Yeah, tell us a little bit about your family?
Oh well I was born in Ballarat in 1925 and my father was a baker and pastry cook. At that time we lived in Sturt Street, which is the main street of Ballarat. And my early schooling was at Daner Street, State School. My father being a
pastry cook was working actually for his father, that is my grandfather who lived in another part of Ballarat in Genning Street North, and he died, my grandfather died and so my father shifted to the residence that he had at Genning Street North. So I then, after completion of primary school at Daner Street, I went to the Ballarat Technical School and after doing my four years
study at technical school, entered the workforce and became a Junior Draughtsman at a company called MB John Pty Limited who were valve manufacturers. And in 1943 I turned 18 and I applied for join the RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force].
My boss gave me permission and that was necessary because it was a protected industry but being young, he found that I could be done without and there were some girls coming up that could do the work I was doing at that particular time so I was allowed to join the air force. On entering the air force I was sent to Melbourne, which was the Recruiting Centre up in Exhibition Street
or was it Russell Street, Preston Motors at the time. And they sent me to Sydney to Bradfield Park, which was out in the suburb of Lindfield in Sydney for Initial Training School and after completing that I was sent to Parkes NSW to do a wireless air gunners course. I didn’t want to be a wireless operator; I wanted to be a pilot but so did
95% of all the other trainees and if I wasn’t allowed to fly the plane I wanted to be able to defend it, I wanted to be able to shoot. So in those days the only options was a mustering known as air gunner, I was a little bit rebellious against the wireless part even though I was getting on reasonably well and I requested to be taken off course and sent to air gunners
School, which was in Sale, West Sale Victoria and they reluctantly agreed and I went to West Sale and completed an air gunners course down there and got my wing as an air gunner and was made a sergeant. From there we were sent to Melbourne to one what was known as 1ED [Embarkation Depot] that was an embarkation
depot which happened to be at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. The Melbourne Cricket Ground had been taken over by the services and all the stands had been enclosed, the playing arena was untouched but the stands had been enclosed and converted to camp, and after we were there for a week we were given some leave, embarkation leave after which we came back to Melbourne to the MCG
and told that our group was being sent to England. So we were put on a train from Melbourne, sent to Brisbane and from there we boarded a ship which was an American Liberty Ship, one of those prefabricated types and we sailed across the Pacific non-stop to San Francisco, that took quite a while
of course. And on arrival in San Francisco we were transferred to a American army camp on an island in the Bay called Angel Island. We were somewhat rather taken aback by this particular camp because the facilities and the amenities
were something that we weren’t accustomed to being in the service. It was more like, from our point of view, a luxurious area and we were further amazed when on talking to some of the Americans army servicemen there, they claimed that that was their toughening up school to go out to the Pacific area. After a few days in San Francisco
we were put onto a train and the train went right across America to New York. Naturally we past through quite a few towns and cities on the way and quite a lot of the states of America and we arrived in New York and were taken to an army camp in New York or just out of New York. We were given several days’ leave in New York city.
And then we were taken by another train down to a wharf in New York Harbour and when we got out and looked at the ship it was so big we were staggered, it was the Queen Elizabeth. So we boarded the ship and our group comprised around about 1000 or 11 hundred Australian airmen but there was also 15,000 American
army personnel on board as well. And we sailed across the Atlantic to Scotland, the ship was unescorted. The two big liners of the time, the Queen Elizabeth and the Queen Mary did a shuttle service backward and forward carrying troops and they went unescorted because their speed was too high to be
hamstrung by convoys. They use to sail at about 30 knots, so no ordinary ship could keep up with them and they zigzagged across the Atlantic and we arrived in the Firth of Clyde in Scotland. There we were disembarked and put on a train and taken all the way right down England to
the city of Brighton, which was on the south coast. There we were put into our reception camp, which happen to be 2 hotels on the beachfront. The hotels were known as the Grand and close by was the Hotel Metropole. Those hotels had been stripped of all of their normal
fittings and contained just the bare essentials for airmen and troops and we were, had to go through various more training exercises mostly physical but a few theory in preparation for what was to become our ultimate duties.
We were given some disembarkation leave and whilst we were in Brighton we noticed that all the side streets were slowly being filled with farming equipment, trucks, tanks you name it. Because obviously this was going to be one of the ports of disembarkation for troops who were heading for, who were going to be heading for France in the not
too distant future. So after sending us on leave and we took our leave up in the Lakes District as guests of some private people, we returned then to Brighton but were then sent to the city of Warrington, which is roughly midway between Manchester and Liverpool, because they’d closed the two
hotels as camps temporarily while they were getting the preparations for the, what was known as the Second Front. After a couple of weeks at Warrington we were posted to an Operational Training Unit, which was at the town called Litchfield. Litchfield is a small town about 10 or 20 miles north of Birmingham and it was at
Litchfield where we met other members who were of different categories such as pilots, navigators, wireless operators and bomb aimers. And over a period of a few days we gathered and formed what was known as a crew. And the crew of men that came
together would then hopefully remain together as a crew for the rest of their wartime experience. We then started training on the aircraft, which was known as Wellingtons, they were twin-engine bombers that had been retired from service but were now used to train crews. And first of all our pilot who had
who had trained in Canada on single engine aircraft had to be given quite some training to handle dual multiple engine aircraft but fortunately he was quite good and got onto the knack of it fairly quickly. So the first thing we did was known as circuits and bumps, that is the pilot was taught with the crew on board usually had to take off
with those scrand, what we call a scrand – that is an instructor alongside of him do a couple of circuits of the airfield – and come down and land again. It was practising taking off and landing which of course in heavy aircraft was totally different to single engine aircraft. When he became proficient at that, which was fairly quickly, we were then put on
cross country flights to give the navigator practice and we were sent to various parts of England or on various routes to come and then make our way back to squadron, to the Unit again. And also during this time air gunners were given the opportunity to practise various stages of air gunnery. We were also
given an awful lot of ground drill on exiting a plane, to parachute jumping and also for ditching in the sea. Because obviously everytime we flew on operations we had to cross the North Sea and after quite a few weeks at Operational Training Unit we past out so to speak, qualified and
were then sent onto what was know as a Heavy Conversion Unit where we had to change from a Twin engine aircraft to a 4 engine aircraft. The 4 engine aircraft that we went to were known as Stirling’s and that was at a town called Wesley up at Lancashire and we went through the same process again but on 4 engines instead of two.
Now we had to pick up another member of the crew at this particular station, the member was called a flight engineer and there were no flight engineers trained in Australia so the one we got was an English RAF chappie. And he joined our crew and it was his job to monitor the four engines and assist the pilot in various duties,
to keep the plane flying naturally. Watching fuel tanks, changing over from one tank to another, fuel cocks various things, watching the engine performance: it’s revs, it’s power, etc. And so we went right through the whole training again, circuits and landings, cross countries, air gunnery and also introduced us to fighter affiliation, they would
send us out on a job and also arrange for a fighter plane to come and meet us so that he could attack us using a cinecamera and we would have to take evasive action or try and use cinecameras ourself to try and shoot him down. And we were given a lot of bombing practise as well for the bomb aimer.
Then after we graduated from that particular school, we were then sent to a Lancaster Finishing School. And there we changed from the old Stirling aircraft to Lancasters. So we went through another training course but it wasn’t quite as long but it was little bit more intense. Particularly bombing practice and
fighter affiliation and getting the hang of what the Lancaster aircraft was all about. On completing that school, we were assigned to a RAF bomber squadron which happened to be number 15 and was located in Suffolk at a base called Mildenhall, but when we arrived at
Mildenhall which is not very far out of Cambridge, we found that it had been a long established peacetime station with good quarters and a well established airfield. And there were two squadrons based on this particular station and so when we settled into the squadron we were allocated
an aircraft and then we had to start practising again. We were sent out on a couple of familiarisation flights and then we were notified that we would be flying on our first operation. This particular flight on this day
was to bomb the railway yards at a town called Triea which was on the Moselle River and for our first trip much to our surprise, the squadron commander accompanied us. And he wanted to see what sort of a crew we were as well as to give us a little bit of reassurance on our first trip.
It was a daylight raid so we were able to fly in formation, so we could naturally see other aircraft at close hand and we could see what was happening in the daylight. We flew over the North Sea, crossed the coast of Holland and then turned into a southerly direction heading down towards to the Moselle River and ultimately reached the target of Triea, now that was our first experience
and in the distance we could see black puffs all around, that happened to be shells from anti-aircraft fire bursting in the stream and unfortunately I witnessed the first aircraft being shot down. The Lancaster going down in flames and unfortunately I couldn’t see any of the crew escape.
So that was our first experience and what had happened was the anti-aircraft fire would be able to predict the height we were flying at thanks to radar and they also had eight proximity detonators in some of their shells so they could explode at the level we were flying. And we were flying
at 21,000 feet this day. Some of the flak were close to our aircraft and we could feel it and a few small holes but we successfully bombed the target then returned to our base. We were away roughly 5 hours on that particular trip and naturally it was a relief to land back at our own station.
The squadron commander was rather pleased the way the pilot handled the aircraft and the way the crew worked together and so it was only a couple of days later that we were put on battle order again and off for another trip. Out across the North Sea, across the coast of Holland and down into Germany
and this time we were heading for, from memory it was Bonn. The difference was it was a little further than Triea and the flak was a bit heavier. Fortunately we didn’t encounter any enemy fighter planes but since we were flying in formation that gave us some reassurance because we had a fair amount of
assistance if that became necessary to fire. This gave us a little bit more experience but it also gave us a little bit more worry. Because I was sitting out in the rear turret being the tail gunner and I could only see what happened behind me and I couldn’t see what was happening in front, but other aircraft
at that particular time, there were several shot down and the crew on one of the planes baled out, we could see the parachutes. But naturally that worried us a little bit too, because we thought fancy having to bale out over a target area and because all sorts of things could happen.
