Archive number: 2204
Date interviewed: 14 July, 2004
625 Squadron RAF
156 Squadron Pathfinder Force RAF
You are listening to the interview audio
Okay, well we are just about to start the day. Can you us a brief overview of your life thus far, Ian?
Right, well I was in born East Maitland, or actually in the nursing…in Lorne, but we lived in East Maitland, in July 27, 1923. I had two brothers
and a sister. My father was an ANZAC [Australian and New Zealand Army Corps] original Gallipoli veteran; he was badly wounded in Gallipoli. So we grew up as kids being very much aware of what the soldiers had done. I went to a local convent school from primary. Reason, when I was about twelve or thirteen I thought I wanted a career in the navy so I did a examination to get in as a boy.
But unfortunately after passing out very high in all the marks I wasn’t accepted because I had a false tooth. I was trying to go around the swings, you know, thirty-sixty degrees, and it didn’t work and I landed on a stone. However, then I switched to high school and I went to Maitland Boys’ High School and I stayed there through matriculation. When I was seventeen I wasn’t particularly outstanding at school, but I wasn’t bad either.
And I was quite good at sport, particularly in swimming and diving and football and cricket a bit too, and tennis, probably all of them. And because I was only seventeen and I wanted to go in the airforce I joined the air league and my mum said, “Look, you have got your elder brother in the army.” He was already in the Middle East at this time. “And your younger brother is going in the navy the moment he turns seventeen. I want you to have a job.” So I went to work in the bank until I
was eighteen. And I worked in the Commercial Banking Company of Sydney at Cessnock. And I was there for about fourteen months or so, which was very good, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. And then we went from Cessnock into the air force and I joined the air force I think it was about the 25th of May in 1942. I firstly went to some kind of a depot and they said, “Right, we have got to many aircrews in training at the moment. We need some people in security.
You are an aircrew guard for three months.” So they sent me out to Richmond and I was a guard at Richmond. But they worked you four on and I think eight off, and during your time off you had to study. So we were studying for being aircrew so it wasn’t all wasted time. And then I went to Bradfield Park, which is the Initial Training School and I had three months there in aircrew training. I went from there to Narrandera to start my flying experience,
which was in the beginning of 1943, flying Tiger Moths, and I got my wings after 7 hours. Not my wings, I went solo after seven hours, and I stayed there until we had finished the course. Then we were posted to Uranquinty where I trained to be a fighter pilot. 5SFTS [flying training school] it was called. Uranquinty is near Wagga [Wagga Wagga] if you are not to sure where that is. And
I did all right there and I was what’s called a course corporal, which is the people in charge of your particular course. My bigger problem there was I had an instructor that couldn’t bear to be an instructor – he just wanted to go to the war – so he wouldn’t teach me how to fly. So I had to sort of work it out myself and I was nearly scrubbed because every time the check pilot asked me to do a loop, I stalled the thing on the top of the loop
and went into a spin. And he said, “What are you doing?” I said, “I am doing what I used to do with a Tiger Moth.” He said, “Haven’t they told you what to do in these?” I said, “No.” Anyhow, the fellow, unfortunately, was killed – the instructor. He wasn’t really interested in it. But the chief instructor took me over and I got my wings and then they sent me to England along with two very dear friends, Ron Tubman, who I had gone to school with in Maitland, and Geoff Jones from Pymble in Sydney.
And we sailed across through Panama Canal, which was terribly exciting to a young man, right up to New York. And then the ship that was taking us across the Atlantic was sunk so we were transferred. I wasn’t on the ship when it was sunk, we were at the docks. And then they put us onto another ship which was the original Queen Elizabeth, which was fascinating. There were like two hundred Australians and about fifteen thousand Americans, but because we were pilots we were given the job of
helping with the watch so I stood up on the bridge of the Queen Elizabeth across the Atlantic doing my shift, sub [submarine] watching, which was very interesting. We landed in Greenock, in Scotland and then went by train down to Brighton and I was there for a couple of weeks waiting for my posting to a Spitfire pilot because I had trained to be a fighter pilot. However, they came along and said, “Look, nobody in Spitfires are getting killed at the moment but there are lots of bomber pilots getting killed. Would you like to be a bomber pilot?” And I said, “No.”
They said, “Why, well if you want to be a Spitfire pilot you have got to wait six months and go and work in the control tower.” And I said, “What if I want to be a bomber pilot?” He said, “There is a train leaving tomorrow.” So that’s what we did. They switched us up to a place called Church Lawton near Rugby and we went through training initially on Oxfords, then onto Wellingtons. And it was on Wellingtons that I formed up my first crew. Then we went from Wellingtons to Halifaxes to do a heavy bomber conversion unit then we went to a
Lancaster finishing school and then I was posted to my squadron, which was 625 Squadron in 1 Group, which was near Lincoln not far from Binbrook where many Australians served on 460 Squadron. It was there I met my wife. She was the intelligence officer on the squadron and I remember to this day coming in from a difficult flight over Germany and coming back and there is this beautiful girl waiting to interrogate
you. So I finally asked her for a date and she thought, “Well maybe,” and put me off for a few weeks. And then finally she decided to go with me. And then a fellow named McHaddie, who was the group captain, a wonderful pathfinder navigator, came around lecturing on pathfinders and by this time I had done eighteen operations and only needed to do thirty to finish my first tour and then I could have finished
operating. But the pathfinders got to me and I said, “No, I want to go there.” So I said to the crew, “I want to go to pathfinders.” And they said, “No, don’t be mad,” and, “We have only got twelve to do and we all want to stay here.” So I thought about it for a while and went along to see the wing commander… “No, you are one of our best crews you have got, stay here.” Anyhow, I took my wife out, my wife to be out, and the wing commander called me in the next day, and I didn’t know that but he was very fond of her and he had been trying to ask her out and she wouldn’t go. So he said,
“The request of yours to go to pathfinders is now approved.” So he approved it. I went then down to 156 Squadron. The crew decided, incidentally, to come with me even though they didn’t want to. They said, “No, we are going to stay with our skipper.” So we went down to a navigation training unit for a brief period and then across to my pathfinder squadron, which was 156 Squadron, and there I completed another forty-two operations,
so I did sixty operations altogether nearly three tours. As a matter of fact I was only looking at an obituary a couple of days ago where it mentioned Hughes, a wonderful Australian and who completed two tours, and said, “He wasn’t the only one to do it.” But I not only completed two but I did another fifteen on top of what he did in the same period. I ended up being a deputy master bomber on a couple of occasions. And I was on quite a few
of the famous raids, like the raid on Dresden. I went along with the air force, but at the end of the war I was chosen to be a flight commander of the pathfinders squadron coming out to the Pacific. However, the Americans dropped the atomic bomb and that changed all those plans. But as I had got out of the normal schedule I used it to study, so I went to AV Rose and got a first class airline transport pilot licence on a Lancastrian.
I went to Southampton University and I got a second class navigators licence and in Australia I got a radio telephony licence first class. And when I came back to Australia I applied for a job with Qantas and the day I was discharged I joined Qantas and the next day I was in Learmonth on the west coast of Australia. I stayed with Qantas for about fourteen fifteen months before I was made a captain. I was one of them at the age of twenty-four.
I was an international captain flying on Qantas’s international routes. And I stayed with them flying all the routes that they were flying at that time, which was very exciting and because of my flight nav [navigation] and my radio operator licence and my first class operators pilot licence I did many interesting trips. I won’t go onto them now because that is another story on that. And then anyhow after about, it was April 1954, I had three children by this stage,
I was away a lot of the time, about three weeks of every month, and it was really unfair to my wife and kids. And somebody came along. Caltex, the oil company, said, “Would you like to be our chief pilot in Indonesia? We’ll double the pay.” They didn’t quite say it that way, but that is how it worked out. They doubled the pay that Qantas was paying very poor money in those days. And so I said, “Yep.” So we switched to Indonesia and there I was the chief pilot
in Indonesia. We had a completely Indonesian operation by the time I finished there and it was completely expatriate when I got there, so I trained them to do that job and it was with an oil company. And because I spent a lot of the time there in the oilfields there, so I spent that six years when I was in the oilfields studying, so I studying petroleum engineering by correspondence and our course being right on the job with what was being done it was very, very good. And I stayed there until I trained myself out of a job.
The company then sent me to Bahrain, where I spent ten years. Bahrain, it was a different thing. I started out in marketing and then I went into maintenance and then I went into materials, purchasing and then control, but finally I got into a program called Zero Defects in which I was the administrator. It simply means that you can help people to do their jobs with out making mistakes. If you let them see that you believe in
them you give them recognition for what they do and you give them the tools to do the job. It was very, very successful. So out of it they sent me to New York to be Head of Training and Development Worldwide for Caltex. So I kept that job basically until I retired. About ten years of that time I was in New York and about five years of that time was in Dallas – the company moved the headquarters to Texas. During that particular period, though, I did a lot of
training programs around the world and Caltex were operating in about one hundred and twenty different companies and about eight different countries, so I travelled broadly. I also had a daughter who had gone to Kiel and Oxford and another daughter who had gone to London and a son at Yale and a small son who was in hospital most of the time. So I needed extra money so I took on a second job and I lectured for seven years at the Graduate School of Fordham University
in New York teaching international marketing and international business. And that was a tough time but we got through it all right okay. Unfortunately my first son was killed in an accident in the last night of his freshman year but the other kids all got through okay. And then when I retired from Caltex I was sixty-two. They didn’t want me to leave and within a short time of leaving they rang me up – this was when I was in Australia – would you mind going
to Kenya to set up a career development centre for us? So I went to Kenya, set up a career development centre, taught some of the programs but of course did things that we call training audits in places like Uganda, Tanzania, Yemen, Sudan, all the countries in what used to be called East Africa as well as the islands of Mauritius and Reunion. That worked for nearly a year. It was great. We loved Nairobi. I
played a lot of good golf when I was there as well and saw all the animals in the game parks, but then I came home to Australia and I was home for about a year or so. And they said, “Well you come to New York. We want you to write up a program for a refinery we are looking at in Bangkok.” So I did that but that refinery didn’t work out so they switched me to Malaysia where in my previous job as Head of Training and Development I had done a lot of the initial planning. They asked me to do a report on it. I did it
and submitted and they came back to me and said, “Look, it looks as though we need you to go back Malaysia to try and sort things out.” So I went to Malaysia then for two years. We lived firstly for six months on the east coast, which was a lovely part of Malaysia, and then I came home for a little while. And they rang me up and said, “Will you come back?” And then we lived in Kuala Lumpur for about fourteen months or so. So that was a great period and then I came home and I hadn’t been home for more than nine months or a year
and they phoned me again and said, “Would you go to Oman?” I said, “How long?” They said, “Two months.” It turned out to be two and a half years and this is one of my interesting jobs because I was Manager of Training and Loss Prevention there. And apart from training and development, which I knew pretty well, I had to look after fire and safety, occupational health, medical, security, all kinds of jobs that are people related. I had two and half years in Oman again, which is lovely.
Along the way I found I was pretty good at languages so I picked up Indonesian, I picked up enough Arabic to get by without being really fluent. And then came home and I hadn’t been home for more than about a year or so and then they rang me up and said, “Would you go to Thailand?” So I went to Thailand for a short period again, which turned into a another two and half years. We set up all the training programs from a complete grassroots state of the art refinery, which is an exciting time. My wife always came with me on these trips,
incidentally, until we came home and I think I was about seventy-five thinking about all the people who used to hire me had long since retired and I got a phone call and said, “Would I come and do an audit on Japan?” Which I did do and then after I had been back a couple of months, they said, “Will you come and be the Training Manager in Japan?” So I worked there until I was about seventy-seven or so and had a lovely time in Japan. If you look around the house, that woodblock print over there is a beautiful one I got in Kyoto. We have got many things we have collected along the way.
But now we are back. We came back. But during this period we always kept a house in Queensland. When we came back from I suppose retirement in Dallas we lived in Sydney this time because we always wanted to live where we couldn’t afford. So we thought we would come up the coast and have a look and we found a lovely place at Coolangatta at Rainbow Bay. We lived there twelve years when I wasn’t working overseas and my wife wanted to go to the city so we lived in Dockside for about
four years. And then she wanted to come back to the beach, so we bought a lovely place at Currumbin so we lived there for a couple of years. But all of my equipment was getting corroded by the salt water and I love a view to the sunset, so we got this house and as you can see out there in the front, in the evening sitting there with a beer watching the sunset is just glorious. So that is very briefly my life.
What a fascinating life!
Yes, we have had a fascinating life.
Well that is one of the best summations I have ever come across, actually. Very well done.
Right, so we will bring you right back now to East Maitland?
Where you were born? Now you mentioned that you had two brothers?
Did you have younger…?
I had a sister who was the oldest, my sister June, then I had a brother Peter, and a brother Derry. And they were in Maitland too, of course. My eldest brother Peter always wanted to be on the land,
so he was always going to relatives who had properties out over the Liverpool Plains area, so he was always going there on his holidays. Finally I think my dad said, “Look, you are not going to do any real good at school, you had better get out in the country.” So he went off to work for, I think HC Carter was the owner at that time, owned a big property there, and he was what we would call a jackaroo these days, you know. So basically he is a boundary rider with a dog and a horse. But
however when the war started he came back into town and my father was fifty-five and, as I said, had been very badly wounded in Gallipoli and then again when he went back into France. He was in trench training when all the war broke out and then they sent him home again. So he and Peter went down together and joined up. Peter was seventeen, put his age up to nineteen. Dad was fifty-five, put his age down to thirty-five, so they took my father and turned down my brother.
They said, “You’re too young.” Anyhow when they were doing Dad’s medical they found all these darn war wounds, so they said, “Well, right you’re out.” But Peter went to another recruiting office and put his age up to twenty and they took him. So he sailed away on the very first ship that left Australia for the Middle East. And he sailed right through the Middle Eastern campaigns, you know Bardia, Tobruk, El Alamein originally, and then it crossed to Greece and then
to Crete and fought those rear guard actions there, and then into Syria, and then they came back and then they sent them up to Darwin, and then after a period of Jap [Japanese] bombing, etc., of Darwin he was sent to New Guinea and he fought hand to hand against the Japanese through the Wewak campaigns as part of New Guinea. My younger brother on his seventeenth birthday went into the navy and he became an asdic operator on the [HMAS] Broome, so he spent
nearly all his war in corvettes along the eastern coast on convoy duty and then later on sort of supplying through the Islands sort of things.
Did Peter survive?
Did Peter what?
Did Peter survive the war?
Yes, my older brother did survive the war. He is a wonderful person, but he had a massive stroke about two years ago and I am going to Adelaide tomorrow to see him, okay. My younger brother also survived the war and
my sister’s husband, who won a Military Medal as a sergeant in the Solomons, he also survived the war. They were all great people. But both Jack, my sister’s husband, and Peter are now in a pretty bad state. But my younger brother is okay. He is up in Brisbane.
Well you are obviously not in a bad state at all? I mean you have had so much communication.
Don’t you tell the DVA [Department of Veterans’ Affairs]. I have got all types of things wrong with me that I am not telling you about.
All right, I will be careful about that.
But I mean you obviously keep your mind very active?
Because I worked till I was about seventy-seven, right. If you are working at that time your brain has got to turn over. Also remember I went into the war when I would normally be going to university so I never had an opportunity of going into a nice job with a university degree. I had to studying basically all my life. So every time I went from job to job, constantly changing careers, I was studying. And
whilst I ended up rather short on academic qualifications the university in New York did give me a BSc [Bachelor of Science], but most of that was based on experience rather than actual study. So I found by studying all along your brain keeps ticking over.
Hmm. Maitland though was fairly rural in the time?
Maitland was. Maitland was, as you know from an Australian point of view, is one of the early parts of Australia’s settlement, Australia’s history. The Maitland Gaol was quite
famous where they used to keep the convicts. What I remember mostly about it was the flood of 1929. My father was captain of the lifeboat and he was nearly lost in that. The flood came up to the back of our house, that kind of thing. I remember my sister nearly cutting off my little toe with a tomahawk because I wanted to chop up chips with it. And in those days we had one of those chip heaters, you know, and I wanted to chop and she wouldn’t let me and she went like that with the tomahawk and got my toe
in the process. But no, Maitland was a great place. Very rural.
What kinds of chores did you have growing up there in Maitland?
What kind of what?
Chores? Well like everybody we had to take our turn at washing up, doing the cleaning. Remember we had four kids. My father spent probably four to six months in hospital every year because of his war wounds
so my mum had to rely on us to do our work. But we didn’t seem to do too much. You know, you washed the dogs if you had to but most of the time you were playing, going to school and having fun.
What happened with your father? Was he gassed? Is that what…?
No, he was hit by a bullet, like a dumdum bullet that went in here, went through his stomach and out the other side and burst all of his internal organs. So for years he was wearing one of these bags down his leg because he couldn’t control his
eliminations and so on and so forth. He also had a bit of shrapnel in the head, which every now and again used to play up. But he was a great bloke, absolutely wonderful person. He was President of the Gallipoli Legion of Anzacs in Sydney and he helped to form that club and get those two bowling greens that they have under the [Sydney] Harbour Bridge. When we lived in East Maitland he was the President of the RSL [Returned and Services League] there.
So he had a life time when he wasn’t a good sportsman’s, which he was, he was a scratch golfer and on top of that he played rake for the Maitland football team and he played cricket for the Maitland. Even with all these war wounds, but he’d get out. He drank a lot but most of the First World War people did, I think I drink a fair amount.
How did he feel as a returned veteran, serviceman, with three sons in the service?
How did I feel or how did he feel?
How did your father feel about that?
If I can find it, I could I would show you a letter he wrote to me at the time. I am not sure where it is. He believed in the services, in his own service, and his history was such that he was fond of it. My mum was a little bit more dismayed because she didn’t know what was going to happen. She had seen the results on Dad and the three
of us going off, me at eighteen, and Derry and Peter both at seventeen. And then June’s husband, who I think was a year or so older, he had gone off too. But we all got through it. I think in those days it was taken for granted that you would go to the war. It was all voluntary. You weren’t called up or anything, you went because that was the thing to do. And of course when you are eighteen-year-old kid it is all adventure anyhow, so. It didn’t turn. I can show you a couple of pictures
of when I am eighteen getting my wings when I looked young and vital, and I can show you one two years later after I had done sixty trips over France and Germany where I looked about fifteen years older. You grew up pretty quick.
What was your mother like?
My mother was a wonderful person. She came from a family of four sisters – four girls and a boy. My grandfather
was a fettler, a ganger and fettler on the railways and he eventually grew up to a supervisory position. But he had fifty years on the railways operating basically about between Muswellbrook and Hexham in the Hunter Valley. Mum was talented: she could sing, she could paint. But in the Depression we had no money, it was just a battle trying to keep four kids clothed and fed and get us off to school on time and so on.
What kind of food would she prepare in the Depression?
Well what you would call traditional food in those days, depending on how much we could afford. Chops, for example, lamb was very cheap, rabbit occasionally if we could catch some. Very little in the way of steak and things, roasts, roast lamb particularly, typical Australian meals. Not like my present wife who is keen on much more fancy menus
if you like. But Mum’s was basic and good. Sausages.
What kind of food does Patricia like?
She is not here to answer you.
Like French food?
What a good expensive restaurant serves each day of the week. We go out to eat almost every day.
Fast spending my savings buying my wife lunch.
You can’t take it with you.
She had a hip replacement and a knee replacement not too long ago
and then a couple of other things. And she just gets tired now. She is eighty-four and a half and she gets tired doing the work around the house. So I take her out, and I like it too. So it is no big deal and we can afford it so it is no big deal.
Can I just ask you…
Fish is probably the best answer; she loves fish, oysters and all those types of things.
Just like brain food, isn’t it, seafood?
Well I’m not sure about that.
What about schooling,
Ian, how were you at school?
Well I went to school, which I told you, I switched from the convent but that didn’t have a high school then to Maitland Boys’ High School which was in East Maitland. Initially I was very, very good at school but after Intermediate Certificate there was no work and he had to move to Sydney. And he was getting better. He was going to the, I think it was the Prince Alfred or whatever it is, that hospital at Randwick for Repat’s [Repatriation], fairly often.
So we they relocated the whole family. And I stayed on with my grandparents and of course with basically no supervision my schooling dropped off. But I made up for it later on. I studied all the rest of my life and did many, many courses and many certificates in this that and the other thing.
Well you said you went to a convent, did that mean your family was Catholic?
My mother was Catholic; my father was I suppose an atheist if you like,
but he was the first one to see us off to church on Sunday and he made absolutely certain that we did everything that my mother wanted. You know there was never any question of us dodging our religious duties. Actually the biggest highlight was of our lives, I think was when Anzac Day came around and we were all fighting to see who could polish his medals because we all wanted to do it. And I think he had about four, anyhow, so we’d all have a medal each to polish and then we’d go to the cenotaph
in the march and so on.
What did they use to polish medals in those days?
Brasso, I suppose. I can’t think of what it was but I am sure it was Brasso. I think that was around then.
And did your father go to church with you or just send you off?
No, no, I have never seen him in church, but he believed in the freedom of religion. In other words that people could what they wanted to do. I suppose that having gone through the war and seen what he’d seen there,
you know, you lose a little bit. Just like myself – I go to church only occasionally, only when I just suddenly feel like it. But I sure don’t disparage any one else that does. I encourage them to do it.
And what about your mother, would she take the four of you to church?
My mother was a very good Catholic and her faith helped her all through it. Is the camera on at the moment?
We can turn it off if you like.
No, no, I just wanted to blow my nose.
I will, too.
I think my mother’s faith stood her in good stead all through our lives, and her life and the war. So and my sister she always went to church. But the three of us all whizzed off to the war and, you know, you often didn’t have an opportunity to. I used to go to church parade. And I’d go to church when I had a chance. And we had a nuptial wedding,
a nuptial wedding, my wife and I we were married in Glasgow in 1945. So but it hasn’t formed a big part in our life. Although we lived in America, I think I told you, for about fifteen years and about ten years of that was in Connecticut and we met a wonderful priest there, Father Fulham, but he was an Episcopalian, and we went there every Sunday and we had a handicapped child and he needed help so, you know, any body could help us,
we did. So we prayed for him and thoroughly enjoyed going to the church services at that time.
Did you always take your children with you before they grew up, obviously, when you travelled?
No, when we went to Indonesia, I think Mary was nine and Louise was seven. Mary could only stay about a year or less because there was no schooling there. She would have ended up
then coming back to school in Sydney. And then after about two years Louise came back to school in Sydney and Michael was still there. But I think when they moved from primary school they went up to SCEGGS [Sydney Church of England Girls’ Grammar School], which is up in Armidale, and they went to school at Armidale. But when we finished in Indonesia and we were moved to Bahrain and the company’s plan in those days only allowed your kids to travel
once every three years. It is not like company plans are like these days. So we had to get them where we could afford to pay the fare. And so we moved them to England and the girls went to Cheltenham Ladies’ College, which was a very fine school in England, and from there of course on to university. But Michael came to Awali, and they had school there and we lived in Bahrain until he was eleven. Then he went off to boarding school in England and then it was just as he finished his
high school we moved to America and then he went to Greenwich High School for a year because he was too young and repeated a year to get American schooling system into him. And then applied for Yale, which was very hard to get into, and was accepted for Yale. David was in hospital in Massachusetts Children’s Hospital for nine months trying to find out his problems. But if you look at today what they called
hyperactivity disorder, what’s that one?
ADD, attention deficit disorder?
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, he had that plus half a dozen things on top it so they could never ever find out anything that was wrong with him. But he had some kind of chemical imbalance that made him very emotional unstable and to a degree mentally unstable. He is still. He is on a disability pension
and he comes and spends every second weekend with us and we are on the phone to him three or four times a day. So we still have quite a job there looking after him. And the others, Mary works for the government now, she is in the Department of Premier, in HR [Human Resources] as a policy officer. And my daughter who just recently left her job with the Commonwealth Bank in Sydney is now working as a consultant for Deloittes –
she does very well. She has just been the president of the communications, I think, of their international association of business communicators in New South Wales. She has just made three trips to the States [United States of America] to speak over there. She also is the secretariat for the Arab Australian Chamber of Commerce so she is very much into what goes into the Middle East area.
It is very interesting because of all the travelling
and I suppose tolerance and understanding of other cultures for your children also?
Well yes, they are. My kids are very clever.
I will just bring you back to your adolescence time.
What was the sort of social things you would get up to in those days?
Riding a bike if we could borrow one. Playing football. Social activity wasn’t much as such. You were kids and you could run barefoot in the street and go to the
Maitland show once a year. I think I became very fond of a girl in Maitland when I was about thirteen or fourteen or something like that. But she was High Church of England and I was Catholic. And my parents, my parents… But her parents wouldn’t allow us to ever meet or see each other. So we carried on a secret, if you like, affair. But in a period of how many years, I got to know, I think I just kissed her on the back of the head
once in the movies. It was a different lifestyle then. But she was a wonderful person and she still is and we are still in contact. Other things, well, sporting activities, football, tennis, swimming and that was about it. Remember you were very restricted. My dad was most of the time was purely on his war pension, which was very little in those days. And you had to live with four kids off that.
To save the sixpence to go to the movies once a week was very, very hard to do, so we certainly didn’t go to the movies that often.
Did you have any interests in flying as a young child?
Not so much as a young child but when I got to about fifteen or so when I was turned down on the navy I joined the air league and then I became very, very interested in it. And I was building models and learned all about the theory of flight and so on.
So actually when I went into the air force I had had a reasonable grounding from the air league on the academic aspects of it. But I was interested enough whenever there were aeroplanes but there weren’t too many around. You came down to Newcastle they had an air pageant down there. We went down there to have a look at it.
The air league. I haven’t heard of that.
I don’t know what they called it today. They still have it – cadets, air force cadets.
Oh, I see.
But you are not in the air force. You are probably
associated with them in some way. But it was just like sea cadets, like boy scouts, air league and army cadets and so on.
So you could join this and learn about flying but not necessarily join up?
No, no, they didn’t do that. But it helped you, in my case. It was very hard to be chosen as a pilot and everyone wanted to be a pilot. And then even when you were a pilot I think I told you, about thirty per cent of them were scrubbed as you were going through.
So it was something to get to be a pilot and then succeed as a pilot, and then in my case I think the fact that I was in the air league did help me. Helps you with your discipline if nothing else.
But also you said you understood the theory of flight, you were studying the theory of flight?
Yes, yes by the time I actually got to Bradfield Park where we did a lot of this study I knew all this stuff so I was able to whip through that. I was also pretty fit.
I won a cross-country run, always down at Bradfield Park at that course. And then out in the Riverina when the air force had a meet and I remember winning the mile there. And I also won the diving championships for air force stations around that particular area, so I was physically okay.
What other sort of mischief would you get up to with your siblings?
being Red Indians was one good trick we had. We’d stick some needles in the reeds and we would shoot old George Warsby’s horse with them. There was a paddock down there that had some horses in it and you’d stick these little reeds in them and we’d make our own bow and arrow, you’d do that.
Would they work?
Yeah, of course they worked. And we go into trouble with them. And my father sent us up to Maitland Gaol to see Sergeant Pollard who was the local policeman, who gave us a real telling off, right.
That is a great story.
It was an interesting time at that stage. But then you know you were fit as anything. You’d run… For example, I could run along the railway line to Monkey de moppet. And most of the time I could… You just run on the rail – I didn’t have to go on the sleepers – so your balance was good. We used to pinch watermelons from the farmers. But remember in those days it was a Depression. It probably only cost about a halfpenny each if you could have bought one.
But we never had a halfpenny or a penny so we would go and raid a watermelon and throw it into the river and have it float. Or we’d swim underwater for ages with the current down the river and then we’d sit and gorge ourselves on the centre of the watermelon and go home. But those kind of activities, and of course school kept you pretty busy too.
Did you see any of the homeless men walking around looking for work?
