To begin with we need a quick introduction to you, so I’d like you to give a quick introduction to your life just starting from where you were born and grew up.
I was born in Lindfield in NSW [New South Wales] in Sydney, and I lived there with my Mum and Dad and sister until I was an eighteen year old and then I joined the air force. In the meantime of course, I had been to school at a little tiny two room school in East Lindfield finishing up at Shore, Sydney’s Church of England Grammar School from which I graduated with matric
and then I went to the tech to study architecture. (UNCLEAR) architect, or was. Subsequently, of course, in a years time I joined the air force at seventeen and a half and went into camp at eighteen at Bradfield. I did my initial training there and began flying at Benalla in Victoria
from there to Mallala in South Australia where I began flying twin engine aircraft and got my wings over there. Then we came back to Bradfield again then I pushed….sent to America simply to cross it over, we didn’t stay there, got as far as Boston and then back down to New York where we got on a ship across to the UK and then into the, down to Brighton where we
formed a personnel centre there. We subsequently had a few stays at various fill-in spots. One was in Tiger Moths [old fashioned aircraft] playing around anywhere we liked in the UK [United Kingdom] just to get to look at what the English countryside looked like from the air. Which was quite different of course, to Australia,
and very useful. A pity a few of the American hadn’t a chance to do it. Second, I did a course on a ‘keep fit’ type thing. Then I did an AFU [Advanced Flying Unit] training when I converted onto single engine aircraft again. That was quite successful and quite enjoyable on Masters, Miles Masters trainers.
Then they were talking about converting people back from singles to twin engine aircraft and I said, “Not for me. I’m staying on single engines.” And I applied for an overseas posting along with a lot of others and we finished up getting up to the Blackpool personnel centre where they accumulated a great crowd to go to the Middle East. Off we went to the Middle East on the old [SS] Orion, landed at
Port Said and then to Jerusalem where we had to wait again to get to another OTU, Operational Training Unit, where we were to fly Kittyhawks, and that was down just near Abousir, just near Cairo. From there we were ultimately sent to a staging spot to await our overseas posting back up to the front line.
So we finished up around about April 1943, I was ready to go, I’m sorry it was April 1944, I beg your pardon, to the squadron and joined the squadron in Italy when it was prior to the fall of Montecasino. I was there for ten months,
having started as a sergeant pilot when I finished up I was a flight commander, flight lef [lieutenant], and came back to Egypt again then as a flying instructor to teach people how to fly Mustangs, ‘cause we had been flying Mustangs. They sent me to a flying instructors’ school, which I did.
Soon after that we got back to Egypt again. War in England, VE [Victory in Europe] Day came along and I ended my war in that part of the world, but I was still instructing. So I kept going for about a fortnight and then I got a signal to say that I was posted to command a Spitfire squadron in Burma, and I thought, this is going to be pretty bloody good. And so I got myself all packed up
and was sitting there on the aerodrome in the control tower waiting for the Dakota to come and pick me up, which was all arranged, and the next thing another signal came through, “Posting cancelled.” So that was the end of that. Soon after that we were waiting for a ship to come and take us somewhere and VJ [Victory over Japan] Day came along so that was the end of the war. And we had to wait until about next
November, about six months for a ship to bring us back to Australia. So that was the end of my war experience. Coming back I married and we built a little house in due course after much stress and stridulation, and I was still going to night school for another five years to get my architecture finished,
and I’ve been architecting ever since. Its been a long and varied career. I’ve been in it for over fifty years now and had the biggest practice I think in Sydney, we had a very large practice building high rise buildings. Then travelling around the world to various places to have a look at other things, and I was asked to go over to New Zealand on one occasion
to open a practice for the firm over there which I did. After four years came back again. The high rise buildings became thick and strong, we were doing an awful lot of them. I got a bit sick of being a manager rather than an architect and managing site meetings with forty people, that was just ridiculous and I decided I wanted to get out.
So I decided to retire to a small farm we had out near Oberon. And I farmed there for a while and then ran into a fellow who asked me would I like to go to Adelaide, I said, “No thanks.” But he said you’re the fellow they’re looking for, he was one of these job procurer types. So I had my own little aeroplane and I flew it across to Adelaide for the interview and it turns out that the
lord mayor, who was sitting at the table along with three other aldermen at that appointment, asked me did I fly over, and I said, “Yes.” And he said, “Did you fly in the air force?” And I said, “Yes.” He said, “What course were you on?” And I said, “Twenty-seven.” He said, “Good God, what places did you go to?” I said, “To Mallala.” And he said, “Well I was there too.” So one of the aldermen said,
“You’ve got the job.” On the spot, so that put an end to that. So I stayed in Adelaide for five years on a contract, stirred up a bit of activity in Adelaide and then came back to retire in Blackheath, and I’ve been there ever since, until a few minutes ago.
how can I say it, a very enthusiastic pianist, she had got to the concert stage virtually, she was a very good pianist and she used to play the piano a lot at home and she had her own baby grand piano there. Dad was an architect, an ex-major, who was a captain then and he re-joined the army in the Second World War.
He was an ex-army officer from the First World War and had been an architect with a small residential practice which got blown up when the Depression was on, which I remember very well. We had to move out of our house at the time and we went back to live with grandma in her big house and we had tenants living in our house. I used to walk and sometimes if we could afford it, I’d get the bus home for a penny
all the way from East Lindfield to Roseville where we were living then. Things were pretty hard during that Depression stage and they worked, it was very difficult for them. Even as a small boy I can remember the hardships they went through and I can remember being very upset when I was given sixpence to take to school for something or other, I can’t remember what it was for now,
but I think it was milk money. But they didn’t take up a collection for milk money, and I spent it at the lolly shop and I’d had the guilty conscience lasted with me for about two weeks. I remember the fact that money was very scarce and I’d be given sixpence to go over to the Chinaman’s gardens not very far away, to buy a couple of pounds of beans or whatever, although Dad used to grow a lot at home.
From that age I used to like navigating and making a map. We walked from Katoomba through the bush right down to Mittagong following the Cox’s River and all that down there, and I made a map of all that from Katoomba to Jenolan Caves via the bush.
I still go out at night and make sure the stars are where they should be, ‘cause I know them by…they’re old friends. Well, the other part of it was my grandfather that had this bookshop also kept antiques, he bought a collection of old muskets, guns, muzzle loaders and
I grabbed three of them and took them home. They were very workable. We were able to buy the caps that they needed from Mick Simmonds and we made our own gunpowder and they had bullet moulds and everything was there. So we made bullet moulds, and the calibre I can tell you was .5785. I can remember it to this day. The barrels were very long and one stood as I high as I did.
We used to take them through the bush and go shooting with them, we were always shooting in the bush, rabbits, foxes, occasionally a bird or two. But by and large a fairly motley collection, anything we could find to shoot at or just a target.
We’d all go camping, the boys two or three of us and we’d walk for miles carry a big pack, go anywhere and take our rifles, we knew how to use them, how to look after them and how to walk safely with them. I was once talking to the police at Katoomba about a very lovely 22 [rifle]
of German manufacture that I had, when it came to licensing time, and I was telling him how I used to take my rifle over my arm and get on the train at Central to come to Katoomba or wherever I was going to start out on hiking trips. And the other two would be the same, my cousin and my mate, and we’d all have rifles and we’d come up in the train with the rifle standing against the wall
of the carriage or on the seat. No-one noticed them, no-one cared about them, and we’d come back probably stank like nothing on earth, come back on the return trip, walk through the city with them, get on the train at Wynyard or bus or wherever it was, and come home. No-one took any notice of it, we were used to it. If you did that today you’d be put in jail before you got a hundred yards.
So I objected very strongly and I said to the policeman I said, “Now do you really want to take my rifle from me?” He said, “No take it home. Don’t tell them I told you that.” So I took it home.
And I had to lead him all the way from Flemington to Lindfield ‘cause he’d never been ridden in traffic, he’d never seen a motor car and he was jumping around like a one year old pup on the end of a string, and you just couldn’t ride him yet in the traffic. So when the
blacksmith got him for the first time he was mucking around, he’d never been shod before and the blacksmith picked up one hind leg of the horse, I remember, and walloped him with a long stick to keep him quiet and make him stand still and he did. How the blacksmith held the horse’s leg up I don’t know. I was standing with my mouth open watching all this, but he did, he got him shod alright.
And I rode him home with much slipping and sliding and tread very carefully on the bitumen until he got used to it. He was a lovely horse and I reckoned he knew how with everything I said. I taught him to hunt, to do the jumps, I taught him all the show tricks, you know, all the ring tricks. I can remember in one show in Parramatta, in the riding
event I was asked would I like to try a curb bit on him and I said, “No, I don’t think so.” And they said, “Well try it and see how it goes.” So I put one on and I was sent out to do the figure eight by the judges and as we were turning he reared up because of this curb bit and fell over backwards and landed,
I was laying underneath him virtually well two legs underneath him. But I pushed him up and he got up and I got back on again, and much to my surprise I got a red ribbon. Came second. So that’s what sort of show it was. But it was a good show.
Can you describe the house, you just described the yard a bit, can you describe the house that you grew up in?
Yeah. Dad had bought the house when they were first married, I’ve no doubt with a big mortgage. It was called a maisonette it was set well back from the road with a
couple of big lawns in front, very nicely gardened, nice gardens all round, some nice plants. For a long time I didn’t have a bedroom, I used to sleep on the front verandah. Then Dad spent some money when he was able to and he got going a bit, he built some more rooms out the back, a new dining room and a new bedroom which I got, and a new bathroom
in the place. In those days you used to walk in the front door and the first thing you’d see would be the bathroom door and the toilet looking at you out through the bathroom door. The first time I was out there, there was no toilet at all, the toilets were outside, it was the pan system [explained below]. To experience that is something that you can do without any day. It was quite a nice house, tile roof, full brick.
I would think that he did quite nicely out of it when he sold it in the long run.
Were they just a normal tradesmen or is it a bit of a taboo?
They were contractors, no they were contractors. There were a lot of people that used to come and call. I remember there’d be a fellow coming up the road shouting out, “Clothes props, clothes props!” And he’d have a bundle of wooden clothes props over his shoulder, they’d be sticks with a fork on them, about ten foot long to push your clothes line up.
There weren’t such things that we have all over, the things we have today, a stretch of wire between two points and that was it. So there was that, the milkman would call, the baker would call, they’d have a horse and cart. There were butchers that would sometimes call and there were greengrocers…they’d all call. They all had carts, some had tiny little delivery things but there were not many of them,
they were mainly horse and cart. It doesn’t seem strange to me that they were there, it does seem strange when I think back of the personal service that we used to get from these people, it was very, very good. The greengrocer would come in with a basket with a couple of apples and a couple pears and a couple of other things, all fruit set out in a small basket and you’d make your selection from that.
And then he’d come back again with half a dozen or whatever you wanted, which he’d keep outside in the cart. You’d immediately check them all over to see that they were as good as the ones in the first basket. The milko would call, he used to sell in bulk and you’d take your billycan or whatever it was down to the front gate and leave it there and he’d fill it up, or initially they used to bring it right to the back door and they’d fill up your billy or your jug,
or whatever it was, right at the back door, and measure it out for you. Seems very strange today that they’d do that sort of thing.
I didn’t want to change school or teachers at that point, well I didn’t get asked, it was just taken for granted that’s what I would do. The difference were that we had a tenant in the house, my Dad was living with his Mother in a big old home.
He had no work to do because there was no building to be done, and it went on for about eighteen months I think before he got another job. In that time he used to do various things - he bought or organised a little cigarette store in the city where he sold cigarettes; at one stage he made my sister
a pair of shoes, they were very well made, beautiful pair of shoes; he made furniture. I can remember a cradle he made, a dolls cradle with the two ends the shape of a cat, and all beautifully painted with eyes and mouth and whiskers and all the rest of it. It was a lovely thing
and quite a large one. It would have been about a metre long and it was a pride and joy of hers for a long, long time. I wouldn’t mind betting it is still in the family somewhere, on her side. He was a very clever man with his hands and very thoughtful about all those things. He did a lot of work at Granny’s house I remember,
painting it and all those things, doing repairs, ‘cause there was no money….at all! But they had a few shares, of Grandfather’s, he’d been a general store proprietor in various parts of the country and I think he had a bit more behind him than others, and he was able to keep going.
Dad was only one of a few people that had to give up their house, but it was a terrible state. I can remember, I used to get the bus to school, sometimes, from Roseville, there was a bus that went near the school, not to it, for a penny and another penny to get home again…. Sometimes, but not always. If we couldn’t afford the money I’d walk home.
I didn’t mind the walk it, would just make a long day of it that’s all, but half of the road would be through the bush. And then they started to build Archbold Road where it continued on through Roseville, it was going on through Lindfield. There was this enormous hill they had to build this road up and down, they had steam shovels going. I never minded walking home through that one ‘cause I used to watch the steam shovels
and I’d get home about six o’clock much to my Mother’s distaste. But anyway, I’d be sitting watching the steam shovels and forget to come home. Along with a lot of other little kids I might tell you. And we’d learn the language that the men were talking and that wasn’t well received either. It was a good life but even as little ones we were aware
of the crisis that was going on. Then men would come around wearing their old army medals inside their coat so that they didn’t show, to show that they were returned servicemen but they were looking for work. I can remember it very well. It was quite an impression for a young bloke to see these things and to wonder why they were all there, what’s this all about. It was something quite different to the normal way of life
to see all these men with something to do. My mate had a Father who was a plasterer and he used to go fishing and he made up the most elaborate fishing equipment you’d ever seen in your life, and he’d made it all himself from goodness knows what. Hand made. Boxes with saw cuts every twenty mill
all the way around the edge. These boxes would be about three hundred mill square and he’d have a cord line in these things and every one of these cuts around the edge would have a hook thing over it. So we’d go out with a boat and drop this line in with floats and pull it back and you’d catch a whole lot of fish at the one time, if he was lucky. But they used to get some big Jewfish, very big Jewfish down in the
Bobbin Head area of that part of the world. It was good fishing in those days but things have changed and its not so good now.
When I went there my old man started a parents and citizens group and they used to work up there on Saturdays and Sundays improving the grounds. So ultimately they got a few gardens and a few lawns going up there. School itself there was a master and a mistress and they’d have six classes of course,
three in each room, all going at once. It had its advantages because if you went into fourth class you were in the big room, big room….they were the same size rooms…. But the big school, you heard what the sixth class fellows were doing and, or the girls and the boys in the sixth class, and by fifth class you’d hear it again. By the time you were in sixth class you knew most of it.
So by the time you got to do your primary final, which was the end of your exam, it was just a matter of almost like clockwork you could…it was easy. He used to write copiously on the blackboard. I can remember a big fixed one in the middle and two mobile ones either side. And he used to write these stories
of James Cook or one of the explorers or two or three and he’d write it in full, the whole story, on this board, you could just read it from back in the classroom. Every now and then he’d leave a blank, put a line and a number and you’d, in your book, you’d have to write that number…one – that’s meant to be…
his name’s Captain James Cook; two - was the name of the ship was the Endeavour and number three was he left from so and so, and what he did on the trip. And he’d go all the way through which made it good fun but he used to be very industrious and he’d do all this. All the kids in every class would be watching this and doing it. It was mainly for the benefit of, well I guess everybody. But it was a good way of teaching three classes at once.
But he was a bit of a villain with the cane and used to love putting his arm around the girls - we weren’t too fond of that. Even at that stage we thought that was a bit too much. He was very good with the cane, he used to use a feather duster, holding the feather end of course, and letting you get the other end on your hands, and he was quite a powerful man.
I can remember looking at my hands and thinking I would never be able to hold a pen again. Oh dear, oh dear.
know French, Latin, English and all the rest of it. When it got around to the leaving, in those last couple of years, I scrapped French and I got myself organised into stuff that I would need for architecture, forgetting about the war. But they were actually ideal subjects for the air force as it turned out. I was doing Mechanics and Physics,
Maths I and Maths II and English. I’d dropped off History, but I knew the history anyway that I would have been examined on. I could have passed that I suppose. At Shore we were getting Divinity II, and I was also was doing Art which I thought might be useful from an architectural point of view.
The most useful thing, the thing I enjoyed more than anything else was the maths and the mechanics side of things, and Newton’s laws of motion and working out things for falling objects, and all that sort of stuff, and friction and chop chop. Very useful from the aviation point of view. And navigation.
I think from the navigation point of view it was fascinating.
to what it is today. Architecture, he had a practice which was mainly building houses and flats, blocks of flats, and the Roseville Golf Club was another one of his big jobs. He hadn’t done anything of major importance but what he had done, he’d left a legacy of houses. There are people now that collect information about the houses he’s done. Strange to me.
