Archive number: 637
Preferred name: Bugs
Date interviewed: 24 September, 2003
35 Squadron - Caribous and Transport
You are listening to the interview audio
Mal, could you give us a very brief summary of your life to date?
Yes, I was born in Richmond, New South Wales, 1939. Son of an air force officer, then I went to school at Richmond, and from there I joined the Royal Australian Air Force at age 15, as an apprentice,
stopped in the air force. On leaving the air force I went to Cathay Pacific Airways, and flew and lived in Hong Kong, and remained with them for 20 years, then returned to Port Macquarie were I run an aircraft business now.
Good, that’s an excellent summary.
So thanks for that. That’s a good basis on which to start. Now what can you tell us about your parents?
As far as my father was concerned, as I said, he was an air force officer. I lived quite a bit of my life in Wellington, New South Wales, with my grandparents. Of course, I was born in 1939, so
these were the war years. Dad was away, doing other things for various posting up Darwin, Townsville, Charters Towers and the like. My mother was a champion tennis player. At present, she’s 92 and still lives by herself at Richmond, and getting very upset about the fact that she’s not as active as she used to be. But, they were
Can you give us a bit more detail on the personality of your father?
Dad was extremely strict. As an officer, he did have men underneath him. Of course, I came into that same category, although, I was always looked after. Dad was also a very good tennis player.
The areas that I lived around in, I think, were a very healthy environment.
So your father basically treated you, I presume, like one of the men under his command?
Oh true, yes.
And how did that manifest itself on a day to day basis.
Very disciplined. But then again, going back on the way things are in this world, pity there wasn’t a bit more of it.
Did you ever question whether that discipline was necessary
as you were growing up?
Not outwardly, because I would have been a victim of some punishment. In those days, that was the way it was done. In my era, if you were down the street and you didn’t conduct yourself the way you were supposed, the police sergeant would beat your tail and send you home. But the real fear was,
if you despised the police sergeant and wouldn’t take any notice of him, he said, “Well okay, I’ll tell you father”. In this day and age, they ‘d say, “Go for your life”. But not in my time.
What sort of activities would bring you to the attention of the police sergeant?
Anything you did, as I said, because the whole discipline was something, the slightest thing. You could be playing in the park.
In those days, the police used to be active, they used to be around the place. In actual fact, they used to be family. They tended to look after people, they’d jump on them. But you never got the degree of problems that you do now, because it was nipped very early in the bud, probably at a very childish level.
So the police were much more pro-active at that time.
and they had big boots, too. But they were allowed to do it.
Now, tell us a little more about the personality of your mother?
Mum was, as I said, a very good sportswoman. The lounge room at home was just cups, around and around. In those days you had a lounge room, that had a shelf there, for such things.
She was very solid within the ex-service organisation. The Ladies Auxiliary at Richmond, at 92, she’s still a patron.
But then when you were growing up, could you describe her qualities
as a mother?
Well, mothers were mothers. I still ring her up every Sunday. And I still get down to Richmond whenever I cane to see her. She would always say, “You don’t have to come down”. And that’s when you know, you better get down there.
Did you have any brothers and sisters?
Yes, I’ve got 2 brothers and a sister, and they still live in the Richmond area. Which once again is good for Mum, because she’s got regular contact there.
She loves people.
How much were you able to learn about your father’s war service? Where he had gone and what he had done?
All of his service was in Australia.
A lot of it was from photographs, of him at various stages in his career. I used to laugh at one, because an officer in those days would normally have a motorbike, with a side car. And of course, they used to sit on this, they wore a pith helmet in those days, for the tropics. And these shorts, that had legs
on them about this big. So I thought, “Well, not really the ideal way to ride a motorbike these days”.
Was he attached to any particular squadron?
He did various postings. One of his last ones would have been with 86 Squadron, not 86 Wing, up out of Alice Springs, with Mosquito aircraft. They were twin engine, high altitude aeroplane,
they mapped the whole of Northern Australia. So that was one of his last things. As a matter of fact, one of the people who worked in the Squadron was Namatjira. That was in the early days of his paintings. Had Dad been a bit smarter, we would have had a lot hanging around here.
And did your father ever talk much about
World War II, and the incidents that he encountered during World War II?
Not really. Very little was spoken about the war. When the war finished, I know exactly where I was. I was at Wellington, I was in a cot, in front of the front door. I’d been in next door and cut my foot open, badly, with a
beer bottle, so I was confined to bed. The sirens started to blow and the bells started to ring for the end of World War II. I just got up and I still remember, ringing the front door bell. Which, in those days, was one you just grabbed and turned around and turned around.
So you were pretty aware of what was happening.
You were 6 at the time?
Well, living with my grandfather, in Wellington itself,
out the back, actually, those were the days of big back yards, and there was the chook pen down the back, because you raised your own chickens and you raised your own eggs. Rabbits. And of course, he was a shearing contractor so he always had plenty of sheep. But in that backyard was a bomb shelter. Fully dug out, fully equipped. It had food in it and everything.
As far as they were concerned, the Japanese were pointing themselves at Darwin and they were going to come down. If you said that to people these days, people are so complacent, they’d say, “Forget about it. We’ll just go to Newcastle for a week. If they come through here, it doesn’t matter”. But in those days, you were in a country town. And they believed it. So the threat was very positive. And you’ve got to remember, too,
that you didn’t have the communication that we’ve got now. We can watch people being shot in Iraq. Vietnam, you could see that on the TV [television]. Sometimes, you could see it a little bit closer than that, too. But for news to come out of Darwin, it had to either come by telephone, the radio wasn’t real good. People still feared that attack. That’s why, I think,
after World War II, people were welcomed home more than we were ever from Vietnam. Because people had viewed what could be termed atrocities, from Vietnam, where World War II, they never saw it. They saw it in people coming back in bits and pieces, but they didn’t actually see that happening.
And I’m sure from what you’ve just been saying, there was also a sense that here were the saviours returning home. They had saved Australia.
Well that was true. A lot of it was fought, particularly Darwin anyway, was fought there, and then you take New Guinea. It’s door step. The average Australian wouldn’t know how far it was from Darwin to New Guinea.
You mentioned the air raid shelter, what are your memories of what that actually looked like?
about as high as that window, which probably makes it 6 or 7 feet high. 2 metres, for those younger. It was a cube of about that size. The steps down to it, they were actually dug, they were dirt. And inside it had wooden beams,
corrugated iron and then covered again with piles of dirt. In there, there were tins of food. In those days, if you had eggs, you used to keep them in a 4 gallon drum. They used to be called ‘sies’ and that used to preserve them. And there was one of those in there, with a pile of eggs.
A lot of preserved stuff. As far as weapons were concerned, nobody had any weapons, it didn’t matter.
Was there any air raid drill at all?
Not really. Not that I know of. Based on my age at that time, I wouldn’t have been in it anyway. My grandparents may have been
wrapped up in it.
At that age and stage, we’re talking about 6 or 7 years of age at the end of the war, were you aware of people talking about the threat of Japanese invasion?
What sort of things were they saying?
These were bomb shelters. It wasn’t a trench. So as far they were concerned, these aeroplanes were going to come down there. Now, the Japanese, I’m smart now, the Japanese didn’t have aeroplanes that could get down there.
But obviously you did not know that then.
Well people didn’t know. If it’s an aeroplane, it’s an aeroplane. It flies from A to B. But the thing is, when you look at the rest of the things, if you had said to people, “Well, if they do come down, where will they pull up and get their fuel?” And stuff like this. They would have to be invading as they came down. You’ve not only got to feed the aeroplane fuel and oil,
you’ve got to look after the crew you’ve got there. They just can’t just keep working day after day, without refreshments.
That’s right. It’s a question of supply lines and fuel.
But people didn’t realise that. Things like Betty Bombers, they were operating into New Guinea. But then again, they were operating from islands around there. The distance that they were travelling
was not great. For them to come down. Look at this Catalina flying boat that’s just been brought back from Spain, look at the number of hops it’s had to do. A lot of problems with clearances and things like this. In war time you don’t worry about clearances. But there’s a logistic problem, to get from there to Sydney. We’re looking back, at aeroplanes from about the same era,
still coming down from there. So they would have had to stop several times. If they had a bomb load on there, they would have to stop more often.
You were talking about ringing the door bell at the end of World War II. To what extent did you share the sense of relief that other people were feeling that the war was over?
It was a type of thing, as I said, the car horns
started blowing, the bells were ringing, we were very close to the train station there, the steam engines were blowing their whistles. It was just a pile of relief. As far as I was concerned, really, I was not in it. Because at that age, you’re not. Not emotionally or anything like that, which is probably good. But
as far as kids are concerned, they don’t sit down and delve, which is good. If they did, I think we would finish up with a bit of a mess. But it was jubilation from everybody. Everybody was, no doubt, so relieved and it was obvious. As a kid, that came over, so you participated there. But directly involved?
No. I couldn’t be.
Now why was it that you were living with your grandparents at this time?
My father was moving around, from unit to unit. Mum, at that stage, she actually came from around Wellington also, a place called Euchareena. Mum
moved around to a lot of areas. If there was what was termed a safe base, if it had those sort of facilities. Other than that, Mum would either come up and stop with her parents, or go back to her other relations in Euchareena, which was just down the train line. But we all stopped, around that area.
So were the other kids in your family with you as well?
No, I’m the eldest. My other brother, Graham, he’s a few years younger than me. So he would be pretty young at that stage.
I can remember photographs of him, at Wellington. One particular one, with one of Dad’s pith helmets, he decided that that was one of those lovely things they called a commode. Luckily, Dad had two of them, I think, so it didn’t matter.
So he turned it into a potty?
Well, that was what they looked like.
All you’ve got do is turn it over.
How did your father react to that?
Dad wasn’t there, then. That was while we were stopping at Wellington. And from there, Dad came back and although I was born in Richmond, we came back to Richmond to live,
much later in life.
Just staying with Wellington for a moment. For how many years, during the war, did you live in Wellington?
I would have been there from ’41 till the end of the war.
Did you see much of your parents during that time?
Mum I did, yes. Dad was, as I say,
if you were in Townsville or Charters Towers or one of these places, you don’t come home for the weekend.
You must have missed your father?
Well, the thing is if you don’t see anybody a lot over a certain period, at that stage I wouldn’t had time to really get attached to him. As I said, I was born in ’39, as he was mobilised and I was
a war child.
So I imagine that your grandfather was very much a surrogate father during that time?
Can you tell us a bit about your granddad?
I used to call my granddad Bob. I didn’t call him granddad. And grand mother, Ma. They were good to me.
What sort of a person was Bob?
As I said, he was a shearing contractor. He had it mapped for me. He said, “You’re not going to be a shearer. That’s tough”. He said, “You’re going to be a wool classer”. I said, “Why would I be a wool classer?” So I used to go out to the sheds with him, and help a bit with moving sheep around, and just about kill him as he’s trying to shear sheep and I’m pulling the sheep out.
The thing is where they get their exercise, after they finish shearing, out goes the sheep, and walking to the yard to get the next one. That’s the stretch up, that’s all part of the thing. You try and go and help someone in the middle, you’ve got them on their knees all day, shearing. He said, “You’ve got to be a wool classer”.
Why did he have that mind for you?
Because a wool classer
slept in the homestead, he didn’t sleep in the shearer’s hut. As far as the owner of the property was concerned, that was the classer. He lived in the homestead and he was part of the thing, because he was the person who worked out what everything was worth. He was the last bit down the line before it went to market.
So did you yourself consider that as a career option?
I looked at it, yeah. But this is way back.
You mentioned your grandfather was a water diviner? Tell me a bit about water divining?
Okay, what they do is they’ll go round and they’ll use, have you seen a rabbit skin laid out to dry? There’s a wire hoop that goes through it, they used to use much the same as that. And they used to put in their hands and put it back around here. Now, he’d walk around and as got anywhere near
where there was a stream of water, because water actually doesn’t just lay there in a big pool. It will go through the rocks and all that. And depending on how hard the wire goes down, will normally tell you the quantity and the size of the stream of water. A lot of people used to say, “Oh, you’re just flicking it down”. He used to have tobacco tins for tobacco
in his pockets, and if he got a good strike, it would in actual fact, used to dent the tin. You can not take a piece of wire and take it down like that and do that with it. Anyway, when he’d find where it was, and he would only get paid on results. He would not take money for going out there. In a lot of cases, the farmer would come in from his farm of a weekend, pick him up, dine him, take
him out there and he’d go and do all this. Once he’d found a suitable sight, then he would step that off, and he would come up with a figure for how far down the water is.
You used the term “step that off”, what do you mean by that?
Well, he had a method of going around different areas, having a look at the results, a bit like triangulation, and having a look at it as far as a grid view was concerned.
Then decide from that, and do his calculations. Then he would actually step off the distance.
So he would pace it out?
He’d pace it out, and say, “You will find water there”. It might have been at 60 feet.
I’ve heard maybe second, third, fourth hand accounts of water divining over the years and it almost sounds like a variation of making gold in a crucible, or some form of alchemy.
No, it’s very difficult for a lot of people who haven’t seen it, to know it works. One thing with Bob, he used to say he’s got electricity in his body. One of his favourite tricks was he’d be out at the old motor car, he’d take a spark plug lead off, and he’d hold it in his hands. And if he
grabbed you, you knew about it. It didn’t affect him one little bit.
Yep. In those days, forget about quartz action watches. A wind up watch, it would run for 2 minutes then stop. He could not keep a watch running.
Can you explain that?
Well, there had to be some form of magnetism within his body.
So you’re talking about him wearing a watch and it would stop after 2 minutes?
Yes. That was as long as the watch would run. Women would come round and he used to have a piece of cotton. I’m not a superstitious man, I tell you. I’ve seen this, piece of cotton and a needle, and he’d work out Boy or a Girl. Women used to come round in droves,
to do this. It was weird.
Would he charge them for that?
No. The water divining, yes he did.
But determining the gender of the baby?
That was something that he just did.
How did he realise he had this skill, this talent?
Don’t know. Don’t know and never discussed it. I knew he had it.
You don’t question people. If there’s something there, I didn’t understand, and I’m pretty sure he didn’t understand it, either. Who could? You’ve said you’ve spoken to people and nobody can up with reasons for what caused it. But I tell you what, it was real. People used to back money on him.
“I reckon it’s at fifty feet”. “No, he won’t find it until 70 feet”. And other shearers used to bet on where they’d find the water. When they found the water, then he’d get paid.
From what you’re saying, he always got results?
No. There’d been times when they’d dug, they found water, but it was not in a
quantity they considered feasible to continue on with. He had a place out the back of Richmond, 37 acres, this was when he retired. He then came from Wellington down to Richmond. That was a sort of a hobby farm to grow veggies and have a couple of cows. We had our own milk.
This is a lot later, long after I joined the air force and everything. Bob went out one day, he said “I’ve got to put a well down”. He went around, went around, found the place. I said, “How far?” He said, “40 feet”. So myself and 2 other mates in the air force went out and we dug it. We found it at 40 feet. Actually, my brother went through
the rock, the last little bit, he actually broke through it and finished up in water about this deep. And this well we dug down, it didn’t have a lining in it, it had nothing in it. The buckets used to go up and the stones used to fall down. But we had faith in him that when we got there we’d have water.
So when he found water for farmers or whatever, was it always a well that they would dig, as a result of what he’d found?
In those days it was.
That was the only way. They’ve always been called bores. That’s all very well if you’ve got a drill to drill down. But no, they were all dug, and they were dug by hand. It was not really mechanical, it was done by hand.
So during these few crucial formative years you spent in Wellington, what sort of a place was Wellington at that time?
Well, it was a wheat and sheep area. Very flourishing. I went to school with Aboriginals, I didn’t know they were black. You had mates that were Aboriginals. One thing I remember about them, one thing an Abo can do is he can fight. You soon learned that. We played in football teams.
It was a great town. The local community of Aboriginals there, they had a place that they used to live out of. It was on Burrendong dam. They were missions, only because
the churches were the first people to get them up and going. I think a lot of the do-gooders wanted them out of town. They all used to congregate, in Wellington itself, and the roads there had sort of islands in the middle of them, and that used to be the place to sit, at a place called Nucky’s Corner. It was the local
general store. But they used to be there, they used to buy their grog from there, they used to buy their cigarettes from there and stuff like that. The chief elder was a bloke by the name of Mudgee. A very dominant man, big beard. And his wife was called Rosey Mudgee,
and seeing as my name was Rose, they nicknamed me at school Rosey Mudgee, which is a bit like Johnny Cash, being called “Sue”.
You said that you soon learned the Aborigines could fight. Under what circumstances did you learn that?
Oh, at the local dances and at the tennis club and all this.
They normally kept among themselves, but they were thrashing machines. They got into it.
In other words, if there was a blue they could hold their own?
Oh yeah. They were fighters.
There’s that long tradition of tent boxers with Aborigines as well.
Just because my name’s Rose, doesn’t make a relation to Lionel Rose. No relation, or Murray Rose.
They were good times. With my granddad, going around divining and stuff like this, you got out and saw both sides of it. You saw the shearing shed side of it, which in those days probably had the best cooks of any restaurant around the place. Because if they didn’t, they didn’t have the jobs for very long. So shearer’s cooks were good. Then from there,
the weekend thing we went out and saw the owner of the property, wined and dined. At that age, I’m not wining, but dining. You saw the other side of it. Bob used to get treated, actually he didn’t get treated as a shearer, or a shearing contractor. Because he made the inroads, he was always treated like them.
When you say the other side of it,
can you be a bit more specific about that?
There was a very big difference between the way the actual shearers were treated, at the shed. Like the boss, probably wouldn’t come near the shed. The contractor does all that. It was a class thing. There was a pecking list. He was entitled
to go to the boss’s house. But Bob himself, because he was a water diviner and all that, plus he was the sort of bloke you could invite everywhere.
So he would get invited to the boss’ house?
So you got to see both worlds?
I saw both, and you could identify with both and the way it was played. They
knew Bob for his shearing skills and his contracting skills, but the bit they wanted, you don’t have any of this, unless you have water. So water was gold.
Did he have competitors as water diviners?
There were odd ones around, but it’s not something like the 6 chemists in town. There’s not 6 water diviners in town.
Now, tell us about your school. Presumably your schooling began in Wellington.
It started in Wellington, then when we came back, we went back to Richmond and I went to the primary school at Richmond itself. The primary school that was there,
it then moved, and the school I was at then became the high school, so we didn’t have to move too far. I stuck that until I was, in those days, intermediate certificate, which was 15. Leaving certificate wasn’t, it was heard of, but that was for people who didn’t have a real job.
What do you mean by that?
There were probably more labour intense people around that area than there were academics. People decided at 15, it was time to get out there. And there was work. In my particular case, I was in the air force at 15.
Just sticking with your school days, what were your favourite subjects?
Probably not many at all. Woodwork, metalwork, tech drawing. I was in the engineering type thing. I tolerated the other subjects, but English I couldn’t see, I had no interest in that whatsoever. Shakespeare? He wasn’t my scene. And really
in those days that was all there was. Real people you knew didn’t sit down and read those sort of things. I got through the whole thing, I didn’t have any great drama. I would top the technical trades and I would get through the other ones, but not with any brilliance.
Can you talk us through what happened when you left school?
Well, even before I’d left school, I’d gone down and completed all the bits and pieces, the medicals, for the air force. Dad being an air force officer, actually wants to see me go into the air force. And at that stage, the time I’d been out to squadrons and had
a look, and I liked what I saw. So when I did finish, which probably would have been November, a bit later, ’54. I was in the air force on the 16th of January, ’55. Real new world.
The education did continue then. And then it was instilled upon you that these things might be nice to know. So there was the technical side was the need to know, and these other subjects were nice to know.
We’ll pick this up on the next tape.
Interviewee: Malcolm Rose Archive ID 0637 Tape 02
Just before we get into your apprenticeship and training, what was the actual process of enlistment you went through when you joined the RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force]?
To start with, once all the applications have gone through. In fact, I still have my original documents with my mother’s signature on it, so Mum decided that’s where I’d go.
From there you go down to a place called Rushcutters Bay, which was the recruiting centre. Some of the nicest real estate in Sydney in those days. It had to be, the military owned it. You went down for 2 days, and you went through various things. Full psyches, medicals, interview boards,
it was just an ongoing process, very well organised. At that stage the apprentice intake that I joined was Number 9, so it had been going for 9 years. So they’d be dealing with kids and they’d documented it fairly well how the process would go. No doubt, it’s a little bit different for an 18 year old to a 15 year old.
So at the end of that, once you got to the final interview, you knew you were pretty well in the door. Went back home and out of all of Australia, there were 100 people picked. That was probably out of about 1,000. And really, the 1,000 went
to the board, they went in different stages. Not only Sydney, of course, each state had its own board.
So it must have been quite a feeling of achievement to be picked?
From here you were gong to go into a career, where as far as the parents were concerned, they knew pretty well that once you were in there, you were in there.
Now, your father wanted you to follow this particular path. Is this what you wanted to do as well?
Yeah, oh yeah. I really wanted to fly, although he was never a flyer. These were the days when the emphasis was on trade. You had to have a trade. It doesn’t seem to work that
way anymore. But this was the way it worked then.
So what particular trade did could you see yourself adopting?
Well, at that stage, the first year you go down to Wagga Wagga, everybody does not study for any trade at all. You might do general fitting, woodwork, tech drawing,
physical education, drill, rifle shooting, the whole box and dice. This would be pointed at general engineering, like welding, machining, too, quite a lot of everything. At the end of that, you got your results for that first year, and they asked people
what trade you’d like to be in. The ones that were on offer, there was aeroplane fitter, air frame fitter, instrument fitter and elec [electrician]. And motor transport, sorry. The avionics trade, that was done down in Frogwell, in Victoria. So that was a separate thing all together. So
I decided that I wanted to be an air frame fitter, different people wanted to be this and that. They had a look, it came out finally, some of the people didn’t get what they wanted. The majority got what they wanted, which is pretty good.
Why did you choose air frame fitter?
Well, if you get into instrument work, and things like this, you could be sitting at a bench, pulling an instrument down.
To me, it wasn’t real aircraft work. They very rarely got, unless they were on the squadron where they got to work with the instrument system, part of the system in the aeroplane, not an individual item. The electrical side of it was much the same. Most of them were in overhaul
facilities and things like this that, they call aircraft depots. But an aircraft is a place where stuff is overhauled and things like this, long term heavy type maintenance. Not anywhere near a squadron. And a lot of the people that do get involved in the aircraft depots are professional depot dogs. They’re there for the long term. Squadron
life is different. The other trades, engine side of it, that was good. Once again there, you can get yourself tied up where you’re in the aircraft depot overhauling engines or propellers, or you could be out in the squadron where you might change them, fix them, keep them happy. One’s the sharp end and one’s the blunt end. So I chose air frame fitting and I did that for another 2
years at Wagga. I graduated, then of course you’re posted to an aircraft depot. Now, the reason that you’re posted to an aircraft depot, this is further training in your apprenticeship. The apprenticeship was 5 years. As far as an air frame fitter’s concerned, what they would do, they would allot you to various aircraft types, where you’d be there working with experienced
people, then you may go the hydraulic shop, and you might spend 2 months there, where you overhaul hydraulic components, test them. So you do all these bits that you would not normally tackle on the line somewhere. Still in that same time,
at Richmond, we had Neptune bombers and we were converting them from a real bomber, self-protect aeroplane, which had gun turrets and things like this, to a maritime surveillance aeroplane. And that was a very, very big modification program, very interesting. Where we were taking nose turrets, mid-upper turrets, tail gun turrets,
out of aeroplanes. We were replacing them with observer noses and things like this. There were very big modifications.
So as an apprentice you were working on day to day practical applications?
When did that begin, when you moved to Richmond?
That was first year out of apprenticeship. The last year, they send you to an operational wing or squadron, for
line maintenance. In my particular case, I went to Number 86 Wing, that was still at Richmond. At that stage they had C-47s, so we worked on those. Not long after that the C-130s arrived. The Hercules,
no they arrived in ’58. So they had those. The Wing themselves, did a lot of the major servicing, up to sea checks and things like that. The Squadron themselves, which was Number 36, which was the Hercs. Number 38 Squadron which were C-47s,
they did the actual operational type work. With those you were basically doing line maintenance, away from base rectifications.