Returning safely to base we found that there were a few small holes in our aircraft. What would happen with the anti-aircraft shells or flak as it was known, they would explode and send shrapnel flying in all directions. Anti-aircraft shell did not necessarily have to have a direct hit to put an aircraft out of action.
The shrapnel from the exploding shell spreading out was quite often sufficient to disable a plane if not bring it down. If one was unlucky enough to have a direct hit from an anti-aircraft shell well that was just complete curtains because if perchance you still had the bombload on board and still
had a large supply of fuel in the tanks it would totally destroy the plane and that was it, kaput. So this went on, after our second operation we were sent out on some more practise fights particularly for fighter affiliation, as it was known.
They’d arranged for one of our own RAF fighters to come and meet us and then engage in air-to-air combat and we would have to practise taking evasive action to try and avoid their cinecamera getting us, lining us up long enough to theoretically shoot us down. We had learnt to take this evasive action whilst
we were at the various training schools, and it was commonly referred to as corkscrewing and the aircraft fortunately, the Lancasters being well built and having been trained at a decent Lancaster finishing school. The pilot learned to throw the aircraft around in the air, which sounds a bit strange. But depending in which direction the fighter was going to attack us
he would turn the Lancaster in towards, in the same direction to make the turn ever so much tighter for a fighter pilot and at the same time drop a 1000 feet and then reverse the schedule so the rest of the crew were going up and down in the aircraft even though we were strapped in. But the G [Gravity] force, or what was known as the G forces would have a terrible effect on us. And then he
would climb a thousand feet in the opposite direction and then turn the wings over again and do this and then repeat the operation, known as corkscrewing until the attacking aircraft either drifted away or else decided to come in at a different angle. In which case then we’d take an evasive action in the other directions. And we had to practise this quite a bit because
it was going to be a very important manoeuvre for us. Mainly used when the aircraft, when the bombers were flying on a night operation. Evasive action of that type was not normally used in daylight when you fly in formations because it was too dangerous for the other aircraft in the flight and further more when you’re in formation you had got quite a lot of guns to bring to bear
on an intruder. The only problem was the guns that we had were point 303 Browning machine guns and at the time we were flying, it was a little later in the war the fighters were equipped with 20mm cannons so they could sit off at a lot, great distance and they would be out of range of our guns. But when we never flew less than 3 or 400 aircraft and quite
often we flew with a lot more aircraft there was usually quite a few guns in the vicinity you could bring to bear but unfortunately we didn’t encounter that problem. Night flying however you couldn’t fly in formation, it was too dangerous to have the aircraft so close, so they would fly what was known as a stream. And all the aircraft would be travelling in the same direction but in the
stream they’d be scattered all over the sky and slowly converge and become very close when we got close to target area. Then it became quite dangerous because we were usually at different levels and those who were rostered to fly perhaps at 20,000 feet and some would be 21,000 feet and, providing everybody
was there on the perfect timing and perfect bearings, things would be all right, however that seldom happened. Usually one group maybe a minute late or another one a minute early or something and you’d find some above the others and they would commence dropping bombs with aircraft underneath. And it was not uncommon for bombs to graze an aircraft as they were falling to the ground. And this
was quite a hazard actually as you can imagine. And so on night operations, and our particular crew did two of them, it was a period when you endured a great deal of stress and sitting out in the rear turret and looking into the night sky to try and
anticipate if the aircraft, you could see were your own or whether they were enemy, was very stressful, very stressful, very hard on the eyes. For this reason there was no perspex in the front of the…forward of the tail turret because they use to have trouble in the early days keeping the perspex clean and if it wasn’t absolutely spotless and even a flyspeck would give you a distorted
view of what was approaching from behind. So they dispensed with the perspex and we were sitting so to speak in the open, we only had perspex on each side of us. And it was bitterly cold because at the time we were flying it was European winter and nothing to be minus 40 or more in the rear turret that I was situated in and because of that naturally
I had a heated inner flying suit. I even had heated slippers inside my flying boots and gloves and also a heated microphone in the oxygen mask and we would have icicles below the oxygen mask, anything up to 6 or 8 inches long sometimes. It was extremely
cold. Ultimately we’d been over to Germany bombing on seven occasions perhaps the worst one we went to was Dortmund which was just past Essen, and those cities in the Ruhr Valley were extremely heavily defended because there was so much industry
there. And Dortmund we had to pot fire around that area, if was just further east than Essen and some of the other major cities in the Ruhr, so the amount of flak that we experienced was unbelievable. There were also lots of fighter aircraft in the area, but fortunately none of them attacked us.
It’s hard to explain nowadays the actual danger and sense of danger that one had while as you were flying in this but you had to do the job and that was it. To read the statistics of
the losses suffered by Bomber Command would stagger most people. Always we would see aircraft going down in flames, but usually the target would be well hit because of the number of planes that took part. We often read, and remember the early
days of war called the Battle of Britain when the RAF fighter planes put up such a great defence against German Bombers, at the time we were flying was very much the reverse. The Germans were then defending their country against invasion by air bombers
from RAF and also the American air force who always flew daylight. And when you’re fighting to preserve your own country you tend to fight a bit harder and believe me the resistance that we got from the German defences was enormous. I remember
hearing, it wasn’t generally known at the time that a bomber force of around about 760-odd planes were sent to Nuremberg and one hundred of those planes didn’t get back. Most of them were shot down over the target area because they picked a clear night with lots of moonlight, and the planes were easy picking for the enemy. So they lost almost
700 men on that one raid. On our eighth trip we were briefed to fly to Cologne, we had been there before and trip number eight we thought well we’ve had experience, we’ve been there, we know what it’s like, no problem. And on this particular day we were notified that our own plane
had gone in for a major service, so we were to use the squadrons spare. And the squadron did not have an H2S Radar Scanner underneath its belly but in place it had a point 5 machine gun. So on this particular raid we would take an extra air gunner to man that particular gun,
which being a daylight raid we didn’t think was necessary but anyway that was the instruction that we had. And this particular air gunner, an RAF chap was doing what was known as second tour. Now there was, tends to be superstitions: one, you didn’t like flying in planes other than your own and two you didn’t like a first tour crew
having a second tour man with you. There were other funny superstitions that the crews sort of developed but anyway on this particular occasion the target was Cologne so we took off at point of time, picked up our squadron over Suffolk and picked up the group and the rest of the planes and flew
over the North Sea, across to Holland, turned southerly down to Achen around at Achen and set course for Cologne. Shortly past Achen near a town called Durren, the flak started again and we were flying at 23,000 feet and all the aircraft on this particular day were flying in condensation
trails, vapour trails as what you can sometimes see jet aircraft flying over when you get a large formation, and they’re all flying and this, when all of a sudden the pilot said to the engineer, “I seem to be losing power on one of the starboard engines,” and the engineer checked his instruments and he said, “Yes, the starboard out is giving
problem.” The wireless operator hopped out of his seat and looked up through the astrodome, that’s a little perspex dome on the top of the aircraft and he said, “I think I can detect smoke in the vapour trails coming from the starboard out engine.” And he’d no sooner said that than he saw flames coming out of it, and so the
pilot naturally instructed the flight engineer to operate the fire extinguishers, each engine had built in fire extinguishers and the engineer of course did this immediately, it was routine training, and but unfortunately they didn’t quell the fire. Now the fire was getting worse and we had a blazing, naturally at the speed
we were flying at, the flames were blowing backwards of course onto the wings of the aircraft and heading towards the fuel tanks. So aircraft, we still had our full bombload on board, a lot of fuel and we were losing power and started to lose height so the pilot said, ordered us to bale out, he gave the instruction to jump, jump and so
we had to bale out. Now unfortunately the engine that was caught on fire and became inoperative was known as the starboard outer, that’s the one on the right-hand side and the outer of the two engines on that side. The turret that I was sitting in at the rear was operated by hydraulics and I had controls in front of me to turn it or tilt the guns, whatever, it was done by hydraulic power.
The starboard outer engine contained the little motor that provided the power for the hydraulics, now I have the turret turned around at 45 degrees when the order came to jump. So the first thing one has to do is centre up the turret so you can get out of it, but it didn’t respond, so I had to do it manually. There was this small
spur gear around the perimeter of the turret inside and you would just engage a pinion in that and start winding. So I had to do that until the turret centred up, then I had to disconnect the heater and the oxygen and intercom from my helmet and from my flying suit, then reach
up behind me and pull a wire which opened two doors behind me so that I could get out of the turret and get into the aircraft itself. Then I had to grab two handles and lever myself out of the turret and then find my parachute, which was stowed inside the aircraft, take that off it’s stowage and put it onto my
my grandfather worked his way out on board ship as a cook. He came from an area in Scotland called Motherwell and having worked his way out and being a cook for some reason he came to Ballarat and we haven’t established why or how but he came to Ballarat and set in, found an old building and made a bakehouse of it.
And started to manufacture bread and a few small goods. And he seemed to get on rather well, and he married my grandmother who I never knew because she had died long before I was born and I’ve only got faint, very faint recollections of my grandfather because he also died whilst I was young. And they had a
bakehouse shop in Vivien Street North and they had a family of 3 sons and a couple of daughters. And the sons worked for their father, so the business became known as A Wilkie and Sons, the A standing for Alex,
Alexander Wilkie was the grandfather’s name and it was A Wilkie and Sons. And the three boys worked for him. Now as things progressed he, and as the boys got a bit older, he purchased a shop in Sturt Street, in the main street and it was two storey fortunately, there were living quarters upstairs. And I’m not sure whether he
purchased that prior to my father being married or after it. But he set, there was another bakehouse behind the Sturt Street shop and my father use to concentrate on the smallgoods, whilst grandfather and the Vivien Street North Bakery, concentrated on bread. So the older brother he left and established a bakehouse
of his own, went out on his own and the younger brother he was a bread carter, he used to drive the vehicle around delivering and he died relatively young. So that just left my grandfather and my father in the business and when my grandfather died there was no need for us to live above the shop,
because the grandfather had a home in Vivien Street North adjacent to the bakehouse and shop there so father renovated that and we moved as a family up to Vivien Street North. I’ve got two brothers and a sister. Now my father unfortunately suffered severely from asthma and he was under constant medication for it and in those days
the medication was not as good as what it is today. And it was often blamed on his working, mixing flour and various ingredients that aggravated it rather much. Mother was not all, now my mother prior to marriage she was the daughter of a Cornishman who had migrated to
Australia and settle in another area of Ballarat called Mount Pleasant. To this day I don’t know how my father and my mother met because they were a close community in Mount Pleasant, strict Methodist and worked in their own, and lived and worked in their own area except for mother. Like lots of the young girls in those days, became sewers
and went into some of the mills that were operating in Ballarat. There is one run by Myers, one by Morleys and one by Lucas and my mother went into the Lucas establishment, which had a very good reputation for manufacturing various ladies lingerie,
slips all sorts of things. And it was a very successful and a very big company. So she was very good at sewing. But ultimately she obviously met my father and they married and naturally became the housewife, as was the thing in those days. Once a person married, the lady gave up work and became the housewife.