I don’t think so, but they were there. But I wouldn’t have noticed them as being homeless men going around looking for work. Like since that time having lived in America for fifteen years and seen all the movies of the homeless men there. I never saw anything like that in our part. But there were plenty of people without work, I know that. And I know my dad, who was an editor with the Maitland Mercury, the newspaper, he was a journalist and that kind of job suited him because when he was in hospital
he couldn’t be doing it, but he did quite a lot of freelance writing and he was editor of Golf in Australia and things like that. And then he went to Sydney, was offered a job down there. And he was much better by this and he was able to stick at that job for quite a long time. And then when the war kind of got cracking he was offered a job with the navy on Garden Island there and he was really in charge towards the end of the war of virtually
all the American supplies that were going up from parts of Australia to the Islands, collecting and bringing them back. Looking after the shipping, I don’t quite know what it would be called, a despatcher or something or other. But it was quite an important job he had.
All right we will just swap tapes, because we are running out.
Interviewee: Ian Denver Archive ID 2204 Tape 02
I think we pretty well covered my childhood in Maitland. I suppose my life really started again when I had a brief period working in the bank in Cessnock. And that was interesting because the very first night I arrived there, there was myself and the ledger keeper, because they didn’t have girls working in the banks in those days. And there was myself, a junior, the ledger keeper, a teller, an accountant and the bank manager.
And when I came in the ledger keeper and the teller said, “Look, here is a gun,” and they brought out a six shooter Remington, right. And they said, “You have got to make sure anybody comes to rob this bank, you get up with that gun and shoot them before they get through the door,” you see. And I said joking, “Oh yeah, just like this.” And I pulled the trigger, because I had seen that there was a chamber and there were five bullets and the one that
the hammer was in was empty. But it never occurred to me that when you pulled the trigger it went round. And of course it went round and the gun fired, ploughed into the desk about this far from the ledger keeper into the wall opposite. And that scared the living daylights out of everyone, including the fellow that gave me the gun, who shouldn’t have done that. So we moved the adding machine over to cover the hole in the desk. It was a big long ledger keeper desk, you see. And then they held a calendar over the wall and
one of them had a friend who was a chemist, and he brought down some Plaster of Paris and filled it up. And anyhow all during the next day the bank manager came down and he came and stood on the desk where I was and he’d start to move the accounting machine, but not quite far enough to show the hole. And then he’d go over to the hole in the wall and looking at the calendar and touch it a little bit without looking. At the end of the day, I knocked on his office and I said, “Look, I want to tell you what happened
yesterday. I am terribly sorry about…” And he said, “Well it is not really your fault but I am glad you came and to tell me about it.” So that was one of my most interesting experiences in the bank. Then I joined the local diving club and we went down to represent our club at the New South Wales Championships at the pool by Luna Park there, you know, that Olympic Pool in Sydney? And then eventually my call up came but it was taking longer than I thought. So I went to the bank manager
and he said, “Oh, you can’t go because this is a reserved occupation and we can’t release you. We need you.” And I said, “Well I am just going to go and join the army.” So I went off and they just stopped me and called me back and said, they released me to go into the air force. And then I think I told you I went into the air force. But then it was interesting to begin with because although I was an aircrew guard you were on an active base, Richmond, where aeroplanes were flying all the time. And you were able to make some flights as a passenger, for example. Not part of your training but, you know, you could scrounge a ride down to Canberra or somewhere
and there and back again, which I did do. And in between it was quite hard because you are working four hours on and eight off. And on one of those eights is mostly studying time, the other one you had to find time for sleeping. But you had to get to your work and get back and if it was such that it was day time, sometimes it was hard to sleep so you got very tired. And then again I was young and I remember one of the guards’ posts was a machine gun post at a cemetery
and you are there in the middle of the night, dark as anything, and here you are sitting in this machine gun post trying to keep guard. Another time you are marching around a radio transmitting station all on your own. So it wasn’t particularly much fun. And you were a bit scared of the dark. But you worked it all out. And my parents were in Sydney in Potts Point and every now and again you got a weekend off and you’d go in and see them
and then went over to Bradfield Park. And Bradfield Park was mostly pure study and gymnastics, I suppose, exercise to make sure you were kept fit.
Can you tell us a little bit about… You told Heather about being in the air cadets or air league, why did you want to be part of the air force?
Well in the beginning it was 1939,
the war had started, right. So I was a young Australian and to me I couldn’t see any alternative but to go to the war. I didn’t want an alternative anyhow, that seemed to be me what I wanted to do. So the quickest way to get in… So in 1939 I was still sixteen and too young to get into anything. By going into the air cadets, or air league as it was called in those days, ahead of time I was able to study and I knew that would help me when eventually I got into the air force.
So I guess
when you heard the news that war had begun in 1939…
You didn’t think it was going to be a short time?
Oh, you’re sixteen. I don’t think you think too much about it. All of a sudden my elder brother, who had been out in the country working, turns up in the house again and says, “I’m going to join the army.” And Dad says, “I’m going with you.” And this is in September, 1939. And I said, “Well I’d like to come.” And they just laughed, “You’re only a kid,” they’d say, you know.
But anyhow I think I told you Peter put his age up and eventually got in and he sailed on the first ship from Australia in 1940, in January 1940 they went across. And he had really a very, very tough… Because he was in the action with his battalion, which was a famous battalion, the 2nd 4th, which, incidentally, he was in the same battalion as my father was in the First World War, in the first AIF [Australian Imperial Force].
And you know we used to get cards from Peter when he was in different places and he was seventeen. I always had an adventurous spirit, even at school. I loved things like geography and I was always exploring down the Nile, and the Limpopo and all those exciting names that you always wanted to go somewhere and see something. And maybe the war gave me that chance. I don’t think so, I think because of my father’s continual association basically as help, but like the DVA do
today, helping the returned soldiers because he was quite clever and he was able to help them and sponsor them and one thing and another and find help for them from people. He never ever did much for himself but he did a lot for other people. That kept you possibly aware of what your responsibilities were. It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t get into the services as quickly as I could, but I had enough brains to know if I could do something that I really liked rather than just go into the army
and maybe be a cook or something like that. But so and by the time… Of flying and you’d seen the aeroplanes and you got excited about it. At the age of, I don’t know, fourteen or fifteen I just wanted to be up there flying.
Was there any particular memory of planes or anything before the war that kind of got you interested in trying to become a pilot?
I don’t think any particular incident.
But to fly is to fly, and to fly is to be a pilot. And I don’t want to denigrate the other crew members because they were magnificent, but most of those too would have liked to have been a pilot if they could, but not everybody could be you see. And by flying you are actually holding and controlling the aircraft. I have got twelve thousand hours as a pilot, so I made a lifetime out of it. It was one of my careers, basically, being a pilot when I was with Qantas as, you know, as a captain flying all over the world.
So I don’t think there was any particular thing saying, “Be in the air force.” Peter was in the army, Derry was going to go into the navy, and so I said, “I’m going into the air force and I want to be a pilot.” And I think with most things if you show a certain determination and desire and you work hard enough you get there, and that’s what happened with me.
And talking about your father and his past, did he talk much about his
service time in World War One?
Not so much about his, but more about other people’s. He certainly kept us aware around Anzac Day and the responsibility we all owed to the original ANZACS. You know, they put Australia on the map and fought, or he believed you are fighting for your country. And there is a bit of mystery about my father too because we don’t really know where he came from. You know, he said,
he was born in York when he signed up and then another time, and I think I told you, when he was wounded in Gallipoli, then he was in hospital in London for about six months, they brought him back and medically discharged him in Australia and within a few months he’d joined the cyclists battalion and was shipped back to Europe. But at that time he gave a different birthplace. Now whether that was to get back into the army or not I don’t know. But we have never really been able to track down just where he came from.
But he was a very intelligent man and a wonderful person, really. He might have been Welsh, might have been English, he might have been Irish. I don’t think Irish but he spoke extremely well and wrote beautifully and he was a very good journalist as well. So he had a lot of intelligence.
Well, did that journalism instil in you a sense of adventure like?
know that that did. I mean he was a sports writer most of the time I looked. And as a kid interested in sports I would read his articles on sports, you know. And particularly when he described how Maitland won or lost. He wrote under the pseudonym of ‘The Rake’. He used to have, we lived in East Maitland just opposite the football park and he used to have a cedar desk on the line, right on the fifty yard line. He would allow us,
we would sit under the table while he wrote. And then the ambulance man would sit one side of him and we three boys would sit underneath the table at his feet as he wrote about the thing. It was really a fun time, so the football season was great.
And how did you hear the news of the war?
How’d I what?
How did you hear the news of the war starting?
1939 of course I was still going to school,
you know, it was in the newspapers, pretty sure. I am not sure whether my dad was in hospital or not. I don’t think so. He came home, the war was on, he was serious about it and he said… Look, I had to write and get permission to join up and he said something about, “That fluff on your cheeks now will be a beard long before this stoush was over. So go.” He said, “Respect your mother’s wishes and go and get a job till
you are eighteen.” So that is why I went and worked in the bank at that time.
So he was quite cooperative with signing your papers and all that?
Oh yes, there wasn’t any query about that at all.
And so tell us how you felt when you tried to join and you were made aircrew for a few months, aircrew guard.
Well aircrew guard was just a stepping stone, right.
Disappointed that you couldn’t go straight into flying training because that was what you were there. But I have always been fairly sensible that way and I could see an end if I used it, so I used it by studying. When I wasn’t studying, when I wasn’t working as a guard or run the flight line seeing the aeroplanes, I was doing the kind of correspondence sort of stuff, the theory of flight and some lectures that they gave us. It was quite solid, the training.
As far as any particular feeling, you’d start on a shift that went from… I think they went twelve till four, four to eight and then eight to twelve and that kind of stuff. When you were on it at four o’clock in the morning and you had virtually no sleep, maybe only an hour or two before that, it was rather hard to do it so I was just waiting for it to end and looking forward to going to be going to aircrew training proper, which we did after about three months. And then of course
when we eventually got through, because I had done that study I found Bradfield Park a piece of cake so I just whipped through that. But when I got to Narrandera of course then it was to fly. And for some reason or another they took us all in and we all had a big lunch and then they took us up to fly. And they gave us the kind of lunch that doesn’t settle on your stomach. So we were virtually all airsick. I was hopeless airsick. And I thought, “Oh no, am I not going to be able to fly?”
However, I was quite good. After seven hours I was flying solo on a DH82, a Tiger Moth. And I can remember that, I have got my logbooks in there, I can look it up. I think it was about forty or sixty hours that you did on Tiger Moths before you were transferred to the Uranquinty.
Well tell us first of all when you got the news that you would be a pilot other than other aircrew. How did they decide it and how did you feel about that news?
that I had succeeded as a pilot. And my two close friends I’d made then at ITS [Initial Training School] were both made pilots so we were all very thrilled about it. But I don’t quite… Can’t remember whether it was put on a board or somebody stood up and called up and said, “Right, you are going to be a pilot and you’re going to be a navigator.” My worry was, and I am not boasting but I was quite clever at all these exams because of all this study I had done, and they were inclined to take the clever people,
if you like, and make them navigators. The people that were really well coordinated but had a degree of intelligence, hopefully, went to become pilots. But many of the others who unfortunately were wonderful people just missed out for one reason or another made gunners, and some of course became wireless operators. I was never particularly good on Morse code – I don’t know why. I used it for years and years
when once upon a time we had to relieve the radio operator but I never really enjoyed it. But once we got classified as pilots then it was a matter of getting your wings and making sure you weren’t scrubbed along the way. And as I think I told you, at least thirty per cent of all the pilot trainees were scrubbed and then they would become a radio operator or gunner or a navigator or something. You may recall this Colin Wiggly
who was just recently was in the news. He was a mid upper gunner on D-day. If he is the same Colin Wiggly as I knew, he came to us as a pilot and was scrubbed as a pilot and became a gunner. Now it may be a completely different one, but he came from Queensland and I have a feeling that it could be the same person.
Well, Ian, tell us about the first time you went solo.
Exciting, exciting as anything
because the instructor got out and it was quite early, seven hours, to go solo, and he said, “I think you’re all right, Denver.” You know, they called you by your last name although my I had a double-barrelled Derrymore-Denver. But the corporal used to swear at me, “Derrymore…… Denver.” So we stopped just dropped the Derrymore. I don’t use it. I have never used it since, so it just became Denver.
But in all my records you will see I am down as Derrymore-Denver. And he used to yell at us like mad so I said Denver. But this instructor said to me, “Okay Denver, take it up.” It was so exciting because you go along, there is nobody else there, and you lift the thing off the deck, and all of a sudden you are on your own in the air. And it is an exhilarating feeling. Did you ever read the poem High Flight?
Oh, you must read that if you are interviewing air force people. It starts out with something like, “Up, up the long delirious burning blue, we never a lark nor even eagle flew.” It is a beautiful… I have got it there, “I trod the high untrespassed sanctity of space and put out my hand and touched the face of God.” And it tells you just how a pilot feels. You know, you are just above everything, above your worries, you’re in complete control, so that was
great. And then you came down and did more drill instruction but then you concentrated. And when I went to Wirraways, which is a bigger aircraft and which was the pre DeHavilland in America or the Wirraway here. It was the one that you fly on if you are going to be a fighter pilot. If you were going to be a bomber pilot in those days you would be on Ansons or something. But my instructor wasn’t interested in instructing so he never really taught me anything so I was feeling my way.
So I noticed when I got my assessment at the end I was above average as a bomber pilot but below average in air to air gunnery and I think this was simply because I just didn’t know enough on how to handle the aeroplane. And I was always cross with that because that is the only below average I have ever received in anything in all my life. But the above average bit had nothing to do with me going into bombers, that was all to do with when I got to England, there were plenty of
aircrew being killed. And I am sure that some of the other fellows have told you that certainly in pathfinders that forty-eight per cent of people were killed. And many of them were killed on their first half or dozen trips or their first tour and statistically I did sixty trips. You know, that is basically three tours, almost three tours so your chance of getting through is very slim.
Yeah that is remarkable. We will talk to you a lot more about that. Yeah, we have talked to gentlemen which have told me that.
Well anyhow then I got my wings, but I had one misfortune there in that I was a course corporal and I think I was the first course corporal anyhow at that time not to be commissioned off course. And usually you’d get a commission if you are a course corporal and, you know, you were all hoping for that. But what had actually happened was that the group corporal had put in a new taxiway at the airport at Uranquinty
and there was absolutely no wind at all I am sure. But I taxied, and there was a rule out saying that you must not taxi downwind on this taxiway because it will hurt it someway or another. And he was there and spotted me. And oh, there was hell to pay. Called in, wanted to know who it was. And said, “Right, you stay here.” And there was a big weekend where we were all going to run… I was going to run in a cross-country, no, a mile, at a place called Lockhart in the Riverina. He said, “You stay here
and clean aeroplanes. Six aeroplanes you have got to clean.” So I went and worked all through the night, I cleaned half a dozen with kerosene, you know, it was freezing cold, to clean these darn aeroplanes and polish them. And then the next morning I went along and said, “Sir, can you have a look?” “Yes, they are beautiful.” And I said, “I have done my six aeroplanes I was told to clean. I am due to run in the…” It was all for the Red Cross. I said, “Can I leave now?” “Yes, I suppose it was all right.” But it wasn’t, I should have stayed there. So when I got back in
the group captain had me up again, “You were told to stay here.” “I didn’t hear that, sir. I was supposed to clean six aeroplanes. I cleaned the six aeroplanes.” He said, “You won’t get a commission.” So I didn’t then. But I became a sergeant and all my mates were sergeant anyhow so I didn’t mind in the least. So we went from there and we were posted to embarkation depot.
I’ll ask a couple more questions. I mean how did you reacted to this kind of almost
You… At that age I don’t think it really bothered me like it would have later on. You know, “I am only eighteen. If that is what the group captain has decided well that is what it has to be.” I didn’t mind discipline. My dad had brought us up that way, you know, he’d only had to do that or whistle and we’d jump, you know, so we were used to discipline. But of course there was lots of love
and kindness as well in our situation. No, I didn’t react negatively. I just sorted of went, “Right, I have made a mistake.” I cleaned the aeroplanes, but I did everything that I thought was right, and so fair enough, I got through it okay. Once, Flight Attendant Miller was his name, once he could see that I hadn’t had the proper instruction and helped me out on the Wirraways I flew them quite well, so I wasn’t worried from then on. But in the beginning I was worried because I wasn’t really coping
with what I was supposed to be doing.
Was there anyone that you could turn to if you weren’t getting good instruction or…?
Not really, then you would be thought of as complaining, you know, and that is not an Australian way, is it? You don’t complain about other people. You blame yourself if you are doing wrong.
Also, you kind of answered this question, but I was going to ask how you reacted to being in the military and all the discipline, the drill?
I just wanted to do it better than the next bloke. All the drills and that kind of stuff, I enjoyed it, I really did. I think it is a wonderful thing that, the discipline that military training gives you. I really wish we had it now. I think we should have conscription in Australia and that every young man and young woman should have a year or so where they have that kind of training which helps you in your own self-discipline. So I was never overawed.
jumping back a little bit, Tiger Moths. What kind of aircraft were they to fly?
Well the Tiger Moths, a DH82, it was a biplane. You still see them flying around. It is probably the only one that you still see flying around today. And there is a couple here on the Gold Coast. They were just a little Gypsy engine or Gypsy Moth, I can’t remember which one. And built by DeHavilland. They were probably built initially somewhere in the thirties,
early thirties, and they were used as a primary trainer. A little in-line engine and of course they were aerobatics. They were a great aircraft.
And Wirraways, were they more difficult to fly than the Tiger Moth?
Wirraways were a bit faster and a bit heavier and would of course spin more easily and take longer to recover. But no, they were good aircraft too. I had one experience in them which was a bit scary, two really.
One was flying towards The Rock. I don’t know if you know that part of Australia, but down around the Uranquinty is a place called The Rock, and it is just like Uluru, it sticks up out of the ground. And I am flying towards The Rock and I thought, “I have plenty of time now. I will turn around.” But there was a down draught that I didn’t really know about and the wind came over the other side and was forcing the aircraft down. So I couldn’t climb, so I had to turn like mad and I just got around in time,
but that was a bit scary. I didn’t tell the pilots about that at that stage about what had actually happened, but I did raise it later, “I was flying by The Rock one day and I noticed that there was a down draught, and is that quite normal?” And then we got… All the crew got the benefit… All the pilots got the benefit of a lecture on it. And another time was, just before my wings test, a front I suppose you’d call it came in
and it looked bad, it really did. And we were all scheduled to go and do certain things, and I took one look at it, and I said, “This isn’t the place for me. I shouldn’t have this aircraft up in this kind of weather.” So I turned tail and ran back to the airport and landed. And I got praise, “You have not only possibly saved an aircraft and possibly saved your own life, you made a sensible decision.” And that helped me with my wings test because I had a rather difficult initial passage in that area.
And what kind of things did you have to
learn in the training, particular skills of flying, like you mentioned spins and…?
Well in aerobatics you first of all learn to get out of a spin because that is where aircraft can end up into if it stalls. How to control a stall. You do steep turns, of course, and interval turns. We did barrel rolls, slow rolls, loops, all that, which is of course exhilarating when you are a young man at
eighteen, nineteen and you get in this darn thing and you can toss it around the sky. Yes it is fabulous. I had a little bit of a problem though because they were always trying to encourage you to be aggressive and we were in a gymnasium with a medicine balls and things and the instructors were saying, “Kill, kill, kill,” you know, and you were going at the other bloke throwing medicine balls at him. And we were playing football one day and I was playing… I was a rugby player, rugby league, and
there was an Australian Rules bloke up from Melbourne and he was quite a lot bigger than me. I had the ball and I had passed the ball and he heard this “Kill, kill,” and he did a spear tackle and hit me on that knee there. Oh it was awful, but I was so scare to report it, that if I go in and say there was anything wrong with me I’d be scrubbed. So for the next three weeks or so, with my knee up like this, I had to lift my leg up to get into the aircraft as I was doing my flying. But I didn’t want to.
I thought, “Once I get out of this course, that’s it. I’ll be scrubbed.” So that was the only incident that I probably risked me getting my wings. But from then on I did very well. If you look at my logbook you’ll see well above average all the way through.
So tell us about getting your wings.
My wings test was routine, I can’t remember exactly what he made me do. But we did certain aerobatics, landing, taking off,
the way you handled it, the way you did your checklist, that kind of thing. And I was all right on all those kind of things, the discipline aspect of it. The bit I was weak on in the beginning was the flying because I hadn’t really been taught properly. And not on the Tiger Moth, but on the Wirraway, it was little things like that, you are up on your back on a Wirraways and you are going down there and you automatically think you pull your stick back so you can go down over the top. But what that does is it stalls the aircraft,
and you do a flick roll and go into a spin. And I did that a few times. I didn’t realise that when I was in the top of the loop I should have pushed my stick forward rather than pull it back. But things like that should have been taught to you by your instructor, see.
But you passed the test, so tell us what your feeling was like?
Oh wonderful. We all celebrated and, you know, I didn’t drink in those days so you don’t rush down to local pub or anything like that. But it was just the sheer good spirit: now you are going to go to the war,
which is what you joined up about, you have got your wings, you are going to be a pilot. Where are you going to be that is the next big thing, you know are they going to send us on Vultee Vengeance in the Pacific, for example, or are they going to send you right across to England to be a Spitfire pilot. We all obviously wanted to go overseas. You know, you are eighteen, nineteen, the chance to see another country, to fly Spitfires, because we had all ready about the Battle of Britain and all that. And that is what we were hoping for and when we left for England. That is what we thought we were going to do,
but it didn’t work out that way.
Well that raises another thing. Were you following the war closely through your training?
Well we lived at Potts Point, I think I told you. And remember the Japanese midget submarines that came into Sydney Harbour? Well they attacked the cove which was just down below where we lived so. So you knew, but I only knew about it because my father told me about it. It wasn’t in the newspapers or anything.
And the war in the Middle East, where I was mostly interested in because of my brother, you’d hear what you’d hear on the… There wasn’t much news in those days – you didn’t have TV [television] or anything. And you know I can’t recall listening to a radio in the air force during training. So you’d see what ever the newspapers had to say and that was it. Of course every now and again you would get a lecture from some bloke on what the situation was. It was particularly
applicable to you. You heard about Dieppe and some of those raids that were rather terrible. You heard about what went on in Norway. You were continually hearing about the pansies, the German advances, and then Rommel. And then my brother was over there and I thought, “Oh God, how is he going to get out of this lot?” So but I don’t think I followed it any more avidly then anybody else, or any less avidly or, you know. As the information came to you, you absorbed it and got on with what you had to do.
And receiving your wings, did you tell your parents? Were they proud of you?
Oh yes, they were. My parents were proud of us all the while. All through our lives, even though we didn’t deserve it many of times. No, it was quite good. It wasn’t a deal like they have in these days at Duntroon or somewhere where you have all your family around. You were called up. I will find it later, a picture that shows me getting my wings from the good captain there.
And you can see you can almost call it a smirk on my face, that expresses the joy and pride and sense of relief and virtually everything that you did once you got your wings. And from then on it was just a matter of, “Where are we going to go to?” and you didn’t know. And then all of a sudden you got up a posting saying, “Denver to 2ED,” I think it was called, to Embarkation Depot, so you knew that you were going overseas. And we went to Sydney and then went by train to Brisbane.
And then I got on a ship called the Monterey. It was a good ship, an American ship. And that took us across the Pacific and I’ll never forget it because there was a lot of submarine activity at that time. And to dodge most of it we went a fair way south and you are down near the Roaring Forties and it is rather rough. But when we turned north again to head towards the Panama Canal, the ship rolled like mad. And we had a cabin which had six bunks, three on each wall,
and three of the bunks were torn out of the wall and we were all thrown into the other side. So interesting things like that that happened on the way. And then the Panama Canal, you know, was fascinating. I hadn’t seen tropics like that before to sail through that which were just right… There was this green, I have never seen green that colour before, that tropical green of the jungle and so on. And then we went through another submarine scare by Havana and Cuba and that area, and then we went up to New York
and that was great. I had about six weeks in New York because of the ship being sunk, the previous one, until another ship came by for us.
What did you get up to during this time in New York?
Well they had in New York I think it is called the USO [United Service Organisation] and they arranged so of programs for you for visiting people. Australian were always popular in America, still are. And we went out to New Jersey to homes. I have got some pictures there of
the local girls, they are only about seventeen, eighteen, nineteen. They entertained us and they took us to their country clubs and that kind of thing. We went to the Rockefeller Centre, you know, that was on at the time. I went… I had never been to a nightclub before but there was a nightclub on the Biltmore Roof which was ice skating and the ice floor just came out and somebody pressed a button and the ice floor just slide out from under the stage and then somebody put on an ice skating thing and all that kind of stuff, and for a boy from Maitland was quite something.
And of course New York was a fascinating city even in those days. I was impressed by it. And we were moved from where we were stationed initially which was in Fort Slocum, which is on Long Island, right on Long Island there near Rye, a lovely permanent base, up to a royal naval temporary base up the Hudson River to wait for our ship. That wasn’t so much fun. There was nothing much to do there except trying to keep fit. So they kept you going on exercises all day long.
And when you were talking about getting out at night in New York and the local girls, were you interested in any of the local girls or…?
Well not sexually, we weren’t there long enough to be I think. Nor were we never left alone – the girls were chaperoned to begin with. But for fun, you know, to have a dance because we all loved the kids, you were fit as anything, I liked to dance.
You know, we had a couple of dances that they’d put on for you. But you know, you went together and they went together; you went home on a bus and they went home on a bus. But no, it was good fun. I thoroughly enjoyed all my time in the air force. I really thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a bit tough as an aircrew guard. I didn’t like the night, trying to keep awake when you were on duty, but the rest of it was just wonderful.
Well actually that raises another question. Before you left Australia, were there any girls which you kind of
had a little…?
Only Noah I suppose you could say, fell in love with a girl from East Maitland whose parents wouldn’t let me, or mother wouldn’t let me meet her. So we used to… Even when I was in Cessnock I used to ride a bicycle of a weekend in to see her, but I couldn’t see her in the home. I wasn’t allowed in her home. But there was a lane in the back of her home and they used to have outside dunnies [toilets] in those days, so she’d plan to go out to the dunny at seven o’clock at night. So I used to creep down the
lane at seven o’clock just to see her and talk to her for a little bit, and get on the bike and ride back to Cessnock, which is twenty miles, you know. So I suppose you can say, yes, I had a girl. Well I met other girls but there was no close association.
No-one to write to while you were away?
Only this one, Daphne was her name, I used to write to her. But most of my letter writing was taken up writing to my family, Mother and Father.
But you didn’t get much time, once you were in there; you were going all the while. And when we were in England, when we first started to train, then I was in a place called Church Lawton and the nearest big town was Rugby. Have you heard of Rugby, Rugby School? Lovely place. So we’d go in there and we would always meet some other girls. I met a very nice girl – Betty was her name. I can’t remember her second name. And Geoff met a nice girl
was a friend of theirs and we’d often go to a dance hall, you know, or something with them. But you had to be back kind of at nine o’clock. And I think that was when the places closed anyhow, so you know, there was much amoré, that’s the word in those days.
I guess too it is at that period where if there isn’t a war, a lot of young people were interested in this at that stage, they are eighteen?
You are, but
you know in my case, I can’t speak for anybody else, I was pretty naive to begin with and I don’t suppose I was rushing around trying to take girls’ pants off all the while because I probably wouldn’t know what to do if I had. Excuse me putting that on the thing. So I just wanted to get on with what I had to do, was get into the war and do my bit. But that changed, as you go along, once I realised that I was going on to heavy bombers,
so obviously I wanted to get on to Lancasters, which was the best heavy bomber they have ever made, I think, a magnificent aircraft. And after flying on Wellingtons, that was an interesting period because we had to pick up a crew.
Well we won’t get to that because we are at the end of the tape, but I will just ask one question about being in America.
Was it at all a bit of a worry for you that the ship coming to pick you up was sunk?
