Depression time...I got a job driving a truck for the City Fruit Markets. I left that and went to the newspaper as a cadet reporter for three years. That brings me up to about 1938ish. 1938.
We owned a small store and I took it over and built it up a bit, and from there I joined up. I was five and a half years in the air force. After the war I decided I’d go to Canada.
I went over in 1947, married a Canadian girl, had two children, came back in 1954. Got a job counter hopping in an iron ware store. Ironmongery or what ever you call it.
From there I went to a company called Allan Taylor and Company. They were timber people. I had been working in the woods in Canada and I had a bit of knowledge of the timber. From there I left them and started a company, a Tasmanian company in Sydney. I was managing that for three years.
My wife’s father, my father-in-law had an accident in Canada so she wanted to go back. She went back with the two boys, and called me and asked me to go back. So I resigned and went back to Canada. I started a tourist resort.
So I built a few cabins and made some camp sites, bought some boats for salmon fishing. What we call, tinnies out here. They were not fibreglass, but the same size. My Canadian wife died in 1970,
two years later my son was killed in a car accident. So my second son and I decided to rent the property and travel around the world. I got as far as Surfers Paradise and have stayed here every since.
I’ve been here thirty years now. I married a lady from this area who I was introduced to by an old friend. Unfortunately she died twelve months ago. So I’m here and by myself.
we joined in Bradfield Park. I was luckily selected...I was one of the first on the Empire Air Training Scheme to go to Rhodesia [now Zimbabwe] as it was known. There were forty of us and we trained in Rhodesia.
From there I was sent to Egypt and did my operational training in Egypt and then up to Palestine as it was known to 3 Squadron. We operated there against the Vichy French [French who sympathised with their German occupiers] in Syria.
When they capitulated we went to northern Syria to a place called (UNCLEAR). From there we went back to the desert. The squadron had been in the desert when I joined it. Then we went into the western desert to Libya. We were a fighter
squadron and had a fair amount of success. My eyes started to play up and I was posted out, and they sent me back to Rhodesia as an instructor. I was at Mildura here for a while as an instructor.
My eyes had improved a bit, and then they played up again and I was given a course in radar as a controller. So they sent me to New Guinea and I was in, as it was known then, Dutch New Guinea. After all my flying I had a jeep accident and
damaged my leg. So I was sent back to Townsville and hospitalised. From there I was there posted to Darwin as a controller. I went to Adelaide River as CO [Commanding Officer] there. Then I was posted to a place called Truscott. Very few people know about that because it was a secret air strip. It
was constructed in about 1944. The planes used to come from Darwin area and refuel before going up to Timor and that area, and then they’d either come back and get some more fuel, or go straight back to Darwin. I
was there for a few months and then I was made CO of the area. While there the Japanese sent over a...I’m not sure, but I think it was a Nakajima to take photographs of the area,
and we got an early warning from another radar that was out on an island. I scrambled two...we had four Spitfires [aircraft] there. When I say scrambled, I sent them up in the air. My job was, I could see the dots on the screen, and one was the Nakajima, and
two were Spitfires. To be able to identify them, you call your Spits [Spitfires] and you say, “Use your IFF,” which is an identification friend or foe, and then those two bips keep pulsating. So you’re could identify them as against the enemy.
Eventually I was able to put them in the right position behind them, and they shot it down. In the book I have on Truscott it says that I was the controller and it was the last Japanese aeroplane to be shot down over Australia. I think that would be
in early 1945. I was sent back to Mildura and I was discharged there, from Mildura in late 1945. That was the war.
ship and six weeks back. So there was three months travelling, where we’re there overnight now. So when they went on a test tour, he’d be away for nine months. Then of course, he would tour Australia
when the Englishmen came out here. So there were lot of time I didn’t see him very much. But when he was at home, he was quite attentive. He worked in the newspaper in Sydney. He was a very very fine man. We never played cricket together.
I think he had had enough of it and I wasn’t that awfully keen. But as a father he was easy.
He was a slow spin. He played for Australia from about 1920 to about 1926 I think. He was an older man, comparative then. I think he was around 38.
When he retired from cricket he then became a journalist and of course he was very good with the cartooning. He used to bring out a cartoon book for each test,
and sold it for the great sum of one shilling. The boys used to go round with it, around the grounds. I think they got...I wouldn’t know, it was probably a penny or threepence if they sold one. He had a lot left over so I put an ad in the Bulletin, which used to be quite a country paper.
I set up selling them for cover price plus postage. I sold quite a few and kept the money myself. It was my enterprise. A shilling was a lot of money then.
All expenses were found, all clothing, and of course he was also writing, so he was getting extra money that way. He worked for the New South Wales Water Board
before he got into cricket and journalism. He was never out of work, so I mean...when the Depression came. Of course, he had two brothers who went to the First World War. One was killed overseas and the other lost an arm.
He died just before the Second World War. No, we never went hungry. We were very fortunate.
Only if someone asks me a question, or they’re going through the album or something like that. But I don’t think many people quite understand what it’s all about, unless you’re there.
Some of the memories you don’t want to forget, but unfortunately so many of your friends are not here any more. I’m getting to be an old man and I go to the RSL because I don’t know anyone. All my local acquaintances have all left us.
I would rather watch it on TV, Anzac Day. Have a beer at home.
the University Club, Australia Hotel, Carlton Hotel. I used to have to get up at four o’clock in the morning and catch a tram into the city markets.
Eat as much fruit as I wanted. It was a brand new truck that I had and about the fourth day out, a tram ran into me. My boss was not very happy.
I can’t use the words he used. But he said, “I thought you could so and so drive?” It was a funny accident actually. You know Sydney? Well one street is called Bent Street. And I was coming up the hill towards Macquarie Street, and the tram was coming from the Quay
up Elizabeth Street, and I thought the tram on my left and I thought he’d pull up on the corner. He didn’t. The stop was over on the other side of the road, so I kept going and the tram kept going. The boss got over it. He didn’t sack me.
newspapers and he got enticed by Frank Packer to go to work for the Telegraph, and I think he said yes if I had a job. I think, but I was never told that. The next thing I got a call, please report into the Telegraph, and I had never applied for a job.
So I think that’s how I got the job. I wasn’t very good. I wasn’t a good reporter. They didn’t do the right thing by their cadets. I never went out with a senior man. I never got instructed to use the library as one should. I mean, I know what to do, I do now.
If I was told to do an interview, I’d go without the knowledge of who was going to interview. If I was to do it today, I’d go to the library and read up what he did and who he was and what questions to ask.
And my shorthand wasn’t the best. I could type but half the time I would miss out because my shorthand wasn’t fast enough. But I liked the job. Actually from the point of view of being romantic, if anyone asked me what I did, I was a reporter.
Anyway I would go down there at nine o’clock in the morning and stay there until the courts closed at four. I got some good stories because criminal stories start there and then they’re sent to Darlinghurst. I can’t remember...I used to know all the local criminals by
sight or by name. I can’t think of their names now. I also knew most of the prostitutes in Sydney. The used to have to turn up earlier because they had their court early. So you got to know them. I would be walking down the street with a girl from the office and
one of the prostitutes would call out, “Hello Wal.” “Who’s that?” “Oh, just a girl.” Oh dear. One morning in court, it was early. I used to smoke in those days, so I went and sat in the box with the girls and had a cigarette
with them. I was watching the time and the magistrate came in. He beat me, and I’m sitting there in the court rows. He had one look at me and I crept out and sat on the chair at the front. When the court rose at 11...they used to rise at 11 for morning tea. I got a note, “Please see the CSM” [Company Sergeant Major]. Chief (UNCLEAR) Magistrate.
“What were you doing in there?” “Sir, I was trying to just get a background story and you caught me.” He said, “I don’t want to see you in there again.” That was all. It had to be in that style of court. They had to be understanding people.
A good story with these girls. They would get away with it. They were working girls and the magistrate would know this. He would give them a lecture, a ten shilling fine.
And tell us, being on a newspaper were you hearing news of the build up to World War II?