They had four children, 2 brothers and myself and a sister. The older boy on finishing primary school went to high school and after graduation he joined my father in the bakehouse. My mother didn’t like the bakehouse much because she claimed it had a very ill effect on my father’s health. And
also she didn’t like the hours that they had to work in those days. Because remember it was 6 days a week for trading and the busiest times were Christmas and Easter when most people were enjoying holidays, etcetera. And so she decided the two younger boys would not work in the business. We had to go out and find work elsewhere.
Whether that was the right decision or not, in retrospect now I don’t know but that’s what happened. So I got a job as a junior draughtsman at a company called M.B. John Pty Ltd who were valve manufacturers and a very successful company. And my younger brother when he left work, became a sheet metal worker at another local
company which was also successful, but since he was three years younger than me fortunately he did not get involved in War service.
we knew that we were going to England and a small group of them were going to go north to Darwin. We thought this is great going overseas, an adventure. So they put us on trucks with our gear and took us to Spencer Street Station and put us onto a troop train, which was a little bit different to the passenger expresses.
Not quite as comfortable but never the less and they took us straight through to Brisbane. We had to change trains at Albury and we had to change again at Sydney and then the train took us to Brisbane now that was a rather long journey in those days because we weren’t in nice comfortable sleepers with porters or anything. And on arrival at Brisbane we were taken out to a camp at
Indooroopilly was the name of the suburb and we were only there for one or two nights, when we were put on trucks and taken to the wharf and put on board a ship. And the ship was called United States Army Transport Sea Corporal was the name of the ship, it was a victory ship which was a, one of the mass produced ships
that the Americans were doing. They had to my knowledge several types, one was called a Liberty ship and some were called Victory ships, they were mass produced, fully welded construction which was different in those days because most of the Liners were riveted. And this was stripped down to its bare essentials, we go down we’re put
down into the holds, which was in tiered bunks, four high, because there was a consignment of about eleven hundred of us I suppose on board this ship. And we get put into our quarters for the night, the next morning we find ourself out in the ocean and we didn’t even see much of Brisbane because we left at night
and the ship was cruising along at a reasonable speed, I don’t know what it was doing but probably 20 knots I suppose, 20, 22 knots or something, and it was an American ship with an American crew. Now the idea was that we would be fed twice a day and this for most of us was our first experience on a sea
voyage so seasickness took hold of quite a few of us. Fortunately it didn’t affect me a great deal, yes I felt uncomfortable, yes I felt nauseated but I didn’t reach the stage where I was sick. But the funny part was when we called down to our meal, we had to walk through certain corridors down in the bowels of the ship
to get to the mess room where we were going to have our meal. But it was cafeteria style, you were given the plates and you had to walk past the food service. Now we weren’t far from the engine room, so there was the smell of burning oil permeating through that area of the ship. And
when we entered the area of where the food was being served, it was rather hot, it was a bit smelly and they were mostly American Negroes who were sweating profusely, serving out the food. Now those of the men who were a bit wonky at the time could only turn around and go back again, they couldn’t, they got too sick to go through, fortunately I was all
right. But we, after passing through that room we went to another mess room where there were long tables and forms and we sat down there and ate the meal, but bear in mind the ship was pitching and tossing and rolling with the swell with the ocean and not much ventilation in that area. So after the meal naturally we were able to come up on deck again and get some fresh air and felt a lot better.
I can remember when we cross the International Date Line, so we had two Sundays, the padre on board, which was an American padre, chaplain conducted a church service on the deck on one day and the next day did the same again because it was two Sundays, that’s what happens when you cross the International Date Line when you’re travelling east.
Probably if you’re coming the other way you probably skip a day I suppose but anyway. Now the chaplain he also had a lot of goodies to hand out, in the form of fruit and some chocolate bars and cigarettes and during the course of the day he would conduct some deck games for us, mostly bingo
and the likes of that. Just to pass the time. And we would be given news broadcast on the Tannoy speaker system to tell us the progress of the war and then in the evening time every night at dusk we would be ordered below decks. And the order from the captain was it was now blackout time
and he would go through the same thing every night. Every night, every door must be covered, the black out curtains had to be drawn, all port holes had to be covered, there is to be no smoking, no cigarettes of any kind above decks whatsoever and this happened every night. And the garbage detail would they lay aft, which means would they go down the back and dispose of the garbage
because apparently lots of the garbage that was disposed of would float for a few days and if perchance submarines surfaced and found garbage, they would know that there was a ship had been in the vicinity. So what they would do, would be dispose of that on dusk, so by the time it maybe found we’d be very, very many miles away and, but that was the routine
that we got accustomed to hearing every night, and for memory, I think from memory it was about a 16 day trip or something across the Pacific because we went non-stop to San Francisco.
They tended to stop the train from refuelling at small places and they wouldn’t let us out of the station area. I think that was for obvious reason because it would take a lot of rounding us up again I suppose. So when the train come in we could talk to people who were in the vicinity of the station at the time because naturally the local population weren’t told in advance that
there’s a trainload of Australian airmen coming through. So we would talk to some of the locals and learn a little bit about their area before the train would take off again and I suppose going through the yards in Chicago was interesting, they didn’t stop the train in Chicago and obviously they didn’t want to do that, they’d never get us all back again at the same time.
So it went straight through but never the less we could see quite a bit of the skyline of Chicago and the railway yards, which were extremely extensive. And the on we went to ultimately arriving in through New York State into New Jersey, to a railway station close to this American army camp called Camp Shanks. And if anything
that was not quite as modern as the one on Angel Island in San Francisco but never the less was extremely big. And lots of the American troops there were preparing to head to Europe, to England. They had very big dance hall on the camp and we went there the first night and
enjoyed ourself and on the following morning we were given leave to go into New York city. That in itself was an experience because New York City is an enormous place, it was in those times compared to what we’d been use to. We had a look at Radio City, the Empire State Building, the New York Harbour, the Statue of Liberty those sort of prominent sightseeing things.
And we also did a little bit of shopping in a couple of the streets, we walked down Broadway, Fifth Avenue etc, the things that we’d heard about or read about on film and I suppose we basically had a good sightseeing time. We did
one funny thing, we went into a bar in the city, just for the fun of it. I was a teetotaller at the time but my friends liked to have a beer, and we went into this bar in New York City and that was an experience for us because we were only in there a couple of minutes and a couple of young women who
were painted up, came and sat along on the stools alongside of us and said, “Would you men care to buy us a drink?” you know and of course we thought, “Oh yeah, why not? We’ll buy them a drink.” And shortly after that an American army lieutenant come over to us and called us aside and he said, “I noticed you’re Australians
cause you’ve got it on your shoulder and you’re pretty young.” He said, “Don’t take too much notice or encourage those girls. They’re what they call taxi girls. Their object is to be fed and supplied with wine and given a good time, and then charge you for it, and you’ll go home to camp broke.” And so we said, “Well thanks for the tip.” We weren’t accustomed
to that, and that was one little experience we had in New York. So we finished our drink and decided to leave the bar. But that apparently wasn’t uncommon or was not uncommon at that time. So the following day we did a little bit more sightseeing around New York City and then we had to go back to camp because our
leave had expired, and on the following day we were told to prepare because we were going to be leaving. We were marched down to the railway siding and put on a train and the train went through New York and down to the wharves. And it pulled up and as we alighted all we could see was this great, big grey mass but we looked up and you could see it was a ship
and when we were, started to embark it was through a small hole in the side of the ship and there were a couple of crewmen inside and we said, “What ship is it?” and he said, “Queen Elizabeth,” so we weren’t all that surprised when we saw the size of thing alongside the wharf but we couldn’t see the name on the bow or the stern because they were too far away from us. So the crewmen
told us what ship it was. But through lots of other doorways in the side of the ship there were lots of troops, American Troops embarking as well as our group of Australian airmen. And we learnt later on that there were 15,000 American troops on board that was almost a full division of troops on the one ship. Now the ship was to sail across naturally to England
and we were allotted quarters which were very bare, in the lower bowels of the ship. So we didn’t have a nice cabin with lovely portholes or anything. The ship was sailed under an English captain and a English crew of course but other than that it was controlled by Americans because they had a majority of American servicemen on the ship.
We were given cards which told us the name of the deck that we were on, or the number of the deck that we were on. We were given instructions on how to get to the mess area for food, we would be fed twice a day, and along the alleyways inside the ship there were big signs showing you precisely
which direction you had to go, they were all coded in letters or numbers and so you had to follow the appropriate one, and when we were called for a meal, on each corner of the ship where we had to turn to go down a different alley way or a aisle there was an American serviceman urging us along so by the time we got to the mess we were running
because they had so many people to put through for food, and they had several messes, it wasn’t just the one but we were allocated to a certain one. And you were given a certain time, the food was brought to you and put in front of you, put in front of us I mean and then we were given a certain time to eat it, then we must clear because the next lot is ready to come in. And they were pushing them through, so it was a rather enormous task to feed such a large number of people.