No, no, we didn’t know why we were
delayed. We were going to the harbour to get on the darn thing and we were turned around and sent back not to our lovely place where we were staying at Fort Slocum but up the Hudson River to Pikesville, and then it was only after we had been there that we found out that the ship had been sunk and that we would be switched to a new ship. And of course they didn’t tell you what ship it was, it was only when we eventually found it was the Queen Elizabeth. And of course the Queen Elizabeth was a magnificent ship, you know, to be on that, I suppose to have the honour to be chosen
to be on watch, sub watch. When you are up on the bridge, you know, right out on the end, looking at the sea, it was a fascinating experience. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
It didn’t worry you that the ship…?
You are too young to worry. You weren’t afraid in those days. You know, your fear came when you started to fly on operations, that is when you got frightened.
All right, we’d better pause there because we are right at the end of the tape.
Interviewee: Ian Denver Archive ID 2204 Tape 03
You were talking to Kieran, Ian, about being on the Queen Elizabeth. Now there are thousands of Americans travelling?
Fifteen thousand I believe. Slept in shifts on the stairways, on the benches, in the eating room, while we had a bed, a cabin.
How come you had a cabin?
Well not a cabin, we shared one. There were two hundred of us, Australians, they kept them all in one particular area. And
we were all sergeants anyhow I suppose, maybe we got treated a little bit differently because most of the Americans were privates going onto the war.
Did you actually get to know any of the Americans then?
Not personally. We spoke to them regularly, you know, and got to know them that way. I got to know them a bit better coming on the Monterey because there were some Americans going back on that that had been wounded. And it was the first time I had tasted American ice cream and it was just lovely because it…
American Field. Oh, I love their ice cream and steaks and things. Which we didn’t get like that in those days here.
Did you find that they had a different sensibility or humour to Australians?
Very much so, because I have lived in America for fifteen years and I love America I think it is a wonderful place and my wife does too, incidentally. But it varies across America, you know. In New York where I worked for ten years, you have a much faster
sense of humour, a faster wit. When we moved down to Texas it took me three weeks to slow down enough to be able to get by in Texas. They speak much more slowly, more drawl, much more measured, if you like. And California, it changes across America. But there we were never close enough. I was with my own mates on the ship anyhow, so you were with them all the while.
And that must have been a different kind of journey than the one you’d had prior,
which was on the ship that the bunks fell out?
Yes, although we were in bunks, because the Elizabeth was so big it didn’t roll about like the others. But we had some pretty rough weather going across the Atlantic and that was fascinating. And you were out on the boom deck I suppose they would call it, out there on the edge of the bridge and looking for submarines and you see these giant waves coming. It was fascinating, it really was. But remember at eighteen, nineteen you don’t worry about anything,
you are the top of the world. You are so self-confident and so full of your own ability to do things that nothing bothers you.
Sorry, I am just reflecting there, thinking about, well that is why a lot of young men go to war because they have that kind of, “I can do anything and survive,” attitude, don’t they?
Yeah, I think they do have.
They don’t send forty-five-year-olds off to war.
You sure don’t think about death. I didn’t at that time anyhow. It was never… One, you were to busy thinking about
what’s ahead of you, what are you going to do and then enjoying when ever you had any spare time. And I love things and people, just meeting them and looking at… Like going to London, you know, “I was brought up in Australia in a country town and here I am in London, where there is Buckingham Palace and the Tower [of London].” It was just magnificent to be able… Even in wartime, you know, it was still such a magnificent place.
But you arrived. You landed in Scotland, though?
But only to get off the ship
and get on a train and the train took us down to London and then onto Brighton.
Okay, so that was when, though, was it in Scotland when they said, “Listen, if you want to be a Spitfire pilot you have to wait six months?”
No, that was in Brighton.
Oh, in Brighton, okay.
Scotland was just purely in transit. Brighton was where… I think they called it the Despatch Depot or something like that and this was where you were sent to be whatever you were going to be. Where you were going to further training on a more advanced plane than a real one
before you went to Spitfires. Or if you were going into bombers you had to go of course through what I call was an Oxford, an Airspeed Oxford. And it just so happened at that time… If you remember, there wasn’t that much fighter activity, anybody being killed was out in the desert or in Japan, and there was not too much in the UK. You know, they were doing their job mind you but they weren’t being shot down. But the bombers were really getting killed like mad, the aircrew.
Tell us about the training that you did as a bomber pilot. Was it really very different to the original training?
Well the first thing you had to do was to learn to fly multi engine aircraft, so that is why we went to Advanced Flying Unit it was called, AFU. And it had these Airspeed Oxfords which were twin engines, a beautiful old plane, and what you were doing there was learning to fly and get your aircraft around in the weather conditions in England. Remember it is vastly
different then from flying in Australia, particularly through the winter of 1943 this was. And clouds and fogs and I remember one time flying towards Birmingham and there were barrage balloons and I didn’t realise and I got lost amongst these barrage balloons, well almost. And I called out, they had two things – one was called mayday if you were in real disaster, and the other was darkie when you just needed help. So I called out darkie and they said,
“Get the hell out of there. Turn around and go straight back,” because I was heading straight into the barrage balloons. But you trained there and I can’t remember much of what… You were building up hours and experience and landing and taking off and cross-country again at night because a lot of your bombing, mostly your bombing was done at night so you had to do night flying. And then you did that and I finished there. Strangely enough
I met a girl there who married one of the pilots, a fellow named Bob Nelson who died just recently, and he married this lass. She was the administration officer there and we would meet together at the Pathfinder get-togethers. She is out here, lives in Australia now. So it was a great experience.
Sorry, what kind of training exercises would they get you to do before they let you loose on dropping bombs?
Well on the Oxford there weren’t any guns, or there weren’t any bombs,
that waited till we got over to OUT [Operational Training Unit]. I think it was mostly flying, building up flying hours, flying in bad weather, doing cross-countries, going from one place to another, you know, finding your way. Because you didn’t have a navigator or anything, you were just a pilot flying an aircraft.
Did you find that more difficult than what you were doing in Australia?
Weather wise yes, but you had a second engine if anything happened. You know, you always figured you’d get back on that one engine that was there. I didn’t find
really any of the flying difficult. By this time I felt I could handle it. Like I mentioned before, you had such confidence in yourself you don’t see anything. But one of my very good friends was killed there on flying Oxfords. He flew into the transmitting tower at Rugby, you know. Because I will never forget it because we had a burial party for him and we had to carry his coffin up to Rugby station to put it on a train, and there was a lot of ice on it
and it was an icy ramp that we were kind of walking up. But that day they had given us injections, you know, they were all ways giving you injections. Cholera or… What is it? Typhoid. And our arms were sore as anything and somebody stumbled and the coffin slid back down the ramp. We all tried to hold it to pick it up and take it back in. It was funny when it was all over, but it wasn’t funny at the time as you can well imagine. But anyway we put him on the train. Oh boy, I won’t tell you his name
because I don’t want that to come out. And he was buried. And then after that though we went to Wellingtons though, and that was more interesting because then you were doing, you were dropping bombs and you built up a crew. And you didn’t really get appointed a crew, you were all put together, pilots and navigators and radio operators and bomb aimers and they said, “Right, make yourselves into crews.”
And being Australian there was an Australian bomb aimer and an Australian wireless operator and I said, “Hey, would you like to be with me?” And they said, “Yep.” And there were no Australian navigators around but the navigators picked us. I think I told you they considered themselves to be a bit brighter than we are. So there were two English blokes who had been out in South Africa together and they could see that Geoff Jones and I were great friends and so they came over and approached us and said, “How would you like us
to be your navigators?” And they asked us a few questions and we said, “Yeah, you’ll do us, fair enough.” So then all of a sudden we got a rear gunner, and I had a wonderful rear gunner, a Scotsman George McQueeny, his brother was killed at Arnhem. Remember that tragedy at Arnhem? Ever heard of the movie A Bridge Too Far? That was that. That was the story of many paratroopers were killed and many gliders and pilots were killed because they missed their target – it was a bit of a fiasco. But his brother was killed there.
Anyhow, he stayed with me. So then we did quite a bit of training and then it was much more… It was operations training – we learnt how to bomb, we learnt how to the gunners, we got a mid upper gunner as well then, you know, to shoot their guns off. And I think we got the mid upper when we got to Halifaxes. On the Wellingtons we didn’t have one, we just had a rear gunners. Anyhow when we got to Halifaxes we got the mid upper and we were doing the same thing again.
And so you did, I am just talking about Wellingtons and getting together with a crew and how we were picked by the navigators, they didn’t pick us. And one of the things we did on the Wellington was a thing called a bullseye.
So Ian you were talking about bullseye operations?
A bullseye was a word they used for a near operation, in other words what you would do you’d fly over the [English] Channel to Europe and pretend you were making a raid so that you would get the Germans to think, “Well maybe this it, the bomber.” A lot of the bomber streams coming and they may divert some of their fighters towards you and away from the real bombers that were going into the real, or wherever. So that was the nearest thing that you
got to doing an operation when you were on Wellingtons. And one of my friends was killed doing a bullseye so it wasn’t completely free of danger at all. And…
Sorry just to clarify there, even though it wasn’t a regular operation, it was a training operation, somebody got killed because…?
He was shot down. He got too close to the Dutch coast or the German coast and a German fighter was out following
and shot him down. And others were killed in training, quite a few accidents in training, Ron Tubman, my very best mate with Geoff, we went to school together, he was killed on Wellingtons, but I think that was an accident. I am not quite sure how it happened. But he never actually got onto operations, whereas Geoff was on his fourth operation on Gelsenkirken when he was shot down.
So you lost both mates?
Yeah, both. Not just them, but
they were my best mates, but there were quite a few of the other people that were on the group course with us were all killed. I think I told you we had about a forty-eight per cent survival rate.
Sorry, now I’ve interrupted you.
No, that is all right. I was just thinking about anything else on Wellingtons because I was stationed on a Polish base there, and there was a place called Finnegan we went to, near Doncaster and then there was a
satellite and one of them was run by the Polish people and, you know, they had a couple of Polish squadrons and they were most unusual people to work with, so it was quite interesting that period.
Why so? Why were they unusual?
Well first of all you never had a chance if you wanted a girlfriend when the Poles were around. They were romantic as anything, the Polish people.
Yes, unbelievably romantic. They got all the girls. And then we were right near Sherwood Forest. Do you remember?
Because I had read all the books of Robin Hood when I was a kid and we went there to visit that. We were near Sheffield, near Doncaster, getting close to York, you know, some wonderful parts of Britain, and we went there. And then they switched us over to do a heavy bomber conversion unit which was on Halifaxes. Some of the Halifaxes we were flying were the early Halifaxes which had Merlin engines and they were terribly under powered
compared to the later ones, which are Hercules engines, and there were quite a few crashes. And the place was actually Sandtoft but everybody called it Pranghoft because of the number of training accidents they had there. And I was quite glad to get off them. The Hallies [Halifaxes] with the Merlin engines were a good aircraft. I enjoyed the flying in that but I was always a bit nervous because you felt that if you lost an engine on take off with the Merlin-powered Hally you are not going to get around. Then we switched to Lancasters,
which was just out of Lincoln at a place called Hemswell. It was called the Lancaster Finishing School and all that was really, instead of flying Halifaxes you would fly in Lancasters, which were much more responsive aircraft, a beautiful aircraft to fly. I got very good at flying them because, you know, I reckoned I could. Remember I flew them for years with Qantas as well? I could just do it with my fingertips and breeze the thing on, time and time again. It was a great aircraft.
I suppose you could call a heavy bomber close to a fighter, and they respond, you’d turn and you’d get immediate response. And then by this time we had… I have got some pictures in there of the crew. We had a pilot, a navigator, a bomb aimer, a radio operator, and two gunners, a rear gunner and a mid upper gunner. And so that is where we started out.
But we didn’t know where we were going to go. The air force was divided into groups in Bomber Command and the one we went to was 1 Group, and 1 Group was pretty well based around the Lincolnshire area so it was good, really. And Lincoln is a lovely place, and this is where I met Pat, at Kirkston. We used to go to Lincoln occasionally. Her mum had a place which was close at Louth at Grimsby, and the local village was called Ramsay.
And there were only two pubs in the village and you’d go down there and it was fantastic time. But now you’re operating, right.
Can I just clarify a few things? And please forgive my ignorance because I know nothing about aeroplanes, but you were trained on these Halifaxes, the Wellingtons, the Lancasters. Was that because you didn’t know where the war effort would send you bombing? I mean was it because the planes were used…
No, the best aircraft to bomb Germany with was the Lancaster and they were… And by this stage they were concentrating on building Lancasters, right and so they had to have crews available to fly the Lancasters. There were still Halifaxes but there were not nearly as many as there were Lancasters.
And why weren’t they so good at bombing, the Halifaxes?
Power. They were good but, firstly, they couldn’t climb. They would maybe have to bomb at a low altitude, maybe sixteen,
seventeen thousand instead of eighteen, nineteen. They weren’t as fast. They didn’t carry quite the same bomb load. I am not exactly certain of the statistics and I am not going to try and quote, but you will find that while some people loved Halifaxes that by far the majority of people feel that the Lancasters was the best of the bombers. For example, compared to the American Flying Fortress, we used to carry a much greater bomb load then they carried. You know, we could carry ten thousand
pounds of bombs, which was a big load. Because the Fortress also did a great job but they had lots of gunners on them and a lot of ammunition, which meant they were limited in the range. I did raids as far as Stettin, which took eight hours fifty minutes, that is quite a long way and you needed a bomber that could take you into there and carry a decent load and drop it and get you back, and the Lanc [Lancaster] was the best at doing that.
And was that the longest actual trip that you had?
Without going through the logbook I would say that Stettin was the furthest, that was right on the Polish border and we had to go way up to the North Sea and get in. I had two hundred seventy-two holes in my aircraft on one raid at Stettin. I did two in the same week, I remember. I knew we had had a lot of hits, and some of them were just dents. But the engineering officer reported to Pat
that that aircraft had two hundred and seventy-two hits, so we were kind of lucky. And then one of them, we had quite a big hole through the side of aircraft so they were, you know… So if you were talking about being afraid, I suppose that would be the time that you were most afraid when you had such a long trip to do – you were getting tired, you were worried about the fighters because they knew where you had been by this and they were going to pick you up on the way back
from there. I noticed from my logbook, on one of them we came back right along the border of Sweden so I wrote in there, “Saw the lights of Sweden.” Because growing up loving geography I knew all about countries and I knew all the capitals of countries, and I knew that Sweden was neutral and we were not supposed to land there or fly over it or anything like that, although I understand that quite a few people did and were not shot down so much over Sweden but crash landed there
and they got them back to Britain.
It is amazing that such a small country remained neutral?
Yeah, well it was the same as Switzerland, you see. They didn’t have an army that could be very effective, so I suppose that was the best way they could do it. But they were in Europe and they didn’t want to be on the side of the Germans or the Russians and if they had a choice I am sure it would have been on our side. But
what’s the good? You can’t turn around and say, “No, I am siding with England,” with Germany just all around you. Because Norway did that and Germany occupied Norway.
That’s right, that’s right. Once of the veterans that we interviewed actually got shot over Norway and parachuted into Norway and was on his own and stayed seven days on a farm and got picked up by the Norwegians, and unfortunately they were very sad
but they had to had him over to the Germans.
And so he became a POW [Prisoner of War], did he?
Because my boss, who was Don Bennett, was an Australian, he was the head of pathfinders, before the pathfinders was formed he did a raid on the Terpenes in Norway and his plane was shot down over Norway, but he eventually escaped with the help of the Norwegians to Sweden and they finally got him back out of Sweden.
There are some excellent stories.
Now the time that you got to the Lancasters then, this was now the last bit of training before you would be sent on operations, is that correct?
Yeah, well I am leaving the Lancaster finishing school now, going to operations, which is at Keelson 625 Squadron. It is basically a satellite of Binbrook, which is well known to Australians because that was the base of 460 Squadron. It was a typical air force squadron.
It wasn’t a permanent base, we had kind of Nissen huts to live in and they were pretty horrible and they were cold. And a stove in the centre and if your bed was way down the end you froze to death, so that was quite something. But it was all right. I think I mentioned earlier, we had a very nice wing commander, his name was Haig, but he was quite fond of Pat. And he was the one who finally approved my trip to pathfinders because that was a purely volunteer organisation,
He approved it to get rid of you?
Well you can say that. Maybe to make Pat much more available to him. I don’t think he really wanted to get rid of me.
I know what you mean though.
But that is the story we got, but it may not have been true. He was a wonderful wing commander so it probably wasn’t it, but that was the story that came out, “You went to pathfinders because he fancies your wife or girlfriend or whatever.” And of course Pat was a section officer at this stage in intelligence,
which is a reasonably senior position for a woman as an officer, and she had to be fairly proper in her behaviour because she had other girls that she was responsible for and so on.
Can you tell us about Kelso though, where exactly is it?
Between Lincoln and Louth
in Lincolnshire. Lincoln is the main city of Lincolnshire and it is kind of north-East England. Before you get up
there is the hub, before you get over there you get to Newcastle and Tyneside and those areas. Beautiful city, Lincoln, one of England’s great cities and the cathedral there is lovely.
You said, did you say Nissen huts?
Hmm. Yes they were just those metal corrugated iron huts and that’s what we lived in.
Gee that would have been very cold, made of iron?
Yes, it was cold, I thought. I was colder actually in Rugby because I was there
right through the middle of winter in Nissen huts, whereas when I was at Kelso it was warmer weather.
Did you all try to fight each other to get the bed closer to the stove?
I don’t know about fights. I think the biggest bloke usually won those kinds of fights. But no-one ever came to fisticuffs. But some people didn’t like being near the stove, I don’t know why. I think I was about the second bed from the end and it was cold, but I wasn’t too big and I am not about to
fight Bill so-and-so who is a foot taller than me and twice as wide for that bed. And I think we were allocated now, come to think of it, “That is your bed.” And you did what you were told, you didn’t argue over it.
So now how were you feeling about arriving in Kelso knowing that this would be the start of your bombing campaigns?
Well happy, obviously, because now at last you were going to get to be doing something from what you joined up for. But, secondly,
perhaps a little rueful, “What’s going to happen?” A little bit scared. And always, it is not so much of being frightened of what might happen, but of letting your mates down or letting the squadron down or something like that. You took a tremendous pride in your own crew and in your own squadron and your own flight and you wanted to do what was right for them and not make a mistake yourself.
Now so who briefed you
about the first operation that you had?
Well we had a number of people that would brief you. My wife was one of the people that briefed you. But the wing commander would obviously brief you, he commanded the squadron, they would have a gunnery leader, they would have an intelligence officer, they would have a meteorological officer and the chief navigator and they would tell you the route you were going to fly, they’d tell you what you might expect along that particular route,
what to do in the case of being shot down all this kind of stuff.
Ian, we were talking about the people that would brief on your operations and you mentioned that your wife would?
Yes, her part was intelligence, basically more on what to expect in the way of German fighters and where the flight guns were located and so on and
so forth. But I don’t actually recall Pat briefing me. She might have, but they had about three or four intelligence officers and they would take turns in doing it. And the main work with me when they’d briefed you to go out, when they came they’d debrief you, right. And they would be at a desk and you as a crew would sit around and then you would report – how good was briefing, where did you see flight, where did you see fighters, okay, what
was the target like, do you think you hit the target, and all this kind of stuff. And because Pat was such a good-looking thing I was always waiting to get to debrief me so I dragged the crew back a little bit, “Just wait on, just wait a second fellows.” Because I was fond of her I didn’t shoot a line. Perhaps you might have shot a bit of a line to some of the other intelligence officers. Did I ever shoot you a line, Pat? Quite the opposite, I think.
When you were debriefing me, did I ever try to impress you by telling you how brave I was? No. What we were keen on was getting the operational breakfast, because you got bacon and eggs. So because I was fond of her and she looked beautiful in those days. After being like this in the aeroplane because you were frightened there.
Oh, that was about a particular raid that we came back from, some deep penetration, I can’t remember where it was now, Chemnitz or something like that. When we got back to England, all the bases were closed and we couldn’t get into ours to land and they diverted us to another place. My radio operator, we went to that and that was closed and then he asked for another one, and he got another
and the code for it was five numbers and a numerical figure, but when he wrote it down he wrote three numbers on that line and two numbers on this line. When the navigator got it to check it he just saw the three numbers, and he said, “Oh, that’s Port Ellen.” And I said, “Where in the hell is Port Ellen?” “Oh that is up in Scotland, on the islands, on the Isle of Aaron I think it is.” I said, “Are you sure? We can’t hardly have enough gas.” And the engineer said, “Yeah, I think we might have enough gas to get there.” I said, “Check it, you had better be right.”
And he checked it again, but he never thought to look at the bottom line, so when we got there about the biggest aircraft that had ever got in there was an Avro Anson. Luckily my aeroplane by this time the bombs had all gone and I was virtually out of fuel and it was very light and so I put it down on the end of the strip. But we got there and the bloke said, “What are you doing here?” But because we were in a place where they didn’t have normal signals, we were reported missing, and the wing commander came to Pat and said, I don’t know what words he used,
probably Flight Attendant Denver. Oh no, I wouldn’t have been a flight attendant, I would be a flying officer, “Flying Officer Denver is missing.” And then a little while later a report came in that we were up at Port Ellen and he swore at Pat, “What in God’s name are they doing up there?” And so of course the next morning we had to get the night aeroplane off so we just took minimum fuel, which would get us to the base which wasn’t too much, and I did what is called taking off with the flaps
down to give you the best lift and full throttle through the gate and really wrenched the thing off the deck. It was quite scary but we got off okay. But we were lucky, there were quite a few aircraft, I can’t remember the exact number, twenty or thirty lost that night in the UK [United Kingdom] because they weren’t able to land on their bases. So that was one of the interesting things there. The other one was that when Pat came and told me that, “You had two hundred and seventy-two dints and holes in your aircraft
after that raid on Stetin.” And another one which was a fascinating raid, which was on Stuttgart, we were hit by quite a large shell right near the radio operator’s head. It came through the side of the aircraft and cut into the very cartridges and set one of them on fire. But when it was all over my radio operator picked up a piece of shrapnel and written on the back of it was ‘349’.
Now if you remember… Was it ‘349’ or ‘346’? No, it was ‘346’. And in the air force, we were talking about numbers earlier, you always talk about your last three. For example, my number in the air force was 422844. So you were always 844, and his last three were 349. So we went to Stuttgart another time and by this time we were on pathfinders
and it was a difficult time, we always lost a lot of aircraft on Stuttgart and when it came to the fourth time to go on the raid at Stuttgart and he came to me and said, “I’m not going.” I said, “What do you mean, Ray, you’re not going?” He said, “Well 349, you know what happened. My number is up and if I go we will be shot down and the whole crew will be killed.” I said, “I can’t go to the wing commander and tell him you’re superstitious and we can’t go.” And he said, “Well you better. I am not going.” I said, “No, I am not going to do that. You’ll be charged with LMF [Lack of Moral Fibre].” And you know what LMF,
lacking in moral fibre, which he wasn’t. He said, “I just don’t want to do it.” I said, “Well, Ray, you have got to come to the briefing and go through it and we will just fight our way through it.” Anyhow about halfway through, after we had learnt the target and all this talk went on, the Squadron Leader Walker, who was the signals leader on the squadron, he said, “Ian, you know I am supposed to as the signals officer
to do a trip every now and again. I have chosen your crew. I would like to come with you tonight, radio off.” So that was great. He had heard about it, right, and he didn’t raise the issue in any way, he just volunteered to do the flight himself. Excuse me, I have got this darn cold. But according to Ray he saved our life, “You would have been shot down, no question about it.” And the odds against us of not being shot in any of the raids was great, but this was the one that quite fascinated us.
Absolutely amazing story.
So that was an interesting one. And then I got through a number of raids there and you say they are harrowing but no more harrowing then what the other people went through, and many of them much more than us. We were never, I never had anybody wounded on the plane. I never was shot down in any way. I got a lot of frights, but we all got a lot of frights. And you got back there and I know when
you would be frightened for other reasons. I noticed in the logbook, one of the raids I did without an airspeed indicator, you know, you are flying an aircraft and you are taking off and you are getting into cloud and all of a sudden the icing builds up and that thing was frozen. I flew the whole raid without an air speed indicator at night. And that takes a tremendous amount of concentration and you are brain tired, you are terribly tired trying to fly and all the while the aircraft is bouncing around and you get to the darn target and you have to go through that,
and we were still in cloud, admittedly, you’d be right. But all the way through it you were scared. And of course all of a sudden the plane would go like this, there was another aircraft just ahead of you, you might have six hundred aeroplanes on the same target as you and the risk of a collision was great. So it was quite frightening that aspect of it. So we did that and as I say we did eighteen at that squadron. And then went down to pathfinders.
Okay, sorry, just before we move onto pathfinders.
You say eighteen operations,
eighteen operations is that what you call them?
Trips or operations.
Was there a particular place for instance where they knew, for instance, where they would sending the crews out that the chances were a lot tighter of not making it?
Yeah, well the big city they called it, Berlin, obviously if you went to Berlin you were in real trouble. Now most of the real fighting over Berlin was done before we got on it so I missed that.
But the Ruhr was very heavily defended and we lost lots of aircraft on flights to the Ruhr. And Stuttgart was another damn raid, Chemnitz was a bad raid, Nuremberg, I didn’t do the Nuremberg raid in which they had their greatest losses, about ninety-six aircraft. But I did another two trips to Nuremberg. I did that trip to Dresden where you may recall a hundred and thirty-odd thousand people were killed on that raid. They were burnt
to death on the ground with a firestorm. I did raids on Hanover and this is another difficult target, Kiel, all the German targets were difficult because they were heavily defended. The French targets weren’t so bad, but yet we had some quite serious losses on some of the French targets.
How were you able to disengage from the fact that the bombs were causing destruction, do you know what I mean?
I don’t think you thought about it,
you know. I certainly was never there saying to myself, “Oh, I am killing all these poor Germans.” But I wasn’t also sitting there and saying, “Well thank God we got rid of another bunch of them.” I just felt, I had a job to do, my job was to carry out to the best of my ability what ever the raid was for that particular night, and I did sixty of them. And every one I went out was the same way; for example, that raid on Dresden that caused so much trouble and so much
criticism of Bomber Command, our briefing was, and I have written it in my logbook, “Aid to the Russian front.” At that particular time German soldiers and airmen and God knows what were all collecting when they were coming back from the Russian front and going to go through the trains. The stations, the streets, were clogged with German military and our deal was to bomb it and kill them. Now in the process of course we did kill many civilians.
And you didn’t go in there thinking you were going to create a firestorm, that just happened because it was an old European city of the style that burnt, just like in Hanover where the firestorm builds up and kills the people. But you certainly didn’t, but you didn’t actually know, you know, you found out most of the numbers of these deaths after the war. All you knew was whether you’d done a good raid. For example, I was the
primary visual marker on I think it was Kiel. Now primary visual marker really meant that that was where the bombing was going to be done. Your job was to put your markers down on the aiming point. If you didn’t get it on the aiming point and they bombed on that then you missed it, right, and it wasn’t such a good raid. And I wrote in my logbook, I was the PVM [Primary Visual Marker] and the Von Shield was sunk. And I kind of feel I have a personal interest for sinking the
Von Shield. And they took the photographs, and next day it turned up at its dock, right. So those things gave you a sense of exhilaration and a sense of achievement, but you never once thought that there were bunches of people down there being killed. Like in my brother’s case in the army, hand to hand fighting with the Japanese is a different thing altogether, is much, much harder to do. You could divorce yourself, you were in an airplane up there and your job was to drop the bombs on the target
on time. And if you did that, you went away from that and never thought what happened when it got down there.
I’d like to talk to you about the logistics of dropping the bomb on time in a second, but during this time when you were at Kelso did you actually receive any news about your brother in the Middle East? Actually, he would have been in Greece then.
