I don’t think I would have missed a day. I pasted them all in these books and I had them still until about 20 years ago. I had to throw them out because I had
pasted them with a paste of flour and water. That doesn’t see the distance and it rotted and stunk to high heaven. So I had to throw them all out. However I suppose they’re still available in the archives of the Herald so I could well afford to throw them out at that stage. So I was exceedingly well informed on the war. And right to this very day I still am because I’ve read
and read. Right at this moment I’ve just finished a book on (UNCLEAR), and tomorrow I start on Bradley’s book, and after that I’ll be doing Rommel [Erwin Rommel, German Field Marshall]. It just goes on all the time.
Of all the aeroplanes you were cutting out pictures of, what inspired your imagination the most?
Always the fighters. The Battle of Britain. The fighters in the Battle of Britain, the Spitfires was the aeroplane of course. Then I found out about the mosquito. How I found out about the mosquito I cannot exact recall but we were at Leadville. It would have been 1940 I would think and I was an unofficial member of the
VAOC, Volunteers Air Observers Corp. When I say unofficial, I think you had to be over a certain age, but I was an honorary member and I was the one that used to rush out and identify the planes. I knew them all. I knew all the silhouettes. There was an air force officer who used to come around visiting VAOC just to
jazz up a bit of interest, and he said to us, “There’s a new British aeroplane that’s just come out and it’s going to be a world beater. Security doesn’t permit me to tell you the name of it or any details, but when you hear about this you’ll realise that this one is going to be a war winner.” I said to him, “Oh do you mean the Mosquito?” He was shocked
and he said, “How did you know about that?” I said, “I know all the aeroplanes.” A precocious 12 year old. And then later on of course I was working on them at De Havillands. I used to sit in them at lunch time with my sandwiches and play with the controls and so on. This was when I was 18 or so. I remember saying I was going to fly one of them one of these days. And I did.
I had hundreds of hours on them. I was very very privileged. The Spitfire, to answer your question I suppose, fighters basically, but the Spitfire was the one I was really initially in love with.
listen for aircraft. You ran outside and you identified it, what direction it was travelling, how high you thought it was, how fast you thought it was going, the exact time. Then we would run inside and ring a particular number and we’d say, “Air Flash” (that was the code name) and the other switch that you got on to had to put you through immediately to the Control Centre.
“Air Flash.” Then you would give them the details. That it was Leadville Post Office and they would know exactly where Leadville Post Office was on the map. And you’d say, “Multi engines, bomber, flying very low, circled over the town at 10 minutes past 10 and he then headed off to the north still flying very low.” And of course that aircraft was probably lost.
And you never know that might have helped them to do something to…put another aircraft up from another air force base and perhaps locate him and guide him back to where he belonged. A lot of them got lost.
the only way I did get involved was with this business of the VAOC. I made models for the VAOC. Model aeroplanes which they used, and also we were making camouflage nets. Now these were big things with an open weave about 3 inches by 3
out of string, green string. And we used to make them at school. They were making them at Leadville. I think I was still making them at Cundeltown. And there was a way of knotting them and I remember the first net I made.
I got the knotting so that it looked great but it slipped, everything slipped and I had to undo the whole thing and it was about 300 yards of string. I had to redo it completely. It was a great disaster. I remember when I was being shown how to do it, I said something like, “Oh I know how to do that, that’s alright.” And I went ahead and did it my way and paid the penalty because the others took the trouble to get the lesson
and did it the correct way and their nets hung together and mind didn’t.
some quasi military organization, and great balls of string…oh and not just the schools, but local citizenry used to volunteer, and local…there would be a delivery of huge amounts of this string, the needle and what we called the slide
to do the net with. All that arrived on the train and distributed through out post office actually. And I made some nets at home…no, we never made them at school, but various school kids got involved. And I think they used to call and pick up the string and what have you from our post office, take them home and make the nets. And then we used to get them and parcel them up and either send them through the post or on the train.
And a lot of that went on. We also used to gather aluminium, scrap for the war effort. Model aeroplanes I made. Also…I suppose those were the only real involvement that I can claim with regard to the war.
There was a tank on top with little holes in it and every so often it would dribble down the sides of this hessain. You’d put it somewhere where you would hopefully get a breeze and you would have air blowing through it and you would have this slight refrigeration which kept the butter from actually falling to pieces.
It wasn’t very effective. We cooked on a wood stove. You had to light long before you needed to use it, and we heated water for a bath…if you could call it a bath. You very seldom had a real bath, except in the summer when you could have a cold one. The bath was a tub
and if it was winter you might just…for special purposes fill it with two or three kettles of hot water, and get it luke warm and hop in and scrub yourself down. The next party came along and put another kettle of hot water in and hoped in and the next person hoped in and so for. And I
usually got the end of the line. So that was bath day. Mainly you just used a cloth and you sponged yourself. And that was quite effective with a towel. If you were liberal with it you could sponge yourself down properly and get clean that way. Things were a bit primitive in that respect.
Leadville we had a mill, like a meat grinder, only it was for grinding wheat. And we used to buy a small bag, not a great big bag, or it would be given to us by friends on the farm. And I used to grind it. I used to
lay it out first of all on some newspaper and pick out all the rat’s manure, and then I was to get rid of the nasty bits of husks and so on. And what was left over would be tipped into the hopper (it would be 99% of course). I would tip it into the hopper and put the residue into bottles. They weren’t generally screw top bottles, there were old beer bottles that
had had the top cut off them. The system my Uncle had, he had a ring which he would heat on the fire, and a handle. He would fill the beer bottle up to just near the top where it starts to change shape with water and then drop the hot ring over it and it would click and the top would drop off the bottle.
Then he would get some sort of file and he would rub the bottle to get rid of the sharp edges and then when that was filled with jam or fruit or ground wheat or whatever, it was sealed by putting some grease proof paper over it and some string around it, and maybe something to seal it like flour or water. But there was a lot of that.
And people didn’t have the money and they didn’t seem to need it. They just made do with whatever they had. So we ground up our wheat and I used to frequently enough get up first in the morning and make the porridge and make the toast. Breakfast could take an hour and a half. By time you lit the fire, and
we had powdered milk and condensed milk in tins. At Cundle I used to jump on my push bike and run down to a farm about 1 and a half kilometres down the way and come back with a billy [container] full of milk. It came straight off the cow, straight into this billy and straight home. And yes, well we used to have a lot of meat, bacon and eggs for breakfast.
A real Atkins [low-carbohydrate] diet. Of course we had the porridge as well. We ate big meals. Lots of fruit. We used to get fruit by the case from various places, from farms and so forth. We did alright.
with a windsock. A little shed where they could put fuel drums. So they organised it and the contacted a local solicitor in Taree who used to do a bit of flying there before the war, and they told him that they were going to send a training aircraft up on a particular Saturday and could he general a bit of interest around the place and if they got enough interest they would bring the trainer up every 2 or 3 weeks.
So my friend and I, Harvey (UNCLEAR) got on his motorbike and we went down there and we sat and waited and waited, and low and beyond this little Avro Cadet…it’s like a Tiger Moth but has a radial engine arrived. So…also there was a Dragon. That’s a de Havilland Dragon.
It’s a twin engine thing. And they were offering rides for 10 shillings and I got my first ride as a passenger. Ten minutes for 10 shillings which was quite a lot of money in those days because the average wage was about 14 of those 10 shillings, 7 pounds. And the next…it was the next week after that
that the actual trainer arrived, and I went down and I had my first flying lesson. I had saved that by working on a local farm and I continued doing that, working on a local farm so I could save the money. It was 2 shillings an hour to stake tomatoes and do jobs around the farm. And when I had saved up about 30 shillings I could have 30 minutes flying.
And that was about it. I used to get this flying about once ever 2 or 3 weeks when the trainer came up. And by the time I had about 6 hours I was ready for solo, and I was still in 4th year high school. They were 5 years in those days. And the instructor said,
“Let’s have a look at your student pilot’s licence.” I said I didn’t have one and he said I should have. I said, “No.” He said he couldn’t let me go solo without it, that, “I had better go and get it.” I said, “That I was told you had to be 17?”, and he said, “Well aren’t you 17?” So I couldn’t fly solo for a few more months until I could get the student pilot’s licence which was one of the very early
ones issued. And I had to do a medical…a pretty tough medical too. The doctor who was doing it had just been commissioned by the Department of Civil Aviation for this particular job, and he was very conscientious. I had a bit of trouble with my muscular balance of one of my eyes and I had to do
special exercises. But anyway I got my licence and got to fly solo. By the time I left high school the next year I had the best part of 20 hours flying, then solo and ten dual. And I was well on my way to becoming a pilot. Of course flying became almost impossible once I got to Sydney on an apprentice’s wage. And I
was running a motor bike in Sydney as well. Fortunately for me I was able to do this builder’s labouring work and get enough money to do all those things. A lot of hard work though.
a bit in the old aircraft, the old badly designed aircraft. They used to need some rudder to balance the thing out and to make it turn accurately. But the real turning is really achieved by banking the thing and the fact that you put on a bit of rudder at the same time to keep it in balance is incidental. With more up to date aircraft you didn’t need the rudder at all. The Mustangs, Vampires, Meteors, you wouldn’t be needing the rudder for turning
unless the engine stopped and you had to put the aircraft back into balance again. But that was possibly the biggest (UNCLEAR) that was around in those days and it reflected rather badly on pilots that held that point of view because it made it very difficult for them to properly use basic flying instruments for flying in cloud and that sort of thing.
That got that back to front also. Another one was, they used to say, as your bank increases the controls reverse their function. That’s how it went I think, something like this. Your elevators become your rudder and your rudder becomes your elevators.
It’s the greatest load of nonsense and it was demonstrated to me by this old and bold pilot rolling this aircraft over into a very steep angle and he said, “Now I’m pulling back on the stick to make it turn around the horizon instead of using the rudder to turn around the horizon.” Of course you don’t use the rudder so he was wrong to start off with. But he said this.
And then he had it very very steeply banked, then he put on top rudder, bottom rudder and rose the nose up and down and he said, “Now you can see how the rudders become the elevators.” And he demonstrated this and he actually believed it. And then he had me sent up solo to practice steep turns and I was doing this. I was rolling over onto a ridiculous angle of bank and
top rudder to hold the nose up and to stop it from losing height, and skidding and slipping all over the sky. And the next week…the next time an aircraft arrived, there was a good instructor there and he saw me. He looked up and he saw me doing steep turns and he could see I was doing them badly. And he said, “I think I had better take you up and have a look at your steep turns.”
He completely retaught me, completely differently, and he straightened me out in 5 minutes. The fellow who taught me, he was trained in World War I you see. They had some very very crazy ideas.
So apart from your misconception and bad instruction you were getting what was the most difficult thing for you in learning to fly?
I didn’t find it difficult at all to be quite honest. It was something that I took to very very readily. The forced landing…that was always a bit of a worry. The instructor would cut the engine or the testing officer would cut an engine
and you had to look around and find a paddock and make an approach in such a way that you would hopefully be able to land. That would test you more than pretty well anything because you had to also take into account the direction of the wind, and if you got that wrong they wouldn’t pass you. I’m talking about in a test. So finding a paddock
that would have sufficient length, clear of trees so you would be able to make an approach clear of trees, and sufficient length into wind or not too far out of wind. You had to find that quickly before you lost too much height. That was possibly the most difficult thing of all.
on that same lesson he nearly killed us both. After we did the steep turns he wanted to visit a farm on Jones Island where somebody…I think his wife was staying there with a friend. He knew where the farm was and he located it and did a beat up. Now he was in the front cockpit and I was in the back cockpit that’s right.
He flew extremely low and frightened all the chickens and horses and so forth and then he decided to drop a message. He had it tied to a stone or something. He came in very low and fairly slow passed the house and then hurled this missile out the cockpit. And
his head was turned and not looking straight ahead, and I could see a stump coming up, and I pulled back on the stick and we just cleared this dash stump. Anyway he then took the aircraft around in a steep turn and brought it back and repeated this. He flew it straight at the stump and lifted it over the stump. He wanted
to show me that he could dodge the stump. He possibly wanted to say that he saw the stump and I was going to clear it. “Don’t worry.” He didn’t clear it. We hit it, but it was a fairly flexible little branch on the stump and I just hear a “whack” and when we got back I had a look at the aircraft and the wing had been slightly damaged. I think that could have been my first close call.
So I heard that de Havillands would take apprentices, so that became my choice. We made an application. And you had to start at 16. They call it the Apprenticeship Board…they said that 16 was the starting age. But I was going to be 17, nearly 18 actually. But they did decide that if you had a
Leaving Certificate with maths and physics, instead of a 5 year apprenticeship they would take you on as an apprentice but it would be a 4 year apprenticeship. But also there was the understanding that you would do the Tech [Technical] College diploma so you could make use of your maths and physics and so on. So I signed up on that basis that I would
do the trade course as well as the diploma. A big undertaking. The diploma was 7 years. Mind you I never did it but I started. Anyway, the school teachers then said to me, “You haven’t put in your application for a Teachers College scholarship. Why haven’t you filled it in?” I said I hadn’t filled it in because, “I didn’t want to become a school teacher.” And the teacher said, “It didn’t matter. I didn’t have to take it.
