Archive number: 2046
Date interviewed: 05 May, 2004
You are listening to the interview audio
The first thing we’ll do today is just to get an introduction to the interview.
This is all going to be written out and people are going to access it as a story. So at the front of that story we want to stick a précis or a summary of what’s to come. It’s a difficult task I know but I want you to give me a summary of your life in 5 minutes. And that’s basically an itinerary of where you grew up, where you joined up, where you trained, where you served in the air force, where you went to and what you did after that.
I was born in the year of the Great Depression. Not a good start I suppose, 1930, in Taree. I shifted around a lot during my childhood years. Like so many other people there was domestic trouble, marriage break-ups. And I was taken into
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.
Thank you very much for that summary. That was great. Just one aspect. You didn’t touch much on your family. Did you just have the one child?
Sorry I did miss that out. I did mention my daughter being born in Singapore. That was our second child. The third child was born just after we came back to live in Australia. That was 1964. So one was
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.
That’s a lot to be proud of. Thanks for that.
Starting with your childhood and moving around quite a bit, where do your earliest memories come from?
They come from Cundletown on the Manning River which is about 5 miles down towards the coast from Taree. But I don’t have very many memories of that at that stage.
But I came back to live there later on and I have lots of memories of that time. Probably my strongest early memories are of Genolan Caves.
And what happened there. What were your memories of?
It was quite remarkable. It was a little farm. A very very small farm that served the Caves House. If you know it, Caves House there.
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.
Wow. Just to go back…just before that. You moved to live with your Aunt and Uncle. Could you just explain
how that came about?
Yes. Well it was to do with a marriage break-up. My mother had a nervous breakdown and my father disappeared off the scene. He was a gambler. He had been a regimental sergeant major in World War I. He had this gambling problem.
And during the Depression years if you didn’t have the little bit of money that you did have, you were in big trouble. They got into very big trouble and the marriage broke up. My mother had had her 3rd child. See I have 2 sisters. After the birth of my 2nd sister my mother cracked and she had to be in hospital for quite some time
and she really couldn’t look after us. And like many many other families during that period, we got split up. We got together in bits and pieces as time went by and we all got together eventually, but it was quite bad in that respect. I was farmed out to coin a phrase to the little farm at Genolan Caves to the Aunt and Uncle who had two pound ten
in the bank when we went there. That’s five dollars. It was worth a bit more in those days but that’s about half a week’s wages I suppose. The only money they had in the bank. Of course they were living off the land. But they wanted to do better so they applied to the Postal Department and they got the job. So they did do better.
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 was the substance of his injuries, or how did the war affect him?
He was wounded a few times but he was gassed as well. But he was knocked out properly at the second battle of the Somme in 1918
which meant he had actually done 4 years of war. I don’t know if he was wounded at Gallipoli as well. But I never knew too much about his actual woundings. But it must it must have been bad because he was in a wheelchair and he was declared a hopeless case and would never walk again. But he did and he became quite an active man.
How did you know about the First World War then when you were growing up?
I knew lots about it. The Soldier Settlement at Leadville…when we moved there, the war, the Second World War broke out shortly afterwards and the Soldier Settlement produced a detachment of what we called the VDC, the Volunteers Defence Corp.
I knew a lot of them and the used to have meetings regularly once a week at least. They had lectures as well where they would talk about the war and so force. The Uncle had a bit of documentation and books which I used to pour over. We had the armourery for the VDC at the Post Office. Several machine guns, World War I machine guns.
Actually they were captured German ones, and a few old rifles that they were able to put together. Some were from the Boer War. And it was all kept at the post office and I used to play around with these and strip the machine guns down. I learned the semaphore [flag-based communication system] because the soldiers were still using semaphore flags and morse code [another communication system] and I could do it with heliograph.
And I was very enthusiastic about learning the arms drills and all that sort of thing. All of which was some help to me when I went into the air force.
I’m interested to know about those lantern lectures. Can you tell us a bit more there and what they were telling you?
Well I remember names like “Ypres” and “Bullecourt” and …the “Menin Gate” and so forth. I remember so many names about World War I. And …
But it’s not a war that I’ve put a lot of study into. World War II yes. But not that I’ve ever memorised a great deal of detail about World War I. But I grew up in a background of historical and anecdotal material.
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.
Are there any local residents or characters that stand out in your mind?
No. I remember the name Heath. Hal Heath was one of the soldiers. There were the Horns. Actually I don’t remember
very many of the names. I really only remember the names I was friendly with…the sons, children of.
As it as a Soldier Settlement area, what happened on Anzac Day? Can you remember that?
The VDC fellows used to have parades of one sort and another but I cannot remember…no, the fellows used to go to Sydney for Anzac Day. I remember that clearly because my Uncle who had quite a row of medals, used to polish them up and go on the train to Sydney. He used to stay at the People’s Palace there down near the railway I remember.
He would come back and he would be chuckling to himself for days afterwards because they would have a lot of fun.
What about the post office. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
Yes. Well as I say, I was in 3 post offices. One at Trunkey Creek. I don’t remember much about that. But the Leadville Post Office. It was not a particularly fine building at all.
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?
About the post office?
The post office.
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.
Would you go with him on those…?
No. But I had a push bike and I used to deliver a lot of the telegrams, but he had to deliver bad news.
Was there a lot of bad news in the area?
Well I don’t remember very much of it. But I do remember one where a fellow…Norm Horn was in the commandos and
was missing in New Guinea. Subsequently he turned up again some weeks later. They had just been cut off and were out of contact. Of course his wife had to be informed and a telegram came through: “Regret to inform…blah blah blah…Norm Horn is missing in action, but….” I don’t remember the exact wording. So the Uncle
carried this telegram and as he was approaching the house the lady came out and she said, “Oh Mr Lenwidge…” and clutched at her mouth and she started to shake. He was running towards her and shouting out, “He’s missing but that doesn’t mean that he won’t come back. He’ll be alright.” Which was what happened. I remember that incident.
Did that affect your Uncle at all?
Yes, greatly. Oh yes. Oh yes, he had had a bad time.
How would you see that affecting him?
I suppose he kept his feelings to himself.
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…
What was your relationship with your Uncle like?
It wasn’t a very close relationship at all. I think that he had lost his only child just before I came. They had had a baby girl which was stillborn. And I know that they didn’t have any money and I don’t think they particularly wanted me there. So I wouldn’t have said it was a very close relationship. No. But still, he was a good man.
What about your Aunt?
Yes, I did have a very close relationship with her. She was very…she played favourites and I was one of her favourites. Everyone said she was a person who played favourites.
And certainly I benefited from being one of her favourites. She was a school teacher before like my mother and when she could see that I wasn’t going to get to high school without a bursary, she said I had to get that bursary. I said, “But I can’t spell.
Well she said I was jolly well going to learn to spell”, and she knew the words that…a long list of them, maybe a 100 of them, and she knew the tricky words that I would get wrong. And she really tested me on them day after day and I got 100% for spelling. I got a high school bursary courtesy of the hard work of my Auntie. And that’s a very big thing, a high school bursary in those days. You had to be of a low salary level of your parents. But they only gave out a small number. I think there were only about 6 or 8 in the Mudgee district and most of them went to the Mudgee High School and I found they were pretty smart people. There was a girl with a German name and she was a genius.
Interviewee: Colin King Archive ID 2046 Tape 02
You’ve mentioned a few things already about the telegrams and listening to the radio, but as a young lad what did you know about the war and what was going on?
Well I knew about a great deal about it.
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.
As a boy you mentioned seeing the aeroplane for the first time and deciding that at time you’d be a pilot. How did you explore your interest in aeroplanes from that time on?
I started making models.
I was only 5 or 6. I was making models straight away. I made models all my life. And model boats too. But mainly model aeroplanes. I made the first one when I was very young out of wire and brown paper and glued once again with the inevitable flour and water. And from what I remember of them they never flew, but
the looked something like what I imagined aeroplanes should look like. That was my very first foray into aviation matters. When I was old enough of course I started reading and reading everything I could get hold of. World War I stuff mainly.
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.
Tell us a bit more about the VAOC?
Well the VAOC…we had to
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.
What aircraft would you see commonly over Leadville?
Very few indeed. I do remember the multi engines that came over one. A few Tiger Moths. Not many.
We didn’t see that many at all. It was a bit of an event when an aircraft came over actually.
You won a bursary to go to Mudgee. Tell us a bit about going to school there?
Yes. I had to board at a boarding house and
I had a few good friends, and I joined the Scouts. I wasn’t doing anything with the VAOC at that stage but I was still making models. I remember quite a few model aeroplanes. And the schooling was very good. I was in the A Class. I had to do Latin and French. I hated the Latin.
I was only there for 12 months. I remember being confirmed in the Church of England that year. I remember also, there was an aerodrome nearby. The air force was using it a little bit. Maybe for training on Tiger Moths. Maybe
it was a satellite field. I don’t know whether they actually had a base there. I don’t remember much about it. I don’t think they were active, really active because I would have known.
As a young teenager towards the end of the war, how did you want to be involved?
Oh obviously I would have loved…selfishly…for the war to have gone on for a few more years so I could join the air force as a pilot. But
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.
Where did this take place?
At Leadville. I would have been in 5th and 6th class at that stage.
Can you explain the organization and where it was held?
No, I can’t remember. I think the schools were approached by
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.
What other wartime restrictions affected your life in Leadville?