He was back from the Middle East back then. I got letters obviously from my mum and my dad. And most of that early time, and that would have been 1944,
he was going to Japan. Not to Japan but to fight the Japanese up in New Guinea and, you know, what do they tell you, write and tell you, “I’ve been a hero.” They don’t just say, they don’t say anything. And it was censored anyhow, your letters. So I used to write home to my mum and say, “Things are going well. I am doing all right. I have just been promoted.”
You got promoted fairly quickly. I went from a flight sergeant to a flight lieutenant in under a year and probably in about six months.
Was that because all of the pilots kept getting scrubbed out, though?
Yes I think so, getting killed. In pathfinders you usually got one rank higher than you would in another ordinary main force squadron because there were extra skills involved, extra determination. For example, as I started to do
deputy master bomber trips you were over the target for the full length of the operation and that was scary. You are orbiting around underneath the main force, who are coming dropping their bombs. You are scared you are going to get bombs dropped on top of you. I did one raid, I have got pictures somewhere. I don’t know where it is now. There was a plane just above me like that coming into drop its bombs and I was on my run and I was dropping markers, so it had to be, you know, I couldn’t clear off this way or clear off that way,
I had to stay steady, steady, you know, onto the run into the target. And I watched him with his bombs open and I sort it and the moment the bomb aimer said, “Bombs away,” I flung the aircraft into a vertical bank like that, he released his bombs and they came down like that. They would have gone through my wing, they came down like that. And my photography, instead of taking a photograph of where I had bombed, I took a photograph of this bomb coming down alongside me there.
Have you got that?
I don’t know where it is now. It is around somewhere. I have got thousands of photographs and I don’t think I have that one without searching and I just didn’t have time to do that.
That’s all right, or right we better swap tapes now because we will run out.
Interviewee: Ian Denver Archive ID 2204 Tape 04
Yeah, we will come to that.
Timing I suppose that comes into it, you see.
Okay, I will ask you first of all whether in any of the training they told you about the danger in bombing? Did they emphasis how dangerous it really was when they were talking to you?
If they told me it was dangerous I don’t remember it as such. But it was so obvious you were going over there and the next day you heard on the news, “Our aircraft bombed
Essen, sixty of our aircraft are missing.” Or forty of our aircraft are missing, or ten of our aircraft are missing. Well if it is forty and there is an average of seven to eight to a crew, there is three hundred and twenty aircrew. And in our particular squadron we had a period of about six wing commanders and we lost about five of them. And another thing that happened there, I had a
roommate twice that never came back, so you had to get a new roommate. So you were completely aware of the danger, there was no need for anyone to tell you about it.
How do you react when you have a roommate and suddenly they are not coming back to share the room with you? What’s that like?
Well the laughing aspect would have been because the one I shared with Tony was a bit of dandy. And the batwoman
used to iron his shirts first and make sure they were perfect and when poor old Tony was shot down she made mine look good. But I was very lucky at that time, I was in a peacetime mess and I shared a batwoman that did our washing and ironing and so on and so forth. But obviously it was sad. You didn’t let yourself when you were on operations get too close to anybody, you just couldn’t. Now your own crew of course there was a special relationship
that existed within your crew and you’ve have a mate. But I was on pathfinders and it wasn’t like a Australian squadron where you were all Australians. I was… For a long time I was the only Australian pilot in that squadron and while I made friends they’d get killed so often that you didn’t really make close friends, put it that way. And on pathfinders that I was on, on 156 Squadron,
there were so many people there that had done so much more than you had done that you just respected them and you just felt like that, “If I could be like, Cochrane…” who was a New Zealander, he had a DSO [Distinguished Service Order] and bar and a DFC [Distinguished Flying Cross] and two bars, you know. And things happened to certain people. I was one of the lucky ones I kept going on and I got one DFC up to sixty trips. I don’t know if anyone has ever done that and not got more decorations but somehow I didn’t, right, so that’s good. But that is because
I didn’t run it all the troubles that so many of them were running into. So no, friendship side of it, you went down to the bar, and by this time I was having a drink every now and again. And particularly towards the later part, I found that the only way to get the top operation positions was to be down at the bar drinking with the wing commander and so he got to know you and built up a trust with you. And when I had reached my third tour
I had a navigator from Melbourne – the other crew had gone on – and he used to carry fire buckets full of beer around, saying, “There is blood on the moon tonight,” and drinking out of the fire bucket, you know. He was an ex policeman from Melbourne. And anyhow I’d go down and you’d have a pint of this beer but it was very weak beer. I don’t ever recall being drunk or anything. I do remember being a bit dizzy as you were singing and shouting. But that way I built up an association with the flight commanders and the wing commander and the top
operational pilots on the squadron. Because you were there you were one of them, you weren’t somebody sitting away in a corner treating life differently. And from that time on I started to get primary visuals, I started to get deputy master bombers, I got my own master bomber call sign, which was called ‘Plate Rack’. That is not very romantic, is it? They rang me up and said, “You’ll be a master bomber on your next trip and it is called Plate Rack.” And then the war changed and I didn’t go and
somebody else got it and so I didn’t actually do a master bomber. But one I remember particularly was at a place called Floha, Floha is between Chemnitz and Dresden, down that way. A very deep penetration and as we got towards the bombing target, my job as a deputy master bomber was to orbit the target, the same as the master bomber did, and if anything happened to him I was to take over and control the target. But I also carried bombs, markers,
like the primary visuals, and because I was an experienced crew I was expected to put them on the target. And as we were coming in and we got in a little bit earlier and remember because we have got to orbit the target throughout the whole raid. We got in a little bit earlier than the main force; the master bomber called me up and said – whatever he was, Plate Rack 2, I would be Plate Rack 1 – he said, “Plate Rack 2, I think we can bomb this target visually. Go down and find out what the climb base is.” Now I am at eighteen thousand feet and getting close to the target,
and I had to get down to below ten thousand feet so I had to put full flaps down, the gear down. If you know about flying, you are cruising along magnificently and then all of a sudden, you are like that, your gear goes down and you are just going like that, gliding like a brick with bombs still starting to go off around you and fighters flying, God knows what. But anyhow when I broke through at under the cloud at ten thousand, I got down to eight, I said, “You can bomb quite comfortably
at nine.” So he then called the main force down to nine and many of them didn’t do it. They weren’t going to do it. They said, “Hang on, I am up here and I have only got a couple of minutes left. I can’t get down there.” And so they went through and just dropped their bombs. So it wasn’t a particularly successful operation because I will never forget it, because I am orbiting the target which is quite low and there was a viaduct and there was a train, and a couple of cookies, these are four thousand pound bombs, must have hit this train at the same time
because I can remember against the fires seeing a train. You may have seen it in these films they make. The engine was here and the caboose or trailer at the back and the carriages in between, they came together and the train went up like this, so it was like a U, like a parabolic curve, it was fascinating. And I just looked at that and I couldn’t understand it. And so we orbited that and so I was about twenty-four minutes orbiting the target, and that is a scary
time because you are going around and now we were at a low height and aircraft was coming down and trying to bomb at the height the master bomber told them to and the flak is going off all around you and people are being shot down around you and so it is quite scary.
I mean what do you think when you see a sight like that? What did you think when you saw this sight of the train like in this curve?
I don’t know what I thought. I was fascinated. I thought, “How can anything lift a train, a whole train up
like that, so all the middles of it comes up like that and then meet and then goes down again?” It must have been fantastic, if two or three four thousand pound bombs all kind of hit together at the same time under this viaduct and made it go up and the train go up. Much more… Another deputy master bomber raid I was on was Munster.
Well just a couple of questions about this last one before we move on?
Twenty-four minutes circling?
Orbiting the target, yeah that is hard.
That is a long time sitting up there?
It is indeed. If you were ever scared that is when you are scared most. Particularly as you fly… See your job is to know exactly where the markers are in relation to the aiming point. So if the master bomber is shot down you have to then be able to tell the main force to bomb on the greens, bomb on the reds, whatever kind of marker we are doing. Or, you know, I remember back to it now,
you would bomb a time over, bomb two seconds over the green or bomb two hundred yards short, or three hundred yards short, right. And that is the way you did it. But to know where they were you had to continually make a pass that was close enough to the target to see where the markers were in relation to the aiming point, then you would orbit around. But as you orbited around to come back to do it again, you were going headlong into all the other aircraft that were coming in to bomb,
and that was a real scary time. Now you were beneath them most of the time because they didn’t want to get down lower than they should. But there was always some that thought, “Well they’d be a bit lower.” Or, “Somebody lost an engine,” or something like that. And that was all a bit scary at times. When I was on the next master deputy it was on Munster and this was a daylight raid because… This was fascinating because you could actually see the aircraft being shot down. Because at night there is just a great explosion
and you see these flames go up as the fuel burns around you. Now here on a couple of aircraft the pilot must have been killed or shot because the aircraft just went into an unbelievable dive and then it climbed and then a spin and a roll, and you are orbiting the target and watching this going on, so that was a bit harrowing too. Then you start to think of the crew. You know, “Poor buggers. I can’t see any parachutes. Did they get out? Did they get out before you saw them.” All this, and then you are concentrating on what you are trying to do yourselves.
I guess, yeah, I was going to ask, looking at things did you have to be careful not to get mesmerised?
Yeah, well you can, if it takes your attention too much, “Look at that bloody Halifax there.” And then all of sudden you are missing out on what you are doing, looking ahead of you or searching for fighters on those daylight attacks. It was on that particular attack that I first saw the German jet fighters. I think they were the [Messerschmitt] ME-262s. Remember they first started out,
they got great height and they just dived straight through the formation, really only had enough gas to make one shot at you and then go through.
Why didn’t they have more gas to come back?
Well those early jets consumed so much, and the size of the aircraft, you know, they might only take five or six hundred gallons or whatever and it was gone in a matter of minutes. So they only had enough gas to get to height… Or jet fuel it was, make one pass and then really get back to
their landing base again.
It must be daunting, as you said, seeing a plane go down in daylight?
It is in daylight, it is daunting. It’s not only that, you have got the flak and it is pretty actually predicted and it is exploding all around you and there is black puffs of smoke. And in my case I could actually, many times I could actually smell cordite. And when is it close to you, it was quite a few times but not badly enough to damage the aircraft,
not to bring it down, to make it not fly properly. And you could, on one or two of these hits, you could actually smell the cordite it was so close, and that was scary, or that was close. If they are predicting that they have got your height, so the next one might hit you. And these are the sort of things that you would be thinking about. So you are trying, once you smell the cordite then you would change your height as quickly as you can.
I was going to ask you earlier about
friendships and how you wouldn’t get close.
But with your own crew, tell us how you bonded with your crew from when you very first met them and hooked up?
Well ours wasn’t a drinking crew, right. So it wasn’t like we all went off down to the pub. You bonded by the work that you were doing, the training, each one depended upon each other. You went together, you went in the bus, you lived… This was when we were all sergeants. You lived in the same hut and you just
hung out together. When you weren’t flying you went to meals together, you talked about their families, your families, that kind of thing. I was the first one in my crew to be commissioned, then it became different. You lived differently, you lived in a different mess, you ate in a different mess, and then you didn’t have as much time, your time together was basically when you were operating when you were flying. On the Pathfinder Squadron I was sports officer,
so, you know, I used to have to create activities. The wing commander said, “You’re an Australian, you are the only Australian pilot here, you must be good at sports, you are sports officer.” So just like that, “Go and arrange something.” So I went and arranged a game of mixed hockey, and I had never played hockey before in my life and I didn’t know you had to keep the sticks down like this and I swung the stick like a golf club or cricket bat and I made an officer pregnant. I will never forget, I hit her in the stomach with this stick and we took her off to hospital to have a look at it and found out she was pregnant,
so that is the first time that anybody has made a officer pregnant with a hockey stick.
Was she all right?
And the other thing was soccer. I had never played soccer before and I thought, “Well the only way to play is to show them how to do it.” And, you know, somebody kicked it in for a header and I put my head up and I am sure you must relax your muscles around your head but I went rigid and it hit me and knocked me flat on my back – it scared the living daylights out of me. I thought I’d been killed the first time I tried to head a soccer ball.
She was all right, she was a great girl and she had a baby too, Rosetta,
I’m sure she was able to have it, the baby, I am sure.
Well tell us, once you got that commission and you had to change from being with your crew, did it make it a bit more lonely?
By then you were mixing more with the other commissioned officers who were pilots, right,
and you were talking. You talked about the raid that you did, what you saw. Not shooting a line, but finding out information, exchanging information. It was dead against our way of doing things to boast. You just didn’t do that, you played down your own activities. For example, I did eighteen raids that I told with the main force squadron, when I got down to pathfinders, that should have been up on the board
but they made a mistake and they thought I had just come in there straight from OTU or some finishing school or something. So for quite a long time it just showed that I was one raid, two raids, three raids, but actually I had done nineteen, twenty, twenty-one. And that is why I probably didn’t get a bar to my DFC. When they got round to realising it, the war was at the end, the adjutant had cleared off and none of the fighter decorations went through. But towards the end I was called in by the wing commander
and he had already put my logbook, “Well above average as a heavy bomber pilot, pathfinder pilot.” He said, “Our squadron has been chosen to go to the Pacific as part of the Tiger Force we are going to be pathfinders over there.” And he said, “I would like you to be flight commander.” And that was a great honour, to go to the Pacific. And I said, “Well, you know, I have just promised my wife, now that the war was over in England, that we’d get married. Because, you know, we have been going together now for the best part of a year.” And he said, “When is the wedding to be?”
And I said, “June the 20th, 1945.” He said, “Oh no, you can’t go, you will have to put your wedding off.” And I mentioned it to Pat and she said, “Well I think if you are trying to put it off, that’s it, we will never get married.” So I went back to him and said, “Isn’t there some way I can work it out?” And he said, “Well you know what the air force is like. But you go up to Glasgow,” – we got married in Glasgow because my wife’s mother had an apartment up there – “and I will fly you up there in a Mosquito.” And so they flew me up there, right, and then he said, “We will fly
some of the crew up to be at your wedding, so you have got someone to support you. But you have got to tell us every minute of where you are and I’ll get a Mosquito to get you.” And so of course that was the way they were. And of course the call never came and we were staying on my honeymoon at the Trussics Hotel, which was a beautiful hotel in the beginning of the Scottish Highlands on Loch Ardray and it had been used a lot for people that had done some pretty severe tours.
Submarine commanders, there was an Englishman and a South African both were actual commanders, both had been on submarine duty for years and years. They were like this and they sent them there to recover. And they had a great bar and they had scotch whisky, all the things you couldn’t get anywhere else. And somehow or another I got in there and they just left me there for a whole month and then they rang me up and said, “We are not going to go now but you had better come back and
see what’s to be done.” So I went back to the squadron and we’d run out of money anyhow and both Pat’s pay book and my pay book were empty and then he said, “Look, I don’t know what is going to happen but it doesn’t look as if we were going to go.” The Yanks hadn’t dropped the atomic bomb so I kept flying and when it came back that they had, I had missed the normal shipment home to Australia. I had got out of synch. And I thought to myself, “What the hell am I going to do when I get back to
Australia? I had worked in a bank and when I get back they had made up my wages during the war. I will have to pay them back what they paid me.” And then, “Pat, my wife, is not the kind of person who is going to live on four pounds and ten a week, I think.” And when we got back our first place was six guineas a week rental so we could hardly live a salary of four pounds ten a week. So anyhow
I went to… Pat said, “I know somebody in London.” She had been lucky because she’d been in the air force a long time. She had known lots of good people. “Go and see Wing Commander Johnston and tell him you want to become a Lancastrian pilot because Qantas has got Lancastrians at that time and see what he says.” And he said, “Look, you and everybody is asking these questions, but it would be very hard for you to get a job back in Qantas because there will be twenty thousand pilots back there looking for a job.” He said, “Why don’t you try and
do a First Class ATPL [Airline Transport Pilot Licence] while you are in England waiting?” And I said, “Well how do I do that?” He said, “You will have to do a course on hydraulics, a course on electrics and the only differences between the Lancastrian and the Lancaster.” I said, “Where do I do that?” He said, “AD Row does some courses, he said, “I’ll give you an address, contact this fellow.” His name was Roy Dobson, right, so off I go to Manchester and I out to Midford I think it was called and I come to the gate
where the security is and I was a flight attendant then, wearing my pathfinder badge and my DFC and he said, “What can we do for you, sir?” And I said, “I want to see Mr Dobson.” And he said, “What about?” And I said, “I want to do a course.” And he said, “We don’t do course here, but over in Chattenham or Willsbar or somewhere, not Willsbar, Woodford.” And I said, “Well this fellow would help me, I understand.” He said, “I don’t think we have anybody by that name who works here.
So but anyhow I’ll call the personnel manager.” And so he called the personnel manager and he came down to the gate. It was quite a lot of security there and they weren’t going to let anybody go into the base. And he talked to me for a while and he said, “What are you trying to do?” And I said, “I want to go back to Australia and I want to go back with a licence on the Lancastrian. I have done sixty trips on it now and I have got more hours than most other people and I will have a good chance to get a job if I have got a licence. And Wing Commander Johnston in the Air Ministry
in London said to me if I contact this Mr Dobson,” I think his name was Roy Dobson, “he will help me.” And he looked at me for a minute and he said, “You couldn’t possibly mean Sir Roy?” And I said, “Who’s he?” He said, “He is the Managing Director of AV Rose.” And I said, “I think that is probably the man.” “Oh.” And he got on the phone, and I never actually saw Sir Roy Dobson, he wasn’t there, but the next thing I had a Humber car,
I was taken to the Midland Hotel, which was a lovely hotel in Manchester, I was put up at AV Rose’s room for about three weeks, they put on a special course for me and drove me out each day. And so when I went back down to London with all that done, the results would give me a licence. So I got a first class APTL and then I went back again and there was still no time for me to go back and I said, “Well I am interested in navigation, I always have been on pathfinders, I will do a second class
navigators,” and I studied like mad. And then I came to a blockage because it was to old fashioned and to get a second class navigators you had to study tides, because a lot of the commercial flying was done on flying boats so you had to be like a ships nav. And I said, “Well where can you learn that?” And they said, “Well the only place I know that teaches it is Southampton University.” And so somebody told me who to see at Southampton University and they put on a special course for me on tides. So when I eventually came back to Australia – and I got
back here in the December of 1945, quite a lot later than the others but still in the air force – I went along to see Qantas. And the fellow there said to me, “Look, we have got Wing Commander Demsure and Wing Commander Wharton, and Wing Commander Kingsford Smith.” I am just quoting you names. Two of them I know for sure, I am not sure about Kingsford Smith. “They are coming in every day, how can we give a flight attendant a job?” And I said, “Well I have got, first of all, two licences
and, second, more time on Lancasters than any of Demsure, Kingsford Smith or Wharton.” And they said, “No, we can’t give you a job.” So I went down to… So that was fine, I went down to Melbourne. So then I went down to Melbourne and Pat was coming by boat from England on the Rangatira, heavily pregnant at this time.
Pregnant, right, so we were married in June, the baby wasn’t born till May so she wasn’t a disadvantaged woman or like that. Anyhow I went down and saw ANA [Australian National Airlines] and I met I think there was a Johnston there, and a Holland, who the runner or the owner of ANA and
they said, “Yeah, you have got the kind of experience and you have shown what kind of determination we want. You have got a job starting February 2nd.” So I got back up to Sydney to Potts Point and by this time I had taken Pat with me and I said, “I have got a job. I start on the 2nd February. We might have to live in Melbourne, I don’t know where. At least I am going to have a good job and you don’t have to live on four pounds a week.” So we went and got an apartment in the inner Sydney in Bellevue Hill and it wasn’t a bad place,
six guineas a week, which was still a lot of money for what you were getting. But I thought on my pilot’s pay I would be able to afford it. But what actually happened, on the 23rd I got a phone call from someone up in Qantas, “Oh, Denver, what are you doing?” I said, “I am just getting ready to go down to Melbourne because I have got a job with ANA. You wouldn’t give me a job.” “Well we were thinking maybe if you have got those licences that
you’d come along and like to have another interview and we’d talk to you about it.” So I said, “When?” He said, “Now.” And I said, “Right.” So I went in there and he said, “We will offer you a job, a probationary job, on I think about five hundred and fifty or five hundred pounds a year.” I said, “Listen, I have done sixty trips over Germany, I have got five or six hundred hours on Lancasters,
I don’t need to be on probation. I will stick with the job at ANA, they didn’t want to put me on probation.” So I got home that after and he called back, said, “My operations manager has decided that you can start not on probation on eight hundred pound a year, provided you are in tomorrow morning.” I said, “I only get discharged tomorrow morning.” He said, “Yes, as soon as you get discharged you come in here, we’ll fit you with a uniform and you’ll be on an aeroplane tomorrow afternoon.” And what had happened was they had a Lancaster
breakdown in Learmonth and they didn’t have anybody with a licence available. And that was the pure reason, I am sure of it. And they came to me, “Here is a man with a licence, can hop on a plane right now. We don’t break any rules.” So they flew me across in a Liberator and I was only a co-pilot of course, first officer, but I came back a first officer on the day I was discharged from the air force. So that was quite good and then Qantas was another life.
Why did you want to be with Qantas instead of ANA?
International airline, more highly respected I think in those days, and of course a bigger aircraft and top achievement. And Lancaster I had flown, they knew I could fly it, they knew I could cope. You know I still have that travel blood in my veins, adventure. We both like to go places, my wife and I. And doing Qantas I would be going overseas, where with ANA I would be flying
Melbourne to Brisbane, Melbourne to Sydney, Sydney to Brisbane, up and down on that route all the time, which wasn’t nearly as appealing.
With ANA. What were they, what does ANA stand for?
Australia National Airlines. That was before Ansett, a great airline. It was a tragedy it went bust but it did.
Okay, I am going to take you right back to your very first operation or actually bullseye because that was kind of almost like…?
Well not really but it was, but take me back to it if you like?
Where exactly did you fly to, like before?
On hours we off to Holland, basically. I think we went as if we were going to make a raid on the Ruhr, but when we got to the Dutch coast we turned around and came back again.
Did you encounter any danger on this one personally?
No, mine was pretty free. But once you hit the Dutch coast
you could see some searchlights and I saw some flak guns go off and then your job was not to get shot down and turn around and come straight back.
And tell us… Okay, you got through that section all right. You were learning on Halifaxes before you got onto…
What were they like particularly?
I think I mentioned early the Halifaxes, a lot of the Merlin engines were not a particularly good aircraft. They were difficult to fly,
they were under powered and we had a lot of crashes. I thought I was a pretty good pilot. I don’t think I had any problems with it. But I felt much more comfortable on the Halifaxes with the Hercules engine – that was a Hercules, Hally 3s, I think they were called – and on the Lancasters than I ever did on the early Hallies. And you have only got to look in the war records to see how many of them were shot down early on and how quickly they got out of using them. You know, Harris stopped using them
on Berlin, for example. And the one before that, which Pat knew well, the Whitley, that was even more tragic to try and make a later run because they had virtually no altitude by comparison, only two engines.
Well what was particularly bad about the Halifaxes, was it hard responses?
Yeah, not as light on the controls but whenever you try to take off you put full power on, and it takes you a little longer to get off, to get airborne
and you don’t feel quite as safe. And the fact that other accidents were happening quite continually on that training base is unnerving. You know, you don’t expect aeroplanes to crash and be killed in training, to be shot down that is a different thing, but to be killed because they have made a mistake on the aircraft is another one, another thing altogether.
Well how did you hear the news of these training accidents? Particularly the one where he flew into the radio tower, how did you hear that one?
Well on that one he wasn’t at breakfast the next morning.
And then it didn’t take long, news spreads more quickly than anything, in no time at all. Pollard was his name, incidentally. “Sergeant Pollard ran into the mast tower of Rugby last night and he was killed.”
And maybe for the benefit of the archive, I know there is records, but just for the benefit of an oral archive, describe your Lancaster for us?
Yes, well first of all it was a four-engine heavy bomber aircraft. It had normal engines and in rating it became a more powerful engine. I think there was a Lancaster 1 and a Lancaster 3 had a more powerful engine. They had a rear gunner, a mid upper gunner and they had the bomb aimer who had a front gun turret. Now
on pathfinders where I was, I had myself as the pilot and captain, I had the navigator, I had a special set operator to operate the radar equipment that we used, like H2S and Y, as it was called or G, to give the navigator the messages so he could plot the fixes. And we had a bomb aimer, a visual bomb aimer, because remember it was very important in pathfinders to bomb correctly, so a very good bomb aimer.
And you got a radio operator and the gunners. And the aircraft itself was a fixed wing aircraft and had a spar, a main spar that went right through the cabin. You had clamber over that when you were getting up to your seats. The pilots had different parachutes to the others. You had a seat type parachute. I sat on the, I sat on my parachute. And the others all had one they wore on their chests.
Four engines, you know, you would cruise along at about two hundred and twelve miles an hour and so reasonably, quite a fast aircraft. And very responsive to the controls, if you banked like that you’d start to turn and put your rudder on you’d go into the turn a bit faster. Pull the stick, bang, the nose would go up. Push it down, you’re down. So
whereas flying… The first time I flew a Liberator it was amazing – it was like flying a truck by comparison to flying a Lancaster. I’ll never forget it. I only flew it for a little while. But they put me through it because I was going over to pick up this Lancaster and it was a nose wheel aircraft and the Lancaster was a tail wheel aircraft. So you flew them differently then, a nose wheel aircraft. You kind of tried to grease it on, you flew it, you got very close, you had the tail down like that until you just
smoothed onto the runway. You basically just stalled when you touched the runway. Whereas with a Liberator and nose wheel aircraft like DC4, etc., you could fly them on. And you would just hit with your wheels and then let the nose plonk down.
And also tell us about your section, the front section? Tell us about the front cabin section?
Well there is a pilot seat on the left-hand side, right, there is another seat there
which was kind of a temporary seat which your flight engineers sat on and he kind of monitored your aircraft. “Are you happy with the throttles when you are taking off?” And on the right-hand side were all the fuel gauges and things and his job was to maintain the temperatures, tanks and so on and so forth. We had the ordinary typical pilot’s instruments panel, which consisted of an artificial horizon, which helped to tell you when it was night-time,
when you were straight or level it had an altimeter which gave you your height. You had an airspeed indicator which told you your speed, you had the RPMs [revolutions per minute] which told you the revs [revolutions] that the aircraft was going out on. Then you had boost which told you the amount of boost you had on. And you had different temperatures, oil temperatures and so on. And then you had a compass down here which was a magnetic compass and later on a direction reading compass as well.
And what was the glass window like?
Like how was your vision?
Well you had a window like this that you looked through and another one was your storm window, which you could open, right. Particularly when you were taxiing in heavy rain, it was hard to see and you’d open this window and take a peek that way right and the same on the other side. And down onto the nose was where the bomb aimer sat and he only had the bomb sight down there and he also had a turret up in the nose which he could get up and use if the time came for him to use his front gun turret.
I never did have anybody attacks us from the front. And I did a raid, and I think it was on Nuremberg, and it was a sudden penetration of Germany and there was a fare amount of activity. And we were coming back quite close to Switzerland and there was a place called the Schaffhausen Salient and, you know, if you were shot down and you had two engines and you knew you were not going to make it, the place to bail out was there,
because you could get back from Switzerland, you’d become a POW in Switzerland and sooner or later they would get you back. But as I was coming back there I looked down over there and this is an aircraft about a thousand or five hundred feet below me with his nav lights on. And I thought, “What in God’s name is that? That is probably a civil plane of some kind, it might be carrying General Rommel who knows, we will use our nose guns and attack it.” And just by
initial fighter pilot, I started to turn over like this. And my navigator said, “Ian, do you realise that might be just somebody trying to get you to do that and there is a flock of Wulfs sitting up there on your tail?” And I thought about it and I said, “You might be right.” So I couldn’t take that risk and we turned off and we couldn’t take that risk, so we turned off and we didn’t make that attack. So we never used our front guns in anger at all.
And your plane, did it have a name?