But you must apply for it because all the others have applied for it. You better apply for it. Everyone’s applying for it.” But I stood on my dig and I said, “I didn’t want to be a school teacher. I’m going to be something.” So I didn’t apply for it which was foolish when you come to think of it. But I just took that attitude. The majority
of the others did become school teachers. I met up with them 50 years later at a reunion and two thirds of them did become school teachers. And I’ve got nothing against that but I was so determined that I was going to go into some aspect of aviation.
We had to go to Technical College half a day a week and 2 or 3 nights per week. But the work was initially basic drilling and filing and then using various machine tools like mill machines, stretch presses, hammers, softening, hardening,
all the basic engineering stuff. We worked in the various sections, a bit here and a bit there. Marvellous. Then they had us designing our own tools, as a team. There would be 3 of us who would work on perhaps to make a band saw. We would design it ourselves and the chief tool making designer would go over our design and
show us where it was wrong, improve on it, and then we would go off and we would construct it. It was very very good. Then in the second year we moved on more to the actual building of the Vampire itself. Actually making aircraft parts. But we were still doing a lot of basic engineering stuff as well. It was very very good.
Qualifications.” And I read it and I fitted like a glove and the closing date for the current application was Friday the such and such, and blow me down that was that very day. Now I picked that up at about 10 o’clock in the morning. I raced out and I said to my boss, I wanted the day off. “I’m going to join the air force.”
He said I couldn’t do that. That I was an apprentice. I said I wanted to join the air force. They were taking pilots again. And he said, “Okay okay mate it’s up to you.” So I had the day off. I shot into the city to the recruiting office in Pitt Street. That was about 3 blocks from the Town Hall. I picked up the necessary forms and the recruiting officer said I had to have it back by 4 o’clock
sharp because they were closing. He said, “By the way, there’s 1200 people already who have applied for this course, don’t get your hopes up too much.” And I raced home…I had to get my mother to sign it you see. I had to go out to Lindfield. My mother was home, but she was just
going out. I just got her in time. She was very bewildered by all this and she didn’t quite know what she was signing. But she thought it was a pipe dream [unlikely to happen] and it would all go away. So I got back to the recruiting office. I had to run all the way from the Town Hall and the recruiting office was just closing the doors. He accepted the form reminding me once again that 1200
applicants, “So don’t get your hopes up too much.”
He said they would have to talk to the Apprenticeship Board about this. “It was a difficult one.” It wouldn’t be a question of me having to pay them money because I didn’t have any money. Then I got a telegram to go to Bradfield Park just near here which was a RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force]
recruiting centre at that time. That’s where they did the tests for the Sydney area. And I spent 2 days there doing the medicals and the intelligence tests and interviews. The interview…the officers were mainly interested in, “Could I get out of my apprenticeship?” I thought, “This is a
good sign because that’s what they were concentrating on.” “Do you think you’ll be able to get out of this apprentice?” I said, “I was sure I could.” So they said, get on with it. I didn’t say, “Am I through?” I didn’t ask that question, but I was selected and I think they pretty well knew that at the time. Or they knew I was definitely on the short list
therefore I had better do something about pre-empting getting out of this de Havilland thing. de Havilland played a bit awkward and they wouldn’t let me go. Well they didn’t say they wouldn’t let me go but they couldn’t let me go until they had sorted this thing out. I got then a thing from the air force telling me that I had been selected for 4 Course and
to contact them with acceptance and they would then give me a train voucher and all that sort of thing. So I got on with pushing de Havillands and finally the time limit was up and I missed the course. So I was very despondent about this. Then after a little while after I had missed the course de Havilland said, “They had decided I could join the air force and that they couldn’t stand in my way.”
I said it was too late and they said there would be other courses. And there were, one every 6 months. So 2 months later I had another telegram out of the blue, “Subject to medical fitness”, i.e another medical. They had to check up that I hadn’t had any problems in the meantime, and “You had been selected for 5 Course.” So I went and did this medical and I was cleared by de Havillands and
I was on my way into the air force.
My Auntie who didn’t want me attach myself too much to flying because she thought it was going to cost me an arm and a leg [very expensive] and a big disappointment she felt. She contacted a second cousin of hers, an eye specialist in Newcastle. And he’d been an RAF [Royal Air Force] eye specialist during the war. He was very very highly experienced with
pilots. So she made an appointment and I went down to Newcastle and he checked me over and he said, “You would never never be able to pass an air crew medical and you would never be able to fly. You would have no depth perception, and you would certainly not be able to fly at night. You would kill yourself.” Whether he was
servicing my Auntie’s needs or what I don’t know. But he also then took measurements and handed me a prescription. I said, “What’s this for?” And he said, “For glasses.” I said, “Why?” and he said, “You’ve got astigmatism.” Anyway I walked out of there. I threw the prescription in a waste bin. I went back to Taree and I saw the doctor who had done my initial medical.
He had said I had done a very good medical except for this lazy eye, and he did mentioned that he thought that it would only be temporary and that I could have exercises for it. So I saw him and he gave me a number of eye exercises. Just mainly concentrating on that finger 3 or 4 times a day and he told me to come back and see him in 3 weeks. So I did and
I passed with flying colours and I’ve never had any trouble with it since. Mind you, my eye is still a bit lazy and I can always pass my medicals and it never affected my flying in any way because…when you’re doing flying you’re a little bit…landing or taking off an aeroplane or anything, you’re a little bit hyped up. And there’s always a bit of adrenaline there and you’re not
in that lazy mode where you’re almost off to sleep and the eye can sort of drift away. But I have had a problem with it over the years but it has never affected me with my flying or in my medicals. If you’re hyped up or a little bit tenses up, then the eye does it’s job.
Can you share some of the reasons that fellas got scrubbed?
Well first of all for the first 6 months we were doing academic work, as well as PT [physical training], drill and a lot of other things. And everything was being marked. They were watching you psychologically and they were putting people under pressure as well. The drill corporal or drill sergeant, they put you under terrible pressure deliberately. So it was an accumulation of things. Sometimes it might have been just failure in the academic area because
the exams were quite hard. The instruction was excellent but you had to do a lot of homework and work very very hard to pass all the exams. The academics kept going for the ensuing 12 months as well. And we were also flying so we were only getting about half the amount probably, the academics in the latter 12 months.
But the majority of fellas I think failed later with the actual flying. Now, that’s possibly not right. I can’t remember the figures but there would be some that might have even failed on medical…an accident or got sick or something. They could have showed a bad attitude. They were always watching this thing called attitude.
These days you always have a shower first up. But then you didn’t. It was at the end of the day. They were good showers. We had to make our bed and fold our blankets everyday. Let me think…it was a proper bed with a palliasse [mattress] and a number of blankets and a pillow, and you had to make it in a regulation manner, and it had to be
very square and your pillow had to be exactly right. And every thing had to be in the right place. So you got very quick at that. And then you’d grab your mug and you’d race off to the mess [place used to serve meals] and have breakfast. Then you’d go back and I suppose clean your teeth and one thing and another and
be out on parade to form up in a squad outside our block. We wouldn’t just straggle down to the parade ground. You’d form up in a squad outside your block and one of the trainees would take charge…“Left right left right.” We’d go down to the parade ground and we’d form up there and have our morning parade. Tuesday’s of course was a big parade with the CO.
When we were on parade on a Tuesday, the CO and his adjutant or somebody used to check our blocks to see they were in perfect conditions, our rooms and the shower room and the bathroom and everything else. The night before…Monday night, we used to have to clean them. Really clean them. Polish all the brass and you went
on the tops of the doors and got the dust off the tops of the doors and windows. You looked everywhere where you might find a bit of dirt, because they were going to find it if you didn’t. And when we first started you could rely on it that A Block would cop in one week, B Block and C Block and so on were always having to redo the job. At the end of the parade the regimental sergeant major would call out. “A Block will re-panic [re-prepare] tonight, for inspection tomorrow morning.” And
there would be a groan from everybody. That’s the way it was. You copped a re-panic about every 3rd or 4th week. But once we had been there 6 months and passed onto the flying phase, they were a little bit easier. They weren’t quite as hard on you. And mind you we had got into the routine by then.
We all had to attend a lecture on take off, climb, glide, straight and level, controls. We had to attend the lecture on all this which might have been maybe an hour. And then we’d go out with our various instructors. We’d walk around the aeroplane. Talk about the cockpit. Climb in. Strap up.
He’d get in and talk to you on the intercom [intercommunication system] which was a tube. I’m pretty sure we didn’t have radio. No. It was a tube which you talked too. And it wasn’t very good. But we all had pretty good hearing in those days so you could work out what he was saying. And I remember that on my very first take off I pushed the stick forward to lift the
tail of the Tiger Moth, and he moved it back to the middle. He said, “Leave the control column central.” I thought, “That’s a different way of doing it”, and the tail just rose of its own accord, and I thought that was a pretty good idea because I had seen a few people…it happened to me too, who had pushed the stick forward to raise the tail and they got the nose so low the propeller was almost cutting the grass.
And I saw quite a few people do that because they became absorbed with what was happening and they’ve still got the stick forward but the nose is too low. They were still running along the ground and if you were not used to it then you wouldn’t necessarily pick it. But someone standing watching could see that your propeller was almost cutting the grass. I remember that. But other than that I don’t recall them
teaching me anything different to anything that I had learned because the instructors who had been teaching me at the aero club had all been air force instructors during the war. Almost all of them. So it was pretty much the same.
only a couple of kilometres from here, his engine stopped on the downwind leg on his first solo in a Tiger Moth. And so he did the right thing. He adopted a gliding attitude, found a paddock, landed it in the paddock but there was soft ground and the wheels dug in and the thing turned over onto its back. He was hanging there upside down
and he thought, “Now I’ve been told that if you have an aeroplane prang you’ve got to get out of it fast.” Anyway there was petrol leaking out of the tank. He’s upside down and I suppose he could smell petrol. So he pulled the straps that held him in and dropped out onto his head. And then he said that he could smell this petrol and he was afraid it was going to blow up
and I think he got the Olympic record for a 100 yard dash with a parachute on. He didn’t even wait to get the parachute off. Anyway he walked back with his parachute on his shoulder. Now I was down there at the flight lines and there was an anxious instructor looking for his pupil. The alarm was rung, “We’re minus one pupil.
He went off solo and he hasn’t come back.” In the meantime Barry is plodding back to civilisation and he came to the Cart which we used to call the Pie Cart. It was a caravan which they used to use for air traffic control. The man there, the Flight Lieutenant there used to operate the Alders Lamp to give us greens and reds and flashing lights and so forth. Barry found as he crossed into the air field, the first thing he came across was this control caravan.
So he romped up to the door and knocked on the door and the flight lieutenant opened it up and Barry said, “Excuse me sir…”. And the flight lieutenant said, “Not now son we’re looking for a downed pilot.” Anyway the next thing we saw was Barry plodding across the airfield with his parachute on his shoulder. And there were other accidents.
A navy pilot in a Wirraway forgot to lock his flaps down and as he was approaching to land his flaps were gradually coming up and he didn’t realise what was happening and he was flattening his approach path all the time, still not on the ground. And he touched down two thirds of the way across the field and was heading towards the road. And along the edge of the road was a row of pine trees. I was…once again I was on the scene.
I was interested in what was going on because not only was this aircraft about to prang but the instructors were running towards the point of impact and they were shouting…and I found out later what they were shouting. “That’s where my car’s parked!” And sure enough the Wirraway lopped a few trees and one wing off the Wirraway. Nobody got hurt. And the cars survived. So
it was an interesting little episode.
…this young chap, Jimmy Cass and I had the same instructor, Johnny Johnson. And we were night flying in Wirraways and we were taking off towards Port Philip Bay. It was a very dark night too. I had done 50 minutes of my one hour and the instructor suddenly said to me, “Hop out Kingie, I’m going to give Cassie some time before
this wind gets too strong”. So I jumped out and said, “You’re on Jim”. So Jim jumped into the Wirraway and the engine stopped at about 400 feet after they had taken off. And they just heard…I didn’t hear it, but they heard the instructor call, “Charlie Charlie emerg…”. He couldn’t get the word emergency out before they plummeted into the water, and they were both killed. And I had just got out of that aeroplane.
So I figured my luck was in on that particular occasion, as it’s been all through my life. As a matter of fact I’ve written a book about it and I’ve called it Luck is No Accident.
very good technical courses at the ground school in every subject including engines and aerodynamics and so forth. Part of the engineering lectures would have been a thorough study of the Wirraway before we came to fly it. The engine and the
rest of the equipment that went to make up the Wirraway was studied very thoroughly before hand. That was the introduction. Then as far as I recall we flew it from the front seat, unlike the Tiger Moth. The Tiger Moth you flew it from the back seat. But the Wirraway it was the other way around. I suppose we would have done the usual hop into the cockpit
and learned where everything was. Learned to touch it with your eyes closed and all that sort of thing. And then you’d have the briefing about the first flight. The instructor would point out exactly what you were going to do on that flight. He would hop in the back and you would get in the front and away you would go. You’d do the take off yourself and you’d do the landing yourself and so on, and you’d probably start off with some upper air work
I would imagine. You would stall the thing and try it in a few steep turns and what have you. And then come back and land. Then after you’d do circuits and bumps. Then they’d give you your firs solo and so on.
