Archive number: 1514
Date interviewed: 08 March, 2004Return to Search results
You are listening to the interview audio
Can you first begin by sharing with me a brief overview of your life, where you were born to where you sort of finished up after the war for about five or 10 minutes?
was a vintage year. I was born in Bathurst and for the first two years of my life I grew up there. My father was an engineer with the railways and he was subsequently offered a position in charge of the locomotive depot at West Tamworth. So the family moved to West Tamworth and I attended the
primary school in Tamworth and subsequently graduated to the big school and after five years eventually got my Leaving Certificate in Tamworth, and I think I had a couple of months off and I was fortunate enough to have a position offered in the
Department of Main Roads as junior draftsman which I was very pleased to get at that stage because I was, I originally had ideas of being, a chemical engineer but one way or another it didn’t work out, so I was quite happy to still be in engineering in one sort of way or another, and I continued with the Main Roads until, that was 1939.
I got my Leaving Certificate in 1939 and started at the Main Roads early in 1940 by which time the war was underway and everyone, my generation was adding up the years, “How old I am and how long will it be before I can join up?” And I was very keen to join the air force because
one of the memories of my younger days was when I was allowed to march in the Anzac [Day] march in Tamworth with my father who was a veteran of the Australian Flying Corps, and that sowed the seeds of what I would like to do, and I was very keen to join the air force and I became 18 in 1941.
I applied and was duly interviewed at Newcastle Depot and given the coveted reservist badge. Back to Tamworth, back to work, and there were about 10 of us I think on the reserve and we spent our nights learning Morse [code]. We were told we had to achieve a speed of 10 words a minute
to be eligible to be taken into the air force. It seemed at that time quite an impossible task, ditting and dahing and trying to make sense of all these sound but eventually it did make sense and we duly passed out between 10 and 12 words a minute, and I think it was May, May ’42
I finally received my call up for the air force and it was with regret at leaving home and work and eager anticipation of being part of the service. I went to Bradfield Park for the initial training, which was indoctrination into air force
lore and the way they operated, mainly drill sessions and eventually after, I think it was about two months, we finished the initial course, having done various assessments. Everyone of course wanted to be a pilot and
when the interviews came up I was fortunate enough to be selected as a pilot which made me very happy. On parade one morning the CO [Commanding Officer] came around and said, “There’s a shortage of observers in Canada. Anyone who volunteers would go overseas in ten days’ time.” Well, pilot training at that stage was in
Australia and you may or may not go to the UK [United Kingdom], or you may go to the Pacific. The Pacific war had just started and nobody knew very much of what would happen with the trainees. The temptation to go overseas was too much, so myself and about 10 others volunteered to be part of the Canadian contingent and be observers. So we were
duly given a week’s leave and came back and we did go within 10 days which was quite surprising. We travelled from Sydney to Melbourne and had a couple of days in Melbourne and went from Melbourne to Launceston in the Narara I think it was, and it was a very rough crossing. And then from Launceston
by a very slow Tasmanian train to Hobart. We stopped at every little hamlet for the local ladies to give us apples and other little goodies that they thought we may need, and we had two days in Hobart which gave us a chance to have a look at Hobart. Most of us probably had never been much outside of New South Wales at that stage. I certainly hadn’t been to Hobart and it was quite an experience.
And we were told we were going to Canada via New Zealand and Pearl Harbor, and the ship we were going on was the Ile de France, which was a pre-war French luxury liner which had been converted to a troopship. It had been coming from somewhere in the Middle East with a load of German POWs from the desert who were going to internment in Canada. We boarded
the Ile de France and the accommodation was certainly not luxury. We were I think the lowest form of air force life, AC2s [aircraftsman, junior], and we had hammocks in the mess decks. It was not very comfortable. However, we were on our way. Left Hobart and about half way out there was apparently
a submarine scare and the ship turned due south and went towards the South Pole, I think it was for about a day. It was colder and colder and colder and here we were in our summer gear, but we were going to New Zealand so it turned around and we came up the west coast of New Zealand and came to Auckland. We had a couple of days in Auckland
where we picked up a contingent of New Zealand aircrew and set off across the Pacific.
Can you just briefly, that’s excellent what you’ve done, just briefly where you actually, you went to Canada, where you trained in Canada and then briefly just what happened in Europe and then we’ll come back in more detail?
We stopped, or left Auckland and after a very smooth crossing across the
Pacific, notable for the fact that we had a six-inch gun on the back of the Ile de France and a naval crew to operate it, half way across they decided to have a battle drill and everything went fine. We were all watching this magnificent piece or ordnance and it didn’t work. So they tried again and it still didn’t work, so they gave it up and decided to do
something else. We subsequently arrived at Pearl Harbor and which was nearly, that would be about 10 months after Pearl Harbor was attacked. We still saw the devastation that the Japanese had caused at Pearl Harbor. There were battleships upside down, there were wreckages everywhere and it was a disaster area.
We weren’t allowed off ship for obvious reasons, but the Americans were very good. They came alongside of the wharf and we lowered our hats or a basket and they loaded it up with chocolate bars, cigarettes and anything like that. We tossed down kangaroo pennies, which were literally worth their weight in gold and after a couple of days we left Pearl Harbor and arrived in San Francisco. We had been
promised a couple of days leave in ’Frisco, but unfortunately, the previous draft, they were given a couple of days leave and they didn’t return. So we were bundled straight on the train and sent on our way to Vancouver. It was an American, American, practically peacetime at that stage. They hadn’t really geared up for war, as far as their trains went,
and it was a very comfortable train and as it happened it was Thanksgiving Day and they had a dining car and we were given a Thanksgiving Dinner. I think the first time most of us ever had turkey and cranberry sauce served at the table with white tablecloths. It was quite an occasion to remember, and subsequently we arrived
at Vancouver and I think we had three or four days leave there, and it was our first taste of Canada and the cold weather and the snow on the mountains just outside Victoria, it was something quite new to us. The contingent of about, I think there was about 40 or 50 people, embarked on a train to go across to Edmonton,
which was the first holding depot in Canada that we were going to, and three of us sat on the back. On those Canadian trains they had a back porch, observation car, I think three of us sat on that observation car for 36 hours just watching the magnificence of the Rockies. It was full moon and even at night it was a magnificent spectacle just
crossing them and seeing the snow and the mountains. We’d never seen mountains before. Seen Kosciusko of course but that’s a little hill. These were real mountains, the snow and ice and the Fraser River down below. It was an awe-inspiring trip for young boys of 19. We arrived in Edmonton, which was the holding depot for
the Empire Air Training Scheme, and at that stage we were categorised as observers. Some of us were going to be navigators and some were going to be bomb aimers, and I was fortunate enough to be a bomb aimer. So then we went to, half of them stayed in Edmonton and our contingent went down south to Lethbridge
which was another air force station where we spent about three months learning how to drop bombs reasonably accurately, and flying ancient Ansons, Battles, Lysanders, Boeing Brokes and other aircraft that nobody else wanted. And after due time
there we went back to Edmonton where we did a navigation course, which meant flying over the snow-covered prairies and trying to find our way back again. It was, I’d seen the western plains of New South Wales and…
I’ll just pause there until the phone, that’s all right, sorry.
Be in your way?
Miriam will get it anyway. The western plains of New South Wales were fairly flat but they had trees on them and there was no snow. The prairies of Canada were flat, no trees, all snow at that stage in the winter, and it was a different world altogether. After our navigation course in
Edmonton we were duly passed out as observers. I think they called us ‘Observer B’ and we had a wings parade, which was another publicity occasion by the RCAF [Royal Canadian Air Force]. An American general lined us up in huge sports arena
in Edmonton and they had the press and Movietone or the equivalent [cinema news team] filming the event, and we were duly presented with our wings, which was a very proud moment after all the training we’d done to actually achieve what we’d set out to do. And also we were made sergeants, which was
a big increase in pay and it meant we could go to the sergeants’ mess. We were also given at that stage a leave pass to go to Halifax in eastern Canada, which would be the embarkation point to go to England. We had 10 days to get there. How we got there was our own problem. What we did was up to us and I think most
of us went down to America and went on our way across America to see the States. I ended up in New York and with three or four others and we spent a very enjoyable time in New York doing the rounds of the nightclubs with Jimmy Durante [comedian] and, my memory fails now. There were three or four other very famous personalities there. In a blue uniform
you couldn’t go wrong, you couldn’t buy a drink, you couldn’t do anything. You appeared, somebody wanted to take you somewhere and buy you a drink or buy you a dinner or take you home. The hospitality was quite wonderful and we thoroughly enjoyed it, seeing the famous Rockettes [dancers] and climbing the Empire State Building and other landmarks in New York, riding the subway, and
after four days, off we went to Halifax. Halifax at that stage was a bleak, cold, wet Canadian city. The people were very hospitable but we were keen to get to England and we didn’t want to stay in Halifax. After a couple of weeks I think we spent there
and we finally boarded the Louis Pasteur which was another French luxury liner that had been built for the (boo ribe? UNCLEAR) into the Atlantic, but had never been used as a passenger ship. It had been fitted out as a troopship from the word go, from I suppose 1939. The conditions there were similar to the Ile de France. We were
given hammocks and a mess deck and told we’d be setting course for Liverpool, full speed ahead and no escort, which was fine because the ship did about 30 knots and was considered too fast for submarines, which fortunately enough it was. And after I think about three or four days we arrived at Liverpool in England. After the lights
of Canada the blackout in Liverpool was a rude shock. Everything was dark, no lights, or minimum lights. The cars had their hoods on their headlights and we were taken off the ship and straight on to a train to the holding depot
at Brighton in southern England.
I might just hold you there at Brighton because we don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves, and come actually the whole way back to your childhood again, and now flush out some more information of what you’ve sort of given us an overview of. Okay, is that all right?
So just coming back now to Australia and your childhood, what are your first memories of growing up?
It’s a long way back. My first real memories I think were going to kindergarten and they had a very pleasant little group of three or four year olds, and
duly played kindergarten games and looked forward to going to what was to us the big school which was the primary school, and which we did after about two years. I think I was five when I went there, and we had a teacher that was looking after
our class, was a chap names Kearns, K E A R N S. He said, he was just out of teachers college and, “You’re my first class and I’m your first teacher,” and he said. “My name is Kearns, K E A R N S, not Cairns, Kearns,” and having established his credentials he then became our class teacher. He was a very good teacher. He was
a keen sportsman and I think he inculcated us in a love of outdoor activities with insistence that we must learn. We went to school to learn, not to play. So we did learn as much as we were taught, and after I think it was about two or three years, I forget now, in primary
school we duly went to the big school which was the high school and started off on a five-year course of studies to get our Leaving Certificate. It was quite a different experience. At primary school we had the one teacher for our class. High school was
divided into periods where we had a different specialist teacher for each subject. It took a little bit of getting used to and we were expected to study and do homework, which was quite a new experience. Primary school, we played with homework, but this was serious. We were expected to study the day’s
work and get a knowledge of it which most of the time we did, and it was an enjoyable period. We had a lot of contemporaries. It was a mixed school and at our age of 12 or 14 girls weren’t
a big consideration, we were more interested in sport.
What sort of sports and games did you play?
I played cricket and tennis and swimming. I wasn’t good enough for football. I wasn’t fast enough. First year was a learning year and
the next second and third year were leading up to the Intermediate Certificate which was quite an important milestone. I was fortunate enough to pass and went onto fourth and fifth year which was the, a lot of people left in third year.
It was the middle of the Depression and for various reasons people couldn’t afford to keep their children at school and fourth year at that stage, 1938, I think only consisted or probably about 20 or 25 people in two classes.
Were you as a student, were you working towards something?
Did you want to become something when you left school?
I had no idea, a vague idea of wanting to be a chemical engineer. I was good at chemistry and physics and I thought well that could be a career path. So I got my Leaving Certificate
and I had, the pass was good enough to go to university if I wanted to go ahead, but at that stage the war had broken out and all of my contemporaries were, “Which service will I go into and how soon can I get there?” And I did investigate a cadetship with BHP [Broken Hill Proprietary] as an industrial chemist and
it was intimated that I would be successful if I applied, but they would not let me join up. It was, you went there as a cadet and it was a reserved occupation [job deemed essential to war effort, not to be conscripted]. So that was, I decided, that was out. I was fortunate enough to be offered a position as a junior draftsman with the Department of Main Roads in Tamworth
which I accepted and I spent two years there and as soon as I was 18 I applied to join the air force and subsequently, I think it was about December ’41, I had a letter from them saying, “Report to the recruiting depot at Newcastle at the end of the month,” which I duly did, and went
through medicals and other assessments and received my coveted Air Force Reserve badge, and as I said previously, we had to pass out at 10 words a minute in Morse and I think there were about 10 of us doing all this Morse which initially we thought we’d never be able to master, but after a couple of months it slowly
made sense and we could send messages and receive them. As it happened it was the only time in my whole career I ever used Morse. But came May and I was called up and reported to Bradfield Park and it was with some regret that I left home and work and eager anticipation of air force life.
Before we get to Bradfield Park, in respect to leaving school you were very much just waiting to come of age to join the war. Was that in your thinking?