Yeah. I had left the paper. I used to go in because I had made good friends with some of the artists, and I would wander into the press room and talk to some of them there. I was in there on the Saturday when the news came through. So I knew where the recruiting office was and I went down and said I would like to join the air force.
The sergeant was there and he said, “We’re not taking any recruits.” I said, “Will you be open on Monday?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “I’ll be back on Monday. Now remember who I am. I want to get ahead of the queue.” I said, “What queue?” And I said, “There will be a queue Monday.”
So I went down on the Monday and this sergeant was there and he said “Come here.” And there was a queue too. He called me up and he said, “You stand there. How did you know?” I said, “I can’t tell you how I knew but I knew.” He said, “You can go ahead of the queue.”
be in the air force. I wanted to join when I left school, and I applied and I got a reply to turn up to Point Cook, but my father wouldn’t sign. He didn’t think it was a career. So I just had to forget. You must remember, flying
was a romantic thing to do in 1936, 1937, 1938, 1940. It was soon after Kingsford Smith [pioneer aviator] and the long distance flyers from England. I just thought it would be something I would like to do. And I couldn’t
see myself being a soldier somehow. I don’t like mud.
One interesting thing when I went to Canada in 1947. I had a letter of introduction to the owners of one of the big newspaper crowds in Canada,
who took me out to dinner and took me to the newspaper. They still had rationing of liquor and I had to be issued a ration book. As you might not know, all liquor sold in Canada was sold in government stores. There were no bargains.
It was all the same price. Anyway I went into the news room and I was talking to some of the men and they said they were getting thirsty, so I went down and bought some liquor on my ration. I was very popular for a while. Any rate I was offered a job but I refused it because I didn’t have local knowledge, and you must know where
all the streets are and people. Any rate, I had to get some work so I went down to a logging outfit and asked for a job. They said, “What experience?” and I said, “None.” So they said, “We’re sorry, we can’t give you a job, but if you go to…” Now the name won’t come but it was a central logging outfit for hiring people.
I went there and they picked my accent, and the bloke behind the counter had a good sense of humour I suppose. He said, “Yeah, we can give you a job, on the truck.” I said, “Alright, how much does it pay?” He said, “Ninety five cents an hour.” He said, “That’s about fifty cents more than you’ll get in the city,
and all found, and you’re paid a dollar a day for your meals. Your bedding was supplied and sheets and that type of thing. Well the only thing I knew about logging camps was what I had seen on movies, and they were pretty rough places. So I went out.
I went by bus, first from Vancouver to the ferry and then the ferry across to Vancouver Island, and up Vancouver Island by bus. Then they dropped you off at a place by sea and you had to go up to a camp by what they called a Speeder. It was on rail.
When I arrived in camp there was a flunky there to take my bags. It was a most amazing thing when you think you’re arriving somewhere rough. Any way the next day I got up and had breakfast and I’m to work with Chinamen. They were doing all the laying of tracks. This is where I say the bloke had a sense of humour.
But I went out with them and they used to cook their own meal at lunch time. It was beautiful. Like eating Chinese food. And I think the foreman woke up to the fact that I was enjoying myself too much, so he took me off that and put me in the sawmill. From the sawmill I went into a planer mill. One day, the foreman called me aside and he said,
“I want you to go down the track there where there’s a crane. I want you to operate it. I’ll give you an hour and then I’ll put you out on a job.” So I sat in there. I had no one to teach me. Any rate I worked for a while and fiddled around. So from then on my job was in an enclosed cabin with a warm motor beside me.
I could make coffee on the motor. It would be snowing outside and I would be sitting in there in my shirt sleeves. My job was to swing the sleepers around and the Chinamen would pick them up and lay them, and then swing the steel around and place it. That’s what I did until I met my Canadian wife and
went to another camp near her home. Later I bought a sawmill and operated my own mill in the interior of British Columbia. We got married up there.
Just talking about the journey on the ship first of all. What was the atmosphere amongst the men?
Oh very good. We were treated as passengers first and foremost. We had a shared cabin and every morning a steward would arrive with hot water for shaving and coffee or tea, before we went to breakfast. He was a very good English Cockney.
He had a big bald patch so he used to grow his hair long and put it over the top of the bald patch. The wind would blow it and he would come in and his hair would be hanging over the side. So he was pushing it back the whole time. I can see it to this day you know and that’s sixty years ago. There was some competition between the navy and us. We used
to play deck hockey and a bit of boxing and that type of thing. It was quite an enjoyable trip. We went unescorted. I think there were supposedly raiders in the Indian Ocean, but I don’t think we were enough prey.
And were there any interesting sorts of observations along the way during that trip?
I made one observation. Now I know...I didn’t get a commission on course, and those who got a commission, the diligent ones used to volunteer. I never volunteered for anything. So I didn’t get a commission. I was later commissioned by the air officer commanding the Middle East.
He recommended I be commissioned. The one thing I would tell anyone who was joining up. If you want a commission, volunteer! It was an easy trip. The way back was worse.
I spent three months in Durban...after I left the Middle East I was sent back to Salisbury as an instructor. I spent 18 months there. And then they stopped sending over Australians in ’43.
So they didn’t need me there. I went down to Durban waiting for a ship and they sent quite a big ship for those days. They were sending refugees from Malaysia and that area back to America. They got to Durban and at that time there were
subs working around the Cape. So they disembarked these people, and put any Australians on board and then sent the ship to Tasmania to pick up beef to send to America. It doesn’t make sense. They offloaded Americans to send a boat eventually to America, and they picked up beef in Tasmania,
and we were disembarked there and came back up by train. Launceston to Hobart. But unfortunately for me, I was appointed the officer-in-charge of the troops on board. There were only a few. Nothing to do with the ship.
Two days out I got pneumonia. I spent the next twenty days in bed. I was pretty sick. They used one of the first...at the time they used…what did they call them? Pills...I suppose, antibiotics really. And it sent me black under the skin.
I had twenty four to take, one a day, and the twenty fourth wouldn’t stay down. Every time it went down it would pop up again, and I was cured. So when the ship arrived in Tasmania, they sent an ambulance down to pick me up. I walked off the ship.
They wanted me to lie in the back of the ship and I said, “No, I’ll sit up the front”. I said, “Where are you talking me?” And he said, “The (such and such) a hospital”. And I said, “No you’re not. Take me to Hadleys Hotel. I’m not going into hospital.” He said, “Sir, it’s my instructions.” I just pointed to my stripes. I said, “I’ve just cancelled those instructions.
Take me to Hadleys. I’ll sign a thing for you.” I never heard anything more about that. I stayed at Hadleys that night and went out on the town. The next day they sent an officer down from Melbourne to escort us up to...so we would all get on the train.
When we got to the train there were no compartments. This officer just went along and said, “You people have to get out, I want this apartment.” He had the authority. War authority. So the poor people had to get out to let us in. We arrived in Melbourne and they gave me a couple of days leave and then sent me to Sydney.
I was on leave there for whatever length of time.
live. Baboons live there too. Of course the caffa used to pull the rickshaws. The last time I was there which was a couple of years ago there were no more rickshaws. It was very picturesque for us specially.
We had good accommodation on the train, sleepers. Durban is on a harbour. Have you been there? You go through a breakwater into a harbour and the ships are inside.
Away from the sea really. My wife and I did a trip a few years ago. We went to Greece and we got a ship from Greece to Palestine and the Suez, into Jordan, into Egypt and down to...
we were supposed to go to Mombasa. We went into Ethiopia. They were having elections in Kenya and there was a bit of trouble going on, so instead of going to Mombasa...I had been there before anyway...
it’s a mud flat. And going up to a safari we went up into the Indian Ocean and did the islands towards India. I’ve forgotten the names. Then we went from there down to
Durban and from Durban to Port Elizabeth, and from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town. We flew back from Cape Town to Singapore and then home. It was a beautiful trip. Forty days I think it took.
What were your first impressions of this ITS?