We used to call it “Doing a wing tip”. I frankly believe…see, we used to 3 point them. I frankly believe the reason why a lot of people did drop wings was because they were skidding at the point where they were about to touch down. They would have one bit of rudder on and
they would lean to the left to look out the side of the big radial engine and as you lean to the left you might…one foot might go a little bit forward and put on a bit of rudder so you might develop a little bit of skid right at the point where you’re getting into the 3 point attitude. So one wing would stall a little bit before the other and she would drop. That was the theory that I formed.
I never had a problem with it partly because I used to look pretty well over the nose. I didn’t lean much to the left. I used to take into account the general area of the airfield. I could see to the right and the left and over the nose and everything. And I didn’t get this sort of leaning over to one side. Now when I got onto the Mustang
I had to rethink this one because you had this huge Merlin [engine] in front of you. So you’d have to lean out to the left, particularly at night when you were looking for a flare path. You had to be able to see the flare path. So I had to get into the habit of leaning to the left.
And also for you to be clear and concise and accurate and proper with all your checks. They were definitely on to the check thing. We didn’t have check lists. We never operated from a check list. In my day in the air force even on Neptunes which is a very complicated aircraft, we never operated off a check list.
It was from what you had in your mind. You had to call it out when you were doing it. If you were solo then it was up to you but most people mumbled it to themselves anyway. If you were with the instructor you had to call it out. We had good intercom in Wirraways and so forth. They expected to hear every little detail of that check. You had to…if you had a forced landing because they had cut a throttle all of a sudden. “Height,
locality, gliding distance, harness, loose articles”…all that sort of thing. You had to call those items and tell what your decisions were as regard to those items while you were doing it. Now, some people had a lot more trouble than others remembering this, and you’d hear people being up for a scrub test and they’d confess that they had trouble remembering all the checks.
And that was a particular failing that I never suffered from. But oh there were so many different things. Instrument flights, unusual attitudes. In the instrument flying they used to cut us off from the outside world completely with screens around the cockpit. It was amber Perspex. Now you could see out of that, but
when you put on the goggles, it’s like…it was what they called “Two stage amber”. That was what it was called. It’s like an epoxy part A and part B. Both clear but when you put them together they go opaque. Well when you put these goggles on without the amber, you could see a blue world out there. When you took the goggles off you could see an amber world out there.
But when you had the amber screens and the goggles on you could only see your flight instruments and they weren’t clear either I might add through those goggles. And the goggles used to mist up and you’d be struggling honestly to see your instruments. And you had to do very complicated flying for the instructor and for the testing officer. And they used to give us unusual attitudes. They would just turn the thing upside down and practically stall it.
You would be on the verge of going into an inverted spin and he would hand over to you and here you have these goggles on and this amber screen and you’re misted up and you can barely see your instruments, and you’ve got to recover or you’re in trouble with the instructor. It wasn’t easy. That would be the hardest part probably of our flying training. And of course cross countries. There were so many cross countries.
That was pretty hard work too. Cross country exercises lasting several hours. Some at higher levels, some at medium levels some at low level. And we repeated all this again of course with the Mustangs and the Vampires. You had to flight plan it and you had to keep a log going and you had to do calculations all the time.
And you had a little computer strapped on your leg and another pad strapped on here for the log you were keeping, and probably an instructor in the back, and in the middle of your calculations he’d say, “What’s the name of that town off our right wing now?” So you had to answer him and get back to your sums. And doing all this at a height of 200 feet
can be pretty tricky stuff because you don’t want to fly into a hill or a tree or some wires. We did cross countries at 200 feet and we did them in Mustangs and Vampires.
The one we used was known as the Dalton Navigation Computer. It was probably invented by Mr Dalton. It came in various shapes and sizes but the most common one we had was attached to your knee. It was a box about 6 inches by 8 by about 1 and half inches deep. It had a lid that lifted up and
and on the lid itself it had a rotary slide rule for ratio and proportion sums, very simple things. But it also had sub scales for all sorts of other navigation problems. If you lifted the lid underneath you had a screen which you could rotate. You could move backwards and forwards with a knob, and by using a pencil on a Perspex covering board
you could mark various things on this travelling screen and you could do triangle of velocity calculations which are vitally important to navigation because
one of the velocities is your track and ground speed. Another velocity is your heading and true air speed, and the third velocity is your wind, direction and speed. The three of them makes up a triangle usually. Although in still air they wouldn’t, but otherwise they make up a triangle. And it’s a vitally important triangle and it’s what pilots are solving all the time in the process of dead reckoning [navigation].
It was a vitally important piece of equipment that computer. We always called it the computer.
I can always remember that. Because we used to take him off we used to say to one another, “Now smarten up, will you.” He was a dapper [well-presented] little fellow and very smart man indeed. And it was quite a thing when we finally got our sergeant stripes. We graduated as sergeants. And we found that…Scotty had given us a very hard time. He was a sergeant. A very hard time.
As we approached the final parade where we were going to get our sergeant stripes. He would gradual soften and he gradually became quite pally almost if you know what I mean. And it’s hard to accept it as a trainee. Here’s this sergeant palling up to you and almost calling you by your first name. And of course we got our wings and we went straight down to the
sergeant’s mess for a beer. And there’s Scotty of course having a beer with us and calling us by our first names. He was a good man there was no doubt about it. And he had a corporal and I tell you what. Pilot trainees, air force trainees will often refer quite affectionately to their drill sergeants and corporals. They gave us a heck of a bad time. But we respected them and we respected the fact that they were teaching us to respect ourselves.
And I really think we had a lot of affection for old Scotty and his corporal.
Can you share with me the day of graduation?
Well yes. It was on the main…not the training bullring, but the main parade ground which has a flag pole and stands for all the visitors who come and watch. And we were paraded…I don’t think we had any top brass there, but we were paraded along with the other courses. There
were three courses there at the one time. And they would be bigger courses than ours because we would just be the final pilots that had passed out. The navigators and signallers who were on our original course would have gone to East Sale. Now I do remember
that I had a very big moment there. They awarded the trophies at the parade and my trophy was a big silver jug. I’ll show it to you later. It was for being the most proficient pilot on the course. But it didn’t make me top of the course. The top mark was for total aggregate marks. My friend Ken Smith who was killed but was with me all the way through…
Smithy got top in academics and second in flying. I got top in flying and second in academics. But his total aggregate was point four of one percent more than mine. I remember that. Point four of one percent. And that was fair enough because we each got a trophy. He got his for the total aggregate marks and I got the trophy for top flying.
Now there was a third trophy winner, Ian Cranstone. He got his for being best sportsman on the course. There were only 3 trophies and I have a picture of the 3 trophy winners, and unfortunately I’ve had to write underneath it against the other two, killed in Korea, killed in Korea. Both
22 years of age. Meteors.
for radio and wanted to be signallers anyway. The remaining 75 wanted to be pilots, but only a proportion were going to be pilots. Those who didn’t would be offered navigator, and most of them took that. Mind you during the academic phase we may have had half a dozen people scrubbed. So possibly only 70 would have gone for flight grading. And
the 70 would have done that period of 11 hours flying and the 2 tests. And then afterwards the read out the names from a list. The ones who were going to be pilots and the ones who were going to be navigators. And some of those others became signallers too.
They were very disappointed a lot of them. There were 32…32 I think were going to be pilots and the remainder went off to East Sale. But of the 32 while we were going through the next 12 months of flying training, one was killed. I’ve told you about Jimmy Cass. And I think
8 or 9 were scrubbed. We ended up with 22 who finally got their wings.
everything was. And that would be Day 1. Day 2 during the morning, we would have been tested on this and that, and then later in the afternoon it was decided that I was going to be the bunny to fly the first Mustang in our squad you see. And so I didn’t like the look of the conditions because I was going to be taking off into the sun which
was very low towards the horizon and there was a stiff enough breeze so you couldn’t take off in any other direction. It was a more or less a grass airfield but it had prescribed strips sort of thing. So I jumped into the cockpit with the instructor standing on the wing watching me rather suspiciously. And finally he let me go and I taxied out
and rocketed off and I was absolutely enthralled with this machine. It was an absolutely marvel thing to fly and I had a ball. I did everything, even put it through a spin. I caved off about 1200 feet in a turn. And
then I had to come back and warm the engine and land the thing and I dumped it in. I stalled. I intended to do a tail down but I couldn’t because the sun was in my eyes. That’s my excuse anyway but I really could not properly judge the height. I knew I was pretty close. And I was feeling it down and finally the stick went back and still hadn’t arrived and it went “zzzzz”, and it was quite a thud. It didn’t bounce.
But it was the CO’s Mustang…old Congo Kid. He was later my CO in Korea. I believe he was toying with the idea of having a heavy landing check and he wasn’t too happy about them having given a new sprog in his plane for his first flight. Anyway Macady came over and
said…and I remember this… “Congratulations sergeant. Do you think you could bring it a bit closer to mother earth before you stall it next time?” “Oh the sun was in my eyes sir. I couldn’t see for the sun.” A great experience it really was.
you flew it? It had a much more powerful engine and you also knew that it had a big throttle opening in comparison to the Wirraway. The throttle opening was like 35, 40 degrees in the Wirraway. With the Mustang it was 90 degrees. It was almost 90 degrees of a big long throttle opening
to get 61 inches of boost. We were warned that most pilots or a lot of pilots anyway take off with three quarters throttle because they become a bit preoccupied with the swing that tends to develop. They think they’ve got a heck of a lot of power on because it’s a terrific noise, and she’s going like a fear-stricken deer.
But it hasn’t reached full throttle, not by any means. So we were warned about this. I think I managed to get it through to the full boost, and it derated to 58 but you could get 61 out of it if you went fully to the gate. And they were probably using 58 inches for take off. Now, the swing. We knew about the swing. There was a considerable tendency for the aircraft to swing
and you used 4 degrees of right rudder trim to stop this. We knew that when the squadron first got Mustangs up in the islands, and they all had been flying Kittyhawks, they had quite a few prangs because of the swing. It’s a very powerful engine with a great big propeller and it’s sending a lot of air corkscrewing back, and you not only get the torque effect from the mass of the propeller, but
you get the corkscrew air flow that’s coming back from the propeller hitting the keel surface of the side of the aeroplane tending to make it swing.
See we went to Archerfield and then to Canberra where we did another maybe 30 hours on the Mustang. And we did battle formation and aerobatics and miner stern chasers and dog fighting [fight between aircraft] and various flapless landings and quite a bit of night flying. Then they had a place for us at Williamtown
and we went to Williamtown once again on the Mustangs. At Williamtown we did gunnery on the gunnery ranges. Now at Morner Point [?], that’s on the beach north of Williamtown, they had a gunnery range and we used to strafe on a square on the sand there. Also we used to do rocketry, and one of our major rocketry exercises was
against a splash target being towed behind the little corvette which used to come up from Jervis Bay and tow this splash target a safe distance…a respectable distance behind the ship, a couple of hundred metres because they didn’t want to get hit. And this splash target would be about 10 or 15 feet long, maybe a couple of feet wide.
And we’d going round and round in an Indian circle and fire at this thing. We would fire one salvo [simultaneous firing of guns] and then maybe another salvo on the second run. And someone on the corvette, probably up in the crow’s nest [barrel fixed at mast-head of sailing ship as shelter for look-out man] would be recording they thought we were going to the splash target. It was very good because you were firing at a target in motion. It was very good training.
I shouldn’t tell this story but I’m going to. I sunk the dash target and put the whole operation out of gear. They didn’t have a spare and the Calgoa had to go back and the training had to be cancelled for the day. I don’t know if we got another splash target. Anyway it was a very pleasing result. The navy reckoned it was like the Titanic [infamous passenger liner which sunk on its maiden voyage], you couldn’t sink it. It
was pure fluke. Anyone who would claim that as skill would be presumptuous indeed because it was only a little thing.
Some considerable advance training on the Mustang at Canberra with 3 Squadron including night flying, formation flying and so on. Then at Williamtown we did all the gunnery and rocketry and dog flying, high altitude and of course cross countries as well. We did more at Williamtown than the other 2 places combined.
We also used to fly live firing in the air against a towed target which was a screen about 30 feet long and about 10 feet deep, towed some distance behind another Mustang. And it would drop…
not just straight behind. It would drop down below and if you’re firing at it with live ammunition, before you went up they used to dip in paint the bullets. Mine might be blue, another’s red, another’s yellow. And when you came course and the target was returned by dropping it on the airfield. And this screen was examined to see how many blue and how many yellow holes there were. And you got a mark accordingly. Also we had the occasion to tow the target which was quite interesting.
the enemy pilot, the guy that’s shooting at you. If he got too close you sent him home. I sent a Vampire home because I could see tracers passing under my wing. Also in the rear vision mirror I could see he was shooting very close to line of stern. I mean it was too close to my liking.