We were told but we didn’t see him but the world heavy weight boxer, who was at the time Joe Lewis, was on board and he was in one of the upper decks and he would be giving demonstrations but unfortunately we never got up to see him. The very top deck, the quarters up on the top deck was reserved for officers
and for the women of the American army who were accompanying us. All the rest the troops and that were down lower. The ship carried armaments and guns about the equivalent of a heavy cruiser we were told and had gunnery crews on board. It sailed at 30 knots which is very fast for a ship,
that would be about 35, 40 miles an hour and it was much too fast to go in convoys or be escorted. And the Queen Mary likewise and the strange thing, we were allowed to come up on deck periodically for exercises, do our running around and various PT [Physical Training] and whatnot, get fresh air. And on one occasion we happen to see
the Queen Mary going in the opposite direction, it was incredible. It was about 2 or 3 miles away but never the less we saw it. And sometimes the sea was a bit rough and even a liner of that size would move a fair bit with the weather, with the seas conditions.
so we didn’t actually see London as a city until we got leave, so I couldn’t tell you much about it on that particular occasion. Brighton, our camp was these two hotels on the seafront on the esplanade which we thought was very good but they were
inside they were not like hotels they were like army camps, they’d been stripped of all their peacetime luxuries cause I believe in pre-war they were luxurious hotels and we were right opposite the beach, and we could see two of their amusement jetties sticking out into the ocean but they had been severed half way through so you couldn’t get out to them anyway.
But it was typical of English seaside stuff. The only thing was the beach was pebbles and it was really course pebbles, like washed gravel. I suppose the sea had washed them smooth but there was no sand on the beach at Brighton it was all pebbles, something that we hadn’t observed,
seen before. So after a getting into our quarters and settling down we were assigned to a drill instructor and we were start to go some more drill and do more physical training for a day or two and then they said you are now going to, allowed to have some disembarkation leave and we were asked where we would like to go.
Well not knowing much about England they told us there was a scheme whereby private families accommodate you whilst you are on your week’s leave. So my friend and I decided to accept one of those offers and it was to a place called Kessick in the Lake District not far
from Cumberland, the town of Cumberland. So we were given a train pass and a leave pass and we went north to there and that was our first leave in England. A lovely little place in the Lakes District, absolutely beautiful it is, Lake Derwentwater from memory it was and they were extremely big lakes. And the people who billeted us had been doing this for several
years and that’s where they asked us which part of Australia we were from. And when I said I was from Ballarat, they said, “We had a man here from Ballarat here a year or so ago. His name was Jake Chisholm.” And I said, “I know him. He lived near us in our younger days.” I think he was a pilot
and he would ultimately become Mayor of Ballarat. He’s not very well at the moment unfortunately, but that was just a coincidence. But it was only a small village this place called Keswick and it had a local, like all the English villages had a billiard salon because a lot of the locals are in the billiard club and it was not like the billiards
salons that we are thought of in the seamier suburbs of Melbourne, this was just a real nice country gentlemen’s club. But they had a couple of nice billiard tables and we were told that we were free to make use of that club and use the tables. We were also free to go around anywhere in the district that we’d like but unfortunately they couldn’t give us motorcars or anything but there was a bus service
and so we toured around the area. We met a couple of young girls one day and we went out rowing on Lake Derwentwater and when our leave was up, back down again. And then sent, they were closing the camp in Brighton because they wanted all the area to be prepared for troops, tanks, trucks and equipment for the
invasion of France. So they wanted us out of the way, so they sent us up to the Midlands to a town called Warrington which is situated somewhere between Manchester and Liverpool. And the station there was a RAF regiment station. The RAF regiment was to the air force a bit like marines are to the navy.
Marines are soldier-sailors well these are soldier-airmen and they were trained, whilst they were in the air force they were trained more like army and commandos because their duty was to carry out protection of airfields and airfield dumps, petrol supplies and all those sort of thing. So they were basically army trained airmen and that’s what this camp was.
But since we were just in transit so to speak we did have to do some of the training with them to keep physically fit and what not and we had some leave to go into the town of Warrington of an evening and so forth but it wasn’t much of a place. Some of those Midland towns are not all that attractive, they weren’t then. And after a few
days there we were told that we had to go to an operational training unit, which we were looking forward to because that was going to be the start of our training to get on the reason, get on Bomber Command, that’s the reason for our existence after all. They told us that the OTU as it was called, operational training unit, was at a place called Litchfield, which is about 10 or 15 miles north
of Birmingham. So we were put on trucks and taken across to Litchfield. And when we got there we were, a group of air gunners were taken and given quarters into a hut and told that this is where we will be formed into air crews because at the same time that we
arrived, from another area came a group of pilots, and another area a group of navigators and a group of bomb aimers and a group of wireless operators. So within the course of the first week we all intermingled with one another, got to know one another and slowly sorted ourself into a crew, which consisted of a pilot, a navigator, a wireless operator, a bomb aimer and
two air gunners. The aircraft that we would be flying would be Wellingtons, twin engine bombers, they were used earlier in the war and some of them were still in operation but they were slowly being withdrawn because they were superseded by four engine bombers of the Lancaster and Halifax type so they were now used for training crews.
They were a twin-engine aircraft.
the gun turrets that were in these aircrafts because they were going to be the same as the ones that we’d ultimately end up with. The wireless operator he had to learn, he had already learnt but he had also to learn how to pick up signals, take bearings from base so that he would get to know their own base signals and that was extremely important because there were so many bases.
The navigator, he had to know how to use the equipment that was supplied to him in this aircraft and to be able to give instructions to the pilot, when to change course, which course to fly on etcetera, and when we were on bombing training, the bomb aimer, once we arrived at a target the bomb aimer would take over and give the pilot instructions how to fly to kept it steady or vary it left or right
or whatever. And I can’t give you any single specific instance but there was just that tiny bit of friction between the two for some reason and we tolerated it for most of the course that we were on. It wasn’t till the virtual end of our operational training unit course that this ultimately came to light.
One day and they had an argument between the two of them. And so the bomb aimer said, “I’m sorry but I’m not flying with you.” Now there was several ideas put forward amongst some. You must remember that what we are going to go into and what we had been told at OTU because,
whilst we were doing our training we had lots and lots of lectures. The air gunners would be given lectures by fellows who had come back from trips, from operational service and tell us what it was like. The pilots would be given instructions from experienced pilots etcetera, and each member of the crew. And then we’d all come together and be given lectures as a crew, just to prepare us for what was coming.
Now the instructors who had been experienced didn’t hold anything back and that’s when we started to get really worried because they told us in graphic detail what to get ready for. And it was going to be a heck of a lot worse than ever we’d ever dreamt of. As a result of that
some men or boys as we were you might say, start to get to the stage where they couldn’t handle it, they were a bit frightened, they were a bit scared and some of them needed more than counselling, they pulled out. And those who did that, the term used was LMF.
LMF stood for Lack of Moral Fibre – in other words you were a scaredy or you were a coward. Now whether this particular bomb aimer was affected so much that this got to him or not we don’t know, because we lost him and he went to another area. We did hear later
on that he joined another crew and was very good. So we had to find a new bomb aimer. Now this happened at the finished of our operational training unit course and we were about to be posted to the next school, which was called Heavy Conversion Unit. So they sent out crew on with
the rest of them because we’d successfully completed the course onto the heavy conversion unit and when we arrived at that at a place called Wicksley we were then told that they have got another bomb aimer coming to join our crew and he happened to be an Englishman, in fact he was Welsh which didn’t matter, that’s a coincidence that his name
was Jones. Tom Jones but not the Tom Jones who gained popularity as a singer in latter times. But he was Welsh and he fitted in beautifully. He was very amiable, very good bomb aimer, done his training very well and he liked the idea of mixing with a group of Australians
and we thought that was excellent. So on the second or third day after we had arrived at this Heavy Conversion Unit and the aircraft that we would be flying were called Stirlings, they were four engine bombers which preceded the Lancasters and Halifaxes and they’d been withdrawn from service by in large, there were still some operating but mostly they’d been
withdrawn, but the were used to train pilots who were converting from twin engine aircraft to four engine aircraft. And so lots of the operations that we had done previously at the OTU we now went through the same exercise at Heavy Conversion Unit. After the third day a group of…a truckload of English
airmen arrived and they were all trained as flight engineers. On four engine aircraft it was necessary for every crew to have a flight engineer, so that meant we had to pick up another man to join the crew. So instead of being six we would now be seven. flight engineer, he had a very important role to play
so we gathered a flight engineer. And it was an amazing thing and a very amusing thing, when these flight engineers all got out of their trucks and assembled in the hangar where we all were being Englishmen they did their drill rather and they had to line up and right dress and everything and stand to attention, then their names were called, they called the role.
And they went through the role, now most of the crews who were waiting to select the flight engineer were Australians and they called out the names Smith, Jones, Brown etcetera, alphabetical order and they yelled out a funny name Cablebuckle and I said to the pilot who was standing next to me, “Guess which one we’ll have,” and he said, “Oh it couldn’t be.”