Since you had lived in Richmond and you worked at the Richmond Air Base, we spoke about Wellington earlier, can you give us a bit of description at that time?
Richmond was very vibrant.
Very good sporting town. Even going back from high school days, the football was very, very competitive, between different areas there. If you have a look at it, you just don’t get it today. Richmond had an A Grade football team and so did Windsor. 4½ mile away, it’s got one. And the next biggest one down the road was Riverstone,
then it was Blacktown. Over the other way it was Penrith, St Mary’s. And these were good football teams.
And these teams would play each other obviously.
Yeah, yeah. So, there was a hell of a lot of rivalry, at sporting level. It was a good town. Having been brought up in it, I was no
stranger to it. A lot of my friends were still around. With joining the air force though, you tended to get away a lot from these people. I still see them down the ex-servicemen’s club, some of those blokes are still around there.
To what extent was Richmond also an air force town?
Very much so,
within Richmond itself, within Windsor. So the service was big time. It’s gone the other way now. Richmond’s extremely quiet.
This is not long after World War II, not long after the Korean War,
why were things happening in such a big way then, we’re talking about the 1950s?
Well, at that stage, at my particular stage, the Korean War had just finished. World War II still wasn’t that far away that they weren’t thinking about it. Being involved with the Americans, during World War II and Britain, too, at the same time, I think we’d started to
think bigger. It was an educational program. And I feel by seeing examples of what other people were doing, a lot of that flowed onto Australia.
You’ve just used “educational program”. For whom was it an educational program?
Self education, education by example. They’d seen the thousands of aeroplanes.
You’re talking about Australians seeing
aircraft from other countries, from other nationalities?
I mean that, and also actually being in theatres with them. Whether it be at the end of World War II…It carried on for the occupation forces in Japan, then it went from there to Korea, where they didn’t have to go to far to from Korea to Japan. Backwards and forwards. The Americans were still involved, they were heavily
involved. That was army, air force and navy.
They were still heavily involved in Richmond?
No, I’m talking about all this activity that had been around, that was keeping the air force lighted. There is nothing worse than being in an organisation where there’s nothing to do. You have a look at the economy of America. The economy of America is
at its best when it’s at war. Sad thing to say, but you’ve got employment; you’ve got jobs for people.
So it sounds like you joined a flourishing organisation?
It was good. And the other thing is, the mateship that’s there. You still look after each other. We still have apprentice reunions.
Can you be a bit more specific about the mateship? I mean, mateship is something we’ve asked a number of people about. But can you amplify that just a little bit, within the Richmond complex? Just looking at mateship over all and during the period of your apprentice training and perhaps even beyond? Can you give us a bit of a statement about that?
You see, initially we would keep in by
newsletters and things like that. Now we’ve got this wonderful thing called the Internet. There are a lot of people from that era now, with a lot of spare time.
But back then, how important was mateship?
By jingoes it was. Even growing up in Wagga, we were the boys in blue. We were in the bodgie, widgie era. That was different,
and that was all in brawls.
Let’s just side-track onto this for a moment, because this is something that I think has largely been bypassed now. Tell us about your experience of bodgies and widgies?
Well, because we were all of the particular age, you, we’re talking about the same age group,
particularly for the fellows the prize were the young ladies. So there was a fair bit of competition. We were getting a lot of our chaps in town, with a girlfriend, and getting swarmed by a pile of these bodgies, with their widgies.
They’d harass them, they’d bash the fellows up.
Why would they bash them up?
Well this was the cult. You people are not going to have our women. It was basically a gang fight warfare.
For those who don’t know this, there’s a lot of people growing up today that won’t know on Earth what a bodgie and widgie was. Can you define for us a bodgie and a widgie?
The bodgie was the fellow, and the widgie was his girlfriend.
What made them a bodgie and widgie?
The way they dressed, basically their ideals. Basically they were Yanks, and they did in fact get around in numbers. They based their strength on the fact there was a team of them.
How did they dress?
One would be cherry red trousers, this sort of thing.
It was quite outlandish. Cherry red trousers. I wore cherry red trousers when I went and joined them.
You joined the bodgies?
I need to know more about this. I feel like you’re holding back here a bit.
Okay, what happened. As I said
we had a lot of people getting really bashed up. And this was going on. You see the army were at Kapooka, they were copping much the same thing, too, whether it would be a dance hall or anything like this. There was a lot of strife there. We had a meeting
among our boys, and they decided I would infiltrate the scene, because I wasn’t a tall poppy. I could fight, but I was a lot shorter than most. I wasn’t going to stand out in a crowd. So I got in with them. A bloke by the name of Shingles McKenzie,
who’s now in Wagga as a fine citizen. Anyway, I joined them.
How did you join them?
Really, I don’t know now. But the main thing was I was taken on board by the fact that I kept away from my own. I was never in town in uniform or anything like that.
I used to wear this gear, used to smoke and dish the cigarettes out, too. They had all been paid for me to do this. Plus, we got issued with cigarettes, too I must tell Veteran’s Affairs about that. Anyway, they did all this, so finally, they used to decide whether you were in or you were out. In the finish, they didn’t even realise I was in the air force.
How did they decide?
They’d meet amongst themselves, I’d be dividing the cigarettes out, I’d swear, so I was accepted.
So what did a bodgie actually do?
Attack air force blokes, that was the main thing. It was just a cult.
Are we talking about Marlon Brando in “The Wild One” type cult?
I suppose a bit like that.
You’d been placed there by your air force mates to actually infiltrate them. What was the purpose of your infiltrating the bodgies?
To find out who was really doing what. To find out who was really in there and who wasn’t. And I used to get into fights with air force people. Deliberately.
And you’d find out who was in there. How would that information be used?
went into town in probably 8 cars, I suppose. I’d been with them about 2 months. I identified where they were all going to be. Once we got in there with 8 cars, we really got into it. Baseball bats, I tell you, there was no mercy. Police got involved, air force got involved, radio stations got involved,
and decided that there had to be some sort of truce. It got a big deal in Wagga.
How many people were injured?
No. You kill somebody they get out of it light, don’t they? Honestly, we were there to maim.
After this had happened,
was there any retribution from the bodgies? Did anyone discover your cover?
They knew of it, because I was one of the blokes that got of the car.
So what happened to after that?
Nothing, never laid a hand on anybody.
What did the authorities do after that, in terms of cleaning the situation up?
The police met with the air force, met with the bodgies and widgies, and just laid the law down.
They said, “It’s a truce, finished”. And that finished the cult in Wagga. Not a very nice way to finish it.
Were the widgies involved in all of this as well?
God yes. They edged everyone on. They edged the fellows on. They were never part of anybody we attacked or anything. It was fellows we were attacking.
They used to wear spurs and Jingles McKenzie. There was always metal belts, chain belts, knuckle dusters, all pretty nasty stuff.
So the spurs and the chains and the knuckle dusters were put into action?
Oh yeah. But all of that sort of went down the drain.
Everybody lived happily ever after. The bodgies and widgies didn’t last for much longer after that. At Wagga, as I said the police, the air force, the army, at high level got in and said “Nobody’s charged”. Because I could have been charged. But they didn’t identify individuals.
As I said, the bloke that led it down there, who I infiltrated with, Jingles McKenzie, is a well respected citizen of Wagga. And I’ve seen him since.
Just going back to mateship. We were starting to talk about mateship and how important mateship was. Now obviously mateship is part of the bodgies and widgies story, but in a more general sense, in the RAAF, in your early years, can you give a description of how important mateship
was and how it manifested itself?
If you can envisage living in a hut, and not a very warm hut, in Wagga, in the middle of winter. In first year, when you got there, it was dormitory. Now in each hut there would have been 30 to 40 people.
Now everybody is in everybody’s space. You’ve got a bed, you’ve got a locker. Everything’s in order. Get up in the morning, make up your blanket roll, everything’s folded up and put on the end of the bed, in a proper way. Everything is stacked in your cupboard the proper way. You don’t lock the cupboard. The warrant officer can come around and look at any time.
“Oh, that’s out of place!” The only thing you locked away was the rifle. It was locked. We had an apprentice corporal, normally the senior intake, and he had a room. Of the course the rifles used to stop in there. They were locked up. But
when you live with people, like that. And say at 15, people left home. Some of these kids had never been away from home in their life. So you see people, and you see them at their best and you see them at their worst. But the blokes can’t get away from it, they can’t go and hide. They’re there. So a lot of stuff is talked out. There are a hell of a lot of blues amongst people, until everything
settled down. It’s a bit like putting a pile of dogs in the yard. They’ll fight a bit until everybody works out their pecking order, and we’re no different. Work out the pecking order and decide where you were going to be. We used to get what they called bastardisation, on the cutter intakes. This was a thing that was there,
and it was tradition.
What would that consist of?
That could be anything from having somebody stripped in the middle of winter and making them run around the parade ground. Putting someone’s head down a toilet and flush it. Boot polish around the private parts, not real good. Piles of things.
But you knew that once you got over that bit, it was a growing up thing.
Was anyone particularly traumatised by that experience?
Yep. Quite a number of people finished up getting out. Possibly didn’t do any harm. It was probably a weeding process. Natural attrition.
When it happened to you, what was your reaction?
Just to fight. So for that I used to cop it a bit more. When you’ve got four people on you, that makes it a little more difficult.
When you say you used to fight, were you resisting?
Oh yeah. Because in a lot of cases, just because somebody’s off the next intake to you, they tend to get into a gang type situation.
Four people, there’ll be two big blokes and two little blokes. So I grabbed the little bloke out, give him a hiding. I got a hiding finally, I never won. But this was it. When it came to third year, you were the senior lot then. You wouldn’t go around and harass. What you would actually do was make sure the second year people didn’t go too far.
You were the controller, you were the moderator.
But when you were in the second year, did you put the First Years’ through this as well?
Yeah, it was traditional. No one would ever get to sleep at night time. There were metal beds and they used to spend the majority of the time upside down. Everybody would get back there, they’d get asleep again, everything would go again. Childish.
What? Waking people up in the middle of the night and tip their beds over, that was part of it?
Well, it was part of it. But long term, I don’t think it did any harm whatsoever.
That’s a childish prank, and I don’t have any problem with that, but what about boot polish on the privates?
Once again, it was the traditional thing.
I mean, bastardisation in subsequent years has had bad press,
particularly with institutions like Duntroon and so forth…
Well, it has. We would have come under exactly the same thing. But to me, it never got to the stage where it really hurt anybody. We lost a few people through it, but I reckon that was, in any organisation, they were going to be weeded out, down the line,
probably by other people. No doubt, the bastardisation side of it, all it did was accelerate it.
So apart from other things, bastardisation was a weeding out process? Is that what you’re saying?
Well, it acted as it. Because the people who did go were in fact weak. They were normally people who didn’t seem
to fit in, then you say bastardisation, gee, how do you work out who fits in?
When you say weak, what do you mean by weak?
In lots of cases, they were the round peg in square holes. In a lot of ways. When people go down there, they’re selected for their academic achievements, or whatever the
standard is that they say you’ve got to be. You’ve got to be that or you’ve got to be higher. Then there’s the psycho lot. The influence you’re under when you get to that thing, the reaction to that is going to be different by a lot of people. It’s going to be unpredictable, a lot of it. And so I think from this unpredictability, these people in the finish, did leave. It was only a small number. You’re losing about 6 people in 100.
Are we talking about people who couldn’t stand the pressure of the competitiveness?
Could be, yeah.
It’s just when you use the term weak, what other sorts of issues might have been a problem for them?
6 at the most, of any intake would go. But they were going to go anyway.
Whether they’d fall behind in some area, or they just wouldn’t fit in. I think this is why in the finish, although you look back on it and say, “Why would you get involved with that?” I would hate to be involved in a position, in charge of a pile of apprentices, and go
and have to say to somebody, “In front here, boy. You don’t do that”. I would have to think back, wouldn’t I? And I would have to say that was exactly what we did. And that’s the same with Duntroon. This went on for years and for years. Where it changed in Duntroon, was all of a sudden women became involved. I’m not anti women or anything like that, but women became involved
and the type of bastardisation that went on, was totally inappropriate. That’s the only thing that has brought this to a head, and caused all the big investigations. Wagga was never looked at.
Were there women at Wagga?
Of course, women had been involved in the air force during World War II. Were there still work opportunities for women in the air force in the 1950s?
When we’d get to Richmond, particularly, we had fabric covered aeroplanes. They were there, and there were fabric workers and then the clerical side of it. There were nursing sisters and nurses, and all the types of things that women do. But as far as the apprentice system
was concerned, there were no women there. That’s why, as I say, had there been, it would have been a completely different story. It’s a bit like being in a class that’s all men, being in a class where there’s all women, or you can have half and half.
I expect so. As you say, a moderating influence?
Well it is. And Duntroon just got completely out of hand, and that wasn’t the women’s fault, it just happened that women were involved in that
and then it got nasty. All the stuff that we did, healed. Where the Duntroon thing, probably didn’t.
Obviously apprenticeship brought changes to your life. What were the main changes in your life?
Well, the main thing, to start with, was in fact discipline. You were not your
own boss. You had certain rules that you had to stick with, whether you liked it or not. They weren’t always things that you’d say were sensible, but it’s like being in the Lodge. The rules are laid down and you abide by them. From the apprentice side of it, once we did finish, and we did get the piece of paper and then all of a sudden
we were tradesmen. You could wipe your brow and say, “Okay, I’ve made it”. But really, that was only the start. That was small time compared with what happens later on.
So when and where did you finish your apprenticeship?
Actually at Richmond, with 86 Wing. As I said, that was the 3 years at Wagga, which were all the basics. The Number 2 aircraft depot at Richmond, which was
the heavier maintenance and the experience in all the various workshops. Then 86 Wing, which was the exposure to the line maintenance.
Just before we finish the apprenticeship, I gather there were compulsory church parades?
Oh yes, there were compulsory church parades. We used to be marched to church.
Were there different church parades for different denominations?
So from where to where would you be marched to church.
Probably 3 quarters of a mile, I suppose.
And what was your attitude to religion at this time?
Against it. Purely because we were forced to go to church, and
that was Sunday. In the finish we had to go down there and then you made up your mind whether you went into church, or you hid in the drain, until they all came out. Or you could go up to the mess and work there. You had a choice. It was a choice.
Was this at both Wagga and at Richmond?
At Wagga, they were our babysitters and I think when you look back on it, they really took up over the parenting role, for a pile of 15 years. So, to really look at it, they were obliged to carry that on. But they didn’t do it in a very good manner. Had it been explained that way to people, that
“Look fellows, we’re your parents. We have to uphold that side of it”. People would have said, “Well, okay. That’s fair enough”. When I was home I had to go to church. When I was a kid I used to go church, I used to go to church at Wellington, the Baptist Church just up the road. The best looking girls were up there.
The best looking girls were at the Baptist Church? Well, there’s an incentive.
I think a lot of the churches are probably getting back to thinking; you involve people a little bit more. It’s not a pecking list to somewhere.
We’ll just change tapes.
Interviewee: Malcolm Rose Archive ID 0636 Tape 03
So Mal, you were talking about how you completed your apprenticeship as an air frame fitter. What happened once you completed your apprenticeship?
I went to 86 Wing, initially. I did the first 12 months, then after that, I’m sort of allowed to work by
myself. With the C-130s, just coming into vogue, I was put onto various courses. There were the people from Lockheed Aircraft Company, and when they sell an aeroplane, they send a field service grip with the aircraft, and they set up with their training aids. With their American sort of stuff, it was
all bells and chimes and things, but really good stuff. So I did a basic airframe course on it, then I did a pneumatic specialist course, and hydraulics. You used to specialise in different parts of the aeroplane. From then, I went back into the 86 Wing, after I had all that knowledge.
The C-130 was the shiniest aeroplane, and me, being the newest, I went back on the C-47, the DC-3. Which, once again, it was a good old aeroplane, it was quite interesting. But the systems that were on it were old hand compared with this new shiny bit of equipment that we had.
How did you feel about going back to the DC-3?
It was no problem. You could be working
on a C-130 one day and then you could be on a DC-3 the next. But they used to have a bit of cell that used to stop with the DC-3 and specialise. One was piston engine aeroplane, with conventional controls. But the C-130 was a turbo prop aeroplane, with basically a jet engine in it.
And all the controls were hydraulic. So it was a lot more modern and the whole thing was a more efficient aeroplane.
Now I think you were talking to Graham [interviewer] before about what you trained in, during your apprenticeship to become an air frame fitter. Can you talk me through again, in a bit more detail, what your actual duties were?
apprentice side of it, once we start, as I said, we go through various different trades. It might be woodwork, it might be fabric covering and stuff like that. So, as far as to use those attributes later on, say I’ve got an aeroplane here now, an aeroplane with an engine up the front. The air frame fitter basically looks after everything.
He looks after the engine cowls, but not the engine. The rest of the air frame, the controls, the under carriage, the hydraulics that operate, if it’s hydraulically controlled, those parts of it. So basically, it’s like getting a motor car and saying, “You can do everything but the engine”.
And how many air frame fitters would there be working on each plane?
It depends on the type of servicing that was
going on at the time. If it was, say, a C Servicing, which normally would take us probably 3 to 4 days, you might have four air frame fitters.
What’s a C Servicing?
It’s not a servicing you would do every day. The air force doesn’t work on hours, but you would probably do it roughly every
100 hours of flying time.
Like a car service?
Depending on the aeroplane, it can either be a certain amount of time as far as hours are concerned, or it can be chronologically, too. At the end of each month, you’ve got to do this. A lot of the criteria is on flying time, the other is on calendar time.
Were you still based at Richmond at this time?
What changes did you find happened once you’d graduated from your apprenticeship?
It’s probably like being a dog with a lead on it, then suddenly someone takes the lead off and you can run on the beach. You’ve got that freedom. But you still appreciated the fact that there were people around there who were a lot brighter than you,
but people were willing to continue on. It was no different. You didn’t come up to a sort of a step and walk up, it remained the same. You had supervisors and they delegated the work, and also gave you relevant advice at the same time. At that stage, you were not only practising what you learnt. You were still being tutored.
And what was your rank, once you graduated from your apprenticeship?
To start with, I was an aircraftsmen, there is only one lower than that, and that was apprentice, then after 12 months you do various exams and you become a leading aircraftsman.
Now how much did you enjoy this work?
It was good. The thing with
aeroplanes, the thing is challenging. If it’s broke you fix it. It was always a challenge. A lot of the systems were complex, not so much in the older aeroplanes but in the newer ones, the ability to be able to fix something in the minimum amount of time and get it the way, was a challenge. And
was not rewarded in kind, but by satisfaction.
Because I imagine that the fact that you were working on aircraft, that your job actually carried a lot of responsibilities. If you didn’t do your job properly, this plane mightn’t work.
That’s one way of looking at it, too. You still had to have the confidence of the people who operated it.
the camaraderie like amongst the ground crew at Richmond?
They were good. There was no problem at all. As far as the air crew side of it’s concerned, initially, being in the maintenance side of 86 Wing. Like I said, that was the main maintenance thing and there were 2 squadrons out from there, you didn't directly
have anything to do with aircrew. The only time this may happen, say if it was a major servicing, and all of a sudden they go on a test flight, not that they wanted to take you along, but that was a nice thing for them to take you along. And that made them feel a lot better, too. There might be some adjustments to make when you come back. You analyse it during the test flight. Come back, do the relevant
rectifications and it goes on its way. But that was the only real contact. Most of it was centred around all engineering people.
Although you didn’t have much contact with the air crew, what was the general, overall relationship like between the air crew and the ground crew?
Well, as I said, air crew are officers.
So they have an officers’ mess and things like this. Air men have an air men’s mess, and sergeants have a senior NCO’s [Non Commissioned Officer] mess. That pecking order is there. Particularly in day to day peacetime operation. It would be no different to Qantas. The planes come in and they’re fixed, the air crew come up and they fly them. As far as the pilots
coming round, or the system’s navigator coming around to see what’s going on? They’ve got their own things to do.
How did you personally regard the air crew? In terms of when you were a part of the ground crew, what was your attitude towards pilots and the aircrew?
Quite a few of them were, excuse the expression, up themselves. But then again, a lot of these people were not much older than we were. There was very little in the age group, that this was the difference. If you flew on an aeroplane, you were an officer. If you had a trade, you were an air man. Okay, not everyone can be officers. I think a lot of people,
they thought that getting the stripe on the soldier was a sign of achievement. Later on in life, the majority of them were no problem at all. The older blokes were extremely genuine. But young people, this is the way they teach in the military. We want you. Gung Ho, go and do this.
So really, it’s something that’s taught.
Now we’ve spoken to other people who were in the air force, they’d speak of this relationship that ground crew had with the planes. The ground crew regard the planes quite highly. How did you regard the planes that you worked on?
As I said, you’ve got to pride yourself in
what you do. You’re not working on a motor car. If something goes wrong with it, well, this didn’t even come into the equation. You wouldn’t even think of it. It was just there all the time. You can’t park the thing on the side of the road. If you do, they want to know why you’ve parked it there. You look at it as a precision bit of equipment. A lot of it might have been precise, that was
many, many years ago. Say for the DC-3, just required that little bit of extra effort, because it was getting older, to make sure it operated to its expectation.
What ambitions did you have to fly?
I wanted to be a pilot.
That’s the normal thing to do.
Why did you want to be a pilot?
I always looked at flying and thought, “I would like to do that”. It didn’t look very hard to me.
So were you able to pursue this ambition at this point?
I did, privately.
Not quite at that point. I did that, I learned to fly in Malaya.
Just in terms of, was there anything that prevented you from becoming a pilot at this point?
Yeah, I was married.
At that stage it was too risky having married men learning to fly. But the line of thinking has changed. They don’t get as many people queue up these days for these sort of jobs.
So you must have been quite young when you
And that must have been just post your apprenticeship as well?
This begs the question, then, of what you did for fun, when you had some time off in Richmond?
Once again, the Squadron itself used to stick together. There were functions all the time. It was a pretty close-knit type thing.
The squadrons had their social clubs, and everything sort of worked. Even down to, we ran our own butcher shop. We weren’t supposed to do this, it was like a separate thing. We went out in mass, went down to Riverstone Meatworks and said “We want an order every Friday of this, this and this. What
can you do it for?” So they came out with it. We said, “Okay. The social club does that”. So 2 blokes would go down on Friday morning and bring the meat back. We were buying stuff for half price. But shopping collectively, rather than as individuals.
And what would you do with all the meat?
This was just everybody’s. The squadron people would put their orders in, we’d ring them through the day before,
this was just your normal, so we’d do that. We’d do it with veggies, we’d do it with a lot of things. Sometimes for grog. Just do a deal where we would purchase in mass. And it worked.
You mentioned social events that the Squadron would organise. What kind of social events were these?
Oh, we had quite frequent barbecues.
We might have a do it at a pub or something like that. But it was socially orientated. In that way, it basically looks after everybody. That’s what the people were wanting, and that was the type of era that you could do it in.
How much of a part of socialising was beer and alcohol?
Ooh yeah. A lot.
I probably was drinking my first year as an apprentice, because it was the thing to do. Probably not real smart, but that was it. You weren’t allowed to drink, so what did you do? You drank. You weren’t allowed to smoke, so you smoked. You don’t regret it until you get down the line a little bit.
So, you mentioned that you were married around this time. How did you meet your wife?
Wagga girl, knew her when I was an apprentice. That’s the thing, an awful lot of my ex-apprentice mates were married to Wagga girls. So this, once again,
has kept a lot of people together to. This was another area of commonality.
Okay, so how did you first hear that you would be going abroad?
They wanted a person to go to Butterworth, which is Penang, which is Malaya, to go to a Sabre Squadron. I had worked on Sabres
in the aircraft depot. Not for very long. It was a single engine fighter. But they wanted someone to go up there that was qualified on the C-130. Because the C-130 used to through there, twice weekly, on re-supply and stuff like that. They had a duty crew there that used to look after it. They thought, “We should get a C-130 chap up there”. And because I had done all the courses and everything, done a bit of work, they said, “Do you want to go?”