I called, “Blue One return to base”, but it was the Wing Commander, the CO of the squadron. Not the squadron I was in. It was the CO of 75 Squadron, Brian Eaton. I was still in 76 Squadron with a Mustang towing the drogue. Anyway, when I came back off that sortie [operational mission]…it might have been my first attempt…yes, I think it was.
I hadn’t been properly briefed or I hadn’t cottoned onto the briefing property. You’re supposed to fly in over the field at a certain height and pull a lever and drop the drogue on the airfield. I got in a bit low or a bit slow or something and the thing dragged low and I dragged it through the scrub and I tore it to pieces. So I had the embarrassment then of having to front the CO to explain myself.
And I told him it was battle fatigue and, “Could he make allowance for battle fatigue?” He thought that was rather good.
Can you talk us through in a little bit more detail what skills you needed to master in flying a jet over a propeller driver aircraft?
Yes. First of all the engine handling is a bit different. In those early
model jets you had to be careful not to open the throttle too flame or you might deflame out the engine. With a Vampire you had to get the undercarriage retracted fairly quickly after takeoff because once it got to a certain speed it wouldn’t lock up. You found that the rate of climb was dramatically greater than what you were used to.
The speed was the same thing. Dramatically much much greater. You got up to high altitude very very quickly. You had a speed break which was something you didn’t have in the other type of aircraft. You could deploy it at any speed and it could slow you down. It was a great thing to have because if you were going to fast coming in to land,
you put on a bit of speed break which people very very frequently did. It was a lot easier to take off because it doesn’t swing, and you’re sitting up there looking straight down the runway with no great Merlin in front of you. Similarly it was very very easy to land for that same reason. But it had different types of brakes. It was the first time we had ever encountered these brakes.
They were air brakes instead of hydraulic brakes. With the air brake you use the lever on the control column to apply the air pressure and whether it will apply to the right brake or the left brake depended on what rudder pedal you put forward. You put the right rudder pedal forward and squeeze the lever and you apply the right brake…and vice versa.
If your rudder pedals are central and you squeeze it then you’re applying brakes to both. So on landing if you didn’t centralise the rudder, when you applied the brake, and you had right rudder on, she’d tend to swing off to the right. So you had to get used to taxiing the thing and using the brakes accurate on the landing role. That was a big difference.
In formation flying you needed greater anticipation with the throttle openings. You want to tuck in neatly alongside another pilot, and he’s moving out fast and you’re catching up to him and you want to catch up and tuck him…it required more anticipation of how much extra
throttle to give it and then how much to take the power off and how much to restore so you could sit neatly in position. More so than if you’re doing that in propeller driven aircraft. And probably other reasons that I can’t just think of at this moment.
Obviously the difference in speed would have changed the way in which you were dog fighting or training in gunnery as well. Did you get more training about that at the same time?
Yes. One thing we had to do in a jet which I didn’t mention was a “Mach run”. Now Mach run is…you’re bringing the aircraft up to the speed of sound. Now the actual forward speed of the total aeroplane was the speed of sound. That’s Mach one. But you bring it up to a speed that’s getting
close to Mach one where some part of the aircraft actually hits the speed of sound. So that part of the aircraft will develop shock waves and can develop for you a degree of buffeting and turbulence and it can put the aircraft out of control. So you have to learn to anticipate it, to avoid it and
to know what to do about it if it happens. We all had to do a number of Mach runs at 35,000 feet, put it in a bit of a dive and wait until the shock waves occurred. And then close the throttle, pull the speed brake out and the thing should recover. Unfortunately the Vampire had a nasty habit of not always recovering. And it was pitching down
for a few people, plummeting them down through multi thousands of feet before they’d recover. And some of them plummeted right into the ground. We lost 5 or 6 that way. Not off my course. They fixed this eventually by modification to the aeroplane. But I didn’t have any problem myself with that. I did several Mach runs which were
quite normal. But that was another difference which we encountered with the jet…the proximity to the speed of sound. So it was the high altitude and high speed of the aeroplane.
We did strafing [bombing or harassing targets with shells] at Morner Point. It was a square marked out on the sand. We had canons, 420 ml canons in the Vampire, and they point harmonised at 800 yards. So you went around and came in on a strafing dive and when your little cross…when you were looking through your sight…it sort of filled that square and then you
would pull the trigger. It wasn’t a long “brrrr”. Just a quick “brr”. Just a tough, and you’d see if you got it. If you had it aimed right you would see the middle of the square with a shoot of dirt. Then you’d pull up into a steep climbing turn to the left and go back and do it again. That’s how we used to practice. And the aircraft was very manoeuvrable for that sort of thing. Beautiful
to fly and easy to keep in trim too. It didn’t develop a tendency to get out of trim because it’s a symmetrical thing a jet, whereas with the Mustang things are not quite symmetrical. Things are offset and different air flows and so forth. You have to actually keep the thing in trim as your speed changes.
Additional use of the rudder pedals.
and the prisoner of war situation. We learned that two of our fellas had been shot down and taken prisoner. We were given an appraisal of what that would entail for them and so forth. I don’t recall very much about what they had to say there. We had other briefings up in Korea itself. The
progress of the war? Yes we were keeping ourselves informed. Obviously it was of very great interest to us. And we were interested to know and what we could learn about the Meteor. Now one of our commanding officers, Wing Commander Brian Eaton went up to Korea about
September or October, I suppose it would have been…after Ron Guthrie had been shot down, and a few of the others had been hit, and he came back with a piece of information which I guess we should have known anyway, and that was that the only shot you’re going to get at a Mig [Mikoyan Gurevich; a Russian jet] in all probability was against a retreating target. Because the Migs are coming over at very high altitude
and passing through at great speed. All you’ll get a fleeting shot at them. So we had to learn to use our gyroscopic gun sight in reverse. Normally you’re approaching the target at speed faster than the target, and your gyroscopic gun sight which we haven’t talked about has to be operated in that mode. We were going to have to learn…our reflex actions were going to have to be trained on the opposite method of operating the gyroscope
which was a very unusual situation. But we were told quite a bit by the CO of the Vampires because he had just been up to Korea and he had learned all this from the squadron pilots. We also were told that the Meteor was not shaping up against the Migs.
But…we learned something also…we were told of the conditions we could expect at Kimpo. That was the airfield we were operating from out of Seoul. Of course we picked up a lot from people who wrote letters home. They sent various information from all sorts of directions.
We were always trying to find out what we could about what was happening up there.
better work hard and learn about this and that because you’ll probably find that quite a few of you will be wanted as soon as this course is finished and go and get yourself a Mustang conversion and get up to Korea”. I can remember that being said in lectures. I can remember also a lecture about
moral fibre. If you know what that is. Moral fibre and lack of moral fibre. It’s a military term for cowardice I suppose. It’s not a very nice thing and it’s used I suppose as a sort of blackmail so that people will go and get killed without complaining. And
are not going to desert and find ways and means of getting out of the obligations of the war, and compassionate grounds and so on. I can’t remember too much of what that lecture was about, but it explained to us what the term LMF [lack of moral fibre] meant and how it had been dealt with by the service in World War I and World War II. There was never any implication that we would be
victims of this. But they had to keep us informed on all this issues. I would think that the Korean War probably inspired some of the lecture giving. That was when I was at Point Cook. See the war broke out at Point Cook when I had finished 6 months approximately.
It was the 25th June and we had started our course towards the end of January or something like that.
You were too concerned with your accomplishment, getting a good mark in what you were doing and passing that. That was what counted. Always the achievement was the thing that counted, not the prospect of the chop rate further down the line. The chop rate in our view wasn’t very high.
Mind you it turned out that the squadron was losing more or less squadron strength every 12 months which is a pretty big chop rate when you come to think of it…I mean due to enemy action. The squadron strength…we’re jumping ahead a bit here, but the squadron strength was about 17 pilots. It should have been more but that was about how we operated.
We lost about that…almost that number per year. But you wouldn’t necessarily spend 12 months on ops [operations]. I was there for less than a year and therefore I wouldn’t have been doing these sums in advance. I wouldn’t have been thinking of them. But it wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t like Bomber Command in World War II.
If you were in Bomber Command in World War II there was a certain stage there where the chance of you doing your 30 missions on bomber command was not good. It was less than 50%.
they issued us with a “pointy talkie”. It’s in my book. It’s a piece of paper about 8 inches by 6….Chinese or Korea? I don’t recall which it was. Symbols and words. And by words I mean phoneticised words, so that we could make the necessary sounds.
Of course the English equivalent was next to it. You know, “Take me to you leader”, or, “I’m an American serviceman” or that sort of thing. I’m not sure but I think the Yanks [Americans] gave it to us. But it was a handy little thing. I brought mine home and I was able to put a copy of it in my book. I added an extra part into mine. I added, “Please give me a smaller shovel.”
I never had to use it though thank goodness. But it’s in my book and it’s got the “Please give me a smaller shovel” which I wrote on it when I got it. Okay, what they told us about was escape and evasion. First of all they didn’t tell us about we weren’t going to have a radio set which the American pilots were carrying. It was a wonderful thing.
It was a vest with batteries and a transmitter, and you could transmit your own voice and you could talk to other aircraft. I don’t think it was two-way. I don’t think they could talk to me, but if I went down I had this wonderful radio set. You would turn it on and it would transmit for many many hours…maybe 50 hours, I don’t know…and over a range of maybe 150 kilometres. It was quite good,
and the aircraft could hone in. And if you dropped out off the coast and went into your dingy you could get air sea rescue. If you dropped into North Korea itself you could home in the pilots who were searching for you in the helicopter, and you could actually speak to them with a microphone and say, “A bit to your left, I’m hidden under a bush.”
It was as accurate as that. We didn’t have that. The Americans did. The American pilots said that next to a parachute that was the most important piece of equipment that they would…they would take that in preference to their pistol, their emergency rations, anything. But we didn’t have it. Now the briefings that we received covered such things as…if you were shot down,
you’ll be recognisable as a Westerner particularly if you’re a tall man. “Travel by night. Avoid civilians. Try to get hold of the sort of clothing that they wear. If they…
if you’re approached by Koreans try to speak in Russian, or even by Chinese. If it’s the enemy speak to them in Russian even if you don’t know any because it had been known to work and it’s a very good ploy.” You just bolinsky, insky, insky that sort of stuff. Make it up as you go along and keep smiling and you might get away with it.
But it did work for one or two people. They told us things like this. They also told us that there was an island off the coast of Korea known as Chodo, and we had captured and held Chodo right through the war. It was only a few miles off the coast which is an astonishing fact. It wasn’t too far from…it was well up into Korea. It wasn’t
right down near the border. And the Yanks had taken it and they held it the whole time and they had a radar helicopter unit on it. They didn’t have an airfield that you could land on, but there was a beach there to land on. In fact I think one of our Meteors landed there, refuelled and took off again. But they told us about Chodo.
And it was a great place to head to if you could get to it. If you were taken prisoners…and you could get a boat, go down the coast to Chodo. That was what Ron Guthrie was trying to do when he was captured. And when I say Ron Guthrie I presume you know who I’m talking about. Ron…the second book, Ron and I wrote that as a joint effort. And that’s about all the prisoners of our squadron and
others who were other prisoners in North Korea. Now I’m trying to think of the other piece of information. They gave us some rather disappointing information about the hospitality that we could expect. Like holes in the ground and lice. The holes in the ground had been used as toilets while you were in there, or
had been used as a toilet pit before you had been put in there. That sort of thing did take place. The brainwashing that they would attempt to do…the Chinese anyway. The Koreans didn’t go in for that. We were warned about that, and warned about what constituted a fair thing and what didn’t.
You could tell them anything…name, rank and serial number okay, and you could probably tell them things that were terribly terribly obvious that if you had to in sheer desperation, but better if you manufactured faults that sounded convincing.
