Archive number: 2064
Date interviewed: 05 July, 2004
You are listening to the interview audio
Barry thanks very much for being here and letting us come into your house today. The Archive wouldn’t exist without you giving us your time so thanks for everyone from the Archive.
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.
Somehow you got to Cooma.
Somehow I got to Cooma, yes. I’ve been in Cooma a year.
That’s fantastic. Just one thing you didn’t mention is your own family, did you have a large family or many children?
Well, not a large family, we had four adopted children. We have, my eldest boy is just on fifty or pretty close to it, could be a bit more than fifty now, we’ve been married fifty-eight years so he must be. We have twins that are about forty-five or coming up to about fifty, and another one
who was a foster child and she is living up in Brisbane or Ipswich in Queensland. And they’ve all got grand children and we’ve even got great grandchildren, four or five of them. I lose track of them. Of course my wife has to (UNCLEAR) them I must admit I find it very tiring trying to try and remember the names.
We won’t go into too much detail then. One other bit from the summary
that I would like to just fill in is, while the squadron was in Italy were you operating out of a number of different places?
Yes, we were.
Could you give us that list of places or are they not at hand?
I don’t think that it will mean too much because they weren’t really, in some cases, they were not always villages. We started at a place called Cutella which is on the east coast of Italy and from there we moved across to
Saint Angelo. This is all south of Rome and north of …between …well actually Italy slopes over a bit you know, we were a bit higher on the west coast than the front was, Saint Angelo. And then when Rome fell we went up to a place called Fellarium [?]. I’m sorry we went to Gerona which is a little airfield outside of Rome, on the edge of the city actually,
which had been occupied by the Germans and also by the Italian Air Force. But all the buildings had been demolished. And then we moved to Fellarium, and then we moved to a place called Crate. We called it Crate but it was Crati, is the correct name for it. And then we went over, back over to the east coast again, to
a place called Iesi, spelled I E S I. And then from Iesi we went up to Fano, and that was about it. We moved around very much in Italy and there is quite a few alarming little stories I can tell you about that.
I just wanted to get that list to get the summary complete but we will go back and pick up all those things later on. To begin with the more detailed part of the interview maybe we’ll go right back to the very beginning and talk a little bit about your childhood. I’d like to start by asking about your parents. Can you tell me about your Mother and Father?
Yeah. My Mother was a very,
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.
Just on your Father’s war service,
where had he served in the First World War?
He served in Gallipoli and also in France. He was a captain in the engineers and then went to the pioneers and he used to lead his group in Anzac Day marches. He studied after the war in England when the war ended in England, in London and finished his architectural degree there.
What did he tell you about those experiences as you were growing up?
Not a great deal, he never talked about it much. I used to worry him about it and want to know. But fortunately my grandfather, my Mother’s Father, had one of the biggest bookshops in Sydney, an enormous bookshop and I used to just wander through the shop and say, “Grandfather, can I have that one or this one?”
And he’d say, “Take them.” He used to make sure that I always had books to read. He used to give me a hell of a lot of books and I’d take them home and then I’d take them back to him a couple of years later and he’d give me another lot. I just didn’t stop reading. So I knew a lot about the First World War. I knew a lot about Australian history and I knew a lot about what happened in Australia. And I’d read most of the
boys’ books before I’d finished primary school. I use the ‘boys book’ in inverted commas, if you know what I mean.
What did you do on Anzac Day when your Father always marched?
I’d go in and look.
Can you describe one of those occasions for us?
We’d all stand there near the post office on the steps. Mum would go and my sister would go, we’d all go and stand there and we’d all wave. And of course, at the wrong time
he’d have to look his eyes the other way at the cenotaph, but we didn’t mind. I was very wrapped in my Dad, he was a wonderful bloke. Whenever I wanted something he’d say, “Let’s see if we can make it.” ‘Cause that was the Depression coming out in him, ‘cause he was born and bred in the bush and, Gunning, he was born out at Hillston actually.
He was a very capable bloke with his hands. He used to keep a wonderful big vegetable garden alongside the house that kept us in vegetables most of the time, and he was a damn good architect too.
What sort of things would you do together, like Father and son?
Not a lot. Not a lot. He used to play golf a lot, I didn’t. But of course, I used to go riding a lot and thereby hangs a few tales.
He showed me how to ride and fell straight off the other side, he was a very good rider but the horse was a bit rough. Not a lot, we used to go out in the car a lot, the whole family, every Sunday we’d be taking a drive around the North Shore looking at houses, and that was his thing of course. He used to like looking at houses, the ones he’d been working on. In his practice at that time,
both when I was very little and later after the Depression things got going again, it was very active along the North Shore line, and he built a considerable number of them all over the place. Some very good clients and some very big homes, they were very impressive. That was his study time and he’d rush off if he’d get a new a idea. And so we’d all sit in the car, and I got used to it,
so that’s probably why I became an architect myself.
Can you tell us about the North Shore in those days and how it differed to today?
Oh yes I can. There was a dirt road from Lindfield, the dirt road went to Gordon. There was no bitumen there at that time it was just a narrow track. Archbold Road in Lindfield sort of ended near us, but ended in Lindfield
at Tryon Road. To go to the East Lindfield Public School when I’d leave home I had about six houses to pass near us and from then on I was in the bush. I used to walk through the bush all the way to school. It was quite a long way for a little fellow when I look back. It never worried me and I had a couple of little fellows that used to come along with me, we’d go along together and come home together.
I used to know all the shopkeepers; there weren’t that many shops in Lindfield or in Roseville. There were a few more at Chatswood, but it was a very quiet place; you could hear the steam trains going through. The steam trains used to take us if you wanted to go to the city, you’d go down to Milson’s Point on the train and then get a ferry, and from the ferry you could see the bridge going up over the top as they gradually got it closer and closer to meeting,
in 1932 they got that together. Then you’d go over to Circular Quay and then get a tram up the street to where Mum wanted to go shopping in those days. I used to like the trip in and out but I wasn’t too keen on wandering around the city. My own record apparently wasn’t too bright when it came to shopping with Mum. I used to sit on glass counters she used to say, and I’d hide in amongst the clothes on the racks and I used to give her
a hell of a time I think, when I was a little fellow, but I can remember it quite well.
What can you remember about the occasion of the bridge opening?
That was quite a big occasion when the bridge opened. They took all the kids from school - we all went from the East Lindfield School, the whole school - well all the three senior classes which were all in one room. This was about 30 kids and our head master, who was our teacher.
We all went on a train down to Milson’s Point, not Milson’s Point, North Sydney and we all got out and we had to walk from there It was a long walk, now that I think about it now. We had to walk down the hill to the bottom of the bridge where the old Orpheum Theatre was and then we’d walk right across the bridge to the other side in the roadway with all the other kids from all the other schools, and there were thousands
of them and then turn around and come back again. I got my photograph in the paper that day. Someone collared me out of the crowd one of the newsmen and he took my photograph and there’s this photograph of me looking up and she said, “Look up,” and I didn’t know what they were looking at. Anyway he took the photograph and it appeared in the paper along with about fifty others all in the one page, all snaps of the kids.
It was a good day and it was a day out of school too.
How do you think that it changed the life of the people on the North Shore, having the bridge there?
I think it made an incredible difference because in those days we were an isolated group and very much insular. To go across to the city was a major ordeal. You could either get the, prior to that, to drive into town, you had to go round over through Gladesville
and through that part of the world or take the punt which used to leave from Milson’s Point, and that would queue up and you could be there twenty minutes waiting to get onto the ferry, on to the punt. The ferry remained in for quite a while after the bridge was there for some reason, I don’t know why.
I suppose it took them a while to get rid of it and find somewhere else to put it, I don’t know. I can remember if we were in town we used to go up to where Dad used to keep the car during the day, and we’d sit in the car and wait and it was an open tourer. Of course there was no way of locking it and we’d just sit in it and he’d come along ‘round about five o’clock and we’d all go home together across the punt. I can remember it quite well.
Did you have any brothers and sisters?
Unfortunately she’s not that well at the moment, she’s got Parkinson’s Disease but she’s still alive. She’s five years younger than me and she went to school on the North Shore as well. I always felt that I took the lion’s share [the majority] ‘cause I was always a healthy and pretty fit young bugger
and a bit of a rooster I suppose, when it comes to mucking around and knocking around with guns and whatever. She was never allowed to go out or do the things that we wanted to do, or she wanted to do. She had to behave herself and be a lady, I guess. She learnt dancing and used to go dancing and do that sort of thing. She was much more protected than I was. I think she hadn’t been well, she wasn’t a very strong little girl.
Were you a protective older brother or….?
No, I gave her a hell of a time, for a long time. When she wanted to play when we were knocking around in the back yard, I’ve gone on record as having tied her up and said, “See you later,” and wandered off until she yelled and Mum came around and rescued her. It was, in those days I suppose, young sisters
were not what you would call a joy to an older brother. We’re very close and very fond of each other, I might say.
How were you a bit of a rooster? Can you tell us some of the stories that involved you playing up?
My life was wrapped around the bush of course, I loved the bush.
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.
Was there anything that you remember getting in trouble for or getting punished for at that age?
No, but I had a few worries a few times I blew up a few letterboxes now and again and my mate shot a few insulators
off the light poles at one stage and he got into strife. I missed it, I was lucky. I’ve been lucky for a long time.
Who in your family was most likely to be the disciplinarian, was it you Mother or your Father?
My Dad. My Mother never smacked me at all. She never gave me the strap or anything. She was much too gentle. But he wasn’t.
What was his routine?
When I was little he would give me a crack on the back pads, the backside…or two. It was me, I deserved it I would never disown it for one moment. I think that was quite good as far as that was concerned, it kept me in line.
What was your relationship with your Mother like? Were you close to her?
Yes, yes, I was. We used to sit and talk together sometimes after I’d get home from school if I wasn’t going out. We used to have long conversations about this that and the other. I think if I’d ever want to go to the pictures I’d ask Mum to give me sixpence or nine pence to get to the back stalls or upstairs
‘cause Dad would never be home when I wanted to go and so she’d give me the few pennies that we needed, but I wasn’t much of a picture goer in those days, it was fairly infrequent. I was always given to understand that it was better for me to be outside in the open air instead of sitting inside in the picture show. I don’t know. I would’ve learnt just as much in the picture show.
Was it an occasion to go to a picture show in those days?
It was for me. It was for me. Mind you I was six when the Depression was on, that was in 1930, by the time it got around to about 1932 I was then eight. There wouldn’t have been many pictures that I would have wanted to go to except on a Saturday afternoon.
If some of the other blokes were going I would want to go. I’d be allowed. I didn’t do it every Saturday by any means, it would be once in every couple of months maybe. So it would be infrequent. I was generally too busy doing other things. It was not long before I had a horse, my first horse, which was actually bought
for my sister as well but it turned out to be far too wild for her. I thought he was wonderful and I used to take him to all the shows including the Parramatta show, all the big shows that I could get to and go in the riding events, and so forth. We did quite well got a few ribbons here and a few ribbons there and it soon mounted up. But I had to get rid of him the week before the war,
before I went into camp with the air force, so I had him for a long time.
Where did you keep that horse?
In the back yard. We had a big yard, the grounds of the house were two hundred feet deep with a hundred foot frontage. Subsequently after the war Dad cut it in half and gave me half of it and I built a little house there. We had a big yard there and a big stable, a good stable.