Like everything else, you always wonder whether you can fly. I had never flown. They didn’t give us any initial training in Australia. It’s a lot of learning. Of course, you had to do navigation and you had to weather. Things that you normally don’t study. I had been away from school
for seven years then. So I found it a little more difficult but I had a younger fellow sitting in front of me that I got some answered passed back.
When I joined, that’s what I stipulated. I joined to be trained as a pilot, and I think the instructors are the people who eventually say whether you’re going to be a bomber pilot or a fighter pilot. You do have...they do ask you of course
what you wanted to be, but that didn’t necessarily you were going to be. If they thought you were more adaptable to be a bomber pilot then they would move you to a twin engine. I don’t think they ever thought I’d be a good bomber pilot. I don’t think they ever contemplated that.
Fortunately for me because I didn’t want to be a bomber pilot.
That’s the first thing. Then after two or three hours, he’d say, “Right you take it off”, and you wobble off the ground and hope to get in the air. It’s a complete learning process you have to go through. Everyone goes through it.
You’re also frightened that you might not be able to fly and they’re going to ground you. After a certain number of hours they do. If you don’t go solo in eight or nine hours, I’ve forgotten how many, they start questioning whether you can fly. So when it gets up to seven hours, you’re a bit nervous about it all.
take one out and it makes the plane so much lighter and you take off before you realise it. You wonder why it feels so light, and when you come into land, when there’s two in it, it sinks more quickly. When you’re coming by yourself you never think you’re going to hit the ground. And also of course where we were flying,
it’s over five thousand feet above sea level, so a plane sinks quicker there in the lighter air. When I first went and flew in the Middle East, I thought the plane was never going to get on the ground because it was hot warmer air.
It’s a great kick when you do your first solo. You really want to go...they only send you up for fifteen minutes. Fly around once and land and you’re dying to get back into the aircraft straight away. I suppose flying is one of the
thrills of life. To be able to fly yourself.
You went up with an instructor and you sit back and let him do the work and just see what he’s doing and feel what he’s doing. But by this time, having done fifty or sixty hours in the Tiger Moth, you’re able to catch on more quickly.
Technique is much the same. You still land much the same way, except that you have to make sure your wheels are down. With the Tiger Moth the wheels are permanently down. It’s a fixed undercarriage. You feel an awful goat if you come in with your wheels up. I never did fortunately.
When you pull the throttle back to land, a horn will go if the wheels are not down. If that horn goes you do one of two things. You put the throttle on and go round again or hope to get the wheels down in time.
that photograph up there was the crowd that was with me on fighters. No, they all...I think in later courses they were losing more. Some were scrubbed.
Perhaps they selected well in the first lost. They couldn’t afford to take them home again. Later on...this is a story. One fellow went over and he didn’t make it as a pilot so they sent him down to South Africa to be an air gunner. He didn’t make it as an air gunner, so they sent him back to Australia. He spent some time there and then they sent him to Canada to
be an observer. By the time he got through the war had finished. He never saw anything else but training camps.
because you were a bit haphazard. I don’t know. I really don’t know why. Most probably it was the way you flew the aircraft and you were a bit sloppier than a bomber pilot would have to be. He would have to be more precise. I don’t know. Although I was an instructor myself, I knew what I was instructing for. I mean, when I came back to Australia I was at the Advanced Training
and I was teaching people who could fly. I was instructing on tactics. How to get in and out of strafe and things like that. But no reason. I suppose I could have been a bomber pilot.
Well tell us about the elementary flying training on the Harvards. What kind of techniques were you learning at this early stage?
In the early stage it was just to fly the aircraft. After you get a little bit more proficient you do aerobatics, then a lot of it then is solo. You go up. He tells you what he wants you to do. Then having done that two or three times he will go up with you
and check that you’ve done it. But that’s in what they call advanced training. You go to another set of instructors who may be have been in combat. But the initial two instructors hadn’t been in combat.
I shouldn’t have done it but I think the bullets bounced off them. No, it was literally...you were just getting experience on the planes. The experience of being in the air. Experience to know when you’re upside down what to do.
Because when you’re in a fight, you don’t fly in a fight, it’s just instinctive. You never look in the aircraft, whether you’re flying straight and level. You just look out. It’s just a matter of being in the air.
tells you what speed to take off. That’s the first...that’s the hairier one. Taking up of those for the first time. You’ve got to remember all he’s told you without him going through it.
The first one I went up in...do you want me to say now. That was in the Hurricane. They’re a lovely aircraft to fly. So I did my first few hours on Hurricanes. Then they put me onto Tomahawks because that was the plane I would have been flying later.
That is much more nerve racking initially because you don’t have anyone sitting behind you. If you make a mistake it’s yours.
How do they teach you the techniques of being a fighter pilot?
Well you literally go up with another experienced man or an instructor who is usually...in that training all the instructors are ex-combat men. So you literally have a dog fight. You learn from what they do,
how to evade, what you should be looking for. If there’s a bit of cloud he’ll go in the cloud and he’ll disappear all together and you have to find out where he is. So you’re watching everywhere to see, and it’s just a matter of when you get back on the ground he’ll explain what I did wrong or did right.
All of it is repetitious and being able to...the more you did it the better you became. You just had to keep flying.
a passenger plane. It was a Lockheed Loadstar, from Salisbury to Northern Rhodesia as it was then. Now it’s Zambia. We had lunch there and we flew from there. We were passengers. We flew from there to Nairobi and Kenya.
We stayed the night at the airport there. The first time I had ever heard a lion. The airport’s a bit out of town and the lions come across the strips at night. Anyway, the next day...we only stayed there one night...we got a train from Nairobi down to Mombasa
which is the seaport of Kenya. In Mombasa we stayed one night there, and then we got on a short Sunderland flying boat and went from Mombasa to Lake Victoria and had lunch...no, we picked someone up or dropped them off at Lake Victoria. Then we went to Uganda, landed on the Nile, stayed over night at the hotel there.
These planes used to take off at about nine o’clock in the morning, and land at about four in the afternoon. We would have lunch on board. They never flew above five thousand feet, you could see everything. They were big fellas the old flying boats. It was luxury flying.
Armchair seats. The next night we landed on Nile [river] in Nairobi and we stayed at a very grand hotel there, named the Grand actually. The room...my bathroom was as big as my bedroom here. It was a massive hotel. No air conditioning, all punkahs. The punkah wallahs were working the whole time.
It was 120 [degrees Fahrenheit] in the shade. I had been a bit adverse to gin. I didn’t like gin. I sat out on the lounge overlooking the patio. The waiters were big Nubians. Big fellas with a fez and long robes. They came out and asked what I wanted to drink and I said,
“I’ll have a beer.” Using a bit of language I had picked up I said, “Meningi macassa” which meant “a big cold beer”. The waiter said, “No boss. Gin (UNCLEAR).” And I said, “I don’t like gin.” “Gin please. It’s too hot for beer.”
So I thought oh well, why not, and I’ve liked gin ever since. It was a pint glass full of ice, gin, tonic, fizz, and the water was forming down the side of it. I think I had three. They were real coolers.
Then we flew from there the next day to Cairo and landed on the Nile there. Then we were transported immediately down to East Helwan where the training school was, by car. Having finished there, I was
transferred by car to Palestine, and joined the squadron there. We were camped at a place out at Tel Aviv, and the next camp was where we now call the West Bank. We were operating in Syria
against the Vichy French. That’s where I joined the squadron.
one call it? A recce [reconnoitre]. Just not to meet anyone or do anything, but just look around. And we ran into some Italian aircraft, and I got into an individual dog fight with one. And he was about as experienced as I was. So we missed one another a number of times.
We weren’t very high off the ground, and he was going down and I’d be coming up and we’d miss one another and this happened about three or four times, and suddenly I started to get worried. I thought, “He’s going to hit me”. So the normal thing would be, if you’re going up and he’s coming down, you would go under him because the line of fire would be
over the top. This time I decided I would go over. I kind of thought that as soon as he sees the belly of my aircraft, he’s going to push his stick forward to stop a collision, so his guns will be pointing the other way. He did. As soon as he disappeared from my sight, I turned and he was turning down below and I was able to get him.