Restrictions…I don’t think that I suffered from any restrictions that I would be able to recall. No doubt there would have been if I had been old enough to own a motor vehicle of some sort.
People were getting around with charcoal burners. The vehicles were run off charcoal. It was a big box on the back of the car and they used to put this charcoal in. I’m not too sure. There must have been a fire under it as well. But we didn’t have a motor vehicle so we didn’t suffer from that. I suppose when you wanted new tyres for your push bike,
you might have to wait in line for some while…put them on order and wait a while to get them. Things like that would have been restricted. But life was so primitive. We didn’t have much that would be restricted. There was plenty of food for us there. We didn’t have electricity. I didn’t get electricity into my life until I was 14, up at Cundletown. Again, when we moved from Leadville I was there for about
6 months before electricity was put onto the post office. But prior to that it was lanterns.
Were there blackouts [covering all windows etc after dark in order to make a town less visible for enemy aircraft]?
Do you mean blackouts for wartime purposes?
I don’t…I don’t recall blackouts. See, we were way inland there. I don’t think that we were concerned about any of that way in there. On the coast though maybe…I do have some recollection of blackouts now but I can’t tell you the details. Maybe it was at Cundel that we had blackouts.
How did you get on with electricity for things like the wireless? How did it run without electricity?
Oh batteries. Yes. Dry cells. I remember the batteries were round. I would have 3 and a half inch diameter and a height of about 10 inches, and there were 2 of them. They were quite decent size batteries. That’s how
What about cooking and refrigeration?
We didn’t have any of that. We didn’t have a refrigerator as such. We had a drip safe which was a pretty useless sort of thing. It was hessain like those screens that you’ve got up there draped over a frame work, and water was induced to drip down the sides.
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.
So you weren’t really affected by food rationing. What food was commonly on your table?
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.
When was your first chance to get into an aeroplane?
When I was 16 at Cundletown. The war was over and the Newcastle Aero Club started up again and…before the war they used to do flying training on an airfield called Old Bar on the mouth of the Manning River. The airfield was still there
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.
Can you tell us a bit more. For someone who was obviously so interested and passionate about aviation, what the experience of your first flights were?
Well yes. It was obviously an enormous moment in my life. I was thrilled to bits and couldn’t wait to actually get the opportunity to fly when the trainer came a few weeks later. I knew it was coming or probably coming. I was very excited about it indeed and I figured I knew all I needed to know to
basically to just fly it because I had been reading about it so much over the years. I found out eventually that most of what I was reading was very very bad information and written by pilots who had flown or had trained just after World War I. They had some very very wrong ideas and I had to divest myself of these once
I went flying.
Can you remember what some of that misinformation was?
Yes indeed. It’s a bit technical but they thought that the aeroplane was turned with the rudder. Of course it’s not. It’s turned by banking the aircraft. You don’t even have to have your feet on the rudders. It will slip
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.
What trainer plane were you using?
It was the Avro 643 which had a radial engine. It was slightly bigger than a Tiger Moth. Very much nicer to fly than a Tiger Moth.
It’s the one the air force used mainly during those years. But they also had a few Avro Cadets as they called them. Avro 643, the Avro Cadet. I have some excellent pictures of it here. I fell in love with it. It was a great aeroplane.
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.
Any close calls or accidents during this time?
Yes. This chap who taught me the steep turns…
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.
Tell us about leaving home to go to Sydney? What was the lead up to that? Did you leave school and go to Sydney straight away? Can you tell us about that?
Well when I was in the last year of high school, we were all asked what did we want to do, what were we going to become and that sort of thing, and I said, “That I wanted to become a pilot”, and of course there was no money for that and the air force weren’t taking pilots at the time.
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.
Interviewee: Colin King Archive ID 2046 Tape 03
De Havilland. What were you doing there?
Well we were very fortunate because they made us actual apprentices where they taught us. We had a man in charge teaching us.
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.
When did you hear that the air force were taking recruits?
An interesting point. I didn’t know they were recruiting because I never read the newspapers. I was too busy with my life. I went into the wash room, I saw a newspaper, I picked it up. This was at de Havillands, and there staring me in the face was an advertisement which said, “Become an air force pilot/navigator.
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.”
And so what happened from there?
Then I went to de Havillands and I told them what I had done, “And would they be prepared to release me if the air force were prepared to take me?” Mr McGur who was the industrial officer, and to his credit, was very good about it.
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.
You were enormously confident after handing in your application. What was the basis of your confidence?
Foolishness I suppose. I think it was a very precipitous thing to do. I’ve done a few things like this. Resigned in order to…if I want something I go for it if you know what I mean.
But I often look back later and think that was very foolish. Actually, tossing up my apprenticeship to go into the air force on a thing like this, the chances…statistically, the chances of passing…there were 80 of us down there and only 21 got their wings [qualified as a pilot]. So statistically there was only a 25% chance of getting my wings. And
yet I’ve just tossed up my apprenticeship. Then after that you’ve got to go through the training and then the Korean War. Chancing of surviving all that weren’t good either. But even if you said you didn’t mind dieing in a war, “Because I will have flown a fighter so that’s fine.” You don’t say that sort of thing because you don’t think you’ll be killed. But to get through the training, the chances
of getting through the training all the way were not bright. And in the meantime I had tossed up my apprenticeship which looking back on it I think was very very foolish.
You mentioned when you were going to get your student licence, the doctor said you had a lazy eye. Was that all fixed up at this stage?
Well there’s a little bit more a story to that.
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.
These initial tests that you did at Bradfield Park, what did they involve?
They were pretty thorough believe you me.
They measured every dash thing. They found my right leg was half an inch shorter than my left. They weren’t too happy about that, but they passed me. But I used to be noteworthy at Point Cook for hobbling. When we were marching I had a little bit of a limp. But it wasn’t that pronounced but it was just slight.
The boys used to make fun of it and it still affects me a bit these days. But I nearly failed on that. Other than that I don’t think I was skating on thin ice [any reasons for concern] in any other medical area at all. But obviously they tested everything very thoroughly, particularly colour blindness. They’re really on the watch out for colour blindness.
But I had no problem with that. So it was quite a tough medical.
I mean when you finally got in were you the only fellow with a student licence?
Oh no. There were 80 of us who did flight grading. Eighty of us started on the course. It might have been a bit over 80. And after 6 months training or during the latter part of 6 months training, they
gave us all 11 hours flying. You did 6 hours and a 30 minute test, and then 4 hours and another 30 minute test. They used 2 testing officers only, and they taught to a very strict syllabus. The tests were very precisely done. They gave marks for everything and at the end of that they decided who were going to be pilots.
Everyone knew this was coming up and the boys were interesting in getting some private flying training down at Moorabbin. Quite a few of them went off down to Moorabbin, and did 10 or 15 hours or more, I don’t know, to enhance their chances of becoming pilots. There were others who had already quite a bit of flying experience before they came on the course.
They had been in pilot courses in the latter part of the war and had missed out on finishing their pilot’s course. I mentioned one chap at 28 hours and another had 90 odd hours. So quite a few had previous flying.
How many hours had you had at this time?
About 50. Something like that. It was a big help.
So when you received news that your application was successful, what was your mother’s response?
She was very good about it. A bit unhappy I suppose because I’d be going to Melbourne and she was in Sydney. But she was very very good about it.
Do you remember what you packed to go down to Point Cook?
Very little because we knew we’d be issued with a full kit on arrival. So I took next to nothing.
We all went down…I mean, all. There may have been maybe a dozen of us from Sydney who went down on one train. So we all got to know one another on that train. Others came in from other directions to start that course. And when we arrived the first day…one of the very first things was we were kitted out with
all the RAAF stuff so that was it.
What was the first shock to the system when you arrived?
Get your shorts on and you’re going to run around the perimeter track. That was five miles. If anyone drops out he goes around again. So we had to run around the perimeter track and
not slowly either. We started off as a squad and we came in as Brown’s cows [a rabble]. And we were alright, but the trouble is the next day they got us to run again and our muscles had tightened up you see. And that was very painful. But you went around the next day and the next day as well and the next day until you eventually got used to it. Five miles.
What about air force discipline?
Well it was great. At Point Cook it was very strict. They were watching you all the time.
And a lot of people got scrubbed [rejected] for various reasons. And marching, jogging, physical fitness, arms drill, lectures…a tremendous amount of homework. It was a dry camp so there wasn’t any alcohol in the camp. It was good.
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.
What was the accommodation there like?
Excellent. They were proper barracks and they’d been there since possibly not too long after World War I I think. World War I it was a training station. They were good barracks. We had a room each and a polished floor and the hall was polished. We had to polish it mind you. We had to polish
it for the CO’s [commanding officer’s] inspection every Tuesday. And we used to polish it with boot polish, our actual room. The actual hall itself was polished with polish supplied by the air force. But if anyone took any pride at all in their room they used Kiwi Boot Polish. And you didn’t tread on it either. You took your shoes off and walked on it in your socks.
Were there any practical jokes played by older students or breaking you in?
Yes…I won’t say I was a victim and I don’t recall anything in particularly, but there were navy fellows. We had navy chaps with us on our course. They played the game pretty hard. They used to…I can remember, they used to pour honey
into bloke’s flying boots…you know the fleecy lined flying boots. That was one trick. Another one was the dress uniform which was known as “the Eights” and which was a very dark navy uniform. It was quite a smart thing and obviously you kept it in pristine condition. If they
really wanted to get at somebody they rubbed talcum powder into it. Those were the two tricks I remember.