When I started work, that’s when I left school, I was working only one year before I went into the air force. I was earning I think it was about ten shillings a week which is about a dollar in today’s money. It was enough to buy a set of shoes for the horse; I could save up that much with care in about
eight to ten weeks, and that’s when he needed a new set of shoes, he’d wear them out on the bitumen or the hard roads. I couldn’t afford to feed him. Dad used to have to pay for that, that sort of stuff. He was a keen gardener and liked the manure for the garden so I had to pick it all up every week and clean it up and stack it. I’d do it and that was part of my obligations around the house.
This little leather chestnut, he was a beautiful little pony or he wasn’t a pony so much he was a full grown Galloway.
Where was the blacksmiths?
We had a blacksmith at Lindfield and when I took the horse up there for his first set of shoes, he’d never had a set of shoes. He arrived at our place and his hair was two to three inches long in spots on his coat, he was pretty rough, he was a real brumby.
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.
What was the horses name?
I used to call him ‘Pal’. I had a fox terrier, not a fox terrier a little red kelpie and the kelpie used to come along and he’d actually
take a run at the horse and jump up on his rump and sit behind me and ride. We used to look a real sight going down the road. But it was alright in the traffic, if the streets were a bit busy I’d get him up on the back behind me so he wouldn’t get run over, otherwise he’d cover three times the distance that we did. It was a good thing for a young fellow to do.
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.
Interviewee: Barry Finch Archive ID 2064 Tape 02
While you were describing your house you mentioned a pan toilet. Can you describe how that was emptied and who did that and what the situation was?
Well, they had a fellow who used to come along with a big truck, a big truck in those days – not as big as a big truck is now,
a fairly large vehicle, and it was semi-enclosed, little doors all down the side. And he’d come in with an empty can and take out the full one or the used one from the back of the toilet where there was a little tiny door at the back of the…which gave access to the space under the seat. And the seat, I might add, was the full width of the toilet
in those days but it didn’t have to be, they were small. When they opened the door at the back they just take the can straight out and slid the new one in, and they put a lid on it and take down and put it into the side of the truck, and that’s all there was. He had a long way to carry it; he had about a hundred feet to carry it, which is a fair way down a long drive. It was a bit more than that actually, probably a hundred and twenty feet or a hundred and thirty feet in our place.
It was a bit embarrassing if somebody happened to be in there at the time, and there were lots of jokes about it of course. We used to often tease my sister about that of course, the going joke, “Don’t go in there now the fellow is just coming up the drive or the road. He’ll be here in a minute to take the pan.” All the boys used to like doing that.
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.
Was ice one of those things, did you have refrigeration?
Yes. The ice man would call with a box of ice and he’d break it up as necessary and put it into your icebox and they’d be there every couple of days to do that. They’d give you two days or thereabouts to keep it.
Can you describe that icebox and how it worked?
That’s an interesting one, I haven’t heard that one before. An icebox is just simply like a cupboard with a top part, its got a lid at the top which you opened the lid and you popped the ice in and it’s got a metal tray in the bottom of that part then there’s a small door on the front, below the ice containing section of it
and the chilled water would drain down to the bottom and the cold would come, as cold does it fell to the bottom of the cupboard and kept your food cool. But the meat, of course, had a limited use in the icebox because it was often better to leave your meat in the open with a net or cover over it in the fresh air so that it wouldn’t freeze up.
But you wouldn’t be keeping meat that long. You’d buy your meat, you didn’t buy bulk meat in the city not like in the country where you would hang your meat and keep it in a cool room in the country. No, they worked very well, really.
What sort of food was on your table growing up?
Everything I think, anything.
Mother used to cook, make cakes of course. We had chops, we had steak, we had ham and all those sort of things, you could buy that when you had the money to buy it of course. We had plenty of vegetables, always. I used to have porridge in the morning,
corn flakes wasn’t much of a thing. There was only one cereal that I can remember, that was rice bubbles in those days, and corn flakes, you didn’t have the selection they have today. I used to eat a lot of porridge which accounts for the fact that I was always a pretty nuggetty sort of a bloke and inclined to be a bit chubby. I was pretty hard never the less.
Could you see any difference in the food you were eating now,
depending on what the financial conditions were like? Was there any things that made ends meet that you remember?
Yes, there was a difference in that we made much more of the stuff or made up meals like you could make. Steak and kidney pie and casseroles and that sort of stuff, we used to eat much more of that than we do today. Nothing was left over; anything that wasn’t eaten would be re-eaten if you like, the leftovers would be
eaten again the next day or a couple of days later. So there was a better use from an economic point of view of the food that you bought, and the women, by and large, were probably more skilled than they are today in terms of cooking, they used to be able to make, most of the families could make lots of cakes
and all those sort of things. I think, I don’t want to tread on anyone’s toes in that regard, I know my wife never pretended to be a cook but she never learnt to be a cook. She was brought up in a hotel, didn’t have to. But I think there are some women today that are wonderful cooks, but in most cases the women in those days did a lot more of it.
You had to move out of that house you just mentioned, can you tell us how that affected your life?
Yes I can. It had a great effect on it. I was only, at that age I was five and a half we had to move from Lindfield to Roseville but I was still going to the same school. I’d started school at East Lindfield and I had to keep going to East Lindfield school.
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.
Did your Father’s practice stay operating during that time?
No, it stopped completely, there was nothing to do. He was about eighteen months at least without any work to do. And the first job he got after the Depression ended
was the design of the Woy Woy Council Chambers and it is now a heritage building, it’s a lovely old building. In those days he would take the car up to the railway station in Lindfield or Roseville as the case may be. He’d go up by steam train as far as Hornsby
and then get on the Newcastle Flyer [name of the train], and that had one stop - it’d stop at Woy Woy or that part, and he’d come back on that at night. He’d be up there for the day and Mum and I would occasionally get the train up to Hornsby and meet the Flyer as it came in. He’d be all tired and we’d all get in the car and all come home with him. I can remember it well.
You went to school at East Lindfield Primary School. Was it a very small school?
Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
Oh yeah. East Lindfield School was just two rooms and a playshed in the bush. There was a bit of a fence in parts.
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.
What sort of things did you get the cane for?
For looking usually, or talking or spilling the bloody ink or something. We used to have ink wells that’d hold steel pens, no fountain pens. You weren’t allowed to use fountain pens because all the ones the kids had in those days spewed the ink out all over their clothes.
So it was always the old steel pen and you’d come home and your hands would be blue from the ink.
After that you went to senior school on the North Shore, is that right?
Did you need to pay to go there?
And it was a very different thing altogether?
Yes it was. I don’t know what the fees were.
But I know it would have, for Dad anyway, when I first started it would have been quite difficult. Probably Grandma helped I suppose, I don’t know. You needed a uniform for school and we all used to wear school boaters of course. I wasn’t too keen on that at all but I got used to it. We wore a suit, short pants or long pants depending on what size you were,
and the tie depended on which form you were in. If you were in the top form you wore a sixth form tie that was a different thing altogether. I think you had a cadet uniform. I was in the cadets. You had your football togs, rowing togs. I used to play football a lot in winter time
and in summer I used to row. I had rowing stuff, and I used to swim also in the summer. They were very active in the sports area and even more active in the rowing area. They’d won most of the Head of the River races up to that stage, that had ever been held. I think they won the last one, as a matter of fact.
Who was your main rival back in those days?
Grammar … and Joeys. Grammar and Joeys were the two that we used to have as much fun with as anyone else. The competition was very, very keen.
Did you row yourself?
I did. I was the stroke of one of the fours. I wasn’t heavy enough to go in the eights.
What academic subjects did you enjoy?
I was doing a full range of the academic subjects, you
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.
Was there any expectation that you’d follow you’re Father and become an architect or was that something that you decided yourself?
When did that decision occur?
I think it might have happened when I was at school I decided what I’d like to do. In those days architecture was a different thing
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.
Back in your youth were there any architectural role models or heroes you had apart from your Father?
Frank Lloyd Wright,
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.
We might come back to some of those issues later on because you have got an interesting point of view having seen both.
Aeroplanes, obviously you would end up joining the air force but there was a war on, were there any aeroplanes in your life before that point?
No. I saw them flying over. The old Hawker Demons, if ever you saw a Hawker Demon, that was something pretty smart. We used to go to the air pageant whenever they had one. The last one I went to was at Richmond, that was before the war, where they had something that looked like a
predecessor or a pre…. I don’t know….an advance model of an old Wirraway [training aircraft] or something. They had a couple of them there from America and they were showing these off as something, as the coming, new fighter plane, low wing monoplane, two seater. They gave an exhibition of flying and we thought they were pretty good.
That was about all. We didn’t have much to do with aeroplanes. There was no air service from anywhere to Sydney or to anywhere else in those days, pre war. They got to the stage where a Flying Cloud was lost around about here. You’ve seen the memorial down the road, no doubt. And I can remember that very well but that was a little bit later than the period that I’m talking about.
Do you remember [Charles] Kingsford Smith’s [pioneer aviator] exploits?
Oh yes, we went out and watched him come in. Oh yes, I’ve seen him. I haven’t met him but I know his son Johnny Ulm. Not his son - Johnny Ulm that used to fly with him. Johnny Ulm was with me in the air force.
Was that a big occasion going in to see Kingsford Smith? Can you describe the crowd scene?
Oh yes. We all went out there to Mascot, it was incredible. This little aeroplane came in,
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.
The war was to break out while you were still at high school, can you remember the lead up to that? Was there any information coming from Europe that you would be picking up as a teenager?
Oh yes. We had a wireless [early radio]. I don’t remember when we
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.
Just a minute left on this tape but just one question on that Britishness. Was there any conflict between British and being Australian? How did those things work together?
Wonderful, no problem at all as far as I was concerned. I was very proud of being British. My parents were all of British origin, that’s where we came from.
No, I didn’t have any friction there as far as I was concerned. I was very proud, we still had relatives over in England when I went back during the war, and I went back to see one of them. I think it was fine.
Interviewee: Barry Finch Archive ID 2064 Tape 03
Can I begin by asking where you actually were when war was declared?
Yes, I was in Chatswood with my Mum and Dad on their wedding anniversary.
Is that when you went to the movies on that occasion?
That’s right, yes.
So how was the news actually shared with you?
Oh, I heard it all. We got the newspaper, it came through the newspaper, everybody got it. It was all there. I was just as much aware of it as they were at the time.
Were you eager to actually join the war?
I was frightened that I wasn’t going to get there before it ended. I was used to
handling a rifle and shooting and that sort of stuff, if that’s all it’s going to be. I didn’t know what I was going to be. I didn’t know if I was going to be a pilot or not but I knew I was going to have to join up sooner or later. There’s a story about that too which I’ll tell you in a few minutes, but at that time I just knew that somehow I was going to be involved in the war.
My Dad was already getting ready to join up, he was in the army.
What was your Mother’s response to your Father joining up and maybe going off to the war?
He knew he wouldn’t be going off, he was too old to go off again. But he was alright to train other forces in Australia. And for his sins or otherwise he became a major
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.
So at that stage you didn’t need you parent’s permission to actually join up?
Oh you needed… Yes, my word you did,
only I didn’t have it. I would’ve taken home…. I would’ve possibly forged his signature or something. I don’t know what I’d have done. I thought I would just get the form and take it home and give it to him and he’d sign it at home sometime. Thank God it didn’t happen like that because my Mother would have thrown a willy if she’d have seen that form at home.