We were allotted Fred Cablebuckle to be our flight engineer. And do you know he turned out to be one of the best flight engineers on the course. He came, he lived in London, his parents lived in the suburb of Morden, which was one of the outer suburbs of London. His father worked at the Bank of England and he was one of the men who had
to dress in a specific uniform at the Bank of England with the top hat and everything and he was very interesting, very very interesting. He had a lovely girlfriend he showed us photos of and whilst we use to sling at him and say why don’t you speak English, etcetera, and he slowly got us to mingling with Australians in the same way as the Welsh
bomb aimer did. And after a weeks training he just fitted in like a glove, it was terrific, very good. So flying training started and we went through the usual circuits and bumps as they called it, take offs and landing so to get the pilot accustomed to handling a four engine aircraft. And then we did cross-country work,
and the engineer and the pilot were getting on very well because they had to give instructions to one another regarding fuel change from tank to this, tank to this, change fuel cocks, give me so much boost, put up the revs on this, alter the pitch of the propellers, all those sorts of things. And they were getting on famously. And we did gunnery practise and we had fighter affiliation as
they use to call it. They’d send a Spitfire up to…fitted with a camera gun, a cinegun as they called it, we’d have camera guns put on our turrets and so we’d try and shoot one another down and we’d learn to take evasive action because this was going to be necessary later on. The bomb aimer, we had to carry out so many bombing operations there was a bombing
range very handy, allocated to the particular training school. And we would have to go and fly at a certain altitude when the bomb aimer would have to give the pilot instructions and then release his practise bomb and it would be recorded by people on the ground as to how accurate the bombing was, and sometimes there was lots and lots of cloud and we would have to try and pick a hole in the cloud
if we could, and at the same time see the bombing target. So this was quite an ordeal. But so the wireless operator had to do the same training as did the navigator, and at the end of our 3 or 4 weeks or whatever it was at this place they told us we’d satisfactorily completed the course, we were now being sent to another school which was called a Lancaster finishing
school and that was at a place called Sireston, which is roughly midway between Nottingham and Newark.
my comments with the words from that poem by Wordsworth or whoever it was into the Valley of Death, instead of saying rode the 600, I said flew bomber command, because that’s basically what it was. It was very, very stressful, very nerve racking because you’re forever wondering whether the next ones going to hit you because you’d see the planes going down around you
and you had a feeling that, oh well lucks a fortune, and we’re fortunate so we got through. Until it came to the time of our trip, our eighth trip. We’d completed 7 operations and thirty operations was considered a complete tour,
now we’d finished 7 and we were off on our eighth and it was once again to Cologne. Fortunately it was a daylight operation and this was on the 28th of January 1945. So we took off at our usual time but we were not in own aircraft and we had an oddbod with us because our aircraft didn’t have a Radar
H2S in the bottom, it had a gun. So we took this second tour air gunner with us to man that gun, but it was just more or less to be a joy ride because being in daylight we didn’t have much enemy fighter because by this time long range Mustangs were based in France, could follow the Bomber formation and act as deterrent to enemy
fighters. Night fighters were the worst daytime didn’t worry us a great deal if we were only going a short distance into Germany because we had some fighter protection. So anyway we crossed the North Sea, crossed the coast of Holland and then turned southerly to Achen, around at Achen and then headed east north east to Cologne when we were near, just over a town called Duran,
when one of our engines was not giving power so the pilot told the engineer. He checked it and sure enough it was losing power and talking on the intercom, the whole crew can hear what they’re saying and the wireless operator, bear in mind that he only had certain times to sit at his wireless because we had to strictly enforce radio silence
whilst we were flying on ops. Because the radios could be picked up by the Germans as well as anybody else and he had certain times when he had to listen in for in case an instruction came through from base but that was at a specific time. In between those times he was free to have a look around, and he hopped up to the Astrodome and sure enough he could see a fire in the outer engine and so
he reported that to the flight engineer who knew it by this time and the pilot ordered the flight engineer to try and extinguish the fire. But the built-in extinguishers wouldn’t put the fire out and the fire was getting worst, in other words we were going to become a blazing aircraft. So he ordered us to bale out and that’s where bailing out procedure training
came into effect. I think I mentioned earlier I was caught with the turret rear end about 45 degrees and I had to get it central so I had to wind it manually because the engine that was on fire is the one that supplies hydraulic power to my turret. So when I got it around and disconnected all my gear. And to get out of
my turret I had to lean backwards and put my arms up and grab two handles and lever myself out, then sit on the tail plane spar and take the parachute out of its stowage and put it onto my harness and then climb over the tail spar and make my way to the rear door. The only problem was at 23,000 feet I was then off oxygen, so I was starting to get
drunk through lack of oxygen, starting to get disorientated, but I managed, the object was to go to the rear door sit on the door sill or the door step facing the back and roll sideways, and the slipstream would do the rest. Well I can remember sitting on the doorstep, I put my hand on the handle of the parachute
and leaned over and I can just remember seeing myself clear the tail plane of the aircraft as I was falling I went unconscious, no oxygen. So then sometime later and I’m not sure how long it was but I came to but I was obviously down to oxygen level
and the first thing I thought, “God, I’d better put me, get the parachute open,” but I looked and it wasn’t there. And then I looked up and it’s up there and it opened up beautifully, so I remembered I put my hand on the thing and it must have, and the slipstream must have helped my pull it off I suppose. So I’m floating down to earth in a parachute and the cloud was ten tenths, that is total cloud you could not see the ground, so we were
way above the clouds and in the distance I could see other parachutes, they were obviously other members of the crews but they were quite a way off, well after all we were doing about 230 miles an hour I suppose and the time interval between each person leaving the aircraft represented a fair distance. So and my feet start to get cold
and I look down and I didn’t have my flying boots on cause when the parachute opened it jerked, I had to wear the old type of heavy flying boot because I had inner heated slippers and the flying boots that the other members of the crew wore were not so heavily lined, and they didn’t need to be because they were inside the cabin of the aircraft and were more comfortable than what I was.
So my feet were getting very cold and after what seemed an eternity the top part of the clouds just come up to encompass me and then I was going through the clouds and that’s the most eerie experience if you’re floating down in a parachute through a thick cloud. And the clouds started to get darker
and darker the further we went down because the clouds are always brightest at the top where the sun is naturally. And then at the base of the cloud is naturally the darkest. Until they got very dark and I wondered where the heck I was going to come out, how far away the ground was and where would I be. And when I came through the cloud, the ground was,
the cloud base was only about 500 feet and I then realised how quick that I was coming down because the ground come up so to speak, hit me. And fortunately I was on the side of a hill and there was between 12 and 18 inches of snow covering it completely because that was European Winter. And that was one of the worst winters they’d had for a long time. And I landed fortunately in snow
so I didn’t hurt myself even though I didn’t have any shoes on or boots
they then gave us a cup of ersatz coffee, which means artificial coffee and that’s all. And then that night a German Transport truck came along, put us in that and took us through several villages until we reached another one called Flamisham, which was
a few kilometres south of a town called Euskirchen which was probably twenty kilometres west of Bonn I suppose. And so when we got to this place called Flemisham they first of all, they’d picked up another two members of our crew by this time, they took us into a classroom in the local state school which the army had
taken over and they asked us our name and number and rank, well that’s information that we had to supply. And so they asked where we were from, so I merely pointed to my shoulder patch which said ‘Australia’. “Oh Australia, Oh Australia.” So anyway they took down the names and
then sent us along this street of this village to another house and they’re all two storey, and of course their villages are not like ours, there’s no front garden, they’re all on the footpath level. And we’re taken upstairs to a loft in this house and the loft was covered in straw and fairly big loft as most of them are. So,
then the guard went away and locked the manhole. We had no means of getting out and then as night fell a lot more British Army fellows arrived and it seems that they’d been there for a few days, but each morning they took them out to work on the railway siding at Euskirchen doing loading and unloading, they had to work for them.
Being airmen they didn’t trust us so they wouldn’t let us out their sight. So after a couple of days there in which one guard come and relieved us of our wristwatches, cigarette cases anything that we had. They told us they were moving us which they did on foot through back streets, back roads and
we had to walk this 20 odd kilometres to Bonn. Where they put us in a camp, which held a lot of French prisoners on the west side of the river at Bonn. They put us into a hut there and we had to sleep on the floor. I remember I used the old boots as me pillow and they gave us a bowl of soup
and a cup of coffee and that was it. The next day they did the same but the following night whilst we were in this camp at Bonn, we all of a sudden saw the place get lit up and looking out the window we realised what was happening. Pathfinders were marking out Bonn and I though blimey
we’re going to be in trouble here, and fortunately we’re a couple of kilometres out of the city centre and they’d put down a row of markers around the camp which meant they’re not suppose to bomb in that area. Now not everybody was able to carry out the instructions, so the air raid started and it was horrendous and sure enough
bombs started to fall in the camp, so we quickly got out of the hut that we were in and went into an air raid shelter of a sort, it was more like a slip trench with a little bit of a cover over it. And the next thing a bomb landed extremely close to us and we could hear and feel the shrapnel dropping everywhere around us and we found, felt
the ground shudder so when the air raid was finished and all the aircraft had disappeared we clambered out this particular shelter but our hut no longer existed, it was gone completely. There was an enormous big hole in the fence and one of the German guard towers was down on the ground but never the less there was a squad of German soldiers with
German Shepherd dogs patrolling the area where the hole was so they were very, they were on the ball. And so we didn’t have a very comfortable night that night. The next day because the camp was virtually unserviceable from our point of view they told us they were shifting us, and there were quite a few of us actually. British Army, paratroopers, and us airmen. There
was virtually, only our crew of airmen were the only airmen, the rest were army fellows and so they suggested, one of the guards suggested that in his funny way, since we were airmen to get some hessian and put it over our uniform because we were going to be going through the city and the local population don’t take kindly to enemy airmen
after, particularly after an air raid such as that. So it was raining on foot they started to take us through Bonn and we went right through the centre of the city and I’ve never seen such a mess in all my life. You could see buses and trains on their sides, you could see water mains burst, sewage mains burst, power lines down, building destroyed and ablaze you name it.
And the strange part it was, when we got through the city towards the river, the bridge over the Rhine was still intact, and so they hadn’t hit that. They marched us across the bridge onto the other side of the Rhine from Bonn and onto a place called Siegburg which is about another 16 or 20 kilometres on the east side of the Rhine.
Okay so we were told that we were leaving Nuremberg camp and we were going to go south on foot, we didn’t know how far or how long we would be. So they suggest that we make iron rations of whatever food we had which was virtually nil anyway.
But these two Australian Army fellows said, “Stick with us and we will see you through.” And we started to go south in a very long column with lots of guards because there was such a lot of prisoners from this camp going south. Most of them were airmen but there were a lot of army fellows who had come in from other areas.