I hope that no-one ever gets together starts looking through what I’ve been doing. People ring me up and say, “Do you know what houses Mr. Finch drew or did when in Chatswood or in Killarah?” And I don’t remember them all but I do remember quite a few. People do collect them and go and inspect them, and “I bought one,” and that type of thing.
He was a good architect. Now days architecture is a different study, a different thing altogether. We’re like the ‘developer’s monkey’ if you know what I mean. We have to know how to design and build to a price and to a finished result. So, the house will earn ten percent or eight percent or the building will earn that,
not a house or whatever the building is. I’m used to working backwards when someone will say, “We want to build an office building,” or something like this. And I’ll say well, “How much did the land cost? How much have you got to spend? What sort of rent do you expect to get? It’ll earn eight percent on the investment.” “OK. If it’ll
earn eight percent it’s a goer if it earns two percent it ain’t a goer but if it earns twelve percent it’s a bonanza.” So that’s the way it goes today and architects don’t do many houses, well not very many. I found that now I’m doing the odd house but quite a lot of alterations and
additions, people who can’t afford to sell or buy again, so they can afford to add on, which they do. So I don’t need to do very much, I just do a little bit. I’ve got a veteran’s pension going and I don’t want to upset the apple cart with that, but I can manage to do a little bit.
he was always the big architect that we used to read about. There was probably Le Corbusier of course, and one or two others. I think that I’ve grown out of them. In the old days, I don’t mean to say that I’m as good as they are, I didn’t mean that at all, but role models are one thing for when you are growing up, but as you become more mature and more confident in
your own ability you think your own way through a problem and you find your own solutions. And you don’t necessarily have to find, you might think that it’s new but it isn’t always new because sometimes you’ve got an idea or a glimmer of an idea from what somebody else has done, and it sticks in the back of your mind and you see that again. So I think fundamentally that architecture today,
there is less time for design and people are less interested in it. They are more interested in getting the accommodation they want for how much money they’ve got to spend. They haven’t got time to wait while you fiddle around and say, “I think we should do this that way or some other way.” So you’ve got to be fairly quick off the mark to be able to get
a design that is acceptable to somebody without spending too much money, if you want to do a lot more work. If you don’t care about more work you can take as much time as you like but most people want to get going as quickly as possible.
an old Fokker, three engine job, it wasn’t so little really when you got close to it. It looks little now. I think they’ve got it hanging from the ceiling of a Queensland or Brisbane airport now, or they used to. Not too sure where it is but I’ve seen it somewhere. It was quite a day. Cars everywhere, people everywhere running around. ‘Course I wasn’t able to run too far,
we were kept very much under control. It was all part of growing up I suppose, like the opening of the bridge where everybody went to. Life in Sydney in those days, pre-war, fairly quiet not much action by way of big things happening.
These have only happened later, since the war. When they’ve got engineers clever enough to design things and the money to do it. Scientific experts and other experts being clever enough to foresee and foreshadow and assess the need for certain things, and people can now do these things.
I can remember during my practical career, designing for instance, one of these massive tower villages where everyone lives in it like a village, schools, hospitals and things just for fun. You designed it just as a preliminary exercise, just to talk about. But there’s lots of things
happen. There are people with many different skills today which we didn’t have in those days, nor did we have the money.
first got a wireless but it would have been about 1932 whenever it was, in the house and I remember laying in front of it listening to what was being done, (UNCLEAR) and so forth, trying to figure out how they kept all those orchestras in the same place at the same time when they were playing music. We heard the war news coming across and we knew there was a war going
to come. It was quite evident that it was going to come, and in 1939 I was still at school, well and truly at school. And, as I remember it, I think on the night the war started we were celebrating my Mother and Father’s wedding anniversary. We were at the pictures
went to the pictures that were on that particular afternoon or evening. I guess my own feeling at the time was war had, was something I’d never thought about a great deal being a kid, and I found it a bit frightening in some ways wondering what on earth does war really mean to us. And I was quite concerned about it and thought to myself,
“Does that mean that they are going to be fighting here or does it mean that they are going to be fighting somewhere else in Europe?” But in actual fact, as it started in Europe we could see what was happening over there and it was gradually an education by becoming more and more familiar with it as time went on. We’d hear about it everyday on the radio of course, which was constant. And more and more people were joining up and getting into it. People were in uniform here,
I was, how can I put it, my own Dad was in uniform and he was looking after some, at that stage, teaching a young group of engineers at how to become proficient at their job in the army. And they were stationed at Narellan, not at Narellan, up near Brisbane.
I went up there to see him on one occasion. They had a remount depot nearby and I was riding one of the remounts around in a hundred acre paddock for a few days, and then came back; that was during school holidays. I had no illusions at that time. I realise now of
course, I was a bit like a prehistoric monster as far as life was concerned. At that stage we were members of the British Empire. As far as I was concerned the King was the man, he was our King he had nothing to do with anybody else’s, and I was very proud of being a member of the British Empire.
I had read Boys Own Annual. These English schoolboy books you know, that were available, and I can remember as a little fellow having to stand to attention with my cousin one day, when I was visiting her at my grandparents while they raised the flag in the front garden. We were only about five then, I can remember that. I can remember how
the British Empire was very important to me at that stage, pre war and I used to think a lot about it. I used to wonder, “All that red on the map [the colour used to denote British possessions] it’s just got to mean something; we’ve got to have something right.” But now in my later life I realise that I’m a cause without a home, if you know what I mean, the British Empire is gone and
we’re not like that at all now, we’re different altogether. The thought of going to war and doing what I had to do didn’t worry me in the least, I wasn’t a bit concerned about it. I somehow knew that I was going to come through, and God help me. I didn’t know what I know now of course. I knew then and I knew that I was going to join up
as soon as I could and I hoped the war wouldn’t end before I got there.
in the army and they made him in charge of recruiting in New South Wales. And they set up an army hut in the middle of Martin Place in Sydney and that was the recruiting centre for Sydney. He had his office in that. They had a navy man in there and they had an air force bloke in there, and the fellows would just go in there and join up.
When I was seventeen and five months old and working at an architect’s office in Sydney and going to tech five nights a week I thought the only time I’m going to get in there is when he’s away at lunch. So I thought about this for quite awhile. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to get into camp until I was eighteen but they had a set of about twenty-one or thirty-one lessons or something.
Little orange books that they handed out when you were on the reserve and you had to do all those before you went into camp, so I could do those, I thought. To make a long story short I arrived there around about half past two and I thought he can’t possibly be there then. I was only working in another office in Martin Place, and I went into the air force bloke and he sat down
and filled out the forms and that sort of stuff and he said, “Well we’ll have to get these signed by the attesting officer.” And I said, “OK.” And I thought that that’s another air force bloke. And he took me out and wheeled me in and there’s the old man sitting at the table. I got the shock of my life and so did he. He said, “What the hell are you doing in here?” I said, “I’ve just joined up.” He said, “Just a minute.”
And the air force bloke put the forms down in front of him and said, “Well, he’ll be able to do his lessons. He can do those; he can have his medical tests. He’s on the reserve and he won’t get called up until he’s eighteen.” And Dad said, “Oh fantastic, well that’s OK.” And he signed the permission to go, there and then on the spot, and then proceeded to go and get full. We had lunch and he stopped in and he went off with a few of his mates and got full in the afternoon,
and drove me home from the city, and how he got home I’ve got no idea. It was just exciting driving home. Well, we had a good afternoon and they didn’t get me back to the office that afternoon, I don’t mind telling you. But my boss was also an ex-army mate of Dad’s so he obviously wouldn’t have minded. That’s what happened.
She said, “You don’t want to join the navy, you’d be away at sea.” And I said, “Well whatever I join I’m going to be away at something.” And I thought that I’d had these lessons and I’d seen the lessons that other fellows had had, I knew what they were all about.
And I knew that from my school training that I could handle those sort of things. All the problems and questions in fact, I could whiz through those questions so quick is was just silly, they were just child-like as far as I was concerned. Plenty of people had a lot of trouble because they had left school some time and they didn’t remember what the triangle of isosceles was or vectoring and that sort of thing, but that was a simple part of mechanics. And
so I thought the air force was the right thing to go for. I had to be a pilot; I wasn’t going to be a gunner or a navigator. And they knew I was frankly very frightened, and I finished up as a navigator because I knew a fair bit about navigation believe it or not. I’d studied celestial navigation; I was interested in that. I was interested in
tracking and so forth, compass bearings and positions – not surveying. I thought well, the army is no good, that is definitely out. I didn’t want to be in the army I thought, just wandering around hills looking for the enemy and then chasing them around the other side and then coming back again wasn’t much fun. So I thought no, I don’t want to be in the army. So, the air force got my mark.
So I joined the air force.
on these special subjects. but you had a different range of subjects of course. Things like navigation, things like airmanship. You have armoury where you learn how to take guns apart, I’m talking about machine guns now. You’d learn about gas, the various gases like mustard gas [used in the First World War] and all those sorts of things, learn all
about them. And what protection to wear. You’d learn Morse Code [communication system], how to receive and send it; you learnt about radio sets, what sorts of radios there were and how to operate it. You learnt about meteorology, was a major course, major issue, and you had to learn a lot about that. And you kept on learning about that and navigation right
the way through your flying training. It was a good course, an easy course, easy for a young bloke but harder for an older bloke who had been away from school for a long time. You’d spend a long time with one bloke that couldn’t handle the mathematical side of it, he’d forgotten it.
Perhaps logarithms or something like that, he’d done them when he was at school but he’d forgotten them, because he wasn’t using them all the time. But when you’re fresh out of school these things were like falling over backwards, there was nothing to it. It was very easy and I thought that if I got too good at it they’ll make me a navigator. I didn’t want to be a navigator.
It happened I topped the course in navigation, it didn’t really matter because somewhere on my papers it said, “Fit for pilot” and “Fit for pilot only”. Now I don’t know why they put that, and there were a few of us that noticed we had that sort of thing on out papers, when you’re not supposed to see it of course. It did work out that that was what it was.
So I thought I was going to be a pilot whether I like it or not, if I don’t I’ll get something else. But the pilot was going to be the first one.
What sort of mischief did you get up to?
I had half my moustache shaved off. I can remember there was a member of parliament who was in the camp in another hut and our fellows got in there one day and they all sat on him and shaved off….he had an enormous moustache. I can remember watching this with great excitement at the time. I didn’t get up to much, I was pretty well behaved
at Bradfield, I didn’t do anything that I shouldn’t have. But it was good, it was a good life and I enjoyed being with a whole lot of fellows and I enjoyed what we were doing. When the torpedos were fired in Sydney Harbour, when those little submarines were in there that night we were all sent down the bush, get out, leave the camp, get out of it and hide in the bush. And we thought,
“What the hell was going on?” We used to have good, long fitness runs and run for miles around Lindfield, Killara, Gordon and all around there. We’d sit down on one side of the galley and the other would be on the other side sending Morse Code to each other at night time.
It was all part of the business but it was all enjoyable, you know. And the weather was good.
They gave us about three weeks of what they call being a tarmac terror, and we had to….when a Tiger Moth taxis it has got no tail wheel, its got a skid on the back and you’ve got no brakes on the Tiger Moth, so when you went near other aircraft you had to be pretty careful how you handled them. And there were a few taxiing accidents from time to time, especially if the wind
was blowing a bit strong. So you might as well put up your gunner’s wings there and then. If you had an accident like that would have been disastrous, you’d have been kicked out of the pilot’s school. So they put a… you’d have to hold the leading edge of the wing, you’d take the planes out of the hangar in the morning and you’d put them back, those that had to go back.
You’d run out and meet them when they came in and run along beside them with your hand on the wing and pull them to a stop and put the blocks in front of the wheels when they’d stopped. You had to swing the prop [propeller] to start the engine which is not easy for a bloke of my height. You’ve got to get back out of it and keep out of it, you couldn’t dare hook it too close.
So being short I had to stand on tiptoes to reach the propeller at the top when I had to pull it down. It was hard for me as a shortish bloke, for the taller fellows it was quite easy. Apart from that it gave you some experience on what went on around the ground for a Tiger Moth. Then you get an instructor who takes you for a joy ride first of all, and that first ride, that lift off the ground in the Tiger Moth was the most exciting thing
I’d ever felt, it was just…. I couldn’t believe it, I was actually in the air. I felt the whole thing going up and it was just an unbelievable feeling. You’re sitting up there with the wind blowing around you with your helmet and goggles and gloves and all the rest of it, shivering like hell with nervousness. You’re not wearing boots, you’re wearing sandshoes so you can feel the rudder bar.
It’s a very exciting business and he takes you out, just flies straight and level. “Now we’ll try a turn to the left and then a turn to the right and keep your nose right, keep everything in the right position.” And sooner or later you learn this coordination of hand, eye and feet but it takes some people a lot longer. Some people who have no coordination, and there are some people who have none or very little, and
I’m speaking now as an instructor, and I’ve been an instructor for quite a long time. It is very hard for some people to pick it up. I can remember subsequently, after the war, I took a lady for a flight as an instructor and she was a pupil and she had something like thirty hours or thirty-two hours as a dual and had not gone solo. I took her up and
I said, “Why haven’t you gone solo?” And she said, “Well they won’t let me go.” I said, “Well, lets see what you can do.” And we did a couple of circuits with about four landings three times, and I said, “Oh you’re alright, just hold your stick still when you touch, don’t move it, don’t move it. Just hold the stick steady.” “Oh alright,” she said. And off she went again, beautiful landing. And I said,
“Well do that again and if you do a good one I’ll let you go solo.” And she did it again and I let her go solo and when I came back the other instructor said, “You’re bloody crazy!” I said, “No, she was alright, she was alright, she really was.” But she was an English girl and every time the aircraft would hit the ground to land she’d pull the stick back and the thing would do a little kangaroo leap, and she’d be going like this right across the aerodrome all the time,
and they weren’t telling her to keep the stick still.
And if I look back now and say, well he was young, he was a good teacher but I think I just took a while to cotton on. I was not exactly a fast learner at that stage, everything was so new and it was a little bit bewildering when you get all these things because it’s a so much to remember initially.
Talk about information overload, its got nothing on it, incredible. He’d sit in the front seat there and I was trying to land it and I’d be going around the circuit and he’d say, “Tail trim, tail trim, tail trim, tail trim. You forgot it again.” And I’d have to fix the tail trim, I’d forget to adjust the tail trim.
Once I got the hang of it I was off like a boarding house teapot handle, I had no trouble at all. The little things he didn’t tell me at first made quite a difference when I knew them because I’m one of these people that wants to know the whole story, not ninety-nine percent of it. And he didn’t tell me for instance, when you are landing he’d say, “Look out to the left.” And I would look out to the left and the bloody thing,
I’d be turning right or something when I was going left instead of keeping straight. So I had a lot of trouble with that particular aspect of it when I was landing. If he’d have said, “Look straight ahead and see what’s going on through your peripheral vision at either side,” it would have been easier, and I would have had no trouble. Because when you land an aeroplane you don’t look out to the left at all, you look as far ahead as you can see, and you can see the whole position of the runway
and the ground or the grassed country or whatever is around you, then you can tell exactly what height you are from, about an inch away, and do a good landing every time.
What were they? Could you take me through them?
Well there’s a standard sort of pneumonic TMPFF and S - Trim, Mixture, Pitch, Fuel, Flaps and Sperry. So tail trim was first, mixture - full rich, pitch – full fine. You didn’t have pitch in the Tiger Moth but you had to say it nonetheless. Fuel – sufficient fuel for the flight, turned on, no flaps so you haven’t got to worry about those. And
Sperry is your Sperry instruments uncaged, and ready to go, that means they’re not locked on, not locked shut, they’re free to move. But you don’t have those in a Tiger Moth either so its all short circuited. Fundamentally that’s what it is. You have to learn to run it up to a few hundred revs, flick the switches up and down on each maggie to see where the rev drop is and that’s all you did before take-off. On a Mustang, or
Kittyhawk or Spitfire [other aircraft] you’ve got all those things and you’ve got a few other things as well, but they’re all related to it.
“Well you might want to kill yourself but I’m precious and I’m getting out. That’s all I can say. Be careful. I’m going to let you go off on your own.” I said, “That’s good.” So out came the control column, he pulled it out of its little socket so it doesn’t get caught up in the straps in the front cockpit, threw that on the ground and did up the straps which are the shoulder straps, and the other straps around your middle, and put the pin in those so that they wouldn’t flap around.