Yes. Normally someone of my age you left school, decided on what career path you may have wanted and followed it. Had there not been a war on I certainly probably would have
taken that cadetship with BHP and hopefully have ended up as an industrial chemist.
Just let me ask you a little bit about your dad. The question is your dad’s war service, what did you know about that in respect to World War I?
Well, my father joined up
in 1915 I think it was. He had been a marine engineer and had his ticket. I think it was third mate or something like that on the SS Fiona , which was one of the sugar ships from the Fiji-Australia run, and he was on that and he, I think he joined
the, left the ship or served his time on the ship and joined the railways as an engineer I think it was, and he was stationed at Bathurst and he married my mother in, that’s getting a bit ahead of myself there. He joined the AIF [Australian Imperial Force]
and in the ambulance section went over to Egypt and did training in Egypt and applied to join the AFC [Australian Flying Corps, army unit] and he was successful in doing that. They found out he was an engineer so they straightaway made him ground staff maintenance and he was posted to a squadron in France.
I think it was 3 Squadron, I’m not quite sure. He served quite a few years there. He applied for categorisation as a pilot but he was refused. He won a Military Medal about end of, I think it was about
July 1918 rescuing, I think someone from a crashed aircraft and he ended up in 1918 being sent to England and subsequently came home, discharged and went to Bathurst in the railway department.
Subsequently married my mother and they built a house in Bathurst where I was born.
So given your Dad was sort of working with ships and sugar as you said, transporting sugar from between Australia, Fiji, why didn’t he join the navy when the war started out for him?
I did apply for the navy. I applied for a cadet midshipman at Flinders.
Sorry, your Dad, did he apply for the navy?
No. After he came back?
Sorry. Maybe I’ve got the story slightly mixed. My understanding is your dad was working as a marine engineer.
Pre-First World War, in respect to transporting sugar from Fiji and Australia. He never thought of applying for the navy himself in the First World War?
Apparently not, no. That’s something he never discussed.
So what did he share with you about his experiences during World War I?
He used to talk about the good parts of the flying corps. He knew a lot of the,
not aces, the pilots of that era. They were flying, I think it was SE5s and he was maintaining those and living in tents under not very good conditions. Nobody did in France in those days in the frontline, but
yes, he used to tell stories of the war and how he won the war. He had quite a few photos of various aircraft that were on the squadron and personalities, which I subsequently inherited and gave them to one of the, some archives
that were interested in them.
Did your dad ever share stories of the tragedy of war, of mates and friends dying?
No. That was, I think obviously did happen but it was something that he didn’t discuss. The good side of it was something he talked about to me.
With his friends he possibly did.
And the Military Medal which he won or was given, can you go into more detail of what he actually did to receive that?
I could get you the citation if you’ve got time.
He didn’t go through the story with you that you can recall?
No, not specifically. He just
said, “I went to, this aircraft crashed and I went there and pulled the bits out.” I understand he also, I think it was mainly the aircraft pieces that he rescued and the pilot I think was unhurt. There is a citation
in my drawer somewhere about why.
Excellent. Anzac Day, before World War II: how important was that to you and your family?
My father always used to march on Anzac Day and I was allowed to, on several occasions, to march with him which for a 10-year-old boy was
a really tremendous occasion, and on one occasion I was actually allowed to, or not allowed, but he gave me his medals to wear which was a very proud moment and after the march a small number of veterans used to assemble at the local radio station for an interview
and it was quite an experience to subsequently hear my father and the others on the radio. The equivalent I suppose of seeing yourself on TV these days.
Were you close to your dad growing up?
What sort of things did you do together?
We used to play tennis together. He was keen,
very keen on tennis and he used to take me down to the locomotive depot quite frequently. I used to go down there of an afternoon when he was due to finish work and he’d let me climb on the engines and have a look at them and do what young boys do with engines and things mechanical.
He did inculcate a love of railways in me at that stage, and one of my young memories was being given a Hornby train set for my birthday and having got the first one, every birthday and Christmas I was given an addition to it. The love of
railways has been consistent right through my life.
Can you just describe for me and share with me what a Hornby railway is, the make up of it?
What a Hornby railway is? Obviously you don’t know.
The Hornby railway was the ultimate aim of every boy in the ’30s, Hornby railway and Meccano. They were the two things that
you aspired to. Not, being the Depression years, not too many were able to get them. Of course it was, they were quite expensive and there wasn’t a lot of money around in those years. My father was very fortunate in being employed by the railways and right through the Depression he kept his job. There was
a vast cut in salaries of course but any money coming in was a great plus, and we were most fortunate to be in the position of having an income. I was given this Hornby railway, Hornby train set which was a very basic one and that was my pride and joy and played with it and my mates used to come and we used to play trains in the backyard.
Set up a circle of track and I think we had a wind-up engine and two carriages that we used to pretend was the Melbourne Express and play for hours with it, and each birthday there was no problem with what the birthday present was or Christmas present. It was another piece of the railway, some more track and some points and
some more rolling stock and over the years I built up quite a layout.
So the way the actual train functions is by winding it up, is it?
They will wind up. Hornby were both electric and wind up, but very few people had the electric ones. They were more expensive.
We’ll just stop there so that we can change the tape.
Interviewee: Keith Campbell Archive ID 1514 Tape 02
Keith, could you share with me the interest of the Meccano set and what it is?
The Meccano set was another one, a wonderful, I’d say toys. It was classified as a toy but it wasn’t. It was an engineering, a collection of bits and pieces of metal, wheels, nuts, bolts and things
and a book of instructions from which you made all sorts of things such cranes, cars, tables, an amazing array of models. The Meccano went from a very basic set right through to a very sophisticated
engineering complex. I was fortunate too to be subsequently given a Meccano set which I added to over the years and they were a great sense of achievement and interest to a young boy. In those days we made our own fun to a great extent. Three or four local friends,
we used to get together and make things out of Meccano and play trains and they’d bring their, if they had trains or Meccano they’d bring them along and we’d make multiple models. Sometimes all our different pieces would be mixed up but we eventually sorted them out. It was wonderful growing up and
the other interests were, I saved up money and my father gave me some more money to buy a bicycle. That was really an achievement. I think at about 14 or 15 I bought a second-hand bicycle which cost £3/19/6 and I think I was the first boy among our little circle to have a bike
and that gave us mobility. You put, one of the others always rode on the bar and I pedalled around. We could go farther afield and go out into, well, a day’s or half a day’s trip into the country
which was probably only six or seven mile out, but it was real bush in those days, and we used to take an apple or a banana or something with us and just spend the day in the bush.
Were there any crashes or accidents with one fellow on the bars?
Oh yes, frequently. You had to be very careful to remember not to put the front brake on first, otherwise
you’d end up straight over the handle bars which was not a good thing to happen. But a very pleasant way of growing up. Radio was the big thing, radio and reading books.
Any particular radio programs you listened?
I used to listen to Dad and Dave and the Lux Radio
Theatre. I’ve forgotten most of them now. But Sunday night was a ritual. Like there was Lux Radio Theatre with Jack Davey and various other shows like that, and radio serials. They were the big thing in those days.
How did the Depression affect you
and your family?
We were very fortunate, as I said before, that my father was employed. Most of the families in the street weren’t and it was a very hard time. I must say my family, they used to, should I
say give? Get fruit and share it. In Tamworth he was a locomotive engineer and the trains used to run from Armidale to Tamworth and they’d stop at Kentucky where the apple orchards were and you could always buy a case of apples for two shillings. So he used to buy a couple of cases of apples a week
and bring them down and share them with the families, and he was very good with things like that in those years. He helped people that were less fortunate than he was.
Given that people were struggling to survive during the Depression was there much theft and robbery?
Surprisingly little. We never locked our doors if we went out.
Might lock the front door but the back door was always open. We never had any theft. During the Depression years we had people coming around looking for work, chop some wood for a shilling or two shillings or a meal, and we were fortunate to be able to give a lot of these people something to eat.
It wasn’t a case of handing out largess, it was a case of being able to help someone less fortunate. People used to roam the state looking for work, living under bridges and existing. It was a very very hard time for a lot of
people, especially in the country.
Your Mum, what was she like as a person?
She was a very retiring person and she liked her home and her circle of friends, her church and
she was much more in the background than my father.
Did your Mum encourage you to go to church with her?
Yes, yes. I used to go, when it didn’t interfere with tennis.
Was there much religious feeling between Catholics and Protestants and those sorts of things?
After school there was a few chiacking but generally, no.
Now war is beginning to brew in Europe, Hitler’s on the rise. During sort of the late part of the ’30’s what did you know about European politics and what might be happening?
Very very little. We were taught history at school, kings and queens and dates
and such like, and up to the cause of the First War. We didn’t at that stage go into the First War history. It stopped at 1914. So we had a very restricted idea of European history. We read a lot in the papers
from I suppose the ’30’s of the rise of this person in Germany and how he was making a great contribution to the German economy by employing everyone, building vast autobahns and generally
improving the country, making employment. What we didn’t of course realise what was actually happening. You only saw the good side of it. To a great extent Hitler was, and Hitler’s Germany was portrayed as quite a good thing, up to about the mid ’30s.
So he really wasn’t seen as a,
up to the mid ’30s as a threat at all. He was someone who really had a grip on society, German society, in building it up. Is that what you’re saying?
To my circle of friends, yes. There wasn’t the, we didn’t know that he was preparing all these things for a war.
Something that we just didn’t realise.
So when did things begin to change in your understanding of what was going on in Europe?
In the late ’30s, ’38, ’39, we were getting a lot of refugees I suppose we’d call them, from Europe. They were coming out here and
we understood that they were escaping from Germany. Well, we didn’t quite understand what escaping from Germany meant, but they were quite large numbers, especially in Sydney. We didn’t see them in the country, and we understood these people were coming from Germany, mostly Jewish, and
that the Jews were being persecuted in Germany. We didn’t quite know why they were, but we read about Hitler’s Storm troopers, which previously we’d understood were part of the army that he was building up. Subsequently we found out that they were the bully boys of the Nazi Party
and from the late ’30s I think we came to realise that the Nazi Party was not just a political party, they were a very aggressive party that were going to affect the whole of Europe.
You spoke briefly just of refugees coming, today obviously refugees come and the community has different reactions
to them. Was there any particular reaction from Australian society to these refugees coming here?
From the country we had very little to do with it. They didn’t come to the country. It was mainly in the city. All we knew about it was they were arriving and generally they were accepted as people that had been adversely treated
and they were looking for a new home, and as far as I understood they were welcome.
Now, when war was declared do you remember where you were?
Yes, I was in, 3rd of September 1939, I was working in the Main Roads Department. I can’t specifically say where I was or even what
day it was now. But I remember the headlines in the paper. For those days the headlines were enormous, probably two inches high, “War Declared,” and the first thing we thought, “Oh, are we going to be in it?” This was when Germany invaded Poland. At that stage it was the 1st, no, it was the 1st of September, not the 3rd,
Germany had invaded Poland and headlines were that war was declared, Chamberlain has issued an ultimatum unless Germany is prepared to pull out within three days, a state of war will exist between England and Germany. I think he genuinely believed that Germany wouldn’t take due notice of his caution.
As we all know Germany thumbed its nose at Chamberlain and the next headline in the paper was “Chamberlain declares war on Germany,” and as Herr Hitler did not respond to our ultimatum a state of war now exists between Britain and Germany
which in those days included the British Empire. They weren’t especially asked, but it was assumed that they did. Robert Gordon Menzies got up and pontificated that Australia was also at war with Germany and we would do everything in our power to support the homeland.
Things got underway to call up for the AIF. I don’t think the navy and the air force at that stage were more than a very token force.
Given that your Dad served in World War I, did he say anything to you about enlisting or not enlisting in respect of the war?
He said, “You’re 18, you probably
will want to enlist. If you take my advice you won’t, but I won’t stand in your way.” My mother was actively against it.
Why was that?
She didn’t believe in war. She’d lived through the First War and saw many of her friends killed and
saw the troops going off and not coming back and she was very anti-war.
How did you broach the subject with your Mum when you finally did enlist?
Well, I said I did want to enlist and subsequently it was said, “Well, it’s your decision.
Your mother doesn’t want it. I won’t stand in your way.” He duly signed the papers and I sent them in to the air force and also, when I didn’t get an immediate reply I thought, “Oh, I’ve applied, I’ll be in next week,” but weeks went by and nothing happened. So I saw
an ad in the paper. They were calling for cadet midshipmen at Flinders Naval Base, so I put in an application for that, and subsequently got a reply and filled in all the forms and that’s the last I heard of that for a month.
So the air force were the first to get back to you before the navy got back to you I take it?
Subsequently I had the letter from the air force to report to the recruiting depot
at Newcastle, came back with the Air Force Reserve badge. A week later I got a letter from the navy saying “Report to Flinders.” So I said, “You’re too late mate.”
So the army never entered into your thinking?
No. No, I think it was the fact that my father was air force that air force was number one.
Now you really, one of the first courses you did was the Morse code course, understanding how to send and receive messages. How long did that take you to actually get on top of the Morse code and understand?