F for Freddie was the one I flew most often,
but I flew others, Queenie and Roger, but sooner or later you got your own plane and you got your own ground crew that looked after a plane. And they were wonderful people. They made sure that your plane was in great condition. And my F for Freddie was a Lanc 3. It was a beautiful aeroplane, it was fast and responsive and cared for with a lot of love by the ground crew and so we looked after it and they looked after us.
Did you form a bond with this?
Well as you can form a bond with an unliving thing if you like. Not like my little puppy, I have really got a bond with her. But no, you’d give her a fond kick in the tyres when you were doing a flight check or something like that. But other than that, it can’t answer you back.
Would you give it a kick on the tyres? Is there any other little ritual you’d do before you’d…?
Well in civil flying you always did that as in part of your… But you went around and the kick didn’t mean anything, you know, but you did it. I did anyhow. I don’t know whether the others did it or not. And you’d just check, because there were certain accidents caused by a pitted head and static head covers being left on. And they covered your airspeed indicator. Remember I told you I flew one raid off? I have flown three or four times where I have had the airspeed indicator out nearly all the time and that is very difficult to do. And if you have got the pitted head on,
particularly in takeoff, you don’t know what speed you are and you can panic and kill yourself. A lot of people have been killed because they have taken off with that on, so that is the kind of things you check. You go around and see your tail wheel is all right, you give your elevators a bit of a push, see that they go up and down.
One man told me he’d have a wee on his plane?
A wee on his plane for luck.
It was a nervous pee.
I mean you wouldn’t necessarily do that but would there anything for a little luck thing?
No, no but my mid upper gunner, who now lives in Australia, he used to get sick and I have seen him be sick before he got on the plane. Whether it was the fear or nervous apprehension or whatever, he still got on and did his fifty-odd operations having been sick. It was fantastic.
Ray Jones, the bloke that didn’t want to go on that Stuttgart trip, he was the superstitious one so he probably did some of these things. But I am never one to believe in superstitions. My daughter and my wife are always saying to me, “Oh, what is in the stars?” You know, I can’t be bothered reading that kind of stuff. I think you make your own life, you go out there and say what you are going to get and do your best to do it, and if you can you get it. If you don’t you switch and do something else.
All right we will pause there for lunch.
Interviewee: Ian Denver Archive ID 2204 Tape 05
My grandmother’s grandfather.
Just for the tape, Ian was saying his grandmother’s grandfather was a convict sent out from Ireland or England?
Ireland. Although his name was Hughes, which is a very Welsh name.
Now something that occurred to me, you ended up with a second crew,
when you were doing pathfinders?
Okay, now why was that? Was that because your first crew…?
Because I had completed two tours in pathfinders and in pathfinders once you have completed two tours you should finish. But all of the crew except my rear gunner and I decided we’d go on and try and stay flying until we were told to stop. So we finished sixty mission instead of where in the case of the others it was somewhere between forty-five and fifty was two tours.
Why did the rear gunner decide to stay on?
Oh, I don’t know. Basically I wanted to do the very best I could and I was just reaching the stage where I could become a master bomber and I felt like I could contribute more than packing up and going home. But I had certainly done enough to justify going home because most people just did one tour and then went.
But that is the way. Some people are built differently to others, you know. I don’t think I was seeking glory because there was no glory in it really. We had a very good wing commander and I was just reaching the stage where I was to become a squadron leader and take control of a flight. And I don’t think you thought about it. I just thought I wanted to go on.
Now something that occurred to me before when you were talking with Kiernan, is that
you didn’t seem to get scared?
Didn’t seem to get what?
Yeah you were scared but I wasn’t sitting on country being scared. I was scared during a flight of a… I think I told you I smelt the cordite from the flak going off right alongside you knocking holes in the aircraft. You were scared then, you were scared like this when suddenly you’d fly across the slipstream and an aircraft would cut across your nose and the aircraft would shake or an aeroplane would go off alongside you. Or you…
I saw one attack there and I was running well ahead of time and so I had to on target on time. And instead of continuing on and bombing early and racing off home I didn’t I orbited for fifteen minutes to make up for the time because there was a wind that had been forecasted wrongly, and on other occasion I’d dogleg backwards and forwards because my job was to be there on time. And basically it was part of my philosophy in life do the very best you can all the time, and
to do the best I can was to be there at my time at the right height. So that was the reason behind that. And in this particular time I was coned by searchlights for about six minutes and when you are stuck in a cone and you know that highlights you to the gunners and the aircraft, you are scared. But I am scared but it doesn’t stop me from flying the aircraft. Your knees might shake a little bit, you know.
Well how do you evade? How do you…?
In trying to get out of the cones, it was extremely difficult.
You corkscrew when you are trying to dodge a fighter and this was basically what you did for the cone. But you’d dive like that and they’d follow you down. So I think the only reason I got out of them eventually was that I flew up past their range, but in some places there was another battery of searchlights to pick you up. So this is what you had to watch.
Must have been very powerful lights?
They are extremely powerful and you have got about six of them all coning on you, where you are, and your aircraft and you are blind,
basically, because you can’t see from the power of the lights, you are trying to fly the aircraft, see the instruments, get away from it, hope that you are not being attacked by a fighter at that time or that the gunners that don’t have radar, well of course they can see where you are, and they say, “Right, he is at seventeen thousand feet, let’s set our shells to go off at seventeen thousand feet.” And then they aim them at you as radar predicted flak. That was scary.
Something that we haven’t clarified for the archive is
what exactly is a pathfinder?
A pathfinder is somebody that leads the way, literally. But during the early part of the war they found that Bomber Command wasn’t getting the accuracy of the bombing. I don’t know the numbers but let’s say fifty per cent of the bombing raids were only satisfactory and in some cases less than that. So that you’d go in to bomb a target and you wouldn’t hit the target, you might hit a village and kill a lot of civilians
but you didn’t hit what you were trying to do. So to try and overcome that, after a lot of opposition mind you, they decided to form a special group and that group was called the Pathfinder Force. And in our force it was 8 Group. And we had I think about eight Lancaster squadrons and two of which, 93 and 87, went back to 5 Group. But six or so that I was with, 156, we stayed in 8 Group,
which was led by an Australian named Don Bennett who was of course one of the world’s greatest aviators, a very famous pilot before the war. And what we did was to try and find way to more accurately mark the target, right, because sometimes you’d get over a target and it was intense cloud, so what do you do just bomb the cloud. So we introduced a thing called sky marking and they had different names for them: there was Parramatta, Newhaven and Wanganui
and these were the three times of pathfinder’s raids that you carried out – one was visual, one was blind sky marking and one was a kind of a combination of the two. And what we did because we felt we had better navigation, we had top class aircraft, we had the latest equipment in H2S and Y as they call it, as it came, and our navigators were supposedly more experienced and better trained, they had more chances of finding the target.
So while we dropped bombs we also dropped markers and those markers were on the aiming point, and then in many cases we had a master bomber who would orbit the target and say, “Bomb.” I think I told you, “On the reds.” “On the greens.” Or, “On the yellows.” Under certain circumstances. Or, “Don’t bomb here.” Or, “Bomb two seconds over the reds.” Or, “Bomb three hundred yards short of the greens.” And his job was to control to make the whole bombing effort more accurate. And once pathfinders got involved
it took a while but eventually the accuracy was much, much greater.
Well Kiernan and I were talking over lunch, why did they have to use Lancasters to do the pathfindings?
That was the best bombers, they carried the most bombs.
But you weren’t actually dropping bombs, were you?
So you setting the mark plus…?
We were marking the targets with special markers, but they didn’t weigh nearly as much as the bombs so there was still
plenty of room in the bomb bays for bombs as well. So I might have a, I can tell you from my logbook, I might have a four thousand pound cookie, a couple of thousand pound bombs and a bunch of flares of greens or reds or whatever, target indicators is their proper name, target indicators.
Can you tell us what you mean by dropping the target, exactly what the plane did, what did you do as the pilot, in setting the mark showing the target?
Well I as a pilot flew the aircraft in accordance with the instructions that I had, basically. When you were bombing you were on a bombing run, so you basically handed the aircraft over to the bomb aimer because he was looking at the target through the bomb sight and he was saying, “Left, left, steady.” Dummy run was the funny thing, “Left, left, steady, dummy run.” That meant you had to go all the way around again, you missed. But he would say, “Left,” or, “You are nicely on the path,” or whatever
and direct you in. The navigator’s job was to get you there on time. And with what winds he got and what winds were forecast back. We had special people who were good navigators, they would send the winds that they were getting back to Group, Group would then send them out to you, you would check them, the navigator would do this with the winds that he had found. And he might, like in the case of where I had to orbit for about fifteen minutes, he said, “There is an unusual wind, we have picked up a tremendous amount of time.” So we always
tried to stick to the time that we were set, H hour it was called. And I might have been H minus four, or H plus two or H plus fifteen or whatever. If I had to be there and if I was what’s called a backer up, in other words, I am putting markers down on top of markers that are already there, I might be fifteen minutes into the raid, just to make sure that the other targets hadn’t been bombed away or burnt out, or flares rather. So that is basically how you did it.
And how did the flares actually
Well without being technical about it, you drop a bomb. And a bomb exploded with a flare or target indicator, it is set by barometric pressure to go off at a certain height. Just like you fly a rocket up in the air and it comes down. But let’s say it is set to go off at two thousand feet, so at two thousand feet, these, not one flare target indicators,
but thirty or forty of them, would all flash out like that, red like Christmas trees – we used to call them Christmas trees at one time. The Christmas trees were dropped at two thousand feet onto the landing point. And that is what you’d see if you were flying in. But the how it was actually detonated to do that I am not sure, a small detonator, a small explosive device of some kind.
What kind of fun, if any, did you have in the plane? I mean were there any jokes?
Because there were only two other Australians in the plane with you, wasn’t that right?
Yeah, I had two Australians, but when you are flying you are flying, you don’t really have time for jokes, particularly on operations. You might on your way back and you crossed over the Channel and you just see the English coast, you might have a bit of a sigh of relief and a bit of a laugh. But you sure had no time to relax and start telling jokes. So I don’t recall ever hearing a joke and I am not the kind of person
that remembers jokes as such. I can remember a few dirty ones, but we wouldn’t tell them in your own plane and I wasn’t too good at that either.
Can you remember them now?
With a bit of effort. But I couldn’t possibly tell you.
I wouldn’t worry about me, believe me, but that’s all right. Can you… Was there
any particular operation that stands out for you when you were doing the pathfinding, just unusual or different?
Yes, I think I mentioned two of them when I was deputy master bomber, one on Wingstone and one on Floha. But no, both the raids into Stettin, which were a very deep penetration, stood out. Many of the raids on the Ruhr I must have done about twenty-odd, twenty-two raids or so, places like Cologne
four times, Essen four times, Duesberg, Düsseldorf, Gelsenkirken, all heavily protected by flak batteries and all scary. And particularly the fist time that you do it in daytime, you are just sitting there like a sitting duck and you thought, you know, you are not really going to get through this if you had time to think. Another raid that stood out of course was that one to Stuttgart, I think, that I told you about, the fact that my radio operator’s
last three was 349 and there was 346 on the shell. Now obviously I am not suspicious but it is very hard to fly knowing that you are going back there and not think about what Ray said, you see, so it is there in the back of your mind. But you have to concentrate so much and you are busy – you didn’t use the automatic pilot you know, you were hand flying it all the while. I personally believe the second or half a second it might take me to get the plane out the
automatic pilot I could be dead, so I hung onto the plane the whole time. If I pulled into automatic pilot in sixty operations it would be no more than twice and it would be coming back over the sea after a long deep penetration or something like that.
But they weren’t the planes, though, to do the auto pilot, were they?
They weren’t the kind of planes, I remember talking to some other air force chap that said something about, I don’t know if they were
Catalinas or some other big planes, that they could sometimes relax and be on auto pilot?
Well some had bigger planes. You are flying a Boeing Super Fortress or something, yeah, you put the automatic pilot and let it fly. They were up so high that nobody could reach them anyhow. But with us, the way I looked on it was I was responsible for my own and my crew’s life and I must give every ounce of my being to make sure that I do the very best I can.
Coincidentally, did you ever return
to the Isle of Arran where you made that landing on the small strip there when the British…?
On Port Ellen? No, I never did go back. Well there was no reason to, we made an awful booboo and it was a terrible mistake on the part of the navigator on not interpreting the code right, and on the radio operator splitting it up when he sent it, and me probably never having known of the Port Ellen, not knowing that this possibly couldn’t be the right place to be going to.
You know, there were so many airfields in England, I just thought, “Oh well, this is another airfield and we have been diverted to it.” My job was to get the plane there and down, which I did.
Did the navigator get in trouble for that?
I don’t think anything… Ours was a real good crew and they probably put it down to the fact that first of all we had a harrowing trip, then when we got back we were diverted from our base, and then we were diverted from the first place and then by the time we got there they probably thought, “Well, he is tired, he had been going for
six or eight hours,” and they let it go. I am sure he was told off by the nav leader privately, but never publicly.
So tell us about courting your wife to be, Patricia?
Tell us about courting your wife?
Courting? Oh, you should come for this one, love. I don’t know, how do you court somebody when you are a man and she is a woman? You love her, I suppose. It was nice
to not be always completely in the company of a bunch of men, and particularly a bunch who were at the end of their tether often and, you know, and half a dozen beers to have somebody really nice. For example, we became engaged in Cambridge and Cambridge is such as beautiful city and it was just wonderful to go over there to Cambridge for dinghy drill, because that is how we got dinghy drill earlier and meet Pat, who was stationed at this time
just four miles out and she could get a bus into town and go to dinner. And I have got pictures of her riding a canoe on the [River] Cam just by Kings College. It was such a beautiful city and England is such a beautiful place. Actually, I loved England. I enjoyed every moment I was there, I think.
What is a dinghy drill?
What is dinghy drill?
If you get shot down over the water, you got to get in a rubber boat to escape in, that is called a dinghy, a
rubber dinghy. So to practise climbing into the dinghy and paddling it and setting it off, you’d do it in a pool. And in Cambridge there was an indoor heated pool, which we didn’t have on the base, so we would go over and of course we would do so on a fairly regular basis. But I was a great one for training, if you were supposed to do it once a month, I did it twice a month, also gave me an excuse to get into Cambridge and see Pat as well, right. But when you were flying you were flying
and when we were on operations together I was very busy with that. And I’d just see Pat occasionally and we just go down to the local pub at Ramsay and maybe have something to eat and drink or something, but during the daytime she had her job to do and I might be sleeping because I had to fly that night because you never knew for sure when you were going to fly. And a couple of times we were able to have leave together. One we went down to
Nuterabbit [?] and we stayed in a… This was south Devon and the south Devon coast and we lost all of my luggage. When I had been in New York I had won some money playing poker coming across on the boat and I spent it buying a camera and some nice civvy [civilian] clothes and so on and my luggage got lost. They pinched it all and so I arrived at the place where we were staying and it was right on the south Devon coast and
with virtually no baggage and unshaven. And because I didn’t have my uniform on at that stage I had a polo neck black shirt and Pat was in uniform and they took one look at us and they put her over at completely one side of the hotel and me completely on the other side of the hotel. We were completely separated and they watched us the whole time. So courting was walking hand in hand on the beach or something like that.
It was quite different in those days to what it was here.
Oh well, you mentioned that before when we were having morning tea how, you know, no namby pamby went on in those days.
No, well it did like mad but not in my case, yeah.
I guess things haven’t changed that much then?
No, I don’t know anyway.
What I was curious about was that you had actually asked to be sent to the pathfinders but you had only just started getting serious with Pat?
Well I’d only just met her, you know. I did eighteen trips after I got to that base and let’s see, that’s three a week, so that is only a month and a half on Kelso before I moved. And then we’d got serious enough at that stage to try and follow me down so she asked for posting to get closer to where I was because we had been in Lincolnshire and I moved to Cambridgeshire and she came a more round about route. She went to wing…
I think another place out near Thetford and then finally was posted to Waterbridge because she had been in the air force for five or so years, she always carried herself well, she was highly respected and when she asked for something she usually got it. So that was the case, she ended up just near Cambridge and I wasn’t far from Cambridge, and this would have been about September or so that we got to together, maybe even October. And then we became engaged and
we were engaged then right through until we got married in June the following year. But there was, I wasn’t one for getting married when I was operating because everybody was getting killed. Not everybody, but a great number of people, and it would seem terribly wrong to tie yourself up with somebody and then get yourself killed and then leave them maybe pregnant or something, so it never occurred to me until the war ended, and then of course you rushed to get married.
I mean, yeah, it was something like half of the crews were killed fifty per cent or something?
How was the second crew that you had as the pathfinder?
Good. All experienced, mind you, because they were what you called oddbods. Maybe they had been on leave when their crew had been shot down or something like that. So I made up a crew of all experienced people with one exception of my rear gunner who stayed with me all the way through. But the others were, I think I told you, a Melbourne policeman. He had done one tour and he had volunteered to go to
pathfinders and he was looking for a crew, and here was me, a new pilot, an old pilot, looking for a new crew and so they put… There is always oddbods around a pathfinders squadron, as they call them, and we made up a crew like that.
Do you keep in touch with members of the first crew?
I keep in touch with the navigator, right. He lives in England and occasionally with the mid upper gunner… We were never able to track down the rear gunner. We don’t know what happened to him –
he just disappeared. But I also keep in touch, but not too regularly, with my engineer that lives in Canada. There is only one other and he lives in Australia, but he got cancer really badly and he didn’t want to be in touch with anybody and I don’t know whether he is still alive or not now.
So there wasn’t a big difference in crews in how you operated as the pilot? Do you think you worked better with the first crew
versus the second crew if you know what I mean?
I know what you mean but I don’t think there is an answer to that. No, we were all trying to do the best job we could all the while, and the ones I had… I am pretty sure the reason why I was getting more… Not necessarily more dangerous on the deputy bomber or deputy master bomber trips were more danger. The primary visuals was because I had a more experienced crew in their particular field; for example,
my own navigator was very, very good. And we did a lot of what was called blind sky marking because his navigation was usually so accurate that we were more relied on to be a blind sky marker when weather was predictably badly.
Can you explain a blind sky marking for us?
Where you can’t see the ground or the aiming point or the target and so you bomb on radar to make it easier for someone to understand.
But we had a set radar set and it was called H2S or Y, as it was sometimes referred to, and it showed a picture on the ground. Like you see now on the screen now and you are an aeroplane and you are looking at storms ahead or you look at the coast coming up, that is where it showed. And we had radar maps and they had to pick out from this map an object that was let’s say the aiming point, which may be on the edge of a lake or something like that that was definitive and then find that something similar on the
screen. For example, when we bombed Stuttgart the air force did a few times, but they got it wrong because was they thought was a lake but it was a forest – it showed up exactly the same signal on the screen. But that is what blind sky marking means, as simply you don’t see the target, you use radar to bomb, and you bomb based on the radar images that your navigator gives you, and he is the one who says, “Right,” to the bomber aimer, “now bomb.” And the bomb aimer now bombs away.
Was it fascinating for you just on a personal note when you went into London after the war before you got married, seeing all the bomb devastation that occurred in London?
It was fascinating while you were there. I went down to London quite a few times and I was walking back from I can’t remember which hotel we were staying at – Pat was with me and it was in the grounds I think – and walking back from there and a couple of V2s
went off and it is really, you know, quite scary. And then another occasion I was at the Cumberland Hotel and a V2 went off there near Marble Arch and of course there was a whole bunch – the Cumberland was pretty well taken over by the Americans – there was a whole bunch of them killed with it, in that particular bomb. I was in Coventry. I went to Coventry because we were stationed near Coventry and it was awful to see the devastation from the bombs because, you know, I liked
England very much and I wanted to learn a lot about it. So I did travel around London whenever I could to have a look and it was awful to see the devastation that was caused by the bombs. But having said that, at the end of the war we did what was called a Bodecker, a Bodecker in Europe is one of the main travel companies and they do maps and we did a tour over many of the target areas that we had bombed to see what they were like after the war at low level, and it was absolutely devastating, so
we actually went up at two thousand feet above the place to see what it looked like. And that stayed with you perhaps more than anything.
Wow, that would have been amazing!
Yeah, it was quite something. Another interesting raid that I did, it is not a raid this time because it was at the end of the war although the war hadn’t ended. The Dutch were starving and we had to drop food to them, and the Germans gave permission apparently to drop in a certain
part of Rotterdam provided we didn’t fly above two hundred feet and we didn’t carry any other bombs. And my job was a PVM was to try and mark, locate the paddock. It was a field, basically, and flying up this river at Rotterdam at two hundred feet with people waving at you from the buildings and try and find this paddock, and by putting a marker on this paddock and then they were all able to put their food into that. Paddock is not the right word. Field, I’d suppose you’d say.
That would have been quite scary flying at two hundred feet?
Oh, when you are a good pilot you are all right.
I did two long distance raids to a place called Perlas which is a refinery way down the south-west coast of France, and to try and keep out of sight of radar and, you know, the German fighters, long range fighters, we flew at God knows twenty feet above water, just above
water level all the way down and all the way back.
Sorry Ian about coughing through your story. First of all you were talking about the Dutch were starving in Rotterdam…
and coming in. Can I just ask you, is there a legal height for how high you can fly?
In wartime, no. But in civil aviation, obviously, yeah, there are all kinds of rules and restrictions put on how
high you can fly. You know when you take off; you are on the ground one minute, you are an inch above it, so you couldn’t really put a legal height on that, but you know, you had to be sensible. Many of the great raids that were done were done at very low level. Guy Gibson’s raid on the… The Dam Busters raid, they did that in low level all the way across. Many of Cheshire’s attacks that were done using the pathfinder technique but flying a Mosquito at very low level,
they again flew very low. If you could fly at a certain height you could fly under radar, right, and that was the reason for it – you stayed below radar and then they didn’t pick you up.
So sorry, what was the flight that you did after Rotterdam? That was when I started coughing. It starts with P.
I did the raid to drop the food.
Right, then I think I was talking about the Bodecker that we had an opportunity to
see the damage that we had done…
Oh yes, no.
…in Germany and I took some of the people that had briefed them, for example, and had never flown over as aircrew. An engineering officer wanted to see, some of the crew that worked on the aircraft, what we were actually doing when we went out there and that was really quite fascinating too.
What did it feel like for you to see these huge craters and all the buildings
You just think, “Wow!” – whatever wow feels like – “Did we do this?” But you’d be in places like Hamburg where a firestorm gone through it, it was completely written off so much of the city, that was quite something. And even later on we toured Europe a fair bit, I took Pat to Dresden, we were driving, and I think I told you, we’d been driving around the various
cemeteries of where my friends were that were killed and 1st World War battlefields. But I also tied into it visiting some of Europe’s great cities, like Bourse and Rheims and Munster and Dresden. But she couldn’t stay at Dresden. It made her sick so we had to leave. That’s when to Krakow in Poland, so I went up to the airport and left my car there and said, “Let’s get a ticket to Krakow.”
Sorry, why did she feel sick in Dresden?
I think because of the people that had been killed, to see the destruction there and, you know, the way the city had been ruined. And on one of her cases the… On one station she was on, eleven of the RAF [Royal Air Force] was killed when the Germans bombed the station and I think it had a deep effect on her, she is quite a sensitive person really.
Can you tell us about cutting short an operation?
We had that happen once and I wasn’t the pilot. When you first start operating you do what is called a second dicky, in other words you actually sit in the co-pilot’s seat to watch what happens so when you take your take your own crew you have some experience. And I went with a Flight Lieutenant Marvin, he was American, not a Flight
Lieutenant, a First Lieutenant, who was an American in the RAF. And we were going into the Ruhr on to Gelsenkirken where Geoff was shot down and we lost two engines, and just before we got there he said, “I can’t go through with only two engines.” Which he couldn’t do. “We are going home.” So that was called an abortion, we aborted only once and came back. So all the other operations I did we never
had to, or chose not to, put it that way.
Did you see the movie The Pathfinders?
Called The Pathfinders?
Maybe it was a documentary on recently. I think it was recent, The Pathfinders?
No, but I would like to have seen it if it was on. There has been some that have been very poorly presented. There was one on Bomber Command that was very poorly done. If one was called The Pathfinders
it was probably plagiarism. It probably wasn’t truly the story of the pathfinders. I am sure I would have known about it and gone to see it.
I remember asking a bloke that survived Changi and what did he think of the mini series? Well a pile of poo, pretty much. He thought it was totally not what Changi was about.
Well no, I haven’t see it, nor have I heard about it. Usually you
hear about these critical things. Maybe it didn’t refer to what we were doing. Pathfinders is a word that can be used in anything. Lots of people used it. It may have referred to some army deal or something like that.
Yeah. What about Patricia, was she interested in staying in the air force after the war?
Who, me or Pat?
No, she wanted to get out. As a matter of fact she was still in the air force in Dublin. She got over there on leave and they rang her up, because we were married then, and
said, “If you want to go to Australia, you have got exactly….” How long did they give you, Pat? Six days, wasn’t it, to get to the boat? When you left to come out to Australia, they gave you about six days notice, didn’t they? Yes, I happened to be in Ireland. I was educated in Scotland. So she came without any of her discharge papers and numbers and things like that because she just hopped on then because then I…
Well we were married in June. She was pregnant two months in August, so this is December, so she is about five months pregnant and the way things were in those days, once you were more than six months pregnant you weren’t allowed to travel. So she would have had to wait till after the baby was born, so they rushed her and she dropped everything and ran to the ship in Southampton.
What do you think that you were seeing at that point in your life? Flying being part of your future? Were you still thinking…?
Well when she came out I did, because remember that at the end of the war I studied at AV Rose’s and at Southampton University getting licences in England because I saw flying as part of my job. I knew what the bank paid me and I knew my wife, and I knew I couldn’t afford to raise her and a family on four pounds ten a week. After the war the world got smaller and Australia became part of
Europe and part of North America and yes, the whole world got smaller. It did indeed. It did indeed. You know, you had to get a job, you had responsibilities. And I didn’t see myself as having or wanting to have a career in the bank because I saw the bank manager, it was a good, I saw that as a stopgap until I was old enough to get into the air force because I joined the bank when I was seventeen and I went into the air force when I was eighteen. So I didn’t really feel like I
wanted to go back to that as a career. I would like to have gone to university, but Pat was pregnant and going to have a child so what do you? You have got to have an income and so I thought, “Well here is a good job,” and I was lucky to get a good job. And I was promoted early. I was a captain very young and I ended up being a Senior Check and Training Captain with Qantas on both DC4s and Lancastrian aircraft, and I am sure that if you can find anyone around still living from those days
will say that I was a pretty good pilot with them.
You mentioned before losing your two best mates. Excuse me, you mentioned before that you lost Geoff…
Geoff and Ron.
…and Ron. Now, off camera before we started today you were telling me about going to their graves, grave sites? So when did you do that trip? Was that still…?
Oh about ’95, 1995.
It was just one of our trips back to Europe, right,
because we have been very lucky. If we last long enough and I tell you about some of the places that I have worked after my air force career finished. We travelled around a great deal but there were some great cities that I hadn’t seen, places like Krakow and Berlin and Bruges and Rheims which I wanted to see. And Pat had always wanted to go back to the First World War battlefields
and the Somme and places like that, and Menin Gate, because that was where her father served and, you know, so many of our Australian soldiers were killed there too, so I did. And then I wanted to go to some of the main cities, like Dresden and Munster that I knew were lovely cities to see, ones that I had bombed, okay. And then I also wanted to visit the graves of Geoff in particular, because Ron was buried in England and Geoff was buried in a German
cemetery I have got in there… Battlefields or something. It is just north of the Ruhr where many, many RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force] and RAF are buried.
It must have been interesting for you later on. You told us at morning tea that you were in Berlin at some point working.
Yes, a few times to Berlin.
Was that interesting for you considering that you fought them?