I think the object of the thing was to send us further south to another camp which was closer to Switzerland perhaps from where Red Cross supplies were coming because the Germans were just a bit out of food. Our rations in Nuremberg had been pretty poor, we were given a bowl of soup of a morning, a cup of coffee, ersatz coffee, a loaf of bread shared between two men for a week,
a small swab of margarine with a bit of luck, and on Sundays about a very small piece of cheese, that was the German ration. So the few Red Cross parcels that we had we were very grateful for, they helped us out, we were losing weight of course. A good way to slim actually. So they sent us off on
the road and it was still late winter so there was still snow about on the road, and after the first days march of about 6 or 8 hours, they stopped us outside a village and it was near a little church and about 60 or 80 of us could get into this church, laying on the floor for shelter and those who couldn’t get in
had to lay outside. Which was most uncomfortable. Now unfortunately some of the men were experiencing stomach problems so they had to go in and out during the night and that was quite uncomfortable because we were packed so close together, laying on the floor. The next day still with no food supplies from
the Germans we had to rise early and start our trek further south. And we went all day until we past through a small village where we were given a small cup of soup. They also gave us a loaf of bread which we were to divided equally between eight men.
That was our rations for the day. The following day, the following night we could not get into any shelter so we had to sleep on the ground, we were adjacent to a pine plantation and low and behold it starts to rain, we couldn’t do anything about that except to rug ourselves up as best we could because we didn’t have bed clothes or anything, there were
no beds, we were out in the fields. And in the morning we woke up, of course quite wet but had to proceed on our march again. Now we were getting into the Bavarian countryside and the long column of prisoners were starting to thin out, fast ones were getting further ahead, slow ones were falling further behind and the army fellows who were with us
said, “Well that’s just exactly what we want. We want it thin because we’ll show you what we do.” Because they spoke German very well, they got pally with one or two of the guards because the guards were getting browned off at this stage and they’d changed the guard from the army fellows who had us in the Nuremberg camp to older
generation, what we learned to call later dad’s army. They were virtually World War I veterans who were too old to enter into any other service and so they brought them in to control this group going south because they realised they were not going to get much trouble from them because few if any
would endeavour to escape at this stage of the war, and remember we were already into March 45. We would get to a small village, and there are lots of villages in Europe as there are in England. You only have to go about 5 or 6 kilometres and you’re into another village. And they would allow us to sleep in barns or whatever
and the first thing we would do is see if we could find a barn with some chooks in it and hopefully we would hear the buck, buck, buck, buck, buck, we’d follow the chook around and sure enough we’d score an egg which we would pinch. So the army fellows who were with us would take us one at a time, myself included and we’d walk perhaps over the hill to a farm about a half a kilometre away.
And we’d go up to the door and knock on the door and the farmer’s wife, cause usually it was only women there would come to the door, and in his fluent German he would ask the lady did she have any eggs, or any bread or any kataffel, that’s potato and he would offer her,
whatever we had in exchange. It might be a quarter of small piece of chocolate or one of the cakes of soap that I mentioned earlier, even though they were small we would cut them in half because the German womenfolk had not seen a decent cake of soap for years. And they would welcome it but they knew our plight and they were very, Bavarian people were a little bit different to the stricter German
population in the North of the country. Bavaria is a lovely area actually and we got to like it. Spring was coming on, the snow was thawing, the streams were running and we were getting nice sunny days, the temperature not very high but just the same nice sunny days and little or no wind, so from that aspect we were feeling better. So they taught me then
to go to a house and knock at the door and say, “Guten tag, haben sie kataffel…” and sometimes you’d get a reject and told to clear out and other times they’d look at you and think, “He’s a nice looking decrepit looking fellow and he needs a feed,” and they’d perhaps bring a
two slices of bread perhaps a couple of potatoes, if we’re lucky an egg and so we would take that back and in the evening our little group that we’d got into would get together and have a little bit of a feed. Now the army chappies they would have, they would make little, little blowers out of tin cans, they’d
done this over a period of years. They would get a, an old tin, fruit tin can and put a hole in the bottom of it, put the lid on and a hole in that and put a little piece of wire through it and the wire would be attached to a couple of flat pieces of tin, and on the other end they’d put a crank and that become a blower. They’d squash another couple of tins and join it to the bottom
of that and there about six inches long and have another little open ended one and they’d put a few chips in that with some scrounged matches or something, they start a fire, then by turning this little blower the fire would come up really bright then we’d put on an old tin of water and in a matter of a minute or two the water would be boiling. So if we were
lucky enough to have a skerrick of tea left over from the parcel or some Erzats coffee we’d make a brew of tea or whatever. And we’d cook an egg. So they were right in so far as saying we’d live better out in the country but that was because they were so experienced. And they could have a good rapport with the German peasants particularly the farmers. And this went on for days and days.
And we did have a funny experience we were getting down near the town of Neustadt and we were going around backcountry roads, which was in our favour because that’s where we saw more farms and private homes. And there was a bus coming down the road, now the old German army guard who was with us was feeling very unwell,
it was too much for him, in fact half the day we carried his rifle as well as his pack for him and one of our army friends stepped out and stopped the bus and went up to the driver and in fluent German told him what he wanted him to do. And we put this old German guard on the bus and
told him to go into the next town, wait for us in the town square because there was always a town square, church, hall, town hall or rat house as their town halls are call. There’s always a square and we would meet him there. But make sure when we get there you have got some food and supplies for us, oh a he thanked us profusely, he was going to go in on the
bus, instead of having to walk it. Low and behold when we got to this town a few hours later true to his word and he had the food for us, you wouldn’t believe it but that’s what exactly what happened. He was feeling a lot better so he was able to carry his own rifle but we still carried the pack for him. Now this was the exception rather than the rule because not all guards were,
even though they were mostly all old fellows some of them were much more fitter than others. This exercise then went on for quite a few days because it took us 15 days on the road to reach the destination that we were going to. When we got south of Neustadt or Newstead in English we were halted behind a small plantation
of trees and a platoon of German soldiers came dressed in their full battle gear, dark uniforms, steel helmets, rifles and they marched up the road to us, and counted us, a certain number out and we had to form up in between them, when we got down to the end of the road where they’d formed us and turned the corner we realised what it was. There was a bridge there
and we were going to walk across the Danube River cause the Danube flowed through southern Germany as well as further down of course. And they had the bridge mined, it was loaded with explosives underneath cause they were going to blow it up as the Allied armies were approaching. So they had to escort us across so that none of us would get up to mischief. And so they took us from a kilometre before and a kilometre after,
before they went back for the next group. And a couple of days after that we arrived at our destination which was a small town called Moosberg. Moosberg is situated just North East of Munich, about 15 or 20 kilometres out of Munich and we were taken into a POW [Prisoner of War] camp there
rather that was our experience and even though the line had stretched out and instead of all arriving at Moosberg on one day, we arrived in dribs and drabs over a period of a few days. Some of the younger fellows from a different compound formed themselves up into a group and marched it in step all the way, they reckon they could get down better in doing it that way, and perhaps they did. But the way we
went we were very happy with because we had good companions who helped us a lot. So we arrived at the town of Moosberg, taken through the streets and down into a prisoner of war camp which was not far out of the centre of the town. When we got there and taken in through the gate, we could see there were a lot of huts that had been there for a long time but we
were taken right past that and they had big tents, big marquees like circus tents erected at the back and that’s where we were taken to. We then found out that there were about 30,000 allied prisoners in that camp. Now we were put into this Marquee and so naturally our little group sat together,
to wait, to find out what was going to happen. And the next morning an Australian Army officer came into the tent and he looked around and he sorted out Australian people he could tell by their uniform, we had a dark blue air force uniform in those days which is different to the one they were now
and that was distinctive from RAF so he knew which were Australians and he came over and he said, “Anybody here from Ballarat?” and I said, “Yes I am.” And he said, “What’s your name?” and I said, “Wilkie.” “Is your father the baker and pastry cook in Ballarat North?” And I said, “Yes.” He said, “Do you know the boot maker on the other corner opposite your father’s shop?” and I said, “Yes.”
“Very well. That’s old Mr Brown,” and he said, “That’s my father.” Now you wouldn’t credit that would you? So I met Arthur Brown, he was a captain, now he’d been in Moosberg camp for a long time and being an officer he didn’t have to go out to work, but because they’d been there a long time they got themselves very organised and he said come over and I’ll show you our quarters. Well it was in a hut and of course
it was full of officers, army officers that is, and they were in fairly good shape. And he said over in this corner we’ve got out wireless set where we tune in every night and over in this corner we’ve got that and the other thing and I can assure you we’re not going to be here very long. He’d been there a long time but he said we won’t be there very long. American forces are not very far away from us.
Next morning because that was the most Southern camp at the time, closest to the Swiss border, they were getting Red Cross supplies frequently, in fact that were being used as a bulk depot for sending them further out. And because they couldn’t transport them much further out they were living rather well. And the next morning he brought around a couple of boxes of Red Cross food for us to share amongst all of our
fellows who were with us. And which was a nice greeting, was very good. So we were only there, I can’t remember now how long it was, about a week or two and we heard some shots being fired and then we saw a light aircraft fly overhead. Now the American army use
to use spotters in flying little Pipers like a small Cessna, Piper Cubs they were. They’d fly around the front line to see which way the, or what strength the opposition was providing they weren’t shot down themselves, and this flew over the camp. So we had a pretty good idea things were getting very close. The following day the American army arrived
at the gates of the camp and it was General Patton. Patton’s 3rd American army and General Patton he had a reputation of being a rather bullish type of a General and he wore a couple of pearl handled revolvers on his side as though he was a Western cowboy, we laughed at that. Because being a general he wouldn’t have got close enough to anybody to shoot
anyone, but that’s what he liked. And so they liberated the camp, now we heard later that the German commander of the camp was in contact with General Patton’s Headquarters and offered to
hand the camp over to Americans provided they spared the town. Advancing German armies would usually line up their tanks and artillery and blast the hell out of a town before they actually went into it themselves. And that was done for a purpose because the Germans usually put up stiff resistance in every town. It was house to house fighting and all that
sort of stuff. So he offered that and I’m told that the Americans accepted this, so the town of Moosberg was not destroyed. But the Americans arrived and we were liberated. Now with 30,000 prisoners, the problem was what to do with them and how to evacuate them.