And shut his little door in the side of the cockpit, they’ve got a little half door about that high. And stood on the grass and said, “I’ll be watching from the other end, other side, so just be careful and if you see something else go around again don’t worry about trying to come in the first time if you can’t. I just want you to do a circuit.” So off I went gaily, I thought this is tremendous, taxied out and got out to where
I had to take off turned at the right angles to the direction I was going to go, straightened her up and all was clear, and I could see everything, and there was no-one coming in to land behind me, or from either side, because there was another twenty odd Tiger Moths out there at the time. And I turned her into wind and opened the throttle and away I went. The bloody thing leapt into the air like a young buck, it was incredible what a difference it made without his weight in the front, and to actually find
myself going up into the air without any head in front of me, it was unbelievable. And I thought, “Well, I’m here, all I’ve got to do is to get down again.” And so I did the circuit, climbed up to five hundred feet and turned left another five hundred feet up to a thousand feet, and then on the cross wind, the downwind leg, that’s the way back down, the opposite way of landing. I was watching the aerodrome and I could see other aeroplanes coming in and as I was about to turn in.
There were a couple of other aircraft near me who were about to turn in, so I thought bugger it, I’ll go around and do another circuit. So right around again at a thousand feet and when I got near to turn left everything was clear, so I came in and landed. It was just a piece of cake. Didn’t bounce, didn’t jump, didn’t do a three pointer but landed on the wheels but I was back on the ground and it was quite a good landing.
So I went over to where he was and he said, “That’s alright, I’m coming with you next time. I reckon you’re safe.”
which are like a poor man’s Wirraway, a very poor man [a very inferior aircraft]. We didn’t like them much, they were a bit heavier than a Tiger Moth. They were a monoplane, single winged aircraft, with a canopy over the top but they had an awfully bad habit of throwing a lot of oil out of the engine. The oil would blow back on to the cockpit windscreen
which made it impossible to see much through it. So when you came into land you had to be very, very careful where you were to make sure that you didn’t run into somebody. They were quite pleasant to fly from the point of view of controlling them and this sort of stuff, pretty gutless; good enough I suppose
for training. We were only using them because they happened to have them, not as a matter of choice. We were happy to stay on Tiger Moths. I got to love the Tiger Moths and I was teaching on them later on. They’re a very good aircraft to fly, very forgiving but very hard to fly well, very hard to fly well.
Its quite an expert job to be able to fly a Tiger Moth really well. But then, still they’re a good one to learn on.
and we had to learn not to hold off, bank in the gliding turn that’s when you come in to land. And the reason being that if you hold off, bank in the gliding turn you’ve got left rudder and you’ve got right stick back this way. ‘Cause that’s exactly what you would do when you wanted to go into a spin. In other words if you were not careful you would go into a spin on approach.
We had to learn what a spin was, how to get out of it. Not that you would be able to get out of it at that height if you did get into it, it would take charge before you got there and you’d still need to know how to do a spin. They taught you loop. They didn’t teach you very much at elementary flying school but spins are about the most important and loop the loop, but you can just keep on doing loop the loop one after the other.
Stall yes, turns yes, cross countries yes, forced landings yes, dead engines yes, all that sort of stuff, we had to learn at elementary school.
I think the total was around about sixty odd hours fifty to sixty hours at elementary school. When we left we could all handle a Tiger Moth reasonably well.
they all wanted to go to bombers, so I said, “I’ll go into bombers too.” And so we’d all keep together and so I did. I asked them could I go into bombers and they said yes. And so I went to twin engine school at Mallala in South Australia and there they had Avro Ansons which is a hell of a big jump from a Tiger Moth. Avro Ansons are a lovely old aeroplane in some ways. In some ways they weren’t so good.
You had to wind the wheels down something like one hundred and twenty-seven turns to put the wheels down or wind them up again when they were retracted. And you had to pump the flaps down with another lever you had, at the back of your seat it was. Then you had, there was one big advantage, there was one instructor between two. So you have a mate who you fly with and he’s got the
instructor sitting alongside him, you’re sitting up the back having a smoke or whatever or just watching. When he’s finished his hour’s lesson you get into the other seat and you have your lesson or vice versa, so you’ve seen him make his mistakes and you’re learning from what he’s doing as well as what you find you can do.
I liked it, I thought it was good. The old Anson, you could land them literally on….they’d come down like a little dickie bird, they’d float down for a long time. Some of them had no flaps, which meant that they would float all the way across the bloody aerodrome and you had to go around again. They weren’t too good. It meant that you had to judge your approach right if you had a flapless one, but the ones that had flaps were quite good.
They’d come down quite easily but they’d float and float and float. We used to go out over the gulf and low fly over the fishing boats over there. They were sailing boats, little ketches, and they’d be lazing around on the deck just sailing along. We’d come in from downwind and just hop, just over the top of the mast and get our slipstream over their sails
which was always good for a bit of a laugh. It worked out quite well. We had a good time over there. That was four months altogether. We finished up getting our wings, I think it was in March 1943.
After you’ve done your first solos you go off together all the time. It was good because you do a lot of cross country work and navigation exercises. And you do two of them - one when he’s flying and one when you’re flying. And they had another one at night which you only do one up, you don’t do that two together.
You head off from Mallala at eleven o’clock at night or whenever it was, midnight or something, and you’ve got a triangular course to go and come back and you’ve got to find Mallala again. Now Mallala is not exactly like Kings Cross, it’s not even like Cooma, it’s more like Collector [a very small town]. It’s even smaller than that. I think it’s just an aerodrome
and all they’ve got lighting the runway is gooseneck flares at every hundred yards or hundred metres down the runway, on one side, about eight of them in a row, one after the other. And if you can’t find eight gooseneck flares in a row, brother are you in trouble. What we had to do coming back from this cross country at night time on our own, the fellows were all putting the fear of God into the ones that hadn’t gone, and the ones that had done
it were wandering around with their hands in their pockets saying, “Piece of cake,” you know, and frightening the living daylights out of everybody else. And you were wondering how you were going to get back and find your way out because there’s no lights. The course they gave us, I could see in the distance the city of Adelaide, I thought that I was certainly going in the right direction so I must be pretty right.
And I kept on flying and when the time came up on my watch to be at the finish at Mallala I was about two miles away, and I could see these little lights on the ground and I said, “My God, I think I’m right, I think I’m right.” And it was, we were there right on the button. I hadn’t seen either of the two points that I had to go around on the triangle,
I just turned when it was time to turn, and when the next thirty minutes were up I’d turn the next one, turn on the moment, just by watch, which gave you a lot of confidence on keeping good time. Anyway we just landed and it was no trouble at all. Anxious moment.
the ground crew used to give us bottles to take with us and we would tie it on to the trailing antenna in a string bag and lower it down through the flare chute in the bottom of the aircraft, ‘cause it was one hundred and five, or one hundred and ten degrees at Mallala. It would be very hot working on the ground and if we did a trip for half an hour we’d have ten dangling out the back, like piles, you know. And when we got back to the circuit we’d wind it in with a little winch
that was there and this sort of business, and they’d be nice and cold with frosty things all over them. The crew would be waiting for you to get back and as soon as you did they’d be climbing in to get their bottles. It was a good spot and very little ever would go wrong with them. I don’t remember ever hearing anyone that had trouble. Australian maintenance
in the air force from the ground staff was superb. I’ll have more to say about that later but, they were just brilliant by comparison with anybody, anywhere. I’ve seen them work in sand storms and in the snow and in the wind and the wet. Strip an engine down and put it back together - no hangars, no tents, out in the open, and they would just work all night if they had to.
And you’d be flying again next morning.
Can you describe to me from the point of actually stepping into the Link trainer, what’s in front of you and ….?
It’s got a lid on it, I won’t say like a jam tin, it just opens up like a box and you climb into the thing. And you generally wear no shoes just your socks, ‘cause they like to keep everything clean inside and they are in an enclosed building and generally an air conditioned one if they can. You get in and
its got an instrument panel that is identical to that which is in an aircraft. You’ve got your basic engine instruments but mainly just your fundamental flying instruments. You’ve got no artificial horizon, rate of climb, tacho and all the rest of it. And you can tell from that exactly what the position of your aircraft is and it’s all you need to really fly
in the dark, at night time or under instrument conditions. It’s quite easy. Once you shut the lid down it gets dark and you suddenly find yourself and say, “Well God speed I’ve got to save myself now. I’m in it.” And there are many occasions when I was flying on operations when I found
that I needed that cloud flood, the ability to fly through cloud, ‘cause you can’t see anything when you fly through cloud. You could be upside down you wouldn’t know except for the fact of the weight on your shoulders. Disorientation is very, very easy. There’s a couple of stories about that too. As far as flying is concerned, night flying, instruments are very important.
You’ve got no horizon, you can’t tell whether the wind is down or this way. If the winds are not level you will turn and if you become disorientated if you can’t keep concentrating on your instruments and you try to do it by looking outside you’ll come to grief.
Back to Bradfield Park after going down to Point Cook you were just waiting for orders, when did you receive orders?
I went to ring up home one morning ‘cause I had arranged to go there for dinner and I couldn’t, they had a guard on them. I couldn’t get to the phone and the phones were locked. I said, “What do you mean the phones are locked?” He said, “The camp’s closed.” I said, “I’m going out tonight.” He said, “No your not.” And that’s the first I knew.
He said, “Are you packed?” I said, “Well more or less.” “Well, I’d get it all fixed ‘cause you’re not going out.” And that’s how it happened. So I told a few of my mates and there was a general complaint all around but nobody got to ring up anybody, nobody got home, nobody got anything. We couldn’t even get out of the embarkation section,
it was all fully closed off. I didn’t realise.
that if I had the opportunity I would get a message. And if I was going to England or America I tell them that my Uncle or auntie were well as soon as I could get to a phone. And when the train got to, I’ve forgotten where it was now, Mackay? Half way up the ….. the next morning we stopped and the train stopped at this place and everybody piled out and I took off
for the local post office, sent them a telegram, “Uncle and Auntie both well,” and that was it. I didn’t speak to them. And then we got on a ship that night in Brisbane laying in the dock there, little ship called the SS Mormacsea. It was an empty
American troop freighter. She hadn’t been, she had been converted to troops and we were in the hold. They had these cots, four high side by side with about a three foot aisle between each row, each double row, and there was about three hundred of us in the batch, all pilots. About
three POs, pilot officers, all the rest were sergeant pilots of which I was one. We headed off early the next morning, it was gone. All over. Out through the Barrier Reef and off. Then the trip across to America took about two and a half weeks, no convoy, no escort and she went as though
she was heading for the Panama Canal, almost due east. And we had to stand to for two hours every morning and every night at dawn and at dusk, with out life jackets on, waiting in case there was a torpedo attack. The food was pretty good but there was nothing to do on board. There was no games or facilities or anything like that.
We made up our own games we used to play deck tennis on one of the hatches. I think they had a wrestling match or two or something like that. Then we had crossing the line thing when King Neptune came aboard and they had a bit of fun with that. We arrived in San Francisco one wet afternoon about two and a half, or three weeks later.
I was looking forward to getting away and I was looking forward to getting involved. When I say getting involved I mean getting involved in the actual war. That’s what I was going for, not just fun. I thought that this was going to be a long time before I got to that stage because I knew that when I got to America,
they put us on the Pullman train that same day and we actually had a porter to come and wake up our bunks in the train, which was fantastic, waiters and all. Five or six days going across the full, whole side of America. And stopped only to put on water and pick up a few passengers here and there. And finished up at a little camp just out of Boston,
near Providence in fact, which was like a whole city about ten times the size of Bradfield, where the American troops were. We were given the run of the place. We could do what we liked. Beds, much nicer cots than we’d ever had before, nice lockers, all our bags were there.
He said that we could go out for a day or two but we weren’t allowed to go out too far, and they said, “Take a leave in Boston for a day and go and have a look at Boston.” So off we went. I remember I bought the engagement ring there. It was fifty dollars. That’s all I had except a few others to go with it, and a bit of change to get back. So we had a run around and a good look at Boston and back to camp. The next day we were,
within twenty-four hours we were on a bus again to New York, and boarded another ship. This time it was the, I’ll remember it in a minute, I can’t just remember it now. It was a big ship with a lot of troops on board, mainly navy, and most of them were petty officers and they enjoyed the same mess as we did. They were fellows
from the British Navy that had been shipwrecked or sunk and so forth, taken out and going back home again, and these fellows had a wonderful time. They were all born entertainers like a pub on a Saturday night, or any night of the week as far as that goes. They’d stand up around the piano and sing. They’d sing solos, they’d sing duets, they’d sing everything. They’d sing more rude songs than I’d ever heard in my life.
It was a great time and they entertained everybody else. On this occasion something else was added for us. We were the air crew and they gave us the job of being on the guns. They have Oerlikon guns, about fifteen or sixteen of them down each side of the ship in gun tubs, and we were on watch. Two hours on and eight hours off, and for the first four hours that you were on you were in the
tub for two hours and underneath it for the other two hours, with the Oerlikon. You’d be out there looking for periscopes or anything you could see. Nothing like a bit of smoke on the horizon to get your eyes peeled because we lost a couple of ships, I believe, on the way across in the convoy, big convoy. There was another two and a half weeks before we got to the UK, and we arrived in Liverpool the day after an air raid
that they’d had on Liverpool. and there was still smoke over the city. Then they gave us a quick snack on the shore put us on the train and we went down into London. And we picked up another train in London down into Brighton, on the south coast where the air force had taken over two big old hotels on the seafront at Brighton, as personnel centres, holding centres,
and we moved in there. It wasn’t bad, pretty ordinary in so far as they didn’t have much coal for heating water, so the water was pretty cold for most… you could hardly ever get a hot shower. In fact the Poms never had them, I don’t think. I just said they used to wash their face and hands at breakfast, that was what their morning ablutions were, but we were all looking for a nice shower.
There was lots of jokes about that too. It was alright, we spent a bit of time there and we had a bit of clay pigeon shooting that they put on for us down on the waterfront. The beach itself was closed off with barbed wired and mined, so you couldn’t go on the beach. And they had anti landing barbed devices in the water in case there was a landing at Brighton.
So it was a pretty rough time for the local people. But for us we were living, we weren’t living on bad food, but it wasn’t real good, powdered eggs and God knows what they put in the sausages. I think it was sawdust.
But we had a good time in Brighton just playing around, but they had to find things for us to do. There were a number of things they offered us. They gave us leave, you could go and stay with somebody in a house, get places where they were living. And they gave you special ration tickets to feed, that was under the Lady Rider scheme [explained below], which was very good. And we took up one of those and
went for about three or four days down to a beautiful old home, an Elizabethan home, at Cornwall. I spent three weeks at a Tiger Moth school where you could fly Tiger Moths as far as you like, whenever you like, around England, and with a navigator in the front seat. That was so you could get used to what England looked like from the air,
because it’s a lot different to Australia. It’s just like looking at a piece of tapestry compared to Australia where you set course for something and a town would pop up in half an hour, or that sort of thing. In England there is little villages so close together it was very difficult to map read if you weren’t quite skilled at it. So you had to become quite skilled at it which was very fortunate for me because we did need to learn later on. And then I did a commando course for about ten days. We ran
around with a pack on and a rifle, and climbing under barbed wire and all that sort of stuff, and up ropes, and not being allowed to walk around the camp at all, you had to run everywhere. It nearly killed me after a fortnight. For about three days I was afraid I was going to die and after about twelve days I was afraid I wasn’t. We had a good time and
then they announced they were going to have a visit from the air member for personnel, who’s got more gold braids than …And the air force bloke from headquarters in London was coming down to see us, anyone that wanted to be paraded to him for a problem could do so. So I said, “Yeah, I’ll go.” And so I put my name down and when he came they called me and, “Left right, left right,” and, “Morning sir.”
Very formal stuff it was, and he said, “What can I do for you old son?” And I said, “Well I want to convert back onto single engine aircraft. I don’t want to fly bombers any more. I wanted to be with bombers so I could be with my mates but now I’m split from them anyway. I’d like to go back to singles.” He said, “That’s alright no problem at all. I’ll get it done this afternoon
and you’ll hear about it tomorrow.” I did. Tremendous that was a …
Just stepping back just a bit. You arrived in Liverpool first and then went down to Brighton, what were your first impressions of England?
Well, I was looking forward to being there for a start having seen newsreels and things of what happened in the air raids, and so forth. I was anxious to see that and it was very impressive to see the barrage balloons everywhere, over Liverpool and London, although they weren’t really high enough to really stop any normal aircraft from flying over at all.
There is obviously a limit to what height they can put them, but these things were just everywhere. The aircraft were flying around, we could see the aircraft above them whenever they were over, but they would fly around fifteen or twenty thousand feet, no balloons up there. I was thrilled to be in the UK,
to see London itself was fantastic. The railway stations, just like those sort of railway stations always are. You probably don’t understand but when you get steam trains the smell of smoke is quite something, it’s a pleasant
smell and we don’t get that anymore. London has about, or used to, Waterloo, Liverpool Street, Victoria Station are all big stations in London where they distribute the rail to the various sectors, and they have all the people commuting in and out from there, and then they take them underground to wherever they want to go.
London itself, we got to know quite a bit about London and Edinburgh, we found were exciting cities for us, from the antiquities. And the big cities, we’d never seen anything quite like it before.