What would talcum powder do?
Well white powder. It was a blue uniform and they just rubbed it and messed it up with talcum powder. You can imagine what it looked like. You couldn’t get it out. It had to be taken to the cleaner.
Were fellas nasty to one another?
No. Except these navy blokes who had it in for one another for some reason. It was just a few. I do remember a bit of unpleasantness there. A bit of fighting. They all disappeared. They didn’t pass that particular bunch.
That’s right. Some of them did some flying but they never passed the course.
Friends. Were you making friends at this stage?
Yes of course. There were 5 of us who eventually went on to fighters. We became very close friends. I’m in touch with those who are still alive today. No, there were 9 of us who went on to fighters. I’m sorry. There were 5 of us who went in one group and 4 from another group. We were separated at the actual
operational stage because the OTU could only handle a few at a time. And yes, we became very good friends. One, Ken Smith, who was in the next room to me. I met him the day we arrived and we became very friendly. I was never separated from Ken from the day we joined the air force, except on home leave. He’d go
home to Adelaide and I would go home to Sydney or something. We even had a little bit of leave time together on occasions. But we went on all postings together. We went from Point Cook to Archerfield. We went from Archerfield to Canberra to Williamtown. He and I finished the course at Williamtown first and then went to Japan via Labuan and
Hong Kong together. We shared a room at Iwakuni and then we shared a tent in Korea. And I was with him when he was killed. So that was a bit of a blow. It was a terrible blow actually. But we haven’t got round to talking about that sort of thing yet.
Could you describe or outline for me a typical day at Point Cook? What happened from the time you woke up to the time you went back to bed?
Well you got up pretty early. In the winter it would be well and truly still in the dark. The hooter would go and of course you…you didn’t go off and have a shower. You had that later in the day.
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.
So a typical day would be you would come out onto the parade ground…
Well then after the parade you would probably go into lectures. A Flight and B Flight. A Flight might do PT and god knows what in the morning, and B Flight in the afternoon and in the afternoon it might be the other way around. Certainly when we got onto flying, A Flight would have lectures all morning, maybe for one week, and
B Flight would have flying all morning and then you’d swap around. So you would alternate from week to week. So there was probably some alternating that went on between A Flight and B Flight in various lectures and other physical activities. Probably so you could use the same instructors in the school.
I think that’s probably how it worked. So either you would be on the drill square and doing PT, or you would be in lectures. Then lunch, and after lunch once again, in the squad you’d go to your lecture room or whatever. And at the end of the day which was probably 4 o’clock or so, you marched back. You would be dismissed outside blocks.
Then you’d probably have your shower and so forth and get ready for the evening meal. But you would also be embroiled in your homework. We had lots right from the word go. Lots of homework.
How important was the Australian Air Force history during these early days?
To you, to the students in trying to educate…
Well we had administration. We were taught Air Force Law and Administration, and I imagine there was…now that I think of it, air force history was also taught to us.
Coming now to actual flying? Can you remember your first day of actually flying in the Tiger Moth?
You mean at Old Bar when I was at school or in the air force?
The air force.
Yes I do. The thing I remember was being told, “You as far as we’re concerned have never flown an aeroplane.” We were told this beforehand. “We don’t care how many hours you’ve got. You are starting from scratch.”
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.
I mean, amongst the group were there any accidents amongst the fellas?
Yes. Interestingly enough on his first solo my very good friend Barry Ellis who lives
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.
What are tempers and temperaments like when there is an accident?
Well you see these were not bad accidents. But look, we did have one death and it was a very good friend of mine. It’s a terrible story. I was night flying and
…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.
Interviewee: Colin King Archive ID 2046 Tape 04
You were saying there were other accidents at Point Cook?
I was thinking about our particular course. I do recall an engine failure or two where they had to put down in paddocks, but no one hurt. But I do recall the course before us,
a trainee was killed doing low level aerobatics which he shouldn’t have been doing…in a Wirraway.
When your friend Jimmy Cass died how did that affect you and the others on the course?
Well we were in the air force to fly and to go to war and we knew
what had taken place in World War II. We knew that this was all part…death was all part of the business. You weren’t a regular chap if you went around sobbing about these things. You had to be very stoic about it. Including the funeral and the slow march and carrying the coffin and all that sort of thing.
It affected us but we weren’t going to show that, if you know what I mean. The same in Korea where there were a lot of deaths. We weren’t going to show it too much. It was not in the character of the people or the character of the service.
Just with the Tiger Moths. How many Tiger Moths were there?
It’s hard to say, maybe 30 or 40.
I don’t know the exact numbers. We may have done about 50 hours…flying hours on the Tigers.
And then…can you just explain to me the transition of going into the Wirraways?
Yes, first of all we were doing
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.
Did the Wirraway have a reputation at that point?
Yes it did but I never had any trouble with it and I don’t recall anyone having any great trouble with it. It had a reputation I’m told for dropping a wing.
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.
You’ve mentioned obviously the instructors are training you, and the air force are getting rid of some fellows, maybe because of attitude.
What were the instructors looking for in you as pilots when they were training you?
Well obviously they’re looking for you to master all the necessary exercises fairly quickly, and not have to be doing repeats and repeats and repeats, and this sort of thing. Obviously it was necessary to make progress at a steady rate.
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.
You mentioned the computer. Could you just explain for the archive about that?
Well it’s a word that’s been misused I would say. I was a calculator more than a computer.
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.
Just to finish off Point Cook. What are some of your lasting memories of personalities at Point Cook?
Well the Drill Sergeant, Scotty. “Smarten up will you.”
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.
You mentioned he and his corporal gave you a hard time. Can you give me an example of some of the things they would do?
Well they would just make you do it again and when you’re worn out…and they’d order you around and call you names I suppose.
Not abusive names really. But they’d acquaint you with your shortcomings in no uncertain terms and …no, they weren’t unfair but there was a lot of shouting. They shouted at you a lot and extra duties and so on. The WO [warrant officer], he dished out the more severe punishments,
the sort of confined to barracks and so forth. I never copped that myself. But he was a good man too. We didn’t have any problem with him.
You were at Point Cook for how long?
And what year was graduation?
It was August 1951.
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.
Initially the course, if I understand it, started with 80…
Yes, approximately 80 and amongst those who were 4 who came on as signallers. For some reason they were going to be signallers. It might have been a medical problem or they had a preference
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.
And what proportion of those went to fighters?
Ten of us went on to fighters and the other 12 went onto Lincoln bombers, DC3s [aircraft]…mainly that was where they went. Of the 10 who went on to fighters,
one had a bit of bad luck at the OTU at Williamtown, and he pranged ]crashed] a Mustang. And they took a dim view of it and sent him off on a DC3, and to serve them right he went and became an air vice marshall. He went and did the Empire Test Pilot’s Course and became an air vice marshall. Pity about that. He should have come with
us to Korea.
Let’s now travel forward. From graduation can you tell us the story of going to Williamtown?
Well first we went to Archerfield which was the City of Brisbane squadron, 23 Squadron. We arrived at the…there were 5 of us and we arrived at the RDO’s [rear detachment officer] office at Brisbane and rang Archerfield. And the
adjutant at Archerfield told us to ring Amberley….that we belonged with the bombers at Amberley. We said, “No no we were on fighters and we’ve posted to Archerfield.” “Oh no no”, he said, “We don’t have trainees coming in here. This is the City of Brisbane squadron. You belong to Amberley.” We said, “No we’re posted into Archerfield.”
Now fortunately there was a flight lieutenant there who was able to come on the phone…he knew us from Point Cook and he told us to come on out anyway and we could spend the night there. And of course by then they had found out from headquarters that we were there to do the fighters. So we spent about 3 weeks initial conversion to the Mustang, and then we went to Canberra
and did quite a bit more Mustang flying with 3 Squadron at Canberra. Then we went to Williamtown.
So firstly at Archerfield and doing your conversion. What’s required in a conversion process?
We did lectures learning about the aeroplane and you were given your pilots notes which was a little book. You went away and you were expected to learn all the numbers. You had had a look over the cockpit and you had familiarised yourself where
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.
What was said to you in respect to the Mustang before you took it up, about some of differences you’d find compared to the Wirraway?
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.
Just for the sake of the archive, the swing is developed because the propeller turns in a particular direction?
Yes it’s a combination of the torque of the propeller. The propeller is turning that way therefore the aeroplane is tending to swing the other way
which puts one wheel more firmly on the ground and also there is a gyroscopic effect when you get a mass rotating fast and you apply a force at right angles. It goes in another direction all together. So you’ve got the gyroscopic effect, you’ve got the corkscrew effect. The main effect though…the air flow that’s coming back from
a propeller just doesn’t come straight back, it comes back in a swirl. And it hits one side of the fuselage and tends to swing the aeroplane.
Did you notice…with the issue of swing and in respect to that, did you notice that with the Wirraway?
Well there’s some of it in old aeroplanes, except jets.
They don’t have it.
How did the other fellas go with their first flight in the Mustang?
They didn’t have any problems. Nobody had any problems. We didn’t have any prangs. I don’t remember any of us pranging. Nowhere do I remember any of us pranging, apart from that one who came in with his engine out, and landed wheels up on the grass.
The fella who ended up being the…
Yes, the air vice marshall.