I said, “That would be nice”. So away I went, and I finished up in 478 Squadron, which all we used to do was pull Sabres to pieces and put Sabres back together. And occasionally, if something happened to one of the Hercs, I would get called down to do that. Then 478, the Wing itself, was made
up of, 478 Maintenance Squadron, they called it. Then there was 3 Squadron and 77 Squadron, and I was posted to 3 Squadron. So then you just did all your line work. I used to do a lot of work on the OAPs, which are platforms at the end of the runway. You would sit
down there all day, and you talk about sun. In Malaya, it’s a little bit warmer than this. Couldn’t wear a hat, because the jet engines used to suck hats in through the front, couldn’t wear sunglasses for the same reason. And we’d just sit there all day and just scramble aeroplanes as needed.
Scramble the Sabres.
Is that what you meant when you said you were taking them apart?
No. When they’ve got
to leave in a hurry. What they will do, there is different stages on alertness. I think at that time they were doing a little bit on the Thai Malay border, stuff like this. It was still communist terrorists. They would go out there and harass these people, but they would leave the aeroplanes on various stages of stand-by. Which in the finish, might be the pilots are inside, with the
ground power carts on the outside, we stand on the wing. They’re given the thing to go, as we pull the power lead out, the aeroplane accelerates away, you go down the tarmac and it goes on its merry way.
And that was called scrambling?
Scramble, yeah. That term’s been around since World War I. Probably scramble because it’s such a mess. That could be it.
Because the intercom, there used to be a headset lead that went right up into the plane, right at the back of it. It used to go back to a concrete block, he was getting all his communications via this lead. Of course, as soon as they went to go, the block used to stop still, and the aeroplane would accelerate away from it. With us, we were on the wing. The aeroplane started to move, we just jumped down over the flaps, and get blasted everywhere
and it would be on its merry way.
Was it a long way to the ground?
Only about that far.
Now, just getting back to the C-130, could you describe that as a plane?
It’s all metal, it’s high wing, four engines. It’s got Allison T56 engines in it. They’re a turbo prop,
so you’ve got a jet engine powering through a gear box, turning a propeller. The aeroplane itself is short take off and landing aeroplane. The A Model was never used in the Royal Australian Air Force. With JK bottles on it, which is jet assisted take off. What they do is they’ve got
3 racks, just before the rear parachute doors and they put 3 x 1,000 pound thrust JK bottles on there. And on take off they fire them. If you ever see pictures of them, they’re just black until these things burn, but it gives the aeroplane that ability to get off the ground very, very short and get on its merry way. They used them in the Antarctic. Now I think some of our aeroplanes did use them but later on,
like the H Models. The aeroplane could carry 92 troops; it could carry 68 fully equipped parachutists. About 70 odd litters for medical evacuation. With the cargo bay itself, the cargo ramp at the back goes to the ground. Or it can stop level with the floor
for air drops. You’ve also got a door there that opens up, to allow either cargo to go in and out or aerial delivery. We used to drop up to D8 bulldozers, out the back. That sounds a bit like a train going through a tunnel. But a very good aeroplane. If they had gone down,
the only thing you can replace a C-130 with is another C-130. It’s all truck bed height. The whole thing is, it’s user friendly. The things that got changed now, they upgraded the engines and the propellers. Less crew on it, which I don’t think is a real smart idea. But it’s still a C-130.
Now what was your understanding of
the reason for you being in Malaya? In terms of the political environment at the time?
We’d followed the British, everywhere. A bit like we follow the Americans now. The Brits had been up there for many years. We had a lot of people up there in what they called the Far East Strategic Reserve.
The air force, army and navy. To move around Malaya, in those days, say in a private vehicle, you were forever going through roadblocks. You would be searched to make sure you weren’t carrying food. They were frightened that if you had food there, the communist terrorists could pull you up, and you could be seen as feeding them. Of a night
time, all the villagers, and they refer to a village as a kampong, they were all secured. They were in a fenced in perimeter. So that of a night time anybody that was outside the perimeter shouldn’t have been there. They’d be shot. If that was something that had it been employed in Vietnam, that same type of tactics, the outcome
may have been a lot difference. In the finish, most of the communist terrorists retreated, and they used to operate on the Thai Malay border. Now the Thai Malay border is a line. It’s not a fence. It’s something that they can’t secure. So
if they were searching for them on the Malay side, they’d go into the Thai side. So it was quite messy and it went for a few years.
Now how would you describe Malaya?
Beautiful place. They had a prime minister at the time called Tunku Abdul Rahman, and he was probably the greatest statesman that’s ever been around.
What makes you say that?
Just the way the whole country was run,
the views of the people, everything. Yet you look at it now. Mahathir just about makes me sick, to see the difference. In Malay, we were welcome. We got on well with the Malays, they wanted us there, we weren’t trespassing on their country. We employed a hell of a lot of people.
In the hangars, we had sheet metal workers, maintenance people, extremely clever people with their hands. And you worked beside them as you did your work. They’d be in the team. Then as far as married quarters and things like this, the various households, everyone had an amah. A gardener used to come around. So it employed
a lot of people and they appreciated it.
What sort of duties would the Amah do?
Everything. Depending what the master wanted. Some people went a little bit overboard; with some other ones it was convenient for the families, a babysitter.
And what were your living quarters like at this time?
Well, to start with I lived on the base. And we just
lived in thatched huts, concrete floor, polished concrete floors. It always had this red polish on it. It came off on your clothes, it came off on your feet, but it looks good. And these places had fans in them and things like that. But up there that’s all you wanted, as long as a breeze came around. And then, married quarters
was over on Penang Island. You had to go to work every day, the trucks picked us up, we went across by ferry, and trucks picked us up on the other side. But there, the houses that were built were just the same as any other house, but most of it was concrete. Concrete floor, polished, and fans and things like that. Hot as it was
you never needed air-conditioning. There was always a breeze. The standard of the housing was good.
So you were able to bring your wife over?
So that must have been quite a bit of a culture shock?
It was different. But when somebody’s got a young child, and there’s somebody there to look after it,
which she wouldn’t have that advantage in Australia. You can go out. And Penang itself was a heaven as far as shopping was concerned. It was before Hong Kong and all these places. There was nothing you couldn’t buy there.
A lot of the islands are extremely pretty. It’s always a thing that comes with beauty, there’s always something that’s nasty about it. In Penang Water, it’s sea snakes. And a number of fishermen get bitten by them. They’re deadlier than a cobra. But they’re only in certain areas. You
can’t have everything that’s good. You’ve got to have a little bit that goes the other way.
Now you mentioned before that it was in Malaya, that you decided to learn to fly privately. Can you talk me through this process and what that involved?
I used to go down to a place called Ipoh,
which is in Perak. I used to go down there with the Perak Flying Club. Initially, travelling with a friend of mine Ken Howe, still a mate of mine, he’s at North Richmond. We went down and we were learning to glide. Now learning to glide in Malaya, you don’t go very far. Because there’s very little around the airport, as far as thermals.
So we did that. And I said to Ken “I think we’ll get into this Tiger Moth”. The flying instructor there was a British schoolteacher by the name of Gus Haynes. He was a big boy. So what we did, we did our little bit of gliding, then we’d also go and do our Tiger Moth training.
A Tiger Moth has got, when you sit where the instructor does, up the front, and 2 little doors just on the side. That’s so you can get into the aeroplane easier, then you put them up. But with Gus, he couldn’t have them up, because most of his shoulders were outside there. In the bottom of the pan of the seat, it’s got a gap that big for a parachute, which you sit on. Now
you fly from the back, you can fly from the back or the front, but one it’s one person you fly from the back. But we just used to have a cushion that used to go in there. Gus used to just sit on the pan. This is the size. He had a rear vision mirror up here. So you’d go out, you’d go around, you’d fly, you’d do what you want to. You bounced or something, and you look in the mirror, and all you could see was these two eyes looking at you.
I won’t look there, I’ll look somewhere else. But both Ken and myself, soloed in 6 hours. Normally the minimum to solo was 8, actually we were just under 6. We also soloed in the glider the same day. To this gentleman’s dissatisfaction. He said, “You cannot learn to fly both these aeroplanes at the same time”. So we did both that.
A lot of Malay Chinese that were in the club. I remember they took us out for dinner. Mr Wong lines up everything, got the table out there, and in the middle of the table he’s got a big bottle of Hennessey’s Brandy, and around at everybody’s place, was a smaller bottle of Hennessey’s brandy. Fill that up. And the call was “yam sing”,
and that’s from the bottom to the top. And I’ve never been crook so much in all my life. But that’s what their hospitality was like. They’d take you out. These people were tin farmers. Sounds funny, how do you farm tin? Well, you do. But they were very influential people, and for them, the flying side of it, meant they spoke to people other than people in the tin industry.
As far as we were concerned, flying, we were speaking to people other than the people in the air force base.
So what did you hope to achieve by learning to fly?
I was hoping that the air force would change their mind later on, and decide to allow people to fly, particularly if you had flown yourself.
Was that a realistic ambition?
No. It never worked. Although I got at it in different ways, so I didn’t lose
You sound like a real determined bugger.
You’ve got to be. I get what I want to, regardless. It was good anyway. It was healthy, and we actually saw a lot of Malaya, because we used to go around there, and a lot of airfields were polo grounds. So you used to have to go around in the Tiger Moth and circle a little bit and let
people know, you’re going to land here. You’d land and stop and everybody would come around, like Kingsford Smith. The kids had to come and have a look.
So what was your first solo flight like?
It was good. It was a relief. Got rid of Gus, because he got out of the aeroplane. He said, “Don’t worry about it. I’ll get out of this, and you won’t
notice any difference”. Notice any difference? Instead of climbing over the fence, you’d go over the fence at 500 feet. But he was such a likeable, brilliant instructor. The thing is, with that sort of thing, when the day was over, the clubhouse was an open clubhouse, on the aerodrome itself, on the side of the strip. Fans going away there,
you’d sit there and drink, talk aeroplanes. Those days, DC-3s used to come in and the blokes used to give them the signal with the lights to land. Very modern.
Now you mentioned that you learned to fly with your mate Ken? How close a mate was he?
Oh very. Still is. I ring him up every day. He’s now the Australasian
and Oceania agent for Teledyne Continental Motors, which is an aeroplane engine. But both our careers followed very closely. He wasn’t an apprentice but other than that, everywhere we’ve been was roughly at the same time.
So what was his job?
He was an airframe fitter, too.
Could you describe more about his character? What he was like? Why you’re such good mates?
We had the same outlook on life. We wanted to fly, that’s what we did. In those days we had one car between us, that’s the way we used to go. Used to go down in an Austin Healy, very fast. A lot faster than we could around in a Tiger Moth.
We’ve just stuck together and we’ve just crossed paths, constantly. Good, healthy.
I often wonder about those friends when you seem to be in sync with each other’s lives….
I rang him the other day and said, “What’s up with you?” He said, “What do you mean?” I said, “Something’s wrong with you”.
He said, “Yeah, my sister died”. He hadn’t rung me for 2 days. I thought he must be away, until I rang him. She was about a year younger than him I think. You know
if somebody doesn’t ring you, I’ve got a mother like that. Oh dear, “Where’s Malcolm? He’s not sick is he?”
We’ll continue on the next tape.
Interviewee: Malcolm Rose Archive ID 0637 Tape 04
So, we were talking about you learning to fly. How was that regarded by the pilots in Malaya?
I was delving into an area that I shouldn’t have been. I was treated quite harshly.
A lot to do with me, too. I went down to Ipoh in an Auster. An Auster is a single engine, single high main plane aeroplane, from the club. I had rebuilt this particular aeroplane at Ipoh. It belonged to the Penang Flying Club. They didn’t have a
facility to fix it up. I took a lot of the spare parts down in an RAF [Royal Air Force] helicopter, to Ipoh and rebuilt it. When it was back there, there were two chaps that I worked with. A corporal and a sergeant, and I said, “Why don’t we go to Ipoh for the weekend?” “Oh, beauty, we’ll do this”.
Sorry, it was another ROC [Royal Observer Corps] and a corporal, I’m telling the story wrong. Ken Woods and Terry Mathews. So we went down, and we had a fantastic weekend and they really enjoyed themselves. And on the Sunday afternoon we were to come back. There was a lot of monsoonal
activity around and the weather was just not suitable to come back. So I rang Butterworth and I spoke to a chap, the chief air traffic controller for the weekend. I said, “We’re supposed to be coming back this afternoon, what’s the weather like there?” He said, “Oh, it’s atrocious”. I said, “Well, to make sure we get to work tomorrow on time, we’ll leave at first light, if you will allow us
to land at Butterworth and not Penang. Because if we’ve got to land at Penang, then we’ve got to come over and we’ll be late. We’ll land at Butterworth, and what we’ll do, that afternoon, as soon as we finish, we’ll take the aeroplane out and take it across to Penang”. You had to go across the water. So I got airborne the next morning, we were quite early. It’s got no radio in it.
We went to land at Butterworth and we were waved off with a red light. So I decided that maybe the smartest thing would be to go to Penang. So we went to Penang, got to work about three hours late. I was charged with absence without leave, by my CO [Commanding Officer]. The other two
chaps, they were also charged with the same thing. Then I got to know the air traffic control bloke had spoken to my CO and he was told, “You’re not to let them land here”, so I thought, that’s pretty nice. So in the finish, the 2 other chaps, they had their charges dismissed. I was flying the aeroplane so it was my fault. And I was given 7 days confined to barracks.
At this stage, while all this was going on, there had been promotions around the place. Terry Mathews had been made a sergeant, Kev Wood had been made a corporal. He got up with me, he said, “Okay Rose. Seven days CB [Confined to Barracks]”.
He said, “What’s your reply?” I said, “Sir, with all due respect, I think it’s a very fair decision”. I said, “The corporal was a made a sergeant, the LAC [Leading Aircraftsman] was made a corporal, and I was given 7 days CB”. I said, “Everybody got something out of it”. Then he reminded me that I would get a little more if I didn’t turn my comments down. So I did 7 days CB.
So did you attribute that to the fact that here was a ground crew guy learning to fly?
I was where I shouldn’t have been. But then again, there was a couple of us flew there. One particular day, we had a combined area that used to be run by what they called the NAAFI [Navy, Army, Air Force Institute].
Which was a British type club, but it was for military people. We were there one day and somebody said, “Oh, jingers, that thing you fly out there, my Alfa Romeo would beat that”. So the blokes take all the bets, we go out. I get the aeroplane, he gets his Alfa Romeo and we race from Bayan Lepas, at about no height, around the NAAFI, then back out to the airport. Of course, there was hell to pay on this.
So there were other little incidents that came down later on. I wasn’t going to let this guy beat me. But he wasn’t too happy with me. But this was the attitude. You have no right to get into this realm. It’s like saying, “I want to be an astronaut”. You can’t be an astronaut unless you are a pilot. Now you can be a schoolteacher.
Why? Why was it like that?
I don’t know.
You see, the air force is very different with transport orientated people. The “trash haulers”, as we call them, and the fighter people. The fighter people were, because just about all the fighter planes we ever had, the real fighter planes, had one person in them. So they were individuals, they were never team players. They might have been team players to things outside their aircraft. But
they never operated as a crew. They never had to be in command of other people. It’s not like bomber pilots, and also transport pilots. So these people became, well, they were individuals, not team players. And I think a lot of this came out. A lot of it could be Air force teaching.
From other people we’ve spoken to, the sense that I got was that the pilots were the gods. They were held up very high, whether or not that was true or not. They were highly regarded, both outside in civilian life as well. I know the girls always loved the pilots.
That was it. As I said, fighter pilots were very different. When they do pick them from course, they pick fighter jocks and blokes for transports. When they select the people to go to different places, it’s for a reason. It’s not because the bloke got the highest marks, so he’s got to go to fighters.
There’s no differentiation then. You’re a pilot, you’re a pilot. But they know the mentality of the different people they’re dealing with.
A personality type, almost.
I found the fighter squadrons, they didn’t socialise anything like transport people. Different altogether.
Well, more so, yes.
It’s interesting, isn’t it? That different
personality types were in different jobs. By the way, who won the race?
He did. But that didn’t matter, I wasn’t the one betting. I was one the driving the aeroplane, but it was a fun day.
Tell me more about the NAAFI club?
The NAAFI clubs are all throughout Malaya and Singapore, which of course were separate identities at this point. They also used to run the Royal Air Force Club, the bar on the base, or the airmen’s club. They didn’t run the sergeants’ messes, because they ran themselves.
But the one they had on Penang Island was quite a big set up. They ran, bingo, as they called it. A lot of stuff that people used to bet money on, so it was something to do. But it provided everything. It provided cheaper drinking. Quite a lot of amenities, various clubs.
They also housed the Penang’s medical side of, say, the air force. When you got medical, it was for wives, kids, the lot. Dental. So we’d all stay part of that, too. So it became a pretty big meeting place. You could have a 1,000 people in there at any time. Just in the
hall itself. It was right on the beach; it had its own swimming pool.
I guess the NAAFI Club was your major source of entertainment and social interaction while you were in Malaya?
Closer to where I lived was the Chinese Swimming Club. These were clubs that, oh, once again, officers didn’t like you to be in there.
They’d go along, “Oh dear, what are you doing here? Peasant. Get out”. “But I’ve got the same membership as you”. Things like that; there was a lot of this. Another one was they had an officers’ club down at the Oriental Hotel. This was very, very exclusive. It was where boys
could at a game, a bit like the old Raj. But make the best of it, because you’re not going to get another go at it. As far as class was concerned, you were only upper class within your own little environment. As far as Malay society, well, you were only military. So people sort of had to accelerate in their own little
empire, to try and infiltrate into the next level. That’s what it looked like anyway. I was never bitter about it. To me, it’s like watching a lot of Lodge people. I’m not having a go at people who are Lodge members, but they were trying to make out things are secret societies and
things like this. If you want to go and do things, do it, go and do what you like, but go and do it away from everybody else. Don’t try and bring it bare on other people. If they want to be in it, accept them. If they don’t, just leave them alone to their own means.
Was this idea of the class system, was it more obvious with
the air force then with the other forces?
We didn’t have anything to do with forces, really. See the air force tends to keep to themselves. The main reason for this was that army unit in Penang, was quite a way out towards Bayan Lepas. Out towards the airport.
Because it was sort of an old Malay regiment place. The other one was right up the northern end of the island. So the physical separation was quite a lot. You’d have to take a very long taxi drive to get from one place to another. If you get a place that’s in the Tropics, and the nearest air conditioned place,
or cool place for the cold beer is there, why would you go there?
Exactly. The closest pit stop please. Now, just in terms of your young family, I believe you’d started a family by this point. What sort of things would there be for the family to do while you were away at work?
There was everything. Every sort of club, that side of it was
very well organised. They actually had people there, who were based there, to organise things like that. But they did have an organisation that purely went around to look after the welfare of their members.
And because it was a combined RAF/RAAF, well, it was an RAAF base, and there was RAF squadrons on it, these people came on board, too. They were professional organisers at this type of thing. A lot of them looked like old matrons, but no doubt they’d probably been around the job for a long while and knew what to do. The various religious organisations, padres and that,
they organised things. On the base itself we had a notorious boat club, which was something else.
What was notorious about the boat club?
The main reason we used to do this, we didn’t like going to the NAAFI and drinking with the Poms, so this was our out. So this was all Australians. We used to invite the Brits, if we found a good one, they could come with us.
And the other thing is they tend to drink their beer too hot, where we required ours to be cold. But this boat club was right on the water, down near where all the guard dogs were. We had an incident there where I had a wing commander, his name was KP Connelly. And he was the CO of
78 Wing, he was an engineering officer. We had a doctor by the name of Radford, and Doctor Radford wanted his boat taken out. So Wing Commander Connelly authorised the 50 ton crane, which was used at the airport, on the runway, to drag aeroplanes off the strip if they crashed, to go down to the boat club. So it went
down at the end of the runway, then went out, got on the beach, and it got at a fairly hectic angle, and couldn’t suck enough fuel up for it. This unit had a diesel engine in it, driving 4 electric motors, one on each wheel. And you could also take a big lead out, and remote control operate it and all this. Anyway, the chap that was on it, his name was Arab Gardiner. He goes back to get some more fuel.
When he come back, the tide’s come in. The tides in Malaya are very vicious. What it had done, it had started to dig the wheels in. This was right behind the sergeant’s mess. So they took a pile of us down there and said “You’ve got to go and dig this out”. So we had D9 bulldozers everywhere. The cameras we had, the films were taken out of them, so we couldn’t take any shots of it. Worked
all through the night, finally got this thing out, disassembled. It all came out as units. You can imagine it, it’s designed to lift 50 ton. Now the aerodrome can’t operate with fighters or bombers because there isn’t a machine to take them off if they prang. So anyway, finally it all finishes as a dining in night at the sergeants’ mess. They were handing beer over the fence to us. It wasn’t a bad night. So about a month
later, we had a chap who used to write different bits and what not. He seemed to be able to find out everything that went on in the based. His was called Don Ink, that was non de plume. He wrote this thing, and at the time the movie On The Beach was on. And he brought this great big poster out, On The Beach. A KP
Connelly production, starring Arab Gardiner and a cast of thousands. This wing commander went around, and he was hunting everywhere. He never found out who it was. This just stopped everybody. It couldn’t have been at a better time when this thing was being shown. This bloke was right on it.
So the poster was up in a public place?
Not only that, it was on every newsletter that went round. Everybody in the base had one.
So he wrote the newsletter?
No. This Don Ink.
wrote it, he just used to sign it Don Ink. Of course, that got down to Australia and everywhere around. Because in the finish, they had to ship another crane up. Quite embarrassing, over a little thing. “Yes Doc, we’ll take this boat out for you”.
So tell me more about this newsletter. It sounds like it was quite a cheeky newsletter.
The chap that did it, I never found out who it was. And I’ve never heard
of anybody who did know who it was. He had his finger on the pulse of everywhere. He could have been that show, “The Mole”, he knew everything. You couldn’t do anything, unless Don Ink had it in this newsletter.
So this was an unofficial newsletter?
And the chap must have got a lot of fun out of it, because he
caused a lot of stirring. As soon as this happened, the service police came round, and said, “Open your camera. I want the film”. They didn’t want anything to be taken of this thing.
So it must have been someone amongst the group?
We had a lot of people there. We had two Sabre squadrons, we had a maintenance squadron, we had the base squadron, we had a hospital, we had Number 2 Squadron,
which were Canberra bombers. We had a lot of people on the base. We would have had 2,000 people on the base. That’s a lot of people for Australian air force, for an overseas base, anyway.
So how would you get hold of one of these newsletters?
They were everywhere. There might be a big pile of them down the boat club. They just move around.
Was this newsletter tolerated by the powers?
Bit hard to do anything about it
when you don’t know where it comes from. That was the intriguing part about it. A lot of it was funny, a lot of it was real humour. And that was humour. Everybody knew about it, why not write about it?
It sounds like it actually was quite a great morale booster?
It was. Everybody was always like we’ve got have a look at this, what’s in this? And you’ probably already heard little snippets, but that finished the story off.
Put the bit of gloss to it.
Like a big of a gossip mag [magazine]?
Yeah. For men only.
So what was the name of the newsletter? Did it have a title?
No, it was just a newsletter, and Don Ink signed it. We’ll find out one day who he was.
Everything was sort of known information anyway. He didn’t put dirt on anything. Except by that, you were having a go at the wind commander, no doubt. But the wing commander had a go at himself didn’t he? By lending the thing to start with that wasn’t his. So he was a bit stupid.
You’ve mentioned the newsletter as a source of humour. How important was humour during your time in Malaya?
How important was it the whole time?
That was it. You always had a bit of a dig at different entities. If people wanted to put themselves in the spotlight, so be it, we’d help them stop there, whether it was good or bad.
What kind of humorous mischief did you get up to?
I wasn’t involved in any of that.
Can you think of other things that other people might have gotten up to?
Like I said, it was just day to day humour. It was so general, to identify specific things would be very difficult. If people did make mistakes, and they were good ones, particularly with aeroplanes.
Land with the gear up, something like this. Once we found out what the story was, there were always some cheery remarks to help them on their way, so that next time they were in that predicament, they might do it a little bit different.