Taking one thing at a time, there were plenty of shows you could go and see. There were lots of things that they had on. There was some beaut theatres that you could go to, live shows, I mean. Very live shows, I might add. And also the cinemas.
The streets were full of people at night time, not only the troops but lots of little girls running around... “Oh ask him, can they give you a good time or take you for a walk or anything at all?” There was no problem at all in finding someone to talk to at night time. We were generally in groups of twos and threes. We used to go around, and very seldom would you go around singly only because you wouldn’t know where to go half the time.
If there was two of you, you had someone to talk to. You’d go off together, you’d stay at the same troop screening areas, the places that they could put you up and you’d have a meal there. You could get some good meals around London; there was some good restaurants that were still open even when I was there. London itself was a very exciting place to go to,
all the names that you had heard of in the distance and suddenly find that you are there. Go on the Thames and look down the Thames and see all the bridges, walk over them when you can, to go and see the Old Bailey and all the courts, and to go and see so many things, St Pauls. It was,
and the park and Buckingham Palace. See the guards and the horsemen and the changing of the guard. We’d watch that, it was just beautiful.
when we were flying, and we expected to be any tick of the clock, seriously, we didn’t want to knock ourselves around too much with too much rough stuff, so most of us were content to go sightseeing during the day time or go and have a few beers. They had some very good dance halls we would go to and dance, and they had lots of hosties there to partner, and they had good bands and they were good dancers too, I might say.
Much better dancer than I ever was. We had some good fun. Take the girls home and kiss at the gate, and all that sort of business. Back to Victoria Leagues Club, is where we used to stay a lot of the time. By and large in London there was not much point in raising the roof too high because we didn’t have the money to do it anyway.
We were still being paid fairly nominal screws as a sergeant pilot, there wasn’t much coming out of that lot. I can’t remember what it was now, but it was very small and you couldn’t go that often, so when you could you’d stay very cheap, for nothing, and just have the money left to go and spend at the pub or the theatre.
arranged holidays for a break away from the army for service personnel. They gave us the address of some family in Cornwall, the man was a colonel in the army and I think he was close to retirement and he had a wife and daughter who was not home when we were there. There was just the three of them in the family, I think. They had this lovely home down in Cornwall,
which was quite magnificent. It was just a real Elizabethan home with the big hall and the gallery, the minstrel gallery. Just got to see it to believe it, hard to explain. They had a little wall garden where they had all the little precious things growing.
It was out of the war and away from the war and away from everything, right down near Cornwall where they didn’t get air raids or get anything at all. It was quite green and lush and you could go for walks and go for a wander into the town, nice pub not far down the road. I went down there with another chap who I’d only met a few days before, an Australian bloke.
I gave him some ration cards which we could give to the lady in the house, and she was very grateful to see those, she thought they were gold for her. That meant that she could buy extra food for everybody I suppose. But they gave us very good food and they had fresh vegetables, of course, which was something we hadn’t had in the camp.
It was very nice, we only stayed about three days. They took us to a little function which they had in the local community hall which was one of those Glee Club things, with a whole lot of people standing up singing and doing those sorts of things. Not particularly my cup of tea but nevertheless it was nice of them to take us. I suppose they didn’t have any hold over what time or what date we went. We just told them we were coming and they were ready and available to take anyone when they come.
I tried to make myself known to them again on a later visit to London, not to go and visit them but just to ring them up and say thanks. But I think the family had all died because nobody there knew anything about them, when I tried to ring back. Which was sad because they were a lovely little family, and this beautiful home and I don’t know what’s happened to that now. It must be still there of course.
I was glad when they sent me along to the AFU which is the Advanced Flying Unit, to fly Miles Masters which was a chance to fly single engine aircraft and do a refresher on the latest bits and pieces. I flew out over London and flew out over the UK and did a lot of things, did a lot of night flying. I was tempted to get trials and see if I could get onto night fighters
but at a check out I decided that my night vision may not be good enough, and I didn’t want to get out on a limb and find that I was not adequately equipped to do night flying. So I thought that I’ll stay where I am. So when the course ended at the AFU we were put up to Blackpool, which is another holding centre for Australian and other troops,
and we understood that they were converting blokes from singles back onto twins, multi-engine pilots. And I was very glad to be in a PDC [Personnel Reception Dispatch Centre] because I thought well, at least if I am there I can go somewhere where I’ll be flying singles, and that’s exactly what happened. I met a few blokes there that I’d never met in my life before and one of them became a very good friend. We suddenly
found ourselves being re-equipped for the tropics, he even gave me a pith helmet. Well Australians with a pith helmet was just hilarious, they just couldn’t handle it, it looked so stupid, those English things that they put on their head. Anyway, they gave us those, they even gave us a parachute and they took our flying boots away from us and gave us a new pair. The flying boots we gave them were Australian ones
which we had been issued and lovely leather ones with sheep’s wool lining. The ones they gave us were soft things which were no damn good at all, they were only good for wearing as bedroom slippers. If you shook your foot they would fall off. Anyway, that was that. And they issued us each with a pistol and strapping, webbing, harness and we thought are we going to join the French Foreign Legion or something.
Anyway the next thing we know is we are on a train heading north up to the Clyde and there was the Orion sitting on the Clyde [river]. Big grey ship, she was all painted grey. And we got onto the Orion along with a couple of hundred others and there was a lot of other troops on board all going out to the Middle East. We didn’t quite know exactly where we were going. But when they asked for
gun watch, my mate and I put up our hands straight away because it’s a good job, ‘cause you get a free run every night, which is nice. You see what’s going on if there is anything going on to see, not that there’s a lot down below, which is a frightening thought. So anyway, we climbed into this ship and then had to go all the way down the steps inside to H deck, which was about two
decks below the water line. I reckon if a torpedo had hit the ship it would have gone over our heads. We sailed the next morning out of the Clyde and headed across the Bay of Biscay, lots of rough weather, and of course, the Poms on board that hadn’t been to sea before all got seasick, which made conditions on board abominable down on the deck where we were. We were all sleeping in hammocks there.
We were doing the gun watches. This was quite good as far as we were concerned because we could sleep up on deck, roll up our hammock and took it up on deck, which being canvas bottom, you could sleep on deck with it even if it was wet, and avoid the six inches of whatever floating around in the mess deck downstairs. Then we got to Gibraltar.
And when we got there they dropped a pick for a little while and a whole lot of little boats came out to try and sell us stuff. And there was a lot of bargaining going on, and somebody said, “There’ll be an air raid after this, in another day or two, because they’re not all hawkers in those little boats.” Which was perfectly true and exactly what happened. A couple of days later when we were
heading off down the Med [Mediterranean Sea] the alarm went and the black flag went up and we were on the guns, and so the guns all started. And I was underneath loading at that time, on that particular one. They have these drums which were about three hundred mill in diameter across, which carry the ammunition and you’ve got to pack both these ammunition - they’re twenty millimetre guns which means the tubs that you are loading are about that long.
And they’re hooked onto the side of the Oerlikon gun, and we were loading them there as fast as we could, for about twenty minutes while they were firing at these aircraft, which were fairly high. They were dropping mainly, what they call glider bombs. These glider bombs are controlled from the aircraft to some extent. They can’t control their height too much but they can change their
direction a bit. And one went over the ship at about fifty feet and into the water about a hundred yards out to one side, which frightened the living daylights out of me. I thought, “This is…” We can watch them leave the aircraft and watch them all the way down, you could see it. The fellows in the actual gun turrets were doing all the shooting. We had lots of nervous actions down below,
I can assure you, loading these guns or the tubs. We thought that was going to be the end of it, but our tub was right next to the bridge, about from here to the bathroom away from it, and when I looked across and could see what was going on on the bridge. But we found out that they thought that there was going to be another air raid in the next day or two, when we got closer to the Italian ports.
The next one certainly turned up about five o’clock in the afternoon, and I was on the gun this time, strapped in looking down the nozzle of this twenty mill. These aircraft were about fifteen JU 88s [Junker 88; German bomber], which are a very able twin engine aircraft with ordinary bombs.
I don’t know what size they were probably five hundred pounders, and they dropped about fifteen near our ship. And I might add there were about, must have been twenty ships in the convoy so we were unlucky to get picked out I suppose, one out of twenty, although they were bombing others as well. When I watched I could see the bombs leave the aircraft, and I’m looking through the sights of a gun, through the wing sight,
and I saw one of them coming down. And my mate standing in the tub beside me and I, were both almost paralysed looking at this thing. I was shooting mind you. I couldn’t do anything else. I was hanging on to the trigger lever. I think they were out of range of the twenty mill but this bomb came down, and I reckon that if I’d have held my arms out I could have caught it, it seemed so close.
It fell between the two lifeboats. We were poked out into where the lifeboats were, and so we occupied some of the space between the lifeboats and the gun turret, and this bomb went between the two lifeboats, hit the water about a hundred feet below us and spray came up all over us. And young Brownie
who was operating beside me said, “Shit that was close.” And bloody hell, it was. We were both deadly white. I know he was and I’m sure I was. It was a very frightening moment and I thought, “Godfather, it is frightening this.” But being at sea and being under attack is probably the worst thing I could ever imagine. Ships look awful big when you are standing beside them, but when you’re looking on and being a passenger
and being bombed and there’s an aeroplane up there, its an awful big target. But fortunately it didn’t hit us at all. They did lose a couple more ships in that convoy too, I believe. There was one American troop ship that went down at the back of the convoy. But that was our trip out to Port Said.
just as they had a British Embassy. Did you ever see the movie The Man That Never Was? Well, it was a story about a man who never was and they invented him, and they left this man, pitched him off a submarine and the Germans found him and from information he carried they thought the landing was going to be, instead of being in Normandy, it was going to be in the south of France,
that’s what it was all about. That’s where they picked it up because that area is full of espionage, the whole of that area. And they come to Gibraltar, they don’t look like spies, they don’t wear a badge, they’re just fishermen. They are all fishermen when they come out there, and they sell what they’ve got in their boats and they find out who’s on board, “This is a troop ship.” There must have been fifteen or twenty ships, it was a very big convoy and all heading east.
They had to be troops going to the north of Africa. There wasn’t too much happening in North Africa at that particular moment but nevertheless it was very important. I think when they attacked us the second time they thought that Winston Churchill [Prime Minister of Britain] was on our ship, but he was already in North Africa with Montgomery, and they were having talks about
what was happening there then. The attack by the 8th Army was moving Rommel [Erwin Rommel, German Field Marshall] further to the west all the time.
Threatening, shattering. On the ship the noise was, we made the most noise ourselves of course. The bombs dropping in the water didn’t make that much noise just one thump. But the greatest noise was from our own guns. We had sixteen Oerlikons all going. We had a battery of rockets. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen them but
they have panels like the side of this wall here, about fifteen foot long and about six feet high, eight foot high and laid back with holes perforating them containing chutes on which all these little rocket projectiles are. And they fire them electronically and they just go, whoosh, and there is an enormous noise when they all go off at once, or half of them go off or whatever it is.
I tell you the first time I heard them go off I was actually walking half way between the gun and the lift where the ammunition came up. I was carrying this box of twenty mill half way across the deck and suddenly these went off and I tell you, I dropped it, I got such a fright, I really did. And I looked up and there’s the captain and the OC [officer commanding] of the troops
laying flat on their face on the bridge. And I thought, “If its good enough for them its good enough for me.”
was that I’m going to get home. I’m going to be alright. I can tell you that operational work was very frightening at first and a very unnerving experience, but when you’re flying you’re following a leader when you first start. And you see him go through it
and you’re sitting in formation right behind him and you’re all ready to go through it, you don’t think anything of it. “Well he can get through it, I can get through it.” And he does and you do, sometimes. Everyone used to say you’ve got a great big engine in front and you’ve got armour plate behind, but you never had any armour plate underneath your feet. I often wondered why they never put it under there.
To my knowledge most of us just came to point where you just ignored it after a while. I won’t say you ignored it to the point of total exclusion. But I was quite impressed when I first arrived on the squadron how these blokes had been there, they’d done
a varying number of trips, a hundred and seventy hours some of them, on combat duty, and were still alive. And they didn’t look any more intelligent than I was so I thought bugger it, if they can do it perhaps I can too. It’s a strange business, you can get used to anything.
And as it happened I was to do a hundred and forty-one sorties [operational flights], which is half again as many as anyone else did on our squadron. I used to get the aircraft holed and knocked around, quite seriously sometimes. Sometimes I would have some engine problems but I always got it home.
There was nothing to do there, just absolutely nothing except the duty sergeant let you off for the day. Once every cherry-picking time. It was just deadly except for the fact that being Jerusalem, being what it was, we were able to do quite a lot of sight seeing. I had the opportunity there to go to the wailing wall and all the other
historic sights around Jerusalem and Bethlehem. And those places it was just open house we could go anywhere we liked. In fact there were trips you could do on the back of a donkey and there would be about ten donkeys in a row and one on each, and they would follow along on a chain. It was quite good fun actually.
The YMCA [Young Men’s Christian Association] had a very good building, a very big building, one of the leading buildings in Jerusalem, a later building too. And they had a pool and you could swim there and they had snooker tables, and there was a place where you could play bowling alley and that sort of stuff, not the automatic one the old one. I think we managed to fill in the time. Another mate of mine and I went
and we decided to take a weekend off. And we’d never… one of the Palestine police, an Englishman working for them, he invited us up to Naples where he was stationed, which is of course in the news at the moment. And we were able, even though we were quite used to carrying side-arms by that time, we
weren’t allowed to move outside the police station much unless we had an escort. They were worried about us getting knocked off by the unfavourite thing there. There was all sorts of problems on the West Bank. Anyway we had a couple of days there. They gave us a great reception, fed us up and it was very cold at night, Palestine can be very cold in the wintertime. In fact, we got snow at Christmas.
But it was interesting to see it and see what was going on and to realise the temperature of the relationship that existed in Nabless. Very clearly, the Israelis and the Palestinians were not too happy with each other at all and clearly it was going to be the source or some upset sooner or later. It was just a bomb waiting to go off.
We spent a couple of days there and bussed it back to Jerusalem.
to go to the Operational Training Unit and fly Kittyhawks for the first time. We took our turn and our turn came along, and my mate and I went down. I mention him because he didn’t quite see the end of it and I’ll tell you about that as we go on. But we went to a place called Abousir, which is down in Egypt not very far from Ismailia, where there is another OTU
which I went to at another stage. But it’s a bit further away from the Canal [Suez], more or less quite out in the desert. But they had a whole lot of Kittyhawks there and there was a lot more classes and a lot more flying going on. But of course, first we had to fly the Kittyhawks. We’d never been in one of those and it was strange to get out of something with a fairly short radial engine in front, such
as a Miles Master or a Harvard, into a Kittyhawk which has a long nose out the front. So you have to learn how to taxi it. You can’t taxi in a straight line ‘cause you can’t see straight ahead when you’re on the ground, ‘cause your nose is up in the air. So we were duly converted onto the Kittyhawk, and that was a lot of flying tail chases and aerobatics
and learning everything you could about flying a Kittyhawk. They were a real bread and butter aeroplane, they were a very good fighter plane for close support work. I’m talking about close support work to the army and that’s obviously what we were being trained for. I had hoped that we were going to be taught to fly Spitties or something like that, and we were going to be on long range sweeps and dogfights and that sort
of stuff, which I thought would be much more interesting. I’m glad I didn’t know then that there were five times as many aircraft shot down from ground fire than were ever shot down by enemy aircraft, and that’s exactly what I was going to be doing. So, it was a happy thought that I only found that out after the war and not at that time.
We learnt things like a special sort of formation that we had to fly where two aircraft would be up to each side or the middle two, the middle two would be one behind the other, the leader would be in the middle and his number two, his second in command would be a hundred and fifty yards out to the right with his number two behind him.