I often worry about that one. I think he was a young bloke, inexperienced. But it was either him or me. I’m here now.
It was my first time out. Gradually you get to recognise what’s on the ground. It might be a salt pan or a certain formation that you can recognise and you find your way by that. You never really navigate. When you throw an aircraft around, all your instruments go astray. The compass would go off. So you have to visual your way home.
And then invariably, in a dog fight, when there’s a few aircraft, they all split up eventually. It only takes, maybe…I wouldn’t say. It could all be over in two minutes.
so it will run into it. By the time...if you shot at the aircraft, it would be away by the time your bullets arrived. There’s always tracer bullets in your stream of fire which you can watch smoke coming from, so you know where your bullets are going. I think the more you’re in
the more it becomes instinctive where to look. As I say, you fly the aircraft by complete instinct. You don’t fly it by instruments or anything at all.
Actually it wasn’t my first operation. It was the first time...I had been flying operations but we hadn’t run into any aircraft before. That was the first time I had been involved in a fight. We had done quite a few
bomber escorts. We would sit over the bombers or beside them and they would bomb. And if we had some old beer bottles, when they dropped the bombs we’d drop the beer bottles. It would make an awful whistle while they were spinning. You know what’s it like when the air goes over the top of an empty bottle. It was frightening apparently on the ground.
I suppose it would do a lot of damage if it hit you too. Of course we didn’t have very many empty beer bottles. No refrigeration. When we did get a few beers—yes, beer came every now and again—there were two ways of cooling it.
One you dig a hole in the sand, put the bottle in and pour 100 Octane fuel over it. Quick evaporation and it would cool the beer. The other way was to load an aircraft with beer and send one of our newer pilots up to 20,000 feet. We’d tell him to stay there for 10 minutes and then come down quickly. No one would take any notice of him; they’d just open the beer.
Oh dear. There was a lot of wasted gasoline. People were rationed.
After this first dog fight, what was the reaction when you returned to base?
I think they had to have it confirmed. And a lot of times the army would confirm it. They might say they picked up, or saw an aircraft crash or land. We had an army man with us.
He stayed with the squadron all the time. He would get word from them and that would confirm that that aircraft had been shot down. Sometime there would be what we called a probable, or damaged. We wouldn’t see it go down. It may be flying but smoke may be leaving it. The army would say, aircraft such and such type
crashed near them or something like that and they would confirm it. Other times, the bloke flying beside could confirm that the plane went in. They might say they saw it go in.
The tried to confirm pretty accurately. There was no good saying we shot a 100 down and the next day a 100 would show up again.
say, I didn’t do a lot in Syria. I don’t think I was involved in a fight there. I did ground strafes. No, I wasn’t involved in a fight. Of course we were fighting the Vichy French there, and they
were much like the Italians in a way. They would show off in the air a bit. I had one Italian attack me and he rolled over on his back to fire his guns. He missed. But they would do things like that and it was quite silly. They were excellent fliers but they didn’t seem to know how to fight.
And how did it feel once you controlled Syria?
Well it was just a holiday. I hitch hiked from Ba’albek through down to Beirut, and from Beirut to Tel Aviv. So the whole country was easy, no worries. I hitch hiked. I was on leave and there were no worries.
And most of the time you would be picked up by an army truck or an army staff car or something like that. They were the only ones who had fuel.
where was that? In Haifa, Barclay’s Bank there. We used to have our pay paid into the bank and we would have to go in and get it out. The next thing I know the bank manager came out and he said, “Are you any relation to Arthur Mailey?” He was very English. I said, “I’m his son.” He said, “Would you like to come home to dinner
at my place tonight.” “Certainly.” He had two lovely daughters and they entertained me royally. I was able to...we were given a ration for fuel so I was able to fill his car up which helped. I can’t think of his name now if you paid me.
But he was the manager of Barclay’s Bank in Haifa. Another time I went to a cricketers’ club in Cairo. They entertained me. Kazera Club. My
father was pretty well known all over the world where cricket was played, and it didn’t do me any harm.
I really don’t know except that I suppose it came through officially to the squadron. See we had an intelligence officer with us always. He was an ex air force World War I. And I suppose it just came through officially.
Then we moved. We were in Palestine then, so we just moved as a whole squadron to a place called Ba’albek which was occupied by the French originally. It was one of their permanent
air strips. It was a tarmac airstrip and hangars and quarters and all this type of thing. It was close to a little town. And we just holus bolus picked up and went there.
the ground crew pack everything up. And in our...in those aircraft, just about half way between the cockpit and the tail was a big opening where you could store our personal...we didn’t have a lot of luggage, but we had our stretcher and bedding.
We would...post probably send an advance party the day or two before to prepare a cook house and that type of thing. Then we’d fly in and settle in straight away. What was left behind, they would pack all that up and we’d come along. One move when I was out in the desert,
I went along in the ambulance. I wanted to see what was happening on the ground, all the burnt out tanks and things that one couldn’t...you could see it from the air but you couldn’t see the detail. It was rather gruesome going through an ex tank battle. Dear dear. Thank goodness I wasn’t a soldier.
We had our own cook house in that building. The food was fairly good there because we were getting local fresh food. But when we were in Palestine we were right beside a kibbutz and we were getting a lot of good food. And they were doing our laundry for us.
Gee they were workers. A Jewish settlement. I mean, there were always a couple of elders. They worked hard. They were working on ground like this carpet and growing all kinds of greens.
The knew how to do it and they knew how to sweat too. In the kibbutz, any children born belonged to the kibbutz, and they were bought up by the whole crowd. It didn’t belong to you or I, it belonged to the crowd. Amazing situation really.
They built places where no one else would. That’s why there pretty hard to throw out.
Another fellow and I were out doing practice flying, like dog fighting, and on the way back I was flying what is called Number Two. The first plane was there and I’d be down on his wing here. And he got lower and lower to the ground, and eventually we were going across a corn field, taking the tops off the corn with our props.
And an irrigation ditch arrived and I hit it. I was severely reprimanded. It’s in my log book. I think I stuck two pages together, a big red negligent sign.
attached a Hurricane wing to one of our aircraft to fly it back for repairs. They could do anything. The person who flew it back flew it carefully. He didn’t do any aerobatics. They had spares and good workshops.
They were excellent. Maintenance was as best as could be done, out in the desert especially. When we were taxi-ing, the propeller would pick up the dust and put it in through the air cleaner into the engine and it would be like rubbing emery paper on it, the engine. They didn’t get very many hours out of them. But these blokes would pull the engine down
and overnight they’d repair it and have it running for next day practically.
and when you were turning your head continuously it would run. So I had a silk scarf around to stop it. So it wasn’t affectation. I never know where it went to. I wish I had it to this day. I can’t remember where it went. And I think, I don’t know. Maybe I put the same shoe on each morning.
I still do. I always put my left sock on, then my right. My left shoe and then my right, always. And I noticed myself doing it. I think I should do it the other way, but I never do. I don’t know why. Do you have anything like that? Earrings, or necklace or something?
I think we all have a little idiosyncrasy.
They would never be left in a line or anything like that. The only time they would be in formation would be before we took off. They would be scattered around the area and a pick up truck would take the pilots to each plane. The mechanic would always be there. Sometimes
we might get a call to stand by and we’d just sit under the wing out of the sun, and when there was a scramble, a siren would go and you could hear it from the area. Most of the time you knew where you had to go. You would be briefed before. If you have to go then you go to such and such a spot.
The leader of the squadron by that time would know anyway. You followed him. We all took off together. Twelve aircraft across. We’d all take off at the same time. So there would be an awful big cloud of dust.
were so used to not looking in the cockpit, looking around, that you’d automatically do it when you were taking off. You’d watch the wing beside you. When he lifted off, you lifted off because you were flying formation. So really, it was just automatic.
Then when you got into the air you went into the type of formation you were supposed to be flying. Maybe the whole twelve wouldn’t be abreast. It maybe four and four and four. Staggered. And coming in to land, of course you would break off and do a circle so that the one ahead landed.