It took about two and a half months. A group of about 10 of us I think it was, at night we’d go after work, we’d go to the schoolroom
at the high school where they held these Morse classes and we’d have a teacher there who used to tell us how the Morse key worked, and it worked, how to position your wrist on the key to send and how to do it correctly. I think for the first work we actually got to two words a minute, ditting and dahing. The first thing of course was familiarising
yourself with the Morse alphabet which did take quite a bit of time. You got the dits and dahs mixed up, but after 10 weeks we did pass out at 10 words a minute.
And once you finished the course you never used it again?
Why was that? There was no need in the air force?
Well there was no need. The people, you had to know in case of an emergency,
but the only person that used it was the wireless operator. That was his baby.
So when you were finally actually called up that was to Bradfield Park, was it?
To Bradfield Park.
Can you share the story from there, going to Bradfield Park and what happened?
Well, going from home where I had my own room and everything was
looked after for me, clothes were washed and ironed, dinner was on the table when I was there. At Bradfield it was with hundreds of other people of the intake. I think there was about, A, B, C, D, E and F Flights, different
days of intake were different flights categorised as what you were going to be as to which flight you were going to be in, and you went into these enormous dormitories with a bed which was an iron bed with a palliasse which was a bag filled with straw, a mattress, a blanket, a pillow
and eating utensils. You’re told, “Go to it, make your bed.” There was your cupboard, and that’s your life for the next three months.
Before you actually got to Bradfield Park do you remember what you packed to take with you?
Well, you didn’t pack anything really apart from what you stood up in. As soon as you got there you were
kitted out in air force gear which was basically a pair of overalls, a few socks, underwear, shirts and a uniform. We’re very proud of the fact that our caps had a white flash in them, which indicated that you were air trainee.
And what were they trying to achieve in training you at Bradfield Park?
Having got to Bradfield, having been accepted as aircrew you were at a certain educational standard and the purpose of Bradfield Park was to accustom you to air force discipline, life, and the morning was spent mainly in drill and things like that which probably was very good to us. We didn’t think so at the time.
In the afternoon we did classes in various subjects, aircraft recognition, things, maths and trigonometry and very basic things in navigation, and English and subjects that would enable the board that assessed us to find out
what category of aircrew we were most suitable for.
So was it you yourself that determined what you wanted to be, what category, or was it the board?
Everyone was asked what they’d like to be, the answer of course, “I want to be a pilot,” and that was fine. Everyone wanted to be a pilot. So the board duly noted that and you were assessed
probably, it couldn’t have been more than about a quarter of an hour because there were so many people running through board, and I was duly told that I had been assessed as a pilot.
When we use the term pilot, did everyone want to be a fighter pilot?
Oh yes, a fighter pilot. None of this bomber pilot business.
What was it about being a fighter pilot?
I suppose the First War was,
the fighter pilots were the only ones that got any publicity. They were the glamour boys. There were bomber pilots, yes, they also flew, but nobody ever knew much about them or heard much about them. It was always fighter pilots. Any air force movies were all fighter pilots. I remember as about a 15-year-old
my Dad took me to see, I’ve forgotten the name of the film now. It was all about the front on the first war on a squadron and the dog fights with the German air force and planes going down in flames and all that sort of thing. So everybody
wanted to be a fighter pilot.
Given that you were a country boy from Tamworth, did you have friends that you went in with at Bradfield Park or did you have to make new friends? How did you relate to people?
Mainly I was the only one that went out in that particular intake. You very soon made a circle of friends at Bradfield Park. They were
generally of an age group, say 70 per cent were under 21, and there was more groups, say 21 to 25, and a very small group up to about 28.
Now just before we move on from Bradfield Park the Japanese hit Pearl Harbor. Where were you at that stage? Had you gone to Bradfield Park or were you still working back in
I was working. That was the 7th of December 1941. I was on the reserve at that stage.
Did that change your perspectives of the war and where you wanted to go, instead of Europe, to the Pacific at all?
At that stage I don’t think I had any perspective of where I wanted to go, or I assumed we were going to Europe.
That was, everybody went to Europe so whether the Japanese war would change it hadn’t really been a consideration. Although obviously it did.
So after Bradfield Park, where did you go from there for training, or was that when you received the news of heading overseas?
Well having been categorised as a pilot, we were waiting for our posting to
Elementary Flying Training School. Before that happened we were on parade one morning and the CO [Commanding Officer] announced that there was a shortage of observers in the Empire Air Training School in Canada and anybody that volunteered would go overseas straight away, and the temptation of an overseas trip, even though I’d been
categorised as a pilot and I’d be missing out on being a pilot, going overseas, I was 19 at that stage, was too much. I’ll volunteer. So there was about seven of us volunteered in that particular group to take up the offer of going overseas. They said, “We’ll give you a week’s leave, and
within 10 days you’ll be off,” which we thought, “It’s a good story but we’ll see how it works out.” Took the week’s leave and we duly did go, well set off for overseas. Caught the train in Sydney and went to Melbourne and subsequently to Hobart and set off from there. I think we were the only contingent of air force that actually left from Hobart.
parents see you off at all?
What did they say to you?
“Look after yourself, son.” This was a very moving moment, to say goodbye to your life and all you’d grown up with knowing that your mother was
against it. She accepted it but she wasn’t happy.
Now I understand that the navy boys, when you cross the equator do all sorts of things, pranks and makes fellows who haven’t crossed the equator to first time do these sorts of things. Did you guys get up to anything or put through anything as you crossed the equator from New Zealand to Pearl Harbor?
Well it wasn’t
a navy ship.
We did have three navy people on board to man the fearsome six-inch ordnance on the back of the ship which didn’t subsequently, we found it didn’t work. No, we crossed the Dateline and it was announced over the tannoy [loudspeaker system] that we’d crossed the Dateline and “You’re now a guest of Captain Neptune.”
There was no ceremony. There were too many of us on board to worry about.
Cause any problems, that’s right. Any submarine danger come up as you were travelling?
Only as we left Hobart. Yes, Hobart. Half a day out there was apparently a submarine scare and instead of going straight from Hobart to Auckland we headed due south for a day to
get away from the, apparently there was a submarine in the area and we headed due south to get away from it which was a great shock because we were in summer gear.
Did you have any sort of lifeboat drill at the time?
Do you remember what it was?
Assemble at a particular spot, a particular lifeboat and hoped it worked.
you’ve touched briefly on Pearl Harbor, but can you now just take me through just what the sights and sounds and smells of Pearl Harbor when you got into the harbour?
The first thing that struck us was the sheer devastation of the base itself. It was a naval base and I think it was the Arizona, all you could see was
upside down, four propellers sticking out, and a ship shouldn’t be like that. It should be the other way up. There were various other wrecks around the place that were in a similar state of disarray. The general mess had been cleared up from the initial attack. The
American personnel were very busy doing whatever they were doing, re-establishing Pearl Harbor as a naval base. There were quite a lot of the American ships there. We pulled up at the wharf. I think we had to refuel or take on supplies. We weren’t allowed off the ship, but the American
army and navy people came down to the wharf and threw chocolate bars up at us but they mainly went in the water. We were too high up, so we got pieces of rope and sent our hats, we had the old digger’s hat at that stage, and tied a rope onto it and sent it down to wharf level and they filled it up with chocolate bars, cigarettes and anything that we needed. Pulled it up and
all they wanted in return was kangaroo pennies. Fortunately we had a reasonable supply of them. But Pearl Harbor at that stage was a real hive of activity. There were things going on 24 hours a day. We didn’t know what they were but things were happening and we were not allowed
to photograph anything or send letters ashore or anything like that. We were there and just keep separate, keep out of it.
So how long were you actually there for?
Only about a day.
And the reason you weren’t allowed off the ship is because everything was being reconstructed?
Being reconstructed and they didn’t want a group of Australian tourists around the place. We also had on that ship a lot of German POWs that had been captured in the Middle East and they were being taken to the prison camps in Canada, so they were a high security risk. They had a British Army, it was a British
run ship with British Army on board, and they had full control of the prisoners and what they did, where they did it and how they did it. They were allowed on deck for a couple of hours a day for exercise, but on a different part of the ship to where we were.
You guys never mixed with them at all?
Never. Never saw them. We knew they were there,
but that was it.
Was anyone interested in meeting them, just to see what the enemy was like?
We didn’t have any opportunity at all. They were completely segregated. We probably would’ve enjoyed meeting them, yes, but it wasn’t a consideration.
So from Pearl Harbor you went to San Francisco, is that right?
Just during this journey was anyone seasick or
It was one of the few occasions where it was so smooth, there was hardly a ripple on the water for the whole way. The worst sea trip I ever did was from Melbourne to Launceston when we were going from Melbourne to catch the Ile de France. That was rough.
No fortunately. I managed to not be sick. I wasn’t happy.
Now you’ve shared with us a bit about how you got to Canada, when did you actually start to get into training? Was that at Edmonton?
No. We spent about a week in Edmonton just orienting ourselves and for the
Canadian air force to take us on board, getting the paperwork done which I suppose is inevitable in every situation, and then we were transferred down to Lethbridge which is a couple of hundred miles south of Edmonton for our bombing and gunnery training.
Now at this stage you hadn’t actually been up in a plane yet?
I had been in the ’30s, when Kingsford Smith was barnstorming the country I went up with him in the Southern Cross.
Okay, can you just tell me briefly about that?
That was in, probably about 1935 and he was, probably him and Ulm. They were trying to make their expenses by flying the Southern Cross around all the country
towns and running joy flights for five shillings a time, and they came to Tamworth and all the locals duly went up at five shillings a time, and my father said, “Here’s five shillings, you can have a flight.”
So your dad didn’t go up with you?
Was five shillings a lot?
Five shillings was, well, the basic wage I think was probably about 30 shillings a week. Five
shillings was a lot of money.
And did you get to meet Kingsford Smith?
Oh, not personally. He welcomed us on board, took about 10 people. He said, “Welcome aboard, we’ll fly around the town a couple of times and come in to land,” and that was it. It wasn’t a big deal subsequently, but at the time it really was something.
Back to Canada, the gunnery
Bombing and gunnery.
Bombing and gunnery course, can you tell me a bit about that?
The aircraft there were mainly Ansons, which were a frontline aircraft in about 1932. They were a very solid reliable aircraft, nothing startling about them. They would fly and, reliable, is a good word for
it, and we did our…
I’ll actually just hold you there because the tape’s come to an end.
Interviewee: Keith Campbell Archive ID 1514 Tape 03
Sorry Keith, you were just telling us about the Avro Anson. Can you just describe a little bit more about how that plane was used in training again?
It was a good plane for training purposes. It flew straight and level. It had a pilot and
about four others, four trainees, had a bomb sight in the front, and we took off with a supply of practice bombs and we had to find the target, and using the bomb sight to get the best results we could, except that firstly we had to find a wind which meant
that you could do with a bomb sight of flying three directions of a triangle and calculating a wind from that, which the pilot set on his compass, and it was duly put on the bomb sight which enabled you to drop the bombs correctly.
You had been designated a bomb aimer by this stage
rather than a navigator? When did that split
And was it a random thing? How did it happen?
I think it happened on your maths results. The ones with the higher maths were categorised as navigators and half were navigators and half were bomb aimers.
I get a sense of how you felt about this at the time. I mean obviously as you said, everyone wanted to be a pilot, but then you’ve chosen to become an observer and now a bomb aimer. What were your thoughts on being made the bomb aimer at that stage?
I was quite happy. It was aircrew and we received an O wing, which was an observer’s wing. When we were finally given your wings we were classified as Observers
B, officially. We became bomb aimers or navigators in the UK, but that was the way we were classified at the time.
What special skills did the bomb aimer need? You mentioned maths was handy?
Well, maths didn’t really come into it a lot. Everything was
fairly basic. Trigonometry was fine, you could use trigonometry to calculate the wind speed and direction. It didn’t require you to be an Einstein to do that.
The bomb sights you were using in training on the Ansons, were these similar to the ones you would use throughout
No. They were a very good bomb sight.
Can you describe, well, we’ll start with these ones you were using in training. Can you describe what they were and how they worked?
Well basically as I say, they were an angle with a sight at the top of one angle and a sight at the end of the other pilot angle, and you had to sight through the top,
through the bottom, to the target, and the angle of those two sights were determined by your wind speed and direction.
And how would you put those into the sight? What was the controls you had?
Mechanically, a knob. I’ve forgotten mainly how, it was so long ago.
you’ve described it as an angle, what did it look like as a contraption? If you were looking down at one now how would you describe it?
As an angle.
Okay, two pieces of?
Two pieces of, well, a piece going up like that and piece going up like that. A piece, vertical piece being graduated,
the horizontal piece having two lines between which you ran the target. You told the pilot what, to bring the aircraft around so the lines on the bomb sight which were on the horizontal part of the bomb sight was about
say 10 inches long and had these two parallel lines, and the aircraft had to fly so the target was always within those two parallel lines, and when the two sights and the target came into line that was when you pressed the button. It was so long ago now I’ve forgotten most of it.