Did your Mother say anything to you about the fact that you’d joined up?
Not much to me but I think she said a lot to him.
What could she say, “He’s very cunning.” “Yes, he is.” Anyway, it was just as well.
And why actually the air force, did you join up there?
Good question. I told Mum, “I’m going to join up somewhere.” And I said, “I think I’ll join the navy because I know they’ll take blokes of seventeen.”
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.
Just before we discuss a bit about the air force, while you were in school you were in the cadets.
I was in the cadets there, yeah.
What sort of training did you do in the cadets at Shore?
I learnt how to shoot a rifle for a start. I learnt how to look after a rifle, not that I didn’t know, I knew all about that anyway. Mainly we did camp twice a year,
once a year I’m sorry. Once a year we had a camp where we’d do manoeuvres and so forth. Then every week we’d have parades at school and there would be drill, I was in the drill team at school which was one platoon. And we used to have a sergeant major from the Scots Guards which used to be one of the,
how can I put it, disciplinarians at school. “Old Onkas” they used to call him, and he used to walk around with a cane up his sleeve and he’d just let his hand go and it’d just flick straight out and he’d give it to you around the legs. He was a very smart boy for an old fellah. You’d hear him call out, “That man.” You’d be somewhere and you’d know it was close. And if you didn’t stop still
and pay attention and come when you were called you’d be in all sorts of trouble. At Shore they used to give you Saturday morning punishment so you had to go to school on Saturday. It was more of this parade ground stuff. But the separate drill team they were like the Scots Guards, it was very, very precise. Precision marching of any description. So that’s what it was all about.
So cadets, were they training you to be soldiers or was it just private school discipline?
Private schools had cadet corps, always. When there was no war they still had cadet corps. It was just a disciplinary thing; team work mainly was the reason for the whole thing.
You spoke about, now coming back to enlisting, doing the twenty-one lessons.
I think it was twenty-one, it could’ve been twenty-seven,
but there was a whole series of them.
Can you just talk us through what they were, for the Archive, and the point of them?
Yeah. They were mathematical. Mathematical and related to navigation and ballistics, things dropping and how fast did it drop and how far did it fall.
Working out things like vectors, triangles of velocity, triangle of forces. These were the main things -things that you would need to know about for navigation, especially if you were going to fly a bomber, you would. I suppose you did too for single engine. But it wasn’t, you don’t have time to do navigation in the formal sense
as a fighter pilot, it’s more mental DR [Dead Reckoning] but you couldn’t do that if you didn’t know what to do anyway. So I think they were all basically things that you would need to become a pilot. It was like going to an aviation university really, to go through the training that we had to do. It was like
when you get your wings [qualify as a pilot], it’s like graduating from a university, just like that, it’s almost a degree.
You went first to Bradfield Park.
Can you describe for me what Bradfield Park looked like?
It was a mass of wooden dormitory buildings and some of them were subdivided up into classrooms where you’d go back to school again
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.
Besides the mental side of working through the maths and other things was there also at Bradfield Park, a practical side or working on your reaction times and all those sorts of tests?
No. No. We didn’t strike that sort of business until we got to flying.
Elementary flying was simply do and show. You had to just get into an aeroplane with an instructor, he’d say, “Do this or do that,” or “I’ll show you.” And you had to just follow it along. Some fellows learnt quickly and some of us were slower and I was just about average, that’s all. Just average I think I was at first. Slow to learn. I’d never driven a car,
I could fly. I found I could fly quite well, straight and I could do the basic flying training. When he started to do things like aerobatics or spins I was a bit frightened of that at first because I felt unsafe. But once I knew that I could recover from a spin I couldn’t stop, I just wanted to do it. Every time I went up I’d do a few spins
just for the fun of it. And I found later on, much later, that it was a very important part of learning how to control an aeroplane, you’ve got to be able to get out of a spin when you are semi-conscious. If you are knocked up, shot up and your aeroplane is in a spin and coming down you’ve got to be able to get out. And the first thing you’ve got to do is to recover from the spin or you’ll get hit by the tail of the aircraft.
Before we actually go on now to some of the flying areas, Bradfield Park, the accommodation, can you describe what that’s like?
It was just accommodation. We had a long shed, a long building with beds down each side, each one was about six feet away from the other one. You had to make up your bed in a certain way with your blankets folded in a certain way, with the palliasse
folded back over itself so that the bed of the cot was open. Everything was tidied up and there wasn’t anything lying around on the floor. You’d all go to bed and the lights would go out and then the fun would start. Of course there was always something going on, there was always someone that had something to say.
They were shaving half a moustache off or shaving something else off or something. I think it’s the greatest leveller in the world coming out of school like I did, I caught on pretty quick. It was good fun I must admit I enjoyed it; I enjoyed every minute of it.
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.
I’ve got a few questions on what you’ve just said. The first being, when you lost half your moustache, what did you do, did you shave the other half?
No I didn’t. I left half of it on. I left the other half on, I just cut it a wee bit shorter and left the other half on and grew the other half again.
So nothing was said by sergeants or officers about the fact…?
They all knew.
No, nothing was said. One sergeant I remember was named Leatherbarrow, which impressed me a great deal, and he had a voice that sounded like it came from a throat that was leather too. He had a tremendous voice. He turned out to be a real nice fellow, real good bloke.
The day or night that the Japanese hit Sydney Harbour could you just talk us through the events of what actually happened when you first heard and running into the bush?
We didn’t hear anything much, the air sirens went, the alarms went, the sirens went for an air alert, you know. We just turned over and went back to sleep on the other side, there was nothing we could do, nowhere we could go. We were in the bush, there was bush on either side of Bradford in those days there was no houses.
I think we just had to disperse just outside of camp and get into the bush, and we did. We just went down there and hung around having smokes. There was nothing else to do, just sit down on our backsides and wait for the all clear. It was a non event from our side of things. We heard a few bangs from the harbour of course, from Sydney but that’s all.
Just with the air sirens did you usually have drills with that or was that the first time it went off?
That was the first time. We’d heard it before but that was the first time it was ever a question of actually acting on it or doing something. There was no formal place to go. It was nighttime and it was not as if someone was going to drop a bomb on us at Bradfield.
We’d have been very unlucky to have got hit I should think. Because it was very, it was a big place in those days. Very big place.
Just in respect after this attack, did it change the intensity of your training or thinking the day or two or week after?
I don’t think so. We were aware that the war was well and truly on now. We are talking about 1942 now. That happened on Anzac Day in 1942.
From Bradfield you went to South Australia?
Went to Victoria first. Benalla.
What was there?
Well, they had Tiger Moths and they also had Wackett trainers [training aircraft]. And the first thing I did was to get bloody pneumonia on guard duty. They put me in hospital for a week, but apart from that when I got up we had a good time flying the Tigers. They were 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.
With your first instructor do you remember who that was?
I can tell you if I look up my log book. Yes, I can remember his name, but I’ve got a very bad memory for names as I got older and I can’t remember it now. Mortimer, Pilot Officer Mortimer, that’s it.
What was he like as a person?
He was a nice bloke, very nice bloke, kind bloke, but he was young.
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.
Do you remember what checks there were before takeoff for the Tiger Moth?
I do, very well, unforgettable! There wasn’t very much of course, but it did seem like very much in those days.
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.
Excellent. Your first solo, do you remember going on that?
Yes, I do. Unforgettable!
Could you talk me through it?
Well, he used the proverbial comment when we came in from our flight, he said,
“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.”
At that time was there any form of air traffic control to let you know when you could land or …?
No, no. Not in elementary flying. They introduced, in fact not even in service flights we didn’t have any flight control. They didn’t have radios in aircraft in those days.
You learnt to fly over the aerodrome that you were going to look at the signal area which was where the windsock was, and there was a T which indicated which runway or which was the landing strip in use on the ground, like a turnaround, just like a big wooden T, about from here to the wall long. And you could pick up which wind direction they were wanting and any other signals that were there on the ground for you
and come in and land. So you’d go over the aerodrome first at fifteen hundred feet, have a look at all those things, when it was clear you’d come in and join the circuit in a down wind leg.
How would they coordinate planes taking off with planes that were landing?
Very lights, either very lights or flashlights you know, not flashlights, signal lamps. In those days they didn’t worry about it,
not on the training grounds anyway. They would have worried about it on the service fields but not on the training ones at all.
Given that you were an instructor after the war, reflecting back your training as a young pilot before the war were you being rushed through, were you being trained properly?
There was no rushing, I tell you. They did it very, very well. I think it was a very excellent training.
You couldn’t have had better than we got in the RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force]. It was very, very good. I’ve got a lot of stories about the shortcomings that we found that the Americans had in their training. They were good pilots no mistaking but there was a lot that they missed out on. We were very lucky to get the training we got and have the people we had working with us.
Accidents while you were on the Tiger Moths - you mentioned that they had no brakes what sort of accidents occurred during this initial training?
There were a few. You used to look out to the left as you came in to land and one bloke hit a tree with his left wing as he came in to land. He went spinning around the tree, and he survived but he was still strapped in his cockpit.
But that’s all there was there was, nothing else. It was all splinters, it was completely destroyed total write off. The most common thing that happened was bad landings. They’d do a good landing but twenty feet up and the thing would just drop, and of course the wheels would come up and bust and make a hell of a mess.
Or taxiing and hit another aircraft when they were taxiing, these were pretty common, not too common but these were sudden death, if you did that you were out. That was another difference between us and the Americans. They didn’t care what they did to the machines that they flew. Now, “Uncle Sam’s got many of them but only one of me.” And they seemed to have an unlimited supply and no-one seemed to worry about
when they bent an aeroplane. But I have never bent an aeroplane in the whole time of my flying. I’ve done just on two thousand hours now.
Just as we come to the end of this tape, what was the accommodation like at Benalla?
Much the same as Bradfield only much smaller. Just the big huts, slightly better that the others perhaps, insofar as the food services, we had actually a thing to make toast,
we could make toast at Benalla. I remember it well and we used to take it in turns to go and make the toast for everyone sitting at the table, and Benalla was good. I was also taught to go to the pub there, they had a nice little pub not far from the airstrip, the aerodrome, and I’d never had a beer in my life and I found out what it was like.
But Benalla was good, very cold and it was not far from here actually, just across the border in Victoria.
Interviewee: Barry Finch Archive ID 2064 Tape 04
When you were at Benalla were there other aircraft that you flew?
They converted us on to Wacketts,
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.
So the Wacketts, if that’s how you pronounce them, were they difficult to fly well despite their design faults?
No, the main problem was that they made this mess of oil. It made it hard to see out of the darn things. And they were gutless,
you know, didn’t have much power. But they’d fly and you could do aerobatics in them to a certain extent, not that that mattered very much to us in those days. We hadn’t really done very much in the way of aerobatics, I mean we could loop the loop and that sort of stuff but as for doing a slow roll, a slow roll in a Tiger Moth is quite a …. A good slow roll in a Tiger Moth
takes quite a bit of doing and there are very few people that can do it well. But you can do it, you’ve got to be going fast enough, and you need to get enough speed up before you start and it works alright.
During this time were you also taught stalling procedures and what to do there?
Oh yes. Well we had to learn spins, that was important
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.
So what was next then?
I was hoping to go to fighters but my friends that I was with who were all older than me were going onto bombers,
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.
You mentioned it was a big step up from a Tiger Moth, what sort of difference from a pilot’s point of view having twin engines now?