Could you share that story of what actually happened there?
Yes, well he told me recently about this. There was something to do with a very very minute pinhole that he found out later. It was something to do with the carburettor causing the
engine to stop at a very high altitude, up to 35, 38,000 feet. For some reason it wouldn’t start again. But the problem was they couldn’t reproduce the problem when they tested the motor on the ground. And they tried to indicate to him that he had done something wrong.
He was vindicated some considerable time later when another Mustang had a similar problem and they found out what it was. But I know he ran out of fuel. See he found Wiliamtown but I think by the time he positioned himself for a landing he was out of fuel. He wasn’t prepared to put his wheels down and undershoot the field. He made a glide approach.
He may have misjudged it somehow I don’t know. But I know he didn’t use his wheels. He brought it in on his belly. I think there was some criticism, maybe they thought he should have put his wheels down because he had an airfield there. You know what I mean? It’s all very well for them.
Did you see what happened?
I saw it happen. I actually saw it happen yes.
He was coming in and I thought “Oh my gosh he hasn’t got any wheels.” And I was with a couple of officers and they jumped into a jeep and they headed off in the direction of the strip [airstrip] and I was in the back with them. So I got there just after he got down.
So what did they say?
Well I didn’t interfere because obviously they were dealing with him. He wasn’t hurt. But I saw him that night of course in the mess because he was one of our fellas, and
I don’t know if the matter had been decided at that time, what was going to happen to him. It was a great shame because he was a very good pilot. He became an Empire Test Pilot. As a matter of fact he was second on the course. That’s a very very tough course. I think they were a bit precipitous in getting rid of him over a thing like that.
Firstly, how long were you at Archerfield?
About 3 weeks.
And how much flying did you do during that time?
Not very much. I ended up with 92 hours on Mustangs. I can look at my log book and find that out. So about 15 or 20 hours.
And what was the point of going to Williamtown next?
Well Williamtown was the real Operational Training Unit.
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.
Were you abused or complimented?
Well a few of the guys tried to take the mickey out of [mock] me. The said the navy was going to present me with a mounted silver trophy of a crash target. I remember that.
No, the CO was quite pleased in a sense because I think we must have been getting towards the end of our exercises. So it wasn’t too disruptive. I know the CO said we had shown the navy something.
Just so I get the order right. You went to Archerfield first, then Canberra and then jet conversion at Canberra as well?
No, no. We did Mustang initial conversion at Archerfield.
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.
Interviewee: Colin King Archive ID 2046 Tape 05
The drogues you were shooting up in the gunnery training. There were some other stories about that you can tell us?
Yes, well. It was the duty of the tow pilot to watch the tracer fire from
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.
After the gunnery training at Williamtown you moved on to training on Vampires and jet conversion. Can you tell us about the jet conversion?
Yes I can, but if you don’t mind, just before we leave that I must point out that we also had camera guns both
on the Mustang and the Vampire. We did a lot of work against other aircraft and bombers using our camera guns and our lag computing gyroscopic gun sight which we’ll talk about later.
This was still in Mustangs though – the camera gunning?
Yes they had camera guns with the lag computing gyroscopic gun sight the same
as the Vampire and the Meteor. They all had them.
Can you tell us about that now? How did that work?
When you pressed the trigger and instead of bullets flying out a camera which was point harmonised at the same point the bullets would be going, a camera – I suppose it was 16 ml [millimetre], I don’t know – would operate.
Now hold on…I’m not sure now. When they showed the pictures, we used to picture to see the picture of our gyroscopic gun sight… Now how would a camera photograph that? I’m afraid I’ve forgotten. I’m asking myself obviously,
but I’ve forgotten how it photographed that. Maybe the camera was mounted up in the gun sight area as well. But we used to bring back films of …yes, I think it must have been mounted in conjunction with the sight. We used to bring back the films which would be analysed afterwards. And it was a good method of training, believe you me.
We’ll talk a bit more of that gun sight when we come to operations. Back to the jet conversion. Was this an exciting advance for a pilot?
Yes, very much so. I was building these very same Vampires at de Havilland’s so it was a bit of a thrill. And also I’d see the very first Vampire in Australia fly at Bankstown.
Black Jack Walker…it loomed very very big in my imagination as being a very very important event. And one would assume you had to be a pretty terrific sort of pilot to fly this marvellous jet and so forth. In actual fact they were pretty easy to fly. Hard though to operate and do operate work with because the anticipation was quite a bit greater. And
also things happened a heck of a lot faster. And you didn’t have a lot of fuel. You only flew for about an hour. And therefore if you got into any trouble you had to get yourself down. And if you got lost you were in trouble. But the actual preparation work for it…once again study the book, learn all the numbers, get in the cockpit. Put your hand on everything with your eyes closed
and then get a briefing about what you were going to do on that first exercise. Reminders about everything. Someone stands alongside you on the wing and watches you in the cockpit. Watches you start the engine, gives his final bit of advice, closes the canopy and off you go. And it was a delightful thing to fly really.
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.
What would you feel and hear in the cockpit during one of those Mach runs?
Um…well first of all with a jet you don’t hear the engine.
It’s behind you. You hear the rush of the air around the cockpit. In fact this is one of the first things you notice when you take off on your first flight in a jet. It’s a silent experience. It’s just a rush of air. It’s a beautiful experience. And you can tell when you’re slowing down too because the rush of air gets slower and slower and a lower sound. Beautiful. So you would experience a high level of that rush of air
as you accelerated up to the speed of sound. But there was no noise associated with the turbulence. If there was I would say your aeroplane would be shaking to bits and that would be pretty bad news. But there’s a shudder of the aircraft, but not a noise. And also
there’s a shake of the controls. I don’t recall any noise. Now in airline jets they’ve got a clacker, a hooter that makes a very loud noise when you’re getting close to the speed of sound. We didn’t have that in the Vampire as far as I can recall.
What about the effects of G [gravitational] forces?
What are they like?
Well that’s a very good question. The Vampire you could do very tight turns in a Vampire, almost vertical, and pull that little ship around the horizon until you blacked out. It was a remarkably manoeuvrable little aeroplane. The effect of G forces is quite considerable on the body.
It causes you to lose vision if you pursue it far enough because all the blood leaves your head. And if you go the other way. If you bunt the aeroplane then you get a red out because all the blood goes to you head. In flying fighters you encounter a lot of this unless you wear a “G suit”. We didn’t have G suits.
The best we could do was tighten the stomach muscles. That did have some effect in preventing the flow of blood away from the cranium. But I think the G force did a lot of us a lot of harm in actual fact.
What were you learning about all that at the time, about G suits and the precautions to take?
We were told that there had been some experiments done
in Sydney here by some professorial type to try and design a good G suit. But we didn’t have them and we didn’t have them in Korea either which was pretty dreadful. We didn’t have the bone domes [helmets] either. That’s the motor bike helmet type thing. We didn’t have those. Just ordinary leather flying helmets.
What was your flight suit at that time, when you were converting to jets in Williamtown? What did you wear?
A cotton flying suit probably with zippers. Zips and pockets. Nothing special. And boots. Oh and a leather flying helmet. Oxygen mask. You had your own oxygen mask attached to your flying suit. And you had to have your own oxygen tube to connect to the oxygen bottle.
So we had that. When you walked out to the aircraft you would have that. And your parachute, unless that was already in the seat of the aircraft. Various arrangements…I think you will find that with the Vampire the parachute would be in the seat of the aircraft when you got in. You would strap yourself to it.
Just again. You talked about how manourerable and how fast it was. Did this make a big difference when you were fighting with guns or using your gunnery training technique?
Yes. And the wonderful visibility and so forth. Yes they were light on the controls and very manoeuvrable. A wonderful thing to fly a Vampire. I loved it.
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.
Were there any big disadvantages? Were there any sadness in leaving behind the Mustang?
Yes, and no. I was glad to be flying the jet. I’m trying to think of my reactions here.
I came back to the old technology. See I came back to Mosquitos and on to Neptunes later. So I never really felt that I had left the old technology. No, I know what you mean. It was just a nice little interlude between flying one Merlin engine aeroplane to another Merlin engine aeroplane.
We might come back when we talk about Mosquitoes because that was the end of that era. The war in Korea was going on at this time,
what were you being prepared for, what were you being told was happening over there?
Well instructors had flown in the Korean War and we used to listen to them talking and telling their war stories. They had not flown jets though. The jets were only just coming in up there. They had flown Mustangs. So we used to hear all about how they had flown the Mustangs at Hamhung and things like that. I can remember them saying, “If you weren’t at Hamhung you were never there”. Ham
Hung was a bit of a hot spot. The enemy were moving in very very close. So close that when the squadron took off to fly the aircraft out of the place, they were dropping their bombs and things in the circuit. The enemy was very very close on that occasion.
But anyway…sorry, what was the exact question?
What were you learning about the war during this time and what were you being prepared for?
Well we did have lectures from military intelligence. A few things about the war, the progress of the war, and the conversion to the Meteor
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.
What level of concern was there amongst the young pilots like yourself that you were being put into inferior aircraft in the situation against the Mig?
It didn’t worry us as far as I know. We weren’t the worrying kind. We just
assumed that we would survive even if everyone else didn’t, if you know what I mean. That’s the way it works.
You were still at Point Cook when the Korean War broke out. At what point was it assumed you would be going to the war?