Ron was asked by…he was in a brainwashing school at Antung, and he was asked by these lady interrogators, “Where do the guns fire from in a Meteor?” Well he said, “Some of them fire out the front but we also have two out the back which fires backwards on any plane that’s chasing us”. And this excited their attention. They were very very interested in that information. So we were encouraged to give that sort of information. Also it was very advisable to pose as a married man with a tribe of kids because they might be a little bit more sympathetic towards you. Tell them that you came from a very poor background, a peasant background. You wanted to be as low profile as you could as far as that went. If they ask you what did your father do and what did your mother do. You would say, “A little tiny farm, we were practically starving and that sort of thing.”
he is very often going to have to allow for the deflection because the other aircraft will be turning in all probability. He will have to point his guns ahead of the enemy aircraft in the turn. So a rather marvellous gun sight has been designed that will make all the necessary allowances whilst the pilot merely
keeps the centred dot of his gun sight on the canopy of the enemy aircraft. It doesn’t matter how fast he’s turning, if he’s doing everything else right he’s just got to keep that centred dot on the canopy of the other aircraft and that’s theoretically where his bullets should go. This is achieved by the employment of gyroscopes and a reflector screen in front of
the pilot’s eye which shows not merely this little dot which is the all important part but a series of little diamonds in a circle which we call a graticule, around the dot if the dot is centre. These graticules are capable of being increased or decreased in size by the
pilot automatically turning a control in the cockpit. But before entering combat he has to estimate the wing span of the enemy. He sets that on the sight computation equipment. Now if he is able to fly so that the wing tips of the enemy aircraft are forever nipped by the outer periphery of the graticule and the centre dot is on the canopy
every time he presses the gun the bullet should go through the enemy canopy. The pilot is presented with this on a screen that he can see through. It’s a round glass screen in front of his eye on the gun sight which is quite a bulky mechanism itself, and he
looks through that and he operates the controls. Having set the computer he then operates the controls of the gun sight mechanism with a handle much like the throttle handle on a motorbike. It is fitted to…in the case of our aircraft, it is fitted to the throttle handle at the left hand of the pilot, and he turns it
to cause the graticule to open in size. As he’s approaching the enemy aircraft the graticule is getting bigger because the enemy wingspan appears to be getting bigger. So he’s rotating this sight control away from him. And as long as he does that and keeps the centre dot…manoeuvring the aircraft…keeps the centre dot on the canopy and if he keeps that graticule just to the right width to be dipping the wing tips
and he presses the gun, it’s going to hit the enemy aircraft. The can be doing a maximum rate turn in a steep turn and if he can get that right then he’s going to get a kill. Now it seems obvious to me now that I think about it that we had a camera which was photographing that so that we could come back afterwards and put it up on a screen, a movie screen
and see the dots of the gun sight graticule and enemy aircraft, and you can see when he’s got it on the canopy. You can see when it’s nipped, and it’s only going to show when the trigger is pulled. Every sign that you have on the screen is
a sign that bullets are going out. So obviously we want the wing tips to be nipped and the centre dot to be on the canopy. We had this fitted to a Mustang, the Vampire and the Meteor. We had the camera working on them too. At least in the training aircraft. I’m not sure in the combat aircraft. They may have had the camera aligned with the guns. So
what you were going to come back with was not just the picture of the graticule, but the picture of the enemy aircraft with hopefully bits flying off it and it exploding and so forth. So we were taught initially to use it in a conventional manner. We would be closing the enemy aircraft and therefore we would be rotating with our left hand the controller in a forward direction – rotating it clockwise.
And that would be producing the widening of the graticule. We were instructed when Brian Eaton came back from Korea that we would need to learn it in reverse. So now we would be closing it and operating the control so that the graticule would be getting smaller because the aircraft would be departing from us. Because the Migs would go passed us at 70 to 100 mile an hour and we had to get a shot in.
Now I hope that explains it. It’s the best I can do in a short time.
we met up in Sydney and we went out to Mascot and we got on a Qantas Skymaster which took us to Darwin, then to Labuan and we spent the night at Labuan and the next night strangely…we had another night then in Hong Kong. Travel took a long time in those days, and then the following day – 27th January we arrived in Japan
at the base that our squadron was using. This was Iwakuni on the inland sea. A very beautiful place. Had been a Japanese naval station. It was pretty cold too. There was a lot of snow around on the hills and blizzardy winds. We were very comfortably accommodated, extremely well accommodated. Very flash quarters that the Japanese had had for themselves. I might have mentioned early,
Smithy and I shared a room and we also shared a room girl who looked after our clothes. She was very good. She would arrive at 6 o’clock in the morning and leave at 6 or 7 o’clock at night. Everything was done. Your shoes were polished, your clothes were looked after. I think they came 6 days a week at least. There was the mess where we would eat. It was a beautiful place
and also wall to wall waitresses just servicing your least whim. They were there. And bar boys and everything. There were a lot of Japanese staff there and very good staff indeed. Hard working. I don’t suppose they were paid very much either. And of course we had Japanese engineers from Mitsubishi servicing our aircraft. Doing a fabulous job.
We were running out of ventral tanks for our aircraft. They were being hit and dropped and our aircraft were being pranged and so forth, and Gloster of course could get them for us from England of course at a very great expense. But the Japs [Japanese] were able to produce them for us, not much better but a quarter of the price. Not much better but a quarter of the price. And they also fitted the radio compasses to our aircraft.
We didn’t have a radio compass. Now a radio compass, the slang name for that was a “Bird Dog” because when you turned it on and tuned it to you home station for example or where ever you wanted to be, it points a needle on a scale, a 360 degree scale, it points in the direction and it’s a very great help. I wouldn’t be without. But the aircraft was designed without it, and they simply would not have us in Korea unless we had the equipment.
So Gloster said, “Well there’s no room for it. We can’t fit it.” So the Mitsubishi boys got to work and in 3 weeks we had our radio compasses. Mark you, Gloster was right in a way because you really had very great difficult in switching it on and tuning the thing. Changing the tuning frequency because it was located in a position where it was almost impossible to get at, particularly for a big man. But at least you could have it tuned permanently
to your own departure station which was what you mainly needed it for. But if you learned how to do it and most of us did, you had to unstrap in the cockpit and squirm to one side and squirm yourself around and eventually you got your right arm around over the top of your life jacket and everything, and assuming once again you’re not too big a man, you could lean back and push your left hand right
round and you would finally reach the crank and you could turn it on to another frequency. But at least we had radio compasses. But I think you were asked about the introduction to the squadron? Well first of all we were introduced to the base and those were a few of the things we found out on the very first day – how good the Japanese were. We had Japanese guards
guarding our camp in uniform with rifles. It was quite a revelation. Quite amazing and they were fine, everything was fine.
This was our first twin engined aircraft. It was our second jet. It was an introduction to a new jet fighter which we were going to be using in combat, and we did 6 and a half hour training, that’s all. And then we went to Korea and into combat. When I came back from my first operational sortie, I had fired my guns in anger,
and I had a total in my logbook for the Meteor aircraft of 9 hours and 35 minutes. That included the ferry flight from Japan to Korea. It included my complete conversion to twin engine aircraft, and it wasn’t just any old twin engine aircraft either. You had to maintain 150 knots on one engine when your engine failed. If you got 150 knots you’d get out of balance. She would tend to roll on her back sort of thing.
But in that time we had to do the normal upper air introduction, stalling blah blah blah. We did one thing and another and then some circuit work, then engine failures. Engine failures on take off, engine failures in circuits. We had to do the Mach run and recovery a couple of times. We did some high altitude flying
to get used to the terrible sloppy lack of control at 40,000 feet because that was where a lot of the fighting was taking place. And we did a little bit of line of stern chasing and trying to lose one another up top. Then we came down and we fired our canons and rockets at an island in the inland sea.
It was set aside for that purpose. It was a beautiful little island and we desecrated it with all these rockets and 20 ml canon shells. There was no where else and apparently it was considered safe. I often wondered about ricochets but it was way out in the middle of the inland sea. At the end of that we had done 6 and a half hours and we were on our way. Quite remarkable.
big reliable canons – 420 ml canons, point harmonised to 800 yards. It was basically a 600 mile an hour mack point eight six aeroplane which is nothing outstanding but it was good for that sort of thing. It had no particular vices in stalls or spins or that sort of thing, or recovery from Mach runs. It had
a very good ejection seat which was a big plus. That was the first plane we had every encountered with the ejection seat. We didn’t have them in the Vampires in those days. The later models got them. It had…unfortunately a ventral tank under the belly which was very very prone to copping the flak and exploding. We lost a lot of fellas that way.
So even when it was empty and you had used all the fuel in it, still if you got hit it was likely to blow up because of the fumes inside. That was perhaps one of the Meteor’s big draw backs. But it had an endurance with the ventral tank of maybe an hour and a half which wasn’t too bad.
I couldn’t say there was anything particularly wrong with it except tuning that radio compass was devilishly difficult but at least it could be done. It was equipped with two Rolls Royce Derwent engines which were 3600 pounds of thrust each I think. They were very very reliable engines. We were getting…well we were chasing 700 hours which
in those days was terrific for a jet engine. Probably we were getting 600. Also the American engines in those days were doing about 80 hours between overhauls. Between being pulled out, and sent off to be completely rebuilt, we were getting 600 plus and they were getting 80 hours. That was how good our engines were. Also
the…I was about to say something and it’s slipped my mind now, about the engines. Yes they were very reliable and stalling characteristics of the aircraft were fine, but when you were loaded with guns and everything else, if you lost an engine on take off you were had it. There was no way she would keep flying. She would go straight down.
And even if you fired off your rockets and dropped the ventral tank I still don’t think you would fly. So we had a little bit of a yearning for those 2 motors when we were heavy. Once you had got your weight down she was fine on one engine.
almost north south it ran maybe 10 or 15 miles to the west of Seoul. And it was the home of a good many other units. The American 4th Fighter Wing under Colonel Harrison Thyng. A nice guy and he used to come down to our mess occasionally and see us.
They were flying Sabres. They were flying the F86A and just getting into the F86E which was a much better aeroplane but still not quite a match for the Mig. The American pilots were brilliant. There’s no other word for them. They were absolutely top notch [first class]. They were knocking the Migs out of the sky like you wouldn’t believe and that’s pretty good when you consider
they had to go way up near the Yalu River to do it, and not infrequently they would arrive back out of fuel. They used to practice it actually and they would sometimes shut the engines down and glide back and then start the engine up and just land. The fuel was exceedingly tight. We found it very tight too and we had some near misses with arriving back out of fuel…or was just about out of fuel.
And that’s a bit frightening. Now, you asked about my first impressions of Korea. Well the runway was very busy. We had to orbit and really I wasn’t used to getting down to such low fuel figures but we did get down when the gauges were looking very plaintive indeed. We had to land on a runway which was not terribly long. It was slippery snow and so on and along the side of the runway there was snow piled up about
6 or 8 feet high. It had been ploughed off the runway. And the taxi ways were made of perforated steel plaiting so they were quite slippery. And our flight lines were protected…the aircraft were protected by huge sandbag revetments. So these were my first impressions. The very busy runway, the snow everywhere, snow piled up, the rattly taxi way, the revetments [retaining walls],
and then seeing all the fellows there, the friends and getting into the quarters which were tents…biggest tents. There were four to a tent, and 2 oil heaters in a tent. You needed that. They had wooden floors, and they were wooded up to about 4 or 5 feet which was a very good thing because of the blizzardy winds
there. So the tents weren’t too bad at all. And we had duckboards [wooden boards] to walk on, actually old ammunition cases turned up side down. There was slush and everything every where. And we had good messing facilities. Sort of a hut type of thing. Good shower room with
good hot showers. Slit trenches, anti aircraft guns, wire entanglements. So it looked like a military airfield believe you me.
They had probably flown in World War II and been called up again. No, I think they were regular air force. If they had been called up they had been given a lot of training. I don’t think they were National Guard. They were regular air force. They were captains, majors, colonels. Not young men, but they would average about 28, 30 sort of thing. We were quite a bit younger than they.
And we were vastly less experienced on our aircraft type. They had a lot of time on their aircraft type. They also had strict operational routines and very good equipment, but I was very impressed with the fact that they had such flying discipline and such wonderful pairs combat routine. You fly in pairs in combat.
You’ve got the leader and his wing man. They would repeatedly say, “The wing man is the important man because anyone can sit there and fire the guns but if you haven’t got a good wing man you’re dead because he’s got to keep a look out. He’s got to stay with his leader but he’s also got to keep a terrific lookout for the enemy. He’s got to know when to call a break”. He would feel very foolish if he called a break
when the leader is just about to push the trigger. And then the Mig doesn’t turn up for another 20 or 30 seconds. So he wouldn’t make any friends that way. So his judgement has to be very good indeed. But they were just plain excellent pilots. That’s all I can say.
You also mentioned one of your first impressions was the airport. The control tower there you said was so busy, what was that like?
Well it was the old conventional type of control tower – radio and visual sighting. There were radar installations around. I’m not sure what the control tower itself had in the way of radar. But they would have had what ever was going because they would have had the best. I know that there was ground control interception radar up on a hill nearby. GCI [ground control interception].
They controlled us in the air a lot of the time. They went by various call signs. There was Dentist; Bromide; and there was Shirley. If you were on an operational mission you would be under the control of one or the other. But if they wanted to vector you onto enemy aircraft or suspect aircraft then it was generally Dentist who did that.
I paid a visit to the radar hill and had a look at all the equipment and spoke with the people in charge there and I was most impressed with them. They used experienced career pilots, pilots who had been flying missions in Korea operating the radar. I mean you can’t get better than that because you’re talking to a man in Dentist or whatever, you’re talking to a man who has the actual flying experience.
No, they were very efficient.
they would just clear us onto the runway for takeoff and away we would go and do our own thing. You would roll on with your wing man who was slightly back behind you. He was very close to you and you would apply almost full throttle, not quite. You wouldn’t have full throttle because he might not be able to keep up if his engine was not quite as good as yours. I think it’s 14000 revs [revolutions].
and then you gave him the sign like that, and oh…you went like that and then you applied the power, and when he was obviously wound up also you then went like that and then you let the brakes off and he stayed right on your wing tip, and when you got to the rotate point at about 120 knots or something and you lifted off at about 130. I think you rotate at about 105 or so and airborne at 125 or 130. That was pretty slow considering the terrible load we had on.
But we couldn’t afford to be much more than that or we would have run out of runway. While we’re rotating there were two more aircraft in mid runway following us and there are two more just starting to roll behind them. So the runway was full. And that’s how we got so many aircraft into the air at one time. After all the aircraft had taken off the controller would call in the arriving aircraft and they would land on it about one to ever 12 to 15 seconds.