And the third leader would be a hundred and fifty yards to his left with his number two behind him. The three number twos were free to leave and to check the air for enemy aircraft and let their leaders know if there was anything coming. While the three number ones could each spend their time looking at the ground and seeing what they had to look at on the ground for close support work. Of course you needed very accurate map reading and its not easy
to map read to within one house on the ground, from the air. The squadron that we were to go to in due course, 3 Squadron, an all Australian squadron was, or when I was going through anyway, was renown for its history in close support work, and what it had done. Mainly bombing and strafing [harassing with fire] enemy positions, and equipment a hundred and
two hundred yards in front of our own troops, so you had to be pretty smart with your map reading to be in that position. There were ways and means of course, which we learnt as we went along. Not much at Abousir, but we learnt it when we got to the squadron by following the bloke in front and reading the maps that he was using. Abousir was, if you like, the nursery,
the last step before the big step. And it was there that my mate had a terrible accident. He had a head on collision with another aircraft. Not head on; he was coming in to land and the other aircraft moved onto the runway just as he was coming in and they met over the end of the runway. They made a hell of a bang and they got him out and he was alive, but only just, and they took him off to hospital
and I thought it was the last time I’d see him. Because I was due to go out in two days with him. Anyway, to make a long story short the only information we could get was that he was going alright and we were off, we didn’t know any more. And I didn’t see him until seven months later. Unfortunately he had another problem later in his tour and didn’t come home. He had a terrible
smash and was very badly scarred but it had healed up, and it was seven months later that I saw him again.
archives and I discovered that apparently he had been shot down by anti-aircraft fire in a bomb dive. I can only tell you that I’ve seen a lot of movies of aircraft and I’ve seen a lot of movies of anti-aircraft fire, but Germany had the Gamps gun. And when the landings in Normandy occurred Germany decided to move their
aircraft from the eastern front or their western front, so we had very little enemy aircraft to worry about, thank goodness. But on the other hand they trebled up their anti-aircraft fire, and I’d never seen anti-aircraft fire like the stuff that we used to get. You could look down prior to a bomb dive,
from about seven and a half thousand feet, and the little white golf balls from the explosion of twenty mill would be so thick below it looked like a carpet of dandelions. I just can’t explain to you how thick it was. It represented only a portion of the twenty mill that was coming up,
that would be the high explosive twenty mill [millimetre]. But the bore ammunition and the incendiary ammunition made no puff at all, so you’re only seeing a small percentage of what is actually coming up. And as you go down in the bomb dive from seven thousand feet, or seven and a half or eight, you’re pulling out around about, you’re probably level at about five hundred feet at the bottom, or maybe seven fifty or thereabouts,
doing about four hundred miles an hour, you see this little “phut, phut” like fireflies going past, of the tracer that they send up from time to time, and you’d think that it would be impossible to fit between it. I can’t tell you how many times I went down in a bomb dive and I did it a hundred and forty one times, I know that,
with a formation, leading a formation, without getting any aircraft hit at all. And you wouldn’t just believe it was possible, you just wouldn’t believe it was possible, and yet they did or we did. I remember the first time my CO [Commanding Officer] said, “Just stay behind me and don’t fire your gun on the way down.”
Because if I do I’d shoot him down. This was my first trip on the squadron, and he said, “Don’t shoot me down for God’s sake or I’ll have your guts for garters.” Very emphatic about it. I can remember it very well. Anyway, as we were in formation and line astern, put us all in line astern he said, “I’m going down, going down a lift, keep behind me.”
There was no reply from me of course. I didn’t have to reply. So he peeled over and down he went with me behind him stuck to him like glue, and then I saw all this stuff and I thought, “How the hell is he going to get through this?” And obviously he did, and I thought well if he can get through maybe I can fit through the same hole. So I went down behind him and dropped my lot and pulled back up again,
not a touch on an aircraft, not a scratch. I’d never have believed it if someone had told me. And on that first occasion or the second occasion I finished up dropping all my bombs in the sea because I couldn’t… he wanted to go down and do a bit of a shifty through the cloud the second time, and he said, “I’m going down for a bit of a look.”
I’ll tell you more about that later if you like.
Can you describe some of the characters that were flying with you, or officers above you at this point in time?
Well, our instructors were ex-squadron blokes, blokes who had finished a tour of operations and come back, and they were very great blokes. They all knew what they were doing and what they were talking about because they had just come back. They knew what the score was on the squadron. Perhaps I should tell you that on the squadron there were six squadrons being fed
by this OTU, all in the one aerodrome or strip in Italy, America, Africa wherever it was. There was one South African squadron, three UK ones, a hybrid Australian one, and an all Australian one, of which I finished up on, the all Australian one.
The hybrid one was some few Poms and some few South Africans on it as well, but all fine people all doing the same job. And it was known as 239 Wing and 450 was known as the “Desert Harassers”, a name that was generated by the German General
Rommel. And 3 Squadron didn’t have a nickname. We had a very good record in operations. They’d knocked down something like three hundred odd aircraft up to then, during the war, so they’d done very, very well. It’s a permanent squadron still flying today, currently flying these latest models.
it was always the case of turning in to the attack with a very steep quick turn, emergency turn, and start shooting back as soon as you could get in, and wait be ready to follow them down, ‘cause they are going down. I think that was probably fair comment, but as far as bombing, they always led the dummy bomb dives that we did when we were training, or as they flew as the last aircraft down, so as they could see what everybody else
did. And in the strafing run they used to lead the strafing run, and it was simply a matter of putting the aircraft into line astern for a start and then putting them (UNCLEAR) or abreast, in line straight across. I would then fly down onto the target and they would be shooting and you’d be shooting and I’d show you what to do but the targets there were just
some dummy thing out in the desert, and you could never tell whether you hit them or not. That wasn’t the idea, it was to get you to know the experience to use your guns. Unfortunately in the ones that we were training in, they only had one gun that operated in the Kittyhawks. For the training command in the Kittyhawks, we moved onto, you’ve got six guns, when you push the trigger on that you’ve got seventy-five slugs a second
coming out, which is a fair lump that’s all coming to an aimed point about two hundred and fifty metres ahead, which is obviously a pretty unhealthy spot to be with seventy five slugs going through it.
I knew I had to go up to what they call Al Masa which is a little camped enclosure or setup under canvas out near a place called Heliopolis, which is a suburb of Cairo. And it was just an overnight place to stay, and I knew when I got there it was going to be pretty damn quick,
and it was in fact. We got there and had been there twenty-four hours I think it was, and we were told we had to be packed ready to leave at 4:00am the following morning. And they woke us at two, we were all ready, they gave us a cup of coffee, bit of toast, we threw all the bags, six of us only, had six of us at that time.
And we threw the stuff on the back of a three tonner and the six of us climbed in on top of the stuff, and it was then about four am I think, and we drove down to this aerodrome just outside of Cairo which was under American control, where they had their transport DC3 [aircraft]. There was no
trumpets or drums when we got there, they just put all our bags on the plane, we were unloaded outside the little shack where they had their office, and in one door and almost straight out the other within ten minutes. By which time the bags had all been thrown into the belly of the DC3. And we were in the DC3 in the back
and my mate at that time said, “Don’t put your feet on the Axminster [sarcastic reference to high quality carpet].” The floor of the old DC3 was scratched and dinged and dented. It was a shaky looking old aeroplane. It had seen better times I am sure. But inside there was no comfort whatsoever that was what he was really getting at. They had a sort of aluminium
based benches down each side, no lining in the aircraft, just bare wiring, and we knew that it was going to be at least three degrees colder for every thousand feet we went up. And we were in there without overcoats, it was pretty cold and we weren’t looking forward to it too much. And so we had to strap ourselves onto these little bench things until we got into the air, and then we were able to unhook ourselves
and spent most of the time laying on the kit bags and rubbish on the floor. By this time it was still relatively early, still pre-dawn and
we took off and headed for Tunis. We hoped but we weren’t sure that we weren’t going to fly through in the one day ‘cause it’s a very slow old aeroplane, the old DC3. Anyway, we landed at Benghazi and refuelled, had a leak, whatever and then instead of flying direct from there to Tunis they took it along the coast. There’s a dip in the coastline there in North Africa, I think they must have decided that they
wanted to be over the land when, as they were getting nearer to Italy because there could have been some enemy aircraft around, and of course an old DC3 has got no protection whatsoever. Well, at least if they saw it in the distance or got a radio warning they could land on an old road somewhere. I suppose that might have been the only other reason. Anyway, we got to Tunis without any real sweat and when we landed there we found ourselves in the middle of a
big camping area enclosure, enormous place, American military. And they were getting people shifting to and fro for the Anzio beachhead, and the 5th Army which was then in Italy along with the 8th Army. We wandered around and we heard a concert going on somewhere and someone singing, and some girl was singing there, none of us knew her,
whoever it was. But we sat on the ground on the grass and watched it for a while, and then we went back to the little tents they gave us and got a cot to sleep on, which was just wonderful. It felt like a feather bed after being in that bloody Dakota. But we also found a place where we could buy some beer, warm beer, American beer, and that put an edge on it and we had a good evening there.
The next morning we were off again at eight or thereabouts, with an extra couple of passengers - same old bloody aeroplane off to Italy. And we were due to land in a place called Foggia, which happened to be a base later on for the Liberators that served in, flew up to Germany on bombing raids from there. So we went off and we hoped to land at Naples but
she had had a little air raid there so we landed at Foggia. And as soon as we landed and just got a cup of tea poured out and someone said, “Back on the plane again, they’ve fixed up the airstrip at Naples and you can go back there now.” So off we went back to Naples again, and then on a truck from there to a little place on the Bay of Naples, in a village called Portici in the south of Naples itself.
Portici is a bit like Woolloomooloo in Sydney in many respects, not just in the fact that it is closely developed but also in the type of people and the number of people that lived there, crowded one upon the other. From the window of the little building we were in which was a commissioned or a taken over residential building, you could look out the window towards the Bay of Naples and see the rooves
of all the villages surrounding with all the laundry hanging out and so forth. It was a bit of a worry because this was the first real view we had of damage, of war damage in Italy in the built up area. And the kids in particular were all hungry, famished, there was no food and so they would wait outside the mess hoping that you had brought something out for them.
So we would have to try and feed them and we’d take out as much as we possibly could, on our plates and pretend to be scraping it and then give it to them and then run off with it, plate and all, and off they’d go.
up to near Cutella, near there. And it took thirty-two hours to do that because trains are the first things that suffer when there’s a war, they are easily destructible or damaged. And we finished up with cattle trucks, open roofs, no roof at all, just open trucks. And
we got up to there and then we had to spend another ten days at a little place where we had a final look at….how can I put it…a few days to fly an aeroplane in Italy, the latest aeroplanes on what they call a PSP [pressed steel plates] strip. They’re a runway that is made out of pressed steel plates, which has got big holes in it,
and they interlock and they form a type of armour to go over the top of sand or ground. And they were very narrow as a runway, so narrow in fact that you can’t see the sides of the runway when you are sitting in the middle of it, ‘cause they are down here. When you come in to land you can imagine, we used to do curved approach,
and as you come in on the curve you can look down the runway and see that it is all clear, then you’d come in with your nose down and flaps down. And you got right near the edge of the runway with your throttle off, and you know you are sinking, you know you are dropping, you can feel that. And you know you know are keeping straight because you can watch out either side with your peripheral vision, and you can just keep straight and you just have to keep straight,
with good judgement. There was no room to swing because if you do swing you are into the sand and over on your nose, and lots of damage. And on one occasion, just while we were there, an Italian pilot landed at this place at Termoli it was, and he was obviously whistling An Amore or something, as he came in, and next thing he was up on his nose in a beaut machine, which was rather a shame. We were there only for about a week.
comfortable to fly. It had plenty of room in the cockpit. It used to carry an enormous bomb load. It used to carry as much bombs on a Kittyhawk as they often used to use on a Beaufort twin engine aircraft. And we’d carry up to two thousand pounds - a one thousand pounder and two five hundreds, or two one thousand pounders, and they’re big bombs, very big bombs. The aircraft itself had a
Packard Merlin engine in it and it could do around about, I think its maximum speed was around about three hundred and sixty miles an hour, straight and level. But of course, they would go up to four or five hundred going straight down, which is the way we often went. And they were rugged in construction, they were very strong, not susceptible to aircraft frame
damage. If they did get some damage and get a hole in the thing the boys would have it patched up and she’d be back on flying a couple of hours later. Control cables and rods were fairly secure, as far as control cables were concerned, very few ever lost control of their elevators or rudders or islands. It could happen but it would hopefully
be a very unlucky shot if it did, and with some you could manage without them anyway, in, you know an emergency situation. They had a fairly good petrol consumption, they didn’t use petrol too freely. You could put a belly tank on them; used to carry a hundred and twenty gallon fuel tank if you needed one extra. They were a good fighting aircraft. They had six point five machine guns.
The point fives used to carry armour piercing, high explosive, incendiary and bore ammunition plus tracers, that’s five different types of bullet in each gun. They were firing at the rate of about seven hundred and fifty rounds a minute, which means that for six aircraft, at what I just said a minute ago, you would get seventy five bullets a second coming out of an aeroplane when you pulled the trigger
or pushed the button. It was an incredible firepower. You could fly over a truck for instance, at four hundred miles an hour and give him a half second burst with your guns as you came up to him, and he would be on fire before
you got past him. It was just amazing. You could just about blast him off the road, incredible force. You could shoot at a tank which has only got one little peep hole for the fellow to look through, and it was fairly easy to get one or two bullets through that hole and it would go around inside the steel, inside the tank, and it must have been diabolical when they get inside. With those high explosives
and armour piercing ones as well, goodness knows how many went through the side of the tank ‘cause so many would. When I got through the Gustav Line [battle] in northern Italy, near Rimini, they captured a number of tanks that had been damaged and the number of them had unworkable turrets because of gunfire from the aircraft.
They reckon was legion, they reckoned there were dozens of them all with damaged turrets.
and do a flying dash to the aircraft when someone would ring up, that didn’t happen. Out targets were fixed before we got out. I may just back-pedal a bit… What we had in Italy was people that we referred to as “rover David” or “rover Joe”, and there were one or two other rovers too, but that’ll do.
These were forward observation points that were manned by ex-pilots who had VHF [Very High Frequency] radio, the same as us. And they could talk to us from the ground to in the air. And we used to fly what was called a cab rank when we were doing close support work. When we were doing an armed reccy [reconnoitre] we didn’t, we could be off anywhere on that. But for close support work we’d be on a cab rank and the cab rank would be up and down the
bomb line. A bomb line is you don’t bomb your side of it you bomb the other side. So we’d go up and down the bomb line until somebody said we’ve got a target for you, or yes thanks for coming we’ve got a target for you, and he’d read out an eight figure map reference and you’d get out your detailed chart which showed just about every house and you could follow this eight figure reference
and pick up a point within a hundred yards, or fifty yards or whatever. And then he’d say, “Have you got that?” And you’d say, “Yes I can see it.” Or you might say, “No, I can’t quite pick it up. I’m not quite sure, is it this little bit of scrub or is it that little bit of scrub up the way a bit?” And he said, “Do you see the bend in the creek?” “Yes.” “Where the bridge is?” “Yes, I can see that.” “Well, follow along fifty yards and there’s a bend to the left.” “Yes.” “Well, the first little bit of scrub on the left,
that’s the one you’ve got to go worry about.” “Oh, I’ve got it, fair enough.” So you’d get the instructions just like getting directions in the local pub. So when the alert came you would take off knowing full well that you were going to see rover David or talk to him when you got there. Or alternatively you’d be going on an armed reccy, which is simply that they’re expecting you to take off because fire control knows
you’re going off. You just take off when you’re ready and head for wherever you were going. And generally you had a big sort of loop of areas to patrol way back inside the German lines, back a hundred miles inside German lines. In fact looking for anything that moved that was capable of carrying supplies to the army or service of any description,
to or from the front line. That includes any car, truck, bicycle, whatever, train anything at all that moved that we could find, and it was our job then to put it out of action and destroy it. Its incredible the sort of damage that could be done. We’d bomb and we’d strafe and come home again.
And invariably its incredible that this twenty mill light ack ack [anti aircraft gun], that’s the stuff that we were using on the ship, would be poking this mass of stuff underneath us and you just couldn’t believe that we’d get through. But nine times out of ten, perhaps even better, nineteen times out of twenty we would. But, we lost a few blokes of course, I’m not saying we didn’t.
But by and large, I don’t ever remember seeing anyone come back injured. I nearly did myself on one occasion but that is another matter. The most likely injury would have been from shrapnel from the heavy ack ack, that’s the black puffs, you’ve seen that in the movies. And the black puffs come awfully close.
They give you a hell of a fright when they go off if they are close.
was a little PSP strip along the beach, or virtually on what was a beach, but it’s hardly a beach by our standards. And the six squadrons were scattered about in amongst the bits of sand and dunes on the inland side of it or at either end. 3 Squadron was at one end, at the southern end of it with its operations trolley or caravan sitting on a slight rise in the sand dune.
And there was only a bit of this sort of elephant grass in the dunes, that was the only thing that was there. The 3 Squadron mess, which was where we arrived, was next, almost next door to where the trailer was. It consisted of about three tents joined together one of which was a dining area with a couple of long tables in it. Actually it was a pilots’ mess not a sergeants’ mess or
officers’ mess, the other part of it. Like where the bar was or counter which probably came out of a museum or a building somewhere, somebody had rescued it. And it had a few chairs, comfortable chairs, lying around and a couple of carpets stuck on the sand, laying on the sand. And at one end of the bar was
a little black notice board marked out in about twelve little squares representing the positions in the formation with the names of the pilots flying on the next job, and the decal for their aircraft. My aircraft was always a diamond, you know, like a square on its point, and that was just diamond. But they had ‘A’ ‘B’ ‘C’ ‘D’ for most of them, but mine just happened to be different. There was a skeleton
that came out of somewhere. I won’t go into that, we don’t want to know who rescued that but I do know, I’m told it came from a museum actually. It was draped with one arm over gaggle board with all those flying the next day. It had a DFC [Distinguished Flying Cross] ribbon sewn on onto one rib. Rather macabre looking thing sitting on the end of the mess.