Well, actual flying was just the same, the actual handling of the aircraft but you have to learn a lot of other things with twin engines. You’ve got to learn what to do when one cuts and learn to fly on one engine and learn to know which engine has actually cut, and believe it or not that can be difficult some times. I mean it’s not difficult when you look at the tacho
but its different. You look at….you’ve got to know to look at gauges and everything and check all the various things out…what’s the temperatures and pressures in this one and what’s the temperatures and pressures in that one, work out the difference and so forth. And you’ve got to be quick to react and open the other throttle full with the good engine and close the other throttle down completely and push your leg forward to hold the thing straight, especially if it’s happening on take-off. You’ve got to be damn quick doing it ‘cause they’ll do it,
they’ll pull an engine right back in training and you’re left with only climbing rpm on and only one engine, and you’ve got to get out otherwise you’ll go in so you’ve got to do it properly. So that’s good practice. You don’t do spins or aerobatics or any of those sorts of things but you have gunnery and bombing, and one of you takes a turn at using a bomb sight and
one of you flies the aeroplane, and then you change over and do it the other way around. Or one of you takes a turn at using the machine gun in the turret and vice versa, the other fellow goes in. Flying targets or ground targets for the gunnery and the bombing targets are always marked out on the ground. I enjoyed that.
For the bombing target did you actually drop bombs or other things?
Yes, we used a practice bomb. It’s only a small bomb it weighs about nine pounds or ten pounds or something like that and it’s about that long.
In respect of going solo, are you by yourself or is there someone else there?
No, you go solo by yourself. But you fly two together.
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.
In respect of being there now with the Avro Ansons, were there accidents as well that occurred there as well?
No. Very few.
They were a very safe aeroplanes, and by that time we knew that they had brakes, they had brakes if you had air pressure. When you first got in them they had no air pressure until you started the engine and run it up for a bit and watched the air pressure gauge, and as soon as you saw your gauge come up to a certain point you’d know you had air pressure in your brakes.
What were some of the problems or faults with the Avro Anson?
Very little. They used to go very well. They were very good for cooling the lemonade, the beer,
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.
Excellent. After Mallala where did you go from there?
I went back to Bradfield, embarkation depot at Bradfield. It was just a part of the Bradfield setup and I was there for about three or four weeks altogether. They sent me off for a week, down to Melbourne,
to do a beam approach course and back again. But otherwise the whole time at Bradfield was on leave, virtually, the whole time waiting for a posting.
What was the beam approach course?
We went down to Point Cook and we flew Oxfords, Air Speed Oxfords down there. And we did this beam approach course which was a different way of coming in
making a blind approach onto an airport at night or in bad weather, and finding your way in on a beam which gave out As on one side of it in Morse Code and Ns if you’re on the other side of it in Morse Code. And sometimes it’s very hard to tell the ‘dit da’ from the ‘da dit’ and sometimes it was a bit tricky. But there was a lot of Link trainer work associated with it as well as actual flying, but that was just for a week or ten days.
Just for the sake of the Archive could you describe the sort of technology of the Link trainer that you were on?
The Link trainers were a fantastic little flying machine, it wasn’t a flying machine but an imitation flying machine. They’d just close the lid down and it was pretty hot and stuffy on a hot day, but by and large, for most of us it was a relatively easy thing to do once you
learnt how to do it. The greatest difficult most people had I think, was that some people have difficulty in visualizing a plan, a diagram in their mind when they are flying. We might be doing
a figure eight or something silly like that, and you’d have to visualize where you were in that figure eight as you were flying along the part of it that you were doing. But if you remembered where you were, if you remembered your diagram if you like, or you’re outside relationships, it wasn’t difficult to fly on instruments at all
once you got the hang of it. There was a great deal of coordination involved. It is easy to do once again if you can coordinate your hands and your feet and your brain. It’s hard for some people and some people found it quite difficult but if you’re going to fly on instruments you’ve just got to do it and that’s all there is to it.
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.
Just now, on reflection was there any training that you were given that was completely irrelevant or useless in respect to where you were going?
No. I had great respect for the Empire Air Training Scheme - was a superb and very well organised thing. I must admit the gas stuff, I could have done without that, I didn’t want that, running through a room full with tear gas. That didn’t appeal to me much at all, and then running back through again with a mask on. Funny how nice that was!
Could you just talk us through that particular event and what happened?
They have this room about half the size of this one with a door at either end and you’re all lined up outside with head masks. And they say, “Well put them on and go in there and you will find that you can do everything you want.”
“Yeah, no problem.” Everyone goes in silly buggers acting the goat, you can imagine, and everything is fine and they open the door at the other end and let you out. But the next time you go in they say, “Right, take them off now.” And so everybody takes them off and, oh my godfather, water dribbling out, there was no silly buggers that time.
You came running out straight away after that lot. It was no good at all. No, I think that was a waste of time. They had the mustard gas and they let you walk through it but they didn’t make you take your mask off for that lot. There was another gas and I forget which one it was. Phosgene … they had you take your mask off for a bit of that I think, from memory. It was a long time ago I can’t remember whether we took it off…. I know we did in the tear gas.
With the mustard gas and the other gas did you have any protective clothing on?
With the mustard gas we would have, nothing for the tear gas, nothing for phosgene. I can’t remember mustard gas, it couldn’t have been mustard gas, that’s the big one…. No, phosgene and tear gas were the two critical ones.
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.
So were you able to communicate with your parents before you actually left or on board?
No, no. The next thing I know I’m on the train at Central going north wondering what the hell was going on, but I did have a secret signal with my parents. I told the old man
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.
You obviously didn’t get to speak to your parents before you left but had your Father given you any advice in respect to serving overseas at all.
No. I was as raw as anyone else. I was full of enthusiasm of course, full of everything, and I mean full of everything. I think perhaps
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.
Just a few questions on what you’ve shared up to this point. Firstly, the engagement ring, who was that for?
When did that relationship kick off?
That was from…we’d planned that we would become engaged before we left but I didn’t have the money. We weren’t going to buy a ring until later. We hadn’t thought about that either of us, and I planned on sending it home when I got to England, not from America. I was a bit worried about the mail from America for some reason or another, but I sent it home from England and when I
arrived over there. And when she got it she was very, very sick in hospital, and it was the best thing that had ever happened as far as she was concerned. She was thrilled to get it and recovery set in straight away apparently.
So where did you meet her, in Sydney or…?
We met in Sydney. I met her at the send off party that was given for me or when I was leaving Bradfield.
When I was about to leave Bradfield they gave us a party. This lady, I used to go riding with a group of about six people from time to time in which there was one young lady, not so young actually, that used to come riding too, and she put on this little party and invited Pat to come along for the evening. Pat, at that time
was a radio performer. She was a singer with a couple of shows you have probably heard of. Oh, they’ll be too old for you, but she is very good, got a lovely singing voice, even now. Anyway, she came along and we struck up a friendship straight away, and we corresponded all through the war.
Now just coming back to Brighton, you said there was a lot of humour going on, particularly about the British and their lack of showering, what sort of things were said?
Oh, we used to call them ‘dirty buggers’. One poor bugger we couldn’t stand it any longer we washed his shirt and trousers for him, his uniform and it took about three days to get it dry. I can remember it quite well.
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 …
Interviewee: Barry Finch Archive ID 2064 Tape 05
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.
What did the Antipodean servicemen do in London during the war?
There was a lot of things to do.
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.
What were your particular favourite places to go or things to do?
Most of the time we’d just go to the pub and have a few beers and go and see a show at night, a movie. Life was pretty….
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.
What about the war, I mean obviously there were servicemen around, how else was it obvious in London?
They were all there. There was a lot of Polish people around there, a lot of Americans there. Although the Americans came over in far greater numbers after I left, they were there….many, many more. There was still a few there nevertheless. There were Canadians, all sorts.
Everybody was there and they were all mixed up. We used to have some great times, we all got on very well together. Except the Poles, we couldn’t talk their language and they couldn’t talk ours and they used to get a bit too excited. We never could quite understand what they were getting at. We used to make most of our friends with the Canadians or the South Africans.
What about the devastation of the blitz [intense bombing of London and some other cities in the UK]? How much of that did you see?
Oh, that was appalling, that was appalling.
Most of the devastation had happened already. This was before the period of the V1s and the V2s [German flying bombs used near the end of the war], they were still getting air raids in London and we’d just go into an air raid shelter and sit them out. The local people, the air raids were not as bad then as they were during the blitz,
the big blitz. They were just to remind people that they were still open to air raids, I guess. Germany just left, they gave up raiding London after the blitz.
You mentioned the Lady Rider scheme; can you tell us a bit more about where you went with that?
The Lady Rider scheme was a special organisation that
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.
What contact did you have with people in the air force over there when you were in these holding areas? People who might be involved in bombing raids and that kind of thing?
None at all. We were all people, in the holding centre and we all used to stay in that group. The people involved in doing the actual bombings or whatever,
were stationed on main air force stations outside this, not far away I might add. But they were stationed around in various parts of England and we wouldn’t see them at all. We would occasionally see them when we were on leave in London or various places and they would be doing their job very quietly and not betting around much. One thing about doing that sort of job,
when you get a day or night off you can’t afford to be much more than circumspect at least, because if you’ve got to fly the next day you need your wits about you. So you’ve got to be fairly careful.
So how frustrating was it for you to be in this holding place?
Very. Frustrating in the extreme. I was glad when they sent me to this, after I got my conversion back onto singles again.
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 a couple of questions about that, firstly you were approached, hawkers and the people at Gibraltar,
that apparently contained spies among them, what was that all about? Can you explain what, who they were and what they did?
Gibraltar and that area, and Spain, who was not a part of the war at all. Spain was out of it, had German Embassy there,
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.
So when you heard rumours that you’d be getting an air attack, how seriously did you take them at that time?
Very seriously. I wasn’t terribly thrilled about the idea at all, none of us were. Because we thought, “Cripes, we’ll be killed.”
And everybody used to walk around with their life jackets in their hands or over their shoulder all the time. It was a requirement, you couldn’t do otherwise. If that ship had got hit there would have been a couple of thousand troops at least, floating around in the water. We had a very minimal escort, very minimal. There was one destroyer I think, or one corvette or something.
So what was the first, the very first warning you got that you were under attack the first time?
The alarm. They fly a long black flag, they put up a black flag straight away from the yard and then the navy opens up. Soon you can hear the guns going, a lot of bombs dropping from wherever they were coming. These glider bombs were particularly frightening.
What could you see of the planes that were flying above you with these glider bombs?
You could see them all completely, it was a blue sky, blue sky.
You could see, no-one could hide and you can’t hide either. You could see the damn things leave the aeroplane. I think that they could carry only one of those things at a time. They probably were bigger, they were like an aerial torpedo. They must have been around about, I’d be guessing, about a metre and a half long and about
a two metre wing span. Certainly the one that came over us, I had a good look at that. It was getting pretty damn fast. If it had hit the ship it would have hit the ship right in the middle.
When that one went over what was the explosion like when it hit the water?
Can you describe what it was like?
Well, just a boiling mass of water when it went up in the air, it was just incredible. I was very thankful that we weren’t in our….not down below like the rest of the ships crew were, and troops. All the troops were down below, none were allowed up except us. I would have hated to have been down below while that was going on. I think it would have been shocking, it would have been dreadful being down there.
What was the noise like?
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.”
So who were you taking orders from at that time?