So we were given freedom and the men, the prisoners if they so desired could walk into the town and have a look around and talk to some of the people or, and some of the nasty chaps did nasty things, but let’s face it there’s a war on and you get nasty types unfortunately in all walks of life.
But we waited in the camp, we had a look around the small town and after about a week, a group of American servicemen arrived with a lot of equipment and we were told that we were going to be deloused, so they had a lot of DDT spraying equipment, so we had to strip off
and get ourself completely deloused. The washing facilities for such a large number of men was unable to cope, so we couldn’t bathe and wash as we would have like to have done. The only decent shower we had the whole time was the one that we were given in Nuremberg and we weren’t given a nice clean change of underwear everyday or anything like that so
you can imagine the condition that we were in. So delousing became necessary before evacuation. And then we were divided into group and a couple of days after that a convoy of American trucks arrived and group-by-group we were put onto these trucks for evacuation.
Our particular group was taken up the main autobahn north from, it ran as far as Nuremberg but we stopped at a city called Ingolstadt halfway between Munich and Nuremberg and taken out to an airfield. Where we were told to wait, and fortunately we had a bit of shelter there, some old barracks.
It was one that had been a German air force airfield and had been evacuated of course, taken over. Peace had been declared so we were told to wait there for air transport to take us out. Now while we were in the, while we were at Ingolstadt on the airfield, we went
through the place and I got a couple of souvenirs, trinkets. And we would sit on the airfield. On the second or third day we had a funny experience. A German Stuka came flying over our airfield and from the way he flew over the airfield at a low height and flapped his wings;
we knew what he was going to do. He was just going to come and surrender, so he swerved out and turned around and came in, put his flaps down and you could see he was approaching, going to land. And that’s exactly what he did. Now the airfield was guarded by a lot of American troops in jeeps and trucks and most of them were
dark coloured Americans and they flew down the runway in their jeeps and trucks chasing after this aircraft which was going to stop anyway and the German pilot pushed back the canopy and started to get out. And two American privates rushed up to him with their rifles and told him that he was their prisoner.
An American officer came up and told them to move and they said, “No, he’s our prisoner.” I don’t, this is the funny way the Yanks, there’s so many ways, I don’t know whether that made any difference but they thought it was marvellous that they’d caught this German pilot you see. When I say caught, he volunteered, he came in to surrender and what had happened was he had
been based over in Eastern Germany and he wanted to escape from the Russians who were advancing into Eastern Germany, he would prefer to surrender to the American or the British rather than surrender to the Russians. So he flew his plane across and he was lucky to have got that far without being shot down, but he got there and that was one peculiar little incident that we saw.
Two days later the American DC3s, twin engine DC3s, you want to know what they were like? They use to be airliners before the war. A flight of them came in a landed at the airfield and we were fortunate enough to be loaded onto one of them
and from Ingolstadt in Germany they flew us to Rheims in France, to an airfield there. And when we landed there, and got out of the aircraft, we were taken across the tarmac to another lot of aircraft that happen to be Lancasters. And they’d been
stripped of most of their gear and they were being used to ferry prisoners back to England. So we were as strange as it would seem. The aircraft that we were assigned to was amongst a group of Lancasters and whilst we were doing our own original station commander was there. And
he had heard that we’d been taken prisoner, he knew we went missing naturally and heard we’d been taken prisoner but it was incredible that we would meet him on the airfield at Duncore which is just outside of Rheims. So after a few words with him, we were put into a Lancaster aircraft and the pilot said,
“What location were you?” And I said, “Rear gunner.” And he said, “Do you want to fly back in it?” and I said, “Yes I do.” So I hopped into the tail and I flew back to England in the tail of the aircraft. And on landing at one of the airfields at England, it was not our squadron one, because this ferry service was going backward and forward all the time because there were thousands and thousands and thousands of men to get back. And on arrival
at the airfield we were, went into the offices and they confirmed our names, etc., and our records and they said, “Right, you’re going down to Brighton where the RAAF reception base is.” So lo and behold we went back to the Grand Hotel at Brighton. So that ended our little jaunt in Germany. So we were
re-equipped with new clothing and naturally enjoyed a shower. We got some pay because the pay in our pay book had accrued while we were in Germany and we’re told to wait for a few days, whilst we were put on special food rations because we were suffering malnutrition,
and after oh about a week I suppose, they told us you can now have a leave pass for a couple of weeks if you so desired. And we’ll give you special ration cards. And we had of course sent telegrams back to our parents; the moment we had arrived there of course to let them know that we were now safe and well.
And so I thought I better do the right thing and go down to Cornwell and look up some of my mother’s relations. Because she still had a cousin living there. So I took the train to Cornwell, to a little town called Redroof and when found my way to where
this lady lived, an aunty of my mothers. I knocked at the door and she wondered who the heck I was until I told her who I was and who my mother was. And she almost fell over backwards and naturally welcomed me in, she was living alone, with opened arms. And I said, “Well to help you, what about some of these food coupons?” and her eyes popped open – she could buy eggs, she could buy some bacon,
she could buy some meat and lots of things she didn’t, hadn’t had for a long time. So I spent a few days with her. And a nephew of hers come around, was a young lad too young to be in the services and he took me around the area sightseeing and then she said, “Whilst you’re here, there’s another cousin not quite so well known living in Penzance and I suggest you go down and see him.” And I said, “Well that would be a good
idea. What’s his name and address?” And she said, I’ll tell you his name, but you don’t need his address because everyone knows him.” And I thought, “Well that’s strange.” But she told me, “He has a small inn in one of the main streets in Penzance.” So I hopped on the train and went down to Penzance. Went outside and found a taxi
and I said, “Could you take me to Howard Warren?” and he said, “Straight away.” He knew him straight away – he was a well-known local identity. I think he was into a bit of mischief about the place too quite frankly, but he ran a little pub. And I went in and sat down and asked for a glass of lemonade and he looked at me and I said, “I’m looking for Howard Warren,” and he said, “You’re talking
to him,” and I said, “Right, do you know Beth Jones at Redroof?” And he said, “Of course I do, she’s a distant cousin,” and I said, “Right, my mother is a cousin of hers.” And he looked…so he welcomed me with opened arms and he said, “Come out of the bar. Let’s go into the back room and we’ll have a sit down over a nice cuppa.” And he then said, “You’d better stay the night and I’ll show
you around a bit.” So the next morning he got out his car, and I don’t know where he got the petrol from and nor did I ask, but he drove me down to Lands End and all around the far end of Cornwall and gave me the royal treatment. And took me back to the station and thanked me for calling on him and I went back to Redroof and stayed another few days
with my mother’s aunt before I went back to Brighton. So that pleased my mother no end. She got letters and what so name and they were all thrilled and that made her very pleased. It made her pleased that I was safe and sound, it made her pleased that I looked up her relations. So back at Brighton we were starting to feel a bit better.
We had had quite a few meals and we were starting to recover from our malnutrition and slowly getting our strength back. So we went off to London and had another few days in London looking around and went to dances, Leicester Square, Trafalgar Square you name it all around the place and thoroughly enjoyed ourself. And the next thing we know
we’ve got a ship to take us back home to Australia. So they put us on a train to go north to Liverpool and when we got to Liverpool, we were taken to the dock area and we were put on a ship called the Orion, it had been an Orient Line Cruise ship but it had been stripped down to make it into a
Troop ship of course. And we were to sleep in hammocks, which didn’t appeal to us very much but never the less if it was going to take us home to Australia we’d put up with some pretty rough times so this wasn’t going to worry us much. So we set sail from Liverpool on this ship across the Atlantic, through the Panama Canal and
as we come out of the Panama Canal and set sail into the Pacific, we learnt of the Japanese surrender. Which we felt quite happy and so we didn’t have much worry sailing across the Pacific on the way home. And ultimately sailed straight into Sydney Harbour and obviously a lot of people knew we were coming because there was a flotilla
of small craft. Accompanying, once we came through the heads in Sydney there’s lots of small craft come up and was accompanying us up the harbour and all sorts of funny things were happening. You know people were calling out because they knew that hopefully their sons, or daughters or brothers or sisters or whatever would be on board.
And quite a lot of them would call out a name you know, so and so or so and so, Tom Jones or Bill Smith or whatever and we’d say no he went mad and we shot him and threw him overboard, all sorts of funny things like that because we were in a jovial mood and everybody was. We’d come into Sydney Harbour and we had a welcome there. Naturally the New South Wales people and Sydney people
were given leave straight away, many of their loved ones were waiting at the wharf for them to disembark. We Victorians were put on transports and taken back out to Bradfield Park where we had first done our ITS. And we were issued with any new clothing that we wanted or any other supplies and then we were taken into Central Station and
put on a troop train and sent to Melbourne. And Troop trains had improved a fair bit in the meantime and we were able to lay in bunks. They’d put bunk in tiers on each side of the carriage so that we could sleep because it was an overnight trip of course. Changing at Albury and everybody in Melbourne and all relations had been notified that we were coming
and would arrive in Melbourne. When we got to Spencer Street Station there was a long row of cars, mostly driven by volunteers in Australian Red Cross people so we were put 4 into a car and a long procession up Collins Street and there were crowds on each side of the road.
You’d reckon it was a Grand Final day or something. And we were told as we got into the car, stay in the car because all relations have been told to meet you at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. So the long procession of cars went through the city and half way up Collins Street, I spotted an aunt of mine who lived in Melbourne
and behind her was my Mum and Dad. So I said, “MCG,” and they waved, so they went to the procession of cars got to the MCG and stopped at one of the gates we got out, walked in through and onto the oval and across the oval towards what is now, what was the Members Stand and that’s where the families were coming through to greet us,
so halfway across the oval, I met Mum and Dad. So naturally we’d been given leave passes so that was the beginning of the end of my little experience in World War II.