Now, you’ve mentioned it in passing, and this question probably fits in with that whole theme we were talking about in regards to class, but it’s probably an extension of that,
what was the relationship like between the British and the Australians?
Not real good. Not real good at all.
Why was that?
I think we were just streets apart. We had such a different outlook on life. Where
the Brits, in a lot of cases, don’t want to look at the funny side of things. They more so want to have a whinge about something. And this sort of thing was much the same when I was in Hong Kong, but to a lesser degree. I think we laugh at different things. The things we laugh at are
maybe too different that they just don’t cross. There are good ones, don’t get me wrong. And there’s some bad Australians, too. But normally I wouldn’t go out of my way to, that was at Butterworth. The people I was in Cathay Pacific, they were people that you flew with, and the association with them was much different.
You worked with them, you flew with them and you played with them. So it was you probably tended to know people much better. These other people, it was sort of them and us. Squadrons weren’t integrated. You might have 110 Squadron, which was a helicopter squadron, that was their squadron. They didn’t have anything to do with 3 Squadron or 77 Squadron, unless somebody pranged and they had to take
a chopper out to pick somebody up. But that would have been the only association. That could have been, a lot of it, if you work with people, you tend to socialise with these people. In this particular case, we didn’t work with them and rarely associated with them. I had a few friends, but that was mainly away from the base.
So describe Butterworth base for me?
Yeah, well Butterworth base was initially built by the Japanese. It had 2 strips. The first one went roughly east west, and the one that the Australians built was a north south strip. The east west one
was built initially right from the beach in. And even until the time I was there, it was still the foundation of palm trees, that was the foundation the Japanese put in. Then after that it went up finally and of course it finishes up with tar. But that foundation was actually still there. The other one that was put in there, was put in
with concrete. As I said, we operated Sabre jets, which was the Australian version of the F-86, that used in Korea. 2 squadrons of those. Number 2 Squadron, which was Canberra jets, a squadron of those. 4 C-47s, which was a transport flight that used to operate mainly
for the air attaché, and also the ambassadors for the various regions, including Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Burma at that stage, too. And they basically used to supply communications and basically fly the VIP [Very Important Person] people around. As far as the RAF were concerned, they had a rescue squadron, 110 Squadron,
of Bristol Sycamore helicopters. They were used for air-sea rescue, and they also used to move a lot of the New Zealand and Australian troops around. The helicopters didn’t perform that well. Particularly in the Tropics, there were times that you had three seats across the back, and they’d get three New Zealanders in there with their packs, and get to a jungle clearing,
and they’d have to get one to get out, to get out of the clearing. But helicopters these days have changed a lot. But these were early time ones.
When were helicopters introduced?
Sikorsky came about with that early times.
It took a long while before helicopters were suitable for military application. The main reason they couldn’t do too much was the engines. That particular aeroplane had a piston engine in it. Not a very good one. You were operating in the tropics, straight away with the warmer
atmosphere, the power is down again. And also as far as the rotors are concerned, the air isn’t as dense, so you’ve got everything going against you.
When were helicopters started to be used in the military?
Well, okay. A good example is, is when they really first came into their role, was in Korea.
As you remember, you look at “MASH”, where they were used for medical evacuations with the Bell 47, with stretchers on either side. That particular unit, around Seoul at that time, Seoul can be the coldest place in the world, or parts of Korea. But in colder climate, the aeroplane is more efficient.
And of course they rescued a hell of a lot of people in Korea, and that’s a reason why a lot of the casualties were reduced, the same as in Vietnam, because people were only a helicopter ride away from a big hospital that had an operating theatre.
Now tell me, how aware were you of communist
activity in Malaya?
From only seeing the action of the various roadblocks and the fact that the curfew restrictions were there, and the fact that we were dispatching aeroplanes to the border, all the time.
There was no face to face contact, as far as we were concerned, at any time. If there was, not that we knew of it. We didn’t even know it in Vietnam, but there must have been. It was the scene that was there, and the various actions that were going on, at Butterworth. We were
100 miles from the border, bit more. We had no direct contact. They weren’t infiltrating places like Penang. Security around the base was pretty tight. Mainly to stop oxen and stuff like that going through
the fence. The reality was, yes, it was happening, we were there for that, but it was almost in somebody else’s backyard, not ours. So our day to day, when we finished work, we got on a truck, went down to the ferry, went across there, got off a truck, had a few beers, had a sleep, went back to work the next day. We always had an armed guard in a truck.
But that was of no consequence. And wouldn’t have been any use if somebody decided to do something about it anyway.
What did 3 Squadron do to oppose communism?
They operated fighters up around on the border area, they bombed, but not a great deal.
A lot of the activity you heard was actually sonic booms. Which were probably more frightening than bombs. Because you drop a bomb in a jungle, it might put a big hole down or it might chop a tree out, the conventional type bombs I’m talking about, don’t do much more than as I said, chop a tree down and put a hole in the ground.
So they’d use the sonic boom? Can you explain that a bit further?
They’d just dive down and approach the speed of sound. That aeroplane in a dive could go supersonic. And the noise it made going through the barrier and then coming back out, was quite a massive explosion and makes a lot more noise than bombs. So a lot of it, that’s what they were doing.
So they’d use noise?
They’re not going to know down there. They’re not going to know whether it’s a bomb or what. It’s psychological, to endeavour to frighten people.
I’ve heard a sonic boom before, planes flying past, but if you’re actually close to an aeroplane that does a sonic boom,
can there be a physiological effect on people who are nearby?
Not really. There’s a shock wave that builds up, and it’s the shock wave that makes the noise. Matter of fact, you’ve probably seen pictures of modern fighters, and because of the low pressure area over the wing, you will actually see the shock wave, starting.
What it will do, any moisture, it makes it visual. Even if you go and fly in an aeroplane, when it’s a humid day, you’ll see these little white areas coming off the wing, which is a low pressure area, and its moisture. But you wouldn’t see it there unless you reduced the pressure and the temperature, then it becomes visual.
I’ve never heard a sonic boom used as a weapon before.
Yeah. Now the aeroplanes of today, it’s no effort to go through the sound barrier. The Concord does mach 3.
Just getting back to the ground crew and the pilot. How old were the pilots compared to the ground crew and the pilots. How old were the pilots compared to the age of the ground crew?
Probably much the same, much the same in Butterworth, there was very little difference. Just a little bit different in the upbringing, I think.
We’ve spoken a bit about the pilots, but you do think that they were spoiled?
No, I think it was a method of training. I think the type of person they got, was that type of person, and I don’t think they wanted them to think any other way. There was probably a psychological thing there, also. They were taught to think that they were better than they were.
We’ll stop there.
Interviewee: Malcolm Rose Archive ID 0637 Tape 05
Now while you were at Butterworth, what did you do for R & R [rest and recreation]?
Quite a lot of drinking. That was in fashion, but we did play football. Our football matches never used to start until about 4.30 in the afternoon, and extremely hard work. It was hot, hot, hot. It’s warm here, but the humidity was pretty tough. We played quite a lot of water polo.
That’s a slightly different side of it. I used to race, as far as swimming was concerned.
I imagine if you were playing in the late afternoon, you often got caught in the monsoonal downpour?
That was of course seasonal, anyway, because normally in the wet season it does rain, religiously, at 4.00 every afternoon.
And what about trips away from the place? I believe you went to Singapore a few times?
I used to go to Singapore privately, as well as with the air force. We used to do detachments down to a base called Tanga. I went over on a few trips, over to Borneo. They were rowing trips.
Rowing. I used to cox. When you said what sport are you in, well, coxing isn’t much of a sport. The other blokes do all the work, and you just yell at them.
Whereabouts in Borneo did you travel to?
A Shell place there, which is Miri.
That’s near the oil fields?
Yeah. We actually stopped with Shell there. We rowed on the Miri River. And this KP Connelly actually, this Wing Commander, he was very keen on rowing.
And who did you compete against there?
The armed forces that were over there. The Shell Company. A lot of other social
rowing clubs from around Borneo.
So did your squadron have it’s own rowing shell? I presume?
We had that out near the airport.
So what size was the boat? How many rowers?
We had 8s, 4s and sculls.
And what were you usually involved in?
And so you were the cox? For how many years did you do that?
Did you win any prizes?
We competed more socially than at championship level. It was also good. We got in the C-47 and away we went there. That’s an experience in itself.
Why is that?
You’re not getting on something that’s a jet that gets you there in 5 minutes, a lot faster than walking, not much.
So there was Borneo, there was Singapore. Now you said you had postings down to Singapore?
No, we used to do detachments.
So what were these detachments?
It may have been for an exercise. We’d go down there and exercise with the New Zealanders
or the RAF. But in those days, Singapore Air Force wasn’t very big. Now it’s up there with F-16s and stuff like that. The reason they have an exercise like that is so that you can go to another base, and it makes sure that you’ve brought enough gear to support yourself. So when you have to do it in real life, you know your deficiencies.
So we’d go down and do that. Plus you see the way other people operate?
And how often would these detachments be taking place?
Oh, you’d be doing them every 6 months at least.
That sounds quite a valuable way of keeping up to speed.
Oh, it is. Otherwise you would just stop in your own area, you don’t see anything else. So you don’t learn.
How was morale generally on the base? I can imagine that you were there most of the time,
working with people most of the time.
Yeah, Butterworth was good. It was a very healthy environment to work.
How was that morale and that healthy environment fostered?
I think to start with it was unique, it was the only overseas air force base we had. The Malays, and when I say Malays
we’re looking at Chinese, Indians, full-blooded Malays and integrated ones, a very good race, a very happy race, and very little animosity at all. Imagine doing this anywhere else in the world. You’re at a base at Butterworth, you go over, you go down the Penang Road,
you might go to the Boston Bar, another bar, another bar all this. You ran a tab up. And on pay day, that particular day you would go over and you would pay your tab. Nowhere else in the world would you ever do this. And this is what the people were like. You were trusted and you trusted them. They never seemed to be race of people who tried to fleece you or anything like this.
Not like a lot of other countries I’ve witnessed.
So the sporting activities helped to foster that sense of morale as well?
Well, it does too, but that was mainly within the service organisation. That didn’t go in, very rarely, it was against a Malay side. The football was occasionally.
But just talking about morale on the base, amongst the service personnel there?
There was always competition, but it was a friendly base, very friendly.
Just turning back to some of the trips that you made. You went on a private basis to Singapore?
As I said I went down for military exercises and privately, quite often, with the flying clubs. We might go to Kuala Lumpur, or we might go to Singapore, for various
flying competitions, within the aero club, which was very, very strong within Malaya.
Could you describe Singapore at the time?
Singapore was a village. I can still remember arriving, when I got posted up there, in ‘58. I can still remember getting off a plane,
in a taxi, and going into a hotel where they left us that night. We went on to Butterworth the next day. And all you could smell was the fires from the kampongs. There were just villages, banana trees, palm trees, and the smoke from their cooking. Of course, after that it changed a little bit.
I’ve seen photographs and film footage of Singapore at that time, complete
with terracotta roofed houses and a real genuine sense of traditional community.
British, very British.
In what ways?
Oh, the buildings. They were British architecture. Well, it was a colony anyway. And the thing is, once again, very British in the way they did everything. The Cricket Club. This was a thing where you had to be a long way up the pecking list
to become a member of the Cricket Club.
What sort of people would belong to the Cricket Club?
Anybody who was anybody. It was a sign of wealth and well doing. Very, very similar to my experience in Hong Kong later, where the various clubs were there. The Golf Club and things like this. It could take you 15 years
to become a member. And just because you’d been there 15 years, on the list, that didn’t say that you became a member. It was very, very similar to Hong Kong. But once again? That British influence.
It sounds quite similar to certain exclusive golf clubs in Australia.
Yeah, but that might be now. We’re talking about a lot of years ago.
When you went on holidays to Singapore, did you take your wife and kids as well?
Not really, because normally we would be taking a light aeroplane down. And if you went on detachment, you didn’t, because you went down there and Singapore was still a city, and quite an expensive city, and you really weren’t in that league at that time of life.
So if you
did go on holidays with your wife and children, you had 2 children?
1 son at this stage. Where would you actually go?
We really wouldn’t go too far out of Penang. Maybe to Ipoh, down to Kuala Lumpur, but it would be somewhere where you could go by road. You wouldn’t fly.
Were there any special beaches or resorts?
There was a lot on the island.
In fact, Penang itself is a resort, even in those days. It’s a tropical island, you can go around it. And also Penang Hill is about 2,000 foot up, and there’s a trolley car that goes up there. Of course, 2,000 foot in the Tropics is beautiful. You’ve nearly got to a put a jumper on.
The difference is minute, but it feels an awful lot.
Then there’s Georgetown, of course, which is pretty huge.
See, it was never connected to the mainland. It is now. I’ve been back with Cathay so, I’ve seen the causeway that’s across there, but everything was ferry. Even then, when we
went backwards and forwards. Sometimes at night time, you’d take command of the ferry. Often police at the other end to meet you. Quite playful, but I think we had as much time on the ferry as they did.
I went to Penang 2 years ago, and Georgetown against all descriptions I’d heard, looked very modern. Full of shopping complexes and so forth. Was there still very much the sense of the traditional?
In my time, it was a very
old Asian city. The type of buildings you’ve got. The building housed the footpath, same as Singapore. And everything was very blocky. But as you say the terracotta tiles and all that sort of thing. The bit that changed it was the likes of these new hotels coming. Where if you didn’t build a hotel that was functional, you may as well not build it.
And prodigiously air conditioned shopping complexes that you can spend all day in.
That didn’t worry you, you moved around in a rickshaw. Taxis, they got round with the window down. You were in the environment all the time so you just accept it for what it was. Now you wouldn’t see a taxi without air conditioning.
Did you get into the local foods a lot?
Did the entire family get into the local foods?
Yeah. I’m probably more into Indian food than Malay. But I still love the Malay curries and things like that. In fact, the club where we used to be in the flying scene, with these people from other cultures, you had the opportunity to experiment,
where they wanted to take you, which was probably the better place to eat the various types of food.
Now you mentioned your son, how old is he by this stage?
Oh, he’s 44 now. He doesn’t
remember any of it, which you wouldn’t expect.
Was he being locally educated?
Oh, he was too young for school. He used to go to a kindergarten, I think, which was run by our own people anyway. As far as mixing with the locals, he wouldn’t have experienced any of that.
And what was the name of your first wife?
How was Margaret reacting and responding
to life at Butterworth and in Penang?
She didn’t mind it. Socially, it was good. The other thing was if you did want to go out, you could go out, because you had an amah there to look after the child. So that’s a big burden if that wasn’t available, it wouldn’t have been real good at all. You’re that tied down.
People didn’t want go into somewhere like Georgetown, with a baby in arms. It just doesn’t fit in. Plus the Malays and the Chinese would look at you. They don’t do that. No. The children are always home. They don’t bring them with them. They’re not at that stage classed as, they might be part of the family, but that part was stop at home part.
Not the public face.
And to what extent was there a good support network amongst the wives there?
Once again, they had their various clubs while we were at work. As I said, the cards, bingo, name it, it was there. It was very well organised. From that point of view, that kept the whole thing moving.
Now we’ve spoken a little about Confrontation, that confrontation there that involved the Communist insurgents. When you were describing the Communist insurgence before, you were talking about Confrontation, weren’t you?
Actually, Confrontation was a different thing. What I was talking about was Communist terrorists. CTs they called them.
CTs who had come down, from Thailand, and were operating on the Thai Malay border. Now “Confrontation,” was between Malaysia and Indonesia.
And that had to do with Kalimantan and Sarawak?
Yeah, that was all about that. That was basically Malay, Singapore and Indonesia.
Were you there during the time of Confrontation?
No, that was later.
Do you have any memory of such things as village curfews?
There were no curfews in Penang at all. However, when we got to Ipoh there were curfews there. They certainly kept you off the street of a night time. With
the criminal elements down there, and the gangs, you wouldn’t want to be out there anyway. It was very bad.
Where was this?
In Ipoh. Because we used to do very foolish things, well not very foolish things, but to build our flying hours up, we used to go and do pay drops. Now in Ipoh, they would not take a pay roll
by road, anywhere. So we would sleep in the hangar, with the money, this has got to be the silliest thing ever. You’d think a man’s Irish. Sleep in the hangar on a canvas bed. The money would be there. And then at daybreak, you would get up, get the aeroplane ready to go. Tiger Moth.
And 2 of us. If we took an Auster, still 2 of us. The money would go into the front cockpit, and away we’d go. We’d go out to, say, Perak Hydro, the hydro electric dam. No radio. And they had a predetermined signal they would give us, the night before. And that would indicate that we were
clear to drop, there was nobody there. If the thugs had got there, of course there was no signal. Or if there was any sort of muddle we weren’t too sure of, we’d bring the money back.
When you say there was no signal, what do you mean?
If we didn’t get the pre-determined signal, because the aeroplane’s not fitted with radio. The signal would change, on how they would tell
us. It might be somebody on the wall of the dam, down one end, and he waved a piece of yellow rag or something like this.
So it was an entirely visual signal?
So if you got there and there was no signal?
You came back with the money. They’re there waiting for it.
I seemed to miss a bit of a step here. Can you contextualise how you came to be doing this job?
Well, once we got licensed and things like that, there was only a certain element of people that could be there at that particular time to do those things, and we used to arrange our leave and that so we could be there, to do the deliveries. We were getting flying for free, but we were certainly putting our lives on the line.
I was going to say. Were you not paid for these flights?
No, no, no. Totally free.
We got the flying for free. Out we’d go and drop the money, a lot of money.
You would land?
No, we’d drop it from the air. There was nowhere to land there.
I presume with some sort of parachute?
No. Just done up in a pile of hessian bags, one within another.
So how much money would you be carrying at any one time?
They’d never tell you, but it was heavy. It took one person
a lot of effort to get it to the side of the aeroplane. And then we’d just get it over the side, and when I’d say go, we’d roll it back, it tumbled down the walkway.
Can you describe the Auster?
Well, the Auster is a tailwhell aeroplane, fabric covered, high wing, single engine, Gypsy Major engine. And the particular one they had up there…
it had the Blackburn Cirrus engine in it, which was only 100 horsepower. But they were all derivatives of that Taylor craft, built in America.
There were Austers used in the South West Pacific in the latter stages of World War II.
I’ve got one in the shed.
You literally have an Auster aircraft in your shed?
Yeah, a military one. If you had of been here a few weeks ago, you might have seen my Yunkazai 50, built in 1929.
That’s out in my hangar now.
So you’re a bit of a collector as well? What are these aircraft that you’re pointing to?
Mustang P51. That’s a Kittyhawk, Spitfire, Mustang behind it, Spitfire up the top there and that’s the Kittyhawk over there, very faded.
Now you’ve referred to your hangar?
I’ve got an aircraft business.
So you’ve got you’ve an aircraft business here. So you’ve got your hangar and you’ve got some of these?
Some old aeroplanes, some, not so old. Never throw anything away.
Now I think you were also involved in ferrying Caribous, weren’t you? How did that come about?
When I came back to Butterworth, once again I was posted back to 86 Wing.
So they must have thought I liked Richmond. At that stage, 38 Squadron who had the C-47s were getting rid of the C-47s and getting Caribous. So I applied for a position as a load master. A load master is someone who flies in the aeroplane, in our particular case, we looked after it. We looked after all trades in the aeroplane. We went away, we did the lot.
We loaded the aeroplanes, we prepared air drops, we dispatched parachutists, a bit of everything, did the weight and balance, and the whole lot.
Was this all under the auspices of the RAAF?
Yeah. So initially we were trained up at what they called air movements and development flight, at Richmond, because we didn’t have any Caribous at this stage. So for a while we flew around for time on C-47 as crew chief, but we still did everything.
Instead of the pilot doing things like the weight and balance, we did it all. It was a sort of a making learning phase as we went along. Then the Caribous started to come, the first lot came, we did our training on the aeroplane. Then I went over to Downsview, out of Toronto, in Canada, to pick up the third ferry flight.
We did all the courses on the aeroplane over there, too. The technical courses, because the aeroplane was delayed. The main reason for that was that on the second ferry flight, they were coming out on the long range tanks first. We used to carry our conventional fuel load that gave us about an eight hour range, then we had another 1,000 gallons of fuel in the fuselage, in 2 bag type
tanks. They can tow them along. And they’ve just got shackles on the…They hold 500 gallons each. They were strapped in the aeroplane. Then we had a very, very intricate system where we pressurised them. That took the fuel out of there and into a wind tank, then we used it from the wing. But the balance of pressure and what you had in the wing,
it was something that, you could never sleep. And on some of these ferry flights we stayed airborne for sixteen hours. Which is a long time.
You’ve mentioned, one of the tanks was ruptured?
Yeah, on the ferry flights before us, on the second ferry. Each of these ferries were of three aeroplanes. This one busted, and they finished up with about 500 gallons of fuel under the floor. That was all very well, you don’t touch any switches or anything like this until it all
gets out of the road. But they decided that they would have to rebuild these tanks. They weren’t acceptable. So they told us to make up our minds what we were gong to do, but get the aeroplanes out of Canada. It was quite a horrific planning exercise, where we were all involved, and it was good. “Which way do you want to go back, fellows?” “I don’t want to go there. Why don’t we go via Bali?”
It was a bit like that. After we did our test flights, we used to go up and fly for 5 hours in Canada. We then departed from Toronto, from Downsview. We then went to Goose Bay and Labrador, then we went to Greenland. This is a thing called a “Bluey West 1”.
Where you actually fly in, go up a fjord, and you don’t see the runway until you’ve gone round and round and then turned around and you see a mountain and you see a runway. You either land or you go into the mountain. Quite something. While we were at this place, it had been a base that had been used during the Korean War. If Americans that were too bad to be taken back to America, because the public
would be disturbed. They were disfigured, diseases. They took them to Bluey West 1 to die. And the hospital was underground, one of the biggest complex I’ve ever seen. And those people were missing in action, in Korea, buried in Greenland.
I’ve not heard this before.
Oh yeah. And as I said the hospital is all underground. It’s all boarded up now.
Is this a widely known fact?
Well, once again when we got there, it was. “By jingoes, what’s this place for?” I’ve read books on it since. I’ve never read books that have said this, but they took people back, they did take them finally back, to the States, but on the way they went there, and they died there.
You’ve mentioned disfigured? Surely not every disfigured person died?
What they were worried about, they were worried about people uprising. A bit like Bush is copping now, and Korea was getting to be that sort of a war. We stopped there for a couple of days, and as I’ve said, I’ve seen the hospital, I’ve seen it, it’s underground. I remember vividly the food we ate there, because all we seemed to live on was sardines. And
anything that was from around that part of the world, from Norway and that type of thing. But they used to go in there in C-133s, Globemasters.
Now, let’s just take ourselves back to Butterworth for a moment. How long had you been in Butterworth when you departed?
Just over two years, which was a normal posting.
Were you sorry to
No, 2 years is a long time away from home, in a way. Australia is still home, but it was good, it was a good experience. To come though, we had the choice. They said we could fly or we could come by boat. I said, “Okay, if I fly. What do I do?” They said, “We fly you there,
and then the next day you report to work”. I said, “What about the boat?” He said, “That takes 14 days”. I said “I’ll take the boat, thanks”. I came back on the Oronsay. That was something else.
Obviously with your wife and son?
We didn’t actually travel first class, but still. There were 500 of us, so it was a party.
It was 500 of you RAAF guys travelling back on the Oronsay?
And all your postings had come to an end at the same time?
For that time. And we’d already been replaced before we left. There’s about a month changeover thing, where people move in and move out. You move out of your married quarters and they refurbish them. You move into a hotel for 2 weeks so that they could do that.
Did you do any kind of hand over activities at that time?
Not a great deal. The main reason you didn’t have to do this was that you come in at the trade level. If you were an air frame fitter and if you were a corporal or something, you came in a supervisory position, a sergeant or something like that. So they controlled, down the pecking list, what people did. There were aeroplanes, there was servicing to be done, and the work
was dished out. To hand over, the only thing you would do for somebody is you would probably take them around and give them some local knowledge as far as the town’s concerned. How you get to work, how you access the medical things. But all these were done with briefings when you got there. They were very well organised.