If there was one plane running short of fuel, he’d butt in and demand he land first.
And what was the general procedure. If you can take me through a typical mission, step by step, right from the beginning?
Well the night before we would most probably be briefed, and it would come through the intelligence officer who would be told by the Wing, what we were supposed to be doing. If we were escorting bombers, we were to just scout, or strafe...what and where. So we’d
all be briefed the night before in that. In the morning, well it was just...we rarely had breakfast. It would be just a cup of tea. A steward would probably sometime bring it to the tent. We rarely had breakfast and then we’d go out to the plane
and wait for dawn, and take off at dawn. We would wake up normally about four in the morning. The stewards used to come and wake us separately.
Shorts, sometimes...it depended on what height we were going. If we going high then we’d wear flying boots. Sheep lined ones. Most of the time we’d wear desert boots. And I picked up a flying suit up in Syria, a French one. I wore that. It was longed sleeved.
Long legged, one piece thing. It was light, yet would cover you for fire. We were always worried about fire. The one frightening thing was fire.
With the hood...we’d always try and fly with the hood fully closed until you got into action and then you’d open it up because visibility was easier. And also if you had to bail out you could bail out quickly. When it was open so much, if the engine caught fire, the flames would come up and go out. They wouldn’t hit you but they’d toast you.
All your clothing would be toasted into your skin, your face would fall off. Your nose would disappear. Yes, it was terrible, fire. Even your face mask, your oxygen mast would toast. The one fear was fire.
There were very few flames. But I was losing power so I knew I had been hit. I wasn’t in a fight. I had been doing a ground strafe, and I think there was a stray bullet. A bloke may have been laying on the ground and just shot up like that and hit me.
Anyway I got up about 10,000 feet. We used to halve. Six would go in and strafe and the others would be up top as a cover. When we were finished with our ammunition, we’d go up and cover. We wouldn’t use all our ammunition. The other six would then strafe.
And I was up at the top covering, and I could feel the engine was misbehaving, so I started to call the others that we’d have to leave. So they quit and we started to go home and I was gradually losing power. So I had my number two who was flying behind me... I
signalled him to go home. I was going in. I fortunately picked a...I was able to pick a good spot and I put it in. No wheels. A belly landing. I scrapped across the ground and fortunately I didn’t undo any of my straps.
I was doing about, maybe thirty miles an hour and I ran into a wadi which is like a hollow. And the plane took off on this side and landed on the other side and the straps made a bit of blood come from my lungs.
But I was out of that so quickly then. I grabbed my parachute. I had a long walk home. I was going to sleep in the parachute. The silly things you do. Then I went around...the plane went out. I pulled the fire extinguishers... and the shock and I think the dust had put the flames out, so I was able to go around and pick
up my emergency supplies which were in the back and take out the crystal which is in the radio, which is quite secret. I crushed that. I was behind enemy lines. I was just trying to make up my mind what I would do next and about a dozen rifles were putting at me.
So I put my hands up. They looked like Italians but they happened to be Sunni Arabs. They were Bedouins. They had a camp nearby. Right in the middle of the war, it didn’t matter. They would sell eggs to us and trade, and go and sell to the Germans too, and trade. Anyway they
decided to take me back to their camp and give me something to eat. We’re walking back and the next thing, up flies another Kittyhawk. It was my Number Two. I think he couldn’t find his way home. He came back to pick me up. He found a good spot to land and he landed on his wheels. So any rate we decided that we may be susceptible if we took off then with the dust.
If there were any aircraft they would see us. So we waited until about five o’clock. But they took us back to their camp. The chief set us down on a raised dais at the entrance of a big tent which was made out of sheep skin. They brought the food in. First the women came in with a kettle of water,
and we washed our hands, and we only washed one hand, the right hand. That was the one you were going to eat with. So everyone dives in. The food was brought. It was sheep, lamb. I’ve forgotten what else now.
Some vegetables. I’m not sure, I’ve forgotten. Anyway we dived in and had some of their food, and we stayed there. One of the chief’s son could speak a bit of English, so we could talk a bit.
So we decided we’d take off, so we went back to the plane. We asked a number of them to clean a few rocks off the area to make a bit of a runway, which they did. We used to wear a revolver, a 38. We’d practice a bit. They weren’t awfully accurate...about from here to the kitchen.
Any rate the chief had an Italian rifle and he aimed at a rock about a 100 yards or more and hit it. I had a go with the rifle and missed. So any rate I got my 38 out and aimed at something closer that I thought I could hit. I hit it and I gave it to him and he missed. So we were all square. These people are amazing. Right in the heart of the war, living a normal life.
When they ran out of feed for their sheep, they’d move a bit further. I don’t know where they got water, I have no idea.
thing which we carried...which we called a “goolie chit”. One portion of the Arab crowd in — I think it was Syria — used to castrate prisoners of war. So this was the “goolie’s chit”. It was written in Arabic.
“If you return this man whole and safe, there is a 100 pound reward.” So I had a pen and I wrote on the back that we had been well entertained and they were to hand this to any British to get
bully beef [canned meat] or whatever they wanted. I don’t know if it ever turned up again. We were very grateful that they took care of us.
I think he just didn’t...because my plane was slowing down, the squadron had got ahead of us and he was by himself then. And it was one of his first trips out, and so he may probably have...when he was coming out he wouldn’t have noticed things as you do when you’re leading. You’re noticing what you’re going over.
So you can find your way home. The roads and the different springs if there are any, or escarpments. There were so many different things. The desert is changing all the time. You navigated back that way. So I think he wasn’t too sure and he thought, “Oh well I’ll go back and pick him up”.
So that’s what he did do.
When we got to the plane we both took our parachutes and put them in the luggage compartment of the plane where the radio is. I sat on the seat which is just a bare iron seat, and Lou sat on my lap. I had my feet on the pedals and
he did the stick. If he wanted any pressure on the pedals he pressed my foot and I pressed the pedal. So all I could see was the middle of his back. When we came into land he operated...I still had my feet on the pedals and he was pressuring hard against them. He was literally doing the pedals because my reaction might be a bit slow.
And of course we’d been away such a number of hours that we were posted missing. It was thought that we would have run out of fuel by that time. So we rectified that. Of course there was...I won’t call it a celebration, but everyone was rather glad to see us.
The chap who picked me up was Lou…anyway, later he went to Korea…Lou Spencer. He went to Korea and he was CO of the squadron in Korea, and he went on to
jets up there. He was killed there unfortunately. I think he was permanent air force. I was speaking to some people when I was down at Coolangatta when I was down there with the F18s [aircraft] and they all knew Lou pretty well.
He had a pretty good reputation. It was one of those incidents...it wasn’t the first time that someone had picked someone up. One bloke we had called Tiny Cameron. You can imagine why he was called Tiny. He was a very tall man. He was picked up by
our squadron leader. I don’t know how they got into the cockpit, I have no idea. Tiny was big enough by himself, let alone someone else. I don’t think they could close the hood. I think one head would have been too high. It wasn’t a recommended thing to do. They didn’t approve of it really.
They were always frightened they’d lose two instead of one. But it happened.
I was still a sergeant. I hadn’t got flight sergeant. But it didn’t matter. In the air force rank didn’t mean anything, and by this time I was getting reasonably experienced. So they put me in charge of the wing.
I learnt later that I was the only sergeant ever put in charge of a wing. Anyway we went to an advanced airstrip or aerodrome, and I had eight planes from my squadron, and the other squadron had twelve. So there were twenty of us all together.
So when we were sitting on the ground waiting for the take off time. Waiting for the scramble. The call came, and I had spoken to this CO, the leader of the others. I said, “I’ll let you take off first.” The wind was coming in one direction. I said, “I will take off cross wind,
you go off first and your gust will go away. Circle once and I’ll be underneath you. Then I’ll go above you.” Anyway he took off. He didn’t wait. We then took off and we climbed up. There was cloud cover of about 11,000 feet.