England, and we did move around because we went to various training establishments. We did seemed to form relationships, sometimes with WAAFs who were on the station other times with local girls that perhaps we’d would meet at dances. And perhaps they were girls because we were young and that was the
thing to try and obtain a girlfriend whilst you were in a certain area. But in my own instance they were passing friendships. I know some airmen got into lasting friendships and married the girls and ultimately came out here as wives. And that was
nothing unusual, I suppose that was to be expected. But for the ones that I became, for instance when we first went to our Operational Training Unit at Litchfield there was a WAAF serving meals in the mess, sergeants’ mess where we dined and she smiled at me one day and winked, so I
got friendly with her and I accompanied her to picture shows on the station and several dances and she said that I could tell by her accent which she told me she came from Wales and as I thought the Welsh people had a funny accent. So did the girls and the people
from Lancashire they also had a funny accent. We use to joke to them that we didn’t know how to cook out of a cookery book and that’s the way they use to talk. Well the Welsh use to talk a little funny too in our mind, not in theirs but in our mind. And she told me, I said, “What part of Wales do you come from?” I don’t know why because I didn’t know the first thing about Wales and she
said, “I come from the Rhondda Valley,” and I said, “Oh yes, and what’s that?” And she said, “Well down in the Rhondda Valley there’s a place called Trerherbert in the County of Tinewood.” So I said, “Oh yeah, you know I don’t know much about it. Tell me.” She said, “It’s an area of nothing but coalmines,” coalmines. Now they
produced a film shortly before the war called How Green was my Valley” And the mine that her father worked at was used for this film and that interested me and I thought well Wales is interesting. And when we were leaving that particular station to go to the next one, she said, “Would you come and visit
me if you get leave? I’ll be down in Wales on leave, would you come and visit me on a certain time (UNCLEAR) the days?” And I said, “Oh well, yes I will,” because I was interested. And she said, “I’ll show you something that you’ve probably never seen.” So I made me, I got a leave pass and on this particular time and I got on a train and went to Cardiff, changed trains there
and got one that took me down this Rhondda Valley and when I got out at the station. It was the darkest sort of a place that I’d seen at that time. Everything was dark colour and blackish and I asked a person directions where to get to this particular area and this street and they told me. Well all I could see was rows
of cottages that were built all together right on the footpath and they went for miles. And it appears these had been built a hundred or two hundred years ago to house the miners, because this part of Wales was absolutely covered in coalmines. And you could see these coalmine poppit heads everywhere. So I ultimately found the cottage in which
she lived and knocked at the door and low and behold, it was her mother who’d come out and she saw an Australian airmen there and I could hear the girl yell out, “He’s come down.” So she come out to meet me and welcome me and introduce me to the family. Now this was latish in the afternoon
and about half past five I think it was. It was a very primitive type of cottage, they all were and Mother got out an old tin tub, which was hanging on the wall outside and brought it into the kitchen and she started pouring kettles of hot water into this old tin tub. And a few minutes later
the father arrived home from the coal mine and he was as black as ink. Covered in coal dust and the first thing, he was to strip off and hop into the tub for a bath in the middle of the kitchen floor, which was basically a dirt floor with a mat over it. That was my introduction to this old coalmining area
in Wales. Now their son he also came home but he was as clean as you and I are now. His mine had been modernised and they’d put in showers and locker rooms and dressing rooms at the surface area of the mine, so that all the miners could get a shower and a clean up before they went home. It was a very big contrast between father and Son arriving
home. The next was the Saturday or something, or Sunday, the next day was Sunday and they were not working. So father took me down to this particular mine where this film had been shot, or they’d used this mine for lots of the scenes in the film. And took me around it and he said that they went
down so far underground, I think it was virtually a couple of kilometres vertically downwards to get into the seam of coal and that’s where they worked all day. And they would only see the surface in the morning and in the evening because they’d have their lunch down there too, it was so far down. It was very interesting. So
there was nothing much in the way of entertainment for me to do there. This particular WAAF girl who’d invited me down to see this was very pleased that I was there. And I think we went for a bus ride to a picture theatre or something and then we had a little bit of supper at a café afterwards and I took her home. And then my leave had expired because it took me quite a while
to get back to Cardiff and then another connecting train to go back to get back to the station where I was. So that was just a little interesting aside. But of course she was based at that original OTU that I was at and in the meantime we’d progress to another couple of schools and then gone to a squadron so I’d lost track of her. I do think that I did send her a couple of cards on occasions
and contact by virtue of a letter was kept but then we went missing and whether she ever found that out, it’s possible she did because there were certain magazines or newspapers that come that often published casualty lists. But unless you read them and there were lots of names to read you wouldn’t know. The only people who knew
were next of kin and friends and other crews on the station that you were operating from, from the squadron. Telegrams of course were sent to my parents immediately we went missing and follow up telegrams were sent when they ultimately found out a couple of months later that we’d been taken prisoner of war from the Red Cross notification from Geneva.
So contact was lost and after the war I didn’t go back, well it was no deep love affair and I was still only a kid anyway, I was too young to get any further involved. And there are other pretty girls around anyway so that was that little interlude if that’s what you wanted to hear.
off we would be given weather conditions over the target area as well as weather conditions over the North Sea and over England where we were flying. But sometimes that would find out, perhaps Pathfinders who had gone in early had found that the wind wasn’t from the north at all, it was from the south or something like that, the weather had changed. So they had to instruct the planes to make the necessary alterations
to cope with that because the wind has a great deal of influence on flying aircraft particularly at high altitudes. So these messages would come through in code and if there was a change and if there was an alteration then the pilot, the wireless operator would tell the pilot and the navigator so they could make the necessary adjustments. Also if perchance for some unknown reason
the operation was to be aborted he would get that signal too. That did happen, all be it extremely rarely. Very seldom was it aborted when we were well into it. But that did happen on occasion, because they might find the target was perhaps
completely cloud covered over weather, well that didn’t always stop us but Pathfinders couldn’t locate it or couldn’t put down the markers or whatever and they didn’t want us to waste the bomb load that we were carrying, so we would turn round and return to base. But that was a rather rare occurrence for us anyway. Besides I only did 7 and a half, it was on the eighth that I went.
It was only on one occasion when we aborted, on take off for an operation, an engine failed and the aircraft couldn’t climb up and gain speed as was required to keep up with the formation and that happened immediately
on take off, so the pilot said we will abort, so we flew over the airfield and we fired off the colours of the day. Now each aircraft had what was known as a vary pistol in the ceiling of the aircraft and each time we flew we would be told what were the colours of the day.
The vary pistol would carry a cartridge, which was fairly fat and stocky, and the wireless operator would put that into the pistol when we got into the aircraft. The colours of the day and they changed every day and this cartridge would fire off these two, would shoot up and you get two colours, a red and a blue or a pink and a white or something,
something. Each day it was changed, it was done for quite a variety or reasons, it was to let people, the ground staff knew you had a problem because we were not allowed to tell them on radio, we had to observe radio silence, it was if we were flying over the English Channel and they’re a couple of British warships underneath us and they didn’t like any aircraft flying over them
at all, and occasionally they would fire a few shells at us, so to overcome that we’d shoot the colours of the day and they’d immediately know they were friendly aircraft. Various emergencies that you would get onto you would do that. Sometimes when we’re well over France and perhaps some of our own fighter planes
were suspicious of us for some unknown reason and they looked rather threatening we’d fire the colours of the day and they’d immediately know things were all right. One this day when the engine failed we flew over the airfield and fired the colours of the day that was to let the people on the ground know that we’ve got a problem. Now we were carrying all our bomb load including a 4000 pound cookie
now whilst we would often, not often but if necessary we would land with all the bombs on board, we didn’t like landing with the Cookie. Now the Cookie didn’t look like an ordinary bomb, it looked like an oversized 44 gallon drum, a big tubular drum and it was, it would detonate immediately it would touch anything and if we landed with one on
you’d be chewing your fingernails, crossing fingers doing all sorts of things hoping that it didn’t shake and come loose because there would be an enormous explosion because it was a 4000 pounder, so he decided that we would jettison that bomb over the North Sea. Now the 4000 pound Cookie was not allowed to be dropped under a height
of 6,000 feet, preferably 8,000 over water but the pilot wanted to know what the effects of it would be. So we flew at 6,000 or a bit under it and he dropped, he ordered the bomb aimer to drop the Cookie which he did and we felt the shudder at that altitude when it hit the water and exploded, once that had gone we flew home with all the other bombs still on board and landed safely
on three engines. That was the only time we had to abort an operation ourselves other than that everything, each time we went we were okay. So always little bits of excitement. I can remember on one occasion when we were at Lancaster Finishing School. The pilot use to have to learn how to fly on three engines
and he use to have to learn how to abort a landing. And we were with an instructor this day doing circuits and bumps and he said we’ll now feather an engine, in other words you cut out an engine and feather a propeller, so you’ll only be on three. Now if you get into trouble as you approach a runway, then overshoot
quickly pull the wheels up again and fly and go around again. We approached the runway on this day on three engines and we had the instructor alongside of, sitting alongside the pilot watching what he did and an engine on the otherside conked out, so instead of being on three engines we were on two. And he was almost on the runway, and the
instructor said we have a problem and he was as calm as you and I are today, he said we’ve got a major problem, put some boost into the other two engines, lift up the wheels and we’ll abort the landing and go round again. Well I reckon I could put my hand out and touch the ground from the rear turret, we were so low and I don’t know how we survived that one but
fortunately on two engines the aircraft slowly gained a bit of height again while he brought up the wheels and we went around again, so and the instructor said the engine that we deliberately stopped, bring that back into use. So he restarted that engine while we’re in flight so we were on three engines, the one that had gone crook of it’s own accord so we come and landed on three engines.
So that was one little hair-raising event that we had too. But there were a few of them, I can’t recall them all at the time.