It was called ‘Stinky Miller’, and there’s a photograph that you’ve got there somewhere of ‘Stinky Miller’. At the other end, near the dining part of it, there was the cookhouse; it was part of the extension of the mess so it was about three or four tents all joined together really. All the blokes were sitting around there.
The fellows on the forty-five minutes were sitting there with all their gun belts slung over their shoulder with their .38 in it and so forth, and their emergency rations which they’d wear when they got into the aircraft. And they weren’t in their flying suits, we never wore our flying helmets until we actually sat in the aeroplane. It was just not done in the RAF [Royal Air Force] or the RAAF, ever, to wear your helmet outside the aeroplane,
you always put them on after you sat in it. That was the way it was done. Those things they had on the seats nearby to grab as they went out. Then the phone suddenly went about ten minutes after we got in and we suddenly found ourselves left with the squadron doctor
and the squadron intelligence officer who was about to go too. He went too soon, and the equipment officer was the only other one there. So we hung around for a while and when the fellows had moved off down to their aircraft the intelligence officer came back and said, “Why don’t you fellows go for a walk and have a look see what they are doing down there?
You’d enjoy it and when you come back we’ll find a place for you to sleep.” So we walked down to the little sand dune where we could see the strip and watch the planes going out and coming in and so forth, and of course no pilot ever gets tired of doing that, and it was only about an hour before our fellows were back again. We thought we better go and find out our place to go. And he gave us our beds and I was going to sleep in his tent with Chas Wallen
and him, and that was the end of my first day almost. Except after dinner at night we had a few sherbets, such as they were. Italian liquor, always wine, red wine and white wine, and stuff called Bishops Blood, other stuff called Marsala which I remember used to leave a nasty stain on your jacket. And if you didn’t
get it out quick it’d leave a hole in your jacket I reckon. You get used to anything in time. It was very pleasant. They had good grog there but no beer, all Italian liquor. And they used to take their cigarette rations out and sell or swap them with the Italian people in the houses for their wine, and that’s how they got their wine and most of it was done by barter. They did very well.
which was nearer the coast between Rome and Naples still in amongst the hills. So I got told I was to take the bags over and sit on the box on top of the truck, and along with a couple of other blokes, and help to put up some tents and get things organised to start off the new setup.
So off I went, and we took overnight to get there and we started putting up tents as fast as we could on the next day. And the CO turned up and he flew over to see how we were getting on, and then they started to do a bomb ferry across which frightened the living daylights out of me. I’d never seen it done.
They used to put the bombs on the aircraft as though they were normal underwing suspension, but with no tailfin and presumably with no detonators in them. Then the aircraft would land, taxi into the dispersal area and then over the soft ground or the concrete or whatever. The armourer would say, “Right, drop ‘em.” And the fellow would just pull the release and drop the bombs onto the ground. That really frightened me. I didn’t want to be
involved in that at all. But I had to help roll the damn things around to help the armourers get them stacked. That was very clever the way they did that because they moved the squadron from one place to another without losing a minute’s flying. The actual aircraft and the other fellows didn’t turn up for another two to three days, by which time we had most of the tents already up, a dunny open and a cookhouse working
and a few other things. And I moved permanently in with Chas and the intelligence officer.
about to be entered by the Americans and the New Zealanders who were pushing like hell up the line. In fact, on my first operational flight they announced that they had taken Montecasino Abbey which had been holding things up for a long time. So, once they lost that the troops were able to push straight through on the old highway all the way through to Rome, with a little bit of restraint of course,
from the Germans who stopped them as long as they could. Three of our senior pilots took off in a three tonner, went over to where the troops were so they went in with the troops on the first day, into Rome. Meanwhile, I was back on flying again of course, and busy doing these close support operations with all the
Kittyhawk fellows, as often as two and three times a day. I did a lot of flying in those last few weeks, it was a good place to be. On the sixth of June, that was the day of the D-Day [allied invasion of Europe, 6th June 1994] landing, we were still at Saint Angelo and they decided they were going to have a party over at 450 Squadron, which is just up the road
and here comes the second of those 3 Squadron things. We’d been there, about fifteen of us went over, we just walked across it wasn’t very far. We started about seven I suppose, seven thirty drinking away until about nine o’clock, everybody was having a great time and at half past nine somebody said, “We’re going to have a weight lifting competition.”
And I said, “What’s a weight lifting competition?” And I’d never heard of a weight lifting competition, and they said, “Oh well, they’ll tell you as you go along.” So I said, “Alright, I’ll be in it.” And suddenly I found myself alongside two other big fellows who had positioned themselves there and they said, “We’re with you, we’re coming with you.” And they had a fellow standing on the bar taking the bets,
and I was even putting bets on, myself. And there were about seven groups of three or eight, I don’t know how many there were, but there was all 450 Squadron fellows as well, and there must have been another twenty or thirty fellows all running around. And anyway, this went on for about twenty minutes, half an hour the preliminaries, and there was great excitement, “Oh, we want a few more teams.” Or, “A couple more teams.” Or,
“Just one more team.” And I said, “What do we have to do?” And one of my partners was an ex-policeman and he was no chicken, he was a big fellow. I thought, “He could lift anything.” Anyway the fellow standing on the bar said, “Right, everybody get ready.” And I said, “What do we do?” And this bloke grabbed me from behind around my arms
and the other bloke grabbed my legs and then they sat down and I was stretched out between, then when they lent back like a ‘G’ string, if you can imagine what that means, these two big blokes leaning out and me stretched between them, and lots of yells from the blokes in the middle. And I thought, “I’m gone. I know what’s going to happen now.” And I was right and another group of about five came through, and they all had little jars of this and jars of that
and the bloke in the front undid my trousers pulled my pants down to my knees and my shirt up around the bottom of my chin so I was stark naked, or all that mattered, and I got treacle and jam and honey, Uncle Toby’s Oats anything you could think of, including a bit of fruit and so forth, wiped all over me. Sticky and horrible it was and then they let me go.
And there was no point in worrying about it. Everyone was laughing and I was laughing so much I could hardly stand up. I just took my trousers off and stood around in my shirt until it was time to go back to the squadron, and I walked back with my pants under my arm. When I got back to the squadron I had to get cleaned up and I thought, “What am I going to do.” And we had a bit of water in a jerry can and that had to be heated on a primus, so I had to just get down on my hands and knees and get….
I can tell you. I must admit I couldn’t stop laughing either but it was one of those memorable nights that you all forget, and the next morning it was all over and done with. And it was never mentioned again as far as the squadron was concerned. I never got the chance to do it to anyone else, that was the only thing that really upset me about that. But it was only a few days after this question about the yaffle business, having only had a two nights on the squadron
before being sent across to Saint Angelo. I was still really without a formal home. I mean I was temporarily in his tent, and when they came over I was about to help them put up their tent, and Chas is not what you’d call a tent-put-er-upper, he’s a different sort of a man, he was an ex-school teacher actually,
and a very nice bloke. And I said, “I’ll give you a hand to put the tent up.” ‘Cause I was used to putting tents up and down by that time, while you looked at it. So I put his tent up for him and in the evening Chas said, “That was nice of you to help putting the tent up. You better make sure that you move in permanently with us now.” I said, “That’s fine, that’ll do me.” That was great. I was very pleased because Ian Hennessey and George Barton, who was the intelligence officer, were in it.
That made a nice little group ‘cause I was very compatible as far as I was concerned. Anyway Chas said, “Its about time we had a bit of yaffle [explained below].” It was about ten o’clock at night or something, and I said, “I’ll go over and make a bit of yaffle. What have you got?” He said, “I’ve got some
Milo in a tin in my bag, get that out and you can make some Milo if you like.” Chas was pretty good at this sort of thing. And off I went. I got the tin out and it was like a rock and I had a sheaf knife that I always carried for a reason, and I’ll tell you about that.
I pulled this straight sheaf knife out and it almost bounced off the Milo. Anyway, I finally managed to chip some out and put into a billycan to heat up and made some milk to go in it. And of course, it wouldn’t dissolve, it had already dissolved and gone hard and absorbed any water it was going to take in. When Chas and George turned up
about twenty minutes later I’m still trying to stir this stuff up and get it to dissolve. Anyway, they never forgot for the rest of my tour, “Don’t forget to finish making the Milo, you’re no bloody good at it.” And Chas had had that tin of stuff open for at least twelve months and it didn’t have a very secure lid on it. I don’t know where it came from but that was the end of the Milo, but I didn’t live it down ‘til the end of my time.
Can you give me an example of a fellow that didn’t come home and you helped sort out his gear?
Yes I can. Thereby hangs quite a tale actually. It was in September, we were over at Iesi which I mentioned earlier, on a particular day and we had another chap in our tent by then, a chap called John Hedger,
who joined us somewhere a little bit earlier in Italy, not at Saint Angelo, subsequent to that. He’d done about twenty to thirty hours flying with us, maybe a little more. And on that particular day
I was on the first job which Charlie was going to lead, and Chas, when he was taking off, burst a tyre on takeoff, or it burst on takeoff, and he skidded along into the dust as it was then, on his bombs underneath the aircraft, and they didn’t go off. They weren’t armed at the time but they did have the detonators in ready to go. So frightened the living daylights out of me ‘cause I was sitting right behind him,
one aircraft between me and him. And he, this was a bad day for three of us, I didn’t get to see how he got on at the moment ‘cause I had to go with the job and take over the leadership of that job. And when I came back I was subsequently put on another job,
and I had to go out and drop, oh I forget where we were going now, it was up near Rimini, I think, not too far away. It was late in the afternoon and there were two teams ready to go. John Hedges went out on one of them and I went on my team. I took a team out and I was leading it.
I wasn’t there when John got back or that team got back, we took off after he left. I took my team down to bomb and everybody bombed quite well, nobody hurt. But just after we formed up again my number two said, “Red one, you’ve got a hang up,”
which is something you never want to hear. So I thought I’ll try everything I can to get rid of it ‘cause I wasn’t going to land with it on. We had instructions by that time to bail out when you got a hang up. So I did aerobatics to try and increase the G force on it and see if I could get rid of it, and try and release it.
I yawed the aeroplane with (UNCLEAR) to try and let it go, I couldn’t move it at all. I did everything I could think of to try and remove that bomb from underneath the wing and it was still there when we got back to the strip. So I rang the strip up on the radio and said, “I’m going to fly low over the control tower and would you like to take a good look at this and see if you can tell me if you think it looks safe or is it hanging off.”
And as I flew over they said, “It looks safe but of course we can’t tell very much.” And I said, “Well, I’m not too sure just exactly what action I’m going to take about this, we’ll see. But I’m going to take it out to sea and have another go and see if I can get rid of it.” And he said, “If you take it out to sea and you can bail out, and I’ll get the air-sea rescue people to come and pick you up.” And I said, “Give me a go, wait until I get out there and have another look and see.”
And we were just right on the coast so I flew out a little way and tried again, everything I could think of, and I couldn’t get rid of the bloody thing. So I called up and said, “Look I’m going to try to land, and try and save the aeroplane if I can. I don’t want to bail out ‘cause that will be the end of the thing. Then I will try and land very gently and see if I can keep this thing from falling off. It hasn’t fallen off with all this, I doubt it will fall off any other way.”
He said, “Its up to you.” So I said, “I’ll do another circuit round the strip and I’ll come in from the other end.” And I did the circuit and I got down to about six hundred feet and I went to put my flaps down. As I went to put my flaps down the nose of the aircraft went down and you’d decelerate, it’s instantaneous.
And the next thing, “whoof”, it had dropped off in the middle of the dispersal area where all the other squadrons were. And I said, “Is that safe? Have I hit anybody?” He said, “No you’re a lucky bastard, you are a very lucky boy,” he said. So I did another pass to let him see if the tyres were still intact, which they appeared to be and then came in and landed.
After I landed I went back to intelligence section and they said, “We’re glad you’re here because you’ve lost somebody today.” I said, “What’s happened?” And John Hedges had come back with a bomb on and tried to land with it and it had come off and blown him sky high. And so Chas and I had to set to
and put all his gear and pack it all up, go through his personal belongings wrap it up in to a small bundle, tie it up and then present it to the IO [Intelligence Officer] so he could look after it and get rid of it. It is a very sad thing to have to do, especially under those conditions. It was an even worse position because Chas and I were both at the shivering shock stage after both of our little problems the same day.
And the doc gave us each a big yellow capsule when we went into the mess that night a bit late, and he said take these before you drink anything. Which we did and I was going around like I was drunk as a lord, it was just like I’d drunk too much beer or liquor. Anyway, I put myself to bed and so did Chas
and the next morning no harm done, we were bright as a button again.
that used to visit the squadron. They’d follow the army and the air force all the way up through North Africa and Italy. They used to sign their little letters like the three saints, you know. Like the Spencer Charters The Saints book. Have you seen the little diagram, the little stick diagram? Well they used to sign their letters with three of those little stick characters on the bottom. They’d come into the squadron unannounced, they’d sit and talk to the
fellows for hours. They’d find out the families’ addresses and they’d write to all the parents and carry on a correspondence with the Mum and Dad. My Mother had kept all my letters intact, and when I got home I found letters from the chaplain there in amongst them. And she’d written to them obviously,
and thanked them for what they’d done and they had kept her informed, at various times, of how I was, and I never forgot that. It was quite wonderful. They were great blokes. All three of them are dead now. Not surprising really. I’m eighty and they would have been older than me. They were very much loved. One of them was a Presbyterian chap took over from [John] Flynn of the Inland [Mission], and
flew his own little aeroplane all over Australia doing the work of Flynn of the Inland, when that was over after he died. The other man, the Anglican man became an Archbishop in Melbourne or Tasmania, I’m not too sure. And the Catholic fellow, I don’t know what happened to him. But anyway they were much loved, used to march with the fellows on Anzac Day.
Chas and I, Chas was going to lead this formation of twelve across to have a look over a place called Fiume Harbour. Fiume, the name was split by the Italians. It’s got a mixed heritage that town, and it’s right on the coast of Yugoslavia and on the other side of the Adriatic compared to Italy
And we were briefed one day to do an armed reccy [reconnoitre] of Fiume Harbour. There had been a naval base there at one stage and it was a deep water frontage, they could handle quite a few boats, they had a slipway. I was going to lead top cover. Top cover is like another six above the other formation up sun, so that if any other aircraft attack us top cover is the one that engages
it first and protects the fellows in the bottom section from losing their bombs. We took off with twelve Kittyhawks with Chas leading in the front and finally we got over Fiume. The briefing was quite full we knew exactly what we were going to look for but we didn’t have any definite target
as to any specific ship or anything like that; that was up to us. When Chas got over there they started to throw up a hell of a lot of heavy anti-aircraft fire, the heavy ack ack, the eighty-eight, that’s the black stuff, and it was quite exciting for a while. Chas said that he could see a small ship down there that was one of the coastal ships that looked after the coast of Yugoslavia. And the reason we were concerned about it
was that the Germans had sent a lot of troops down to southern Yugoslavia in case there was a landing in that part of the world. If there had been they would need some sort of defence down there. But now the landing had taken place in Normandy, he wanted to bring his troops out and there was only about three ways that he could get them out, and one was to bring them through Fiume and try to get to another track inland from there,
up into Vienna. Or he could take them by water from Fiume up into northern Adriatic somewhere. So Chas took his six down and they really knocked this thing over with what he could see floating around there. It was just sailing away and just leaving the harbour. It sank and they struggled ashore and got the ship
more or less beached but it was all bombed out. It was very successful that part of it. Then he says, “Alright you take your lot in and see what you can find. I think there is something else down there that you might like to look at.” And I found a corvette, a German corvette just heading up the coast. We went after it and we got three bombs, a direct hit, and the rest were all
very, very near misses and the thing just disappeared. One minute it was there and the next it was underwater, it was just incredible. Down she went like a packet of crackers. I took all the fellows back and rejoined the formation with Chas, and he said, “Would you like to do a reccy and see if the other one is still going or is it all OK… are you quite sure of that?”
And I said, “I’m pretty sure about it, but I’ll go back and have a look if you’d like to hang around.” He said, “Alright.” And so I decided to go back alone over the town, and of course this time all the anti-aircraft is firing at me, not just six aircraft but one, or not twelve but one. And it wasn’t very pleasant at all so I thought I’ll do a quick trip down at low level.