These are very good details
because the archive, as we mentioned before, is very interested in the details and this is not something we have a lot of already, so I might ask you a lot of questions. Take up mechanical details. The vertical part of the bomb sight had graduations on it, what were they? What was on the vertical part of the bomb sight?
I just can’t remember.
That’s all right. It’s a long time ago. You missions then: of your standard training was to go out and bomb
What were the targets?
In a field you might have a circle or concentric circles or literally a target, and you flew over that at possibly 3,000 or 4,000 feet, and four of us in the aircraft would take it in turns to drop I think three bombs each, which were 10
pound practice bombs and you came over the target and when all the sights lined up, pressed the button. Off went the bomb and you watched it go down and see how far out you were. All they did, when it hit the ground, it had a little puff of smoke, and there was a target or two huts on the ground with observers in them and they would cross
check the puff of smoke in relation to the target itself to see how accurate your bombing was.
How accurate were those early bombing runs that you and the other observers?
A lot of it initially was luck. I think the second time I got a very close one and the third one was way out. Subsequently it,
you did achieve some reasonable degree of accuracy, depending entirely on how accurately you calculated the wind speed and direction.
Who were the pilots for these test runs?
The pilots at that stage were civilians. The RCAF for reasons best known to themselves employed civilian pilots for the
training. They were mainly the old pilots that used to run the mails and mail runs and things like that and supplies in northern Canada. They were a very, well, older person and very very efficient. It was a very boring job for them to
fly around straight and level with a bunch of kids from Australia. They were very good to us. They helped us as much as they could.
Where were your instructors based? Were they on the ground with the target?
No. The instructors were at Lethbridge. We used to fly when the day was suitable for flying and generally in the
morning. In the afternoon we’d do lessons and the instructors were permanent air force, Canadian air force personnel.
What were the types of things they were teaching you on the ground?
bomb, how a bomb fell, the effect of wind on the bomb, the impact of speed of the aircraft on the bomb, how it would fall, the trajectory of the bomb and what speed it initially had, and when it fell, its trajectory, what speed it would be.
All that was incorporated into this bomb sight.
Were there any other pieces of equipment that you needed to use apart from the bomb sight we talked about already?
Not in the bombing course. We did about a week of gunnery.
What was the set up? Can you just briefly describe what was at Lethbridge? You had classrooms
during the day, where were you sleeping, what were the conditions like?
It was an air force station. We were sleeping in barracks and parade ground every morning and if the weather was suitable we’d fly, and if not, we’d do classes. It was quite a thing for a bunch of Australians that had lived in New South Wales to be in the middle of
a Canadian winter, 10 feet of snow outside the barracks. It took some getting used to make sure that your ears were covered. If they weren’t and you were out in the cold for too long they’d literally freeze.
How well prepared were in terms of uniform and preparations for dealing with the weather?
Oh, we had greatcoats and
the Canadian hats had earflaps on them. They weren’t the forage caps that we had here. They were more like a Sherlock Holmes hat, forward and aft and earflaps that you could pull down and buckle under your chin, which was very necessary in that climate. The barracks themselves and all
classrooms and vehicles were centrally heated.
Apart from the hats though, you wore the Australian blue air force uniform?
Yes, the Canadians, we were the only air force that had the dark blue which was very distinctive.
Who else was on that course with you? I mean you must’ve been quite close to the other observers, you were training with them every
There were, it was a mixed course of Australian and New Zealanders. The New Zealanders we picked up in Auckland, they were on the same course and generally they were of an age group. I think the eldest chap on our particular course was about 26. Mainly were
21 and under.
Were there any particular mates that you made during your time in Canada?
Yes. Two or three that I knew very well, met, well, from Bradfield Park. One was on the same course as I was and another one was categorised as a navigator and he went to a different station.
Were you confined to the base all the time? What social or outside dealings?
We were allowed to go to Lethbridge in the evening, or if there was nothing doing we were allowed to go there. It was a small provincial Canadian town.
What would you do in Lethbridge if you had an evening off?
Go to a cinema, go to a dance.
the local population’s response to all these air force recruits?
They made us very very welcome, invited us to their homes and the girls were very keen to go out with us.
Was it gunnery at Lethbridge as well or did you go back to Edmonton?
No, gunnery, we did that at Lethbridge also.
Can you describe the gunnery course and what they trained you there?
Yes. They had a,
I think it was Boeing Brokes we did our gunnery in, which was a similar twin-engines aircraft to the Anson but possibly a bit more recent. They were chosen because they had a turret and any gunnery we were going to subsequently do would be with a turret, which was operated with a joy stick, and I think they had
two guns. We’d fly up, I think probably three or four of us in the same aircraft, and another aircraft would fly 400 or 500 feet in front of us and tow a drogue. We were supposed to fire off say 100 rounds at this drogue and with the best of luck hit it. Each person had,
their rounds had, a different colour on them so they could differentiate as to who actually hit the target. I think I could [put] three out of 100 [into the target] which was considered good. But that was only, I think we only did about three flights.
What made that so difficult? What were the hardest things?
None of us ever had much to do with shooting. You had to allow for
shooting in the air which involved the affect of speed and wind on the bullet, how much the bullet would drop in the distance that you were firing, and how much deflection to allow. We didn’t do a great deal of gunnery apart from the theory of gunnery and a
very little bit of practical.
You mentioned how the cold was a bit of a shock to you. What were the conditions like up in the air? Was it worse?
Well we had flying suits, so they kept us warm. The aircraft was heated which worked to some extent. Sometimes it was cold when it didn’t work and sometimes it was extremely
hot when it was working too well.
Can you describe the flying suits you were wearing?
They were a neck to knee type of, I think they’re called secret flying suits. Fur lined around the neck, I think they were lined inside. They
were just, well, a flying suit, a type of overall. They zipped up in all the appropriate places, had pockets where you thought you were going to need a pocket to put maps and other such equipment. I think you had your navigation computer in another pocket, similar to the types,
to some of the shorts that are worn now with vast pockets down the legs.
We’ll talk a bit more about navigation course in a moment, but the navigation computers is not what people today would imagine a navigation computer is. Can you just describe what you’re talking about there?
I’ve forgotten mainly. It was a Dalton computer, which was a machine probably about eight inches by
five inches by two inches with a dial on it which you could set wind speed, direction and height and other such data, and twiddle the knobs and the dials come up with a course.
Come to the navigation course I might talk a bit more about that. What other things
shocked you? I mean you mentioned the cold was one thing the Australians had difficulty getting used to, is there anything else that surprised you about what you were now embarking on?
In what way?
Well the discipline of the air force, the things that weren’t the same in Australia, or weren’t the same in civilian life.
Well the service part of it was the same everywhere. The discipline we accepted as necessary, which it was,
and by and large the aircrew training was very free. We were supposed to do the things, we were supposed to study and achieve the results we were expected to achieve. If you didn’t, you were thrown out. It
wasn’t a prospect we looked forward to, so we did study and we did try to do our best on the course.
Was there an element of Australian larrikinism to those recruits?
Not to a great extent, no. Not on duty anyway. They played up a bit in town.
What was your reputation like with the Canadian air force?
We were accepted as trainees.
There was no difference between the national groups, do you think, or the New Zealanders or the Australians?
What training accidents were there during your time training at all anywhere?
Generally in training the accident rate was quite heavy. The aircraft were old and maintained at the best they could.
Most of the top skilled personnel had gone to England and training command was secondary as far as equipment went, which was normal. There were crashes and accidents. Our course was extremely important that we didn’t have any accidents for that particular course.
It wasn’t unusual for one or two aircraft to crash with or without casualties.
What safety precautions were there for trainees up in the air?
And what were you taught about baling out or what you might need to do?
Jump out and pull the ripcord.
That was the extent of it at the time?
Well, basically that’s all. I think we’d done some trial jumps from the ground, climbing up a tower and jumping down. We were told how to jump out, how to pull the ripcord after about the count of 10, and how to land.
“That’s how to do it and we hope you don’t have to use it.”
How difficult was it to get out of the Ansons for example?
If you just had to get [out] in normal circumstances it wasn’t a problem. If there was a problem it could be difficult. There wasn’t a door
as such. It was a hatch. You just had to line up and get out which was the way with most service aircraft.
After Lethbridge you moved back to Edmonton for the navigation course, or where did you go for that?
Back to Edmonton.
What was the set up for the navigation course?
Similar to the bombing.
We’d have an Anson with about three or four people in it and we’d each have a turn at navigating the Anson across the featureless prairies of Canada. The main pinpoints in Canada were railway lines and wheat silos. Not very many towns in the north west of Canada.
You already talked about how difficult that was, flying over snow, but how did you find your way around? What were you being taught about how to navigate there?
Well you were given a map and a course to fly and you had your computer and you did your best to give the pilot the,
having found the wind speed and direction, to give the pilot the correct course to fly. If you got too far off course he’d say, “Bring it back a bit.” They’d flown over the course so many times that they could fly it blindfold. But we’d do our, probably about 20 minutes navigation each and
see how far away we were from the final pinpoint we were supposed to arrive at.
What was your personal success like at navigation?
What happened if you weren’t at the place you were supposed to be?
The pilot would fly the aircraft back to where you should be.
These are the same type of pilots you talked about before?
The bush pilots, yeah.
They were very good. They helped us out a lot.
Was that dead-reckoning? Is that what we’re talking about there?
Were there any other types of navigation taught to you at any stage?
Yes, sextant, which is still dead-reckoning.
Were you taking star signs?
Taking star shots.
OK. How does that work?
The way we did it was, I think we had to take about 30 or 40 star shots before we could qualify. So at night we used to sit on the steps of the hut, find a nice convenient star and take shots of it. Taking a shot of a star means getting the sextant and lining the star up in the quadrant
and metering the angle and using those measurements in the star tables to calculate where you were. Same principle applied, take three shots and average them out and that’s where you were hopefully.
In the aircraft you were doing it, they had an astrodome and you stood in the astrodome and did your star shots from there. It was much more difficult in the aircraft because it was not necessarily a stable platform. That was the, I think it was
a new type of sextant we were using. It took multiple shots and it automatically averaged those shots out, and you did three of those and it gave a fairly accurate, or quite an accurate position to where you were. We positioned our huts many times.
You mentioned that navigation computer before and the sextant, any other pieces of equipment you were introduced to at this stage?
Not really. You had your ruler, your pencil, your protractor and your dividers and things like that to plot your course on the map. A little table about 18 inches by 12 inches with a map on it and your course on there and that was the course
that you were supposed to fly, and you plotted the course that you actually did fly which hopefully would be the same.
Why was it important to learn both navigation and bomb aiming? What was the role you were planning to be taking up?
Well, subsequently on operations if you were attacked and someone was hit or killed you had to be able to
take over the other person’s job.
Were there smaller aircraft still that you might be sent to that needed an observer that did both roles?
Yes, the tactical air force you probably did both roles. Bomber Command it was, there were seven people in the crew.
What did you know about where you were being prepared to be sent while you
were in Canada?
All you knew you were going to be, if you passed you’d get your wings, you would go to the holding depot at Halifax, be sent to UK, go to Brighton and from there you’d do your advanced training, and the results of the advanced training, excuse me, the results of the advanced training and
the needs of the service determined where you were going to go.
It was likely you’d end up in Bomber Command?
How did you feel about that, what did you know about what was going on in Bomber Command at the time?
Well you knew it was a very dicey existence, but you accepted that; otherwise you wouldn’t be there.
It was a very dicey existence indeed at that stage. Were these figures released to you about the casualties?
Oh yes. We knew that you had about a one in 10 chance of finishing an operation, which consisted of 30, or a tour of operations which consisted of 30 trips.
Were there any failures in training,
any recruits that didn’t stand up to the task?
Probably about 5 per cent.
And what would be the basis of that failure usually?
Airsick, they couldn’t cope with the course, they weren’t well, mentally adjusted to it or they
just weren’t suitable.
How much of a problem was airsickness for you?
I was never troubled by it.
Was it ever a problem when you were up in a plane with other observers that they were troubled by it?
What could you physically do in a small training plane when someone was airsick?
Hope that you had a bag with you.
There were none provided especially for that?
Oh, there were, yes.
Occasionally someone was sick over the plane and they were most unpopular when they got down. It was one of those things when you were sick you cleaned up your own mess.
I can imagine your experience, a mail pilot wouldn’t have much truck for people being airsick in their planes?
Well they were only the pilot, but
it was the ground staff that had to cope with it.
What was your relationship like, recruits with other areas? For instance, you mentioned the ground staff and the mail pilots we’ve already talked about.
In training we didn’t have a lot to do with them. It was, all we did was kept together as a course. We worked together, studied together, slept in the same barracks and
the ground staff and station staff were a completely separate entity, mainly because they, that was the way the school worked. You met them on the station but you didn’t have a lot to do with them.
Who influenced you the most
during your training? Were there any instructors or mentor figures that stand out?
No, not really.
Any other events that happened at Edmonton while you were there that still stand out in your mind?
It was a very pleasant city to be, a big provincial city. It was the capital of British Columbia, [correction]of Alberta,
and the people were very very friendly. We had much more free time there at night and the local families invited us to their homes and took us to entertainments and the YMCA [Young Men’s Christian Association] was very active and they generally made us very very
What were you impressions of Canada as to how it differed from Australia?