Very interesting because we were there before when Checkpoint Charlie was still working and we were there again after it fell down,
you know, after they knocked it down. So it was interesting to see the two things and it was an interesting city. Berlin is full of life, you know, of one kind or another. I am not particularly fond of the Germans as people, as a race, but I am not disfond of them either. But it was great to see them and talk to them over bars. Let me tell you an interesting story. We were in Hamburg one time and I had bought Pat a new BMW in Munich and we drove it from Munich
up to Hamburg where it was to be shipped from. And it was mid winter and there was ice on the deal and they wouldn’t let you use salt on the roads there. In many places where there is a lot of ice, they spray it with salt and that breaks the ice up so you can drive. So you had to have special studs on your tyres and I didn’t have studs on these tyres. So Pat had to drive the car around Berlin for three weeks because I was having a management teaching assignment in Malaysia that I had to go to.
However, we went into a bar in Hamburg one night to have a drink and there was a fellow, short, dark, looked a bit like you, good looking, dark haired, long haired. And he started talking to us straight away and he wanted to know what I was doing and about my past, and I told him I had been in the air force. And there was another rather tall and much more dignified looking bloke sitting up the other end of the bar, he didn’t say anything
but he looked and made a few nods. And so I said to this chap, “Will you have a drink with us?” And then I called out to that other bloke up there, and I said, “Would you have a drink with us too, sir?” And he looked at us for a fully a minute, I don’t think it was Pat and I, but he wasn’t too sure whether he wanted to be with the little dark bloke who was next to us. Anyhow down he comes and said, “Yes, I would like to have a drink with you.” And he made some sort of a look at this little fellow and off he went, right.
So there was just this chap and he asked us who we were and I told him, and I said I was in the air force during the war and he said, “So was I. I was in Luftwaffe.” And he said he was on Goering’s staff, very senior, a brigadier, or brigadier general or general or something. “Let me tell how interesting it was because I had to make certain that I was captured by the British. I didn’t want to be captured by the Russians and I didn’t want to be captured by the Americans.” So he told us how he dodged
all the trips to be captured by the British, right. And because his cousin had married the Queen of Holland and they were… I don’t know if you know European history much, but they have what is called Hanseatic princes and they were the Germans that lived around that northern part of Germany that traded in shipping, came from very wealthy aristocratic families, and he was one of those. And he said to me, “Have you been in a German home?” And I said,
“No, we had been kind of staying in hotels and things like that.” And told him where we have been, because we have had a lovely trip driving up from Munich via Berlin and other places along the way. And he said, “Come to my home.” And he took us home, because I will never forget it because it was winter, cold as anything. And his wife was quite a bit of an oddball and the place was full of moles, you know, and porcupines. She says, “Too cold for these poor darlings outside.” She had very expensive
carpets. She had a couple of rooms filled with the little animals to keep them warm. And they were charming, absolutely charming fellow. That was an interesting story. And then Christmas Day, I can’t remember the exact name of the place, Rams or something it is on the romantic highway.
Hang on Ian, I will get you to stop for a minute and you can tell us on the next tape.
Interviewee: Ian Denver Archive ID 2204 Tape 06
We were in this lovely little town on the German romantic highway and we went into have a meal and there was only one table left, and they had these two people about our age sitting there and the manager of the hotel came over and said, “Would you mind,” in German, “if we sat with us?” And we really didn’t speak any German at all. I know a few words but just enough to say hello, and you can read a language better than you can speak it, you know, and I can read the signs and so on.
So I said, “No.” And so we got talking and his wife spoke quite good English, so she kind of was the person who led the conversation and she asked about us, and she came from Cologne, and he said, “Oh, he was in the air force during the war.” And I said, “Well I was in the air force too, as a matter of fact. I bombed Cologne four times.” She said, “You probably killed my grandfather.” So that was kind of interesting. So they turned out to be nice people and, you know,
two Germans that you couldn’t have found more charming, they really were. But we have been in many countries around the world and you would go to a tourist resort, and just as Australians can be obnoxious when they are in a group in any one place, so can Germans be obnoxious. They have got too much money at times, they flaunt it and I suppose that’s probably why you sort of look twice.
At times like this when you are talking to these Germans,
does it strike you as the strangeness of war in as far as years later you could talk to someone?
I never related it to the strangeness of war. I was very lucky in that I always had good jobs after I left flying, interesting jobs, and they gave me the opportunity to travel. And particularly when I became Head of Training in New York I had to travel a lot around the world and you are in different places. And
we always saved a bit of money, you were paid well when you were overseas and if we had to go somewhere we could stop off en route and that is how we saw most of these places, you know. You would pay your intermediate expenses, but the overall large expenses like the airfares were paid for by the company, which was your return trip home.
But I guess what I mean, talking to people like this woman saying, “You probably killed my Grandfather.”
I don’t think so, and I even… I still don’t. I am not good while I am reminiscing
on the war. You probably picked the wrong bloke because for probably the first fifty years after I never went to an Anzac Day march, but I was always in another country. I was flying away with Qantas when I was in Australia or I was living in another country where it was celebrated. Once or twice I happened to be somewhere and we went to the Anzac, or not the Anzac, but the Australia commission in that area and they had an Anzac Day party. But it was only, I’d say, about ten years ago
that I was down in Sydney and my elder brother was over from Adelaide and my younger brother was living in Sydney and I was living in Queensland somewhere, back from one of my overseas trips. And Peter said, “Look, why don’t you and Derry come and march with me with the 4th Battalion?” because that is the green on white, white on green, rather. And he said, “You might have been in the air force or you might have been in navy, but there is only place to serve and that was the 4th Battalion.”
And so I said, “Well we won’t march for that reason, but we will because our dad was in it in the 1st World War.” And so the three of us marched together in the Anzac Day march in Sydney and it was only then that I saw the expression on the faces of the kids as you went by – it was very moving – and basically from then on I have tried to attend every Anzac dawn service and mostly the marches after.
We are in the Currumbin RSL which is nearby, which is a very good one which is nearby, and they have a lovely dawn service and they have a very good service at eleven o’clock at the club so we go to this each year.
So has this become more important for you in these last ten years?
Oh I don’t know whether it has become more important but I have had time to attend to it, you know, and be part of it and respect and cherish and love the people
that I was with that are no longer with us, I suppose it is that sort of thing. But it is certainly wonderful to march and some kid puts out a hand and touches you. I find that aspect of it very moving and that is the kind of reason why I am sitting here talking to you today. Maybe we can perpetuate a little bit some of those few things because I was one of the lucky ones, you know, I got through it all, but so many didn’t and they
left behind wives and sometimes children. They had a tough time.
Do you feel yourself a part of that Anzac tradition?
Very much so, firstly because my dad was an original ANZAC veteran who landed in Gallipoli and was wounded by Gallipoli and that was with us from our, you know, earliest childhood, and your father was in the war hospital in Randwick in Sydney and he couldn’t be with us because of his war wounds, you know, and why would he have war wounds because he was at Gallipoli, that’s where
the ANZAC’s went, so you grew up with that, you know, in our case. And when the war came along, all of us, my brother-in-law as I say got the Military Medal, my eldest brother had a fantastic war as far as service was concerned, my younger brother, not too many people did sixty trips like I did. So and, you know, my sister wasn’t in the services but her husband was and she worked in a sectioned industry, the motor industry,
and my wife of course was a senior, a WEP officer. So we have had a fairly militaristic tradition and I respect that. You know when all the people were knocking Vietnam I was very angry with them. We were in America, in and out at that time, and I just couldn’t understand it. These people were fighting for what they believed in. Some of the politicians might have had a personal agendas but not the ordinary bloke that goes.
What about your kids, have they been involved in…?
Your kids, have they been involved in the military from your influences?
My son Michael was killed in an accident when he was at Yale University in America. Both my daughters were at the wrong age and they are not into military stuff at all, they were quite the opposite. Although, strangely enough, Mary phoned me last night and said, “Dad, I was talking about the interview that you were having tomorrow at the office.” And I said, “Well that’s good, Mary. I didn’t really think you’d be interested.”
She said, “I am, Dad.” She said, “One of the people had been interviewed and he was the head of security and he whizzed me up to his office and showed me.” Forget his name, Seriby, or you might have interviewed him, he was the head of security for the premiers department. And so Mary phoned me to tell me about what to do, look it up on the internet, you know, how to answer their questions. I said, “Mary, all my life I have been answering questions and making presentations. There is no point looking anything up.”
Yeah, that’s good.
And Louise has got one, two, three kids and Mary has two kids and they were divorced and, you know, just raising a family and they can’t be thinking about the military. And their children of course are at an age where they could have, but one of them, his father was Greek, he served in military service in Greece I think over on an island I think on the Turkish border, but I don’t think they ever
got into a shooting war. And the other, there was one, two girls, they were not interested in the military and the other boy, well I just don’t think so. I think they wanted to peruse a more lucrative career.
Would you talk about your service? And would your wife talk about her service to your kids as they grew up?
No, we were always away and, you know, you look at the places that we worked in and the countries we worked in,
when they came home from boarding school or university you don’t want to talk about war service. They are interested in, “What’s my new dress going to be like?” “Dad, can I have a pair of shoes?” All this kind of stuff. They are not interested in the war. But having said that, now that we have got older, they do, you know, and particularly when Anzac Day comes around. And my youngest brother, his daughter was chosen to give
a speech at the Anzac Day ceremony on the Central Coast at Gosford. And they sent me up a copy of the speech, you know, so there is still plenty of the family involved. And Derry’s eldest son, he joined the navy. He had twenty years in the navy. He was a chief petty officer.
All right I will take you back, like I said off camera, right back to your very first operation on a Lancaster. Just describe the feeling
that you and the crew had that you were actually going off?
Well it is hard to describe a feeling because you are now flying an aircraft there is plenty to do. Not using the automatic pilot, you are using the stick and you want to maintain the height that you are supposed to maintain. You have got to try and you have go maintain the speed, you have got to constantly be looking around for fighters, for flaks, that you want make sure that everybody in the crew is alert and doing his job, so the only feeling as such you’d get
until you had feelings of fear was, “What do I have to do to make sure this is a successful operation? Have I done everything? Is there any thing outstanding? Is there any thing wrong?” You have a slight flicker on a gauge and you look at that, “What could that be? What could the possibilities be?” And I am a bit of a ‘what if’ man. I always like to have about fourteen answers to everything that might happen so that if I am suddenly caught out I know what to do, I know how to handle it. And I suppose,
I have been quite successful in life really, but the reason that I have been successful, I am never stuck because I don’t know what to do. I can do what can be done and if I can’t I will try and get on and do it.
I guess what I am still talking about is not so much feeling, but is there tentativeness because it is your very first operation, as you remember it?
Yes, you were apprehensive, what was it going to be? But remember I had already been on one and I had been to Kiel. I had been to Kiel, I said to you before
that I had only done one secondary but in actual fact I did two because one was an abortion which didn’t count – we came back, where we nearly got to Galsticker and we lost two engines and we didn’t drop our bombs on the target. But the second one I did was to Kiel and that was quite scary because it was a very heavily defended port, with shipping there and the Germans were there and the first time I saw flak and searchlights and aircraft
going down and fighters attacking and God knows what, it was frightening. I was scared. Scared in a way, I don’t quite know what fear is as such, but I was afraid anyhow. But not afraid for my life I don’t think, perhaps afraid that I am in a situation that I don’t have control over, that kind of thing.
I was just about to ask you that, like your second…
I wasn’t the pilot, you know.
So is that, for you personally was that a bit of a worry?
Yes, I am much happier when I am
leading. I am a better leader than a follower. I can follow and will do if necessary, but I would much rather be making the decisions.
And so can you remember the first time that you were in control and where you went?
Well I’d have to look at the logbook to tell you which particular raid it was, which won’t take me a second if you want me to do that. But it doesn’t matter, I can manufacture one up. There are so many. I did sixteen, right. So let’s say it was the attack on the Ruhr, right.
I must have done over twenty on the Ruhr.
Well yeah, right.
Does that do it?
Yeah, well I think they have already got us talking about…?
You are scared when a bomb goes off alongside you. You shake, right, like that. Right, you shake there and your knees are shaking like this, but you are looking back at the crew putting on a brave face, you smile at them, you make them know everything is all right, I am in charge and that’s what happened.
Getting me all emotional now but for sixty times things like that happened to you and your constant thought is can you keep this aircraft safe, okay, can you keep your crew safe, can you do your job? And that is what you focus on all the while. My job is to be at that target on time and drop my bombs on the target and I have got to fly the aeroplane
and when you put your trust in the rest of the crew to do their jobs and they know that you put your trust in them, they’d do it.
I guess there must be a real responsibility as a pilot?
Well you are the one that flies the aeroplane, you make the mistakes and they all get killed so yeah, it is a responsibility.
Does that add to the pressure that you are under?
Did that add to the pressure that you were under?
If you let it, it could do. In
some cases, now Pat would be a better person to talk to than me because she saw these people come back from raid after raid who she was interviewing and some of them were shaking, absolutely frightened. They had family at home and children; it was tragic for them. But for somebody like me who was twenty, you know, nineteen, twenty-one, you were young, the world is your oyster, you were brave, you were in charge of everything, you took it in your stride, basically.
Did you ever get shaky
at all at any time coming back?
You get shaky during the raid, yeah, sure you do. Like when you were orbiting the target, that was particularly scary because the crew was saying, not the crew, the navigator, my navigator was scared a lot of time, he would say, “Come on, let’s go, let’s go, let’s go.” But you knew that you shouldn’t go until you finished the job. Even making another orbit is not going to make any difference because the target indicators were a bit splashed about or all over. The
crews that were on the last part, all they wanted to do was bomb and get out anyhow, you could have done that. But I figured if I took that approach what sort of example is that to set to the crew, you can’t do that. So you make that extra orbit, right, and you are scared all the way around it. And then you have got to sit down in some cases for four hours and fly back. And there is flak all the way back and there were certain areas… They tried to route you around it of course. But then these fighters could come at any particular time. Also I would
like to point out here I operated in the last year of the war. It wasn’t nearly as difficult then as it was in 1942, 1943. The early part of 1944 was bad and some of my raids were terrible, but you know, if you were in the winter of 1943 going to Berlin every night and seeing two to three crews shot down from your squadron every night, they weren’t… It was much tougher.
for us, I mean you have before of flak coming up and bursting around you. What is it like for someone? I don’t really know.
Well there is two kinds of flak, there is light flak and heavy flak, and some of the raids we did were at a very low level and then you would get light flak and that was tracer. And you could see the tracer bullets, you must have seen in the movies, when these balls of fire are coming straight at you and you are watching them like
that. And that is scary, right. Heavy flak is different. That is a shell that is set to explode. It may be set to explode at eighteen thousand feet and that is just like an explosion like a giant firecracker and sparks and flames going out in every direction. But if there is literally a thousand going off at the time that you are sort of coming through the target, you feel as though you are flying through a massive fire. And then there is the searchlights coming up. And when
an aircraft is hit… And most of them have still got their bomb load on them anyhow and they explode with an almighty explosion. So no, the whole thing is scary. It is something that I am glad is behind me. I am glad I took part in it because I think I did my bit, but you know, you can’t say that you are proud. You have got to be proud that you did your duty, you can’t be proud of what you did. That is a different thing.
Well we were killing a hundred and thirty-five thousand people in Dresden,
can you be proud of that? You can’t. And then yet at the same time there were so many Germans killing the Jews. I took Pat to Auschwitz. She was physically sick. She couldn’t stay there.
Did that help, those kind of thoughts of what the Germans…? Did those kind of thoughts of what the Germans could do or were doing help justify that?
Well if somebody said to me, “You are going out on this raid at Dresden
and we want to create a firestorm and we want to kill a hundred and thirty-five civilians,” You would have thought differently. But if somebody stands up in front of you and he thought the same, “The place is full of Germans trying to get back from the Russian front and others coming through.” He said, “If we can cause chaos there we are going to help the Russians and help ourselves.” And that’s where you go to do that, that’s your job to go and do that. You don’t think about the other aspects of it at all and
even after you find out exactly what happened you don’t run around shouting and slapping each other on the back saying, “Well done, look what we did.” That is not the right kind of person.
Well in reflection to Dresden. When you found out after what happened were you angry at all, having to be a part of this?
No, because we went off there to do what we think was a job, which we did. The fact that we set the city on fire and killed so many people was
incidental to what our aim was, which was to cause chaos which was to prevent the Germans getting through to the Russian front or out from the Russian front. Remember our front was opening then and Patten’s people were driving through on the south-west of Europe. No, no you never had that. You never had any repercussions.
I guess it is a lot like…
At least I didn’t, but some people might have. But I can only talk for myself on that matter.
I guess it is one of those things like the atomic bomb
thing it brings to mind.
It might do that. Like with my wife, I took her to Hiroshima to see the museum there, which is a fabulous museum on the effects of the atomic bomb, and it was scary. It was really scary to see some of those photographs. She couldn’t stand it. But I am a different kind of person. I can adjust to that and try and look into it and see why was this necessary. But we
lived in Japan – the last overseas assignment I had was eighteen months in Japan – and if you look at it, it is all mountains, basically. And to have our troops trying to fight hand to hand or whatever through country like that it would have cost a million lives, a million of our troops. Now what do you want? Kill a hundred and eight thousand Japanese or a million Americans and British and Australians? So you have got to look at the effect. And I am a great one to believe that
the generals in this war anyhow who made the decisions were doing it with pretty good information and for the right aim in mind. Now in the First World War I kind of thing differently. I think the generals, they didn’t pay enough attention to their people, they just used them as cannon fodder. One of them, I think it was Rawlings or Haig, turned around and said, “Well look, the people that will win this war is the people that gets the most people, get the most men up in front of the guns.” And that’s what they did,
thousands and thousands and hundreds of thousands. I think in the first day of the Somme there were about sixty thousand people killed and that to gain what, a hundred yards? Yeah, so that was bad.
What was ‘Bomber’ Harris like?
In my opinion I thought he was a great bloke, a wonderful leader, and who wasn’t given anything like the respect that he should have got. And this is because bombing civilians is not the popular thing to do. Not popular with politicians not popular with ordinary people
but the job had to be done. If we didn’t do that maybe we would have lost England, and if we had lost England in those days we would have lost Australia and so many countries. We, for God knows how many years, two and half years, we were the only people carrying the war to the enemy, right, they were fighting on the land then in Europe, it was only us and we went out night after night, and again Bomber Command lost the greatest numbers of people per capita
than any other front. And you look at the great generals, Montgomery, Patten, whoever, Alexander, these people fight one or two or three major battles in their whole career, admirals the same. But Harris, three nights a week, four nights a week had a major battle on his hands for year after year after year.
So I don’t think that criticism of Harris is right, and because he said the way to destroy and win this war is to bring the Germans to their feet. Okay, maybe he was right, maybe he was wrong. But at the end of the war, the German, Von Shire was it? The chap that was in charge of ministry and industry, said, “The attacks by Bomber Command shortened the war by at least a year.”
So look at the number of lives we saved.
Do you feel like Bomber Command got the recognition and the thanks that it deserved?
No, not really. We didn’t even get a medal, a campaign medal, and so many other people get campaign medals for not doing anything. We didn’t get a single medal for being Bomber Command. You got a decoration. I got a decoration but I am pretty sure I should have had two or three more on the number of missions that I did. But it varied from
individuals. At the end of our war our adjutant just disappeared so there was nobody there to put the recommendations through so they didn’t go through, so you didn’t get your second decoration.
And we were talking about the atomic bomb, when you heard the news of this bomb could you quite believe it what it could do?
I don’t, I probably,
I probably didn’t address that in my own thinking processes of what it could do because you didn’t really know what it did do. We probably heard about the surrender of the Japanese at the same that we heard of the dropping of the atomic bomb because it was very soon after, and I think probably the dropping of the atomic bomb and the surrender of the Japanese that was a relief. My brother was up in New Guinea hand to hand fighting with the Japanese, and you said, “My God,
he will be safe now.” And my younger brother was on a corvette floating around and he’ll be safe now. And by that time of course I was in the war in Europe. It was sort of finished so it didn’t matter. So no, I don’t think it… It is only afterwards when you start to read… And remember I missed out on going to university so I have had to study like hell to try and keep up. So it is probably… How long have we had Foxtel? But she doesn’t watch the TV, but I am learning a lot of history,
off the TV in the last two or three years and that is the kind of thing that helps you to understand. And of course in Japan we were able to look at that Hiroshima museum and actually see the result of it, and then you start to think when you see those pictures.
All right, I will ask you some more basic questions about being on the Lancaster. I’ll just ask about the communications on board, how they operated, what you used and what kind of things you’d say. So first of all
what were you communicating directly, or was it just left to your crew?
Well the crew, well we had an oxygen mask and in the oxygen mask was a microphone and you spoke through that microphone into a telephone circuit which was connected to all the other crews, right. They all had a point – just like you plugged into the telephone now, they plugged in their mask to it. So and your communication were basically kept to a minimum. You know, initially after you’d take off, you’d turn around and check everybody
that they were all right. And the gunners would check their guns once we got out over the water. They’d come back and say, “Guns were all right.” But the rest of the time, in my case anyhow, we cut talking to a minimum. The two navigators – we had two navigators because we were pathfinders – they might talk to each other but they wouldn’t do it on their own, they’d just talk out of the side of their mouths or something like that. But and then the other communications when we were over the target of course
or getting to the target, the gunners, if one came up and said, “Dive left.” You didn’t wait to talk to him about, it you dived left because, or port, he wouldn’t say left. “Dive port.” “Dive starboard,” you know, there might be a Focke Wulf or an FW190 or whatever they were attacking you with, and the way to try and escape them was to go into this immediate corkscrew and you invariably started off with a dive to the left because they might be coming in over your right-hand
shoulder back there, you dived that way and then you climbed right, then you climb left and then you dive left and dive right.
And were these clear? Was it always easy to hear?
On the plane itself I don’t think I ever missed a message. However, over the middle of the target… And there are things going off and explosions galore, you know, what do you talk about? Everyone is listening for the bomb aimer. When he said,
“Bombs gone,” then, you know, it is nice. In the movies you’d say, “Let’s get the hell out of here.” But you don’t say that, you just get the hell out of there and you know what course you have to be on and you remember that, and so you make a diving turn heading away and drop a thousand feet or something because there may still be aircraft coming in at the same height as you, you want to be underneath them on the way back.
Yeah, I was going to ask too, when you drop the bombs, you have to take a photograph?
It was triggered automatically by the bomb sight, right.
How long would they take to take the photographs?
You know somebody will tell me I am wrong, but six seconds maybe, four seconds, five seconds. But if you are over a target, five seconds is one hell of a long time, so you stay steady to drop the bombs and take the photographs. But then you don’t have to stay steady any more and then your job is to keep
watch because right over the target itself the fighters are not usually as active because they are frightened of hitting by the flak as well. It is the flak over the target that is more of a worry, it is exploding all around you. But once you get out of the target area itself then your worry is the fighters because that is when they know where you were, they know where you are going to, they know approximately where you’ll be. And the Germans had a whole system of
wild boar, they called it. I can’t remember the German word for it. And these were attacks of different kinds, where the wild boar they’d let the ME109 fighters, lots of fighters, crew buzz hopping and come in and mix it up with the aircraft. So they didn’t want to be mixing it up, and the same time as the flak was going off, so they did that away from it. And the other one was when they didn’t know what the target was, they didn’t know where you were going,
but they had predictors that would try and guess so they would send a whole mass of fighters to that area. Our job was to try and make them think that we weren’t going to that area, we were going somewhere else, so we had what we called spoofs. You’d have certain number of aircraft head towards Brunswick, for example, where in actual fact your target might have been Stuttgart or Karlsruhe, and if we could just get the fighters going away from us then they don’t have enough fuel when they did
catch up to us to stay for too long. And then we had another thing – I am sure it has come out in your other interviews – called window. We’d drop window like mad and because the radio operator was only supposed to see messages, his job to was to drop window out, as was the bomb aimer when he was running. And window was a little magnified or metallic strip, and what it does, it drops out of your aeroplane and it confuses the German radar and makes
them think that there is literally thousands of aircraft there and they can’t hone their guns in on any particular aircraft at any particular height because the whole sky is full of things that respond on their radar.
The whole time that you had been there, had radar been a part of it?
Yes, when it was working. We had G, which was the first one, but G operated by sending out signals
but because of the curvature of the Earth it can only reach a certain range from its base stations, and they were in England and so by the time we got to the Ruhr we had run out of G. But Y and H2S was radar that was taking pictures on the ground and you were using these pictures on the radar screen to try and identify where you are based on radar maps. But no, that was our main navigation use. You had very little time to use the
like sextants and astro like I used in the early days in Qantas, we used to do that.
Because radar hadn’t been a big thing at the start of the war?
Yeah, but it wasn’t. But of course that again was now better because pathfinder boss was so good. He was a very find technical man, a great engineer as well as a great pilot and he forced it through that we got the first, and I think they called it the Y3 or something, or H2S3, the very best
of the H2S sets, because the early ones weren’t too accurate and sometimes they got terrible results using it. But towards when I was operating we were getting better quality stuff and our best navigators were given the best quality sets and they were in the best quality crews that had the most important jobs.
And with the pathfinders also, what was the kind of master bomber and deputy master bomber? What were the kind of commands that you would have to give over the radio?
Well if you are the master bomber,
it would be where to bomb in relation to the target indicators, and I think I mentioned to you if you say there was a bunch of greens, right on top of the aiming point, you’d say, “Bomb on the greens.” And if they were reds you’d say, “Bomb on the reds.” If the reds were beyond the aiming point you would have to because you couldn’t time it, you would have to say, “Bomb short in distance.” You’d say, “Bomb, three hundred yards short.” Or, “Two hundred yards short.” Or, “One hundred yards short.” Or, “Bomb to the left.”
Or, “Bomb to the right.” Or, “Bomb two seconds, or three seconds past the greens.” And this was his job to try and identify the aiming point all the time in relation to… Also, in the case of the fellow who called me down at Floha was he had to decide where, what height you would make the attack if things had changed. If everything went according to plan you just fly according to plan. But weather, you know, what it is like, it is unpredictable. Suddenly it changed and we might all be set up to do a visual raid
and you get there and it is full cloud, we haven’t got the blind markers, and that is why I had to go down to Floha so we could work out what height we could bomb from to get the main force down to that height, to come in at eight thousand feet.
So you didn’t have the blind markers on that occasion?
No not that night. They had planned… I think they forecast it as clear weather.
They didn’t carry them just in case?
I am not saying that you didn’t have one or two, but not enough to control a raid on… When it was specifically a blind marker, usually
you would plan to have quite enough of them. But probably on every raid they had one or two or three. But if the blind markers H2S set didn’t give a proper read out and he’d bomb it could confuse the issue. It was much better to see it visually and put your markers right on top of the aiming point, right, and then you relied only on you and your bomb aimer to do the job.
You can hardly blame these other planes for not coming down to this level?
No, they didn’t want to. Who would? Who would
want to go down? Because it is much more dangerous, much easier to get hit at eight thousand feet then at eighteen.
What was it is you that made you take those kind of risks?
Because I was told to on that one because my boss was the master bomber. He said, “Go down and see what height we can bomb at.” And that didn’t help me because I was already so close and I had to put full gear down and full flap down and go down like that, and you’re just sitting there like this and you are thinking, “These blokes are lining you up on their radar downstairs. Fighters can come in.
They must have heard what he said. They can speak English or somebody would tell them in English, ‘The deputy is going down, go and have a look for somebody at ten thousand feet or whatever.’”
Did you ever annoy your crew for being, you know, good at your job and taking this extra risk?
You’d have to ask the crew that. I don’t think I took extra risks. I think I only took what was essential to do the job. I never did anything dangerous
or that, you know, just for being a lair or being a bloke that wanted to seek a bit of glory or something like that, only what I was supposed to do to the very best of my ability. But I never did cut short either, never once.
Yes, I was going to ask you about the photographs. They must be quite a bit of an annoyance having to stay level for another five seconds?
Oh it is, it is damn worst to have to stay straight level for thirty seconds when you are coming in there to bomb.