It was light wispy cloud but you couldn’t see through it. I was climbing up and I thought I could see a shadow and we had always been taught that where ever there were...if there were Stukas [German bombers] coming in to dive bomb us...and if they were around then there were usually fighters sitting above them to protect them. And once again it was experience. I was going up towards the clouds
I could nearly smell them there, and one of my crowd came on the RT [radio transmitter], which wasn’t awfully good. He said something about “The fighters down below.” I just ignored him. I had hardly heard that and out of the clouds came six 109s.
We were heading up towards them luckily. If we had been going down towards the Stukas they would have got all of us. It seems a strange thing to say, but a plane going up is a very steady platform for firing. A plane coming down at you is turning,
and it’s not as steady. So I was able to lift my sights and get a good shot at the leader. Then I had a go at a second one. That day we shot down, between the two squadrons, I think it was either eighteen or nineteen,
and we had one bullet hole in one aircraft. I got two 109s and damaged a couple. When we got back to the squadron and we were being debriefed, I said that I thought I got one and damaged a couple. But my number two said, “No you got two. The very first one that came in and you shot at, he kept going. He went straight in.”
I must have shot the pilot. So he confirmed that. And in my citation from the squadron...I suppose that would be one of the more memorable. I can nearly see it still.
Describe what you think about when you’re in this situation, when you see the 109s?
There’s nothing really. It’s all instinct. There’s no planning, not real planning. You’ve been taught to do…or your experience has lead you to do certain things and you just do it. .
No, there’s nothing really one could say. You have to be lucky. Luck comes into it a hell of a lot. There are people who have joined the squadron, come in to be a spare because someone had been missing, and they might be in my tent...or the tent I was in. There were four of us to a tent.
He’d go the next morning and his bed would be empty the next night. It didn’t happen too often fortunately. There were always a bit of a quietness in the mess when there were too many empty seats.
We had one particularly bad day when nine didn’t come back out of twelve. Two walked in the next day. Two were taken prisoners of war and the other five were killed. A day like that you don’t dwell on.
How do you personally overcome fear?
Oh yes. There wouldn’t be one of us who didn’t suffer fear at some time or another. Probably the most fearful time is just as you’re going out to the plane, before you take off. That’s the time that everything starts working.
It’s very tiring. Living off your nerves is very tiring. After morning patrol, within an hour you’d be asleep. Slept well, no nightmares. If we only had some good food it would have been alright, and water. Water was more precious than food. There were dug
wells. As you may have read there were many advances and many retreats. They wouldn’t poison wells because they knew they might have to use the water again, but they’d throw salt down them. So all the time you’d be drinking tea and I would be salty and it was hard. The water was hard and you couldn’t get a lather up if you tried.
Clothes. You stank after awhile. You couldn’t do anything else. You’d save the water after you had a wash. You’d put it in a bucket. You’d take the scum off the top of it and use it again. I think we were given eight pints of water a day, and that was...
I think the cook house took six of it. The rest was for drinking and washing. I think that was about the figure anyway. The water tanker would come round and...we used to use the German jerry cans [containers].
slit trenches were necessary. We were strafed one morning early. Now, slit trenches were dog legged and if a plane was coming down strafing that way then you’d go into the centre one. If they came around and came in the other way then you’d run to one of the legs, or crawl to one of the legs. You wouldn’t get your head above if you could help it.
If there was one today then everyone would be out digging it a bit deeper the next day. It didn’t happen very often but it did happen. The Germans were similar to us. They didn’t have very many night fighters. We did try and fly our planes at night, but you couldn’t see. The exhaust...if you could see it at night, the exhaust came right
passed the cockpit and in the glare you couldn’t see. You could see to take off. They would put flare paths out or they’d be bombed.
What was it like coming down low for a strafing run?
I suppose really you felt pretty safe. The Germans were very methodical and they would most probably have a truck of machine guns in the lead, at least one or two in the centre and one at the end. So immediately what you did when you came in you’d go for the machine guns and try and knock them out.
Then you attempted to not run along but come in from the side. If you went along the soldiers could always fire up. But if you went sideways, the had to fire sideways too of course. And I think you weren’t exposed as long if you went sideways.
And of course we’d be spread out. So it was better for four of us coming in, or six, that way, than tail to stern coming along. It was rather merciless.
You can imagine six guns firing at people. It was pretty rough. You couldn’t have that much sympathy really. It was their war, not ours.
ticker tape in the bar area. We were having a few drinks. There was another chap on leave with me, and I walked over to the ticker tape and the latest news was coming through. After one piece of news came up, that the King had graciously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross to
Flight Lieutenant so and so and so and so. He was in the same flight. He was leading the other twelve. And after that came up, then it was my number. Sergeant W Mailey, RAAF, immediately award of the Distinguished Flying Medal.
That’s how I knew. There were Americans who had come over to pick up planes for flying in China. They were staying at the same hotel and they put on quite a show about it. I think they got me a little tight that night.
They were more excited than I was I think. The next day I went to the RAAF mess area, headquarters, and they gave me a ribbon to put on. But I didn’t receive the medal until I came back to Australia.
It was presented to me up at Newcastle somewhere. We had a special parade there one day.
escort them into their bombing and when they dropped their bombs we would go home. So we went home too then. Sometimes they missed their target...we never navigated. The bombers did all navigation. If they went to the wrong place then we went to the wrong place with them. Most of the time they found their target.
We had a little chute beside there. We were supposed to be able to put flares in I think. And we used to load it with empty beer bottles, and when the bombs went down we’d pull the lever and beer bottles would fly out. Well they set up a fantastic whistle as they were going down. A real ear splitting
sound. They reckoned it was very very hard on the people who were being bombed. The whistling was nearly worse than the bombs. If any had hit anybody they would have killed them too. So that was our bombing. Later on of course, after I left, they rigged...they became fighter bombers, and they would do dive bombing.
what we used to do, we would cover them in and then we’d circle around until they got out again. Actually, one day we took in the commanding officer of the Middle East into Tobruk. He went in a...I think it was...I’m not too sure of the plane he went in now. But we were
close cover. I was within a 100 yards of him and he gave me the thumbs up sign. He was in there for about...he couldn’t have been more than an hour because we only had three hours fuel. And then we escorted him out again, without incident. Nothing
happened. We didn’t have to do anything but take him in and bring him out. The supplies most of the time came by ship, and we’d go out in the Gulf and sit over the top of the ships as they were approaching Tobruk.
They were very susceptible to being dive bombed. We would sit out for as long as could and then we’d have to go home. I think half the time the Jerries were watching and would send the planes in as soon as we would leave. Then they put long range tanks on.
We had to go out and help escort the navy into Malta, and that was a very long trip. We put these belly tanks on, and when they were empty you would just drop them. Use those up first. And we could do about an hour over the top of the ships.
That seemed to be pretty effective. Once again, as soon as we left they would come in from the mainland. While they were there they stayed away. That was when Malta was being very badly bombed.
Were there any that you knew by reputation?
I didn’t, no. Apparently they did know...see some of the aircraft, which I thought was quite a foolish idea, used to put a swastika up when they had a kill. Well to me, I thought, “Anyone
would want to pick out the one with the most swastikas [symbol of Nazi Germany] on”, because you’d know he was an ace and you’d want to shoot him down. Anyway we were changing planes so often so why put it on. The Germans used to put rondels on. They, I read,
knew the names of different pilots, aces. And they would look for them. How they’d look for them I don’t know, except you might be leading a squadron. I really don’t know. But there were...some reports I’ve read since could quote who
would be opposing them. But I was never in a position to know that.
Tell me. Was there any other way, except sight that you would spot enemy aircraft, or acknowledge they were there?
Only by sight. Our radio contact wasn’t so clever and I don’t think we had radar in the desert. And when we were even talking to one another, we had a lever and when you were sending that had to be forward and when receiving it had to be back.
If you left it in a forward position, no one could communicate. It cut everyone else off, and that at times happened. What the CO would most probably hear, or know, everyone would know...he would go past the planes and do this.