Well first of all there were casual throwaway remarks by the officers in the lecture room and so forth. They would say, “You fellas had
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.
So when were you more or less certain that you would be among the pilots going to Korea?
I think when…we had got our wings and probably the very next day the postings were out. And 10 of us found we were going to fighters
and that we were going to Williamtown…basically. We didn’t know about Archerfield at that point. Even if we did it didn’t make a difference. We were going to end up at Williamtown to do the training we had been talking about. I think maybe we were formally asked were we volunteering to go to Korea. We probably were. And I’m quite
sure that there was no one who rejected the idea. Everybody said, “Yes of course”. That would have been at Point Cook when we had just got when we had just got our wings and just got our postings. If for example someone had said, “No, I don’t want to go on fighters because”…see that’s it. You see we had all applied for that aircraft and this aircraft. So they would have chosen the fighter people from amongst those who had
put in for fighters. So perhaps when we were asked to volunteer maybe they included in that a question, “If you went onto fighters would you be prepared to go to Korea?” Because it was an all volunteer force.
From what you’ve told us today you joined the air force primarily because of a love of aeroplanes, what was the idea of war like for you when it became an option?
Well of course I grew up in a war atmosphere with a war family. With everybody it was war war war. I didn’t glorify war but on the other hand as far as flying was concerned I desperately wanted to be in it in fighters. I never thought about the chop rate [rate of pilots killed] or getting killed. If that was going to happen it would happen to someone else
as far as I was concerned. And I was excited by that prospect.
Were there any other emotions, any anxiety or troubled thoughts?
No. Unfortunately I couldn’t say definitely no. But I don’t recall any.
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%.
You mentioned in the lead up about the possibility of capture and that you might get shot down, what information was given to you there?
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.”
Interviewee: Colin King Archive ID 2046 Tape 06
Could you begin by sharing with us the lag computing telescopic gun sight?
Yes, it’s rather a tall order but I’ll try. For a pilot to hit another aircraft,
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.
So what you’re saying, because they’re just flying passed, you’ve got to open this up and keep shooting?
No, you’ve got to close it if they’re flying passed. You had to make the graticule get smaller and smaller because the enemy aircraft is getting smaller and smaller. He’s departing from you. Normally when we do an attack with an aircraft we’re closing on him. We’re catching up on him so we’re widening the graticule
all the time to keep his wing tips nipped. That’s what we were trained to do and all of a sudden the wing commander comes and says, “You’ve got to learn to do this in reverse because you’ll never get a shot at a Mig otherwise. Not never, but most of the shots you’re going to get are going to be on a retreating target”, which turned out to be the truth.
Excellent. Could you share with me actually the journey of joining 77 Squadron, and when
you heard news and receives orders that you would be departing?
Yes. Well Ken Smith and I passed the gunnery school and we were told quite abruptly, “Right you’re finished, you’re on your way, movement orders blah blah, check out here, get yourself home, say goodbye to everyone, you’ll be on your way.” We had a few days leave and then
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.
Just on the Japanese, you’ve talked about the tanks and also this radio monitor thing, were there any other inventions they worked on to help you guys?
Yes there may have been innovations that I wouldn’t necessarily know about. But they were very good and
they were very trustworthy. I don’t think we had any trouble with them ever. I don’t think there was ever any sabotage or anything like that.
Were there any effects of World War II?
Yes you could see shrapnel bullet effects on the hangars and things around the place which had been bombed and strafed by allied fighters. Also I flew over Hiroshima at low level, backwards and forwards over the top and it was flattened.
There was nothing and it was absolutely flattened. It was still in its flattened state. I was able to gaze in wonder and horror at a very low level and I probably got a better view of it than most people ever got because I went backwards and forwards up the streets and round and round in circles. Terrible.
What about the people? Did you notice any emotional scars from the war?
I didn’t see any problem with that.
Laughing happy people, and …no, full of fun and great. No problem.
So when you arrived at the squadron how were you treated and regarded by those there?
Very well. We were very well welcomed. You know they were desperately short of pilots in Korea so they wanted to get us through very quickly, and they did put us through remarkably quickly. And then we were on our way to Korea. It was quite amazing.
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.
Before we actually talk about Korea,
just with the Meteor, could you just talk me through the aircraft itself, such as any sort of problems that you spoke about the Mustang?
Well the Meteor was an old aircraft, World War II in fact. It had been very good but it was a little bit out of date, particularly for air fighting with Migs, you couldn’t rely on it for that. But it was very good for ground attack work. It was a steady gun platform,
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.
You shared with us early about the gun sights and how you had to be retrained
for the Korean war. In respect of evasive action for the Migs, were you taught anything there about if a Mig was on your tail?
Yeah. A spiral dive. Get down to a lower altitude and get out that way. They weren’t a great low altitude fighter. They weren’t great at turning. We could outmanoeuvre them at low altitudes. So get down to low altitudes and get out of their way, and go out to sea. They
won’t follow you out to sea. The reason for that was strange was because they were ordered not to go out to sea because they didn’t want to have a pilot captured. They knew we had air sea rescue up and down the coast. If a pilot baled out and the next thing he has an amphibian landing along side him and he gets picked up. They didn’t want that to happen particularly
since they were Russians pilots flying it. They were supposed to be neutral people you know. Yes that’s pretty much the best way to avoid a Mig was to dive like billyo, “And if he’s on your tail go around as tight as you can and …”, mind you if he had a G suit and you didn’t then he still might beat you, but that was probably the best chance you had.
When you were in Japan and before you went to Korea, did you envisage what your role might be or role was?
Yes we knew by then that we had been virtually taken off the squadron. We had virtually been taken off air to air combat with the Mig. It didn’t mean that it wouldn’t occur. But we had been taken off the type of activity which was virtually inviting the Mig to fight us. That’s how it started off.
Our squadron used to go up there and say, “Okay Migs here we are, let’s have a game.” Well the Migs did have a go and we lost a few, and then when we lost 3 one day in as many minutes they decided that was enough of that. And they decided then to convert back to ground attack. And that’s when the Meteor came into its own with its 8 or later 16 rockets and the 420 ml canons. It was a very good and effective aircraft.
Now at this point there’s you and Ken Smith. Was there anyone else who had come across to Japan at that stage with you?
Several other fellows arrived a few weeks later. They were still finishing the OTU, and they joined us a couple of weeks later I suppose. So there were already some of our fellows from Point Cook in Korea.
One had already been killed and there were 3 others, 2 of whom were killed fairly shortly after that. And that meant that when Ken and I arrived there there were 3 of our close friends waiting for us who introduced us to what was going on. Two weeks later
3 more arrived.
So what were your first impressions of Korea when you first arrived?
Very barren with very few trees. Snow everywhere of course and very rugged indeed and very cold, and a tremendously busy airfield. Unbelievably busy. It was 6500 feet,
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.
You speak so well about the American pilots, what was it about them that I guess you revered or regarded so well?
They were not generally youngsters.
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.
Again, just coming back to the control tower, did they operate just with lights or signals?
Radios, and quite a few different frequencies were available. And you see they would clear us to take off as a gaggle or a squadron of a flight of four…
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.
Totally aside from enemy hitting aircraft, were there accidents?
Oh yes of course.
Just on the landing and taking off area?
Yes well. There of course was the running out of fuel thing. It was amazing. After years and years of civil flying and I think back on the fuel that we regarded as a reasonable amount to arrive back with, you know 10 minutes and that sort of thing.
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.
You mentioned it happened to you, get wash coming in and getting you. What happened?
I had rockets hung up on one wing,
and that helps to disturb the air flow a little bit. And the airflow was straight down the runway because the wind was straight down the runway. And whether the aircraft ahead of me applied power I don’t know. But at least there were 3 aircraft ahead of me and the air flow was thoroughly chopped up. I was back to…the sort of speed you get back to on final approach. I think at that stage around 140.
Suddenly one wing went down and the aircraft slipped and I took a little while to get control of it. I was very close to the ground when I finally got control of the thing again. I applied power and went around, came back and landed. Then I had to sit clear of the runway, pointing in a particularly direction and waiting for armourers to come and disarm the rockets that were still hanging up. Sometimes the rockets didn’t go off.
You never knew when they were going to change their minds, like after touch down or something.
Was there any emergency calls from the control tower of the airport where they called planes off on approach on those sorts of things?
Well yes. Sometimes they’d hold you because they had an emergency – someone coming in on an emergency. That was one of the big hazards.
You would come back a bit tight on for fuel and there would be someone ahead of you who had a bigger emergency than you’ve got. But there were other airfields. There was Suwon about 45 miles south. You might possibly pop down there in a real emergency. Yes, there were plenty of emergency happenings.
But they’ve slipped my mind. Oh yeah. I landed with wheels destroyed by anti aircraft fire, and as I landed the left wheel actually disintegrated. I slewed off the runway and skidded to a stop. By the time…I declare that by the time I stopped there was a fire engine alongside me covering me with foam. They were efficient. These Yanks were efficient. The fire engine was there as you were landing and he’d be either running along or he would be a quarter of the way down and he’d be ready to let the clutch in the moment there was any sign of trouble. He saw me starting to smoke and zig zag off to one side and he was straight up to me and at the same time he got out with the foam gun and poured it all over me.
Interviewee: Colin King Archive ID 2046 Tape 07
The thing that you weren’t prepared for arriving in Korea was the weather. Can you tell us a bit about the cold and how that affected things?
I think by the time I arrived it was
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.