So it was quite a busy show I can tell you.
And it was enough to make an approach and land, go round again if you got in trouble and still have enough to have your engines spinning when you stopped. It wasn’t much more than that. But if you got into trouble you would arrive back with very little fuel. And
as I say some people did run out. Also there was jet wash from preceding aircraft. When you’re coming into land 12 to 15 second behind another guy you’re liable to pick up some of his turbulence just from his wings. But if he applied power because he was undershooting he could turn you on your back.
It happened to me once. If it’s a cross wind it’s not so bad because the turbulent air gets blown sideways, but if the winds running straight down the runway you’re going to cop it. And then there was a case I saw of an aircraft arriving back with an air speed indicator out and he didn’t have time to get someone up to fly alongside him to
give him the proper speeds and so forth. He did a terribly landing. Well he didn’t land, he went over the top. He overshot. He went the full length of the runway and went over a hill and landed on the other side because of the extra speed he had on. He obviously panicked.
just passed the peak, it was pretty cold, but it was improving. I didn’t encounter any blizzard stuff or anything like that. It was just snow being ploughed off the runway and we were dressed for it, and it didn’t worry me really at all. We flew with American combat boots which were
the best boots you could ever have. They were magnificent boots, very light, very strong and they came well up the ankle and they lasted and lasted and lasted. A fellow who was taken prisoner of war were very grateful for the American combat boots. But we always had to have them on when we flew. But in the winter months we had to have snow shoes which were strapped over the top. They were huge boots.
We also wore when we were flying in the winter, a string vest, warm singlet sort of thing and then a warm woollen shirt and then a flying suit over the top all that. The trousers underneath that were gaberdine
about 4 and 5 thickness with big pockets. They were very very strong and very warm. And as I say a flying suit over all that. And we had gloves and a middle parker jacket. We didn’t fly in the middle parker jacket. We used to have that for getting round the place. It had a hood and a penguin tail and it was fleecy lined.
It was very warm and very weather proof. We were well looked after. Very warm socks. And I never really felt like complaining about the cold.
Pretty warm I would say. It was not too good getting up in the morning and I remember one of my first sorties there. The officer was leading us out for a first light thing. He came and roused me. “Kingie come on get up.” “Gee, I’ll skip breakfast, I catch up with you.” “No you will not. You’ll have breakfast.”
Vic Turner. “No one flies with me without breakfast.” So I learned my lesson and from then on I made sure I always went to breakfast. We took a jeep down to breakfast and there would be none of this having a hot shower before hand or anything. But you would just dress yourself alongside the heater. You’d put your middle parker, your gloves on and so on. You’d just jump in the jeep
which was an open jeep and go to the mess hut which was very good. It was the 67 Tactical Recon [reconnaissance]. Oh the thing I didn’t explain was that more than half the squadron pilots were non commissioned. There were a few warrant officers but mainly we were sergeants and a few flight sergeants. And the Americans couldn’t handle that. They couldn’t understand anything other than officer pilot. Now we were to do our messing with them.
So what were we going to do? So the RAAF came up with a simple solution. We took all our rank badges off and we just had our wings and a name tag. And my name tag was COLKING. So I got “colonel” from all the Yanks. I was quite happy to run with that.
I was 21 and I was probably the youngest colonel on the base. But when you were being served in this 67th Tact [tactical reconnaissance], they looked at you and saw this colonel thing and you got the best of service.
I had a good relationship with a lot of them, real good. There was the 67th Tactical Recon. They were flying A20 Invaders which was a derivation of the Boston. And I was rather interested in the Boston because I had made a model. It might be sitting there at the table. I got friendly with Captain James Townsend
and he said he would like to have a fly in a Meteor. We had a two-seater Meteor there so I took him for a one hour fly in a Meteor, and then…I don’t know who suggested, I think I did, “Would he take me on one of his missions?” And he said, “Sure you can be our observer.” I fronted up at the appointed hour at about
7 or 8 o’clock at night. It was a night mission. They fitted me with an unfamiliar parachute. They briefed me on the mission and they briefed me on my duties which wasn’t very much. They put me into the observer’s seat and it was the most interesting mission I think I did in the whole time I was in Korea. At night everything’s lit up. All the flak [anti aircraft fire] and everything was just like a fairyland.
Actually it was like fire cracker night if you know what I mean. It was a four hour mission and we came back in bad weather and we had to do a GCA. That’s Ground Control Approach with radar. It was a most interesting night and then he invited me over later to see the photos they’d taken. It was all photographic. We weren’t dropping bombs or firing rockets or anything like that. When I came back to Australia – I had retained my friendship with him, and I had only been home for about
2 months and I got a letter from the United States from a family over there, and it said, “Sergeant King from the RAAF is invited to attend the wedding of their daughter Carol in such a such a church at such a such a time in Kansas…to Major…”, he had been promoted… “James (UNCLEAR) Townsend”. I was very touched. I wasn’t
able to go over but I did think it was wonderful.
Can you talk us through a couple of these missions. I would like to know about them in detail. Maybe one from the beginning while you were still getting used to it?
Right. I’ll give you one. The 6th of March…terrible story. I suppose it would have been about my 4th or 5th mission. I was flying with a fella by the name of Bill Percy, a flight lieutenant who was killed a few months later. A very nice chap. We were called upon, probably at fairly short notice, to
attack a gaggle of trucks, a column of trucks. I can’t remember why it was just the two of us sent out, but it was late in the day and I can only think that all the others were out already, or home and finished and it would take too long to get hold of them. And they told us where these trucks were and they told us to go out and get them. Now we…Bill Percy knew where they were fortunately.
I’m not quite sure why but he did tell me. “I know exactly where they are Col, let’s go.” We took off and I was formatting on him down sun. That means I’m looking up into the sun and the glare was terrible. I got out my dark glasses and put them on. That was much better. When we found our target, it was half past 7 at night and it was
getting fairly duskish. We were attacking in a valley and there was a lot of flak because what we were attacking were trucks full of troops. They were scattering like…it was like hitting an ant heap. They were running everywhere. And of course they were all flying at us also. It was “blink blink blink”. There was also heavy armament there. We were doing a good high speed, 650 mile an hour, and we were well spaced because if
we went too close behind one another ricochets at least could shoot the other fella down. We were both having successful hits on these trucks. I was alarmed at the fact that, “Here we are strafing at night”. It was quite dark, and also I was not terribly used to this
sort of thing. And I probably came in a little bit steeper than I should have, and when I pulled out the aircraft kept going because of the momentum. This happened to quite a few people. By the time I actually pulled out I was looking up at telegraph poles. That’s how low I was. And finally, we both got hit, not badly but we did get hit. We didn’t know at the time.
Finally we knocked off for want of fuel. Or maybe we were out of ammunition. But we knocked off and headed home. Now it was really dark and I started to wonder why I couldn’t see the instruments very well. Mind you I hadn’t done a night landing in a Meteor before. I turned up the lights and gee whiz it was dark. And I could just see Bill Percy, the exhaust stubs of his engines and so forth.
He put on his lights when we got near base and I could see…on the tail light, a crucifix tail, there’s a light in the centre of that in the back, and I followed that around in the circuit and I was very grateful for it because I couldn’t see the runway because it’s very dim in a war airport because they shroud the lights. I followed him round and I got down alright no problem.
Anyway it seemed to me to be a pretty dicey exercise. First night landing in a Meteor and I thought, “I wouldn’t want to do too much of this in bad weather.” I walked across the tarmac to talk to Bill and he said, “Do you always fly at night with your dark glasses on?” And that was an embarrassing moment and I said, “Thank goodness they don’t issue clots [idiots] medals in this war.”
Now that might be as good an example as any of the action itself.
an enemy aircraft on the tail or about to get on the tail of his leader, he will call Break Left or Break Right in a fairly urgent tone of voice. That’s one call you’ll get apart from calls to and from control, acknowledgements and so forth. The commander wants to
turn onto a new heading, or change the squadron direction onto a new heading, he’ll might say, “Turning right zero seven zero degrees, go”, or something like that. And when you turn the aircraft don’t retain their relationship like that. Those ones will slide underneath and the other two will slide over the top. They almost reverse the position. Not that you roll the aeroplane.
But you’re coming around you can see…if they’re spread a long way apart and they’ve got to go from there to there, this one would go the short distance and that one would have to go a longer distance and it wouldn’t work. So you cross over and cross under like that. So all aircraft are doing about the same distance of travel. It takes a bit of practice and there are commands associated with that, the heading change and so on.
But in identifying a target, and commands that are required for common sense. I can’t think of any other standard sort of calls. We had a call sign. I think we were “Godfrey”. That was the sign for the
I remember feeling very excited about that. On that mission though one of our fellas got shot down. It was a rocket mission and I saw where it went and followed him down and circled round. He was a South African pilot. I circled round and tried to locate him. I thought I saw him and realised I was getting low on fuel.
I headed back to Kimpo and landed with so little in the tanks that I couldn’t even taxi to the revetments. That was my final mission. And when I reported to debriefing the CO was there and he said, “Do you know where he is?” and I said I was pretty sure I did. He said he wanted me to take four aircraft at first light, “Try and locate him and if you locate him we’ll send in a chopper.”
So in the very early morning he delegated these 3 other guys. I was down there well before first light. We had had breakfast. We were all booted and spurred [ready to go] but there was cloud across the whole of the area, and it was reported to be forecast to be out over the target area as well. But certainly we couldn’t take off with that low cloud. So we sat around and waited and waited and waited, and
it was not going to lift. So the CO came down and said, “It was the best we could do, so that’s it.” That meant I was officially finished. If that cloud had been not quite so bad, I would have done another mission and you never know who that might have finished up with all that dash cloud about. It might have ended up that when I got back all the airfields were out. That had happened once before, and
that could have been my final mission in a big way because I would have had nothing else to do except bail out, go up to a decent height over the field and eject. That would be four aircraft ejecting, what a terrible thing that would have been. Anyway that chap that was on the ground, I heard all about his story after the war and he was on the loose for a whole week
and he would have been appreciating it very much if we had been circling round because he stayed in the vicinity for those 24 hours. And if he had stayed in the vicinity and circled around him if there had been good visibility. He could have come out and waved and with a bit of luck we could have called in a chopper and maybe brought him out. He was a South African.
His wife rang me just recently from England, we had a long talk – 3 or 4 times actually – and I sent her copies of the book. She was particularly interested in the one about the prisoners of course. He got a very rough time of it.
They would go through them and if there was anything which might be offensive to his folks at home, they would dispose of that and then they would parcel it all up. I don’t know what the procedure was after that but I did hear about if there was anything offensive they would dispose of it. That was just hearsay but it made a lot of sense.
Of course you don’t have a funeral or a wake or anything like that. Nothing. It’s just business as usual. I remember one. I came back off a mission where one of the chaps I was leading had copped the chop. He was a young fellow from cadet college Point Cook. And one of the other pilots was his brother-in-law, because
John’s sister had married this Bill Hughes. Bill was very distraught. Bill was an officer from the same course. There were a group of them there who had passed out at Point Cook as officers. They had done a five year course or something. They went in at the age of 15 or 16 and did the full course. They graduated just after us and they came up to Korea as
flying officers. We were sergeants and there was a little bit of class distinction there. And I was leading one of these as my number two. He didn’t pull out of the dive. I think he must have been hit by flak. The other two were pilots flying in the vicinity and had actually let the squadron out. They led the four of us out there and they circled around for
ages. I did a bit of circling too with the hope we might see a parachute or see some evidence of a parachute on the ground. You never know when they get hit the pilot might be able to pull the ejection seat and out he goes and make it. And if your back was turned you wouldn’t see it happened. My back was turned and I looked around and saw this sheet of flame across the country side. I didn’t see him go in and I didn’t see the actual contact,
and I didn’t see him in the dive so he could have ejected. So we always took the precaution of having a good look around. I arrived back and the news had already got there, and Hughes, (that’s the brother-in-law) and he was terribly distressed. That was one of worse cases of someone being distressed that I’ve ever seen.
about the numbers in that stage of the game. I was thinking that at that stage Smithy and I had done about 140 missions and I really didn’t know how many more I would be likely to do. It never crossed my mind. It did a 160 including that bomber and all of a sudden I was finished. They just said, “Bing, you’re finished”.
And I must say I was surprised. I really expected to keep going. It was a funny thing that. There was no finite number established. You went when they could afford to let you go. That was it really. So I went and took some leave in Japan in order to come home from Japan with a particular ground crew fellow who was due to come home in
a fortnight’s time. And I do remember that on the day that we left Iwakuni, he and I got on the plane, I was taking a photo, just before going up the steps, and there was a doctor standing there. I knew him. I had probably been talking to him. But I knew he was a doctor. But he came over and he was looking at me and he was shaking his head and he didn’t say anything. And then I realised why. My hands were like that. I just couldn’t stop the shaking. It was the excitement. I’m going home. But that doctor was saying, “Good gracious”. I was shaking so badly. That was the thrill of going home.