The navy. From the captain of the ship.
Can you just describe your various jobs again? You had to run ammunition out of the store that was below…?
The ammunitions came up in a lift on the outside of the superstructure in the middle of the ship. There was a boat deck beyond that with the boats
and the tubs where the guns were, were just poked in between the boats. And they were up on a stand. I suppose they would be about ten feet above the deck, about three metres above the deck, you could walk underneath it. Each tub would be about three metres across about a metre high of steel all around the side of it.
And the gun was mounted in the centre and when you’re strapped into the gun you’ve got no protection from above at all. When you’re loading it, working underneath, you’ve got no protection at all from the sides. To get the ammunition that comes up in the lift, it’s like a rail rather than a lift, a conveyor perhaps. Up comes this box of ammunition and I had to go over and get it.
So I had to walk back with this box of twenty mill and unpack it and put it into the magazines that we were loading, and these clip onto the side of the gun.
How quickly were you moving? How many trips did you make?
Fairly bloody quick. Fairly bloody quick. We were moving it up very quickly.
The second attack when you were on the gun, what did you see
of the results of your firing and the other firing from the other ships?
We didn’t. Whether we hit anything or not, I don’t know. I can tell you more about that later, that sort of thing from the other side, from the receiving end, a lot more.
None of the planes were hit that you know?
We didn’t hit any planes that were flying over and dropping those bombs. But right at the end of the do when we thought it was all over we were warned that there was another aircraft coming in
low level from ahead and he flew between our ship and the Commonwealth ship, and it was a German JU 88. Whether he had lost his bearings or what I don’t know, but we thought he would have had a torpedo on but he might have dropped it already. And if he had he obviously was not following it because he’s not going to hit anything running parallel to the same direction of the ship. Anyway, he came between the ships going in the opposite direction
to what we were going, we were in the front row of ships. As he came down level with us every Oerlikon on our ship, on that side, opened fire on him. And to open fire on an aircraft you’ve got to lead by about eight lengths, ten lengths of the aircraft to hit it because it’s a moving target, its like shooting clay pigeons.
And we didn’t see what we’d got, didn’t see whether we’d hit him or not. But he went into the sea either from our fire or from somebody else’s fire behind us, about the distance away of the ship behind us, about two hundred, three hundred yards. He just went into the sea with a great splash of water. That was the only one we saw come down.
What was the immediate atmosphere like after that raid?
Rum ration all around, extra rum. We got a rum ration all around and that was all there was to it. They thought we might get another one the following day but we didn’t. We reckoned that we were just lucky, dead lucky.
This was the first war action you’d seen?
How did that affect you and your conception of what you were doing?
I could see that we were getting very serious. There was one thing that I never wanted to do was to go to war with a ship, on a ship again. I was quite happy about that. It was a very frightening business really and it certainly steadied all of us a bit as we realised that that was what goes on. We were all being brave and saying, “Oh, I didn’t mind,” but everyone got a fright
especially those down below. The noise must have been absolutely frightening there and that bomb that landed right near the ship alongside our gun must have been a very near miss. How it didn’t loosen a few plates down there I don’t know, ‘cause we sunk a ship later with just that, we sunk her.
How were your nerves?
At eighteen I didn’t have any.
I was alright, we were all alright.
What was your attitude towards the possibility that you might get killed?
Good question. I often thought I haven’t had the thought, “I could do it this time.” But I always had the feeling, my second thought
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.
We’ll come through the afternoon and talk about all those things. I’m just, as you were arriving or on your way out to the Middle East were you still excited about going to war after you’d been hit by an air raid?
I was still anxious to get into an aeroplane and not have bombs dropped on me, yes I was. I was very keen to get into it and do the….drop some on somebody else,
I can tell you. I was fairly antisocial. You’ve got to remember that at eighteen and nineteen we were all much the same. We were an enthusiastic lot of characters and we’d been waiting for two years, or not two years at that stage but eighteen months probably, at that stage, to do what we joined up for. And we were all volunteers and we volunteered to do what we wanted to do because we thought that we had to, for the good of the country.
And that’s what it was all about.
Interviewee: Barry Finch Archive ID 2064 Tape 06
Just now coming after the convoy on the way over you were describing the air raids after all that had happened where did you actually arrive?
We arrived at Port Said in Egypt and then we drove in
trucks for about twenty miles down towards the canal, or down along the side of the canal until we reached the point where we got onto a train. I might add the train was filthy and the carriages that they first told us to get into was like a bird cage, on the bottom of it I might add. People don’t seem to care too much over there.
We finally persuaded them to put us into other carriages, and with much shouting and waving of arms and things and we finished up in Jerusalem. We stayed in Jerusalem for about three months.
When you described there the carriages were like bird cages, what did you mean?
I don’t know what they’d been eating and throwing around but it didn’t look too good
and didn’t smell any worse. They weren’t too fussed about it. It was just an old hard bench seat. There were no comfortable seats on them.
How did you find the people?
Pretty dirty. We always felt that they were the great unwashed and I don’t think they ever did wash much.
If they needed to they’d just tip a bucket over themselves but unfortunately they didn’t have much of a facility for washing either. Very little plumbing in most of the villages so they were virtually like, how can I put it, almost like a lost people. It was very sad for some people, for a lot of them.
I understand that some of them pinched stuff from some of the fellows?
The greatest thieves in the world. They’d pinch anything that wasn’t nailed down and if it was nailed down they’d take the other thing as well. They really were.
Did you lose anything yourself?
Not on that occasion, no. Basically, the only time I ever lost anything was in Italy. Just before I left I had left an empty wallet in, I keep…
Well nearly empty, the only thing it had in it was a German badge with the eagle on it, you know the cross at the bottom the way they used to have it. It was a pilot’s badge which I’d found at an old airstrip that we were working from and I’d forgotten it was in there. Anyway, when I got to Nabless waiting to come home or come back, kids got in there and took the wallet thinking they were going to make a fortune I suppose.
But there wasn’t anything in it except this badge that I wanted. Silly thing, anyway. We didn’t lose too much, we were generally pretty secure.
Jerusalem, you were there for three months?
Just about three months. We arrived there two or three weeks before Christmas and we were boarded into a building which was an ex-hospital, and they called it the old hospital building.
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.
While you were in Jerusalem what stage was the war at?
The war had was crossing from Africa at that time, and in fact it was about that time
I think, I’m not sure what day the war finished up in Africa, but they had to go past Malta and landed in Sicily and then they landed in the foot of Italy, but they were still south of…When we got there in
May of 1943, that was Christmas 1942, in May of 1943, they were only just past Naples then it would have been in the early stages of the Italian campaign. War in Africa would have been finished or just about finishing at that time.
From Jerusalem you went to just outside Cairo?
Yeah, Jerusalem we had to wait our turn
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.
What was his name?
His name was Brown, and he and I had met first of all, in England when we were waiting to come off to the Middle East. Brian Brown his name was. He came from Melbourne and we were great mates
at the time, and we got into quite a few problems together. We bought a couple of dogs back from Cairo I remember, when we were at Abousir and got into serious strife over that ‘cause they were covered in fleas. I’ve never seen anything like it, but anyway we washed them and they became the airport dogs after a while. Everybody had them and the fleas as well.
What happened to Brian Brown in respect to later on?
I’m not sure. I had to get the information I wanted to find out, but I’d left the squadron by that time. By the time he caught up with me and did a tour he was a long way behind me. I was back in Egypt when I heard he’d bought it, fallen off his perch or whatever you want to call it. Finally I got it out of the
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.
OK, a question, coming back to the accident that your mate was actually caught up in, were you there, did you see?
Yeah, I saw it happen.
Can you explain for the sake of the Archive what the emergency procedure was for the ground staff and crew?
Oh yes. They might have an ambulance and fire wagons on the strip waiting, and as soon as it happened, it’s a bit hard to explain without waving my arms around. But
if you can imagine just lifting off the ground and another aircraft coming in to land at the same time, on top of him, so the two aircraft met. As soon as it happened there was a bang and an explosion and both aircraft hit the deck. The engines of course, stopped, they were all broken up anyway. And both the ambulances, two ambulances came out
and the fire wagons and the crews, they were permanently manned and they dragged this fellow out of what was left of the aeroplane. I don’t know what happened to the other fellow, but I know I thought there wouldn’t be a chance that he would be alive.
So in respect to the aerodrome, were there always ambulances and fire engines at the ready?
There were a lot of unfortunate events at aerodromes in wartime especially when they were returning from operational sorties. Sometimes you might have the hydraulics damaged and you couldn’t get your wheels down, or you might have other steering or control problems, God knows what they might be. There were a number of events of that sort from time to time.
So there had to be a fire wagon and an ambulance.
Even though this is an operational training unit the procedure was exactly the same?
Yes, it had to be because you were flying the same sort of aircraft, and we were carrying ammunition even when we were training which could explode. These aircraft were very safe aircraft but we weren’t being shot at or shot to, but if you’re doing….
When one of them hits, and it makes a mess, it makes a pretty big mess if somebody gets out of control for some reason or another. They were pretty strong, I know from personal experience having over-shot on one stupid occasion. But I was going to land regardless ‘cause it was getting near the end of the day, and I finished up off the end of the runway over the top over a slit trench.
It was in desert. I had a swear about the thing and still taxiing along in the desert over the fence, went through the fence. I came out and they had to get a truck to pull me back in and they had to take the wheels off and lift it on with a crane because they reckoned the ground was too soft to carry it. It carried me out there, I reckon it would carry me back in. They weren’t very pleased about that. I got a week’s duty out of it.
That’s a matter of standing on the end of the runway signalling to planes coming in telling them, “Don’t land,” or “Get out of the road,” or “Come in,” or “Go out,” or “Push off,” as the case may be.
So how come on this occasion you overshot the runway?
Well, it was silly. When you’re learning to fly a new aeroplane, you don’t always register certain things that they can do. I knew you
had a certain speed above which you shouldn’t put the flaps down. Anyway, I went to put the flaps down and the bloody things wouldn’t go down and I didn’t realise that I was going too fast, and I was too agitated to give it too much thought. And thought, bugger it, I’ll land flaps up. And of course, you float like (UNCLEAR) and you finish up in a cloud of dust off the end of the strip.
So when you make a mistake like that do you always get duty, is that the punishment at the end?
I think so unless you break it seriously or you bend it a bit seriously, then you might get a little bit more. That was the only thing that ever happened to me; it left an indelible piece on my memory. I was very embarrassed about that.
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.
Just in respect to the instructors who obviously had had time in the air fighting,
what tips did they give you in respect of air to air combat or bombing and strafing?
Well, air to air combat, there is not much that I can tell you. There is only one real trick about that and that’s to be up high on the sunny side of them, and surprise them and make the first attack. If, on the other hand, and you are attacked I used to say
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.
In respect of the guns on the aircraft and the bombs, when you actually release the bombs or fire the guns does that actually affect the aeroplane?
No. You feel a slight vibration when the guns are going but when you release the bombs there is no problem at all, you just tell when they are gone. There lies another story, which I’ll come to later too.
We’ve racked up a few of these stories that are coming. When did you receive orders that you were moving out of Egypt onto an operational base?
About two days after I moved away from Abousir.
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.
In respect to the air force was there rules and regulations about taking food out to the locals?
No, but the food was not designed for them, it was just enough for us, but we’d go and get an extra portion before we went out and just help ourselves.