It couldn’t have differed more. From a sunburnt country to a land of endless snow. Flying over Canada in the winter it was literally snow, snow, snow and we were close to the, Alberta was close to the Rockies
and Lethbridge especially was, our training flights would fly parallel to the Rockies. You’d see these enormous hunks of rock sticking up in the air way above the aircraft covered with snow and with rock sticking out here and there. They’re mountains. Nothing like our Great Dividing Range, which is a high mountain of 2,000 or 3,000 feet.
Obviously the physical
differences are huge. What about the people, the cultural differences? Is there anything that you found about Canadians?
We very soon found out that certain expressions which were normal in Australia were very much taboo in Canada.
Well if you say you were knocked up, that meant you were tired. There it meant you were up the spout [pregnant],which didn’t go well with saying it quite innocently
to a girl and she took an entirely different meaning of it.
Any other expressions that come to mind?
No, not really. There were others but I just don’t remember them. That was one of the major ones you very soon found to avoid.
It’s a great example. If any more of that kind of thing comes up it’s great to mention it because it’s not the kind of thing that gets recorded in history, the way people use their slang
or that kind of thing.
Our slang was quite different to theirs.
Any particular air force slang that you picked up while you were training?
Quite a lot: ‘wizard prangs’ and ‘dicey dos’ and things like that.
What were they referring to?
Very successful outcome, or a dicey do was an operation where you were shot up and copped a lot of flak
or got coned by searchlights, things like that.
OK, we’ll talk more about wizard prangs and dicey dos in a minute, but we’ll stop and change the tape before we do.
Interviewee: Keith Campbell Archive ID 1514 Tape 04
You mentioned before a rather impressive wings presentation, graduation. Can you tell us in a bit more detail about that
and what happened?
Well the course was the, bomb aimers and the navigators were lined up in this huge Canadian ice skating stadium. I think it was ice skating, it was a huge stadium anyway, in Edmonton, and for some reason or other it was going to be, for want of a better word, propaganda ceremony and an American general, I’ve got no idea who he was,
was invited to present the wings and we were all lined up in the centre of this stadium. The public were seated around and the Canadian air force people were there and we were just called up to this dais where this American general duly pinned our wings on,
saluted, and back to base, back to our position. You’ll see what it is when you see the photo.
You’ve said that that was a particularly proud moment for you. What did it mean to have those wings on your chest?
Oh, silver wings in the moonlight. It meant the culmination of the achievement. You had something that since the time we had,
or the time I had wanted to join the air force I had finally made it. I’d achieved those wings for a year of training, effort and determination.
Where did the expression silver wings in the moonlight come from?
Oh, it was a song at the time.
And what were the words of that song?
“Silver wings in the moonlight, Silver bird in
the sky.” I’ve forgotten now. It was one of the glamour songs at the time.
Was there an element of glamour to having those wings?
Yes, it was. You were aircrew.
And how were they looked upon by the young ladies or the others of non-aircrew people?
Well we used to think that they were
a desirable acquisition. We did learn to very much respect the ground crew, many of whom wanted to be aircrew but couldn’t because their services as ground crew were too valuable. So we were very fortunate to have been
selected as potential aircrew.
You mention after the graduation you spent some time travelling, 10 days travelling through the States, your uniform made you a bit of a rarity. Why was it that you were so popular do you think?
Well the Americans are very warm-hearted hospitable people. They were then, I can’t say what they are now. I think they still are.
But the Australian and New Zealand uniform were something that was very unusual in mainly central [middle] America. They’d just never seen them before. People used to come up and ask us who were we, what were we and what we were doing and why, and “Well, you better come home and have dinner with us or stay with us.” Invitations
like that were normal. They were extremely hospitable and couldn’t do enough for us. You couldn’t spend money.
I’m sure you took great advantage of that. Any particular examples of hospitality that still stand out from that trip?
in New York. We had I think about four days in New York and we went around the, we heard all about the New York nightclubs and things like that. We did go to a nightclub and I think Jimmy Durante was performing and he came over to our, there was about six of us, came over to our table and bought us drinks and called over a few of the glamour girls to
be with us, and generally had a wonderful time there. There was also another group of people, mainly younger girls who had, I forget what it was called, just say a group that would take ex-service people around New York and show them the sights and
various things like that and they were very good to us. They used to take us to the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Centre, see the Rockettes and the Statue of Liberty and Staten Island and things that, the tourist things you do in New York and at night they’d take us to nightclubs and
introduce us to famous people. It was, for someone that was well, 19 years old, it was quite an experience.
How evident was the war in a place like America or New York?
Very distant. You read the papers, you knew there was a war on.
You read about the bombing raids in Germany, the Luftwaffe [German air force], the German Fleet, well the activities that were going on in Europe at the time. They didn’t impact on you personally, you knew they were there. Their way of life in America, there was very little difference
for the Americans. They were geared up to a war footing but there was no shortage of food, no shortage of entertainment, lights were on everywhere and there was no apparent war recognition. They knew it was on of course, the headlines in the paper and
in the country there were the war factories. Where we were, it could just as easy be peacetime. One of the things that did impress us, we went for a haircut and it cost $10 which was about a week’s pay, and the New York Times was, you needed a wheelbarrow to
take it home.
When you look back at those times now, especially that great time in New York, is that coloured by what was to come? Was it a last sort of hurrah of freedom and fun before you set off on something a lot more…
It was a different type of fun. It was plenty of, well everything, food, entertainment,
lights and no travel restrictions. Peacetime to wartime, although they were at war, certainly.
Were there any instances that you remember feeling apprehensive about what you were going in to do?
I think it was one of those things that you didn’t think about. I didn’t.
I thought about it, knew about it, recognised it, but didn’t want to talk about it. You knew it was there and enjoy what you have while you have it.
What was your parents’,
particularly your father’s, reaction to you receiving your wings? Did you have any cause to get mail or contact from them at the time?
Oh yes, we got mail all the time. Congratulations and a £10 money order, congratulations. I’m sure they were very proud that I did get them. I got my picture in the local paper.
Was there any sense that you had about their own feelings about you being away from the letters you got?
They certainly did miss me and tried not to make it too apparent. Bring me up to date with local news, local people and events.
There’s something I might’ve missed when you were talking to Michael [interviewer] about your childhood, did you have any brothers or sisters?
No, I was the only one.
And what about friends or family friends or people who’d gone away to serve as well? Were there any close people that you knew that were also overseas?
Oh yes, there was quite a few that I knew that had enlisted. They didn’t, some were in the army
and some were also in the air force. As it turned out the air force ones that I knew all went to New Guinea or the Pacific area. Same with the army, they went to the Pacific area.
Is there a particular person that might not have come back that news of their death was brought to you at any time?
When did that happen?
That was in England.
Who was the person involved?
A chap that I went to school with. He’d been killed in New Guinea.
How did that news affect you and the reality of what you were doing?
So many people were being killed
around you at the time, you accepted it with regret and sorrow that someone personally known to you had been killed, but it wasn’t something that would’ve affected you as much as it would’ve in peacetime.
Does your own sort of sense of
immortality waiver at all on hearing news of a personal friend had died?
You had the philosophy it happens to someone else, it doesn’t happen to me, knowing full well that it could.
I’ve heard other people say that, especially people involved in something as dangerous as Bomber Command and I find it quite difficult to believe, but I guess that’s something to do with being young?
You had to have a philosophy like that. If you thought, “Tonight I might get killed,” you wouldn’t last.
Was there a sense that the young like yourself were somewhat better off in that respect?
More responsible. No, that’s the wrong word. More philosophical, I suppose.
We were young, we’d achieved what we set out to achieve. We were doing what we thought at the time was necessary. We didn’t have any direct responsibilities, or I didn’t. Some of the people that did have responsibilities such as the older ones that were married with families, I think it would’ve been a very hard life for them.
But not having direct responsibilities, you could accept a lot more.
What happened when you arrived in England? Can you take us through the story from there? You went from Brighton to the holding depot, what happened after that?
We arrived at Brighton. We spent about three weeks in Brighton waiting for a place to
become vacant at, one of the advanced flying units, and we had a wonderful time in Brighton. We had nothing to do. Providing we were there in the morning they didn’t want to know about us. We could do what we liked. We could wander around the countryside, we could go to cinemas, dances, go to a pub or virtually what we liked.
If we were wanted they would tell us. In the mornings we were supposed to go for a route march but we’d start off and after about the first half mile slowly disappear, reappear the next morning. Pre-war it was a place where Londoners went for their weekends, a seaside resort
The beach was pebbles with rolls of barbed wire. The usual British pier was there but it was chopped off half way so in the invasion you couldn’t use it. It was a wartime town, which was subject to occasional raids by the Luftwaffe.
any air raids while you were there?
There was one, yes. A Wulf [Focke-Wulf] came over and fired a few shots and went off. Enemy fighters came over, it wasn’t an air raid as such.
How did this new wartime setting affect you? As you said Canada and America had been peacetime by comparison?
Well England from the time we hit it was [in] darkness.
It was the main factor. There was a complete blackout. At night everything was blacked out. Car headlights had hoods on them and there was very little traffic. Petrol rationing was 100 per cent. Petrol was only available for essential purposes. Transport
was very very crowded. There were, most of the population seemed to be in uniform. There were uniforms from every country in the world there. Some of the Polish uniforms were so like the German uniforms that you thought the Germans had arrived, but it was a country at war.
What was the morale like amongst the population?
Generally good. This was well after the Blitz, this was in 1943 and they were just at the stage where we were beginning to fight back. Soon after that Italy had capitulated which was a great morale booster and
Britain in wartime was a different country, completely different to what we’d known in Australia or Canada. Everything was oriented towards the war.
I’ve heard people say that despite those hardships it was somehow a better place in some ways as well in terms of how people treated each other and in
A lot of the English reserve was broken down. People were, at night in London, they’d congregate in the tube stations and they had to be at least friendly. It was for many, it was a troglodyte existence. For
many months, even years, they lived in the tube stations or even shelters, especially when the Luftwaffe had their assault on the British cities. The devastation on some of those cities was absolute.
What did you see of London when you arrived in England?
Houses of Parliament.
Did you go up there regularly from Brighton or what chance did you have?
It was only an hour’s run from Brighton. We used to go up to London for the day, mainly sightseeing. We’d heard so much about London. We wanted to see the Houses of Parliament, we wanted to see St Paul’s Cathedral, we wanted to see the River Thames and all the other things that we’d read about, all the railway stations
with all the expresses there. Certainly there weren’t expresses in the wartime, but the trains were there and London was a very very fascinating place.
What was the damage like in a city like London from the bombing?
Mainly in the East End where the docks were. It was a vast amount of damage. Buildings were
just shells. The main part of London fortunately wasn’t too badly damaged. The industrial part was.
Where did Australian servicemen go when you went to London?
To Kodak, Kodak House was the Australian
Headquarters. Australia House ran the, what’s the, Boomerang Club in the basement of Australia House which was a, everyone went there to catch up on home news, local news, to meet friends. If we were in London you always went to Kodak House and the Boomerang Club.
People from other squadrons and other areas all came there at some stage and you could leave a message there, I’ll meet you at 2 o’clock at the Boomerang Club tomorrow, or something like that. You could get something to eat there, have a shower, freshen up or write letters. There was the [Australian] Comforts Fund there. It was a little bit of Australia
in London. Of course, there were the various pubs around there, Codgets was the local hostelry. Most of the Australians used to go there.
What was that called again?
Where was that, near Kodak House?
Near The Strand. It was off, somewhere around in that
vicinity, in a laneway. from memory.
How much did air force men or aircrew like yourself mix with other services, or did you mainly hang out with other air force people?
Generally with other air force, but we were quite happy to mix and fraternise shall we say with others. It wasn’t a closed shop, especially with the
What do you mean by that?
Well there was the WAAF [Women’s Auxiliary Air Force] over there. There was the ATS [Advanced Training Section] girls and the Wrens [Women’s Royal Naval Service].
They weren’t loyal to their own services?
Not especially, no.
Were you inexperienced in the ways of women at that stage?
And what did you learn
from being in London during the war or being in England?
How to keep out of trouble.
How do you keep out of trouble?
Or how to keep out of trouble. It’s a very wide statement, but you’d have a good time without necessarily being involved.
Were the women of the same frame of mind do you
A lot of them, yes. They were, wanted a good time, yes. They had a hard life. They were, the civilians particularly. They had severe food rationing. Everything was rationed and if they could have a good time at night, well they looked forward to it.
How did you have
a good time? What things did you do?
You’d go to a cinema, go to a dance, go to the pub. An English pub was a completely different thing to what was then an Australian pub. It was a meeting place, entertainment, it was like a huge lounge room. Not the horrible things that we called pubs out here
in the 1940s, which I don’t think at that stage I’d been in more than twice. The English pubs were small, hospitable, pleasant places to be. You didn’t necessarily go there to drink much. Out here the situation was the 6 o’clock closing and
the 6 o’clock swill [hurried drinking after work] as it was in those days. There it was just a pleasant place and there were a lot more of them.