What about in your accommodation on the ground?
Two oil heaters at least in the tent and you dragged your camp stretcher over. We slept in sleeping bags.
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.
You obviously had a lot of respect for the Yanks. What did they think of the Australians?
Oh they loved us. Oh yes. They were very good.
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.
Back to your flying career. Can you take us through your first mission?
Yes. Normally the first mission was a familiarisation flight. You just went up and had a look at everything. Not necessarily attack anything. You just came back home and I was anticipating doing this. All of a sudden an officer
came into my tent and grabbed me and said, “King come with me.” He said I was going to get my familiarisation the hard way. They had a bogey [enemy planes] up here or a couple of bogies and we had to go and investigate. We roared down to the flight hut, jumped into our gear and we were off. We were vectored
on to the bogies and they turned out to be ROK planes – ROK being Republic of Korea mustangs. They weren’t operating their IFF. IFF is a little radar set which is…that’s your “identification friend or foe”. And if you don’t have the dash thing switched on you show up on the radar without a friendly sign. These fellas would do that occasionally.
So we…that was my first mission, and I think if I remember correctly we went down looking for targets of opportunity and probably fired a few shots on the way back. I met the chap I went with, Keith Martin - I met him and I hadn’t seen him since Korea and he’s still going strong.
What was the protocol when you came into contact with these ROK guys? Was identification difficult? What happened then?
We just identified them for what they were and called Dentist and told them they were ROK Mustangs. And they would put in a report – “Why weren’t they squawking?”
What was the general objective of the missions you went on?
It varied but most of them were ground attack. We did also do a few of the traditional patrol things or bomber affiliation, bomber support where you had to protect them from the Migs. We didn’t do that in a high altitude format like the early days when we were between 35,000 and 38,000 feet. They
dropped us down to something under 20,000 feet and I was never attacked by a Mig the whole time I was up there. I saw a few around and I certainly feel that they should have had a go at me one day but they didn’t for some reason. I think they must have been short of fuel or something.
How big were the patrols that you went on? How many planes flew in a formation?
The biggest was 16.
That could be a rocket attack, a maximum effort rocket attack. Twelves weren’t uncommon and eights were very frequent and fours were extremely frequent. The majority as I saw were ground attack missions and more rocket attacks than anything.
I suppose I could add them up from my logbook but I would think that the majority would have been rocket attacks.
You mentioned the combat pairs that the Americans were so good at, what was the Australian standard formation?
Oh the same. The battle formation…you see when you’re doing normal peace time flying in formation, you’re sitting quite close to one another.
You can see one another. You can see the expression on people’s places, but in battle formation you spread yourselves out in a finger four configuration. There’s two pairs, one pair and another pair. The two inner ones are the two leaders and the two outer ones are the two wing men. In combat that will break up into two and two. If you go out for a mission very often you would go out as a four,
then there could be another four over there which means there was eight. Or there could be four four four four. But in a combat the thing is, it’s not a single aircraft, it’s two together.
Did you work regularly with another pilot or another wing man?
No. No, it was quite random indeed.
What about your position as being the number one or number two?
That developed as your time in the squadron developed and their confidence in you developed. And the missions were set up the day before and you saw your name on there and you went down at the appropriate time and you did them. If the weather was good we’d usually do two missions. If there was a call for it we would do three.
I only ever did four once or twice and that was in an emergency situation. The fourth mission was searching for someone who had been shot down.
How long did your fuel load allow you to fly?
In round figures an hour and a half.
But an awful lot depended on what sort of flying you were doing. We were generally back and on the ground in an hour and a quarter, maybe an hour and twenty. Or even shorter if it was a short mission. If the target was not very far away you could be back in an hour.
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.
Just let me ask you a couple of question about what you were doing in the aircraft at that time. What sort of communication is there between the number one and the wing man?
Very little. Very little. Essential only, and it’s pretty self explanatory what you’re doing. No, there’s very little chatter and it’s pretty
disciplined. See if you get a protocol of people chattering and chiacking and so forth, when you’ve got eight or six aircraft then you’re going to have nothing but chaos and essential commands might be missed.
So what essential commands are given and how are they acted on over the radio?
Well in combat if a wing man sees
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
squadron you see.
Is there any fighter pilot slang that was used to give commands?
Well there used to be but we got a bit sick of that. “Tally ho”, you know you get a bit sick of that sort of stuff.
What about more Americanised sort of stuff?
I can’t think off hand. You’ve taken me by surprise on this one. I don’t think we did a lot of chattering and nattering. You acknowledged instructions. Acknowledged information and repeated back instructions.
But only the essential parts so as to minimise the time. I can’t fill you in on anything like that at the moment.
What was your statement when you ran out of fuel or you were running out of fuel?
Oh, “Fuel emergency”. “Tower, this is Godfrey One, fuel emergency”, and they would do their best to give you
What would you do at the end of a mission when you came back?
Well after you had left the aircraft and you had gone into the debriefing room, you’d just report to the debriefing officer. He would record details of the whole thing.
You’d record the times applicable to the mission and the details of the target hit and damage that you knew of and achieved, or any damage that you knew of that had happened to your aircraft and that sort of thing. But that would be just a standard debriefing of what happened on the mission.
If you were flying a number of missions in a day, what would you try and do in the meantime?
Well you’d be having a meal. You’d probably dust down on your bunk and have a read or a yarn [chat]. I don’t think there would be any likelihood we would be going off to any recreation. We would probably reserve that for days off, days when there was bad weather,
or after flying. You might only fly one mission for that day and you would not be called on to do another. So you might jump into a vehicle and go off taking photographs around Yong Dong Po. That was the industrial area of Seoul. I used to take a lot of photographs in those days.
What sort of opportunities did you have to unwind and blow off steam after the stress of the day’s work?
Well the mess was a pretty jolly sort of a place and everybody had a few drinks there. Sometimes there’d be a movie. Sometimes there’d be
entertainers who would come across. But very seldom as I can recall. They’d be over at the American base and we’d have to rattle down there. And reading, yarning, having a great big long hot shower.
How does stress become a factor? Does it get worse over time? How do you respond when you’re working in these conditions?
I do know that I was not told I was going home until the day of my final mission. In the morning or it might have been the day before…in the morning I think, “You’re finished after this mission.”
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.
Where did it first occur to you that this was serious? When you joined the squadron were there losses soon after?
Well while I was over in Iwakuni doing my conversion,
the first one of my group of nine was shot down and killed, and that really struck home. He had only been there for about a week of course. That was Dick Robinson. And of course we had lost quite a few often, fairly regular losses.
And we realised it was pretty serious alright and that this was well on the agenda. And no sooner had we got over to Korea that we lost a second one of my group of nine. And shortly after that I was flying with another gaggle and one of our other members of the squadron went in, and
generally these were ventral tanks that blew up.
What was the danger with the ventral tanks?
Well it had fuel in it and even if it didn’t it had vapour in it. And if it was hit by flak there was a good chance it would blow up and a lot of them did. I dropped a couple, and Smithy dropped one or two.
Yes, they were bad news. One fella came back with his ventral tank and it was slightly flattened on the bottom. When he pulled out of his dive at 650 miles an hour and he just flattened the bottom of his tank.
Putting aside for a moment Smithy’s death. Obviously it affected you greatly and we’ll come to that in a moment, how did the squadron itself deal with death. What was the procedure?
Well there was an official procedure and an unofficial approach I suppose. Officially it was the stiff upper lip [show no emotion]. The padre if he was there would come and talk to us and we’d have a bit of a cry on his shoulder about it. But generally speaking it wasn’t to be talked about much.
It was very matter a fact. I suppose that was the best way. But people grieved in private I can tell you.
What was done in the immediate aftermath when someone didn’t come home?
The first thing was the service police arrived on the scene as soon as they heard. There were two of them, not one. And they would impound all of his personal possessions.
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.
What was his reaction? What was he doing?
He was accusing me of having lead him into a flak trap. His mates were pulling him off. He wasn’t actually going to get physical but he was very belligerent and he was shaking and he was saying that I lead him into a flak trap. It was just a need to hit out at someone. And I couldn’t help feeling that there was a little bit of this… “You’re just a sergeant”. They
were only young and I’m sure if they did feel that way, it would have been momentarily only. And certainly as far as our relationship from that time on, there was never any more of that. He was terribly cut up. More for losing John as we all were, and also for him being the brother-in-law. I last heard of him…he’s in
hospital in a coma. Has been in a coma for years and years and years, poor fellow.
How did that affect you? You talked before about your invulnerability. Did that begin to change when people began to die in the squadron?
Yes, mainly when Smithy went in I was quite emotional about that. I know I had seen quite a few of them go in before that. But that really knocked me
because I believed that I was invulnerable but I also believed Smithy was if you know what I mean. I just couldn’t believe it. It was a real shock, a very very bad shock.
Did you start to second guess yourself at all?
I’m trying to think…I had some thoughts
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.
Interviewee: Colin King Archive ID 2046 Tape 08
Colin you’ve mentioned a few times your friend Ken Smith,
who we took a photo of as well. Can you tell us something of your friendship with him? How close you were and the things you did together?
Well I met Smithy first of all the day we arrived at Point Cook. His room was near mine and we just got on very well. He was a big fellow, taller than me, about 6 feet 2 or 3. A big nose.
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.
What are your memories of him socially?