Now just to cover the step of your coming back to Australia and the transition of your suddenly being at
the controls of an aircraft. What happened when you came back to Australia? As far as career moves. One moment you’re working on air frames at Butterworth, the next this interview has covered so far, you’re flying Caribou and your various runs across to Greenland, etc. How did that come about?
I had gone back to 86 Wing, which 36 Squadron was a part of. They called for load masters to be trained. I was interviewed, and the fact that I had been a flyer. It counted, I could answer the questions. This friend of mine, Kenny Howard, had also learned to fly with me, also became a load master at the same time. And from that
point of view, we got the position ahead of a lot of other people.
What were the responsibilities of a load master?
Okay, to look after the aircraft all trades. You refuelled it, you re-oiled it. If there wasn’t an air movement section around there, you loaded it, you unloaded it, you secured the load. If you had passengers, you briefed the passengers. You looked after them,
tell them what they can do. You weren’t actually a trolley dolly because you had other duties. You looked after whatever freight and that you had. If you were parachuting, you became one of the jump masters. I was actually a parachutist. They sent me up there to do a parachute course, because we were having a little bit of trouble with the aeroplane with some of the retrieval gear.
At what point did you do
the parachute course?
Probably when I’d been there about a year, I suppose. I’d been in the Squadron for about a year. The main idea was it was easier to have somebody that sees it from both ends.
Pardon my ignorance here, but would the load master also fly the plane?
But they did. In Vietnam, everybody flew the aeroplane. The air force don’t want to know about it. Although I flew more hours than any pilot would have ever have flown in the time I was in the air force, we were always air frame fitters temporarily employed in aircrew duties, for which I was temporarily employed for 13, 14 years.
It didn’t become a mustering until long after I got out. In fact I was instrumental in getting a lot of it, the air men, air crew side of it through. Now, we had air men, air crew in World War II, but we didn’t get them here for yonks after.
So this was much later on that you got it through?
No, it didn’t get through in my time. But I did a lot of the ground work
for it, in just saying, “Look, we’re either air crew or we’re not air crew. The aeroplane doesn’t go with without us, so we’re part of the team”.
Now, how was it you found yourself working as a survival instructor at Canungra in 1964?
Once again, these were temporary attachments. I was the survival officer in
the Squadron. This was much after my Caribou days, this was when I was on C-130s. I used to go up, and conduct, as an instructor, whatever they wanted, until the instructor rolls up, I was a training instructor.
So you were training RAAF personnel?
In jungle survival.
So could you tell me what were the essentials
that you actually taught in jungle survival?
Oh, escape and evasion, living off the land. That basically covered all of it. Further to that, there was another school run by the army down in South Australia, that continued on from this, that did the
interview side of things. The interrogation.
Was this interrogation conditioning?
Can you tell me a little bit about that?
No, I never went down there.
Did you ever hear about it?
Quite a bit of it. People used to go down there; they were attached to the place. Of course, they’d get off the train and they’d be merrily going to go to the pub, and all of a sudden, they were grabbed.
They haven’t gone anywhere. They’d start from there. They’d just take them, beat them around.
Was this part of training?
They’d beat them round? What sort of condition would they end up in?
Probably not enough to show too many scars. That’s the rules in interrogation. You can hit as hard as you like, but don’t leave any bruises.
This was in South Australia, was it?
Whereabouts in South Australia?
I think it might have been a place called Woodford.
Once again, we’re talking about entirely RAAF personnel?
No, this was all services. But they used to run from the resisting interrogation, to actually conducting interrogation.
I’ll pick that up on the next tape.
Interviewee: Malcolm Rose Archive ID 0637 Tape 06
You were talking about what this colleague of yours had told you about the interrogation techniques taught to service personnel in South Australia. What else did he tell you about what they did? You mentioned people being knocked around, etc.
Mainly it was the way they were surprised. Getting off a train, the first thing you do is whip across to the pub, and the boys had already
planned, grabbed them, took them by surprise. And then it went from there.
What would they do after they grabbed them?
Put them on a truck, go and lock them up. Go through the various motions you would expect in a POW [prisoner of war] camp. But it was rather a shock for these chaps who had just arrived in nice civilian clothes. They thought, we’ll go there, we’ll
have the night in the mess and then tomorrow morning we’ll front up at nine and it will be on. It’s not on, it’s on as on as soon as they get there. So then it soon became known, so people were sort of psyched up to get that. But apparently it is a very, very intense course. I was never offered it, and I was certainly not going to volunteer for it.
What sort of people were offered it?
A lot were, I would say, ninety five percent army people, which would be in that position. As far as we were concerned, in the air force, we had a better chance of someone interrogating us.
If you get shot down or if you land somewhere, the opportunity for you to catch somebody is high unlikely.
Say you’ve got an airfield, a fence guard, and they grab somebody around the wire or something like this, then you would call in professional interrogators from within. The organisation would have that. That was not going to be done by some corporal or something who just happens to be guard commander.
Yes, I heard that during World War II there was a special place in Darwin where the Japanese would be frog marched off to if they were brought back to Australia.
That would be done by a certain type of person. Down at Woodford there, that’s just to show people what can be done to you, and how far do you go? Particularly if it’s being done by your own people. You think
“Oh, I’ve had enough of this”. Then you fail.
Have you heard if that training still exists?
I don’t know, but I think it would. There’s still just as much a call for that now as there was as in World War II or Korea, perhaps more so. You’d probably have to speak another language. There’s a lot of language courses that don’t go anymore.
The Indonesian seems to have been eased back. It was a very common language to learn, in much of Malay anyway. I could speak a bit of Bashami, which is sort of like pidgin English. But with a place like Malaya, because the majority of people you spoke to were business people, English was spoken,
probably more in Malaya, than it is now in Australia.
Now talking about the ferrying of the Caribou. How many of those flights did you do?
I did 3 ferry trips. As I said, the first one went to Labrador, Greenland, Iceland. Went down to Ballykelly in Ireland. That was very interesting, because it was very close to Londonderry, and we went through the border to visit.
And at the border, all identification, military identification was taken off us, and given back to us on the way back through. It was different. That had never happened to us really before. Went from there to Nice. We spent a few days there and had a look at their pebble beaches, and the
women who were very scantily dressed. Then. Of course, over dressed now, by the same standards. We also went down to Monte Carlo and did all that bit. From there to
Malta. Went from Malta to Alexandria. Went down the Nile to a place called Wadi Halfa, and we were the last aeroplane into Wadi Halfa, and after we left it was closed and it was flooded by the Aswan Dam. Out of there, we were about 50 miles
out of Wadi Halfa, and we got a may day call, from an American in a Cessna. He had engine failure and he was going down into the sand dunes, and he talked us right through the whole thing. Told us where he was, where he was tracking and all that. So we got on the authorities at Halfa and said, “Look, we want to go and search for this bloke”. They said, “Okay, we will
monitor your search”. So we went round and round and found him, finally, and he was sitting under the wing, eating an apple, and that’s all he had. So we packed up food, water, everything for him, then went over and did a drop. My HF [high frequency] got onto the CO of the flight, who at that stage was almost at Khartoum, who said can we land in the sand and pick him up. And he said, “No. We don’t want to have to go there and pick everybody up”.
So we’ve since communicated with that bloke, and probably saved his life. The interesting part about Wadi Halfa, all it had there was an air radio station, which used to be a bit like AWA [Amalgamated Wireless Australasia] , but this was the British equivalent. And they used to move people around to various parts of the world and they would do, really, the air traffic control. And Wadi Halfa
was just an air radio station. And this was the way it went, you parked on the tarmac there, and there was this long concrete pathway. And this place has got sand for thousands of miles either side of it. On both sides it’s got, “Please keep off the sand”. And I thought, “Whoever’s come here, has got a sense of humour”. So anyway, we went to Khartoum, a lot of these places you wouldn’t get to anymore. Khartoum to Aden.
In Aden there was a little bit of strife from the North Yemenese at that stage, and one of the aeroplanes, that had been in the ferry flight, had been suffering engine problems. Now, it wasn’t the aeroplane I was on, but I found out it had been having engine problems since Nice, but they elected to keep coming. So anyway, I went and had a look at it.
What had happened was one of the bullet proof fuel tanks, of which there were 5 inboard on both sides on the Caribou, if you get a bullet through it, it’s got this green ooze. And what it will do, it will flow into the break, then freeze hard, or go solid, and you don’t lose the fuel. What had happened with this one, it had broken from the inside, all this goop had
got in and gone down into the fuel lines. The reason they had engine problems was when they got enough down there, the engine said well haven’t got enough fuel, stop. They’d leave it for half an hour, fly on one hour, then it would start up again. So at Aden, we hung around there for a couple of weeks, waiting for a fuel tank. They sent 5 out, and they went to all parts of the world, except Aden. Then we got a message that said the other 2 aeroplanes had to proceed.
Seeing as it was an airframe problem, I can stop there and change the fuel tank, when it comes. So I did that, did everything I had to do. But seeing as everything took so long, we were stopped in an RAF transit hotel, very close to where it’s said Moses put the boat, the traditional thing. This was where it happened, when he sailed the Ark,
they said it was in this area.
Oh you mean Noah?
Who did I say?
Ahh, it wouldn’t have mattered. We went down and we were having a look around the place, and there was a bloke there by the name of Johnson, who was CO of the base, a very renowned World War II pilot. He had a big crash boat there, and he was straight opposite where we were. So I
went and saw him. He was only their commander, and I was a corporal. I said, “Sir, can we go fishing in your boat?” He said, “What do you mean?” I said, “When you go out next, can we go out and do some fishing?” And he said, “Yeah, providing you bring a feed back for me”. So he sent the boat out, with us on it, to fish. Came back and we saw these blue swimmer crabs everywhere. These were as big as you could stretch your arms, and mud crabs.
We said, “We’re into this”. So we got our meat ration we used to get, we went over to Crater, which is a volcano, went down into the village, made traps, then we had a roster. And we were catching hundreds and hundreds of crabs.
Was this all part of the one flight?
Oh yeah. We were there for weeks.
But hold on, you were ferrying a Caribou. Surely, the ferrying of the Caribou was from Canada to Australia?
Yeah, but I’m waiting for a fuel tank.
But how come
you were going via Nice?
Because we didn’t have long range tanks. We could only go where the range of the aeroplane could go.
So it was like the old days of the flying boat, basically?
Yeah, it was this way. So we used to get these crabs, then we’d go back into the RAF kitchen and we’d cook them, give the RAF cook some. Then we’d go up, of an afternoon, watch the sun go down, have a few beers and eat crab.
An aeroplane got diverted there, an American one. The bar boy there said, “Hey sir, can we sell some of your crabs?” And we said, “Oh yeah, righto, go for your life”. So he used to rip around and sell them for 10 US [United States] each. So we said, “You’re making a lot of money out of this”. So he split that and he gave us 5 each. We sold an awful lot of crabs.
How long did
this first trip take?
That was 3 weeks there.
But I mean this particular journey, what was its total duration?
It was supposed to take, probably, 2 weeks. By the time you had time off. You flew very long sectors. In the finish, it was nearly a month. We left Aden, went to El Masirah,
Bombay, New Delhi. Where did we go then? Next to Thailand, Burma, yeah, Rangoon. We got to Rangoon and we were put in jail. We were put in jail because, at the airport, the aeroplane
had a clearance to be there, the crew didn’t. The ambassador got us out, because we had to go to a reception where they were giving them a pile of buses from the Colombo plan. So that’s how we got out. We left early the next morning, and went from there to Butterworth. We got to Butterworth, they said, “Get off the plane. Give us this, give us that, give us something else. You’re going to Vietnam”. I said, “I’m not going to Vietnam”. They said, “No, you can go home to Sydney.
The aeroplanes are going to Vietnam”. The first RAAF transport flight to Vietnam had been up there, they had been training on the 2 aeroplanes. That included things like single engine take offs, and a lot of this, while they were waiting for us to bring the other aeroplanes.
What era are we talking about here?
1964. So I went back then and did another
2 ferries. We did those with long range tanks. We left Canada and we came by the Azores, Gibraltar and that way, picked up everything much the same. Then the last one, we went down to
San Francisco, but Portland. We took off from there. We waited there for about 7 days for the winds to get right, and went to Honolulu. In those days, the only navaid between there and Honolulu was the weathership November. It would get bobbed around the ocean, with an automatic directional
finder on it. That was the only navaid. We had what we called a “Sun Gun”, which was absolutely useless in a Caribou, because the top of the windshield and all that was all curved. If you did any sightings through there, and the sun happened to be there, it was useless, because there was so much distortion. Very interesting trips, particularly the ones when we left Canada and we went via
Iceland and Greenland, I teed up with the Canadian Air Force to get survival immersion suits, and their particular polar survival things and the air force wouldn’t let us bring them.
Why were you trying to obtain them in the first place?
The water’s a little cold. When you fly over Greenland, you’re at 11,000 and you can just about touch the snow.
So obviously you wanted them for yourselves?
Yeah, for the trip. So we came across that area, in green tropical flying suits.
Well, the thing was we wouldn’t have lasted long anyway. So they wouldn’t have had to pick us up and listen to us.
Just moving back to Canungra, we were talking about the fact that you were teaching evasion tactics, amongst other things, and this was all
part of survival training. Now how much of a difference was there between RAAF and army survival training?
Well, different in a way. You’ve got to look at the army. The army are in that position already and normally they are equipped for the role. As far as we’re concerned, we arrive. If it happens to be a
parachute descent, then you’ve got a parachute, maybe you’ve got somewhere to live. But all the other little bits and pieces, basically what you’ve got on your body, what you’ve taken out of the aeroplane. With the army, they’re already in there, and even if they’re in there to fight, they’re in there to fight and survive, where we didn’t want to be there in the first place, anyway.
So I imagine that RAAF survival training
drew a lot more on the adaptability and the resources and the ingenuity of the individual?
It did. How to obtain food, and how to do it without. You were going to escape and evade, not confront. You weren’t going to go in there and get on the firing line. Most of the time up there, we carried
a Yank weapon, because that’s the only one that we could ammunition for because we were part of an American unit. We carried 45s.
So what were the main things you emphasised in your survival training to RAAF personnel?
It was basically to think positive. The worst is where someone will just give up. You’ve got to have a goal, work out
what you’re going to do, plan things. And just make sure that you can keep your body in a condition where you can carry on that particular plan. A lot of it, you certainly don’t move during the daytime and things like that. So a lot of it was you had to find somewhere to hide, in the heat of the day. So you rest up, and when it cools down, and you’ve got
less chance of being detected, but a bigger chance of stepping on snakes, then you start to move. But you make sure you plan things and you stick to that plan.
So it sounds like it was a lot much more the psychological and forward planning side of survival than the army probably needed to emphasis?
And a lot of our emphasis was brought about by, in
Canungra, there was very little food. That’s the quickest way that you will bring a bloke down. It’s all right to tell him he’s got to think positive and things like this, but when you start depriving people of food and water, I mean, we weren’t physically depriving them, there was very little there. People fight, they get angry, because you’ve got teams of people.
How many teams of people would you have at the same time?
On the course, we might have 50 people at once. And we’d send them out. When you send the 50 out, and we’ve got people after them, they’ve really got to disperse, maybe in pairs.
If there were enough people there, we never elected that people started going by themselves, because there’s safety in numbers as far as somebody hurt themselves or something like this. And it’s psychologically better, too.
And you referred to teams. Are we talking about 2 person teams here?
When we went out, we used to let people form their own, then we would be critical on like if there were too many stopping together. So we left that to the survivors. They’d been
lectured on all this, but just how were they going to play it? The people that stopped in bigger teams of people, were of course, the first ones caught. They were like elephants coming.
Now you’re talking about depriving food and not supplying them with much food, before they were set loose. Are we talking also, in this case, about living off the land?
So, in what ways were these trainees living off the land?
Okay, they could fish. There were reels, yabbies. I saw one bloke almost in tears. He had 6 yabbies and cooked them up, he thought, “Here’s a feast. Get away everybody”. Cracked them open, didn’t have anything in them, not a bit of meat. This shows you how bad the land was. Because what they do, like crabs,
they eat off themselves, off their own fat. This bloke, all he wanted was the wine, and it wasn’t there, and that hurt.
So he basically broke down?
It was certainly a turning point. Canungra’s full of pythons. They were readily available to eat,
but jingoes, how many years ago was that? 30 odd years ago, I think can still taste it. One of these things you start chewing and it’s chew, chew, chew. There’s no flavour in it. But you must get some good out of it.
So what could you taste?
It was just so chewy. Most snake is a little bit like fish. But in the case of the python, he’s very tough fish.
Like trying to eat a piece of rope?
Well, that’s basically what it is.
So when was it you first learnt that you would be going to Vietnam?
As I said, I went back and when we committed ourselves to Vietnam, and that was the first lot, I certainly knew I was going. And the only thing they were holding me back on was that most of the other chaps that were load masters at that time, but hadn’t already gone up there, were engine fitters. So for any of the ferry traps…
Like on the first one, they’d had a major failure, like a fuel cell, which was in my area. They decided I would do 2 more, and of course, as soon as I completed the third one, then I went to Vietnam not long after that.
So obviously, as a load master it would help if you had technical knowledge?
You had to be either an engine fitter or an air frame fitter.
You didn’t come from any other one. Because on a C-130, you could be a clerical chap or an equipment assistant or something like that. But on a Caribou, you had to be technical. Now a chap who’s on the aircrew on a Caribou now, he’s technical aircrew.
Before you went to Vietnam the first time, how much did you know about the Vietnam War?
Quite a lot. I didn’t get thrown into it. I had enough time to look into the whole side of it. What I did at Canungra, was based on that aspect anyway. Because we weren’t doing desert survival, we were doing jungle survivor.
So what you were doing at Canungra had a Vietnam War aim in mind?
So once again, I seem to be missing a bit of a
step here. So from doing those flights with the Caribou, what then got you involved with the Vietnam War? What was the process? What were the steps involved in that?
My turn came up. They just went through and it was, “You’re going”.
As a load master?
Right. Where did the Canungra jungle training
fit into this?
That was in 36 Squadron, that was after I’d been to Vietnam. That was after that. But it was still all based, basically, on Vietnam. We did more basic flying, everywhere we went, when you have a look at New Guinea and all that, it’s logical that we would do jungle, not desert, because that’s mainly the areas that we operated into.
One other thing I wanted to ask you in relation to your training at Canungra, how had you trained as an instructor? How did you know all these things when you went there?
No, initially, I was posted up there, or attached up there, on a survival course the same as everybody else. So I crawled around in the lantana,
and did all the bits and pieces. I did that particular course. When I went back next, I went up there to be trained as an instructor. You also go out on the exercise, but you tend to sleep in a different place and you eat in a different place. We were fully fed and watered.
I think one night we went down the Gold Coast or something, then the next group did it the next night.
So just to revert back to the Vietnam War, I was asking you how much you knew about the war before you went up there?
We were well briefed. We used to actually study the political side of everything.
I knew a lot more about Vietnam than I ever knew about Malaya. Malaya was just something I was going up there as a kid. Vietnam was a little bit more fair dinkum. But people were interested in the history of it. Particularly the way the French fell into it and things like that. So I’d say when I went up there,
I hadn’t been there but I knew the country. I knew the various areas, the various cities, towns, so it was no big surprise, really.
How did you feel about being sent to Vietnam?
That was the job I was in. Do what you’re told.
Nuh. And in the finish, once you got up there,
once you started working about 14 hour days, you didn’t have much time for anything else.
Could you describe for us how you travelled to Vietnam for the first time?
Yeah, first trip I went with British Airways. Particular of most aeroplanes it had to go from Sydney to Melbourne then to Singapore, overnight Singapore. Had a very good mate from
36 Squadron days, and previous Herc days, who used to be a load master. He was the Air Movements Warrant Officer. We had an extremely good evening in Singapore, and I was put on Pan American at daylight the next morning. I arrived at Ton Son Nhat, which is Saigon international airport, got off the aeroplane, met by nobody.
And it was the greatest cultural shock I’ve ever seen. I’ve never seen so many aeroplanes in my life, never seen so much stuff moving around. An American picked me and said, “Where you going, son?” I said, “I’m going to Vung Tau”. “Okay, jump in”. So I jumped into this great cabin front, he took me over and stuck me on a veranda of this place, and I’m looking around and everybody’s in uniform, everybody’s got guns.
I’m sitting there in civvies. I thought, “I look pretty good, don’t I?” So the day got longer and longer. You couldn’t use US dollars. That was prohibited. If you wanted to spend money up there, you had to use the American currency, which is military payments certificates, MPC. You weren’t even allowed to use Vietnamese money unless
you changed it, and you showed where you changed it. This was to stop all the black market. Of course, the value of a dollar was worth a lot more than you could ever get at the pay sections. So this bloke gave me some cigarettes, gave me some money for the drink machine, so I sat there all day. After a while, helicopters started coming in. I’m
very observant, just sitting there, and as Robin Williams said it was, “hot, hot, hot”. Ambulances went out. I thought, “What are all these things coming out?” In green bags, put them in the ambulance, away they went. Helicopter after helicopter. And I saw 43. I thought, “Jingoes,
I’m not real happy with this”. They were all body bags. Nobody to talk to. It’s not as if you’re there and you’ll just have a couple of beers while you’re waiting. It’s not you were by yourself. First you’d think, “What’s in the bag?” You knew there a body, but you get away from it, it’s something you shouldn’t be thinking about. So finally,
at about 5.30 in the afternoon, that’s after being there since about 7 in the morning, the Caribou arrived. 3 Aussie smiling faces. I thought, “You beauty. Let’s go”. Got off at Vung Tau, went into the villa and the cold beer was the best I ever had. Said, “G’day to everybody there”, and
it’s a real sort of homecoming.
What was the villa?
Originally it was basically a block house. Our original CO up there, Chris Sugden, was put on the field in tents. And he said with aeroplanes flying all night, there’s no way in the world the blokes can go to work and fly all day. It was just noise. In the end, he elected to move into town, which upset the army commander no end.
Chris Sugden himself, was an ex-World War II Boston pilot, as most of these blokes were.
Why was the army commander upset?
He was supposed to be on his base, he’s been allotted to this base, it’s not good enough. He said, “It’s good enough for my guys”. He said, “It’s not good enough for mine”. So Chris eventually paid for all this. The officers had one villa, and the air men NCOs had another.
There was nowhere there to eat, there was no kitchens or anything like that, but over time the boys had got, once again from the Americans, power units, some old refrigerators and started to do what Australians do. Try to make it liveable. Bring the sandbags in to put around the power units, so you can get a little bit of sleep. At the bar that night, one of the traditions were that the
medical orderly we had, who only died just before Christmas at the grand old age of 90 odd, he came round and you were drinking away, and the tradition was you dropped your dacks. You next thing you got five ccs of haemoglobin in each cheek of your behind. The reason they did it in the bar was that no way in the world you could ever sit down. This was for hepatitis.
But this was the tradition. This was the new boy, on there, and this was where it was done.
Was this in front of an audience?
There was the rest of them, but it all happened to everybody. I tell you what, it hurt, it was like a knitting needle, but that was to stop hepatitis. So that was my introduction there. Each room,
Can you describe that in terms of dimensions, because the audience won’t be able to see the space.
It would be probably 8 feet by probably….
probably 14, and then there was a bathroom, and when I say bathroom, it was a fairly crude bathroom. And in there were 4 double bunks. So in here now you’ve got 8 people.
In a fairly humid, murky sort of climate?
Yeah, but better than a tent. And then under your bunk, you’ve
got your cabin trunk, and the chap that’s on top, his cabin truck. That was what you lived out of, everything. Your grog issue went in there. Because we used to be able to buy 6, 40 ounce bottles of spirits a month, for a dollar each, US.
Was this still at the villa?
How large was the villa itself?