We used to call him “The Beak”. He had a great sense of humour and we spent much of our time studying. So we used to be working together and talking about things. Smithy did some private flying down at Moorabbin to get ready for the flight grading.
So we had that in common as well. He was from Adelaide so when we went on leave he went there and we didn’t go together. But we did travel a lot together. We were just fellows who hit it off. The remarkable thing was, whilst all the others in our group separated at some stage or other, Smithy and
I were never separated. Even when it came to accommodation we were always together. Close rooms at Point Cook and other various places where we were we were always just alongside each other. We seemed to be thrown together by circumstances as well. Also we had this bond in that we were both neck and neck. Both
academic and flying marks. We knew that. We had a spy system. I suppose it’s okay to talk about it now. We had to do guard duty at Point Cook. In the middle of the night we used to roam the place with loaded 303s [rifles] and so on in cold cold weather, and we’d go right passed the
flight hut where all our records were kept. All the “hate sheets” as we used to call them where they would record everything they thought about you, so we used to call them hate sheets. And I’m sure I didn’t initiate it but I do know that blokes were breaking open the window with a bayonet, getting in and examining the hate sheets. The word got around,
“You and Smithy are doing alright and all this sort of thing”. “How do you know?” “Oh a little bird told me”, and so of course it all came out. So when I was on guard duty the bayonet came out and up went the window. No problem. We would pop in and read this one’s hate sheet with a torch. We wouldn’t switch all the lights on. And in this way we could tell that Smithy and I were going very very close
in everything. That didn’t make us rivals in a sense that there was any ill feeling. But it did create another sort of a bond if you know what I mean. And then of course when we reached Japan we went around together, we went into town together, had a few drinks together. We went everywhere together
down to the flight hut, we flew together because we were the only two doing conversions. So we’d go off in a pair and we’d do what we had to do. I’d chase him and then he’d chase me. We would fire rockets together. I came back from Hiroshima having circled over Hiroshima at about 50 feet and said, “Gee Smithy, you should see Hiroshima.” He said, “I saw it this morning Col.” So we saw everything the same time just about.
Migs. I had exposed myself to them with a new chum [pilot] who had just arrived. I was taking him on his familiarisation flight. I was pointing things out on the ground to him and I didn’t keep a lookout and suddenly these 5 Migs shot over the top of us. But for some reason they didn’t see us. No idea why. I’ve no idea why because they were only a couple of thousand feet above.
You can tell a Mig from a Sabre in a flash because the Sabre tail is different to the Mig. The Mig has a high tail. The Meteor has a high tail. You’ve got the fin and the horizontal plane on the top. The Mig was the same and that’s what passed over the top of us. Anyway, so I was telling Smithy about this as we were about to get into our aircraft.
Smithy was leading the four. There was Smithy and his wing man was a Pilot Officer Howard from Point Cook, and I was leading the next one and Max Outfate was my number two. Max became an air commodore and he died last year. Howard was killed flying Vampires in Germany some years later. So they’re all dead except me and that’s
a typical situation I’m afraid. I can name that over and over again. All dead except Col King. I’m counting the days and saying that every one’s a bonus. On this occasion, Smithy and Howard went down. The way we used to do it…two would stay up high – by high I mean maybe 5 or 10,000 feet – not really high. When you were doing this road reccee [reconnoitre/reconnaissance] stuff you didn’t want to be way up in the heavens.
And two would go down. Always two and two. Two were up high, A to conserve fuel during that period and B to watch out for enemy fighters. The others would maybe have a shot at them. Smithy was leading the four of us and he had briefed that he and Howard would go down first. He saw his trucks on the highway,
and he called Howard and told him he was going down to pick off those trucks. And down they went. I watched them. I saw Smithy in his dive. I don’t know if I saw the smoke from his guns, but I saw tracers coming up from the truck convoy. The next things there was a great sheet of orange flame across the country side for a
couple of kilometres and bits of aircraft tumbling through the air. That was Smithy. Howard called up and said, “Smithy’s gone in”, and that was it. I have no doubt that he was killed. I saw him on short final in his diving in attack. I don’t think I saw him actually hit, I’m not sure, but it was a very short final. Probably I saw him firing his guns.
So he wouldn’t have survived. There was no way. He was declared missing. I wrote to the air force regarding his situation after the war or after I came back from Korea. What did I write for exactly, but the reply I got and I’ve still got it somewhere was that he was still recorded as missing in action.
was giving my report, there was an English Group Captain, RAF World War II and the man I was reporting to, Bill Bennett was Acting CO. He had been decorated and taken prisoner in World War II as a pilot. Incidentally he bailed out over Holland at 3000 feet. The parachute didn’t open and he came all the way down without it and all he got was a broken leg. He landed in a fir tree which
was full of snow and tumbled down through the bits and pieces of fir tree in a snow bank and the Germans dug him out. They saw it happen. So I wasn’t going to make too much of a fuss about it, but he did say to me, “Col, he was your special friend wasn’t he?” I said, “Yes”, and he said we would hop down to the mess and have a beer
and I thought that was rather nice of him. And the next day I was required to lead four aircraft on a sortie and a senior flight lieutenant rode along as my wingman. And I remember it went very well. I recall it well. I recall calling to them all, “Follow me” to the trucks on the road, and I remember drawing a bead on a truck and pressing the trigger for a half a second and the truck blew up like that. And I remember these guys saying,
“Good on you Kingie”. Now we came back and I found from there on I was rostered regularly 8 aircraft, and then I lead 12 and then I lead 16. I lead the whole squadron on a major mission and that was because I had stood the test sort of thing. And I was pleased about that. But that was the way we lived. We
were acting out a part the whole time really. I think that’s what it was. You didn’t talk about things in the mess very much. The more of a rough day you had the less you had to say in the mess. But the Americans were different. They would rattle on for ever about what had happened during their big day. But I liked them.
had asked me to come and talk with him and the flight commander about the mission because it was a very important one. The CO and the flight commander were a bit new and I think…in common with other people, they had trouble finding places and being sure they were going to find it. You get out there with
16 aircraft and you can’t locate your target, it’s embarrassing. So he was talking to me about this, so it was decided the Wing Commander Parker was going to lead, the CO was going to be further behind and I was going to be wingman to Parker, and the word was I was to give him a nudge if I was pointing in the wrong direction
or was getting lost of something. Well that wasn’t a feasible policy, you can’t really work it that way. They must have realised that when we came to brief. All the crews were there to brief and he and Parker were having a look at model, the 3D [three dimensional] model of Korea. He called me over and he said, “Col, you lead. Ian will be your wingman.”
He asked if I knew where it was and I did, so I was able to just go there and find it. We poured those rockets in and the smoke was up to 3000 feet for the rest of the day. It was a huge upheaval, an enormous explosion. It must have been an enormous ammunition dump.
the Brits [British] sent out 2 or 3 training officers who had had quite a bit of time on the Meteor. One of them was Scannel, and he converted Dick Cresswell and then others. The role that the Meteor was going to be used in had to be discussed at the highest level
with the senior officers of 5th Air Force, USA [United States of America]. 5th Air Force expressed the view that the Meteor was not up to the job of air to air fighting at high level. We should have taken note of their opinion because they knew much more about it than we did. But Dick wanted to be up there fighting Migs. And Scannel did too because it was a British aeroplane.
That’s my guess. So they arranged a combat trial test between a Sabre and a Meteor. But it was an F86A which was the early model Sabre and it was not a great aeroplane. The E was a lot better and it was the F that came in at the end of the war which was a much better aeroplane. So the Meteor
and the Sabre fought one another for as long as they could. I’m not sure if it was one test, or two or three. Neither could gain an advantage over the other. It was evident though that the Meteor was at a great disadvantage at high altitude. That was known. But other than that the Meteor held its own with the Sabre. So the matter was rediscussed and I think 5th Air Force said, “You fellows should concentrate on something else,
like ground attack”. But Scannel and Dick wanted to go this way and 5th Air Force said, “Okay”. But at the time none of them knew just how good the Mig was. They didn’t realise it was a brilliant high altitude fighter. And had they known they wouldn’t have considered it for the Meteor. So anyway
Ron Guthrie tells me that about 6 or 7 years ago - it could even be more, but that’s the impression I got…that Dick Cresswell said to him…came up to him I think at an Anzac [Day] parade or something, and said, “Ron I owe you an apology.” He hadn’t seen him since he had been taken prisoner. “This is my opportunity and I want to apologise to you because it was me who sent you guys up there to fight those Migs.”
He did it too. It wasn’t that he sent them and didn’t go himself. But it was a mistake.
And he wanted to…well he was just a very much a fighter type. He was designed for it, he was built for it, he enjoyed it I think. Bill Bennett was rather obsessed with the idea that he wanted to get a Mig, I will say that. After 2 of our young flying officers got Migs, Simmons and Sermon. Bill was a little envious it seemed to us. He wanted to get himself a Mig. My good friend Geoff Lushie tells me that Bill
got him one day and said, “Lushie, we’re going up to Mig alley [explained below]. We’re going to get a Mig.” So they booted and spurred and away they went and roared up to Mig alley which was a bloody silly thing to do…on their own and they pranced around there hoping that the
Migs would attack so Bill could get a Mig. But the Migs weren’t going to be in that. So they came home and Geoff said…he realised they were in trouble with fuel and they were only half way home. He said he didn’t make it to the revetments. He made it just onto the tarmac and stopped. And I had to be towed. And he said he told Bill, he said, “I’m out of fuel.” Bill said, “Gee you must have been thumping those throttles.” A bad pilot often uses more fuel because it’s a bit rough with the throttles.
So Geoff thought, “Well blow him I’m going to see how much fuel he has left”. Now the Meteor held 595 gallons. Geoff’s aircraft took 595, and Bill’s took 585. He had 10 gallons left.
It’s an area that’s been marked out and nominated as that by our fellas in those days. It was an area in which most of the Migs did their dirty work. They flew around at the top of Mig alley and they did most of their shooting down in Mig alley. It’s just an
area where our bombers used to go to attack their targets and their Migs used to come down and attack us. So the Migs used to take off across the Yalu River in Manchuria and there were 4 or 5 airfields and the main one was Antung. The Migs used to take off out of these airfields and climb to high altitude and then come in over the top at about 55,000 feet. That was outside of our range and even outside of the Sabre’s range.
Then when they felt like it they would come darting down shooting at our guys and then whiz back across the border to where they were safe again. We were not allowed to go over that side of the border. They were all the time running home to their safe area north of the border. That’s where they lived. That’s where they took off. That’s where they climbed and that’s where they ran to the moment they fired on our blokes.
But in spite of that and in spite of the fact the Sabres had to come all the way up from…hundreds of miles up from Kimpo, fight, and then fly all the way back again, the Sabres were bringing them down at the rate of about five to one. They were really shooting them down.
I was supposed to report to Base Squadron Richmond and I said, “Look any chance of getting a posting to Mosquitos?” They said, “Oh there’s no more Mosquitos in the air force any more.” And I said, “Well I believe there are.” So I asked them to enquire and when I phoned the following week they said they had found a Mosquito squadron, and they made enquiries and a week later they had
posted me down to 87 Squadron at Canberra. So I drove my car down there and did a conversion with the best Mosquito pilot in the country, Squadron Leader Ted McKenzie. A marvellous man. And then we took the Mosquito to Western Australia and up to Port Hedland. First of all Pearce in Western Australia. That’s near Perth,
and then up to Port Hedland for the next…best part of the next year, doing photo survey work. Very productive. Long submissions…6 and 7 hours at a time. Very precise work. We were earning our money too. The air force was being paid for that by the Central Mapping Authority. It was the only squadron in the air force that was paying its way. When it was finished
the Mosquitos into storage at Tocumwal. You know they were Australian built, the Mosquitos. The same ones I was working on at de Havillands. They didn’t even keep one sample. They just sold them as a job lot for various scrap merchants and they cut them up with chain saws. They’re trying to make more now, to resurrect old ones, and they’re actually trying to rebuild them.
had been blown across and we had about ten minutes fuel when we arrived back, and there we were, all the airfields clouded out. By all the rules, if we had had any brains at all we would have climbed up and bailed out and come down by parachute. We didn’t even consider that because Les Skye who was leading us reckoned he could get us in because the [control] tower had told him that the cloud base was about 200 feet.
And we could slip in underneath it. It seemed reasonable. But it may be 200 feet at the airfield but there was ground out there which was 150 feet, so even if it was still 200 you only had 50 feet to spare. So anyway we were going to give it a go. He led us down over the Han River in line astern at a slow speed.
The Han River is at Seoul and it’s about 10 miles from our airfield. We were purely navigating by visual reference and recollection of land marks and a bit of a bend in the river gave him a bit of a clue and he turned a flew a heading which he figured would be about right to take us to a base leg position for our runway 35. It
turned out that that was right. There were hills, wires and ragged low cloud and we were down to about 70 gallons. Not much fuel when you consider at low level the engine uses the fuel at a very high rate.