He was a very very popular fellow. Very popular indeed. Unpretentious manner. He had good fellowship. He oozed with it if you know what I mean. He wasn’t a handsome guy. He was rugged looking with a big beak [nose] with a sort of
very average sort of looks which meant he didn’t put you down by looking handsome or anything. People really warmed to Smithy. Everyone on the ground crew thought the world of him. I think he would have gone a long long way if he hadn’t been killed there.
Did you fellas share together your dreams for the future?
I don’t think that. Oh we would have confided in one another about things but I don’t know if we talked about the future. I never found out if Smithy aimed to become a permanent air force officer and go right through in the services, or whether he would have gone into civil flying. I never recall him telling me that. He may have done. But I think we never really thought that far ahead.
I think that’s probably natural enough with the sort of thing we were doing.
So can you talk me through the story of what happened to him?
It’s a fairly typical sort of a story. I was going out on a road reccee, which is another way of saying looking for targets of opportunity, and it was in the afternoon. I had already done a mission that morning. I should have been attacked by
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.
How does that event and loss of a good friend change the war for you?
I’m trying to think…I know this. When I got back and
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.
But as far as an internal point of view, were you filled with revenge?
Oh no, no absolutely not. I mean we were knocking the daylights [bombing them extensively] out of them. They had a perfect right to shoot back at us. Oh no.
Did the war become
though more personal?
No. It was never a personal war for me. I was personally antagonistic to communism.
I didn’t know a great deal about it but I thought I knew enough about Stalin’s [Joseph Stalin, leader of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics] regime in Russia to account for the prejudice I had about communism. I also believed that I knew full well that the North Koreans attacked South Korea absolutely
without provocation, and without warning, and that they just swept right through – almost swept us off the peninsula. And I’m sure they would have enslaved the rest of the people there and given them a terrible time – like they’ve given the North Koreans since that time, and before that day. A terrible regime.
You mentioned early in the interview about shooting the naval barge and sinking it. Do any particular missions come to mind where you were able to shoot and your accuracy was particularly good?
Well that was one example I gave. I was very pleased indeed that a half second burst would hit the truck. We didn’t pull through…if you were doing it right you didn’t
pull through and start firing like that. If there was a row of trucks all back to back I suppose you would do that. There weren’t. There was a truck, and a truck. I think they learned that trick to keep separate. The idea was to position your cross on the target and just push the trigger “brrrrp” like that. And you should hit the target…if you had done it right and it was the right range and angle, and you’ve got it on the target.
But no I was quite comfortable about all that sort of thing.
I guess what I was getting at. At one time I understand you were firing a rocket into a hill and the rocket blew half the top off?
That was the 16 aircraft that I lead, the whole squadron. I was intended to be leading it. Well I was intended yeah, but the day before the CO
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.
So was it one rocket that hit the target?
Well who knows. What you did you fire and then you pulled out and then the next lot fired. It was 16 aircraft so you can imagine the amount of rockets that went in. It was a big area. It wasn’t just a little hole in a hill.
You mentioned it being very embarrassing, not being able to find your target.
Did that happen to you on occasions?
Yes. I had 8 aircraft and I went out on this mission and there was cloud cover and we had 84 rockets to loose off but I had luckily identified a secondary target and it was dangerously close to our territory. It was a railway
station and trucks and things. I was astounded that they would be there because they would be obliterated I would have thought if they had been in enemy territory. But they were so close that no one was going to tackle them. I think they reason they survived was because people thought, that had to be in South Korea you see. I managed to identify the position accurately from maps and talking to the intelligence people and the operational officer
and I was positive they were on the northern side. When I led these guys in to attack it one of our number said something like, “But is this in North Korea?” And I said, “Yes”, and it turned out it was. I was lucky on that occasion that I had a target attack that was in proximity to a secondary target.
I think a few people had the embarrassing business of just having to loose their rockets off at some imaginary target that they thought might be nice to hit.
Why wasn’t that you couldn’t find…
Cloud. Cloud cover.
You mentioned also earlier that you had the lecture on the low moral fibre of LMF.
Did you actually come across any men…?
No, not that I heard of. And I didn’t hear of any with the Americans that we would have heard of. No, no I didn’t encounter that.
Can you tell me about the CO or the COs that were in charge?
Nick Crasswell had been a CO and he left. That was when they were doing the Mig fighting and so on. Ron Susans took over. He was the CO when I arrived. He was a vigorous man, did quite a lot of flying, and he had to leave I think to go to England.
I think to fly a Canberra out for the England-Australia Air Race or something. I may have that wrong but I think he went over to pick up a Canberra. He handed over to Bill Bennett the one who descended through 3000 feet without a parachute. Bill was acting CO for maybe 3 months and then Congo Kinnermont who had been my CO at 23 Squadron Archerfield
and it was he who had only just been in the squadron a short while and wasn’t quite prepared to take on the leadership of aircraft into areas where he was familiar with the landmarks. So that was how I came to be leading that time. So I had quite a few different COs to contend with. They were all okay as far as I was concerned.
Sorry, the COs who were there when you were there were obviously Bill Bennett…
They were Ron Susans and then Congo Kinnermont.
Obviously then before you were there was the CO Steege…
Yes, but that was very early in the piece though.
Do you know anything about his command?
Well I’ve read a lot about it. But I never knew him and I suppose I could have talked about it with pilots who did know him, but I think he was held in very high regard.
Just with Dick Cresswell because you mentioned him. Is there a story about the Meteor and the Sabre and Migs, a test flight against them?
Yes, when they first got the Meteors,
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.
Thank you for that. Non com [commissioned] pilots. I take it that’s non-combatant pilots?
That would be I think yes.
What can you tell me about them?
No, it’s a new one on me. It’s a new phrase.
There would be…no I can’t quite think what it means exactly. Non-combatant because they hadn’t been called up or non combat because they hadn’t been designed for combat or what, I’m not quite sure.
That’s alright. It’s just that the notes have about non com pilots.
I can’t quite relate to it.
At what stage are they non combat?
Just the difference between the COs: Susans, Bennett and the other fellow. What was the difference in leadership?
Susans was very upfront. He was very vigorous. He very much wanted to do lots and lots of missions for the squadron and himself too I guess.
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.
And Mig alley?
They went up to Mig alley.
Oh sorry. Mig alley was an area just south of the Chinese border and the extreme south west of the Yalu River.
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.
Given that…particularly in Korea, that there’s all these rules to the war, that you can’t fly in certain areas…
Well it was just neutral territory, that’s all. You know…and yet they were allowed to take off from it
and come and attack us. It was a bit peculiar wasn’t it? I suppose, you know, we would be in a similar position with Japan. We would take off from there and go and attack their forces in Korea, but we would regard Japan as buddies, you know. “You can’t come and attack Japan.” Cuts both ways I suppose.
You’ve mentioned that when you heard news that you were heading home, and the relief that you had and the doctor saw you. Can you share with me now I guess the journey back to Australia from Korea?
Yes. It was a Skymaster once again, and I remember night stopping in Manila, but I can’t remember night stopping
in Hong Kong on the way. I was with my friend Pat Milligan who was a ground crew corporal. We were very friendly up there. We used to take photos together and so on and go on leave expeditions. We travelled together. We had plenty of good conversation
We night stopped I think in Manila but I can’t remember much more about the trip. Not much more.
When you left what stage was the Korean war in, was it over or coming to an end?
Oh no. It was well and truly in full swing. That was September 1952. It didn’t finish til 27th July 1953. So that’s another 10 months isn’t it?
Do you remember what your emotions were when you actually did arrive in Australia?
Yes. I think I was very excited and very elated. Yes, without a doubt.
Was any debrief given to you?
Yes, we were ordered not to talk to the press when we got back.
And we of course were approached by the press, and we just simply had to say no comment.
Was there something that the air force wanted to hide?
They always do. Well they never know what you’re going to say. You can say stupid things, and you can’t blame them all that much. You know…they ask leading questions if you know what I mean, and they can’t rely on you to be discrete
and diplomatic and not give false impressions. So the best thing is to just tell people not to talk. I don’t think there was any particularly good reason…I mean, any specific thing. We didn’t have anything to hide really, germ warfare or anything like that – which of course, the Chinese and North Koreans were accusing us of using germ warfare. Terrible accusations.
My poor old South African pilot who got shot down, that I was telling you about on my last mission. He had a terribly time up there. They just thumped him and thumped him. You’ve been doing germ warfare you know. Terrible. Ron Guthrie can tell you all about that. Awful stories.
What was next for you?
I had a bit of leave and then
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.
Interviewee: Colin King Archive ID 2046 Tape 09
What was the most frightening moment during your war in Korea?
Oh I suppose
when I arrived back and the place was crowded in.
Can you tell us this story from the beginning? What were you doing?
Well it was an early morning mission and four of us arrived back and weather had closed on all the airfields. It came in. Probably a bit of wind had blown it in because I know there was a strong crosswind on the runway as well. And this cloud
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.
What did you do when you landed on that occasion?
Well all made it to the revetments. Nobody lost it on the taxi way.
And we of course…we tried to tell Wes Guye that he had done a terrific job but he didn’t want to hear that. He was trying to make out that it was all in a days work. It’s just an act you know. But the chips were well and truly down that time. It just goes to prove the fragility of the whole
exercise really. It’s amazing to me that there weren’t many more prangs. The Chief Executive of Pan Am [Pan American Airways] who used to be the Head of the Federal Aviation Agency, Gebe Halloby. He once said that the greatest accident in aviation is that there aren’t more accidents. I thought that too, particularly with Korea.