I could see what I wanted to see already really, and I’ll see if I can sharpen a few up with a bit of a strafe as I go down the hill, ‘cause there is a great big hill behind Fiume and so that’s what I did. And I saw a few things on building but whether I knocked anybody off I don’t know, but I think I did. And I got out of range and I jumped back up again and pulled in and it was quite OK.
So we were credited with the two ships, one corvette and one Seagull, the Seagull Ferry that’s what they call these little coastal ships. That was a good trip down. We had another one in the Mustangs, a similar sort of trip only it went right over the other side well past Fiume, out into the sort of central Yugoslavia.
And I was leading on this occasion and we found two locomotives which were chugging away pulling great trains behind them. One was a troop train and we got the lot, really knocked it off the line and blew the locomotive up with the strafing and the other one, we got him too. He was a good strafe full of Germans and we got him.
So what sort of debrief after one of these particular…”
When we got back each time it would all go back together, and we’d be all sitting around with the intelligence officer who would talk you through your trip - ask you what you did, what you saw, what damage did you see, what did you confirm and what was not confirmed, were there any points of doubt, were there any points that you felt that there was anything else that you might have seen that would make a further target.
He’d want to know what the weather was like because of the next course the next day. It was a fairly formal occasion but a brief one and they would establish the new targets for the next day. Some of these armed reconnaissance trips with targets at will or whatever you found were suitable, was anything.
I can’t tell you how many bridges we broke or how many railways we upset, broke the railway lines and the carriages and so forth. I can’t tell you how many tanks we blew up but there were dozens of them. Trucks. There were some really big traps with some of these things.
I was told on one occasion, when I was fairly new, by the flight commander of the day, a chap called Ian Radiger who had been leading me around on a couple of trips, and he said, “You don’t need to go down so low on the strafing runs. I think you are taking a bit of a risk.” And I said, “I thought it was alright I thought that was what you were supposed to do.” And he said, “Oh, it’s alright but if you stay a bit higher you can still get a reasonable good shot at them.”
He said, “The problem is not what you’re shooting at, its what blows up after you’ve got it.” Because some of these things have pretty big explosives on them. On one occasion I had just that particular problem. I was down very low, tree top level and hit a truck with a few bursts. Next thing there is this giant explosion right in front of me and I suddenly find myself in the middle of a cloud burst of explosion.
And when I came back I had little pockmarks in the prop and a few little fracture holes in the bottom of the fuselage, which they were able to repair or leave them there if they were only dents, but the shrapnel really made a mess of the aircraft at the time. You’ve just got to be careful, although you don’t do these things to be careful
you do them to have an effect. I think most of it was pretty easy as far as I was concerned. I was lucky I admit that, very lucky.
ever seen a cemetery in Italy have you? A lot of them are as big as a house lot and they have a doorway or an archway to go through the entrance, and the walls are generally about a casket in depth so they laid the caskets in a sort of an egg crate, like a honeycomb in the walls above ground, not below ground. They had some in the
ground as well of course, but then they start to stack them one above the other in these egg crates of masonry. So the walls theoretically, are about nearly ten foot thick, eight foot thick and about six foot high and you can imagine that inside you don’t get much wind. The Germans had a gun that they referred to as a Nebelwerfer. Now I never knew what a
Nebelwerfer was but I was told it was like a multi-barrelled mortar and they used to lob stuff out of it into troop concentrations and other things, and apparently they were deadly bloody things. I’d never seen one so I can’t tell you what it was like. But our target was the inside of one of these cemeteries and I led a formation of six
aircraft and we each were carrying three bombs, that’s eighteen bombs. Everyone of them went inside the cemetery. What it did to all those that were buried underneath, I suppose it didn’t matter much but it certainly cleaned out the Nebelwerfers. But the fact remained was, I felt dreadful about it for weeks afterwards thinking what I’d done and how much I must have upset the local Italians. But they’re different with their dead than what we are we take death a little bit differently.
People get buried and no-one ever visits their grave again, it’s gone, we accept the fact that they are dead, but they don’t. They continually visit their dead and they continually talk about it and they perpetually mourn when they have dead. Now I didn’t know this at the time but I know it now, and I’ve seen this happen even in Sydney with Italian people living here.
And its made me very aware of the horrible thing that I did and I’m not game to go back and look at that.
Can you just share with me about the formations? You’ve spoken a little bit about red one and red two and I take it there is black one and black two?
Well, Australians all through the, on the desert air force as this was, were always the same. There was not just on 3 Squadron but everyone on it. They were made up of two groups - one was called red section always, and one was called blue section always. The operative one was red section they were the first, the next section to go if you like, and once
they were clear of the ground blue section would stand by for the next job. On occasions both squadrons went together, both formations went together. They were each structured the same. Red section would have red one who was the leader and he would be in the middle followed by his number two, that’s his, the newest pilot in the squadron.
On either side of him, the two other senior pilots would be each a hundred and fifty metres out from either side with each of their number twos following them. So you had, in the red section you had red one and red two and yellow one and yellow two and white one and white two, would be the classification of each of the aircraft.
And they were always referred to by that name, they were never referred to as ‘Bill’ or ‘Jack’ but red one or red two, yellow one. Everyone knew who was being spoken to or from and I might add there was never any chatter on the air, unlike others. It was always quiet because they had two channels that we could use that were known all over Italy, you could hear them.
And there were about twelve aircraft in each squadron using them, there was a lot of aircraft using them and there was no room for chatter. Unlike the American aircraft which was a somewhat different formality. The other section was a blue section with blue one and blue two; black one and black two were his offsiders and green one and green two on the other side, each one hundred and fifty metres out. If we were flying together
the blue section would act as a top cover to the red section, and they would fly about five hundred feet higher and up sun from the aircraft in the lower section, and be potentially there for the purpose of searching the sky for other aircraft and for making sure that they are there to intercept any attack that was reached on the lower aircraft. If there were no attacks on the
lower aircraft blue section was still equipped with bombs, the same as the other section, and they could carry out exactly the same function and did carry out the same function as red, and acted in the same way. It was just that that was another function they had to perform. A squadron with twelve aircraft could do an awful lot of damage because the bombing was very, very accurate by and large, and six aircraft could each put their bombs inside a very small square.
they were away for the whole of the war. They were the bloodline of the, the lifeblood, of the squadron. They maintained the aircraft, they fed us, they cared for us when we got sick, if we did, they looked after our airplane.
Airframe, the riggers, the armourers, carried out repairs and reconstructed things. These normal engines are very, very sophisticated and, in fact so is every part of them. The old Mustang had the biggest prop blade you’ve ever seen in your life, big tall-bladed prop. And the power it threw out when you opened the throttle used to jam you back in the seat.
It was a very, very powerful plane. So it was all delicate and all highly sophisticated, perhaps not so much as the jets I don’t know, but petrol engines they were. Things could get out of whack sometimes either through enemy action or otherwise but these people had a happy knack cheerfully, and I don’t mean any other way, cheerfully, very cheerfully
of stripping things down and pulling it out and fixing it if it took all night. And I’ve seen it in dust and frost and snow in all weathers and they’d do it, with no cover, no protection, no, “I’ve got to knock off and get my tea.” They would bring their meal down to them. My fitter and my rigger were part of me and they were the two legs, the tripod I came in, but I was only the tripod.
And the pilots were the blow-ins, we were only on the squadron for about six months, some were shorter of course. Sometimes we only lasted for a short while but I was lucky, I lasted from May one year to January the next inclusive, and I did a half tour extension of time as well. Because I wanted to see the end of the Italian campaign. I asked could I have an extension
and they said, “Yes you can.” And so I did another fifty hours on top. So I think that I cannot take any credit for the organisation of 3 Squadron or any squadron. It was the ground crew who always made it up, cooks and everybody else, and they were the people who set the standard by which the squadron was judged by us.
Externally perhaps the pilots were the ones that might have got a bit of glory, I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve ever seen much glory out of it. I’ve just been doing a job and I enjoyed the job while I was doing it. Now, I think that the relationship was that if we could entertain our fitter or our rigger with a bit of yaffle or a couple of beers at night, we would.
If we had it they’d come and have a beer with us or we’d go and have a beer with them. There was no….rank was unimportant. I started off as a sergeant and my fitter was only a corporal, and he became an NRMA [National Roads and Motorists' Association] driver when he got back here after the war. He was the most happy
cheerful, wonderful guy that you’d ever meet, a real larrikin. You’d come back from a job and you’d have holes in the aeroplane and he’d scold me, he’d say, “What the bloody hell have you done now? Be a bit more careful.” He’d have his tongue between his cheek and we’d laugh and go and have a beer, we were great mates and always were.
It didn’t matter whether….the night I became a flight commander he was in the mess, the pilots’ mess, with the group captain who normally wouldn’t be seen with a corporal, but he was there and tried to buy drinks but he was there and having a ball. He was telling me, “Don’t you go flying so often now.
Stay on the ground that way the aeroplane won’t get damaged.” Hell of a nice guy, and I don’t think that I was different to anyone else. I think that everyone had a great respect for their ground crew. I would say that of all the squadrons on the wing I’ve never known any to have such an incredible record as they had on 3, it was wonderful. I don’t know of anyone who suffered a
mechanical problem that wasn’t caused or created by enemy fire or something, which was inherent in the operation of a plane in the first place. They were great blokes and they were the key, the lifeblood of the squadron.
And he said, “Well what’s her middle name?” I said, “Her middle name is Rosalind.” And he said, “That’s better. I’ll put Rosalind on it and that will make a bit of a show.” So I said, “That’s alright, put Rosalind on it.” And I went down the next day and there was ‘Rosalind’ written down the side of it. He was an ingenious character, he made some….bomb fuses come in tins of various lengths but they are about that round, about two inches round,
and they are like a long cylinder with a lift-off cap, and he got two of these and made, carved out of wood two wooden nose pieces which were like sharp bullet shaped pieces of wood, and screwed them into the open end of the can, and left a little slot in the can just behind the nose piece. The idea was that these things were going to whistle or scream
when you came down in a bomb dive you see, maybe that might frighten somebody. I thought it frightens somebody down on the ground it’d be good, it might be one with an anti-aircraft gun. So having made two I spoke to the other flight commander at the time, or the one we had as I wasn’t a flight commander then, I spoke to the other bloke and I said, “Do you mind if I do a dummy bomb dive on the mess when I get back after the next job,
as I’ve got these things on and we can try them out?” “Oh, that’s a great idea,” he said. And I said, “Well you better square it with everybody, make sure it’s alright.” And he said, “Oh, it’ll be alright.” Anyway the next job was quite late, and I remember the job very well because it was when we were trying to get the troops through Arezzo, which is south of Florence, and it was a very nasty piece of fighting up around there, very dirty. We were doing three and four trips a day and the ground crew
were so close really, that they could see us going into the bomb dives from the aerodrome. Anyway, he put this thing on and my last trip was around about four-thirty in the afternoon. About five or five thirty that night when I came home I said to the other guys in the squadron, “You go down and land and I’ll follow you. I’m going to do a dummy bomb dive on the mess and see how it goes.” “Oh yes,” they said, “OK.”
So it was bloody near dark by the time I got them out of the place and they got to hear what had made a noise too. So I got to about five or six thousand feet above the mess and I came down like a packet of crackers. I couldn’t hear anything of course. in the aeroplane. and I thought well if they are going to hear anything they’ll hear that one. and I came in and landed.
When I landed one of the (UNCLEAR) said, “I believe the CO has been flat on his tummy on the mess floor because no-one told him what you were going to do.” But no-one had told me that he was going to have a VIP [Very Important Person] visitor that night. I said, “Were both of them on the floor?” “Oh.” he said, “I don’t know. I’d be very careful when you go in if I were you.”
And so I went and washed my face and hands and got myself cleaned up a bit and walked into the mess. It was by that time about six o’clock and there’s the boss sitting on a stool by the bar with his VIP mate and I thought to myself, “I wonder if he’s going to tear me off a strip while this blokes here or what.” He asked me casually and quietly a bit later, he walked up to me and said, “What did you do that for?”
I said, “Well Ian told me to do it and he said it would be fine. And that he was going to let you know, just to try out the screamers and see how they’d go.” And he said, “Well they went alright.” And I said, “Jesus, I’m sorry I didn’t know you didn’t know.”
Our CO, Rex Bailey had been in the western desert and shot down in the western desert, and a chap called Bobby Gibbs that you might have heard of, landed in the desert alongside him, under fire from the enemy, moved over in the cockpit and made room for Rex to get in.
He was only a young boy then, and he sat on his lap. And Bobby Gibbs who got a DSO [Distinguished Service Order], and Bar [repeat award], and a DFC, and Bar sat on his lap. And he’s only a little chap about the size of a fourteen year old or fifteen year old to look at him, he flew the (UNCLEAR) off and took him back home. Incredible bloke, quite a trip. But Rex was CO at that time and he lasted until,
I think I had about a hundred or a hundred and fifty or sixty hours up by then, of operational flying, and we got our new CO who I immediately hit for a fifty hour extension. The reason being was that the Italian war was obviously drawing to a close. They weren’t exactly in retreat by any means, but the amount of
action going on over there they only had to push up a little bit further and they would be at the bottom of the ops. So I thought, “Well maybe I’ll be able to see the distance out.” I’d loved to have done (UNCLEAR). But that wasn’t to be.
so busy doing their homework trying to sort things out and trying to get the engine to start again. If I can give you an example….they can’t talk, they’re busy. I once decided that I wanted to see Venice and I was on an air reccy, a weather reccy, and I flew down the Grand Canal at zero altitude,
frightened a few of the fellows on the pontoons or barges, garbage barge, who jumped in the water. But as I came out of the place I pulled up fairly quickly and I finished up almost over Arrestra, which is a nearby adjacent city, industrial city, and fairly heavily protected with ack ack.
When I pulled up, there was a lot of ackack, and my engine just stopped, just like that….phfftttt! The propeller blade stopped and then it started to turn a bit slowly and I was in a great panic for a few moments. I ripped my helmet off, undid my harness thinking that I was going to have to bail out, and then I thought, “I wonder if I pumped on my primer whether I can get this engine to go?”
And I gave it a few pumps on the primer and it went ‘bang, bang’ a couple of times and the propeller was still….but she started to fire. So obviously I was getting some petrol somehow into the engine, which the petrol line had been cut or partially cut. Anyway, to make a long story short, I kept pumping away and managed to keep the engine ticking away enough to get me back home.
And of course, I immediately did my harness up again and put my helmet back on again and was able to tell somebody about it by that time. But I wasn’t able to talk to anybody until that particular time. With your helmet off and you are thinking about bailing out, you have no communication at all. If you are going to force land you’ve got to find yourself a decent place to put it, and hopefully one that is not in enemy territory.
While you’re in close support work that mightn’t be too hard because you know your own troops are not that far in this direction. So the chances are that you might be able to bail out or force land and walk back. If, on the other hand, you are some hundreds of miles away, well you can forget about the walking back bit for the time being, so you might as well try and force land somewhere, and put her down as carefully as you can and then set fire
to it afterwards. I think, how can I put it, you’re tuned to save your aeroplane if you possibly can, or we were. To us it would have been sudden death to give away an aeroplane. We just couldn’t give away an aeroplane.
And that’s the only reason you’d try and land with a bomb on, was because I wanted to try and save the aeroplane, not because I was being particularly clever or smart about it. If I was in the USAF [United States Air Force] I think I would have bailed out and forgot it. They had a terrible reputation for not being able to find their way. They couldn’t find a bomb line, they didn’t know
whether they were on our side or their side, and just before I arrived at the squadron, two Thunderbolts beat up the squadron aerodrome where we were, which was six squadrons of Kittyhawks on the ground. And they set two on fire, one bloke got killed. It was an American actually on the ground. And it was just these two Thunderbolts didn’t know which side of the line they were on.
We couldn’t talk to them or they couldn’t talk to our people, they had different radios, different HF [High Frequency] radios to what we had in ours, which was a dreadful blunder that was made in the planning of the war. But I know that they have…. I’ve seen them shoot down a Lysander which we were trying to escort. We were in Mustangs and they were in Mustangs and one of them came in and
we didn’t think that he would shoot it down because they’d see us here and know everything was alright. We couldn’t talk to him and he just…. One of them got behind this little Lysander, which is a high-wing monoplane, and bingo down he went, one little burst and end of Lysander. And I was talking to one of those rover David chaps on one occasion, and he said that they were just creeping back out into the open from where they’d been hiding while a flight of American Thunderbolts had just been strafing
their position. They had no idea where they were at any time, and I’m not suggesting for a minute that they couldn’t fly. They could fly alright, but they weren’t trained in flying over this sort of countryside. And it was confusing, I would have to agree, to people that weren’t used to it and I was always glad that we had the time on the Tiger Moths in England to see what map reading can be like when you get a close
woven bit of parchment down there, which is the ground underneath you, with a little village on every corner and a mass of streets, and very hard to tell which one is which.
quagmire, and to walk even to the dunny you would have to go barefoot and then stand in a bucket when you got back to wash your feet off, and then onto something inside the tent. Or wear your old flying boots and hold them while you walked, which is pretty hard to do because they’re down here, and you’d stumble along.