Just to get a wider… social things, a question we always ask about the time, did you think that the hardships in wartime England contributed to a sort of moral relaxation, specifically amongst the sexual relations between men and women?
With service people particularly, yes. I think the attitude of wartime relaxed morals considerably.
If somebody wanted to spend the night with a girl how would they go about doing it? Where would they go, were there hotels or what?
Or possibly the girl may have had a flat or a room.
Was that something that air force men particularly looked for in their time on leave?
All servicemen looked for it.
And were there places in London that renowned for that kind of thing?
The Strand Palace Hotel was a good hotel, but it was fairly
renowned for, if you wanted to book a room there it wasn’t a problem. One or two of us used to book a room there, but we used it as a base for ten of us.
You’d share it over the course of a night?
No, we’d all sleep there.
Two of us would book the room to save us, we didn’t have a lot of money so we’d just
kip on the floor or bring a blanket or two with us. Save a lot of money that way.
Was that frowned upon or was that the kind of place you could get away with it?
They just accepted it. We didn’t use any more of their facilities than we otherwise would’ve.
We better move on. I’d love to talk more about these social issues but we have to get back to the story. Your
OUT [Officer Training Unit] came through to Litchfield or what happened next, go navigation training?
From Brighton we went to an advanced flying unit which was still a, was still observers, navigators, pilots or whatever. We went to advanced flying unit to make us more proficient in our particular category and
spent about I think 10 weeks there at a place called Porhelly [?] [Porth Neigwl?] in north Wales and from there we went to the Operational Training Unit at Litchfield, or more specifically to Church Broughton which was a satellite of Litchfield.
Just on the AFU, to begin with what were you being trained there, was that more bombing and gunnery?
No, more bombing. More familiarising yourself with
map reading which was something we hadn’t done much in Canada because there was so much so there was nothing to map read with. We’d fly over England, Scotland and the north part, map reading, familiarising ourself with the English terrain,
doing more practice bombing. Mainly familiarising yourself with English conditions. Map reading was a very important part of the duties.
You mentioned before the equipment you used in, the Ansons you used in Canada were different to what you’d be eventually using. Was new equipment introduced at this stage to you or you were still on the training?
Still using the old mark 10
OK. Any other things about navigating in England especially that were unusual?
Fog, fog, fog. There were so many aircraft lost. You’d take off, you’d fly around and come back and there’d be ten tenths dense fog, and in Wales there was a very high mountain. I wouldn’t say high, Snowden was about 4,000 or 5,000 feet and it was quite literally littered with aircraft
that would come back and there’d be ten tenths cloud and you’d have to come down to get to your ’drome and so many hit the mountain. Sometimes you’d just abandon the aircraft and jump out. Again our course was most fortunate that we didn’t have any casualties on that particular course.
Who was on this course now? Were they similar?
Or the same people who’d come from Canada or you had a mixing of different nationalities?
No, they mainly were the some ones at AFU time.
There before you went to the OTU then you were still pretty much an Australian group?
Yes, Australian and New Zealanders, and we were all mainly the same category.
What happened then?
to OTU and the purpose of OTU was to familiarise yourself with operational conditions and to crew up. Crewing up meant that you got together as a flying crew, a pilot, a navigator, a bomb aimer, a wireless operator and a gunner, which were the norm for Wellington aircraft. It was
a very haphazard procedure. All these categories were put into a hangar. There’d be 30 or 40 pilots, navigators, bomb aimers and all the rest of various ranks. They’d just go to it, crew up, find yourself a crew. It seemed to be a very haphazard way of going about
something that was going to affect your future in a very major way. Oddly enough it worked out in about 90 per cent of cases. You went around and talked to someone and you like the look of them and they came from a place that you knew or you might’ve vaguely known them in peacetime or in training. You said, “Would you like to be my wireless operator?” You had a nucleus of two. You wandered
around and found a pilot or another nucleus, either two or three and you finally joined up as five people who became the crew of a Wellington.
Who did you usually crew up with at that stage?
They were all Australians. At Litchfield they were mainly Australians, a few New Zealanders and not very many
Was that crew then the crew you would end up flying with for the rest of the time?
That was the idea of it, yes.
And is that how it happened for you?
It happened for us, yes. In most cases it did work out. One of the purposes of OTU was to sort yourself out into crews, fly together for a period. If you couldn’t get on together, fine, you just went back and re-crewed with someone else. Did the same
process again, but oddly enough it did work out.
Did every member in your crew fit in? There wasn’t a misfit or someone who had to be changed?
There couldn’t be.
Who were the main members of that crew? For instance, who was the pilot?
Every member of the crew was the main member. The pilot was the captain, but each person’s life literally depended
on the other person as to when an emergency occurred. It might be the gunner whose expertise in sighting an enemy fighter and his ability meant that you either survived or you didn’t. Or if you had evasive action on the way in or out of a target or got lost in fog,
it was the navigator who was your, life depended on it, and the pilot of course was he of the king pin, but he was subject to the information he got from the other crew members.
Can you tell us a bit about the different personalities that were in your crew?
The pilot was a chap of about,
he was old, he was 27 and we were all single. None of us had commitments at that stage. Why I say that, we were five Australians on training. Jim was a very quiet chap, but as we found out later a very responsible sort of a person. The navigator was a chap from Sydney.
He’d done more or less the same as I had, gone to school, got his Leaving Certificate and started off in business. The chap, the rear gunner was from Perth and he’d started a pilot’s course and subsequently was scrubbed and re-mustered as a gunner. The wireless operator
was from Brisbane, more or less the same background. At OTU the first couple of weeks we flew with an instructor to familiarise ourselves with the various things that we had to do. Mainly the pilot on circuits and bumps and landing
a different type of aircraft and performing different activities in the air.
What were the main activities that you mentioned there?
Well, flying six hours across country which was a cross country flight on the same conditions as you would do on
operations. Had your maps and your course and your target and all the problems that you would have on an operational trip, apart from the enemy aircraft.
Your role within that crew was as bomb aimer. What did you do during that cross country (UNCLEAR)?
In a Wellington
I used to be second pilot. I was, and I did a lot of map reading to familiarise myself with the countryside and how to reconcile a map with the terrain, and to pinpoint towns and navigate by sight, which was a
very good way of doing things, but you also had to have the navigator there to get you out of trouble if you were at night.
Where were you? Were you with the navigator or with the pilot?
No. Some of the time I was with the pilot and the rest of the time I was at the front of the aircraft laying down on my stomach looking through the front down at the ground,
passing pinpoints to the navigator, saying, “Well in two minutes time we’re coming up to a town. It’s a big town, there’s a river going through it and it should appear on your map in two minutes.”
We’ll just stop there. We’ll talk a little bit more about the Wellington and then about the Halifax.
Interviewee: Keith Campbell Archive ID 1514 Tape 05
So, just coming back to flying the Wellington during your training period, you were the eyes of the observer and navigator? Is that the case?
To a great extent, yes. The navigator was sitting at his little table with his instruments
and by and large he didn’t look out.
You just called what was actually coming towards you as far as landmarks were concerned?
You also mentioned earlier that it was important to be able to cover each other’s jobs. To what extent did you learn the pilot’s duties or the navigation duties?
Well basic navigation we did in Canada, was fine. I could
hop in and do the navigator job if I had to. Wouldn’t produce a nice concise chart that he had, but I could plot a course, find a course and tell the pilot what to fly. I wouldn’t necessarily do it as well as he did.
So you’d get them in the general direction, is that what you’re saying?
Yeah, you’d get home.
Now you were, sorry?
And as far as the pilot went it was desirable that someone else in the crew could at least fly the plane.
Was that both you and the navigator?
Well, the first years of the war they used to have two pilots, but when the four-engine, I think probably from about ’41 on there was only one pilot.
Mainly because there was a shortage.
At this stage, once you were up and flying in the Wellington with the other fellows, was there any thought, you stopped to think and say, “Well I could’ve been a pilot but I’ve chosen a different path”? Any regret in that respect?
No, no. I suppose I would’ve liked to have been a pilot but I was quite happy doing what I was.
OK. So you were training in the Wellingtons. Was that what you were about to
go and fight with?
That was purely a training aircraft at that stage. They had been operational but they were phased out when the four-engined Halifaxes, Stirlings and Lancasters took over.
During this training period were you also practising with the bomb sight and dropping dummy bombs?
Can you talk us through some of those exercises?
On those cross country exercises we did
there was always a target and you had to navigate your way to the target. Treat it as an operation, excuse me, as an operation, and to duly bomb the target and hope that you were accurate. Your results were tabulated.
Now the bomb sights you shared with us earlier in Canada,
Exact same one?
At that stage.
OK. So what happened after this training period on the Wellington? Where did you go from there?
I think that took probably about three months, 10 weeks, I’ve forgotten now. Then you went to a conversion unit, which was mainly for the pilot to familiarise him with four-engined aircraft as against two-engined aircraft.
The aircraft on the training units were generally Halifax Mark 2s which was a Merlin-engined Halifax.
This is the first time you’ve actually gone onto the Halifax to start to train as a crew?
The same number of people, five?
No. At conversion unit we were allocated a mid upper gunner and a flight engineer. The Halifax,
being a bigger aircraft had another turret and an engineer to look after the petrol side, generally monitor the engines, change over petrol tanks and things like that. On some crews the flight engineer might’ve been the second pilot or knew enough to fly the aircraft.
A lot of those things were up to the individual crew as to who was doing what.
How did you meet these two other guys? Were they assigned?
They were just allocated.
So it’s a crew of seven now?
Seven people now.
Has anyone had any operational experience?
And from what country, are we talking mainly Australian New Zealand or?
There were five Australians. The engineer and the other gunner
were both English RAF [Royal air Force].
So how long was this process of changeover to a four-engine?
The conversion unit took a couple of months. It’s just what I remember. It wasn’t a long thing. It was mainly familiarising yourself with a four-engined aircraft and from the pilot’s and gunner’s point of view particularly,
how to operate under operational conditions. In other words, if a fighter got on your tail you had to get rid of him, which meant that you did what they call a “corkscrew” which is quite literally that. A very violent manoeuvre for a four-engined aircraft.
So given that was the call,
where would you be? Would you be strapped in at some position?
You hoped you were.
So again you’d be up the front?
Yes. If you weren’t, you’d float.
Was there a call that the pilot would make?
Generally in training, yes. In training you’d have a Hurricane or a Spitfire or something
doing simulated attacks and the gunners would give their commentary, “Fighter at 1,000 yards at port beam,” or whatever it was and he’d give a commentary to the pilot who would be prepared then to take evasive action, and the fighter would get within whatever range the gunner considered it was lethal
to both sides. He’d give the directions to the pilot, “Corkscrew port go,” or, “Prepare to corkscrew port, go,” and at that stage the aircraft would just literally do its aerobatics.
Do you remember the first time you guys practised this?
Yes, I wondered what was happening to me. We’d done a little bit in the Wellingtons but
not very much at all. It was quite an experience.
You were strapped in I take it?
At that stage yes, because we knew it was happening.
And then how does a pilot actually pull the plane out of, I take it it’s sort of a backward dive?
Yes, they just literally pulled it out of a dive.
I never did it, so, I never had to fortunately. It was a recognised manoeuvre that could possibly get you away from a fighter. Being more manoeuvrable the fighter could follow you around the whole thing, but he had to get his sights right on the aircraft before it was effective. If you didn’t see him in time,
well he did get a shot at you, but quite frequently on operations if a fighter knew that you had seen him and were corkscrewing out of the way he’d go and find someone else. Don’t waste time with that one, he’s seen me.
The gunners, did they actually have firing practice at anything at all to…
Oh yes, they had practise with drogues.
Which is a, a drogue is just a piece of canvas cone on a 600 or 700 foot rope pulled by another aircraft.
Similar to your early training in the gunnery course?
Yes, and they had camera guns as well. They could simulate operational conditions with the fighter affiliation Spitfire.
They could use camera guns and record their results there.
Excellent. Can you just walk me through this particular aircraft, the Halifax, where everyone is situated as if we’re climbing in and walking down the fuselage?
Yes. The pilot would get in, turn to the right, climb over the main spar,
which was a beam about that high which was the main stability part of the wings. Climb over that and get to his position. The navigator would, not necessary in this order, he’d get over the same, well there’s a hatch at the back with a ladder, climb up that with your parachute, whatever gear you had and get in position. Your
navigator would take his bag with his maps and other equipment and go to the nav table. The bomb aimer would take his bag and maps and anything else that was needed and go to his position.
And where were those two positions?
The navigator’s position was on the port side at the front of the aircraft. The bomb aimer’s position was right next to him and also right at the front. The wireless
op[erator] would be, his position was underneath the pilot. The engineer was behind the pilot. His instrument panel was there, and the two gunners, the mid upper gunner would have a turret half way down and the rear gunner would go for his long journey down to his little home at the end of the aircraft.
Did the rear gunner and the turret gunner ever
And your position? I mean you didn’t have a gun out the nose or anything like that?