Now that was frightening but it was prolonged frightening. It was a very very tense experience. It wasn’t just a fright, “bang” like that. We got in but only by the skin of our teeth. And we would have had no option once we had lowered the wheels and one thing and another, there was no way we could bail out. You can’t sort of pull a flap up and climb and so forth. You would only get up to about 300 feet, just up into the cloud,
and that was it. You couldn’t bail out from that height. You needed 800 feet to eject out safely from those planes. And even that’s pretty close to the ground believe me. But probably the next one I would mention in that particularly context would be having the engine shot out.
We’ll do it one at a time. When you’re trying to come down and you’re low on fuel, what thoughts go through your mind?
Well you’re pretty busy doing what you’re doing. When you’ve always had everything work out alright, you always expect that it will work out alright. And for this reason you’re able to keep concentrating on exactly what you’re doing and do it precisely right.
It takes you mind off the possibility. If you start thinking about, “What if, what if…?” You know what I mean? It’s a matter of having a certain type of mind. And if you’ve got that sort of mind that says, “Oh my gosh we’re going to run out of fuel here, what are we going to do?” By that time you’ve lost track of what you are doing and you may hit something or get off the ball altogether.
So you’re preoccupied with what you’re doing you don’t think about it. It’s once you land and after the pressure’s off that you get the trembles and you get the worries. I know we were all pretty shaken by that experience of having almost no fuel.
going round again with only one engine, and then come back in and land with only one engine. Then a takeoff where you lose the engine just after takeoff. It’s very light weight and you wouldn’t climb much. It was very very slow getting any climb up. But you could struggle up to 500 or 600 feet and then come back and do a landing. Once again the magic figure was 150 knots and you have to keep the aircraft
in balance. By that I mean the thing must not be allowed to slide sideways. You have to keep the wind coming along the length of the fuselage. That’s indicated to you by a little black ball, and by application of rudder you trim the rudder out so it helps you to keep it in the middle. And you watch that all the time and make sure it stays in the middle which means the airflow is straight down the aircraft which means the wings are getting equal amounts
of lift and you long as you’ve got as much power as you can afford on that other engine, and you fly the right speed, you will just…if she’s light enough, then once again she will gradually climb. But if you’re heavy, you’re dead. You’re going to go down.
attack. No rockets. Full fuel of course. Always full fuel, 959 pounds. Ramsay was leading us. Alf Wate was number two. Frane was number three and I was number four. It would appear that the trucks we were attacking were loading with heavy ack ack.
They were probably a flak unit moving down to a town on the main supply route. And they were ready for us. They were stationary and they were firing their guns. I was hit in the right hand engine and the wing. There
were holes in the wing, and the speed brake. And immediately I was hit the aircraft slew – I was in a dive, I was firing my guns. Immediately I was hit I pulled up and dropped the ventral tank to get rid of the weight of the ventral tank. I didn’t need that. Half the fuel in it was gone anyway and I wasn’t far from home. I had plenty to get home, but I wanted to get rid of weight so I dropped the ventral tank.
I called the leader and told him I was hit and heading for home. I struggled very slowly up to about 3000 feet, and of course the leader instructed Frane, Flying Officer Frane to accompany me. So he found me again and he formatted on me. And it was just a matter of a straight out single engine landing.
and operate my speed brakes and my foot brakes and all those sort of things. It’s a peculiar thing but they only had one hydraulic pump in one engine and mine was gone. However there’s an emergency air bottle for lowering the undercarriage. If you use that then you’re not using any hydraulic pressure. You’ve saved that. And if you use your
hand pump to put down a bit of flap, you’ve still got your accumulator left for your brake. So that was the way I played it if I remember rightly. So when I was ready and positively sure of a landing, I operated the lever for lowering the wheels down. I got green lights. And then there’s a big hand pump and I think I pumped out some flap and maybe put the rest of the flap out with
a bit of the accumulator pressure. And the brakes…probably there was enough accumulator pressure left for that. This sort of thing is part of your training, and also you’ve got to remember to operate the balance cock. There’s a balance valve there which ensures that all engines will be fed from all available fuel.
Well all engines in my case was the one engine only, the port one. So I wanted to get all available fuel, otherwise I would be running off port fuel only and if the port fuel runs out I’m in trouble. So I had to remember to pull this balance cock to get fuel from both sides. So they are the little things that you’re supposed to automatically remember. We didn’t
have check lists. It’s an interesting thing. I’ve done 30 years or more of civil flying and everything was check lists check lists. I flew all those complicated aeroplanes in the air force with no check list. It always was up here and you had to operate off the top of your mind, and it seemed to work for us. We were younger and we had always done it that way and we were trained to do it that way. So I suppose it’s alright. One of the reason civil aviation
insists on checklists is for the legal point of view. There are too many legal ramifications if something doesn’t get done. The checklist and “The first officer’s got to do this and the captain’s got to do that and it’s got to be called and responded and it goes onto the voice recorder”. Everything. So if anything happens later then you can go right back. “Was the check list done right?” “Did the first officer respond and so on?”
You can well understand it. People who were in the air force sometimes found it a bit of a pain in the tail when they had to do checklists, myself included.
No, I would have had an instinctive philosophy that I would never have articulated or maybe thought about. At that stage in my life I hadn’t started to realise just how much a part luck played in my life. See, I have various philosophies about it and I wouldn’t like to suggest that they’re right, but they’re there just the same.
And I certainly haven’t got any reasonable rationale to give for it. It seems to me there are some people who are lucky and some people who are not. And greater minds than mine have thought along these lines. Napoleon [Bonaparte] said, “Do not give me skilful generals, give me lucky generals.”
Hitler was of the same mind, not that he’s a great man to quote. But when the raider Kormoran was going down the Kiel Canal in order to get out into the ocean and sink our tonnages, it came under the charge of a ship’s pilot going through the Kiel Canal. The captain of the ship did not have command of his ship nor was he required to.
The pilot ran the vessel onto a sand bank. Hitler immediately replaced the captain of the Kormoran, and he said to him, “This is no reflection on your skill or your application of duty, it’s a reflection on the fact that you’re not a lucky captain. Commanders of raiders have to be lucky men.” Interesting isn’t it. Not that Hitler
was necessarily right. But another man in the international command field, like…we’ve just been speaking about Napoleon who felt along these lines. I’m inclined to agree with them.
flown by a sergeant pilot. The captain was a flight lieutenant. The sergeant was in the left hand seat, the captain in the right hand seat. It was night time. It was about 3 am. We were out off the coast. We were circling around over naval vessels including a submarine. And our job was to descend to 300 feet, drop a flame float on the submarine
and then circle around the sub at 300 feet in a series of steep turns, 45 to 50 degrees of bank, dropping solid buoys. These are little floating transmitters. You drop them around where you reckon the sub [submarine] is. You know exactly where you’ve dropped them on a plot, and then you listen for the propeller noise. You then get a plot and you can work out which way the sub’s going.
So we were in the process of doing this. I wasn’t in the cockpit but I was just back behind the cockpit, and we were steep turning like this you see. The sergeant pilot turned around and called me to the cockpit, and I struggled up there against the steep turn, hanging on, and as I looked in the door I saw that we were descending
below the 300 feet. We were down to about 150, and the bank angle is increasing from 45 to 60 degrees, and the vertical speed was around 500 or 600 feet per minute rate of descent. And there was nobody flying it. They both had their hands off the controls. I called out in alarm, very loudly and the sergeant pilot swung around, saw what was happening and rolled like that and we skimmed the wave like that.
Now every time I’ve seen this particular pilot since then, we shake hands and we say, “Remember the night…?” How it happened was, they were very tired and the captain wanted the first officer to steepen the bank and tighten the turn just momentarily because he could see something over the right hand side. There was a destroyer down there. Instead
of saying something. He didn’t say something like “taking over” or something like that, he just took the controls and just tightened the control a bit, and assuming the other pilot was still flying it he put his hands back on the window sill. Now the pilot thought the captain had taken over. He didn’t get any confirmation. He called round to call me to the cockpit and no one was flying the machine. We
went within seconds and maybe 10 feet of maybe 12 people dying. And when I wrote that up in my book, I’ve had several air crew people approach me saying, “I was on that flight. I was on that aeroplane.” They were able to look it up in their log books because I’ve given the date, and they’ve said they remember that. I can recall on the intercom hearing the fellow saying, “What’s going on up there?” We didn’t say a word. We just kept quiet about it.
If anyone sussed it out [figured it out] later I don’t know. But that was the nearest ever.
well. The usual. Yes. I was very anguished about not having been promoted because there were fellows who graduated with me at Point Cook who had gone on to other aircraft types. They had not flown in command. They had not taken any responsibility of any sort,
and yet in one squadron where 3 or 4 of them went, they all got promoted to officer status and they hadn’t distinguished themselves in anyway or anywhere along the line. And as I say they hadn’t taken responsibility. And I was very anguished by that. And I remember actually
talking it over with the man I mentioned earlier, Squadron Leader Ted McKenzie who taught me the Mosquito. He subsequently became commanding officer and I just had a little bit of a whinge to him and he expressed his amazement, surprise and that, and I said, “Not one of us fighter pilots have been promoted yet.” And
I suspect that it was the old Bomber Command mentality at head office where they arranged the promotions. They were probably of the belief that fighter pilots were bits of ning nongs [idiots] and who cares about them. They might not have deliberately articulated it that way, but they might have thought along those lines. But whatever it was we weren’t very well treated and that was a trauma.
But it all fixed itself up because when I left the Mosquito squadron and went onto Neptunes over in Western Australia, I drove my car down to Adelaide, put it on a ship, crossed by train to Perth. I was met at the railway station by an officer in a jeep.
I thought this is unusual. And he said, “Congratulations.” And I said, “What about?” and he said, “Didn’t you know, you’ve been promoted. You’re a Pilot Officer now.” So I was taken to the mess, the Officer’s Mess and all was forgiven. But that was a bit of trauma associated with that. And I suppose the usual romantic things that were going on in my life.
I wasn’t quite settled on what I was doing in the romantic side of things and then I met someone who I decided to settle down with and I had nightmares and things in the early days of our marriage because probably of the war experience and the Mosquito and Neptune experience. The Neptune was another one of these planes whereby if the engine stopped you were dead.
We were terribly heavy. We used to fly with 22 hours of fuel on board, plus all the operational gear. She would never fly on one engine, not a chance in the world. And also the engines weren’t all that good. They did fail and we had lots of problems with them, and they didn’t have any fire extinguishers on the engines. One of the blokes got a fire and his wing burnt off and killed the whole crew out here at Richmond.
So it’s pretty dangerous stuff you know.
I felt that had they allowed me to stay at Richmond just doing what I was doing, I would have kept on doing what I was doing because that’s what I was doing. But they posted me to a senior weapons officers course at Sale and I did not want to do that. There was an accompanying letter telling me to swat up on spherical trig [trigonometry]
and calculus and arrive there a full bottle with all this sort of stuff. That unsettled me a bit apart from the fact that I didn’t want to do it anyway, and we were having a house built and there was a baby on the way blah blah blah. We were living in Sydney. Qantas was offering work. All I could think about then was getting out of the air force and getting into Qantas. I wrote a letter to Qantas
had a reply back in very quick time calling me in for an interview the next day. I went in and saw them and as I sat down they said, “How long would it take you to get out of the air force?” Just like that. And I said, “A month”, and they said, “Perhaps they could speed that up with Canberra.” That’s how much they wanted me. I had the experience, the age the wanted and everything else.
And you continued to fly…unfortunately we haven’t got time today to talk about your post war career in any great detail. But just a couple of questions that we ask a lot of people. When you look at the young lad who joined up in the air force and was mad on planes, and the bloke who came back from Korea, do they recognise each other? How different were you?
I’m not quite sure I follow exactly, but appearance wise of course, we met up 40 years later or something, and I saw this one who became the air vice marshall. He waited for me at the airport. I was expecting someone else. The other fellow had to go to a funeral so he was waiting for me. He looked at me and I looked at him and I thought, “I recognise something about that
guy, that looks like Russ Law’s grandfather.” But it was Russ. And he was looking at me and saying, “It can’t be Col King. He’s got black hair.” So we have changed and we took a little while to adjust to each other in that respect. Mind you a lot of them I’ve been seeing over the years. But I will say this. The comradeship with the service people has been wonderful.
Absolutely heart warming. The brotherly love and friendship that you get from your service pals is out of this world. There is something very special about it, especially those of us who were together on the course and in and out of flying and various other spheres in the air force. And we value one another. We did at the time and we do since.
and accepted the hardships and the losses, and the extra missions over and above what would be regarded as a normal tour. Nobody complained. A normal tour was a 100 missions. Lots of us went over and over and over, far beyond that. And nobody complained that I ever heard of. Those are the things that I remember most.
The matter of fact attitude towards it all and the acceptance of the discomforts and the hardships and the losses. And the difficult flying conditions. But nobody complained. It wasn’t the thing to complain. It wasn’t the thing to draw attention to it afterwards. And I found that to be the most rewarding thing to be part of if you know what I mean.
One of our pilots when we were training at Williamtown, his first flight in a Vampire the engine stopped. He came back. He got talked down into a landing by another experienced pilot, and admittedly he used a bit too much runway. He almost ran off the runway. But he made it. He was back flying that afternoon doing his different solo. That’s the spirit if you know what I mean.
And that was the big thing that I recall probably most of all about the air force.