In other words check the transmitter. You would have no way of communication if someone left it in the wrong position. And we used to have to repeat slowly and by the time you got the message through it was sometimes too late. But somehow it worked. The Americans
had much better transmission. They had throat mikes. We had these oxygen masks with the mike in front. And of course the noise would get in, whereas a throat mike would not do it. It would be easy. No noise and very little static.
"Number two, or number four, or red two. One side would be red and the other side blue. Red one, red two, red three and red four. That was rare but it did happen.
We used to have...if the twelve planes were out, they’d fly as a main group and then we’d have what we called two swingers. They would do this behind so they could look in every direction. We would be able to look ahead.
They would be able to see anything that was coming in from behind, and they would signal. They would say, “Bandits, Angels six” which means [enemy aircraft] 6,000 feet above us, 6 o’clock. Well immediately that message came through, the leader would turn the whole squadron around to face them, and he would hope the message would come through early enough.
They weren’t goggles, what would one call them? There wasn’t glass in them...it was the days before plastic. They were celluloid. And they would scratch, and they were most unsatisfactory. So most of the time you flew with them up here and the only time you would pull them down was when you were on fire or something.
And taxing out the dust would be picked up by the propeller, and of course at times we had bad dust storms. A couple of times we had to go to another aerodrome to land because we couldn’t go into our own. Very similar to heavy fog.
You would see the dust storms literally moving and there would be a gap in them, and sometimes we would circle around, if we had enough fuel, and wait for a gap to land. And other times we would have to go to another aerodrome to land. That really started it. Then
gradually, as you can see now, I have this problem the whole time, weeping eyes. I don’t dare go out in the sun without my sunglasses. I can’t drive a car without them. It rather amazed me when I had this operation a few weeks ago, and now I can see better.
It’s just one of those things. Old age. I think they’re just wearing out.
out with another instructor and I would talk to him, and he would pick me up if I said the wrong things. And that started on Tiger Moths too, and then I moved onto the Harvards. In the Harvards we had two groups...the initial and then the advanced flying.
I was in the advanced flying so I was teaching them more of the aerobatics and air to ground and formations, and things like that that I did know. I would have four pupils at a time. The two newer pupils would fly from first light until
eight o’clock and then quit for breakfast. And then I would take the two more advanced pupils from ten o’clock to midnight. So I would do four hours flying each day, except when I could send them solo and then I would sit in the bunk house and drink coffee.
I had one I had to scrub. We used to...the first few lessons, when we were coming into land, I would say, “You would put your fingers on the stick and feel what I’m doing.” And then when they were a little more advanced, as they were landing it, I would touch my stick and feel
how rigid he was. I did this one day and the bloke was absolutely stuck. He was stuck on that stick and he wasn’t going to let it go. So into the voice tube I said, “I’ve got it” which meant take your hands off everything, and he didn’t. And we were coming into land and I could not pull the stick back.
He had both hands on it. I don’t know what came into my head, but these voice tubes had a cup on it and it just sat in front. I pulled the tube and I put it out into the slip stream, so the air went to his ears and he immediately let go of the stick to put his hands up to his ears. And he let go of the stick.
Fortunately he didn’t attempt to take it on again and I landed it. So I went to the chief instructor and I said I think we had better scrub him. I wouldn’t take him up again. So I think the chief instructor recommended he be grounded. It wasn’t something I liked doing. I didn’t like doing it. But he would have killed himself.
Most of the time it was...they listened to what you had to say and paid attention.
I’ve forgotten, maybe every twenty yards apart. And you had to land across that. And for the start they would have four or five across ways. So you had to aim over that. I was on the strip this night, and when they came round we did a left hand circuit, we had an elders lamp, and you’d hold it up and there would be a
light underneath and he would call his number, and if the strip was clear you’d give him a green so he would come into land. But this particular night, one took off and I think...I put the report in that he had
crossed his controls. You take off in the complete darkness and you must watch your instruments. There’s a ball that sits in the centre and if you’re veering one way the ball will go that side, and there was a horizontal horizon thing which went up or down.
And when you take off at night time you literally watch these things. So if you cross your controls, it means the ball might have gone over and you start pressing the right rudder, and to rectify it you put the stick on the opposite direction, and the aircraft lets you go that way.
The more you press and do that the worse it gets and eventually you go in. It stalls. And this is what this bloke did I’m sure. That’s what I felt from watching him. You watch each one take off. Anyway I went out the next morning. The ambulance went...he was completely crushed. I think every bone in his body was broken.
As soon as I saw him go in I grabbed the ambulance which was always on the strip. I went out to the plane and I went to pick him up and my hand just went into him. There was nothing left. The ambulance people did it. But he looked cold, he looked right. He looked like he was just asleep. The only thing that was holding him together I think was his flying suit.
What were the differences between, aside from obviously the country, between Mildura and Rhodesia in terms of what you were doing?
Well Mildura is a little bit more of a green area. Of course in Rhodesia you’re up 5000 feet, and Mildura is right on the Murray, and of course the type of flying I was doing was entirely different.
I wasn’t initially teaching flying, I was just teaching tactics. I was teaching instructors who were then to go to a fighting squadron who had been instructing for a couple of years. They could fly better than I could really.
But it was the tactics that I was to teach...how to attach, how to evade, how to strafe and other things. Then we would do dog fights and that type of thing. We had fighter planes there. Wirraways for instructing.
We had the Kitty Hawks, and …what were the other kinds. I’ve forgotten. They were a little bit superior to the Kittyhawk.
What kinds of things didn’t you quite…?
Oh some of the technical stuff, the radar. The electrical technical side…the whys and hows. All I was interested in was to put a plane in the air and direct it which I learned on the job. I was first posted to
New Guinea which is now Irian Jaya. A place called Mawaraka. A mountain was a ten foot mound, it was that flat, right in the river delta. Mosquitos were the size of a bee, and humid. It was terribly humid.
We had to take pills for malaria every day. Our tents were rather biggest and they were completely covered with mosquito netting. And even a double door. You had to go in one door and go into a little space and open the second door.
The mosquitos were terrible. Anyway, being a pilot they wouldn’t give me the Atebrin. Atebrin were yellow pills and it sent your skin yellow, and they wouldn’t give those to me. I was taking quinine.
Describe the equipment you were using and what it looked like?
Well, you’d have ear phones and a microphone to contact the aircraft. And the tubes as we called them were round...about so round. There were two of them, and they were just lit. And
any aircraft that came in...the idea with radar is to send out a pulse. It hits the aircraft and it is received back in a receiver, which then transposes onto the screen, as a dot. A little white dot. Then I would call that aircraft and have it identify itself.
If it was an enemy of course he couldn’t identify himself. So we would send fighters off to intercept it. That didn’t happen in Mawaraka. I never any contacts but it did happen when I went to Truscott. The other side of it I really don’t know. That was the
technical side of it I was supposed to learn when I was in Newcastle. I couldn’t get very interested in it. I do know that side of it. You had a transmitter that transmitted a pulse and it bounced off an aircraft and came back to a receiver.
First they grade the ground off, then they put heavy rollers over it. And they use a steel, metal strip about so wide with holes in it. And they link one with the other all the way, and when you land on it, it sounds like you’re landing on...you could hear it. It would reverberate when you landed on it.
That was used in monsoonal areas especially where there was a lot of rain. They can’t normally find sufficient depth or hardness to put tarmac down.
The same was over at Truscott. That was metal. The standing strips where the planes were, they weren’t. When they went off the metal they went up to their hubs. You know, monsoonal rain. It doesn’t rain
a couple of points, it rains a couple of inches.
be called in. So it was a matter of reading and amusing yourself. It was literally quite boring really. But I don’t know, there were always two operators. So you could get away. We would go fishing...
not handline fishing but net fishing. Plenty of big fish and tons of oysters. Oysters the size of a plate. Then at least once a week a DC2 [aircraft] would come up from Perth and drop off supplies. I would
order and pay for a case of eggs to be sent up. I’d give them to the crew. When I was CO I got extra beer by fiddling around.
You always have another officer under you who looks after the administrative side. There wasn’t a lot of paper work because you have a clerk to deal with that.