The whole place was a quagmire and even four wheel drives were sinking in up to their chassis, like the body, in the mud and had to be winched out by another vehicle. How they managed to service the aircraft under those situations I’ll never know, they did.
The ground was wet when we pitched the tent and we just put the tent up over the wet ground. I don’t know if anyone at that date had dug a gutter around it, but I can remember the mats we had we just unrolled them on top of the wet ground and just kept using them just like usual, didn’t make any difference. Brought in a piano and we
had to sit it on bits of a box or crate so the wheels wouldn’t sink into the ground, and everything else was in the same category. We just sit there and play cards or bridge or something. It was dreadful time at that particular place; it made it a real mess. And there was at least a bucket or two of water out in front of the tent
so you could wash your feet before you got into it. You’d have to go and fill them up again when they got empty and you’d be just as bad when you got back. It was a dreadful time, yes. I hated the wet weather there.
We had a leave centre there that the boys grabbed when they commandeered a building. I didn’t sleep at the leave centre but we were staying at the New Zealand Club when we went in there and we used to go into the leave centre when we had time; they had a lovely centre there. Thereby hangs a tale, and I suppose I better tell you that one too. A fellow called Gus Parker, who we met, was a trainee priest and he took a couple
of us around the Vatican and we had, if you’ve ever been to the Vatican in your lifetime you stand in a queue and you shuffle through and see one little bit, and then if you’re lucky you might see two or three. And we just had open floor, we could just walk anywhere and see every picture, every piece of sculpture they had. Michelangelo’s work and all that.
Of course, for an architect, and although I was only a one year student, this was just a revelation to me, I loved it. It was fascinating. One night in out little leave centre they had a little party and they invited, through somebody I don’t know who hosted it, they had some young ladies there as hostesses.
When the chap I was with and me walked in we didn’t know what was on, and we were there in just our ordinary battle dress, we didn’t have any fancy uniforms on. We were all part of the party whether you liked it or not. And we were all up on the top floor where they had a sort of roof garden. And I found myself talking to one young lady who was a bit older than me and
said she couldn’t speak English, which I rather doubt because she was pretty well educated. And I think everyone in Rome could speak English but not many of them were too sure that they should at this particular moment. So I only found out later that she was a Countess. She would have been, at that stage, about twenty five and I was only about twenty-one. And
we chatted away and laughed and joked and had a dance or two, she said, “Will you come to a cocktail party at five o’clock tomorrow night?” And I said, “Oh, I don’t want to do that. I haven’t got the dress for it. I’ve got the uniform….” And she said through her friends, “That’d be alright, it didn’t matter.” Me speaking broken French and her trying to speak broken French too.
She was pretty good on the French, but my French was simply schoolboy French, which I hadn’t used since then. One way or another she talked me into it and I said, “Yes alright.” So I walked her home all the way. She lived down not far from where St Peter’s is. alongside of the river. And it was quite a long way from where the leave centre was, and
so holding hands and off we go and we set off. And when I got to the door Momma was waiting at the door fully dressed, which blew me right out of the water, and I thought, “That’s the end of that.” So I was, there was a lot of explanations going on from her because she would have been a bit later than what was expected apparently. I said, “Alright, I’ll see you tomorrow.” Etcetera, and this is all in broken French, “At the cocktail party.”
I duly met her at the door of the place where the cocktail party was going to be, and she was there and we went in and I was the only English speaking character there, and certainly the only air force pilot. I was introduced around as an air force pilot, and I had the feeling I was ‘exhibit one’. I was never a cocktail drinker at that stage, in fact I wasn’t much of a drinker at all, and I thought, “There’s no point in me getting wrapped up in all of this.
I’ll have a drink or two and I’ll push off.” Which I did but it became known that she was the Countess. The fitters on the squadron grabbed my flying suit one day. I had a little drill one that I used, a thin one like an American drill thin thing, like out of khaki material. And it had the ‘Count’ written across it and
I became the Count from that time out. And my fitter used to tell the story to everybody he got the chance to. And of course the story became even more salacious every time it got told. I’d left my wife and children at home as well as everything else, and so it went on. It was a good story. The leave centre was good and I was very proud of the way they picked that.
They went in with the initial entry into Rome and they commandeered this building, and the place was alive with excitement on the day. People were very happy and cheery and so forth, and I had a feeling afterwards, like at that cocktail party, that they didn’t know whether to be happy or not. I have a feeling that some of them weren’t too sure of it,
and I was there as a sort of exhibit. I felt that and I was glad to get out.
got straight into headquarters, and was hit by the change in the situation when I walked in. The last time I went there, before I went to Italy, I was a sergeant and just like the dirt around the place and no-one wanted to know me. And when I got back they said, “Hello.” And they knew all about me, they knew everything about me. They said, “You will like testing some of these new aircraft we’ve got.” And I wondered how they knew because they knew I’d been testing aircraft on the squadron.
And they said, “We’ve got three new Mustangs at Ismailia.” Which is near the other place I was at, but right on the Canal. And, “You’re going to be in command of a new flight, teaching fellows how to fly Mustangs.” “Oh, that’d be good.” So I thought the day was rosy after all. I got on the train and went out to Ismailia and spent a fortnight teaching them,
or talking to them and flying the Mustangs. And then the chief flying instructor, who was a very nice fellow said, “I think we’d like to send you down to the flying instructor’s school.” Which is something, CFS is Central Flying School, is to pilots
like the Garden of Gethsemane, is about the only way I can put it. Almost sacred. To get an instructor through CFS means that you really know what you are doing when you fly, and you are pretty bloody good. At least that is the impression that we all had. So I went down to this instructors’ school down on the edge of the Canal, down near Suez, and I was nearly there for three weeks, which isn’t the full course,
but it is an accelerated course just for the time that we had. The instructor I had was the flight commander and he said, “You’ll fly with me.” And the first day up he said, “We’ll go low flying today for a bit of fun, work out a bit of steam.” Well, I thought I could low fly. This bloke was out over the desert with me in a Harvard, that’s a training
aircraft, and he was doing steep turns. He took over, I handed over to him and said, “You have a go.” And he was doing steep turns in this Harvard from the back seat where you don’t see much at all, you’re closed in a canopy. And he kept telling me to go lower and lower and lower and I said, “No, I’m low enough thanks.” And he was actually doing steep turns and the vortex off the wingtips
was actually raising sand off the desert, that’s how low he was, that would have been about three feet at the most above the ground, and doing steep turns. And I thought to myself, “I have seen everything.” And he said, “What I’m going to have you doing over the next couple of weeks is I’m going to have you flying within five miles of your proper air speed, maintaining height within twenty-five feet,
and we are going to teach you a bit about precision flying.” And he did. Of course, I wasn’t as good as he was at that time but I learnt a hell of a lot. He was apparently quite pleased I did a slow roll and talked my way around it as I would to a pupil when in a test. And he said,
“That’s pretty good.” And I said, “I thought the slow roll was bloody awful.” He said, “Oh no, it was alright.” And we got back and then I went back to Ismailia again. Then VE [Victory in Europe] day came and the war was ended in Europe after that and I was sitting around for a while. I was still doing some teaching but there was not much flying going on at all. Then the flying virtually stopped. Then he said, “Got a signal for you.
You’re going to command a Spit [Spitfire] 14 Squadron in Burma before VJ [Victory over Japan] day.” Well VJ day hadn’t come yet, we hadn’t thought about that. So he said, “You better be out at the strip at the control tower at ten o’clock on Friday morning.” And I was there with everything packed, kit bags and everything all around me and
the next thing this fellow came over to me and said, “I’m sorry sir, its cancelled, its not on. You’re going down to another waiting place to go home.” And VJ came the next day and that was the end of that and that’s why they cancelled it. They obviously knew more about that than anyone else did. With VJ day over that was the end of the war as far as I was concerned.
So I went down to a place near Suez, right next door to Suez actually, well ten miles away, where there was just a wire fence, that’s all. No planes no nothing. And we had to wait for nearly five months to get a plane home, to get a ship home.
on the place with the aid of the comforts fund. The Australian comforts fund was good and it came up with all the gear that we needed and we played volley ball. That group of fellows that you saw in that picture I showed you, was the crowd I used to play with, all in the same cart. We used to go swimming in the Bitter Lakes on the Canal, occasionally go sailing, There was a dinghy there with a lugsail,
not a traditional sailing boat by our standards, but one of theirs, and I’d borrow it now and then. And we’d go out on the lake and on one occasion we swam out to the middle of the lake where there was a, it’s a big lake have you seen it? It’s a big lake, and we swam out to the buoys that mark the channel where the ships go through the Canal in that lake, mid-way more or less in the Canal. And they often change direction, they stop there
and wait for the ships to go through the other way before they go on down. So we had to wait. Well on one occasion when we were going through later, but on this occasion we hung onto the buoys until a ship was coming through and we found there were Australian airmen on board, and they didn’t know what we were because we were the colour of Abos, or the Egyptians by that stage, being out in the sun all the time in just a pair of shorts, and we used to dive
for coins they’d throw over. I’m not suggesting we made a fortune out of it but we did get quite a few twenty cent pieces, two bobs as they were in those days, put them in our shorts and swim back to the other side later on. I’ve never been so fit in my life, of course. That was just one of those things. We had nothing else to do. You build up a bit of a bank balance,
we could afford to go into Cairo. We could get the bus in, spend it at the New Zealand Club for a few days, go and see a movie or whatever. We’d seen all the other sites we reckoned, or go down the bazaar or something of the nature. So we’d just hang around but it was a very frustrating and difficult time. We were getting letters of course, from home. “When are you coming home? When are you coming home?”
All we could say is, “We don’t know. It won’t be long now.” But finally we did.
assembled together. I’d already got it packed of course. I happened to look out the porthole and I was just about at water level and there was my Dad in uniform still, standing on the wharf believe it or not, ten feet away from where I was in the boat. I yelled out to try and attract his attention but he couldn’t hear me because of the noise going on up top. And finally I saw this bloke walking along and I waved to him and he saw me, and I said to him, “Tell him.”
So the old man was duly notified and walked over to the side of the ship and we shook hands from there. He said, “Are you coming off the ship? I’ve got the car.” And I said, “You beaut.” So I discharged myself then and there, and picked up all my bags walked up on deck and down the gangplank. He grabbed what I couldn’t hold and we carried it down through the mob on the wharf and right down through, into where the car was, there’s where
my then fiancé and Mum and sister were all standing in the crowd waiting. The whole crowd put on quite a turn. Actually I was the first one off the ship, actually AWL [Absent Without Leave] of course, but who could’ve cared less at that stage. And we had a great reception by all the crowd and wandered over to the car and got in it and went home. But I was only a few miles from Bradfield anyway, where I was going to be taken by bus,
and there was no point in me going by bus to Bradfield, the family were all there. It took me a long time to settle down after that. We were married in June, July, tomorrow is the anniversary actually, fifty-eighth. And we had nowhere much to live and we had a big struggle
for a long time. At work the bosses tell me I’d go out of the office, I couldn’t sit down. I’d go to Manly on the ferry or I’d go and watch a movie or do anything to fill in the time, and then go home again. But he wasn’t paying me that much money, thirty dollars a week, thirty bob a week at that stage, because I was only really a second year draftsman, starting a second year draftsman. So it was peanuts as far as money was concerned.
The repat [repatriation] people were paying me about something like six guineas a week or something, six pound ten or something, and this was what we were living on.
I’d been a bloke who was a leader of a group with a certain amount of responsibility. I’d become a little bit more, a lot more, sophisticated I suppose, or grown up is probably a better way of putting it, in those four years I’d been away. And when I came back to an office where I was virtually
one step above the office boy and expected to sit on a stool and draw with a drawing board in front of me. Now I’d start off alright in the mornings for about an hour, then I’d go out and have a cup of coffee and then I’d come back in and then I’d draw again for another quarter of an hour, half an hour. And then I’d go up to the library section where they had some books and I’d have a look at those and by lunch time I’d had it, I’d really had it. I couldn’t handle it.
So I’d go to the movies or go on the ferry to Manly or somewhere, anywhere at all, or just stay on it and do trips there and back or something. We didn’t have any money for things and that was a virtually ‘no cost’ trip in those days. It took about a year, but I was going to school at night at the tech [technical college],
and there were a whole lot of other blokes of mature age, all ex servicemen all trying to do the thing and they were used to handling blokes that had just left school. Well, we’d all meet over in the pub and the lecturers would be there in the pub as well, ‘cause some of them were ex servicemen as well, and we’d have a few with them. And so the lecturer and half his class would have a few on board by the time we’d get into the lecture.
Needless to say that most of the lectures that I did in second year were a write off as far as I was concerned. How I passed my exams at the end of second year will never be known, but my wife used to read the history book, history of architecture, to me at night at home in bed, and I would drop off like a…I’d go sound asleep and she’d be reading away and look across and I’d gone off. But it was difficult, very hard to settle down.
I couldn’t stay inside. I just couldn’t settle down at all.
that we have known. And some of them are having it tough, having a rough time, and it’s good to get and talk to them and find out just what’s going on. Have a few beers with them. And it’s a day I’ve always, even as a little boy, I’ve always enjoyed Anzac Day for what it was. Although I must admit, when I was young I didn’t really realise
how strong the relationship between people of the same unit is and why they are so close together. It’s not like people out of the same school, it’s not like people out of the same university. It’s because you’ve shared so much of a bloody frightening nature, which in the cold light of day seems to have been an almost impossible
achievement, something which you would never expect could have happened. I don’t know how the ground crew feel, whether they feel something quite the same, but the air crew fellows would all feel that it is something incredible. That they have lasted the distance and got out of it
in one piece, if it is in one piece. I never got a scratch. I was flying along one day just getting ready to drop a bomb or bombs and a lot of heavy 88 ack ack was coming up, and one burst was damn near in the cockpit, it was incredible,
right alongside the engine of the aeroplane in front of the wing. At least that’s where it seemed to me to be. And you don’t often see the red flash but I was getting the red flash alright, and plenty of black smoke. And I yelled out something about, “I think they’ve hit me!” So that they could all hear, they were trying to hear me, which I felt sorry about, embarrassed about.
Because in a moment or two’s time I realised that they hadn’t hit me and I was still in one piece. In the bang shrapnel had cut a big hole in the front of one of the wings and through the wing in a slightly different spot, and in the cockpit there had been a hole… See when you fly an aeroplane you’ve got your left hand on the throttle and your
right hand is on the control column. You are leaning forward slightly to move the stick forward or have room to move the stick forward or wherever you want to go, and also to give you greater control over the aircraft. And a piece of shrapnel had cut a hole about that big through the side, a piece about four inches long and about two inches wide,
through the side of the cockpit. The piece of shrapnel had gone through just over the fingers on my glove, and cut the gauntlet near my fingers right here; a cut there and a cut right here in the gauntlet. But my hand wasn’t bleeding, it wasn’t scratched and it went out. There was another hole in the other side of the cockpit, just in front of my right arm, right forearm,
a slightly smaller hole. It must have gone through end on (UNCLEAR) or whatever it was, and that was the closest hit that I ever came to getting. I really thought I’d bought it that day, for a moment, just for an instant. And I felt sorry that I’d called out to the other blokes to say I’d been hit because I was alright. The leader of the base said, “Hear you’ve been hit.”
And I said, “No, I don’t think I am. I think I’m alright.” Feeling very stupid. He said, “Well shut up.” I remember it well. One doesn’t forget those little things.
Finally, what would you like to say to future generations about wars as this is obviously for an Archive?
There’s a lot of things I’d like to say but one would hope that there isn’t going to be anymore war. But I’m afraid there is and there will continue to be more because we are all human. Some of us are not quite so human as others unfortunately. I even worry about the fact that I don’t think the Americans observe the same degree of respect for other people as we do,
which is not probably what they would like to hear me say. I think that they have got some pretty strange ideas. But I would say if you get stuck with it you are stuck with it, and that’s all there is. All you can do is to do the best you can for your country at the time. I don’t think that I could ever advise anybody not to take up the fact and go.
You can’t be a pacifist and let the enemy come in and move over you. I have seen what happens. I haven’t seen what happens in the worst of it, I’ve only seen what can happen to some of it. But some of the conditions that were experienced in places like Yugoslavia in the last occasion, I think were pretty dreadful. Some of these dictators and leaders are
like the character that is now about to face trial, totally inhuman, and don’t even behave like animals because animals don’t behave like that. So, I think that all you can say is do the best you can and keep yourself prepared in all ways.