The courtyard itself would have been probably about 100 feet square, I suppose. Then all the rooms were sort of off it. Some were single story, then the ones on the right were the 2 stories. Opposite that there was a big concrete blockhouse,
which held a few showers. It was a fairly crude thing. Then there was a well in the middle of it, and that’s where we got our water out of. We used to have go down there occasionally and dig the dirt out and clean it so we could get water. With the villa, as I said, food you could go and buy it from the PX [American canteen unit],
which is the American commissary. Unfortunately if you flew, you were never there when it opened, and when it was open, you’d either gone first thing in the morning, got back late at night. So in a lot of cases you would pick up C rations. Now with C rations, the American ones were quite good. You knew, after you got into the first box of them, what you could eat and what you couldn’t. So you’d take what you liked
out of it and leave the rest for someone that was hungrier. A lot of times when we were away with the aeroplanes, we used to actually cook a meal in the back of the aeroplane. When I say a meal, I mean a little tin of potatoes or something like this. We had a can with holes in it we’d leave in the back of the aeroplane. Sand was everywhere, put sand in it, fill it up with aircraft fuel and put it on there and cook it. That’s how we lived.
We’ll continue the story on the next tape.
Interviewee: Malcolm Rose Archive ID 0637 Tape 07
So Mal, you were going to tell us a bit more about the villa?
As I explained earlier about the way we used to eat in the aeroplane, the first time I actually saw this demonstrated was a very good mate of mine, Trevor Pratt. They’d actually taken me up to a place called Nha Trang, and this was my look-see trip, and we left and we did all the rounds and things like that. And got up there,
and I got out and Trevor was cooking his little tin of C rations. I said, “What are you doing, Trev?” He said, “I’m having lunch. There’s not enough for you”. I said, “That’s pretty good”. And I just looked at him and said “This is ridiculous, what I’m seeing”. Blokes are working really hard, and they’ve got to pull up, they can’t get a sandwich,
can’t get anything, and they’ve got to do this. I said, “Well Trev, this is going to change”. He said, “Oh, it will never change”. So I went back to Vung Tau, got settled into the various runs that we did. From the time you got up, about 6, and had a shower and got out to the field, as I said, unless you had some tinned stuff
there to eat, you didn’t get much. Also the other chaps who were living in the blockhouse with you, were other people who didn’t start until about 8 o’ clock. So we disturbed everybody when we left. So I did all these various runs. And I noticed that to a lot of American bases we were carrying these 50 pound boxes. They were always cold.
I thought, “This is funny, I better have a bit of a check on this”, didn’t have anything on the outside of it, nothing like this. So away we’d go, we’d deliver stuff around the place. Sometimes the whole load wouldn’t arrive, you might get bits and pieces and things like this. So I decided that I would have one of these boxes. Took it back down to the villa, opened it up and there’s 50 pound of scotch steak.
So we unpacked all this and we improvised and we cooked it. We gave some to the officers, and we had some over, and we had a dog called “VC”. Somebody didn’t have 2 pieces because if people are hungry, a bit like survival courses, and I bring the box in and I have 2 pieces, that’s enough to cause a scrap. But if the dog has one of them, and
everybody has one, that’s no problem at all. So we ate all this. The next day I went back to the aerial port and I said, “This meat that you get, where do you get it from?” He said, “Oh, we can help you out with that”. I said, “That’s pretty nice. What can I do for you?” “Ahh, boy”, he said, “You got any Scotch whiskey?”
I said, “I don’t normally drink whiskey”. I didn’t mind drinking vodka and stuff like that. But I said, “Yeah, I think I can get that”. So I went down and picked up, took 6 bottles back to them. And this aerial port in Ton Son Nhat, these were the people who distributed everything. Once it got there it was distributed. So in the finish I was getting these boxes of meat on a regular basis, but they could never predict what I had in there.
You’d get back there, you might have 4 legs of pork, you might have 4 turkeys, you might have steak. But anyway, this was real good. So we decided it might be a good idea if we make ourselves a barbecue. So we got ourselves some bricks and mortar and stuff like that, on a day off, and made a barbecue so that we were better equipped. Then what would happen, I might get 2 boxes this day then I might go a few days and get nothing.
People used to wait at the gate for me, of the compound. To walk in there with nothing, was quite upsetting for everybody. So I used to go to the Senior NCOs mess and come in when everybody had cleared out. I was on one particular trip and all of a sudden I had 3 boxes of meat, and we had
refrigeration that didn’t work. The chaps came along and put 2 refrigerators initially, on the aeroplane, and they were for a 3 star general. They said, “There’s supposed to be three but we can’t find the other one”. What they used to do for loads like that, if they couldn’t find it, they used to put a thing through and say, “Oh, we bumped it”. So they bumped it. Then they came up and said, “We found it”. And put it on. And the paperwork wasn’t adjusted and away we went. On the way to Vung Tau
I had the other one shuffled up the front, covered up, the other 2 moved down near the back. And when I got there I gave him the paperwork and said, “Oh, they got bumped”, he said, “What’s that up the front?” I said “That’s just a spare engine”. When everybody went away, I took that to the villa, and installed it in my room, put the meat in that we had and we were right. We’ve got everything we want now. I came back,
went up to Nha Trang. I came back the next day and the warrant officer was there to see me. “Rose,” he said, “you’re under arrest”. I said, “What am I under arrest for?” He said, “It’s over a refrigerator. The commanding officer wants to see you”. So he takes my hat off me, because at that stage that shows I’d been arrested. But what he didn’t do,
we used to wear a 45 revolver with a round of ammunition, right around us, and I also had an M1 Carbine, and the M1 Carbine had what we called a “banana” with the bullets, they used to go like this. The reason we called it “banana” was we had another one glued on the other side, stuck with tape, so if you had to use it and you finished it, you could just change the magazines over, and you
still had a few shells in. And I had this, and I was in front of the CO, under arrest. So he told me that I was a naughty boy and I was in trouble. He was a mate of my father’s. He said, “I have to speak to your father about this”. I said, “Hey, look, I’m a grown man now. Deal with me”. He said, “Why didn’t you demand it through the system?” Demand a refrigerator through the system? There were 2 things you couldn’t get. A refrigerator and air conditioning.
So this all went. He said, “You will be interviewed by the American provos tomorrow”. So I went in, went to my villa, went to get in the door and there’s 2 Negroes there, fully armed. He says, “You’re not coming in here, guy”. I said, “I live here”. He said, “No, you’re not coming in”. So I have to go and get permission from the provos that they remove these people so that I can at least sleep there for the night. They interviewed me the next day and all this. And then this Guthrie
decides he will send me to Australia. He adverses me, gives me an adverse report, to which he appended other things to make it sound better, like that drinking was involved. When I fly, I don’t drink. But he put it in to make it sound right. They couldn’t get me out of Vietnam for about a week. So they gave me all other chores
to do. The colonel came down from the 115th Air Commando, who was basically our main CO. Guthrie said “Rose is going home”. He said, “I know that, that’s sad”. And Vic said, “All the meat here has just come from Butterworth, for the barbecue”. I said, “Sir, I beg to differ”, he said, “What’s the problem?” I said, “The aeroplane hasn’t arrived”, he said, “Where did the meat come from?” I said, “I got it off the Yanks”. So the colonel had a bit of a laugh.
He said, “Well, if you’ve got it, they don’t want it”. So I got sent back to Australia, and when I got back, for about 4 months I was told I was not allowed to talk to anybody, I wasn’t allowed to make any comments and all this and I was going to be discharged. I was sent down to Canberra, in a Caribou. The air member for personnel interviewed me, to find out what was going on. I said,
“Well, I was in the position where I could get food. I fed the troops”. So he then wrote a snarling report on the CO and said how weak he was. They decided that seeing Guthrie was going to come back to Richmond and they still needed load masters, that I didn’t get discharged. One of the main reasons is that the “Mirror” wanted to run a story. It’s amazing how people go and have another think.
With this CO said, “I want to take him back with me”. So in July, I went back and did another tour. Yeah, so I went back and Charles Melson was the wing commander, he was the CO.
And he’d been up there for a month or so before I got up there. I called him Charles because he became a great friend in later life. Charles decided that the way to keep me out of trouble was to give me as much work as possible, in addition to the flying. So I used to have do things like, I ran the airmen’s club and I ran the boat club and I ran the airmen’s mess.
This stage the airmen’s mess comprised of a building, a catering warrant officer, a field kitchen that had gone up in a C-130, so I felt quite proud about this, and an extremely good cook that would cook you anything of a day or night. He actually used to go out on helicopters as a gunner, on his days off.
Affectionately we used to call him “the flying cook”, amongst other things, but quite a genuine chap. So I did my tour up there and I finished that. I came home April the next year. I left Vung Tau on the 24th. We left on a C-130, we went to Darwin.
Everybody off, up to the mess. They said, “There’s soap there, there’s towels there, shower, shave, do whatever you’ve got to do. Put civilian clothes on, you’re not going to Sydney in uniform”. Which I felt was probably the biggest insult they could ever give anybody. So the lot of us were bundled onto a DC-6B,
run by, at that stage, Ansett. That’s a low wing, 4 piston aeroplane. We got everything, the beer and the food. I got off in Sydney. I had 3,000 cigarettes with me. I gave them away. I’ve never had a cigarette since.
And DVA [Department of Veteran’s Affairs], when I put a claim in for diabetes, were very interested about the fact how I could be so specific about the day that I gave up smoking. I said, “There are certain things in life that you do tend to remember”. Particularly a lot of areas where you’ve got a flying log book. I know where I’ve been. You pick the day and I can tell you a fair idea of where I was.
Who did you give them away to?
Just everybody in the terminal. A box of cigarettes only cost us a dollar, everything was a dollar. Even with the Airmen’s’ Club, even when I was in Vung Tau, the Americans used to say, “Look, here’s a beer and all this”. The dearest we were allowed to charge for beer, was 8 cents a can. That was a lot of years ago,
but a lot of things in life were cheap. And that was one of them. But anyway, I came back and then I started flying again with 38 Squadron, which was the squadron that supported Vietnam, on Caribous again. Then they decided that they would promote me.
I gather that was then end of your time in Vietnam?
Before we go onto post Vietnam, I would like to back track a bit and go into more detail about what you did in Vietnam?
Actually, that wasn’t the end of Vietnam. Because then I also went back to Vietnam with 36 Squadron. That was later.
Okay, we’ll just go back because this was your main body of Vietnam.
So let’s get back to this fridge and meat scenario. Would it be fair to say that what you were running was your own black market?
No it wasn’t. I wasn’t receiving money for it, so you can’t call it “black market”. I was an opportunist.
Did you have any connection
to the black market at all in Vietnam?
No. This was called grand larceny. I couldn’t even spell it. It was typical of the way an awful lot of things were carried out. The Americans requested, “We want a squadron to go up there”. Now initially, the Americans wanted to feed us,
pay us and billet us. The Australian government said, “No, we’ll pay them. You people give us the parts for the aeroplane”, and away they went. As far as feeding was concerned, that was completely forgotten. And it went all right, while there was a smaller number of people there, they were able to fend for themselves reasonably,
and the ground crew chaps could get to the PX. When it got worse, and when it did get worse was when they brought the Koreans, the Koreans used to just about shut the PX down completely when it opened, buy it completely out, and most of the stuff was going back to Korea. The Koreans were also flying in there. They were, “Oh you beaut, let’s buy all this stuff”. They were just shipping it out. The gear wasn’t remaining in the country
for the people who needed it. We could get plenty of beer, we could get plenty of cigarettes. There was no shortage of that. All that was available. Food was the problem. There was an opportunity, I took the opportunity. And once I started it, I couldn’t stop it, because a, I didn’t want to, and if one particular American sergeant hadn’t have jumped up and down, the thing would have continued to go. But he finished up in America before I finished up in
Australia. They moved him.
So this must have made you a rather popular person?
When I did leave, they wrote a petition up, the senior NCOs and air men, of course the officers didn’t pen it, which is quite normal, they wouldn’t really be allowed to, just thanking me for my efforts and the
way I sort of had taken this punishment. In fact, they even wrote to the government to try and get it struck from the record. They came back and they said, “We can’t do that because it happened”. Now, where I got a lot of personal thanks is when I did go back and found that a mess hall had been made, a field kitchen was there, a warrant officer was there to look after the
food side of it, I had achieved it. But why did I have to go and do that? Why did I have to do something wrong to get something right done?
How resentful were you about your treatment?
No, I wasn’t at all. It didn’t worry me. I walked away from it and said, “Okay, that’s happened. As far as I’m concerned I helped some people out”, and I would have been quite happy to have got out and go.
But there must have been some
negative feeling. Here you are, your government is not looking after your troops, not feeding them properly, and you’ve had to break a law to help feed the troops. Here you are serving your country.
That doesn’t make it right.
What you did doesn’t make what you did right?
No, it doesn’t. It was straight stealing. But later on, in the American system, what they did, they changed the system and they said if one unit
removes equipment from another unit, it’s the fault of the losing unit. It just showed that if they didn’t look after it, they didn’t need it. So this way, you could do that. Aircraft parts and things like that to keep the aeroplanes going. Because the troops had to change things of a night time, what they used to do was go down to the tip, the graveyard, and they would take
burnt, unserviceable parts off crashed aeroplanes and things like this, they would horde them up. During the day they would go in and change them for overhaul parts, and then bring them back and stick them on the shelf so they could use them. So that was as much stealing as what I was doing.
I’m just really surprised that you seem to be okay with it.
And that’s fine, too. It says a lot about your character. If that was me, having been sent home away from my mates, there would have been anger there for me, towards the people that were punishing me, I think.
Yeah, but you can’t stand up against the government. What I did, I didn’t intend to get caught at. But I did. I thought I covered it, I thought this was the way the Americans are. It was just that
one American sergeant jumped up and down. But in the long run, it achieved what I would have wished to have there. Even when I went back and the warrant officer was there, I used to help him out. He used to have sides of bacon and stuff like this. On a run I’d go up to Delat, which is the garden of South Vietnam and I would give them the sides of bacon and I would come back with fresh veggies.
And the CO, not our CO, but there was a support flight there, he said, “Oh gee, we’ve got to go and thank this colonel”. I said, “Sir, please. Don’t go anywhere near him. It’s got nothing to do with the colonel. He doesn’t know anything about it”. I said, “I’m getting it off a sergeant”. He said, “Oh, they’ve got to be thanked”. I said, “You go out and thank it and thank the fact that there’s no more fresh veggies”.
They were happy with everything, but this was a fair embarrassment to them. There was a lot of toing and froing after it, and the main thing is that they charged me with nothing. They didn’t court martial me so as far as I’m concerned. I said, “I did no wrong”. Even Delat, the
provos marshal, the chief policemen of the air force, he interviewed me and he said, “I find Rose an honest man”. And he said, “He’s smart enough to know that by Guthrie sending him back to Australia, he will claim that this was his punishment and it wouldn’t go any further”. So I didn’t do too badly. So as I said, I went to 2 Aircraft Depot, because they wanted a C-130 chap there, then,
on a big replanking job, to be the NCO in charge of that particular part of it. I didn’t really want to go there, I wanted to keep flying, but they sent me over there, and the next thing, even before I got over there, they must have known I was going to be promoted. I was promoted to sergeant. I was sent back to Vietnam. Between corporal and sergeant,
the minimum time between that rank and that rank is 2 years, it never happens, and I was promoted in 2 years, to the day, and actually sent to purgatory. But I got out of that later on, they got shorter load masters and they took me back to 38 Squadron.
Now I believe you were responsible for servicing the special forces camps? Was that during your second tour?
That was both tours.
Can you talk us through what that involved?
With the special forces up there, they were extremely isolated lot of people. And they controlled the Montagnard tribesmen. These are tribal people. The average height of a Montagnard would be, he would under 4 foot. And to see them with a rifle,
it’s like having a child carrying a rifle around. Because to many of them, the rifles were just about up to the top of their heads. They were viscous fighters, they hated the Vietnamese, had a real hate for them. They were Montagnards, they were mountain people. When you went to the villages, they didn’t dress real well, and
although in a lot of cases they were in the highlands, so they were a pretty hardy group. These were also the same people as the Australian training team. They had Montagnards, sort of under their command. Now, with a special forces camp, it will be a fortress. What they will do, the air strip, because you can’t have an air strip
within inside a fortress, the air strip was always on the outside. So if you ever broke down in an aeroplane that was a big problem. You were out where you were very vulnerable. If that was the case, and you had to remain overnight, you spent most of the night firing parachute flares all night, so people couldn’t get near the aeroplane, or couldn’t mortar it. But anyway, these outposts, started off with barbed wire, then they had
Claymore mines, then they had holes dug down with bamboo spikes with human excreta on them. The line of defence was just something else. There were machine guns spots all the way around. The gates used to close before night. In there normally there were
4 military people. The captain that was in charge was normally a Negro. Maybe 1 or 2 of the other ones could be. Out of that they might have 1 white man. That’s how they ran the whole organisation. The Montagnards, in their villages, used to surround them. They were there, but they weren’t inside the main
compound. Of a night time, some of the Montagnards used to remain in inside on the guns, but the Vietcong and North Vietnamese were that cunning, they would come into these places, go through the barbed wire, go to the Claymores, release them off the concrete, turn them around and reconcrete them in. As soon as
there was an attack and they fired the Claymores, they fire the Claymores at themselves. This is how ingenious these people were.
Was there a reason why there is always an African American leading the group, or was that just an observation that you made?
No, it just seemed strange that it was very, very common.
From your observation, what was the relationship like between the
white Americans and the black Americans?
Oh, with special forces they were very tight knit. It was sort of like me going to school in Wellington and not realising that Aboriginals were black. I think with that corps, those people that were out there. There was another special forces element that was responsible for their logistic supplies and things like this. And they would be at places like
Nha Trang and Da Nang. They were a different kettle of fish altogether. They weren’t the same people. These were the elite of the force. They were the special services type people.
Now you mentioned the VC [Vietcong], turning around the Claymores,
can you tell me more about what your opinion was of the VC? How did you regard them as an enemy?
We used to fly along and they used to shoot at us. That’s not very fair, not very sporting, I don’t think. But these people, they were devious people. They were cunning. The bit that made it different was that
if we walked down the street, we wore one uniform. If the Vietnamese walked down the street, they all wore the same uniform. Black happened to be the fashion, and that included the women, too, as far as anybody that worked in the fields. You would fly over a rice paddy, and you could see the person going for the rifle. That’s the main reason we used to get around at 3,000 feet
or at tree level, because we were gone before they could aim at us. Initially, when we first got up there, they weren’t very good shots, but they did improve with time. As a matter of fact, one particular special forces camp we operated into, for quite a long while, we used take a lot of rounds on short finals.
There was a lot of firing. We didn’t get hit very often. But because we had to continually go back into the same place, we used to rain hand grenades down on short finals to maybe try and keep this bloke’s head down. We used to dispatch them in bottles. We used to pull the pin, slide the grenade in the bottle, and put the top back down on it.
And when we threw it out, it filtered down and when it got into the trees, it broke open, the trigger came up and it fired. The Americans gave me a hell of a bollocking, they said, “You kill him, they’ll put somebody else there who can shoot”. I said, “Thanks very much. How do we know someone’s not down there teaching him?” We remained overnight in one particular place,
and the amount of mortars that were sent in trying to get this aeroplane, because the aeroplane was a prize. We were on the other end in a pit, sending parachute flares up, trying to see where everything was coming from. If an aeroplane was left somewhere, they really decided that that was the prize.
Can you talk me through that incident? I gather that the plane had to stay overnight
because of a?
The plane had an engine fire.
Can you talk us through that night because it sounds like quite an intense experience that you had.
Well, initially, it was fairly quite because we polished off most of their beer.
The Americans, and their food, because we were there for the evening. So they briefed us on what would be likely to happen, and things like this.
Actually we’d retired when the first mortars started to come in. They didn’t come into the camp, they came after the aeroplane. Then we were called out and went into a mortar pit, and from there we fired parachute flares, the Americans did, we were in the same pit, for about an hour until they decided they would give everything away.
Another time I had to remain overnight on an island called Phu Quoc Island. It was an American base and it was outside the wire also. And we elected 2 of us to stop there at the time and guard the aeroplane. And it was dark, dark, dark. You could hear the other chap breathing.
It wasn’t real pleasant. And all of a sudden there’s this clatter, clatter, clatter coming down the runway. It was a sort of a half track, which is a truck with conventional wheels at the front and then at the back it’s got 3 wheels and it’s like a caterpillar track. They just call them half tracks. They came up,
put the lights out, knew where the Caribou was because they were going around the perimeter of the thing. We were out to one side, and next thing they opened up firing on us, this is the Americans. We’ve got a radio and we’re saying “Help”, then they stopped them. This was the problem, these people were just
trigger happy, a lot of them. This was a naval base. We never did interview the people. The next thing 2 pilots came out, they relieved us and they stopped there. Why we stopped there with the aeroplane, I don’t know. It was someone’s bright idea, but I think it was quite stupid.
How common was friendly fire?
From artillery going into the wrong place? A lot, an
awful lot. You speak to a lot of our Australians, too. A lot of the American stuff that went in was awfully close. We’d evacuated villages that had been hit by friendly fire. In that case, if you’re called in, you just bundle everybody up and take them out, it doesn’t matter what condition they’re in. We’d get to Bien Hoa or somewhere like that and they would offload them. We couldn’t do anything for people.
We’d have as much medical gear as someone with a first aid kit with a band aid.
So what would be involved when you would have to evacuate a village?
You would go in the village, they’d call you in. Hopefully there would be somebody in charge, a villager or a military person. Of course, we don’t speak Vietnamese.
We’d just bundle people in as well as we could, we couldn’t do anything for them.
What sort of things did you see?
An awful lot of blood, an awful lot of bandages and things like that. They had been patched up a little way, but we weren’t medical people. The thing is, you just get from A to B as quick as you can and when you get there, the ambulances will be there.
That must have had a rather big impact on you, seeing all that?
The main thing with a lot of it, the aeroplane was noisy. The Caribou makes a lot of noise. As a matter of fact, the army used to get on there and they’d complain about this noisy aeroplane. I used to always remind them that they had a choice. They’d say,
“What’s the choice?” I’d say, “You can walk”. But in a noisy environment, it helps to stem fear. If it’s quiet, then that can be really frightening. This is why people in the jungle and stuff like that, people with post traumatic stress and stuff like this. There’s a lot of them that only
got it from having their underpants too tight, but a lot of the people that were in the jungle, to be there, and for the enemy in a lot of cases to walk straight past you. People never see them. It was a real cat and mouse game, where the mouse normally won.
We used to act gunners out of the Caribou also. If we were taking rounds, we would send rounds back, from the back of the ramp. It didn’t do any good, but it made you feel good. You felt as if, instead of sitting in this beer can and being shot at, if you fire back somebody might stick there head down. There were tracers and all that. We used to carry a fair old arsenal of weapons.
That’s why I think kids get fairly riotous, when you get a mob of kids there, and the noise is there, they feel like they can do anything in the world.
We’ll continue on the next tape.
Interviewee: Malcolm Rose Archive ID 0637 Tape 08
So Mal, what was your most fearful moment in Vietnam?
I would say it was, fearful or frightening, the time that the Americans opened up on us at Phu Quoc Island, I wasn’t very impressed with that, because I knew it wasn’t the enemy. I was very, very, very angry.
And said a lot of things that maybe I shouldn’t have. But that was my opinion. We were there to guard a piece of material and that happened.
Before you do go on to that second one, because you told us a bit about this before, and you described the half track
really well, but could you talk us through as if you were a camera and just describe what actually took place at that moment?
Well, when it comes down, you’ve got to imagine that this half track, if it is on dirt it makes a certain amount of noise. Where it was coming down was on PSP. PSP is pierced steel plate, it’s what they make runways out of. And it’s
about 18 inches wide, about 12 foot long, each panel, and they lock into each other. And they’ve got, about, 3½ inch circles that are pressed down. The reason they’re pressed down is for strength. Now you drive something over that, you drive an aeroplane over it with rubber tires and it rattles. You drive a half track over it, which has got tracks like a bulldozer, it really makes a noise.
So you know what vehicle’s coming down, although you can’t see it. Normally the machine gunner will keep on top, it’s a point 5 millimetre. Any bullet is probably not much good, but a point 5’s not much good for you. And this is what they opened up with. Luckily we were closer to the aeroplane and they, no doubt, weren’t going
to shoot too close to the aeroplane. So that’s the only thing that got us away. It was just something that was indiscriminate. And once again, they’re getting around, they see somebody, and I’d say they were frightened. What’s their reaction? Let’s make a bit of noise. A lot of the problems that the Americans had were shoot first and ask later. This was a lot because of the environment.