It was just one of those things you could enjoy. Privileges are nice. You don’t have to answer to anyone. Of course in a fighter squadron it would be a bit more nerve racking.
You would have to administer the whole squadron, but then you had your backups. The CO’s of each Wing.
There were two Flights. A Flight and B Flight. Each one represented 12 aircraft. And there would be a CO of that 12. And then there was the CO of the COs. You always aimed for the top job.
visiting people. I was to drive the doctor home. We left the mess and on the highway they used to put 44 gallon drums full of sand. They’d put say four here and four there and you’d have to go through them.
And also if any landing were being made then you’d have to go through there. I was speeding a little. Not bad. But truck had apparently gone through and knocked one of these barrels over and instead of it going through, it was in the centre and I hit it.
The jeep took off and I rolled it and caught my leg underneath it. It pushed the knee cap around to the wrong side of the leg. I woke up the next day in the field hospital and the first words I heard from the next bed were, “You silly bastard Mailey.” It was the doctor. He was in hospital too.
Any rate they couldn’t do much for me there so they sent me to Townsville Hospital and operated there. I limped until 1970, a little before, and my knee started to ache and play up. I went and had an operation and they took out some ligaments that were floating around.
That gave me some relief and about two years later it started to play up again and the same doctor operated and he took the kneecap right out. So I’m minus a knee cap.
Truscott had just been originated. It is right up at the top end of Western Australia. Right at the very peak. It was a secret airport. I don’t think we were allowed to mention it in our mail.
A lot of planes came over from...there were quite a number of airstrips on the road between Darwin and Adelaide River. The bombers were there. They would come over to Truscott and refuel and go up to the islands. And also Catalinas would land in the harbour and refuel there.
It was a fairly big operation eventually. That’s where we contacted the enemy aircraft.
To explain the events. There was another radar station, not the same as the one I had, but on an island as an early warning. And they picked up this aircraft that was flying in and they identified it as being Japanese.
It went passed us and went down to the mission and then came back, and we got it on our screens then. So I scrambled the two Spitfires, and I was able to trace the Nakajima [Japanese aircraft] on my screen, and also to get its height. The operators who worked the screens were able to give me the height.
So I then...when my Spitfires appeared on the screen, when they got to seven or eight thousand feet, I then asked them to identify themselves, and they turned this thing on that makes a pulse. By that I could identify them. And from there I could see where the Nakajima was,
and I knew where my aircraft were, so I was able by looking at the map to work out the direction they had to take. So I called them up and said...whatever. I’ve forgotten the actual words. What ever direction it was the worlds were…my call sign to them, “Vector such and such”. And that
means go on their compass. They did that and I gave them the height to get to. What they do, they keep going on that until I...if it had veered I would have given them another vector. But he kept flying straight. When they see the aircraft they call back to me, tallyho.
And as soon as that happens, I forget them. There’s nothing more I can do. It was up to them to shoot it down, which they did. It crashed in the water close by. It was the last aircraft...according to the report, it was the last Japanese aircraft to
shot down over Australia.
And of course a telephone to my tent to keep me in contact. A refrigerator. A kerosene refrigerator. And I...one other officer was there and we dined in my tent.
The cook house would send my food over. I ate the same as the rest of them. But the privileges of course. I had my own jeep. I could send out a fishing party and some beer would arrive. What else would you need. Nice fresh fish and oysters.
Every now and again a bottle of scotch would arrive, and I’ve been drinking scotch ever since.
and the bulldozed a spit. They had freighters, army freighters, and then a barge would go to a freighter and off load onto the barge and the barge could land, drop its front and the trucks could get onto it by building this sand spit.
That how the whole of the area was supplied. And after the strip was put in, then the DC2s would come in and deliver the mail and fresh meat, and beer.
See I should have re-read the book there. I do not remember how many people were there but I think there were maybe...I would think 1500 or so. We also had an air sea rescue boat there. They were the Bofors gunners...the airstrip defence.
Engineers. A field hospital. Headquarters. I imagine there was about 1500 men there.
With such a big operation, how do you keep such an operation secret?
Well I don’t know. As I said, I don’t think we were allowed to quote where we were. But then with all these aircraft coming in and out, I don’t know how they could keep it secret. But no one else...I’ve spoken to other people in the air force and they didn’t know it was there. They didn’t know it was there. So somehow
or other it kept itself fairly quiet. As that book says on the cover, didn’t it say, the secret air force?
type of tropical camouflage with nets over gun emplacements and over my particular critical hut. Not over my tent, that didn’t matter. Most of the tents and things were army green, so they blended. The growth was pretty heavy around that area.
An oil company took the place over in the 1990s I think, and they did the strip up again and they were using it as headquarters for their exploration in that area.
They actually put on quite a show. We put on a march into Mildura. The mayor and our CO taking the salute. All the local people turned out and the local farmers turned up into Mildura. We marched
from the airport to the town. I was in charge of one of the squadrons or flights. I had to march ten paces ahead by myself and give them the signal of when to eyes right.
When we were practicing out at the airport, we had markers so when you got to the markers you would start giving instructions which were...B Flight, by the Flights, eyes right, and then you saluted and looked. As they looked right...
but they didn’t have this marker and I was looking for the marker...you do it with each step...each instruction is a double step. I did it every step. I had to get it all done before I arrived at the saluting bay. I got it out. Normally they have just a little red thing,
that’s your marker to start giving your instructions and they had forgotten to put them out. Anyway it went off.
to Johannesburg and I had a whale of a time there. I was very lucky there. When I came back from the Middle East, by flying boat, we came down to a place called Elandsdoom which is in South Africa out from Jo’burg [Johannesburg].
We were transported by car from there to Jo’burg. There were five or six of us and the rest were English. They had a transit camp there and I was put in that. And the next day I was walking through Johannesburg and there was a sign up, Anzac Club, and I thought, “Why not”. So I walked in and
there was free coffee and beer. So I went up to the desk and there was a middle aged woman there and she asked me where I was from. I told her originally Sydney but I was now operating…just coming through from the Middle East. She asked my name. So I told her my name.
She asked where I was staying and I said the transit camp. She said she would like to get in touch with the President of their association, so she phoned this bloke and she said “I have a Sergeant Mailey here.” He said, “What name?” I could hear him on the phone. She said, “Mailey.”
He said, “Ask him if he’s any relation to Arthur Mailey.” I told her that I was his son. He said, “Call him a cab and send him down here I want to see him.” So she called a cab and he was a bloke by the name of Billy Swarwar. He was an Australian and in charge of concrete construction in Jo’burg for Africa and they did a lot of the big buildings.
So they showed me up to his suite, the manager’s office. He said, “I met your father when he came over here and played the Wanderers. Where are you staying?” I told him the transit camp. He said, “No you’re not” and he phoned the hotel. He said, “We’ll put you up there and all you have to do is sign. Everything’s on the house.”
I couldn’t get back to the hotel quick enough. So I spent about four days or so there. In the meantime, every lunch time he said to come down and he would take me to the club for lunch. So we went to his club for lunch. I met other expats there. One of them owned a gold mine. They were all very wealthy men.
He said, “What about you come and stay at my place.” I was having such a good time at the hotel doing anything I wished. But he said, “I’ll have my daughter pick you up.” So that convinced me that I would go and stay. It was a marvellous home. Tennis court, swimming pool.
Servants galore. Anyway I stayed there and the daughter was much my age and very attractive and she took me around and I met all her friends. So I had a really whale of a time. The next thing there’s a signal come through to the camp where I was suppose to be in, asking
where I was. So they had to send out the MPs [military police] to find me. They found me and I was on the next train up to Salisbury. Dear oh dear. I got to Salisbury but nothing happened, and in the meantime my commission had come through. I was there for about six months but I had leave,
and I was straight back to Jo’burg.
Well, looking back also, what do you think were the worst memories you have of the time?
Oh I wouldn’t like to try and think of that. Really, I think most probably it would be the hard living type of thing, bad food in the desert, the lack of variety, that sort of thing.