It wasn’t like being in the army where you only get one slap at it and the food’s gone. Here you could walk up to a table and help ourselves. It was like a sergeants’ mess you know. Go and help yourself, it was no trouble at all to go and take a bit more.
How were the parents coping did they have jobs and stuff?
They were there too. Mum was there too. Most of the Dads were out either in prisoner of war camps or out of a job, or too old to fight anyway.
It’s a very poor area. I went back there after the war to see what Portici was like and it was quite a poor area then. It’s quite heavily built up, no chance of growing anything to eat. It’s just got little tiny back yards. The people there must have been very hungry, I reckon. I reckon they would have been hungry before when Germany was there. Long before.
See, a lot of the Italian men had been captured in North Africa.
So who greeted you actually, when you arrived?
It was a little holding centre that they had set up. They had taken over at least two buildings, if not three. They take those buildings you know, commandeer them for use by the services. And they were empty, there was
not a skerrick of furniture in them. They were just bare boards but they had hot water, they had cots for us and you could have a wash. The ladies would do laundry for you, for neighbours, the homely ones, in return for food which you could get for them. And it was a tremendously
moving situation because the horrors of what a war has done to a population was very evident there.
Interviewee: Barry Finch Archive ID 2064 Tape 07
You just made a claim at the end of that tape that it gave you a very good idea of the effect that war had on the civilian population arriving in Italy.
What was the status of the Italians at that time?
Good question. Some of the Italian airmen had come to fly for some of the British aircraft or, they gave them American aircraft. I saw them flying Air Cobras. Some of the Italian prisoners of war were
working in the squadrons or in the army units as stewards and the like. We had one in our mess for quite a long time who I subsequently met at a later time. I think the general attitude was one of acceptance. It was not…there was no great animosity towards the British.
I think they’d had enough of Mussolini [Benito Mussolini Italian Head of State]. He had, a lot of his colleagues were very badly… and sent a lot of their men overseas who didn’t want to fight anyway. They are not normally a war-like crowd but they might sound like it but they are not really, they are a very gentle people.
Perhaps I shouldn’t be too general about that. Not the people over in Sicily, they have a somewhat different reputation. I think the Italians have never been good soldiers as far as we could find out. They certainly didn’t get a good run in North Africa or maybe they just got sacrificed, I’m not too sure. But there was a tremendous number of them that were prisoners of war or killed.
In general, there was no great animosity towards you but there was no great welcoming kindness either?
No, it was just indifference. One gets the feeling that, and it came over very strongly to me later, that all the little towns were perched on tops of hills, because for time immemorial Italy has been dealing with the problems of invasions, Alexander the Great and all the rest of them.
They go way, way back. As far as history tells, there’s been invasions into Italy and I got a feeling that they have an inbred ability to look after themselves, to live a bit like a tortoise - contract into their little village, pull the shades down and shut the door and get on with life. And live, subsist,
until such time as they can come out and move about again.
3 Squadron at Portici, is that where you joined them or…?
No, that was just a starting point. We actually had to go by train, which is about a hundred and twenty miles
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.
Just on those PSP runways, were they slippery to land on?
No, no. The sand actually came up through them the holes were about two inch diameter or thereabouts, and they were every couple of inches, and they came in strips on the back of a truck and they laid these and they all would interlock and they would form a long runway.
A very fast way of getting a place for an aircraft to land, and it worked very well.
When you say you were flying the latest aircraft while you were there for a couple of days, were they the latest Kittyhawks?
The latest Kittyhawks, yes.
You mentioned before that the Kittyhawk was a very good aircraft for the job that you were doing with it. Can you tell us a little bit more about the aircraft and give us a bit more of a description of why it was good and what its idiosyncrasies were?
The Kittyhawk was a really lovely aeroplane to fly,
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.
Were they ever mounted with rockets?
They did have Mustangs with rockets on them, some of them, one squadron had rockets on them and they were pretty good. Its questionable if they were better than bombs. There was only one good thing about them it was better to aim them than a bomb. But the actual explosion in a
rocket was nowhere near what you would get in a thousand pound bomb or a five hundred pound bomb, for that matter. You’d still wreck a car or a vehicle.
You look at a Kittyhawk, its not a big aircraft, it’s a single seater fighter. A thousand pound bomb is very big, where did these bombs sit in the aircraft?
One underneath in the middle, and one under each wing,
or you’d have a belly tank in the middle and two bigger bomb on the sides. My first operational flight when we went off, I didn’t realise until I went down to get into the aeroplane and, “God this has got three bloody great bombs under it.
I wonder what these things are like to take off with three bombs under them. I’ve never flown with that much load under them.” And the thought went through my head, “Do you need to put flap down to get off?” to help lift. I had to get out quick because I was right behind the CO, he was out first. I had to get out second and I thought, “Oh I’ll watch him and see if the bugger puts any flap down to get off.” And he didn’t put any flap down so I thought it must be alright. So when he went off I got in behind him
and I had to open the throttle and get out very quick and God, the bloody plane went off as if I wasn’t even in it, it didn’t have any trouble at all getting off. I had a full tank, a full bomb load and full ammunition boxes. It had no effect on it at all.
So what were some of the problems you might have had with a Kittyhawk?
I don’t think that we ever had many problems with Kittyhawks. They were looked on
almost like somebody’s Rolls Royce. We used to reckon, “Thank God we weren’t flying Spitfires.” Because we didn’t think that Spitfires would have ever stood up or carried the load that we carried. They were far too light in the frame and might get blown out of the air in doing what we were doing. We used to think they were pretty good.
Did they perform well at altitude?
Yes. Not as well as a Mustang, or a Spitfire for that matter. They did very well. I used to do all the testing for the squadron when I was on the squadron, mainly because I was enthusiastic about it, and every new aircraft that arrived in the squadron I’d take it up for a test flight. I used to love, on that occasion, having no bomb load,
taking it up to fifteen thousand or so and just do aerobatics for half and hour, work off some steam. And I used to love it and I’d think that was good fun, come back and land and say, “She’s right, let it go. I tried a dummy bomb dive and the wings didn’t drop off, she’ll be alright.”
What about just general comfort for the pilot. How comfortable were they for the pilot? How easy were they to fly?
Easy, easy. Easy to fly and very comfortable to sit in.
Mind you, your seat is not that comfortable. It’s a…you’re sitting in a bucket designed to carry a parachute on the outside, and on top of that a dinghy. So inside the dinghy package there’s a little oxygen bottle to blow it up if you need to. It’s all tied on to, all linked onto your harness so that if you bail out and land in water you can let the dinghy go when you’re above the water
so that it will be inflated almost by the time you get down. I think the only thing that I found that was uncomfortable sometimes, was if they’d repacked the chute or repacked the dinghy incorrectly, the oxygen bottle would be like sitting on a brick. But apart from that it was quite good.
How did you get in and out of a Kittyhawk?
You climb in off the wing, the trailing edge of the wing,
there’s a place to put your feet there, a little sort of a rough patch which isn’t slippery, and you can climb just straight in there on the port side. And you’ve always got your fitter standing on the other side always ready for you to get in. And as soon as you get in and sit down he would start to plug your helmet in, do your harness up or help you do your harness up, there’s quite a bit of doing up to do. You’ve got your parachute harness which has got all this other claptrap
hanging on the end of it, and you’ve got your Sutton harness which stops you falling out of the aeroplane, and he’d help you do all that up and plug in your microphone and set you all up, and make sure you’re all OK.
What was the starting procedure then?
From a mechanical point of view or..?
From you as a pilot?
All you do then is you prime your engine a wee bit
with a little bit of priming pump, and you’ve got a self starter and you just push it and when she fires you just give her a little touch with the throttle and you’ll kick her over straight away. Sometimes you’d have a bit of a problem which is always embarrassing if you are holding up a formation, but not very often.
Did you follow the same drills that you talked about earlier with the list of …?
Yes. Only it’s a bit more elaborate.
You’ve got a few things. In an aircraft you need to know what your oil pressure is; you need to know what your oil temperature is; what your cylinder head temperature is, because if there’s anything wrong or varying from normal on any of those things you know you’ve got a problem. If your oil pressure is low your temperature will be high; if your oil pressure is high your oil temperature will be low. It simply means that everything is running through more slowly or more quickly,
as the case may be. Apart from that you’ve got things like, some aircraft have got, the Kittyhawk had tyre trim and rudder trim, but the Mustang trim also had aileron trim. So you had three lots of trim. You’ve got pitch and mixture controls in the Kittyhawk. Some Kittyhawks towards the end of our time had
an automatic mixture control together with your throttle, so as you moved your throttle forward and as your barometric pressure became lower from height it would automatically lean out your mixture, so that you were not bringing in too full a mixture and burning too much fuel. When the air pressure is lower you don’t need so much
petrol in the mix.
They sat on the ground on two wheels and a tail wheel?
Yes, that’s right.
Did you have any trouble taxiing in the aircraft?
No you….on the squadron you had a long way to taxi by and large, and your fitter would always sit on the edge of the wing on the wing tip when you were taxiing and he would be there guiding you with his hands like this, saying this way or that way. And you’re sitting in the
cockpit you can just see him ‘cause you can’t see anything when you’re down on the three points, you’ve just got to read it. But the strip is too narrow on the taxi way to do that so he just guides you out like this and says, “OK, just keep going like that.” And you know you’re going straight, and then, “Stop.” And then he gets you to the edge of the runway and you sit and wait until its your turn to go. If you’re the leader you go straight out onto the runway just make sure that the last bloke
is in the queue and he’s got out there and as soon as he’s there off you go.
You talked before in the training, about air traffic control, was it a similar situation on the squadron?
No. It was different. You’d just sit around in the mess and you’d be on forty-five minutes. We weren’t like the fighters in England on the Battle of Britain
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.
Would you come back with holes in your aircraft?
Would the Kittyhawk be troubled by that?
No, no. That’s one of the reasons we loved them, they could handle most of it. I’ve come back with holes that I thought….half a tailplane gone but the thing kept going straight. I wouldn’t like to have gone on a bomb dive like that, mind you.
It’s just amazing what they’d put up with. I suppose that out of every twelve times that I flew, two of them I’d come back with holes.
We’ll come back to specific operations in a minute but just on that system you described, that cab rank and forward air controllers, where would they be? Would they be up in aircraft themselves?
No, they’d be either sitting in a jeep or an old house or something, hiding.
And would they always have targets prepared for you?
Not always, sometimes you’d be waiting for a quarter of an hour flying up and down. That’s why we called it the cab rank.
But you had to drop your bombs before you returned to…?
Oh yeah. If they didn’t have a job for us they’d soon find one if there was an aircraft there. There was always something you could drop it on.
Were you given authority to bomb targets of opportunity?
Yes, on reconnaissance.
Alright, moving back to the story that we were on before you were about to arrive at Cutella where the squadron was, what did you find there? I mean what were your first impressions of 3 Squadron?
Bit of a shock I guess at first. The aerodrome or the strip
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.
What squadron traditions were there that you were introduced to, or ways that things were done that were unusual?
There were a few of them. Within two days I was on the edge of learning one of them and I’ll come to it. After I’d done my first two operational flights they told us that we were going to be moved to a new aerodrome, to a place called Saint Angelo,
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.
Did you have to lay any strip at Saint Angelo?
No. The strip was there and it was a good strip better, than the one at Cutella, slightly wider anyway, so it was a much better one. This was obviously an interesting situation. We were busy watching Rome and it was getting to the point where it was
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….