It is about thirty seconds or so that the bomb aimer is trying to line the plane up, because he has got to get that target in his bomb sight and he is trying to order you to go, “Left, left, steady, steady.” And we used to say, “Left, left, steady, steady, dummy run.” Which meant you had to go round again. It was “Left, left, steady, right, right, hold it there Skipper.” That kind of thing.
But just that extra five seconds after doing that?
Yeah after that, and then “Bombs away.”
Don’t hold me to that. It might have been twenty seconds after, I just can’t remember that far back. All I know is that period of time when you started that bombing run until you’d released it was pretty scary. And you would have to stay dead at height and dead at speed to make sure your bombs hit the target.
Were you ever tempted to go, “Forget the photo. Let’s get out of here.”
Oh yeah, often.
What would happen if you didn’t come back with the photographs?
You’d have to explain it to the briefing officer,
who would think about it a bit, and if it was because you were scared and not doing your job he would report it to Igaman. I don’t know I don’t think too many of our people did that. Pathfinders were a pretty good bunch, and you did what you had to do to get the job done.
I guess you would do anything to get debriefed by your briefing officer?
Oh yeah, particularly in the summer time when she had a blue cotton shirt on and her nice boobs.
And she was a very lovely girl and she is now, she is eighty-five nearly and she still looks very lovely.
You would probably almost get yourself in trouble on purpose almost?
No not really, no.
Only joking. Well we are at the end of the tape, that’s why I am.
Interviewee: Ian Denver Archive ID 2204 Tape 07
Ian, something that occurred to me. You were talking about your father being one of the first Gallipoli veterans?
Yeah, not one of the first veterans, what I mean is in the landing at Gallipoli, right.
Yeah, that’s right. And also your convict past with your great grandparents, and we also discussed you reading The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes, which is a Welsh name, as you pointed out. Were you aware at any time during your service days in England
the, for want of a better word, that the British sometimes had towards the Australians?
No, I have seen that since but during my wartime service I found the people in England wonderful, absolutely continually helping us, we were there as visitors in the country. I hitchhiked all over the country whenever I had
any leave, I got lifts all over the place, my batwoman used to get eggs and bacon and things from the farms and get them and just put them under my bed for when I came back from operations, I would have something extra to eat. Absolutely wonderful people I found all of them.
Why did you call her batwoman?
Well that is the rank. Batman, batwoman. In the services there is an actual
trade called batman, an officer has an batman, or because they didn’t have enough men going around and you wouldn’t have woman in the fighting ranks. In the air force where we were on a civil base you could have a batwoman, so we had a batwoman. You could call her a servant or you could call her somebody that made your bed and ironed your shirts and did your washing. But when she signed up in the air force she signed up as a batwoman. And it was
a horrible rank and they took tremendous pride in what they did and in their own people. They kind of felt they owned you, they were looking after you. They wanted their officer to go out looking the best in the whole mess, that kind of thing.
Well now there are woman in the air force actually flying?
Well probably things have changed these days. Everything is so technical, you know, and probably everyone has to do their own thing. They have probably invented new kinds of shirt that you don’t have to iron, to begin with.
I think they have actually but. And what about the ground crew? When you were working did you make any good mates with any of the ground crew staff?
Yes, not good mates in the sense, as you say, as we know it in Australia. But a tremendous respect from me as the pilot and the other crew of what they were doing because they were out their in the cold and the horrible weather doing everything to make certain that your aircraft was one hundred per cent serviceable. So we
liked them, we respected them. None of them were officers so you didn’t really mix with them in the mess. You’d mix with the engineering officer, but the crew that looked after your aircraft were a bunch of really nice people. I do see them some of them occasionally because I am a member of the 156 Squadron Association, and that now, because most of the aircrew have gone, is being run mostly by the ground staff that were on the stations on 156. So I have met
with two or three. We went over twice, I think, to reunions in England.
Now you mentioned before about… I am going to come back to the time that you were bombing. You mentioned that after the war you did an hydraulics and electrics course?
Did you find those subjects difficult?
No. I have got a very good memory and once I read it, I can remember it.
And, you know, once you… Because we had been doing those things when we were doing the aircraft, you do an introduction to the aircraft and they run through hydraulics and the electrics. Electrics I always found a bit more difficult then hydraulics but, you know, it is just the same with different valves in different places and different little pumps and so and so forth. So I have never found anything technical difficult to study.
You are lucky.
I am, I suppose
I am lucky that way. I do have common sense and I am good at doing things that have to be done. And you were forced to do it because we were desperately poor at one stage. And you had to do everything yourself. You couldn’t afford to have someone do it for you. These days we are old and have a bit more money and so we can’t do it ourselves we get somebody to come and do the things. But once upon a time I did all my own work on my car and all the work that had to be done around the house.
What is the Einstein expression, “Necessity is the mother of invention?”
You are right.
All right, we will just come back to when you are on the Lancasters, just a few questions here. The conditions in the plane. I have heard a little bit about the heating systems, how did you keep warm? Was it okay on the Lancasters?
I didn’t like the heating system, personally, simply because it was a dry blast of an air on, somehow or other you didn’t like it. And one part of you would be cold and one part of you would freezing,
but you dressed, you know, you wore a flying suit and if necessary I had a beautiful Irving jacket, a beautiful sheepskin jacket. I really didn’t wear that much when I was flying. That was good to go down to the pub or somewhere like that and look like Clarke Gable [handsome actor] or somebody in it. It was to nice to wear when you worked. And I had a inner silk we called them, which is made in the same kind of silk that the parachutes are made, which is sort of
ankles to shoulders. Used to wear that sometimes.
Underwear. Most of the time I flew I flew in my battle jacket because you get too hot and you are sweating underneath and then you get cold you are in real trouble. And I suppose if it really got that cold and we lost our heating, we’d go down. But it wasn’t the kind of system that didn’t suddenly work. It wasn’t too good.
Or the way you were sitting in relation to the vents was such that one part of you would be too hot and another part of you would be too cold. But it was certainly not enough to think about because that is the first time that I had thought about since you mentioned it.
And what kind of boots did you have?
Flying boots. Initially they were full length flying boots up to here. But then they brought out ones that had a zip around here so that if you were shot down and trying to escape it just looked like you had normal shoes on, you’d throw the tops away.
They were beautiful boots.
Yeah, leather lined with wool, lambswool.
Very nice. Were you allowed to smoke in the planes?
I don’t think so. I didn’t smoke and none of my crew smoked but I don’t think that there were some crews that didn’t sneak cigarettes some time, really down the back. But really that is dangerous. You don’t normally smoke in an aeroplane when you are flying like that.
Let’s say you got hit and some fuel was coming in there and you got shot down or lost your plane because somebody was smoking, that is just something else that you added to it. But some did when they came in. I had a couple of smokes, cigarettes. I never did smoke but one of the fellows, I think I did tell you, that he just grabbed the cigarette when we got down. So a couple of times I said, “Give me one of those and see what it does to me.” And it made me sick, which was good for me, because I tried to smoke
when I was a kid in East Maitland. I won a packet of Old Chums – they were about threepence for twenty – on a hoopla at a church fate and went down the back of the toilets and started to smoke ’em and I was sick as anything. And that stood me in good stead because later on the same thing happened again.
The name of the cigarettes was called Old Chums?
Yeah, threepence for twenty, yeah, Old Chums.
Were very chummy because they gave you cancer?
Well they sure, did and in those days they probably gave you a lot else as well.
Oh, what about
a little hit flask of rum? Could you take that on the plane?
No, anything that might lessen your facilities, your ability, we didn’t do that. That’s not saying that some people didn’t – some more older experienced people that had a different attitude to life. No, as far as we were concerned alcohol was really something that you did after you’d come back from a raid and the next night you weren’t flying, you know, you weren’t flying,
there was no risk of you flying and then you could have a few. And then many a party we’d have in the mess. Everybody was not flying tonight, the weather’s closed in and there is no way you can get an airplane airborne. And I remember we had about three or four days of complete fog and everybody was drinking the whole time, more or less. But I can only drink a certain amount. I am a good drinker. I drink a lot now. I drink about four or five beers a day, or less every day. I am just drinking what do you call it, mid strength beer, which isn’t too bad,
probably about four a day. It is nice. I sit out there and watch the sunset, and there goes two, I have something to eat, and there goes another couple.
All right, we really don’t need to know.
I mean I am just joking. You are living in such a…
Okay, but you didn’t really and it wasn’t such… Certainly I had a young crew. My rear gunner was the oldest, he was probably twenty-eight or something like that, when we were twenty, twenty-one,
and I don’t recall any of them ever going out and getting drunk anywhere. And we went out a lot together, you know, you didn’t have that much money to float around with, you know, and a pint of beer over there was bitter, it was so weak and there was only a certain amount your bladder can hold. So I don’t think that alcohol was certainly never a problem with me or our crew or with any of the crews that I knew.
Did you take…
Did you like any of the English beer that you drank?
I prefer the Australian beer, but I used to drink a bitter, you know, it is like everything else. I like Heinekens, that’s my beer, but I can’t afford to buy Heinekens here when I can buy an Australian beer for half the price. Although I do prefer the Heinekens to the Australian beer. But when I go overseas I invariably drink Heinekens.
It is like Coronas, and I lived in Los Angles for six years and Coronas
were four dollars for six, for six beers. And here they are six dollars each.
Well I have a grandson, for example, and you ask, “Would you like a beer?” “Oh yes, I’ll have a Corona.” And I often think with those people that is because that’s the fashionable, more expensive thing to do. Isn’t that right, darling, when I say to Paddy, “Would you have a beer?” He says, “Yes I will have a Corona please.” And that is more the fashionable young thing than the mere liking of the beer. Well I can agree with what you said, but it is lies, all lies.
Now you mentioned before that when you wanted to change over to pathfinders a chap came to the base actually to talk with you?
Yes a very famous pathfinder named McHaddie, a group captain, who was a navigator. No, I think he was a wing commander when he came to see us. And his job was to go to the various groups, right, ours was one group, go to the squadrons on that group and talk to them about the pathfinder force – what they did,
what their job was, who the people were that were in it, what it would mean to you if you volunteered to come and this kind of thing. And the only thing that he could offer to you that you flew more, you did another tour and you might gain an extra rank. But people went I suppose because of why I went – I just felt that was the best way to serve.
But what was it about his talk that inspired you?
Well let’s say he talked about Squadron Leader Clayton, for example, who had done eighty operations and had a couple of DSOs and a couple of DFCs and you were sitting there and you’d done about ten operations or something and you said, “My God, I’d liked to be like that.” You know, someone who could be really proud of what they had done. And he talked about the technical aspect of it and that appealed to me too. “You have got to be able to bomb the target better if you are in pathfinders because we will teach you to
navigate better and how to do it and you’ll have the latest aeroplanes and you will have the best equipment.” All those kind of things appealed to you, when remember at this stage flying is now my career so I had to do the very best job I can and that seemed to be the right place to do it.
And when you said to your crew, “Listen fellows, I’m thinking about going over to the pathfinders.” Did they tell you to go and get…? To go to hell?
My crew didn’t use those kind of words, but they said, “No, we won’t go.” They said,
“We have got twelve trips to do to finish our tour, and we want to finish our tour. And we don’t want you to go. You are a good skipper and we want you to be our skipper,” which is a tough thing to put to me. But I went to see the wing commander and I told him that I wanted to go and he said, “Well I am not going to let you go.” And he said, “First of all, you are a good crew, one of the best crews on the squadron, and your crew don’t want you to go and we don’t want that kind of set-up at our place.” Also the station commander and wing commanders of the
various squadrons in many forces didn’t want to lose their best crews to pathfinders. Why should they give them up? And they were left with people that were inexperienced. So, you know, he had a vested interest in keeping me there. But he said, “No, you can’t go.” But it was only after I’d been out with Pat and the next day he called me in the office and said, “You know that request of yours? I will now approve it.” So then I went back to my crew and said, “This is the situation. The wing command has changed his mind. He has approved for me to go
to pathfinders. I would like to go and we have done so well together I would like all of you to go.” And their faces fell a foot, you know. But inside an hour they came back to me and said, “All right, skipper, if you want to go to pathfinders we will all come with you.” Whatever they did, they got together and talked about it and talked about the ifs and the buts. Some were probably a bit more nervous than the others, like my rear gunner would have said, “No, I am going.” But my navigator, who was nervous all the way through it,
would have said, “I have only got twelve to go and then I can live,” and this kind of thing, and already his best friend had been killed and so on and so forth. So you can see the… But give them their credit, every one of them came and every one of them did a great job. And every one of them got decorated.
What was your favourite part of flying?
You mean in wartime or just flying?
Anytime, actually. What was
the thing that most appealed to you about flying?
Being up in the air, you know, completely in charge of a wonderful piece of equipment like a bird. And then you can fly around and soar and those things. When there is nobody shooting at you it is quite a different deal. When I first went solo, that was magnificent experience. You are the only person in this aircraft, you are up in the sky on your own. And the same when you went to Wirraway, which was like a fighter, that was fantastic, you know. Later on
when I got more experience and bigger aircraft and bringing the thing in under difficult conditions… And only about one trip that is different from the war. It was one of my last flights with Qantas. I was flying a DC4 into Tokyo, we were flying from Howacuri to Tokyo along Honshu and there is a lot of mountains there and there are two cold fronts that we went through. The weather was absolutely terrible and this cold front was coming into Haneda, which was the airport we landed at, and I went up to a place called
Kagoshima, and I had to come from Kagoshima in to land and I had two aircraft ahead of me at the tail end at north-west waved off. They said, “No, you can’t get down.” But I came down and we had a ground controller and he was saying, “You are nicely on the glide path, you are nicely on the glide path, you are nicely on the glide path,” all the way through, never lift it a bit, never drop it a bit, never turn left, never turn right, the windscreen wipers were going like this and the snow was this thick and I had to open the storm
window to try and get a peak out of that side and I put it down like a squelch like that. Now that is probably the most wonderful thing that I remember from my flying, particularly as all the crew stood up and clapped.
Because you couldn’t see anything?
Well I couldn’t see hardly anything, but I put the airplane down right in the centre of the runway because obviously we were down on the runway and you could see from here to the other side of the house otherwise you couldn’t fly or direct it keep it straight,
but I got it down and nobody else got down. And then we all went off together as crew skiing. It was the first time I had ever skied we went up to Mount Itakura. I went along to the manager of the hotel, which was probably the Miramichi, and I said, “Look, we want to go away for three days,” because it was probably about three days before the other aeroplanes came up. “What I want you to do is make out a bill for how many crew we have, ten or something counting all the stewards. I will sign for ten meals three times a day
for three days. And I want you make us a bunch of picnic baskets with booze and everything.” And it was great. He did a great job and we carried all this stuff, the Qantas staff came along and he came with us, we took it in the train and we went by train up to Mount Itakura and then we went into snow cats and then wasn’t that much Japanese food around, you know, so if you wanted to eat in those little places, you know, you took your own food.
That is the only sport I really love is skiing.
I just think it is great, isn’t it?
We didn’t have the proper clothes or the proper equipment but we did it, you know, and that was fantastic.
Now you have got me thinking about when you were talking about the Anzac Days that you were missing?
I know that when I lived in America I would seek out the Anzac Day services at the particular cemeteries? Did you end up doing that?
In a couple of cases, but we lived in
Darien, which is Connecticut, and there was no Anzac Day service there at all. I worked in New York and then again I lived in Dallas and worked in Dallas and so I think I was in Washington on two occasions when there was an Anzac Day service and we went to that.
Was that at that huge cemetery?
At Arlington Cemetery?
No, this was down at the ambassador’s place. It was basically an impromptu
service and it was it wasn’t the ambassador’s home, it was the embassy, basically. We had a room there and we all had drinks together and got together and drank to Australia.
Okay, well tell us about you hearing that the war was over. Can you remember where you were?
When the war was over? Well I was, the exact day, I am sure
that I was on the squadron, but I can’t remember exactly what I was doing – probably training and flying that day. I think I was flying that day, but not on operations – operations had finished. I also, at that stage Pat was not too far away and we had a little Oxford on the squadron which we used to use for standard beam approach, SBA training, for flying on the beam and I often used to take that over for tea
over to see Pat. And I think the day the war was declared I was over in Reading Common seeing her. But I wasn’t in London or anywhere, where all the celebrations were going on. And in the… When I got back to the squadron of course we all had a few drinks and everybody cheered. But, you know, it was a mixed feeling because you’d lost so many friends and now what is next and all this kind of thing, so.
I suppose in many ways the war ending was a loss for some and a gain for others. You’d have to readjust – you got yourself into a way of living that you’d felt you could handle and all of a sudden you are faced with another life, going back home, and in my case it was to get married and then get Pat back to Australia and find a job, so I was more scare doing that then flying over Berlin.
Are you talking about VE [Victory in Europe] day or…?
Talking about what?
Are you talking about victory in Europe or…?
Yes VE day, victory in Europe, yes, because that is the war that I was in. I wasn’t in the Pacific war, because after I got my wings I went straight to Europe for training. As far as the victory in Pacific was concerned… And I was in Europe. And that was different because then I was to go out to the Pacific. I was training to do that, to be in the pathfinders squadron as squadron flight commander on the pathfinder squadron, but as soon as the war ended
that was dropped immediately and then I of course I started to think ahead. See that was when I was doing all this study I told you about at AV Rose and at Southampton University and got my two licences before I came back to Australia. So when I was looking for a job I had something to help me get it.
And you went to Southampton University?
Yeah, they were the only place that had courses on the tides. That is why I went there.
How did it feel going to university?
it is not like normally going to university like my kids did. It is going to do a specific course, you know, so it was like a training program really. But it was nice to be on a university campus and go to a lecture hall and get lectured about. Which there was no other airmen there, it was all for sailors and people in the navy. It was the navy thing that they had set up especially because Southampton had the proper professors to do it. Not that it came into any use because I never flew a flying boat.
So none of that actual studies that you did there…?
Oh the pilots studies did, oh yeah it did, because when you do that you are catching all kinds of other things as well, and an understanding of what happens with the world’s tides and world’s currents doesn’t hurt you. When I was doing my first class navigator’s licence when I came back to Australia and I had to do all sorts of subjects like peripheral trigonometry, all the other study I had done
it helped me because I’d got into the method of doing it.
Is it true the most difficult part of flying an aeroplane is the taking off and the landing?
not necessarily the most difficult. The most difficult would be if you were in the days before they had all the radar equipment that they have these days and you are making decisions to go this way and that way when you are facing an intertropical front and there are storms galore and lightning all round you, that is when it is difficult. When you pilot
you can handle the takeoff and landing without any trouble, it is just if something goes wrong that is the most critical time for something to go wrong, so it is the most dangerous time, particularly in takeoff. Landing, you can probably go around again by pushing the throttle though, but in takeoff if you lose an engine or two engines you have to go straight ahead, you can’t get airborne, depending on your air speed.
So would a bad pilot be when they come down and they bounce?
No, there are no bad pilots. No, they are just unfortunate landings.
Okay, that should be on a mug.
Oh yeah, there could be a wind current, you don’t know what it is, but that is not true. Some pilots are much better than others, put it that way, and they can make a silky smooth landing nearly every time. But sometimes the conditions are such you get a wind shear or a gust and you can’t help it, the plane can hit the ground, that’s it.
With all this travelling in the post wartime after the war…
I mean did you ever get that you wanted to go into the cockpit and…?
Yeah, and I often did. But remember from… I was out of the air force. Let’s say, I don’t know what day of the week it was, let’s say it was a Monday. By Tuesday I was flying with Qantas with the same kind of people that I had served with during the war. I didn’t have to make any of these tragic gaps like so many people did, had to readjust to civilian life, I was mixing with really first class people. And in those days
Qantas was a first class airline and we were staying in nice places when we went. You know, stay in Raffles Hotel in Singapore, for example, and the Perihilar in Hong Kong. Everything was great. I enjoyed it very much. It was only then later on that I was away so much and, you know, you had three little kids and, you know, you could hardly ever see your family. And you didn’t get paid very much and they had a weird way of
having your allowances and they wouldn’t give you enough money to go and eat at the café down the street, and your laundry you had to pay for yourself. So by the time you’d flown to Tokyo and back you’d spent half your month’s darn pay on doing things that they really should have done for you.
Tell us about coming back to Australia.
Well that was interesting because I landed in Sydney and we pulled up in Woolloomooloo.
Do, you know, Sydney? You know Woolloomooloo,
There is a street called Chalice Avenue and there are some steps that go up there. We lived up those steps up Chalice Avenue, and you could see from there… The front of our place wasn’t Chalice Avenue. You could see the Harbour Bridge and you could see the actual ships come in. And now my sister and my mother and my father were waiting, you know, those iron railings
on Victoria Street looking down onto the wharf. They were hanging on to those and I was on the ship waving at them like mad, you see. And then we weren’t allowed together then, then we were taken to Bradfield Park and we were all on one side of the parade ground and our families were all on the other side of the parade ground but they would only let one member of your family come to meet you. And my poor old dad, who I told you was hit through there and hit in the head as well, suddenly comes across the parade
ground with a most exaggerated limp I ever saw in my life. And, you know, he played football and cricket and golf, was a wonderful man. But he was limped across there from his war wounds, a bit of an actor you know, really great bloke. And the first thing he said to me was, “Ian, get your beer rations. There is no beer here and to get any beer you have got to have a special thing. Have you got them?” I said, “Yes, I have got them.”
So but both my sister and my mother sounded strange because they spoke in a very Australian accent, and you see I had been living in England for about three years and my Australian had become Anglicised a bit and they were poking fun at me saying, “Who’s the boy from Oxford?” and all this kind of stuff, you see. But it was great to be home. And of course we lived at Potts Point and we went and got all this beer and we had a celebration. I can’t remember who else was there. My elder brother
by this time was over in Adelaide where he’d married and settled down and my younger brother was in the navy and I think he had a problem with his lower spine, an abscess or something, and I think he was in hospital. But it was very exciting to be home, right.
You said your parents lived in Potts Point?
Yeah, my parents lived in Potts Point. But I had to taught him to speak English.
So you were speaking the Queen’s English now?
I was only for about two weeks when I got back to being a normal Australian again.
It didn’t take long. And it had to be bastard English.
I have a friend from Inverness who says they actually speak the Queen’s English.
Yes, many people think that Inverness and… What’s the other place? Aberdeen and Dunedin, up along that coast, they think they speak better English than the English. But I had lived in so many different countries and then you start to speak a little bit of Indonesian and a little bit of Arabic and a little bit of Japanese and
a little bit of Thai, your languages get a bit mixed up. And you change, you deliver differently. Remember I was a trainer and I had to make presentations continuously and sometimes I was making presentations to people whose grasp of English was very limited, and you had to slow down your talking, you had to be much clearer, you had to make sure you choose words that they could understand and that is part of your profession, you get used to doing that. So my English probably sounds different to, you know,
than most of the people that you have been interviewing?
Yes it does. It is sort of hard to pick an accent for you because you have got a real sort of…?
What they do is they call it transatlantic. When you have been travelling a lot and you go from one country to another. You lived you say in Los Angles, well we lived in Connecticut and then in Texas, you had the American one. But I travelled tremendously to our companies, which where… English was the spoken language, basically, and the native language,
so you went backwards and forwards between American, English, Australian. And particularly because you were talking professionally as part of your job.
And when you came back home it wasn’t long before Pat came out, is that right?
I got home about the last day in November or so but Pat got out about January the 6th, something like that, about six weeks after.
And she was pregnant, though?
And when was she due?
In May for the baby, May.
I think if she hadn’t left when she did, I think she was about five months pregnant when she left in December, and if she had waited another two or three weeks they wouldn’t let her come. She would have had to wait until she had the baby and the baby was delivered and was all right to travel and all that kind of stuff. And that was very difficult because her father had died because of the effect of war wounds from gassing and her mother was not too good.
And she had a grandmother who was alone and she didn’t really have any place she could go and wanted to call her home. So once we were married the best thing for her was to come out here. She actually went back to Ireland to live with her sister in Ireland, lived in Bray, which is a nice part of Ireland.
Did you use that time when you were back home in Australia after the war to find a house to live in and a job and everything else?
Well I did it to find a job, right.
With my wife who is pregnant trying to find something to live in yourself, it has to be a joint decision, right, and because my mother’s apartment had a nice big bedroom with a bathroom just off it which we could have, so we had that. And I thought, “Well, we will stay here until Pat gets here and then I’ll, we’ll have a look.” And we hadn’t been there more then three weeks to a month, and it is not good to have your family living
with your immediate family if you can help it, so we found this place at Bellevue Hill. We went out there and we lived there for about six or seven weeks or something like that, maybe longer, maybe three or four months. And then I found this rent is going to be pretty high based on what we got and we found a house at Epping, in the northern part of Sydney. Nice house, but Pat in no time at all, because where we were we could go down to Redleaf pool or we could hop on the tram
and go out to Bondi, or the bus, whatever, and she got used to the sea and she didn’t want to live at Epping. So some of my friends were all living down on the north coast or up in the north coast, which I didn’t really know, and so we went to Newport. And there was a lot of pilots and navigators and people who all live around that area. And because when we were flying we were away and most of the other time we were at home, so you didn’t have to worry about commuting backwards and forwards all the time, so Newport was a great place to live. Wasn’t too far from the
Newport Arms, which was a great hotel, and we had a little house on Pittwater it is called, a salt pan; it was a lovely spot. And sure enough that is where we settled down and where Mary was born there and Louise was born there and Michael too.
And how did your mother take to your new wife that she hadn’t met?
Well I couldn’t see any problem whatsoever. I am sure there were
differences in culture and way of living and all that kind of stuff. No, we got on very well together and had a… Whilst we fairly quickly – eight years after being in Australia – went overseas again and then virtually all the rest of our lives till after my mother died we were living overseas. But certainly in the first holiday we had was Wisemans Ferry,
and Mum and my dad and Pat and I and the baby and the pram went into the old silver anniversary Buick I’d bought, which had the rear hub welded to the axle broke down on the way. The pram was on the back seat going back and forwards banging my dad on the head, who incidentally didn’t drive, you know, because of his war wounds. No, it was an interesting time, but they got on very well.
Was that your first car a Buick?
Was my first car in Australia.
I bought a car in England for ten pounds but what I didn’t realise with that was the right-hand wheel was splayed. So you were driving along like this and one wheel is pointing this way to go round a corner all the time so you had to hang onto it to go straight, and someone else was driving it one night and we went over the bank into Charters Caroll nearly Early.
Near the beach.
Used to go round a bridge, Early is a lovely city with
a cathedral city and there is a canal there, a lot of canals in that part of England. And we just went straight over and down into the canal. And as I’d only paid ten pounds for it we just left it there, I don’t know what happened to it.
I did that once.
That was my first car. I was flying an aeroplane before I could drive. As a matter of fact an interesting experience was I was in the officers mess at Upwood and the wing commander called me up and said, “Denver, you’re the orderly officer tonight.” I said, “Oh,
sir, what do I have to do?” “Just drive around the camp and make sure that everything is all right wherever you go. Report to me if anything is wrong.” And he said, “The car is out the front, here is the keys.” I didn’t dare tell him I had never driven a car before in my life, never. So I went out and got in this car and, you know, I had seen people drive so I got the engine started all right but I didn’t know how to do the gears or what gears do. So I pulled the gear lever back into reverse so I back straight into the wall of the mess, through the garden into the wall,
luckily not going too fast, the car stalled and then I pushed it into a gear, which I think was third, somehow I got off and I got it straight out to the taxiway. And so that is what I did. I drove round and round the taxiway for about half an hour until I reckoned I could drive the car and then I cruised around the camp saying, “I am the orderly officer. Is everything all right?” So that was my first real driving experience.
All right, so you worked for Qantas?
For how many years, did you say?
I joined them on January the 24th and I left them on April the 1st 1950, so that is about eight years and three months or so.
So you came out really because you were leaving your wife and children a lot?
That was the…?