The initial Mark 2 Halifaxes did, but for various reasons they removed it because it was very very seldom used. There was never a head-on attack, or I say very seldom there a head-on
attack and the closing speeds there were so great you had to, your gunnery would have to be very accurate. The later Halifaxes did have a little Vickers gun, which was just a sort of a sub-machine gun mounted on the nose, but they took that out after a very short while as being quite superfluous.
So I mean your particular job is bomb aiming obviously. During a trip over, what would you actually do during that time?
Again each crew differed. The navigator’s table was say there. My table, this is the table next to it, the navigator had a navigation aid
which was called ‘G’ which would give him an accurate position on a screen by using electronics and charts. I had another navigation aid, which was called ‘H2S’ for want of a better name. There is a reason why it was called that but it’s a long story. That was a
navigation aid on a screen gave a facsimile of the ground over which you were passing. When I say, it was shades of green. Towns would show up as solid green. Earth or open country would be a different shade of green. Sea would be different and it would delineate shapes of rivers, towns
and coastline. It wasn’t particularly accurate but it did give you a very good pinpoint, because at night you couldn’t see very much down there to map read. Generally at night we flew when the moon was down so there wasn’t a lot of light to see what was down below.
Okay. Can you share with me why it was called the
From memory when it was being developed in the laboratories they wondered what the hell they were going to call this thing. It had to have a code name and one of the boffins said, “It’s been such a stinking thing to put together, why not call it H2S?” Hydrogen sulphide, which is stink [rotten egg] gas. So H2S it became.
That’s a very brief outline but there is a story about that, why it was called, but that’s the bones of the story.
Now also with the Halifax, the bomb aiming here, was that similar to the Wellington and the Avro Anson?
On the training, yes.
They’re exactly the same, no different?
We were still using
a Mark 10 bomb sight. We knew there was another one coming up, but they weren’t on operational stations.
Given the plane is so much bigger, you’ve now got four engines instead of the Wellington’s two, does that change any aspect of your job in aiming?
No, the job stays the same. You had to, well the difference between the Wellingtons and the Halifax was
I had the H2S to operate as well. Some crews, the navigator did that himself, but we worked it out it was more convenient for me to do it because there was nothing for a bomb aimer to do between the time you took off and you got to the target, apart from being out in the front of the aircraft and looking for fighters
or being up in the second pilot’s seat and doing the same thing. We worked out it was more advantageous to have two of us working the electronics.
You mentioned earlier that in Canada you sort of got reasonably close in bomb aiming on your second drop and then your third drop you were completely out. Had you sort of narrowed things down and were able to drop your load closer
to what you were aiming for in training?
Was there a system that you’d worked out to get it more precise?
Just practice. Be more accurate at finding the wind speed and directions and settings on the bomb sight.
So how would you work out such as your wind speed and directions? Was that coming straight from the pilot?
No. You worked that out from the bomb sight. You could work out your
wind and speed, wind speed.
Sorry, could you share with me how you would do that?
Mainly by, I’ve literally forgotten. You could do it by pinpointing on the ground or
flying courses with the bomb sight. You forget these things even though at that stage they were an integral part of your lifestyle.
So in a sense, if I could summarise what you’re saying, you’re trying to work out particular things on the ground such as movement left or right?
Not movement so much as features.
Features, so water?
on this H2S water would come as a different shade of green. The boundaries, riverbanks would show up as lines. Coastlines would show up as a line. Cities would be a heavy green. It’s a cathode ray tube and it’s just a matter of familiarising yourself with the interpretation of the results that it got. But we didn’t get that until we got to the squadron.
OK. So are you saying to me to work out wind speed you’d use the H2S or you’d use the bomb sight?
No, bomb sight.
Okay. I know,
The old bomb sight.
Yeah, I know memory is hard at the moment, but if I could just ask, given it’s night time, can you actually see particular things other than cities down below you?
It depends on the night, if there’s cloud or if there’s moonlight
or generally speaking you don’t see a lot.
So you’re not actually looking for landmarks then for wind speed?
You’re looking for the coastline. You can generally see that at night. You can generally see rivers. Sometimes you can see cities. This is without the H2S. Sometimes you can see the outline of a city.
Not a lot, not a lot visually.
So to judge your wind speed to drop your bombs is a very difficult thing?
Well again, on operations we were using different methods entirely.
OK. We’ll come to that then in a moment. After your training then, this initial conversion training, what happened from that point?
At that point you were sent to a squadron.
We were fortunate we didn’t go into an Australian squadron. 466 Squadron at Leconfield, which was again very fortunate because Leconfield was a peacetime squadron for the RAF, which meant that all the barracks and amenities and everything else were permanent. They were brick or stone or a good standard. Previously we’d been living in Nissen huts,
which were not really comfortable, especially in the middle of winter. So we were posted to Leconfield, allocated quarters and taken up to see the CO who welcomed us and told us a bit about the squadron, what we were expected to do, and then we were allocated, each
category had a flight section. There was the pilot’s flight, the navigation flight, bomb aimer and so it went on, and each flight had a section leader who was an experienced operational person who would teach us, give us information, show us how to do things and after operations,
go through the whole operation with us. What we’d done right or what we’d done wrong, and generally a leader. Initially we went to the squadron and met the other crews, some of whom we knew, had been in various training areas with us, and others, quite a few of them, we knew from home. Being an Australian squadron there was quite a few that we did know.
Then again having good quarters made a big difference.
So who did you actually know on arriving there, anyone in particular?
One chap I went to school with, two or three others I’d trained with. Meeting the other crews was the main thing. Your individual crews then became a
squadron, integrate with all the other people and at that stage your ground crew became a very personal and valuable part of the people requisition.
So just coming to this, how many crews were there already at 466 Squadron?
And were you the only new crew to be assigned or there were several others?
There were about three others at the same time.
And what was the deal with the plane? Had you already been given a new Halifax plane or when did you receive an actual aircraft?
Generally you did have your own aircraft but not necessarily. We weren’t given an aircraft straight away. We got to the
squadron, we were back to training again. It seems we spent an eternity training, but squadron life was completely different from all the training commands we’d been in. Aircraft were going out at night, coming back one or two short. People were missing, there might be an empty bed in the hut you were in
or in the room, and the ambience of the station was so different. I think we were there for about a month before we went on an operation. That month we spent familiarising ourself with the new Halifax which was a Mark 3 which was a completely different aircraft to the Mark 2. The Mark 2 was a real old
battle wagon. The Mark 3 was a, it was, Halifax boys always reckon it was a better aircraft than the Lancaster. It flew exceptionally well. It had four radial engines instead of the Merlins. It had higher horsepower. It could get to a good operation height
at 22,000, 23,000 [feet]. It didn’t carry as big a bomb load as the Lancaster but from a crew’s point of view it was a very good aircraft. We spent about a month familiarising ourselves with that aircraft and doing what they call “bullseyes,” which was the same as a cross country only it was a, the conditions were simulated to
be exactly the same as an operation. You’d be flying over a city and the searchlights would come up and hit you. You had to avoid those. The fighter would come in and fire at you, fire blanks, you’d see the flashes of his guns, and you’d practise avoidance of fighters at night and seeing them at night, and recognising the various types
of enemy fighters that would be sent up against you. Eventually the big day came and we went on operations.
Just before we get to operations, since you have a love and know so much about the Halifax can you compare, was it the Mark 3 to the earlier one?
Oh yes, they were a completely different aircraft.
Could you just contrast the two of them for me?
2s were unable to get to an operational height. They couldn’t carry a, compared with a Lancaster, they could only get to 16,000 or 17,000. They had Merlin engines, which were underpowered for the weight of the aircraft and bomb load. They had a triangular tail which was subject to what they call rudder lock, which meant if you were
in a situation where we’ll say avoiding a fighter, and the rudder was right over, when the pilot tried to pull it out he couldn’t. It would just lock and spiral into the ground which wasn’t a good thing at all. The new Halifax, they ironed out all those problems. They’d given us radial engines which is much more powerful. They’d modified the tail plain which didn’t have the
same problems and they’d given an extra five foot on the wing and it was a very good aircraft. The initial 3s had the same wing, subsequently they had the 3a which had an extra five feet.
Now in respect to your particular role on board during that month of training,
again coming back to the bomb sight. Was that all the same again to what you’d been training on?
No. We had what they called the Mark 14 bomb sight, which was a completely different unit. The other one was shall we say a mechanical bomb sight. This was electronic. You fed the information into it and whereas the old bomb sight you had to fly straight and level for five minutes or so to get accuracy,
this one worked on gyros and it was a real Heath Robinson thing. It had the same thing, you looked through a sight onto a piece of glass about six inches by two inches on which a cross had been projected from the rear of the sight and
you had to get that cross on the target. The way the gyros worked, if the cross was on the target it didn’t matter if the aircraft wasn’t straight and level or it was a little out of plumb, it would still work. It was a fantastic piece of machinery and provided you fed the information into it, it worked very very well.
So you’re therefore, if I understand you correctly,
saying provided you put the right information in, it was pretty foolproof in getting in right?
And again the information you’re looking for is wind speed?
Wind speed and direction.
They’re the critical things. You drop a bomb, you know what happens to it when it leaves the aircraft and you fed those characteristics into it,
so although what will happen to it or reasonably what will happen to it on the way down. It will strike different speeds and winds which will deflect it but that is allowed for in the bomb sight.
And just in respect to the direction information, that just comes from the pilot in respect he gives you the line of direction he’s flying?
No, the navigator.
The navigator, I beg your pardon, the
Set your course and you’re getting your wind speed and direction all the time through the G set. He’s plotting his course with the, what they call the G, and that gave you a very accurate position at any time up to about the Ruhr area. So
at that time you knew exactly where you were.
Excellent, excellent. Now just in respect to coming into 466 Squadron, given that you were the new blokes on the block were people friendly and welcoming or…
Oh yes, yes.
… or they wanted to keep their distance?
No. They’d share information with you, talk to you. You were part of the squadron, part of a family.
Now your first, is it mission? Is that the right [word]?
Operation, thank you. Your first.
The Yanks used to call them ‘missions’.
Your first operation, could you talk us through from the point of receiving the news that you were going on the next one and what happened from there?
Well you receive the news, probably about lunchtime, that operations were on,
by which time the main gates would be closed. The telephone communication with outside would be closed. No activities inside would be allowed outside the aerodrome for security. You went to the flight office to see if you were on the battle order for that night. If it turned out you were, what time the pre-briefing was for the pilots,
the navigators and the bomb aimers had what they call pre-briefing to familiarise them with where they were going and to enable the bomb aimers and the navigators to draw up their maps with the route on them and that took probably about an hour, an hour and a half. Then the operational meal could be before the main briefing or after.
It was always bacon and eggs. You had the option of saying, “I’ll have them now,” or, “later,” but you always had them beforehand. The main briefing, everyone came and probably about 20 crews were involved in the briefing room which was a big room with shutters like you’ve got on the windows here, and
an armed guard on the door and all the crews lined up and there was a big map on the stage. The group captain would come in with all his retinue of flight officers, navigation, bomb aiming, gunnery, etcetera. Everybody would stand up and he’d say, “Sit down.” By that time the room was a haze of cigarette smoke and
he’d get up on the stage and pull the tape on the map and the screen would fold away and your target for tonight is whatever it was [appear]. It would be marked out on this huge map by tape, and all the various turning points that you were required to take to evade enemy airfields or where they thought would be the most easiest way to go in
and out, and your target was marked and each category would then, the leader of each category would then get up and give his particular briefing. The navigation briefing would give the times, places, what they thought the wind speed and direction would be, and the clouds would be, where they thought it might
be and all the information that would be useful for that trip. The same with the bomb aimer. They’d get the bomb load, what bombs were on board, when to release them and in what order, and any other relevant information. The same with all the other categories. The wireless operators would get their,
what do they call it? Their codes for the night, and what time the broadcasts would be. I think it was every half hour there was a broadcast from base to all the aircraft. The wireless op had to listen into that or get Morse. That’s where the Morse came in, that we had to learn all that time. That was his job, and
transmit that information to the various crew members that it affected. Any information about cloud cover or fighter activity was all transmitted on that broadcast. Eventually all the categories gave their talk. The intelligence officer would come along and
give us a talk about what they knew about the target, where it was, whether it was industrial or a bomb site, flying bomb [launch] site, or the details of the target and how we were supposed to bomb it and any information that he had about if you were shot down, how to go
about escaping. You always carried an escape kit with you as part of the equipment, and then the met bloke came along and his job was to tell us what the weather was going to be. His job was like Merlin the Magician, trying to work out weather in a European winter. It was practically impossible. He’d give the best
information he could. The one we were interested in was what was the cloud cover going to be like when we got back to base. He said, “The cloud will always be good when you get back to base.” Unfortunately it very seldom was. It was just a matter of luck. Cloud was never reliable or fog. English fog could come in five minutes.
His job was a bit of guess work then?
A lot of guess work. That’s why he was Merlin the Magician.
You just mentioned in respect of your role, the order of bombs?
What was the other thing, also the approach to target, was it?