Interviewee: Barry Finch Archive ID 2064 Tape 08
So we were up to the point where you had to go outside and clean yourself up with a jerry can.
I finally got it heated and got an old towel and washed myself, cleaned myself up. And Worman was laying in bed laughing his head off all this time and not improving the situation at all,
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.
So can you tell me why it was called ‘yaffling’?
Yaffle. I think was a name that came out of the desert, why I don’t know. It was a very old term on the squadron and the whole of the wing, everyone used it. It just meant ‘having a feed’, yaffle. We had a yaffle box and when you got a parcel from home it would have been
unwise if you didn’t put your cake in the yaffle box, that was where it went and we all shared everything we got in the tent. And the yaffle box got opened up, and often and not, you were free to invite your mates from another tent, that was quite the order of the day. And you could have that any time you want. And you might say, “Well we haven’t got enough yaffle in the box, you better bring some with you.” And they would bring over some of their own and we’d all sit around and have a yarn.
It was a little bit more human scale, if I can use that word, than sitting around in a mess with a whole lot of people and just sitting around with three or four.
You mentioned it would be unwise not to put your yaffle that you received in the box. Were there guys that didn’t do that?
Not in our tent there weren’t but I imagine if you didn’t you would be pretty unpopular, and that wouldn’t be the way to get on with your friends. And one of the things
that was very deep with the squadron was the mateship that went on. We were like brothers of a single family and we all felt about the other fellows that were flying, the same way as you would about a brother. And when one didn’t come back it upset everybody, but strangely enough, and it took a bit of getting used to at the start but,
we used to have to attend to his personal stuff, sort it out and make sure there was nothing that could be incriminating or upset the family, and put it in a parcel and give it to the adjutant to send it off, or give it to George to send it off. But we never talked about it, we never discussed it in the mess. The mess was always a
home away from whatever it was. And if someone wasn’t there he just wasn’t there but everybody felt so deeply about it, it is very hard to explain and even harder to understand just what it meant but the mateship that went on, I can only echo, is similar to that that still exists between Chas and I.
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.
Just a few questions on what you’ve shared. You’re coming in when the bomb fell off your aeroplane?
Yes, it’s a bit hard to explain. When you put your flaps down the aircraft pitch changes from normal flying position to that, and then your nose is down. And what had happened, the ring on the bomb, which it is,
must have just fallen off the hook, it must have been hanging on the front of the hook, it must have just fallen off the bomb with the deceleration and the change in attitude, and that’s one thing I didn’t try in trying to get rid of it.
And it landed near men?
It landed clear of all the men out of the dispersal area. There was no-one near it at all. I was worried that it might have landed in the mess or something.
It was a very frightening thing to have happen I can tell you.
Supposing they didn’t warn you off landing, given the accident before you arrived?
Oh, they knew I knew. By that time, when was that, September, I was leading formations by that stage. I don’t know why,
they didn’t tell John he should not land with it on, because his wasn’t a hang-up I think. He didn’t get to drop his bombs, but he might have armed them and then decided to come back, and that’s probably what happened. Once they’re armed, to arm you have another string to pull. It’s a bit hard to explain but in the front of the bomb where the detonators are they used to have a
threaded thing with a little propeller, a little tiny propeller on the front of the bomb. There was a piece of wire in front of that little propeller and once the propeller had unwound itself, as it screwed itself it would screw itself off and expose the detonator once it was armed. And when you armed them you pulled this ring in the bottom of the cockpit and it pulled the wire
out of each of the arming points on each bomb. So each of those three propellers were all free to turn and unwind and allow the bomb to be fully armed and ready to go off. Occasionally those propellers were set almost three feet in front of the bomb, on the rod sticking out in front. And if they were on that meant that they were designed to
go off in the air before they actually went underground. As soon as the rod hit the ground they would go off. The bomb would explode like a daisy cutter at ground level.
Going through this fellow’s gear that actually died, do you remember what your emotions were, what you talked about?
Yes, I can remember how my emotions were. I don’t know that we did much talking. We all knew what we were looking for.
We had to go through his diary for any personal notes that might upset the family. Look for any letters that perhaps his family wouldn’t have liked. Just looking for anything that might upset his Mum and Dad back home. As it happened there was nothing at all.
Personal notes in what respect, to girlfriends and such?
Absolutely. Some girlfriend threatening him or something.
Some fellows have multiple affairs and get all sorts of letters and things from various other people, and some of these might upset the family. So we used to try to be Solomon I guess, and look at them and see if there was anything we could do. I do remember on a couple of occasions, on some of the jobs we had to do,
looking around and finding parts of a body. And that was bloody terrible when that happened, they’d blown themselves up somewhere.
Can you talk me through one of those occasions?
There wasn’t much to talk through. On one occasion we were at Iesi, same place, where a bloke had had a forced landing due to a problem, I think through enemy action, I’m not too sure from memory.
And he came down, and it finished up a hole in the ground - it was a whole aeroplane that went into the ground. We had to try and dig him out somehow, to find him. It was the most horrible sight I’ve ever seen in my life, but you do get used to it.
So if that situation arises its not just up to the ground staff and the ambulances or fire engines to pick pieces up its everyone’s job or the pilot’s job or….?
No, its not the pilots job at all. But the pilots
are the closest friends he’s got at that point. They are the ones that know him better than anyone and they’re the ones that are going to write to the parents and tell them what they know. And so they try and do the best they can to find out so that they can just be a friend that’s all, be a mate.
Did the chaplains have a role in this?
Chaplains weren’t regular, they weren’t there all the time. We had three wonderful chaplains
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.
Could you talk us through now a memorable operation you went on from the point of receiving word that you are going on the operation to hearing about what you are actually going attack?
Well let me think of one. One that comes to mind is one when we had Mustangs. No, I’ll tell you one with Kittyhawks.
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.
Did you adjust your flying after you hit this truck and it blew up and you had to fly through its….?
I didn’t need to, everything worked alright but I was very worried that it wasn’t. I thought I would definitely have
some problems somewhere. I thought that at least in the engine I might have some worries. I was a bit concerned that a bit of shrapnel might have cut a hydraulic line or something of that nature.
But in the future did you fly as low?
Not for a while but then your enthusiasm gets the better of you, but we had some terrible jobs to do. I can tell you a couple of them. The Germans had no respect whatsoever for the dead, and I don’t know that you’ve
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.
Was there a position or a failing in the formation that you didn’t want to be in?
Yes, there was oddly enough. If you were in red section the worst one to be in was white two because when the aircraft went down in a bomb dive you were the last one that always went down, and the last one back up again. Which meant that you were the only target that the enemy had to fire at for a few moments, it wasn’t so very long it just felt like a long time. It
takes ten seconds to get down and ten seconds to get up again and a few seconds across the bottom, so that’s about twenty-two seconds but it felt an awfully long time when you were in there for the first time. And if you were twelve all in a bomb line the last one down was black two, and wouldn’t be any other would it? Black two or white two were the two worst positions to be in, but I don’t think really that it made that much difference. By the time
that white two was going up everything was… they were probably glad to see the last of us and probably weren’t firing too much. I don’t think that I ever got any serious problems as white two.
Interviewee: Barry Finch Archive ID 2064 Tape 09
You’ve been talking a bit about how you formed operation formations and how the operations you went on were organised.
How did the relationships between the ground crew and the air crew were increased while you….?
They are two distinct species of course, if I can use that expression. The ground crew by and large, joined the squadron when it left Australia and they stayed with the squadron, in many cases, right up to the end of the war,
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.
Did that have something to do with an aircraft assigned to a pilot or assigned to a particular fitter for a particular reason?
When you first get there you
fly any aeroplane that happens to be vacant or not being used. You are just a new boy, you take whatever lot comes along. If you look in my log book you’ll see nearly every aircraft in the squadron is in there from one time to another. Once I got to a hundred hours, I got my own aeroplane. I was flying the same aeroplane every day and God help anyone else of the pilots
if they bent it, if they’d borrowed it for any reason or got a hole in it. But no, it was very important and it was my aeroplane and that was the one that I flew. I knew how it sounded and I could tell in an instant if there was any difference and anything that was going on in it, as one would expect you would. It was part of your being.
You decorated that aircraft yourself?
Slightly, you put a name on it?
No. The fitter did that for me.
Can you tell us about that decoration?
He said, “I’m going to put your name on the aeroplane.” And I said, “Yeah, that’ll be alright but not mine, put my wife’s or my girlfriend’s on it.” And he said, “What is it?” And I said, “Pat.” He said, “I can’t put Pat, no-one will ever see Pat!” I said, “Well you could put Patty.”
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.”
Who was the CO then?
A fellow called Rex Bailey. He soon finished up after that, he was completing his second tour. Went off and I
got another second tour fellow back there called, forget his name now. Anyway, it’ll come back to me later.
You’ve indicated that 3 Squadron was a particularly good squadron in a lot of ways. Did that have anything to do with the COs? Did they have an influence on it one way or the other?
I think that a good CO could make a good squadron very good…. better.
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.
Over your long extended period with the squadron did you see any changes in morale?
No. Even the new blokes that were arriving in the squadron when I left had as much enthusiasm
as I remember having when I arrived, and hoping they were going to get in some operational flying before the war ended. No, the morale was good all the way through as far as I could see. I wasn’t aware of any hiccups in that area at all. It was a good group to be with and
the blokes are still a good group to be with. I might add that the organisers of the 3 Squadron association are mainly the ground crew fellows. The air crew people are scattered all around Australia. We were brought together and found ourselves in the one unit just by chance, but they all enlisted in one area when they first started off.
So, they are closer one to the other than the air crew are.
What was the hardest time for you during your time with that squadron?
I hated the time around the Arezzo bit which was very vicious and very dirty bit. The weather was fine and clear.
Arezzo was controlling a major access road to Florence and the flying actions were very bitter. They were bringing in artillery without time to camouflage it or conceal it and we were going down
to knock it out as soon as we could. It would be a bit like sitting here and you could see the planes over there going down in the bomb dive, and that’s how close we really were. You could do a trip over in ten minutes and back again in another five or ten, or thereabouts. The results were always close support work, heavy ack ack, and at night, in the last run of the day, was the worst.
By that time you’d done three or four and instead of just seeing the puffs of smoke or the explosions of the anti-aircraft fire you were seeing the explosions in colour, technicolour and you were getting the tracers and all the bright lights. It was like Sydney Harbour on Boxing Day or Christmas time or New Years Eve. All the colours made it even worse,
and I didn’t like it much. It didn’t matter but we lost two or three blokes around there. It was a very sad time for us.
Were you ever up with a bloke who went down, did you see anyone go down?
Oh yes, I’ve seen blokes go down but you generally don’t see them, you generally hear that they have gone down. They generally alright for a moment, they are generally
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.
It’s quite easy now in hindsight to look back and be understanding about those American things….
We weren’t very understanding then.
It must have caused incredible resentment at the time.
It did. Incredible. It was an absolute disaster. We weren’t allowed to talk about this
beat-up of the Lysander the whole time I was on the squadron. That fellow was sent home, dishonourably discharged from the USAF. It wasn’t his fault he did it. Although he was right beside our aeroplanes which have the same markings, the same aeroplane, except that he had checker marks on his tail, we had camouflage on ours, but we still had the roundels and that sort of thing.