Yeah, I think I was away too often. And you didn’t get paid enough in those days. It was quite a… But there was another thing that bothered me and I don’t like to go on the internet really. But Qantas we wanted to form a pilots’ union
and the general manager was a fellow named Ritchie at that particular time. He didn’t want the pilots to have a union. So everybody got together to form the union and then Ritchie came out and said, “Look, those of you who are going to be in this union have got a very limited career with Qantas. Those of you who come over here and line up with me now have got a pretty good career.” And many of the fellows that I had trusted and really thought were going to part of it, not that I was the leader at all, went over
to stand alongside him. So I thought, “Well that is it. I don’t want to be in a company where we are split like this.” And then I was in Singapore one time having a drink in the bar at Raffles Hotel and talking to an Australian there. And he said, “What do you do?” And I said, “I am a Qantas captain.” And he said, “Oh.” And I said, “What do you do?” He said, “I am the purchasing officer,” or something, “for Caltex Pacific.” He said, “We have got a couple of aeroplanes,
three aeroplanes in Indonesia and I have a feeling we are looking for another captain, a training pilot, check pilot.” And I said, “What would they pay?” And he said, “I don’t know but pretty sure that it will be more then you are getting now.” So he said, “If you’re interested, I’ll tell ’em and they can contact you.” And I said, “Well ask them to give me a contact and of some sorts of conditions and we’ll see what it is.” So they contacted me and told me, but didn’t make any offer on the salary. And I got back and said,
“Look, I’ll be flying through Jakarta on such and such a date. Maybe get one of your personnel people to come out and talk to me.” Because I had about an hour spare time for one reason or another we had an hour and half slip over. And this fellow, George Randall, and this fellow named Arnold, Bud Arnold, a tremendous man, he was the managing director, came out and they were waiting at the airport. And this managing director turned to me and said, “What is your name, son?”
I said, “My name is Denver.” “Denver.” He said, “That is the best time I ever had in my life was Denver. What does he want, George? Hire him.” And I said, “Well I want to make sure I am getting more than what I get now.” “Double it George, double it George, hire this man.” And then he walked off. So how about that? He was the kind of bloke that during the war was with the American long range desert group and
he had a machine gun mounted on top of his jeep, you know, and with pearl handles on it and God knows what. Absolutely terrific bloke, he looked after me in a way in that period, but I trained myself out of a job and when I we had a wonderful time. But, you know, I could talk for hours on our time through Indonesia. It was the time when the Sukarno regime was folding down, it wasn’t quite as good for Pat as it was for me because I could always go over to Singapore or something like that and I could get out of it
whereas she had to stay behind. One time we had eleven servants. The managing director of KPM had a beautiful house up in the mountains on the way to Bandung in the Prince shire and if he kept it in KPM’s name the Indonesians were going to take it over, so he rented it to me for one rupiah a month. So I had this beautiful house with servants and everything spread out across the side of the mountain and rice paddies down below to go for at weekends when I wasn’t
flying. And we had a nice house in Jakarta as well.
Did Pat like the house with the servants?
She loves the house up on the hill and she likes servants, of course. But we had about half a dozen down at old house. The kids had to have an amah, we had to have a cook, we had to have a houseboy, we had to have a gardener, we had to have driver and you name it, there was all sorts of… And we had to have an amah because we had three kids.
That sounds perfect but we had better stop and switch tapes.
Interviewee: Ian Denver Archive ID 2204 Tape 08
Okay, I was just interested in Qantas. What kind of places were flying to? What were the kind of flightpaths they were putting you on during those years?
Well I started out on Lancastrians and the Lancastrians at that stage were owned by BAC [British Aircraft Corporation] and we flew the Kangaroo route as far as Karachi, and BAC would fly it from Karachi to London. And initially we had different routes to Karachi. We went via Guilford and Cocos Island
and to Colombo or Karachi. We went sometimes via Learmonth and then to Cocos Island and then as soon as Darwin opened up and Singapore we flew via Darwin to Singapore to Calcutta to Karachi. And I did this for maybe about two years going backwards and forwards and then they introduced the Hong Kong route, but by then I was switching to DC4. I was flying DC4 and Lancastrian at the same
time, basically, and I flew DC4s to Hong Kong but I might fly Lancastrians to Norfolk Island or somewhere like that, you see. Or I might make a quick trip to Karachi on a Lancaster and come back again and then fly a DC4 up to Hong Kong. And then we opened up the route to Japan so initially we went through Hong Kong, Hong Kong onto Iwakuni. And the Korean War was on and we started to fly the Australian troops to Iwakuni where they then staged for Korea.
So on that way we started going out Darwin, Manila, and Iwakuni and then we found the shortest route was via Guam, so went [Port] Moresby, Guam, Iwakuni and all those routes and variations of them. Sometimes landing at Okinawa, sometimes going via Perth, Jakarta, Singapore, Hong Kong, and sometimes up to Singapore and back again. Pretty well always go to the South-East Asian
countries up as far Japan, and in Asia as far as Karachi and Pakistan.
And what kind of people were taking planes, because most people went by ship if they were going on…?
Well in the early days there were only about nineteen seats on a Lancastrian and it was terribly costly and the people that went on it were on business, you know, important people. But afterwards we were going up to Korea – they were soldiers and serviceman going backwards and forwards. But, you know, I flew General Robinson from
Iwakuni to Tokyo and I had a giant carbuncle on my behind and I got into Iwakuni and I was in such pain and I said, “I can’t fly.” And they said, “Brigadier General or General Robinson,” – ‘Red Robin’ as they called him – “is going to Tokyo. He has got important meetings. You have got to fly.” I said, “Just have a look at my behind.” And they went and said, “Hang on.” And they went and got one of these things, a big cushion with a whole in it, a rubber cushion, like kids play with and floats. He said, “Sit and put the bum where the boil
is in that hole and that’s the way you’ll get there and we will have something fixed up when you arrive in Tokyo.” And sure enough, when I get to Tokyo there is an army ambulance, they take me over to a hospital, it was a Saturday night. I am sure the attendants were drunk – they dropped me off the darn stretcher as they were carrying me into the operating room. I came back by train it was the first time I had travelled in one of those famous Japanese trains, the yellow Bullet, back to Iwakuni. I thoroughly enjoyed it when the operation
bit was all over. But then I we started out a route to Lae going via Moresby, was Sydney, Brisbane, Moresby, Lae. I was flying that one week and again the second time sometimes in the week. And then we also did… We opened up the route between Melbourne and Christchurch and I was flying that on DC4s. I used to go Melbourne, Christchurch and back again. And sometimes I did Melbourne, Christchurch and then Lae and then I’d go off to Karachi or somewhere.
And then there’d be specials, one of your first flights through Guam or something like that. I might be on that because I had that flight navigators licence. We opened up Cocos Island after it had been closed down and there was no radio beacon or anything there and I had to fly the radio beacon in, and we didn’t have enough gas, only about an hour and half, and so you couldn’t go anywhere, so you had to find this tiny island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. And I know when I got to where it ought to be I navigated myself, and I did beautiful sextant shots
all the way through and run down a satellite, but here was low cloud so nothing. You couldn’t see anything so we had to start a box search and on about the second leg we found the island and that might have been a problem.
You mentioned that it was quite a hard job to get. It was quite a hard thing job to get the Qantas job. Were you quite young as a pilot?
Yeah, at that stage I joined Qantas in January of 1946 so I am still only twenty-three,
twenty-two. 1946, in July of 46 I would have been twenty-three so I was still only twenty-two. And then just over a year later I was a captain and that was quite something to be an international airline captain before you are twenty-four, that was quite something. But it was a hard job because there were probably twenty thousand pilots come back from the war all looking for a job as a pilot all wanting to fly for Qantas, so that is why it was hard.
All right, I will move on to Indonesia because of the limited time we have got. Yeah, you mentioned the changes that were going on at that time.
Yeah it was a very difficult period because the Sukarno regime was collapsing and there is tremendous corruption in the country. There was a lot of police activity that made it impossible for you to move around. You had to get permits to this and do that and do everything. But having said all that there was a nice golf club there, I was a good golfer, my managing
director was a good golfer. We had good amah, we had good servants and apart from the fact that the food wasn’t so good, we had a good life in Indonesia. I ended up getting an amoeba on the liver so I got anaemic hepatitis, which was very, very bad. But Pat had a more difficult time in Indonesia than I did because we used to go up to this weekend house and when she
was there one time the rebels were shooting machine guns across the house chasing the police, you know, and she had the kids from here Sunday School and our own kids all lying on the floor up there all dodging the bullets. So Indonesia was charming in many ways, exciting, challenging, but I enjoyed it because what I did was, I had to fly the aircraft up from Jakarta. There was another crew there, they went onto Singapore, they always wanted to go to Singapore, and I had been to Singapore so many times.
I was more interested in finding out what was going on in the airfields. So I would go out and spend maybe two or sometimes three days on the oilfields, but I would spend it studying and I was doing a Certificate of Petroleum Engineering and I would go out onto the rigs, where they had the petroleum engineers, where they had the geologists, and they were quite enthused that somebody that was the pilot, who would fly them around, would want to spend his spare time out with them when they were working. So they were extremely helpful and I became quite knowledgeable about what was going on in the
oil industry, so much so that when we had really important executives visiting us, our managing director would say, “Ian, I am going to ask Mr Volavast ” – Let’s say he was the Chairman of Sail Oil of California, or Mr Long, who was the Chairman of Texaco – “to sit in the front seat and you point out to him the various things around the field.” And so I took quite a pride in doing that well. So Indonesia for me was great until I came down with the enema of the liver and they had what they thought was
malaria with constant shakes and God knows what. I was in hospital here for about four or five months before they found out what it was. But then when that was done I had basically trained myself out of a job in Indonesian. All the other pilots had gone, the radio operators had gone, and we had Indonesians doing the job. So the top man up there in civil aviation said, “Look, I don’t think we need Captain Denver any longer. He has trained Captain Perjamin
to do a fantastic job and we are very proud of him. We would like to make him your chief pilot.” And what could they do about it? They came back to me and said, “Look, Ian, there is a lot of pressure on us to put Perjamin…” They said, “What is he like?” I said, “He is darn good. I have trained him and you couldn’t have anybody better.” “So can he do the job?” I said, “Yes, he can do the job.” “So what do you want to do?” “You promised me that when I took this job,” – Arnold didn’t promise me, he wasn’t there any longer – “that you would get me a job in marketing or something like that and I don’t want to go back to Australia.” To go back to Australia
when I have already been the top of the heap in Qantas as a pilot was… And go back and do a job on aviation refuelling or something like that… “I am not interested. I would rather go overseas, learn some job and try and do that.” So they said, “All right. We will send you to Bahrain.” So I went to Bahrain as a marketing representative. I spent about a year before I trained myself out of that job, and then went to what was called maintenance. And this was a three hundred-odd barrel a day refinery,
an oil one, with about six different crude units and a lot of work. So I learnt a tremendous amount about planning of shutdowns, of scheduling people. I supervised the riggers and the scaffolders and all the movements and the materials around the sites and the various shutdowns. So, you know, I could look at a bolt and I would know what a bolt was. I’d get a triangle bar, I’d know what it did. I look at a pressure line and know what that was for and I could look at any aspects of the refinery, basically, and understand the purpose
of it being there. And then we had about an eight… There was a forty million dollar inventory in stores. So they said, “Would you go on to stores now, you know what all these things are, and see if you can get that down?” So after a lot of work I got it down to eight million dollars, so cut from forty million to eight million means a straight saving of thirty-two million dollars that is not tied up in capital, right. And the maintenance people said, “We are not going to give up our little magpie stores,” that they had all over the place.
And, you know, like Bush said, “Trust me, I will make sure you get it.” And I always did. There was never an occasion where something was held up because of a shortage of material because I hadn’t ordered it or go in on time. So I did that for about three years and learnt a lot about buying because I was doing the purchasing and the controlling and the warehousing and so on. And then there was a program – the president came back from America – called ‘Zero Defects’ and it was exciting, and it simply meant that you could do your job without making a mistake
if you get the right facilities to do the job, if you have the right attitude towards to do the job, if your job gives you the recognition that you want and gives you the opportunity to do it then you will do a job without mistakes. So I preached that, basically, but I made it possible. We identified potential causes for error. I got them moved. If somebody was made…of the month, I got the chair of the company at 3 a.m. in the morning out of his bed on graveyard shift to say
well done. And after three years we were running the best refinery in the whole of that Middle East – and all our costs hadn’t gone up like the others – until somebody came down and said, “Hey, maybe you should go and do training.” I said, “I have never done training.” He said, “From now on you are going to be Head of Training and Development for Caltex worldwide based in New York.”
During your time in Bahrain, how did you get along with the government and the people there?
No trouble. I love the Arab people. They are courteous people, they are generous people, they
are nice people to work with. No, I never had any trouble whatsoever. I was a good golfer, I think I told you. We had a desert course, a good one. I won the two Bahrain Opens. I can show you a whole list of many things, club championships galore that I won. But I just like Bahrain because I was doing a different job continuously and I was doing it well and getting better
and better whatever I took on. And I was getting that same sense of achievement that I used to get when we had a new flying job to do or go on a new route or something like that.
And what about the lifestyle? Is it like an expatriate place?
Yes it is, it is an expatriate lifestyle and it was great. We had twenty-eight different social clubs in Bahrain that you could be member of from camel riding if you liked to yachting to golfing to tennis to art. I played the
mad dog, is it, in Treasure Island and, you know, all those kind of parts that you can take. It was all amateurs but you did it for fun and everybody got in and everybody did their bit.
What is it like, an expatriate community? Is it a special kind of community?
It depends on you. Some people like it very, very much and other people don’t like it at all. It can be very difficult for some people because obviously it is a small community and everybody knows what everybody else is doing – nothing is secret
and may times they’d build upon in and create an issue where an issue didn’t exist. For example, Heather was talking about driving a car with that young blood. Well that would have turned into an issue, you know, and they would have created something out of it. And that is what can happen in an expatriate community. But I had exciting jobs all the time I was there, I enjoyed my golf. I had a young son who was handicapped – that was a very difficult period
and that didn’t work out too well. Eventually he had to leave so Pat had to take him back to England and he went to a Rudolf Steiner school and then by this time the kids were all in boarding school or started out in university. And then they sent me to New York, so that was wonderful. We all moved to New York. Me… And Michael had just finished his high school in England and he came over and went to Greenwich for a year and then got into Yale, and that was quite an achievement
to get into Yale.
Well what was it like having your kids away at boarding school over those years in Bahrain?
Awali had a local school up to the age of eleven, because the English education system was based on what they called eleven plus, because after eleven you went to a technical school or a comprehensive school or you went off to a private boarding school. So and we just took our kids to eleven and then they all… Because in those days
you got paid enough to send your kids to a boarding school. So anyhow we were floating around New York at this stage, right. I went there and I became Head of Training and Development for the Caltex group of companies. They made me what I thought was a fantastic offer of nineteen thousand
US dollars a year, which was much more than I was being paid. But I soon found with a daughter going to Oxford, right, another daughter going to another university, a son who was just about to start in Yale and another little son with tremendous medical expenses, I couldn’t afford the bills. So I had to take out a second job, so for seven years I worked as an adjunct professor in a graduate school in New York, at Fordham Graduate School of Business and Administration and I taught in an MBA [Master of Business Administration] program.
I taught international marketing, international business. And what happened was first of all I was given a seminar to teach, right, which was about fourteen classes and it was called a seminar instead of a core course and I didn’t know anything about it. So I wrote to two of the leading professors in America, Fairweather and Ashacapore and told them what my problem was. Oh, they were surprised that anybody would do things like this so they both sent me
back copies of their books, with copies of their lesson plans, right. So I took that and I worked like hell. I’d get up at three in the morning and I’d study until six o’clock and then I would catch the train into my office and get into my office at a quarter past eight, I’d work through and take a twenty minute lunch break, I’d be up at the university at six o’clock, I’d visit with the students at half past to half past seven, from seven thirty till ten o’clock I’d teach, from ten thirty I was on the train coming home.
And all through that period, you know, I worked like hell during the day in Caltex. My boss would only allow me to do that for seven years because I had to take one of the semesters and travel for Caltex, so during that period I always went overseas to run management programs or supervisor programs or whatever. So that way I got enough money to put my kids through their colleges and their education.
You didn’t get much sleep?
remember this wasn’t every day of the week. I taught two days a week, two nights a week and Saturday mornings. But it was still demanding because I had an extremely busy job and, you know, in New York you have to work twice as hard, pretty much, as anywhere else because there is no extra people to help you do the jobs, you do it.
And you mentioned Dallas as well?
The company moved their headquarters from New York to Dallas. For a period
before we moved to Dallas I went back to Bahrain as the Manager of Training and Development there because they had a lot of troubles in Bahrain. The place was burgeoning and every one of the people we’d trained and brought up before were being hired away, made general mangers downtown with twice the salary, you see, so I had come up with some way of keeping them there. So I went back and set up a career development thing that really worked. We kept our people and now that refinery is virtually run by those kind of people that I had
some say in what their training would be. But we went back and they moved to Dallas, and Dallas was a great place; Pat loved Texas. We actually lived in Carolton, which is a suburb of Dallas, and went to the office. If you have ever watched the Byron Datsun Open you can see Caltex house from time to time from the course there. It was great and I thoroughly enjoyed it. But when I was sixty-two, right, the company came up with a golden handshake and said, “Anybody that has worked thirty years,” –
I had worked thirty years at Caltex – “can take this golden handshake and leave.” And so I put my hand up and they said, “We don’t mean you. It’s for some other people.” I said, “No, that is not what the notice says, anybody.” “But we didn’t really mean you. We want you to stay here and be our Head of Training.” And I said, “No. I have just been back to Australia, teaching some management out here.” And I said, “My two brothers live in Australia on less money than I’ve got. I would like to go home. I have been away a long time.”
“Oh, you shouldn’t go.” Anyhow they couldn’t back down. They went up to the chairman and the chairman said, “Well you have got to let him go.” But I hadn’t been gone more than three months when somebody from Australia contacted the Managing Director and said, “Can you come into the office?” And I said, “All right.” And the people from Dallas were on the phone, said, “Would you come back to Dallas? We want you to go to Kenya to set up a career development
centre for us.” And as I had spent some time in Kenya a year or two before doing an organisational survey for them, that appealed to me. And I had never ever worked in Africa except for a short time, so I said, “Yep, I’ll go.” Also I had a problem with my house in Texas, the sale had also fallen through and I needed an excuse to get back to Texas. So I went back and took Pat and we loved Kenya. It was really nice, I had a good job, hard working, and got it all organised and built a career development training centre. And then on top
of that I taught the courses and I did surveys of all the East African countries that we did business in, so I had a chance to go to Uganda and Tanzania and places like that. And so I was able to come back, knowing what they needed, then put together a course that would help them and then teach it. So I did that for the best part of a year. And then they rang me up again and said, “Right, now you have done that job we want a local to take over come back to Dallas.” And I said, “No, I am going home.”
So I went home to Australia. And about six months later they rang up and said, “Look, there is a refinery we want to build in,” – or not build, it was already built – “We want to recognise it in Bangkok. But we would like you to come and write up the manpower and training plan for us.” So that is a month’s work in Dallas and they pay you good money and I said, “Well, why not?” So off I went to Dallas and again and wrote it all up. And I am on my way out to Bangkok to have a look at what this is going to be like, and I was in London and the phone comes and says, “Don’t go to Bangkok. That is
going to fall through. It is too dangerous for us to take that job on because the refinery is located on swampy ground and anything could have happened.” And it was just after that disaster in India. They were scared that they might have got into a situation where they would be sued for things. “But go to Malaysia instead. The training coordinator down there is not doing a very good job. Tell us what we should do.” So I went down to the east coast of Malaysia, I wrote up a program for them, sent it back to Dallas, went home
again. And then they phoned me up again and said, “Right, we have decided that what you said is correct. We need a good man to come here for six months. You are the only fellow we can think of. Will you go to Malaysia for six months?” So, fair enough, that’s where I went. And went to Malaysia for six months and set up all the programs, got it going and did a pretty good job because I came home again. And I hadn’t been home more than six months or so and the call came from the Head of Petrolnass’s HR department, and said, “Ian, we are building a new refinery
in Malacca. We like you to come and be the Head of Training for that refinery.” And I said, “Well send me an offer.” And then the next hour more or less a phone comes from the Managing Director in Caltex in Malaysia, “Ian, we hear that Petrolnass has approached you to be their Training Manager?” I said, “Yes.” “Well we are trying to get a technical services crewman there which includes the supply of a training manager. We think you would be better
off if we put your name forward as the Training Manager and it may help them to accept our package. And you are under our umbrella; you will be better looked after.” So I what did I do? “Yep, put my name forward.” And then in no time at all I was back up there and we lived for fourteen months in Kuala Lumpur and it was great. I got all the programs written up for everybody in the refinery. And then came back here and I hadn’t been back for more then a year and we were living at Rainbow Bay at that stage. And the phone goes again from the General Manager and he said,
“Look, we want somebody to go to Oman.” And I said, “Oman? Where is that?” “Muscat.” “Oh, Muscat. I know Muscat.” It was very, very hard to get into Muscat because it was forbidden to visitors. And I said, “Yes, I got down there, strangely enough, as secondary crew on a Gulf Aviation flight in 1960.” And they said, “So you know it?” I said, “Yep.” They said, “Would you have a look at it and give us a report on what we should do?” “So I said, “All right, for two months.” He said, “Yep, for two months.” “How much do you pay me?”
And it was good money at ten thousand US dollars a month or something like that, or a little less at that time. I said, “All right. I will go and do it.” So I went and did and wrote the report up and then they said, “Now we want you to go back there for a longer period of time and be the Training Manager because they have accepted our technical service proposal. But we don’t want you to just do training and development, you are be in charge of medical, that means the doctors, the nurses and so on and so forth, security, occupational health and
fire and safety and as well as training and career development. Can you do it?” I said, “Well how do I know? I have not done any of those things apart from the training and development.” But I said, “Give me a good man and I will make sure it is done.” They said, “Okay, we will give you a good man in each function and it will mostly be a local except for the fire and safety one.” And sure enough, I went back and I worked there for two and half years, when the agreement finished, and I think I did a great job, thoroughly enjoyed it. I was a good golfer up there too –
I got the golfer of the year trophy from that place. And then we came home and I was home for about a year and I got a ring to say, “Look, we are building a grassroots refinery in Dallas.” Not in Dallas, “In Thailand.”
So then going to Thailand and I went up there and they had trouble with the Training Manager and I wrote up a training report and he just wasn’t able to handle local
people. And I said, “This is your problem. He is not doing the job as well as he should.” And they said, “Well look, he has resigned. Would you take on the job?” And I said, “I had better go home and pack up.” But when I got home the Managing Director phoned and said, “Ian, he has come back and withdrawn his resignation. What am I to do?” I said, “Well what do you think? If you want it to be successful, he won’t do the job for you.” He said, “Yes, I know that, that is why I asked you to come in the first place.” And I said, “Well you have got to make a decision.” And so I came up
and he called him into his office and said, “Look, we are not going to accept your return of your resignation. We really feel that you are not the right man for the job.” And the General Manager, who had been a good man – I had worked with him before – was also fired at that time. So I came in and from a grassroots refinery it was fantastic, state of the art, worked two and a half years in Thailand and thoroughly enjoyed it and had a good opportunity to see Thailand. And because in the first six months I worked sort of six days a week,
from seven in the morning to about six a night and then we had Sundays off and then later on we’d get the weekends off, you know, so it worked out pretty good. And I hadn’t been home for more than a year and by this time I was about seventy-five or so and the Managing Director from Japan phoned and said, “Look, we have a problem in Japan. Will you come up here and write a report on what we should do?” I did that, came home again, they rang up and said, “Yeah, you are right. Will you come up and do it for us?” So we had the last eighteen months in Japan and I stopped working, I think it was
in 1999 when I was seventy-six.
Well what is your attitude to working in those kind of years when many people have retired?
I have no problem. I can adapt more or less as soon as I am there because I have learnt if you treat people with respect, give them the facilities that they need to do the job and give them the training they need to do it, they will do a good job for you. And provided you adopt that management style, you are always going to be successful at whatever
I was interested in too, this is a kind of silly question, that in Dallas do a lot of men in Dallas wear the ten-gallon hats?
Yeah, sure. I have still got some beautiful cowboy boots. I never got round to wearing the Stetsons but many of them did. And, you know, LBJ [Lyndon Baines Johnson], the President, he was wearing it all the while. And Voss, who was the Chairman of our company when we moved down there, was a Texan. He came from Cedar Creek, and it was part of his dress. And you go into a bar which could be
a to less bar, excuse the language on the tape, and all the fellows are leaning on the bar and they have got their cowboy boots and their ten-gallon hats on. It is a great place. But having said that, there are some fellows dressed in Italian suits and are very sharp businessman and are very capable as well.
Well that sounds… That is a very interesting career. I guess because we are right at the end of the day and getting towards the end of the tape, I will just ask a couple of questions about your war service?
Just looking back, do you have any regrets about your war service?
no none, really.
What do you think it kind of taught you as a person, like?
Self-discipline, and then, you know, if you have got a duty to do, a job, if you get down and do it, in the long run things will look after you. I was never one to seek out promotion or seek out glory. I was a great believer, this was the job, get it done the very best you can and things will look after you. So I
suppose I learnt that from the war in the beginning.
And looking back, what do you think was the worst of your experiences in the war?
Well the worst of the experiences was obviously losing my two best friends. But personally was the worst of the experiences was one or two nights when you got great holes and you were scared to death, but you got back all right.
Living in Nissen huts when you were cold and freezing when you were training, that was not much fun in that. But I don’t think I had bad experiences. I think I am the kind of person who doesn’t bother with bad experiences. I just ignore them and carry on with the next job and everything turns into a good experience.
Well on the flip side, what was your best experience in the way of the war?
Meeting my wife, without doubt.
But so many things couldn’t have been done differently. If I hadn’t taxied downwind at Uranquinty I would have been an officer off course and had a completely different career. If Hamish McHaddie hadn’t have come around I wouldn’t have gone to pathfinders, I might have been killed on the next trip, and so on.
So what do you think? Do you believe in fate or just…?
Say that question again?
Do you believe in fate, then, or anything?
No, no, I am not a fatalist. I believe in… I am not a
bloke that believes in luck a lot. And although I am a lucky person I believe in hard work. What is it? Perspiration and luck, about eighty per cent perspiration and ten per cent luck or something. So I am like that. I work hard, I try my best to do the very best job I can. I said, “When I die, I want you to put on my obituary, ‘He did his best.’ Or, ‘I kept my promise.’” Like in the song. And she said,
And as a skipper, as a pilot, did you play a sort of father figure role at all?
I was too young. I was the youngest member of the crew so you are not a father figure, but you are an authority figure in that they looked to you to do your job, but never in a command kind of situation in that, “You do this…” I never had that experience. I think that all my crew were a wonderful bunch of fellows
and they did the very best that they could do and that is why we are still here. And if one of them hadn’t done their job, we are sure to have been dead.
Okay, we are just… We will just ask one last question, which is, do you have anything else that you would like to add to the record or final comments about your war service and your life?
No, not as far as the war service is concerned. I now
I think I am well looked after by the DVA. The only problem I have there is here is my wife, who was nearly six years in the war, came out here as a war bride, she doesn’t get any of those nice goodies like I get – a gold card and a disability pension and so on and so forth. But the doctors all think that I did enough to earn them. But I know that she had a great life and I think that they should start to try and consider wives of returned soldiers or airmen
that were married at that time. Not now to go out and marry some beautiful young thing from down the road and expect her to get the facilities, but genuine war brides and something like that, I think it would be a good idea if they tried to look at that. There can’t be too many of them around now, but there must be some of them that need the help, that the government could perhaps give them.
Well that is a good thought. Well we have come to the end at last.
Well, all the very best and thank you for coming down.
Thank you. You did a great job.
I enjoyed it myself. I didn’t realise I had so much to talk about, but I realise I could talk for another week.