What was going through your mind
when the Americans opened up on you?
I wanted to ring his neck if I could get hold of him. The first thing was that we get down the drain and keep out of the road. Then deal with it then, because if the bloke had persisted, they would dig you out of a drain. They wouldn’t stop. But we never got to talk to the person. They just turned around and rattled away. That was the bit that annoyed.
It never happened. Had you been able to face the person and give him a little bit of piece of mind, you’d probably feel a bit better about it. It made for a long night, actually.
In what way?
If you’re going to get hit by the enemy, that’s one thing, but if it’s friendly, I suppose it doesn’t make any difference, but morally it does.
I gather you didn’t sleep very much?
You don’t. And the other episode you mentioned, that was with our own group, that was out of Vung Tau, and we were given a mission to, of all things, in a transport aeroplane, to bomb the Long Hai hills. We weren’t a bomber, we were a transporter.
Why were you given that order?
We were to bomb them with fuel,
to burn the Vietcong out of the tunnels. They were in the tunnels, they couldn’t get them out, so they said, “Okay, we’ll burn them out”. Pretty nasty way, you wouldn’t even do it with rabbits. Anyway, I was given the job to work out how we were going to do it. So we got all the fuel drums, a whole aeroplane full of fuel drums. I had the safety equipment bloke make
me up a pile of parachutes. And these parachutes I taped lightly to the drums. And on each drum I put a smoke grenade. The theory behind this was that as they went out the pin would go on a smoke grenade, they burn very hot, and down the thing would go, and hopefully when it did hit the ground it had a form of ignition. The stupid part about it is that that could have happened in the aeroplane, too.
But it didn’t. We did in fact get the whole load out. But at the same time there was an Australia Iroquois helicopter, which was to fly beside us, and as they drums were coming out, they were firing tracer bullets at them to set them on fire. Once again, the amount of machine gun bullets that were coming out of that were just,
the drums were going down and dropping and the flames were going up. As the last drum went, I just thought that a, they could have hit us, but the other thing was they way I got all the drums out without 1 smoke grenade going off in the aeroplane, was something else. The captain of the aeroplane was given a distinguished flying cross. We got hit by a lot of ground fire,
as we did all this. The fires burnt, but weren’t really successful, probably frightened us more than they frightened the enemy. When they started to dig in, these people, they’re rats, as you probably saw by the tunnels they used to make.
So you were actually hit by ground fire?
Where were you hit?
In the wing, fuselage.
Of course, being hit with a load of petrol would increase the risk.
That’s it, but luckily we got rid of it all by this stage. Or I think we did. You wouldn’t really know. With as Caribou you get hit with a bullet you really know about it because you are in, like, a beer can. And it does
tend to make a terrible noise. Even over the sound of the engines.
So imagine this in the context of this being one of your most fearful or frightening experiences, of your time in Vietnam, why was it so frightening? Or what was going through your head when you were performing this action?
It was something I sort of planned. And the thing is there was so much wrong in it. There was so many aspects of it,
that could have gone wrong. And the other side of it, was how well it could have gone. Okay, we got everything out the back, we got all the fuel alight, we covered the area we had to cover. What happened after that, it wasn’t our idea to put fuel down there in the first place. As I said, I used to be given all the funny jobs.
But another one, an aircraft that was put in, and was severely damaged at Ba Too. The ground crew went in and they were continually mortared and things like this. The Americans brought some spares in for it, and parachuted them in, parachuted it through the wing of the aeroplane. Next thing they had to get a helicopter to bring an American wing in. I went in with this
friend of mine, Charley Melson. As Charley said I was going to go with him, to fly this aeroplane out. The undercarriage had to be left down. The flaps were fully down, you only use them fully down for landing. They had chains on them, chains to the gear so they wouldn’t go up, and this was a very, very short strip. We got down the end of it we did all the engine runs, did all this. It had taken about 2 weeks work to get the aeroplane going.
We rolled from that, and only just got airborne. We carried just about no fuel to make it as light as we could. Once we got off we went to Quin Nhon, landed and refuelled enough fuel to get back to Vung Tau. For that effort, Charles Nelson was given a distinguished flying cross. So I followed them around.
Yeah, it sounds like you were a big part of both of those?
But I got myself into trouble. I wasn’t there because I was the smartest bloke. I was there because he decided I was going to be there. In later years, he said some very nice things about me, so…
I think he probably did pick you because you were smart.
He used to take me around, so no doubt I must have covered his tail, I think. As a matter of fact, the co-pilot who flew that particular aeroplane, he was a brilliant pilot. On that particular episode he did say at a function, not so long ago, that he did in fact put in for me to be awarded the distinguished flying medal,
which I never got that. But there were a lot of things in Vietnam, they were put in but they were squashed when they came back here. But I went to the birthday party of the first commanding officer that was up there, Chris Sugdun. For his 80th birthday, we all went up to Macksville and gave him a surprise birthday party, which was excellent. The only trouble is we had trouble getting an excuse to get him to the RSL [Returned and Services League] Club. When Charles Melson died I rang him
out of courtesy and told him, he said, “Oh, that’s sad”. They were both the same age, about 80. We were talking about things and he said, “There’s one thing about Charles. He was never a good pilot”. This is 2 wing commanders, who were both NCOs. But he said, “Charlie was smart enough to take a good pilot with him”. I thought, “Okay”. When Chris Sudgen finally finished with public life, he was
the mayor of Macksville and things like that, be brought a farm and he calls it Terra Firma. So as far as he’s concerned, that’s all the flying he wants to do.
Fair enough, too. You mentioned before about the Montagnards, the locals. Which particular area were they in?
They were all in the highlands. They were actually mountain people.
Can you talk more about them and the interaction you had with them?
Well, once again, whenever we went in there, the Montagnards were always the first ones to meet you. Probably because we got a lot more people came around the aeroplane, we used to bring sweets for them and things like this, which they’d never seen. I can still remember, the beaming little faces.
Black, big eyes, looked like Sambo, they were very inquisitive. But the whole group, although they were fighters, they fought as a family. The women were there, the men were there, and no doubt when they went out, they used to leave a certain element in the village to look after them. But whenever the Vietcong used to get them, they used to do some terrible things to them.
There was this hate between the both of them.
What would they do to them?
Oh, they just don’t shoot people, they hack people to death and stuff like that. As I said, there was no love between either side.
How did you trade with the Montagnards?
We didn’t trade with them at all. The Americans used to feed them. We used to take the food out that fed them.
If it was a typical load that we would carry to a special forces camp, it could have been ammunition, it could have been building materials, it could be barbed wire, it could be munitions, it could be Claymore mines, it could be rounds for one 37 mill recoilless rifles, caterpillar tracks, pigs, cows, chickens,
I’m talking about live. The cattle we used to wrestle on, you had to be a cowboy, to do this, tie them up, then you’d backload. In a lot of cases you’d backload body bags, full, because we were the only contact. If someone was killed, normally the choppers were taking the wounded back. Of course, they’d just the bodies and at the end of the day we’d bring them back.
You just got sort of complacent. They were no different to a bag of mail, other than you put it respectfully down. There’s nothing worse than having to tie something down like that. You’re not going to hurt anybody, but you still have respect. I’ve seen people in a C-130, sit on a coffin and I’d just about go berserk.
You wouldn’t sit on the man when he’s alive; leave him when he’s dead.
It sounds like these body bags had quite an impression on you?
Well, any human being that is deceased has.
If I see a road accident I’m likely to turn around and go around the corner. If I know there’s one, I don’t want to know anything about it. Although I’ve seen death, I don’t enjoy it. From that point of view. That first day there,
when I first arrived, where I was lonely, I had nobody to talk to, and when I said now you’re thinking, you’re in an environment you don’t know, you’re unfamiliar with, and nobody can brief you and say, “Oh, you’re going to be carting bodies around, you’re going to be doing this and you’re going to be doing that”. You can’t prepare yourself for it. I’d never be able to be a mortician, I wouldn’t do too well at that. You just tend
to think, “What happened to the person?” Those 43 people, I know them by name.
Those 43 people in those body bags?
Yep, I got their names.
So how did you come to know their names?
I got onto the mortuary in Honolulu, and I said I was there on that particular day when the 43 body bags came in.
They gave me a web site to look at. It was Operation Hump, the story was there, and the 43 people that got killed, 2 Australians actually got killed, but they didn’t bring them in on that, they were never recovered. They called artillery in and never found the bodies. Fifth Rail were actually with that particular outfit, called Sky Pirates.
Why was it important for you to find out those peoples’ names?
I don’t know. I’d had Vet Affairs that doubted a few things that I said. I said, “No, there were 43 bodies there”. They said, “No, we’ve got no records of 43 bodies ever coming in”. I said, “They weren’t Australians, we would have known. I said, “They had to be either Americans, or Vietnamese”. Honolulu came back, because that’s
where the main American hospital is these days, and they were absolutely brilliant, and just came and said, “That’s the day you’re talking about, that’s when helicopters would have come in”. And I was right, the place where they put me on what they called Charley Ramp, was right next to the mortuary. No, it impacted me. First beer
that night was the best I’d had for a while.
It’s interesting because from what you’ve been telling us with your work today as president of the RSL sub-branch, and that your responsibilities are going to a lot of funerals and being a part of death.
How has that changed over the years?
Yes, but these people aren’t young. I won’t be cruel, but they’ve reached their use by date, not with any disrespect. They’ve seen war; they haven’t been cut down in their prime or anything like this. They’ve gone through. No doubt a lot of them have suffered a bit.
The majority of relatives that are at these funerals, okay they might be sad, a lot of the kids are sad. The kids seem to be affected. The older people themselves take it as being relief for the person involved. Because some of these people they just suffer and suffer and suffer. The people I’m talking about, this is
the prime of life. Those kids, the majority of them wouldn’t have had wives. They had girlfriends, yes, but the majority of them were never of that age. So in the prime of life, they’d been cut down. Whoever their friends were, they’d been separated from them. Where older people that we’re dealing with have enjoyed life, and seen
it to its fullest. Really, as we spoke out there, it’s more of a celebration of their life, not the sadness that they’re departed.
With that in mind, and your experience in Vietnam, what do you think about war? What is your judgement of war?
Well, I don’t think it ever achieves anything.
When I was told I was going to go, I was in the military. That’s what you’re in the military for. There’s an awful lot of people these days seem to say, “Well, hang fire, I didn’t join up for that”. A good example was those chaps that were sailing to Iraq. “Oh, we’re not going to have any anthrax needles, we can’t have any of those”. And I thought that
the level of discipline that is there now, compared with the level that we accepted, is quite different. We didn’t have people just saying, “I’m not going to go”. We had people doubling up, we had people going up there and doing 4 tours. They wouldn’t send you up there for 4 tours, but people were volunteering to go up there,
particularly people who were flying, because it was a challenge. The amount of work that we did actually do, that finished up to be a waste in the finish, was so much better. At one stage we had 6 aeroplanes. The Americans thought we had 50, with the results that we were getting. I worked out even from the RAAF in Vietnam, which is the full history of that.
I suffer from a bit of arthritis and things like that. I’ve had knees chopped open, and I blame a lot of it on load bearing type things. To go through the thing there, out of 352 days in Vietnam I flew for 227. In that 227, I was responsible for moving something like 470,000 kilos
of freight, and some 5,000 passengers. I went to a chap yesterday, a specialist, I said, “Would that have anything to do with my joints?” He said, “It certainly didn’t help them, lad”. The amount we did. They were 14 hour days and sometimes we'd work
10 days in a row. It doesn’t leave you much time for sleep. My CO used to say, “Oh, alcohol was a point”. But if you go and have a look at the timer of the grand, he didn’t have a great deal of time to drink anyway. But it used to work better.
I imagine also this must have been having an effect on your family as well?
Not really. At that stage, I was sort of playing the field. I had a girlfriend; she was a WAAAF [Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force] at Richmond. Other than that, I was sort of moving round a little bit, between marriages. Nobody, other than somebody to worry about, my parents,
I got those, who were quite concerned with the whole thing, but.
How much did alcohol become a part of your life at this time?
It did. It was like everything else, it was like noise, it was an out. It makes somebody a little bit more gung ho. Subject to what doctors
say, I don’t think they’re correct, it does make you sleep when you can’t sleep. Because this was a game where if it’s your night off, you can’t just go along and switch off and say, “Look, I’m tired, I think I’ll have a sleep”. There’s 8 people in the place there. Somebody’s out on the town all day, he comes in,
one person can wake the rest of them up. But the beauty of that was that in 2 hours time we’re getting up, so we’ll give a return bout.
And would you say that this was a serious addiction with alcohol?
Oh, I used to drink a lot, but not sort of, I still drink a lot,
but I don’t get drunk. I drink for pleasure. Even Anzac Day I reckon I can drink a hell of a lot of beer and wine, but because of the day and the companionship and the whole thing, we’re drinking under a different light, we’re enjoying ourselves. We’re not down the pub moping or something
like this. We’re joyful, and I think the amount of energy that you’re expelling I think probably gets rid of a lot of it. Doctors won’t agree with that.
What about cigarettes? You mentioned that you gave away 3,000 cigarettes at the airport. But what about previous to that? How often were you smoking?
Oh, 50 or 60 a day, and that was flying. I used to smoke when I
refuelled an aeroplane. Fuel’s too rich to burn.
Why were you smoking so much?
It’s something to do with your hands. And there’s nothing to say that you weren’t frightened. You’re in an environment that
was just so hard to comprehend. There was so much going on, and then even when it came down to when you'd have a day off, and you’d go down to a bar downtown. It was an outside bar, and we sat there one particular day. A C-130 had come in and one of the crew, we took him downtown, while they were unloading the aeroplane. And sat down there.
There’s kids around. Next thing there’s a grenade on the ground. The grenade’s got about 4 pieces of string around it. They bowled it down with string under it. So this was the sort of, you didn’t know who was whom. The villa we lived in, the villa that we had, next door to it was a lane,
and in that lane was a brothel. And one particular night an American came to the gate, to the guards, with a girl by the hair, and while he was holding her there he died, he was just split to pieces. Inserted inside her she had this thing with razor blades, and he just had enough to drag her to the guard gate,
by the hair, and died there. This stuff went on all the time.
Sorry, she had a razor like device inside her vagina?
Yeah. And just opened this bloke up like peeling a banana and he just bled to death. Now see, these were all plants. Even if you went up the bar for a few drinks, you were never ever sure.
We used to go to Saigon. When we used to have Sunday’s off we’d say, “Oh, okay, we’ll go up to Saigon for the day”. We’d go up there with our little Qantas bags, and in there we would have a clean shirt, a towel and on the bottom a 45 calibre pistol, revolver.
It was heavy enough to knock somebody in the head with rather than shoot them. We carried those. And the number of times you’d have to pull it out to get the taxi driver to go the right way was unbelievable. So this was all around you the whole time. It wasn’t like all that side stand over there, and all that side stand over there. Everything was intermingled.
I can imagine if I was in that situation I would
have been paranoid most of the time, not knowing who was my friend and who was my enemy.
As I said, they all looked the same. The people that were conducting it were very devious people, very cunning. People that had been captured at, say, special forces camps.
One particular thing, they had the skull up on the bar of this bloke. Couple of lights on it, and I thought that’s a bit hard to imagine that you would do that. But also on the bar they had this bloke’s sandals. He’s come down from North Vietnam, with his push bike. His sandals are made of truck tyres, they were this thick. He’s got his rifle and his rifle has got 3 rounds in it.
2 tracers and 1 ball round, that was all the ammunition this chap had, and his push bike.
This is a VC?
And his skull is at the bar?
They had his skull at the bar. They put it on an ant’s nest and I thought,
Sorry, they put his head on an ant’s nest? That would have eaten the flesh?
Yeah, and just used it as a thing in the bar.
What did you think of seeing this?
I wouldn’t think that was funny. But then again, to live in a special forces camp probably isn’t funny either.
What was different about those men?
They were the real fighters, they were where the action was, they were real.
A hell of a lot of the Americans could have been down New York at an ice-cream shop. Like the ones who were based around in support and stuff like that. The Americans go in there with a nucleus of people that fight, then surround them with this support people of millions.
The numbers that they send into anywhere are not really representative of what sort of fighters you’ve got in there.
What was your opinion of the Americans?
Very, very blasé. A lot of the times they were ambushed and all that because of the way they carried on.
Nothing to smoke while they were on patrol. They had radios and all this sort of stuff. I’m talking about the general infantry. Where say the Australian lot were very, very disciplined. The thing is, like a cigarette, you go along and you’re a non smoker and there’s a smoker over the other side of the canal, I can smell him, because I don’t smoke anymore.
You get very conscious. The Vietcong, they would pace all these people out. And then with their booby traps and stuff like this, they were pretty clever. There was a very big minefield that the Australians put in, it was 11 kilometre long, and most of the mine accidents the Australians had, were caused by their own weapons, by the Vietcong getting
hold of them, manipulating them and making them into their own weapons. It took them a long while, it took them a long time to clear it, but it was 11 kilometres long, that minefield. And they used to say, they used to call it “Charlie’s Garden”, where he used to come and pick out of there what he wanted. They were extremely devious as far as that was concerned. And as I said that other way,
where they had the habit of turning mines around. So if you were attacked and you pushed a button, all you’ve done is finished up with Claymore mines in your face.
Getting back to the special force camps that you visited. Can you describe other ones that you visited? You talked about a couple of them.
They were all very much the same.
They changed in sizes, slightly. And there were other ones, like one, you’ve probably heard of it, the siege at Plei Me. Now Plei Me also had, within its bounds, a fairly big hospital. And during the siege of Plei Me we flew medical supplies in there, and actually dropped them through the hospital roof. That’s accurate, but when you have a look at the size of the camp, it’s not very big either.
It was a triangular camp, and along one side of the triangle, was the strip. But once again, the reinforcements and the way they put their various armaments, like your Claymores and your Pungi sticks. They also had Napalm in 200 litre drums, that were out there.
So they could fend off a reasonable attack. But once again, these were remotely scattered around the place. There were bigger camps, too, a lot of much bigger ones. But a lot of those were bases just used for bringing in reinforcements and things like that.
Most of the strips were 1,000 foot long, with PSP, some of them just dirt. Quite a lot of them could be over paddy fields and things like this. So as you do land, the PSP goes down through into the paddy field. So to get the plane around, you've actually got to go outside and feel for the edges, then get the aeroplane finally back. But most places were just dry and dusty.
And as Robin Williams says, “Hot, hot, hot.” Actually, while I was in Vietnam, that particular bloke was on the radio. And Robin Williams played the part so close to what this bloke was all about, you could still see, to watch the movie, it took you back to it.
I believe you also took supplies to the Green Berets as well?
Could you talk us through what you did there?
With the Green Beret people, that is roughly what the special forces are, they are one and the same thing. That particular corps does wear a green beret. You refer to them sometimes as “Green Beret”, sometimes as “Special Forces”. But they were Green Beret Special Forces.
Interviewee: Malcolm Rose Archive ID 0637 Tape 09
I also believe you transported some cinema equipment around to various camps?
We were the delivery agent, I would say, for MGM [Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer] or any of these other ones. We used to do a run that went from Vung Tau and we picked up most of the load
in Ton Son Nhat and Saigon. We went from there and we used do around the houses and either up to Na Trang and back. We used to come back via Delat and some tea plantations and things like that. It was a bit of a loop there. The other one we used to was Vung Tau up to Saigon, out of there, then we’d go up
another route and finish up at Da Nang, which was much higher up. Most of the time we would do a changeover with aeroplanes, and we’d leave an aeroplane on detachment for a week at both places. And while you were detached there, that’s when you did most of your special forces sort of trips. But anyway, the movies, we’d pick them up and away we’d go. We decided that
the best way to do this, for the odd places that you wouldn’t be able to get into for weather and things like this, and we built about a three day delay into this, which worked out very well. Which meant, the first thing we’d do when we go the movies, we’d go through them, we knew who had what. We’d take movies from here and move them on, move them on. And finally, they’d get back that night from the last
place into Vung Tau. And with this slip of the cog, we were in the cog, but we weren’t supposed to be in the cog.
What did that mean in practical terms?
That meant we had the latest and greatest movies every night of the week, and sometimes 3.
You were able to see them?
Yeah. And we showed them up in the blockhouse. There was a big screen. We had a Conex, which is
like a shipping container, but the shipping container finishes up a complete cube. These are small ones, they’re not 20 foot long or anything like this. They’re basically 8 by 8 by 8. And that used to sit up there. We used to use that as our grog lock-away, for the bar. We ran a proper bar, and we used to draw stock out of there.
It was run professionally. On top of that, the cinema operator used to sit up there with his chair, and conduct the operation. This was good because it honestly meant that we were getting the latest and greatest. The next morning we’d pack that movie up and then we’d take it back and hand it back to Saigon. And they’d say,
“That’s good”. 3 days to them, what’s 3 days in a week? It doesn’t really matter. Then we’d pick up the next lot, and then that night it’s back again.
Was this the multi-reel 35 millimetre prints, or were these the 16 narrow gauge millimetre films?
They were 16s. I’ll tell you why I know they were 16. We had one night, and
the projectionist that particular night went to sleep and the movie came off the reel. Where you put the reel itself, what used to hold it there was a wing nut, and everything used to turn and of course this came off, went round this and just kept building up like a big spring. And when finally it couldn’t hold itself anymore it just threw it across the audience.
So the next day we spent half the day, 2 winds this way, 2 winds that way. In the finish we said, “We’ll just give them the reel back”. They wouldn’t have known whether it came from us or anybody else. These movies were ones that hadn’t been released in the States.
That must have been a very important part of morale?
Well, it was. Where people in Australia and
the States were seeing what was going on in Vietnam, they were seeing more than we were. We were only seeing the little picture. We weren’t allowed to sit down and listen to radios. We certainly, in our days, even if mobile phones had been there, you didn’t use a phone. If there was a phone there, no way in the world you got on that phone and rang Australia.
Now you can be on a ship, “Hey Mum, we’re just bombing this,” or something. It amuses me how you can build in such a lack of security.
You’re saying that you’re only seeing the little picture. How much of the picture were you seeing?
Well, because I was flying I was seeing the whole country. But it was like a
slide show. I was only seeing one bit at a time. Where you’re back here, you’re being shown what they want you to see, but you’re seeing it on a global scale. Where, as I said, I’d go into a place, it might be under fire. I knew it was under fire because we’d been going in there. Okay, there’d be pictures of that, there’d be pictures of something else. They’d just pick up on everything.
As I said, we didn’t have television, and we just saw the various episodes that used to open up where we were.
That’s interesting. While people back in Australia and the States are watching the Vietnam War on television, you guys are watching Hollywood movies. And that’s the most exposure you’ve got to a screen there.
Well, that was it.
Obviously a very necessary part of morale boosting as it had been in World War II.
Well, the Americans,
the first things they had of course, that we borrowed off them, were things like bread makers and all this. I had a very good relationship with the catering warrant officer, who happens to live in town now, and you could get anything off them. They treasured nothing. Nothing was important to them.
This big bread making machine, in the finish they were taking some of it up to the army. And air force blokes were priding themselves. “Isn’t this good? We’re doing this”.
What else could you get off them?
Besides meat and stuff like that, ice-cream. You could wander down and pick up your ice off them. Everything was on a grand scale. The camp was a city. You’d go down and there were speedboats.
The Americans couldn’t operate the 2 speed boats that they had there, so we looked after them for them. They came down and used to ski with us. They brought down all our spare parts for us. We were getting around down there, in 1965, in aluminium speed boats powered by 100 horse power outboards. Now 100 horsepower outboard was one that was unheard of. We’d often get hunted back in by gun boats on Vung Tau Harbour,
because we’d go out for miles, around the ships, go up, say hello to the cargo ships. And they’d come out in the gun boat and say, “Back in”. Next thing they’d be out after us, we’d be water skiing around them. But that was life.
Sounds pretty good.
Well, you had to make a bit of fun of it.
Now I believe at one stage that children rolled a hand grenade close to you?
This was the one we were talking about down on the beach bar.