He had roundels on his plane and this little Lysander had the roundels too. The Lysander was taking a group of two and a pilot to land up behind the German lines and pick up some other people that had been doing some espionage work up there, and leave one fellow up there. One of the chaps in the plane was an American. It was just too sad for words, it was a dreadful thing.
How did that resentment feature when you’d meet up with Americans on the ground?
There was nothing we could do about it and nothing we could say about it. We used to feel sorry for them in effect, because they were like children and the toys they were playing with. They landed a Liberator on our strip one day at Iesi, it was a concrete strip but not a very long one, about a thousand yards.
They came back from Germany and they, I don’t know whether the pilot was injured or whether it was a failed undercarriage or what happened, but the aircraft swung off the runway, ran into a dispersal area where there were a whole lot of Kittyhawks parked, and three or four of them got wiped off, burnt, set fire and the crew of the Liberator were killed, all of them.
I admired their guts, they seemed to not object to flying around at four thousand feet. We would have thought that stupid, there was no point in doing that. We would fly at seven thousand feet or eight thousand because that was virtually maximum range for twenty mill. They couldn’t catch you with that up there and you had room to move, but at four thousand feet you’re right in the range for twenty mill.
I can see no point in risking your aircraft and your formation of people because you want to fly at four thousand feet and have a good closer look at the ground. I don’t think they saw anything more than we did.
Were you ever on the opposite end of that situation? Was there ever any doubt in your mind over the targets that you were firing on on the ground?
No. No. That was impossible.
I had a big red greasy mark stuck right across my map all the time, which I continually added the new bits on to it every day so it was always being adjusted, and I knew exactly where I was every minute of the day. And I could follow an eight figure map reference and I could find where I was at any tick of the clock. It just didn’t happen, and if I’d have been in doubt at any time I just wouldn’t have let anything go.
I established guilt in other ways. I have many recriminations in some of the things that we had to do, not only cemeteries but dispatch riders. I used to hate having to knock over a dispatch rider ‘cause they wouldn’t know you were there. With the noise of the bike they would be riding along
with the dispatch case around their neck and the next thing you know, you put a burst right through them. I didn’t like that at all. It was all part of what it was about, if he was carrying dispatches of significance it could have upset the whole applecart.
Would you see the results of your firing in that situation?
Yes, you could. When you are coming in on your strafing run
you could see faces, as a flash like a…you know when you see the end of a movie you get those numbers flick past, it’s a bit like that. You just see this flash like this, of things of which you see when you are coming through at four hundred miles an hour, it doesn’t give you much time to pass a point. You are travelling at, I forget now how many feet a second, but it’s a long way.
So you just get these very brief images of a figure or a face or something significant, I don’t know. I can remember seeing a face every now and again and I can remember seeing a figure. I can remember seeing trucks
blow up or vehicles blow up and figures being catapulted out of it with the explosion. One doesn’t enjoy that, you don’t get a thrill out of that at all, that’s just unfortunate. There were some good times too.
Do you remember those faces with expressions on them or…?
No. Just a white face and you can just see…
It’s almost like a…balloon. You don’t even see the body you just see a white face and it would only be for just a fraction of a second and you might only see it out of the corner of your eye, because you are not looking at faces you’re looking at where the target is and you can just see this out of the side of your eye.
I think as far as, if one has to go, the only thing I can think of where one has pretty good idea that the only thing that you attacked was an enemy troop or army, navy or air force item. We weren’t sort of bombing people at any stage, in fact we
would have hated to do that. That wasn’t on the program at all, at any stage.
Nevertheless, it is an experience that most people will go through their whole lives and without having to deal with and yet it is something that you had to go out and do every day. Did those feelings of guilt come up at the time or were they the things that you only thought about after in hindsight?
No, they didn’t come up at the time at all. You think about it in hindsight
and I’m sorry that it happened. But they only happened because it was a war situation. It didn’t happen because we were full of joy and doing this for fun, you know. It wasn’t that at all. If it wasn’t us it was them. I mean (UNCLEAR) it was us, sort of thing, and they were trying their best to knock us out of the sky. I think that we played it fair.
You talked to me before about the frustrations of waiting to go into action and the feelings of just champing at the bit to get out there and do what you have been trained to do. After you’ve been doing that for so long how had your emotions and attitudes towards that changed? I mean why did you want to keep that up?
The sorriest bloke in Italy was me when I got told “That that’s the end, you’re not flying any more”,
and that’s just how it was done. I was really upset. And if I’d been able to weep I would have wept, I think. I loved what I did. I loved the flying, particularly. I loved the Mustangs we had, they were the most magnificent aircraft. The fact that what we had to do with them
was purely incidental and I had to do that to fly. I’d have hated to not be allowed to fly and this seemed to be what was going to happen to me. I wasn’t going to be flying anymore and that’s what really worried me. I enjoyed the family I was with, you know, the squadron family. I was so much at home with it
and I’d earned myself a position of some seniority at least, which I guess was a reasonable achievement. No, I didn’t want to leave, I wanted to keep going.
Just before we talk about winding up your flying time,
you did change over to the Mustangs and you’ve mentioned them. Were they better than the Kittyhawks? What differences were there when you changed over to Mustangs?
They were very much faster, very much faster. The Kittyhawks’ maximum speed is about three hundred and sixty. I can’t remember the exact figures, I’ve got them in the book here but…. I think the Mustang could maintain about four hundred and twenty or something at twenty-five thousand feet, straight and level. It was just so much faster
and it had a supercharger which at fourteen thousand feet or thereabouts, would come in as though a giant hand had come in and grabbed the aircraft and thrown it like a dart. It was just an extraordinary feeling of power. The power was, you’d open the throttle and you’d get fifty-two inches of boost pressure which was enormous compared to what a Kittyhawk would have. This big prop would go round and ‘hooley dooley’
it would just rocket you down the runway. They would come in over the fence to land at a hundred and twenty miles an hour compared to a Kittyhawk which was around about eighty. It was a lot faster coming in to land and that took a bit of getting used to for a little while. But apart from that it was just the most superb aircraft that you could imagine.
Were there any niggling bad points or particular idiosyncrasies that the Mustang had?
No. I was talking to a fellow the other day and he said, “But you’d never spin a Mustang would you?” And I said, “Spin it. God I’d spin it for fun every morning before breakfast. They were beautiful.” No, there were no bad points about them at all. We had two different kinds. The first ones we got were the ones in that photograph that you’ve got, where there was a simple canopy over the cockpit but we later got them with a bubble canopy
and they had a bit more visibility, they were a bit better from that point of view. They were a very nice aircraft, they were really a superb aircraft and they had an incredible range. You could stay up in the air for about five hours with them which meant for us that we could get right out over Yugoslavia without any fuel tanks underneath and do very long trips around with them, they were very good. They were brand spanking new and that was the
other thing about them, we thought they were lovely. They were just nice aircraft.
Were they as sturdy as the Kittyhawks?
Yes. They had very wide set wheels so there was no difficulty in keeping them straight. You could land and touch on one wheel which you might if there was a cross wind. You’d land on one wheel and then she would just sit down on the other one and keep straightm would not move at all, she’d never bounce.
As I’ll tell you later, when I was instructing people how to fly Mustangs we were converting them from Harvard training aircraft onto Mustangs and that was a little bit frightening, ‘cause that was a big step for them. But we were getting out of a Kittyhawk into a Mustang and it was not quite so bad.
Where were you when the order came through that you were moving out of operations?
Fano, right up on the ….near Rimini
on the east coast of Italy, pretty close to the front line and fairly busy at the time, although that was supposed to be the sort of quiet time, Christmas, New Year, early January, snow, ice. Italy is really cold. At that time we’d been camping in the ice for a while up a bit further north, we had a temporary camp up there
a bit closer to the aircraft or closer to where we had to go for short trips. Then they moved us back when the front line moved and we went back to where we were. It was a good spot. It was no real problem at all.
You were moved back to Egypt?
I went back to Egypt after this. Well, I went back to Naples first, to the place where I arrived when I came there.
Then in a couple of days I went, well I didn’t go straight there, I had a leave in Rome and a few days in Naples on the way down. And I called into Perugia and saw some of my mates there that were on a training flight which had moved to Perugia. And finally we got down to Naples, and I was the only one in my lot, I was being, there was no-one else going with me and I’d forgotten that I was now an officer and not a sergeant anymore.
Because we didn’t wear ranks up there, it didn’t matter. And anyway, they booked me on a ship with an Australian in the crew called the SS Esperance Bay I think, and only a little fellow and I had a state room of all things, after coming from canvas things and tiered bunks.
And I was in the bunk for about four to five days while we went over to Cairo, to Middle East up to Port Said.
Interviewee: Barry Finch Archive ID 2064 Tape 10
Just a few questions before we get to the part where you start instructing. Iesi, the conditions were pretty bad there?
Iesi was, from a flying point of view it was good, but from a human point of view it was appalling. We were there when the rains were coming down and it was just a
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.
Rome, you had leave there on numerous occasions?
On a couple of occasions, in Rome.
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.
We are finally sort of coming to the end and you became an instructor?
Yes. I got off at Port Said and went down to Cairo and they told me, in fact I went to headquarters,
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.
Were you disappointed when VE day happened?
No, I wasn’t disappointed when VE day came. I was very happy when VE day came because I hadn’t missed that much of what was going on,
and at least I had done what I needed to do or what I had to do. But I was shocked when VJ day came, not by any other but the fact that they had done it with an atom bomb, that was an incredible situation I thought. I just couldn’t imagine all those people going in one fell swoop. But that’s the way it happens.
I make no doubt about the fact that I would have liked to have flown the Spit fourteens, ‘cause they would be very similar to the Mustang or something even a little bit faster, and they are a very nice plane. It would have been a very different sort of war, a high level war, and I don’t think there would have been too much of the bombing and strafing bit,
or there might have been strafing but not bombing. There would have been high level out and out plane to plane confrontation. So I was glad by that stage, I’d had enough.
What did you do while you were waiting for a ship home?
There were a few things we used to do. We had built ourselves our own volley ball court
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.
When you did actually arrive home what were the comments or discussions you had with your Father given his ….?
That was interesting. When the ship pulled into Woolloomooloo berth there, which is now a very flash piece of residential accommodation, I went down below to get my stuff
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.
So what was so difficult about breaking back into society?
There was quite a few things. I’d been a flight lieutenant.
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.
Was it hard to settle down with your new wife now?
No, that was easy. I could settle down with my wife ‘cause we had a lot in common to talk about. There was always a lot to talk about. We adopted a little baby about six months later and so that was a great thing. We had lot of fun with him, he was a lovely little fellow.
Just a few final questions, just general questions that we ask everyone we speak to. Anzac Day, what does that mean to you?
Anzac Day for me is not only a day of remembrance to me but is also a great day to go and see a few of the people that are still walking, that are still strong enough, and also to find out what has happened to a few of the other people
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.
Is there anything that you would like to add to your interview today that you haven’t shared with us?
I don’t think that there is much that I haven’t shared. I think it’s been quite a long burnt ear as far as I am concerned. I think that I have covered everything I’ve got in the book, everything that is important anyway. No, I don’t think that there is anything more. I think that my story is probably as typical of anyone in the squadron.
There were no great pilots. There were no great anything that I can recall, that I wanted to recall. Everybody did their own job and they did a good job and I was very proud to be one of them.
Well Chris [interviewer] and I and the Archive would like to thank you for your time.
Thank you very much indeed.