The other thing you mentioned was the loss of an engine?
Yes, I had an engine shot out.
Before you tell that story, what was the performance of a Meteor like in regards to flying on one engine?
How long is a piece of string. If it’s heavy, the aeroplane’s heavy it’s got no performance. It will probably just have to keep descending, if it’s really heavy. But if it’s really light then it will fly beautifully and it will flog along beautifully.
It’s medium weight it will climb a bit and it will cruise okay and as the fuel gets used, and it’s a very quick process, it will start to fly a bit better and a bit better and it’s quite okay. When you’re doing training work and you don’t have bombs and rockets and maybe you don’t have a ventral tank full and you do engine failure work, well they’re good. They fly okay so long as you maintain 150 knots.
You cut an engine on takeoff and she’ll very slowly climb and that sort of thing. But if you load it up with full fuel and rockets and you lose an engine on takeoff. You’re dead. It just goes down.
What was the training procedure for an engine failure?
Well in our conversion to the jet we did circuit work incorporating engine failures and approaches and then
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.
Can you tell us what happened to you on the occasion when your engine was shot up?
It was a strafing
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.
What happened in the aeroplane when you were hit? What do you feel?
There was an explosion and the aircraft did slew, and the engine instruments went haywire [amiss]. It was something on there obviously to do with the loss of RPM [revolutions per minute] and so on, oil pressures and what have you. The aircraft was totally under control.
There was no problem about losing control of the aeroplane.
What did you see if you looked out at your engine?
Streaming. It was streaming smoke and fuel, and of course I operated the shut offs and from what I can remember it stopped streaming, or it would have done anyway. But it wasn’t on fire.
How much is a preoccupation is fire in that situation?
Yeah. It could be a fire problem. Bearing in mind it’s aviation kerosene. It’s not petrol. That’s a bit plus. You don’t get the tendency for fire that’s almost automatic with petrol driven engines. But they can burn of course, but I think they would be less likely to and easier to put out.
So take us through the one engine landing. What did you have to do?
Well first of all the starboard engine is the only hydraulic pump. So I’m going to be relying on my hydraulic accumulator to lower my gear and flaps
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.
Is there an argument that having that up in your mind and going through that in a methodical way stops you from panicking as well?
Training over mind?
Yes I suppose the psychological side of it would
reckon on that. The fact you have to set your mind to all the things you have to do. And that would settle you. I think there could be something in that.
I would like to just ask you a bit about luck. You named the book about your flying career, Luck is No Accident. How much did you think about luck in Korea?
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.
Were there attempts to harness luck through superstition?
No, I don’t think so. I’m waiting for the day when they have a special computer
which can test luck. And I think as I said in the foreword of my book, if the time ever comes when they do have this magical computer that can test luckiness, I wouldn’t employ a pilot who failed on that one.
What do you mean by luck is no accident?
Well it has a double entendre there. It means
first of all if you like, I’ve been lucky to not have an accident over my whole lifetime of hazardous exploits. Sailing, flying flying flying including wartime flying, and I’ve never had an accident. That’s remarkable. Twenty three thousand landings I’ve estimated I’ve made, and a lot of those have been extremely difficult. Luck…
extremely hazardous and I’ve never had an accident. So that’s one application of the luck being no accident. The other application of it is that luck doesn’t happen by random chance. It’s not just an accidental sort of thing that you were lucky on that occasion. You could say that and maybe the next time you could say that and the next. But if it’s repeating itself over and over again,
I don’t think it’s reasonable to look upon it as just an accident. It’s that this particular person is lucky. That’s my philosophy.
You mentioned that later on when you came back from Korea there were more close calls in Mosquitoes. Is there one that stands out in your
entire flying career as being the closest you came?
Oh yeah. That Neptune. In the introduction to my book. I had joined the Neptune squadron. The Neptune being the anti submarine aircraft, and I was on a mission chasing submarines where I was only a passenger. I hadn’t started to do my conversion. The aircraft was being
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.
What were the immediate repercussions of that event for you?
Nothing. We just didn’t talk about it. We pretended it hadn’t happened. And later on we might have mumbled a few words about it. The captain never said anything at the time or even afterwards.
I don’t know why. I couldn’t work out why he didn’t have anything to say that I could hear. George didn’t. He talked to me a bit later. He said he thought the captain had taken over the controls. But obviously they both breached the protocols of good airmanship. That’s
pretty obvious, but they would have been pretty tired at 3 o’clock in the morning. But you can’t afford to make excuses like that. It was a very very dangerous thing. The most dangerous without a doubt.
Back to when you first came back to Korea and that story of inadvertently shaking at the airport at Japan. How were your nerves at that time when it was all over?
Not all that marvellous I suppose. I got married 18 months later and my
wife reckoned that I used to have nightmares, or a lot of disturbed sleep which we put down to nerves. That’s possible. I don’t recall anything like that. When I was flying the Mosquito that put me through a few pretty nervous moments with engine failures. Very dicey. It almost pushed the Korean thing right
into the background because I had so many nasty experiences with the Mosquito and a few with the Neptune as well. So it was all dangerous flying that I was doing.
Was there any other trauma?
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.
What were your thoughts on leaving the air force?
My thoughts were all about Qantas and the baby that was on the way and a house we were just having built. My thoughts were not of sorrow about leaving the air force. I had enjoyed my time in the air force. I still had my good friends in the air force. I wasn’t throwing them away or anything.
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.
I was in just like that.
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.
When you look back at the times we’ve been talking about today, particularly the war in Korea. What are the strongest images that stay in your mind?
The matter of fact way in which the Australians did their job
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.
How do you feel about the war in Korea today? Was I worth it?
Oh absolutely, absolutely. The people in South Korea would be profoundly grateful, or have been profoundly grateful to the United Nations for that effort that was put in there
The North Koreans as you probably know swept in there announced with 90,000 troops and lots of T42 tanks and they absolutely swept through. Now they wanted the whole country and if they had got it they would have inflicted their awful shocking regime on the South Korean people.
They same as the North Korean. When our people were pushed back out of Wan San [?] harbour….it was the worst evacuation in the history of the United States forces, they also managed to take off 200,000 civilians who were panicking to get away from North Korea. They probably would have taken millions if the people could have got away. And of course the people have been starving every since and they’ve been starved by a wicked regime.
What about in a slightly different sense that during your time in Korea the front line didn’t change and that line is almost still there as a demilitarised zone?
But yes, but you see South Korea stayed South Korea. That’s the point. It would have been nice if we could have taken the whole lot and made it a democracy or something like that. But at least South Korea remained South Korea.
Interviewee: Colin King Archive ID 2046 Tape 10
Sorry, I’ll ask the question again? How do you feel about war in general today?
Well I’ve always regarded it as an abomination, but it’s also a necessity. You can’t argue against the validity of fighting against Hitlerism and the Japanese in World War II for example. You’ve only got to look at that and if we had lost that war, and gee we nearly did
so many times there, I often wonder where we would be today in this country, our children, grandchildren, great grandchildren. So It’s got to unfortunately a necessity as long as human beings are human beings. We have to be strong and be prepared to defend ourselves.
The aim of the archive is to be put aside for future generations. If someone was watching this in the future, a 100 years time, is there anything in your own personal experience that you could say to them? A message for someone in the future?
That’s a very tricky one. Well only to reiterate what I’ve just said.
I think you have to defend yourselves against the evil forces that are there, and everyone’s got to do their duty. That’s all I can say.
Why is it important to do what you’re doing today and to tell your story? To talk about war?
Once again it relates back I believe to what I’ve said in these previous sentences.
To let people know, my generation at least, a great many of my generation did see this thing this way, and in my mind I hope that spirit will continue. It was very gratified to see the calibre of the young men at 77 Squadron today. Last year they presented me with a wonderful trophy of a FA18 photograph which was personally autographed
by most of the fighters in the squadron and the commanding officer. And I was most impressed with those young men.
Is Anzac Day something that’s important to you?
Oh yes. Yes it is. I didn’t go to Anzac Day for many years. I can’t explain why. I was preoccupied with other aspects of my life,
and I hadn’t even joined the RSL [returned and services league]. I can’t explain that. It was just preoccupation with a very busy life, the rearing of children and one thing and another. I didn’t realise until I did join it just how much the children appreciated me having joined it. But the spirit of Anzac Day when I get in there now and find all the people who want to wave flags, shake your hand and come up and talk to you and so on, it’s Gestalt [whole is more than the sum of its parts].
It’s a wonderful experience of thousands of people empathising with the old diggers sort of thing. And it’s a good experience. And also I always go to the war memorial, to the service up there and sing the old hymns and things that we’ve always sung at Anzac Day when I was a boy and so on.
What personal meaning does that hold for you today to hear and say “Lest we forget”?
I’m very nostalgic and mindful of the war days when I was a boy at Leadville and I think about the old Uncle who fought such a gallant war, and the other uncles since then. And I relate it to them because I’ve sung these things in their presence so many times.
I think back on that you know.
Is there any anything else you’d like to add in any respect on your contribution to the archive?
No, I think we’ve covered it pretty well. Might be anti climax if I try and add some great words of wisdom.
Well there’s plenty of time if you wanted to, but thank you very much.
And thank you. It’s been a most elevating experience.