All you can do, you can only get the white mice over, which were the policemen. They wore all white and they were always little policemen. So we used to call them “the white mice”. So they called the military, the military came over; they brought the disposal bloke out and picked it up. No way in the world would you touch it. But it would have taken a lot of us out, and here we were having just a pleasant sit on Vung Tau beach.
And you played cricket from time to time and I believe that a Vietnamese helicopter used to land on the pitch.
If it was going to be cricket on Sunday, and a lot of this used to be done before the army got up there. Once the army got up there we didn’t have Sundays anymore. But the agreement was that the night before we would pack up, get the Jeep, get the trailer, pack it full of ice and beer,
and the next morning, the 2 padres would come there and they would conduct their church service. Part of the deal was that to play cricket, you had to go to their church service, and they came and played cricket. So we said, “Okay, that’s fair”. They said, “We’ve got to do what we’re being paid for”. We said, “Okay, rightio”. So we’d do that then we’d go up there. But often, the Vietnamese would come in with their choppers, and there were various
houses of ill fame around there, and they’d head off. So we wanted a cricket pitch, so we pushed the helicopter back. Pushed it back, pushed it back, until it was right in the trees, then conducted our game of cricket. Of course there was hell to pay after we played cricket and they came down and Sir said they had to get back to work, and couldn’t move the chopper. There wasn’t enough of them, because they’re not very big people. We’ve got it in a position where it can’t be started. So we
were told we really shouldn’t touch these helicopters. And we said it might be better if these blokes go to ‘whore’ rather than a ‘war’, spelled W-H-O-R-E.
So which Vietnamese were these? I presume we’re talking about South Vietnamese?
Yeah, South Vietnamese Air Force. They were bitsa cowboys, too, because Air Marshal Ky was their commanding officer, and of course he was something else, too.
Why were they bitsa cowboys?
The thing is, you’ve got an outfit that goes and fights in the jungle, and a lot of them don’t come back, and you’ve got people up there in aeroplanes and come home every night. There’s always a lot of jealousy about this, because of a night time, you did have a bed to come to.
Now you said something a couple of minutes ago about when the army came up there
you stopped having Sundays. What did you mean by that?
We used to have to go up to Luscombe Field, and run this service that used to go from Vung Tau to Luscombe, which was Nui Dat, which was where the Australians were. And some were at Bien Hoa. We used to have to take them up there. So we had extra services on Sunday, where Sunday used to be our devoted day down on Bag Beach.
Where we drank beer and barbecued and played silly buggers.
Did the fact that you no longer had a day off bring its own stresses and worries?
No, we still had time off, but we didn’t have all that time collectively. Stop the war, it’s Sunday. That was our day. That was the day that
when the least amount of people were rostered for duty, so we used to get a good roll up on the beach. So it wasn’t half the people, it was 7 eighths of them. And these people were all available. The only people that weren’t there were the people that were on detachment in Na Trang or Da Nang.
You mentioned that you were at liberty, at this stage, when it came to dating women and so forth.
When had you first marriage ended?
I’d have to think back. I’ve got a lot of answers, but I haven’t quite got an answer to that.
Did it finish when you were in Vietnam?
No, long before I went to Vietnam.
So approximately how long were you married to Margaret?
Probably, 6 years. You don’t sort of remember a lot of this stuff. You’ve got to go forwards not backwards.
Was the fact that you were in the services play any role in the end of that marriage?
No, I think it had a lot to do with me. I probably wasn’t the most stable person in the world and I’d
been around men a lot of times. I like the company of, there’s nothing wrong with me, I’ll tell you that. I’m straight as a die. But I liked the company of my mates. And at that stage, as I say I got married at 19, which is a little bit on the early side. It was a girl that I’d met while
virtually she was still at school, and I wasn’t long out of it. A lot of growing up to do. If you can dodge it for a few years, you’re better off. It had nothing to do with Vietnam, nothing at all, that wasn’t even in the scene.
So when was it that you met and married your second wife?
When I was on C-130s. I met her in Tasmania. She comes from
Launceston. I was on a trip down there and I showed her my aeroplane. Other people have got sports car.
I gather she was fairly impressed?
Definitely impressed. She was then, I don’t know whether she is now.
How long after that were you married?
Probably be about 18 months or so. I used to get down there quite a lot on trips.
As a matter of fact, I used to hog the Tasmanian trips. The boys weren’t real impressed with me doing that, but I said that’s the way it’s going to go.
Sounds like you were giving her a little more priority at this stage?
I probably was. I got a little bit smarter. Well you could have them both, you see, so it worked out well.
You were able to juggle the situations?
When were your daughters born?
Janet is now 27, and Angela’s 25. Janet was born before we went to Hong Kong, and Angela was born while we were in Hong Kong, but in Tasmania.
Just going back to Vietnam. How many tours of duty did you do?
2. One not real complete and the other one fairly complete. I did 651 sorties, in 227 days. I looked at it and thought, “Gee, there were a lot of days I didn’t work”. But what they used to do with us was the days
that say we didn’t work, we were called the duty load master, which meant you got up with the first crew and you finished with the last crew. And you drove the truck backwards and forwards with the crew. Collect them. That was a full on day. And any little tasks that had to be done, somebody wanted to change some money or something like this, you would do that for them, or they wanted to post letters. You were the general sort of dogsbody.
But everybody had a turn at it. It was quite good.
That sounds pretty democratic.
Used to drive this 2½ ton truck around. In those days, everything was Americanism, so it was a deuce and a half truck.
Now we spoke very early on about mateship and you spoke about your preference during the course of your first marriage to spend time with your mates and so forth.
How important for you did mateship become in Vietnam?
Can you talk about the role that it played?
Well, just about all that are around now, we still communicate. Say if people that are in New South Wales are members of the Blue Mountains Vietnam Veterans, we’ve extended that now, and
incorporated forces. What that does, that allows everybody post World War II to be a part of it. We said it’s not just Vietnam. It’s Vietnam, it’s Timor, it’s this era. And of course the Vietnam vets are getting to the older piece now. But we’ve still got something. We all identified, particularly from RSL Clubs and things like this.
But if you went to Vietnam, that wasn’t a real war. You were not accepted, and it took many, many years to get people thinking it. A lot of people ask me, “Why don’t you put in for the committee of the club?” And my answer to that was I used to say, “Well I’m not old enough”. And when I’m old enough I will, and the
World War II people just kept hold of it and hold of it, far too long.
Were these the World War II people here in Port Macquarie?
No, it’s Australia wide, the same attitude.
So how did they see the Vietnam War?
Because they saw, once again, it was a TV war. And it was an unpopular war, and I don’t think a lot of people really accepted it.
“The boys are not in the trenches”. Well, that’s a different era, sorry. I feel for the people that were in trenches. People have their choice these days, and as far as I’m concerned I’ll be in an aeroplane.
Sounds like these guys in the RSL were making what in retrospect comes across as a fairly ideological decision.
But now my committee is almost all Vietnam veterans. We get on so well, we get so much done, even for the World War II people. We’re getting a lot of feedback, we’re getting a lot of praise for it. As a matter of fact at a meeting last Friday, I was nominated for the election for State President of New South Wales,
which is a fairly honoured job, a big job. It will be full on if I happen to get elected.
Just going back to mateship during the Vietnam War, can you describe the role that it played. You’ve described some fairly difficult and in retrospect traumatising situations, how important was mateship, to you, to cope with situations like that?
There was always someone there for you. There was always somebody to talk to. And with us, it didn’t matter what subject you wanted to talk about, whether you wanted to talk about your wife, talk about your girlfriend, talk about your parents, any of that. Nobody was inhibited, and everybody used to give freely.
The other thing is that when you did your tour in Vietnam, and you went back to Richmond, you then went around to the other wives, you cut lawns, you changed light bulbs. Now the military never looked after the people left behind, not in our day. But we formed our own allegiance, so we went around and did that. And, of course, if I had of been in a position when I went up there, they would have done exactly the same thing for me.
So that made it really worthwhile. People go, “Here we go, we’ve got mates. What are mates for?” And here they are fixing the car, or mowing the lawn, or doing something that the military really should have put in place. But the squadron itself put it in place, and it didn’t matter if it was a wing commander’s house, or if it was a corporal’s house or an AC’s [aircraftsman] house, we were going to, it was the same thing. Got money problems?
We’d take it out of the social club. Help out. In a lot of cases when you did come back you normally brought a fair bit of money that various blokes would say, “Look, take that home”. There was no way of posting it. The way it was up there, we got about 45 dollars a fortnight. But we were supposed to eat out of that. It was all very well to eat, if there was any food to buy.
Then the rest of our pay was just paid in at home, and when you came home at the end of it, and then you got it. Or if you had a wife, she would have been drawing so much of it.
What you just said was one of the strongest articulations of mateship and community solidarity that I think I’ve ever heard, actually. It seems to have been a very strong network from the word go.
But it did work. As I say, that still lives, particularly with the Blue Mountains. Everybody’s just there for everybody. It’s something that I never got out of the RSL.
Here you are in Port Macquarie. Where does the Blue Mountains connection come in?
Mum’s still at Richmond, and the Blue Mountains is one of the biggest memorial
day places that they have. They have a very big parade there. I serve as their accreditation officer. Anybody that wishes to join, I check all their credentials, particularly where I’m also doing the rolls and things like this. I’m pretty au fait on how to get certain information on people. We still get impostors. There is an awful lot of people that would have liked to have been, but
hadn’t been, and are supposed to be. So you cut these out of the equation.
That’s interesting. I’ve heard of that in the World War II context.
It is around. A lot of its done with this, just being able to go and buy commercial medals. Even your own people. There are odd people that will wear them. But if we catch them, we just say, “Okay, you can move yourself.
We don’t want you in this association”.
Now I believe you were involved in the evacuation of Australian embassy staff from Saigon?
Yeah, that was C-130 times.
Can you describe what happened on that occasion?
That was in July, ’72. We went in there from Butterworth and we actually took all non-essential personnel out of there.
At the time, the air force had left, they’d left early, they’d left about February of ’72. At that stage, we were actually the last Australian air force aeroplane in there, until they went in after ’75 and did all those evacuations with the children. But up to that, we were the last service that had operated in there. But we removed just all non-essential people out of the embassy.
Does anything in particular stand out about the condition of those people or…
No, they were just people that were glad to get out of it. You see, at that stage, the North Vietnamese had signed a disarmament pact. They went over to Paris, and it was all over. There were no firsts and seconds. The war was ended.
But sorry, they didn’t tell us about the other few rounds they were still going to fight. As soon as everybody walked out, they just over ran the place. A lot of people say we came second, and I say, “No, it was a dead heat. The other people lit the fire after we left”, because while we were there we believed in what we were doing. As I said,
the amount of stuff we moved, the Americans in one report, in that particular book, thought we had 50 aeroplanes.
At that time, did you believe it was a winnable war?
When you saw the amount of man power, fire power, you would be a very foolish person to think that they wouldn’t win.
The amount of stuff there was just awesome. When you flew up the coast, the aircraft carriers, the destroyers, the helicopter carriers, the amount of hardware was just unbelievable. We’d go into places, and at times we would ask them if they would please stop firing while we landed.
We were very close to the Laos border. They had these one 37 millimetre recoilless guns, and they’re pretty big, and they were firing them from one side of the strip, and we were landing in here. They let us land, then away they went again. At one stage, we were that close to the border, the trajectory went 37 miles, and it was almost standing straight up,
where they were going.
So when did you eventually stay at home from Vietnam?
As I said, I went on the C-130s in 1968 as a flight engineer. From then on I continually went backwards and forwards, both to Vietnam, and flew within Vietnam, then flew back out to Butterworth. We didn’t stop overnight or things like that. Then I continued to operate with the air force until
the middle of ’74. I applied to get out of the military, because by 1975 I had completed 20 years, and I had a job with Cathay Pacific Airways. I asked the air force if I could have my 6 months long service leave, and leave 6 months early, which they okayed and said I could go
and fly with Cathay Pacific Airways. Cathay in those days had cargo planes, and the cargo planes used to go into Saigon. So I was going back in to Saigon, after the war, still with an air force identity card in my pocket. Anyway, thereafter, I did 20 years with Cathay. I flew 707,
Tristar, and the last 13 years I was on 747, both freighter and passenger. Flew world wide, with Cathay, it always got me where I wanted to be. I used it as that way, because I’m a bit of an aeroplane buff and I like to go to museums and I go to air shows and things like that. As I told you earlier,
I’ve owned war birds. I don’t own the Mustang anymore. That particular plane I rebuilt in Hong Kong. Took it across to Gatwick in the Cathay freighter, it was dismantled of course. I operated the first sector to Dubai, and I was the flight engineer. The company were good enough for the second sector to allow me to sit up in the upper deck. And I was the Mustang’s groom. I was actually on the paperwork as
the groom. I reassembled the aeroplane, we flew it 2 days later, and took it up to Ducksford, where I operated the aeroplane with a bloke by the name of Ray Hannah. He owns the Old Flying Machine Company. I was partners in the aeroplane with him. We did a string of movies as long as your hand. Including Empire of the Sun, Memphis Belle, Piece of Cake,
Saving Private Ryan.
You supplied the planes for these?
The plane, and Ray did most of the flying, and Ray’s son did quite a bit of it. A lot of those movies are done in Spain.
Were you involved in flying for the movies?
I didn’t do any flying, but I participated. Most of the stuff that was done was to get them over to the UK [United Kingdom] for the movies was pretty difficult.
Ray in the finish left Cathay and he was based in Europe. It was more convenient. I used to only get over on trips and then just go up to Ducksford. But most of the movies that Spielberg had, that ever used an aeroplane, as I said the last one would have been “Saving Private Ryan”. But we actually owned an aeroplane that made money. That aeroplane,
I brought it across from the Philippines. And when we brought it, it was in 18 crates. It had crashed at Manila airport and was all pulled to pieces. Got in there and rebuilt it. I used to fly, then go in the hangar and work. Work most of the night and then go fly the next day.
You referred to flights back into Saigon. You must have seen some substantial changes
in Saigon between the mid ‘60s and the mid ‘70s?
No, not a great deal, mainly the amount of traffic. The traffic into Ton Son Nhat, it finished up as the busiest airport in the world. The stage that I was in there, the initial stage, it only had 2 runways.
It had the long runway, and then it had a shorter one across it. Now the runway was only used up to the main runway. What they used to do was, they’d use the main runway for fighters going scrambling, and passenger airlines. We’d come in on the other one, and they’d bring big aeroplane, smaller aeroplane, smaller aeroplane, until finally there was no more room to land.
Then they just offer, shoot across, everybody just go across, and then they’d just build all that up again. So as far as that was concerned, I would have seen, between Saigon and Bien Hoa probably in their busiest times. Saigon now has got dual runways and an awful lot’s changed.
But the city itself, in the time that I saw it, never really changed. I haven’t gone back, but I’m going back.
Looking back to the effect that Vietnam has had on your life. How strongly has Vietnam stayed with you over the years?
I’ve still got quite a vivid memory of it. It was a lot of years ago.
Do you dream
about your time in Vietnam?
No. I’m not a dreamer, not enough time in life. The thing there, there was always somebody there to talk to. And if they speak your language, and you know the person and you trust the person, it makes life easier. Unfortunately quite a few of my mates have
succumbed to cancer. Particularly load masters, since, and at an early age, which is sad. They’ve been horrific deaths. It did annoy me a bit, for years and years and years, the saga of Agent Orange. We carried Agent Orange. We carried it
in rusty old drums that had been around for years. It used to spill everywhere. Because we didn’t know anything about it, we would be sopping wet from it, never worried. Ranch hand, everywhere we worked down the delta, this Agent Orange we were taking there was being sprayed. Everything was sprayed. Trees were sprayed, and if you’ve seen a tree that’s been sprayed, it’s as bare as that, nothing green.
It’s all brown, it’s all twigs. It’s a terrible thing, defoliation. Although in America they say, “Yes, there was Agent Orange”, never got near any Australians. It’s quite weird. And with Veteran’s Affairs now, the fights you have with them are just unbelievable.
Do you think
that Agent Orange has had an impact on your life, personally?
I was diagnosed with a prostrate problem at age 29. Now I claimed for that later on in life, when I was operated on I was 55. And the chap that did my claim, put on there, “Mr Rose wasn’t affected until later on in life at age 55”.
Through default I received another set of medical documents, from the air force. And lo and behold, there were more documents in the second set than the first. I thought, “This is a bit funny”, and I went through there, and there was prostate at age 29, 1968, still operating in Vietnam. For some strange reason, this had disappeared off my file. Twice at Veteran’s Affairs in Sydney
they’ve lost that sheet of paper again. Veteran’s Affairs are coming up tomorrow to visit my committee, they want to meet them. And with that is the deputy commissioner, and tomorrow, I’ve got a lot of questions to ask him.
We’ll have to change tapes.
Interviewee: Malcolm Rose Archive ID 0637 Tape 10
Has your service life left you with any other medical conditions as a result of being where you’ve been and doing what you’ve done?
At present they’ve got me down. I’ve got high blood pressure, so I do get a 10 percent disability for hyper tensions, but for the last 3 years I’ve been chasing everything,
like hips, knees prostrate. I’ve had diabetes which can be caused by Agent Orange. Dermatitis, stuff like that. Tinea, that keeps coming back, it comes back from flying. But silly things that you wouldn’t normally worry about. But having been with Cathay for 20 years, the medical system in Cathay was so brilliant,
that I probably get a little intolerable what it’s like in Australia. In Cathay, I was being paid to fly. If I went to a GP [general practitioner] with a defect, he sent me to the best and greatest chap in Hong Kong to deal with the problem. He’d rung up and the chap was to see me as soon as I got there. Everybody else waited, you were like the governor.
You got the best treatment on the spot. With Cathay, you only went sick when you had to, because they were so good and they paid you, like I got a lot more money than the Prime Minister for a lot of years. This was from a company that was family. A lot of things have changed now, but in my time they were absolutely brilliant. So a lot of the problems I had,
I should have claimed 20 years ago.
You’ve mentioned that prostate has re-entered your life. Is it something that went away and has come back?
It was something there that was always there. It wasn’t cancerous, which is one thing, but it does affect other things in life, sex life for that matter, after you’ve been operated on. So there is a life change with it.
But you can be counselled for that. But that’s nothing. Had kids, we’ve got a family, we’re right, there’s no worries in that.
Now we’re probably coming to the end of the interview. I’m just wondering if there are any other aspects that we haven’t mentioned that you feel we should have mentioned?
As I said, I thoroughly enjoyed my
service in the air force. One of the very, very disappointing aspects were the fact that although I flew 5,500 hours with the air force, I flew another 15-16,000 with Cathay Pacific. While I was in the Air force, I wasn’t air crew. In the finish, the flight engineers who had been around for a long while knew so much about the aeroplane we could make it talk.
The pilots, nice as they were, being transport chaps, the younger blokes used to get jealous with this. We could either get the mission going, or we could stop it. And they thought as captains, why should we have that power? But we had that through experience and superior knowledge on the machine. A lot of the commanding officers,
the ones on the Caribou were brilliant. They were normally older men, and had been through World War II, and they brought them back for that particular thing. And these people were all fathers to the organisation. Back onto the C-130, after 30 years you get all your service documents, your medical documents, you go through them. You shouldn’t. Excuse the
way I express this, but with a lot of people you deal with, particularly officers, the people that you thought were the good people were arseholes. The people that you thought were arseholes were good people. It’s amazing when people have got to write down something about you, when you don’t have to read it.
What sort of things are we talking about?
For one thing, I had one CO that was a monster of a man. Very
tall man. They do a PP29, on you each year, where it goes through your trainability and everything like this. I was written up once because I was too short. To do this in this day and age, you couldn’t possibly, that would be the end of the line.
My last CO absolutely hated the fact that on Hercs I did know more about the aeroplane than he did. I was a lot taller than inch, like about half an inch. And this chap, that really hurt him. If you were a foot taller, that didn’t matter. But no, he didn’t like this. And I got my documents, as I said after 30 years, and that 6 months that I went up to Cathay Pacific,
he was no doubt jealous that I had a civilian job and he didn’t, and he wrote my report. And normally your report is out of; I think it is 42 points. And that’s done by the officer in charge of flight engineers, and I think I got about 41. And this commanding officer, in red, without me knowing it, took about seven points off me. So I should have got promoted before I got out again.
But he saw fit to do this. Now I can’t honestly see, how somebody could be so low. I’m out of his way. I’m no threat to him, but this was his passing thing. The bits that he took me down on were not on trainability or things like this, but he snuck around them in areas that didn’t require me to sign the report.
So in looking through these files,
apart from discovering which people were the nice guys, and which people were the nasty guys, what positive part has this has played in your life?
Something that I believed would be normally done honestly, was not.
So what does this tell you about the air force?
This tells me about life. If you’ve pinned people down and I want to write something about you, and I have to show it to you, or I write something about you and I don’t have to show it to you. They can be two different pieces of paper. There’s a very, very big difference in doing that. And for people to use the fact that you’ve gone on
to better yourself. This chap had been waiting to get at me the whole time and thought he did. He didn’t affect the pay that I got, he didn’t affect anything other than insult my professionalism, but didn’t have the guts to do it face to face. When I came back, he could have held it back, called me in and said, “This is what I’ve said about you”.
So how along did you call in this paperwork, these files?
This had to be 30 years after I left. No, it couldn’t have been 30, I didn’t have to wait 30 years for that, there were certain items of it I had to wait 30 years for.
So are you glad you looked at these files?
Probably not. I’ve had a go at a couple of chaps. There was one particular chap,
was Billy Pike, we went up to the birthday party for this CO. And Bill was a chap about the same age as me, and they put him in charge of flight engineers. He shouldn’t have been put in charge of a 2 staller. I used to go down to Jerilderie with him and we used to fly Mustangs illegally. We had 2 Mustangs down there, not registered or anything like that. Civil Aviation Department wouldn’t license them. So we used to go down there and play our own little air force. So I used to bring a lot of the parts back.
This was in a Lockheed 12, we used to fly down there in. We’d bring the bits back. And while I was working away, I would overhaul a carburettor or things like that, and next time I went to Jerilderie take it down there. Bill writes me up, 207 this report, “this airman has too many outside interests”. So I gave it to him at this particular party.
They said would I speak on behalf of everybody, I said, “Well, just a few things”. And I went through some of these things, and I told the thing about too short. I said, “I’ve got nobody here to apologise, can I apologise to these people? I’m sorry if I was too short”. Then I got Bill, I said, “You. Too many outside interests. Bill, who were the outside interests with? It didn’t have anything to do with going down to Jerilderie?” He said, “Yes, you used to go down to Jerilderie and then you’d come back and you’d spend
too much time on these other projects”. I said, “Yeah, but you were the beneficiary”. But he had to impress the CO, the commanding officer. He wanted to see this man of authority. He’s not writing, “This man is lovely. He does a wonderful job”. He’s detected a problem here and he’s written it. He’s going to be a good officer, this man.
It sounds like we’re talking about personal politics that could apply to any number of organisations.
It could be any organisation, but it does teach you something in life. If somebody writes it down and gives it to you, it’s going to be a pretty honest appraisal. If it’s written down and it’s not given to you, there’s always that freedom that person may take. Not everyone would do this, no way in the world. A lot of people would write exactly the same. But there
are a lot of people, particularly on a career path as a junior officer, also some senior ones, too, that will go to this. Once I’d gone to Cathay, I was getting paid. His report didn’t go up to Cathay Pacific. That was entirely up to me.
Well Mal, as much as we would like to keep on recording,
I would just like to thank you on behalf of the myself and Rebecca [interviewer] and the Australians At War Archive for what has really been a really superb interview.
I thank you for putting up with me.
Just to finish it off. The final outcome of my service in Vietnam was that the Prime Minister put out a End of War list. The reason he put out the End of War list was that there were a number of people were given awards, or were recommended for awards, by the highest ranking commanders in Vietnam. They then came
back to the Department of Air or Army, and they had a big stamp across them. NFA, No Further Action. This was put down to a supposed quota scheme that they say the British put on them, which is a load of rubbish. I was then given the first Australian award for the commendation for distinguished for action in the war on Vietnam.
I was the first air force to wear it, there’s a few more wear it now. So at least, in the finish, all was forgiven.
What year was that?
’99. That was the End of War list. It all went around and round and round and round.