Well you had a certain approach that was predetermined and the order of bombs depended on what the target was. If it was a city
you’d put the explosive first to do the damage, or industrial area, and incendiaries later to light the fires. So it wasn’t quite haphazard. If it was a bomb site like the V1 bomb sites it was generally all high explosive and you had to be very accurate with that because the
site was probably only as big as this house and you were bombing from between 15,000 and 20,000 feet on that little area.
Excellent. We’ll just, sorry, we’ll just hold there I was going to say because the tape’s coming to an end.
Interviewee: Keith Campbell Archive ID 1514 Tape 06
All right Keith, welcome back. Before lunch you were telling us about the procedure leading up to taking off on an operation with 466 Squadron. What happened once you finished the briefing? Can you take us from when you went out to the aeroplane, what happened from then?
Finished the briefing, and if you hadn’t had your operational
meal you had it then. Went down to the various flights and collected any maps or equipment that you needed. To the parachute section and the classic joke, “If it doesn’t work, bring it back and we’ll give you another one.” Then went from there to the crew buses which took you
from the briefing room to the aircraft dispersal areas. About three crews to a bus and it went through the various dispersals. The aircraft were dispersed all over the ’drome in individual areas. Dropped us off at the aircraft. We opened the door. The ground staff had it prepared,
fuelled and everything else, bombed up and ready. The pilot had to sign a release form saying he accepted the aircraft as it was. We all climbed aboard and stowed our various things, our maps, our parachute and any other equipment we had, and then went outside for a smoke which could take,
we could be there for anything up to 45 minutes or an hour waiting for the rest of the squadron to get ready and to get on the runway and get off. Have a smoke and invariably wet the tail wheel, and climbed aboard and when it was our turn the starter truck came around and started the motors,
ran them up to full speed and down again, made sure they were all right, and when it was our turn we slowly taxied towards the end of the runway. Usually about two or three aircraft were waiting ready to go at about 30 or 40 second intervals, and you got to the end of the runway, put your brakes on, ran the motors up to their full extent,
and down again, lined up on the runway and off you went. Generally there were some ground crew at the runway to wave you goodbye, and the control hut at the end of the runway gave you the green light and off you went.
What’s the feeling like in the crew at that stage? How would you describe the tension or excitement, or butterflies?
You’re taking off with a full load of petrol, thousands of gallons of the stuff, 8,000 or 9,000 pounds of bombs. Yeah, you hope you get off. Sometimes they didn’t. All sorts of things can happen, a motor might cut, it just doesn’t take off in time. It was reasonably rare they didn’t get airborne.
You mentioned you’d wet the tail wheel, what was that all about?
That was just one of those things you did, a superstition if you like.
How much was superstition and how much was practical necessity?
No practical necessity whatsoever.
What would happen if the urge called while you were in the air? What provisions did you have for going to the toilet on a Halifax?
There was a toilet, a Nelson, a chemical toilet. You avoided that as much as possible.
You avoided it, why?
The effort of getting there and the fact that while you were flying that’s the last thing you were thinking of.
Where was it situated?
Situated just near the rear turret.
And it was a sit down toilet?
Basically a five-gallon drum with a seat on it.
superstitions were there in your crew? Anybody else have lucky charms?
Oh, we always had a fluffy rabbit that we took aboard and marked off our trips on it.
How did you do that?
Just a marking pen, just a little thing about that high. Just one of those things that grew up. I forget, someone gave it to us.
What was its name?
Peter, after the aircraft. Our aircraft was P, Peter.
What sort of decoration or personalisation did you have on your aircraft?
Mainly [painted] bombs [symbols]. We used to put a bomb on every trip we did. I don’t think we had any ‘Joan of the Daily Mail’ on it.
How common was that in the RAAF squadrons?
Yes, quite common.
What sort of things would people put on the nose of their aircraft?
Well Joan of the Daily Mail was one of the popular ones. She was a character in the comic strip, Joan and her dachshund. She was always more undressed than dressed. Kangaroos, wallabies, koalas,
bushrangers, you name it. There’s a whole book about nose art of aircraft.
I haven’t seen so many Australian ones. I’m interested to hear you say there were Australian animals or bushrangers. Was that particularly a common theme in the Australian squadron do you think?
Well generally the Australians would have something Australian. I think that,
one of the aircraft we had, I remember was ‘Kelly’s Gang’ and as it happened one of the, the pilot was Kelly. We had Ned Kelly on the front of the aircraft.
What about naming them, you had a code letter?
Every squadron had a code. Our code was HD, and every aircraft had a letter, so we were HDP.
Was Peter a particularly good aircraft?
Well you got used to your own aircraft. Yes, it was a good aircraft. It was a new one when we got it. Sometimes you had to fly someone else’s aircraft or a spare one. Occasionally, when you were doing your final tests on an aircraft it wouldn’t come up to standard
and you’d get the engineering section out as quick as possible to see what the problem was. If it couldn’t be fixed there was generally a spare aircraft ready and you just transferred to that.
On the subject of superstitions, was that a lucky or an unlucky thing to do, to take out somebody else’s aircraft?
No, not really. We didn’t find it so. You got used to the idiosyncrasies of your own aircraft, that was all. In someone else’s aircraft they
might put their pencil in a different hole or have things arranged differently, but you knew the handling characteristics, more so from the pilot’s point of view, but well, it’s like your own car.
What time would you be generally leaving as you took off from Litchfield?
Depends entirely on the
length of the trip and the time of the moon.
And your targets were generally where? How far did you fly in most cases?
Well we’ve flown, we did a lot of French targets. They were the targets where the flying bombs were situated and
London was getting a very bad time with them. So they turned Bomber Command from a lot of the German targets and concentrated on these flying bomb targets. And also they knew that D Day was coming up and there was a major attack on all the French railway system, railways, viaducts, communications centres and things like that that would disrupt the
German army when they were advancing.
What was your first operation? What was your target that night?
A place called Traps. This was a marshalling yard about, just south of Paris.
What happened once you’d left the ground? Can you take us through that operation from there?
Well that operation from our point of view, personally, it was quite easy.
We took off, got to height, flew there by the various tracks we were told to, bombed it and came home. We didn’t see a fighter. We didn’t have any, we did have a bit of flak over the coast but it was a very quiet trip. That was one of the first of the French targets and the Luftwaffe hadn’t
got the idea that there were French targets. They were oriented towards the Ruhr and east of that.
You must’ve thought this was a pretty easy game?
At that stage, yes. The first one went off very well. The second one was very similar too. It was another French target.
Maybe you could take us through as you were before with the lead up to the take off. What really happens in the plane on your way over to a target
and what happens when you get there?
Having got to height you switched off your navigation lights, turned on the identification friend-or-foe button. Over the coast you switched on your bomb-active switch and there was no conversation at all.
If you had something to say, say it as concisely as possible so you don’t clutter up the intercom. The gunners would give a commentary if they saw something. If they saw a light on the ground they’d mention it. If there was a fighter around or a searchlight say four or five miles to port, they would mention that, and
anything relevant, but there was no superfluous conversation.
How did that intercom work? Were you all hooked up to the same, everyone could hear everyone else?
You all had a microphone and a switch on it. If you wanted to talk to someone you activated the switch, said what you wanted to say and turned it off. The pilot could access everyone.
What about headgear? Were you wearing headphones?
Oh yes, you had a helmet
with headphones, oxygen mask and the oxygen mask incorporated the microphone. At 10,000 feet you switched on the oxygen.
Would you be able to move around the plane with oxygen? How did that work?
You had an oxygen bottle if you needed to move around. If you wanted to go to the loo you took an oxygen bottle and hooked up your oxygen to that.
Otherwise it went into a central oxygen tank?
A central plug.
What else would
happen on the way over, once you’d done all the things you just mentioned?
It depends on what happened. If you had fighters, well you took evasive action or tried to keep out of their way. You never attacked a fighter, even though you had an opportunity. It was rather pointless. They had to be quite close
for our guns to do much damage, whereas they had cannons which had about twice the range. If they didn’t see you and didn’t attack you, well you just kept on going.
What was the standard procedure if a fighter attacked you then, if you weren’t to attack it back?
Well the gunners would see the fighter hopefully. If they saw it at say 2,000 yards they’d alert the pilot that there was a fighter
coming in, possibly going to attack. Then they would give a running commentary on the position of that fighter, how close it was, how close it was getting and alert the pilot when he may have to do evasive action. When the fighter got to a stage where the gunner thought the plane was in danger he would say “Corkscrew left, port or starboard,” and then the aircraft would go into all these
turns and hopefully avoid it.
Is the gunner dependent on where the fighter is attacking from, so the rear gunner or the mid upper gunner is giving those instructions?
Either one, or both. Quite often there’d be one fighter and the rear gunner would monitor that and the other gunner would search the sky for another fighter who could be coming in on another angle.
Halifax didn’t have a nose gun in it?
Initially it did, but they were useless.
You never had to aim your gun?
Your station if you like was in the nose of the aeroplane but you were helping the navigator during the flight, is that right?
Oh yeah, that was my bombing station. Generally I was only there at nighttime say a quarter of an hour before the target. The
rest of the time I was operating the radar.
And what would you, where would you be inside the plane?
Sitting next to the navigator on the left side of the aircraft next to his table.
Would the radar be the H2S you were talking about before?
H2S. It was just a code name for it. It was, if you look at the photos of the Halifax just before the tail it had a bulge underneath
which was the scanner and that rotated I think at one a minute which was replicated on the cathode ray tube and as the scanner went around the tube the green came up on the dial. Depending on the shade of green and where it was you could interpret the signals as topography on the ground.
That would be a purely navigational aid I’m assuming. You wouldn’t be able to see black or anything come from below?
No. You could in theory bomb on it, which we did on some occasions when there was intense cloud. You just got the aiming point or generally it was the outskirts of a city of something like that and it wasn’t accurate for that purpose. Sometimes it had to
be used rather than bring the bombs back..
What was your targeting? How did you locate your targets? You mentioned the Pathfinder squadrons before. Can you tell us about them?
Each individual aircraft was a separate entity. They all had a pilot, navigator and full crew but they didn’t fly in formation or anything like that. But what they did do, at briefing you were given a certain height to fly,
a certain speed and time, and you had to maintain that very strictly. You had about 700 or 800 aircraft in a stream possibly 10 mile long, 2,000 feet thick and possibly half a mile wide. So you had a lot of aircraft with not much sky so you had to keep your position. Not unusually
you saw an aircraft either above you or sometimes you’d see another aircraft fly right across your path. There were very few collisions going on the number of aircraft that were in a very confined space, especially over the target.
What method of marking targets were there?
Generally the Pathfinder Force got
to the target about two minutes beforehand and at briefing we were told that the flares that they would drop would be a certain colour which would be backed up by another colour. So when we got to the target, about two minutes away you expected to see, say, a red flare and that was your aiming point. If the flare hadn’t been dropped accurately, they would come
as, the master bomber who was flying down at about 2,000 feet, he would say, “Ignore the red flare and drop say a yellow flare,” and there was always what they call bracket creep which meant as the aircraft came in they would bomb the flare and gradually they would bomb
too soon and turn away. So they kept those flares going on the target area.
I’m sorry, could you just explain that again? What do you mean by bracket creep? Why was it called bracket creep?
Well, all these aircraft flying in, you want to get out of the place as quickly as possible so you might just drop it a little bit too soon.
And that was?
That would mean the attack was falling back and the master bomber could see that and he would drop another flare and say, “That is where you’re aiming at.”
I understand. So how would the aircraft be in contact with the master bomber?
Through the intercom.
And there was other outside communication coming in the whole time, the wireless operator?
The wireless operator was in touch with the base all the time if he needed to. On the trip he would get half hour
broadcasts from base giving any details of what they call the master wind, that certain squadrons would broadcast what wind they found over the various areas of the run in, and that would be averaged out and broadcast to the whole of Bomber Command, and they would be expected to put that wind on their bomb sights and navigation equipment.
You could accept that or accept your own wind that you found anyway. Our squadron was one of the squadrons that were called a wind finding squadron, which was find the wind and send it back to base and it would be one of the ones that would be averaged out.
You mentioned that the Pathfinders would drop flares onto the target if you could see it. What if there was cloud?
What would they do then?
They would drop what they call ‘sky markers’, which are the same as flares but they would be positioned and timed to go off on the top of the cloud rather than go off on the ground. They were adjusted by the Pathfinders so that your normal bomb sight on ground level, or the position of them would
compensate for that and you’d still bomb the target. It wasn’t as accurate as it sounds, but rather than take the whole bomb load back, it was better to get rid of it.
All right, back to the approach of the aircraft to the target. If you could take us through that in a bit more detail, what would your job be as you got near the target, what would you have to do then?
Well the bomb aimer’s position was on the floor of the aircraft right at the nose. In the Halifax the nose was perspex and you could see 180 degrees. You would see the target from quite a few mile back and give the pilot directions [on] how to approach it.
Get the target in your bomb sight and the aircraft would be flying along. He might veer a little bit to the left or right. You’d correct that so at all times the aircraft was flying on that bomb sight graticule. A new bomb sight had a cross projected from the back of the sight onto this glass panel
and providing you kept the target in that sight you were reasonably assured of accuracy.
This was what replaced the two lines you spoke of on the Mark 10 gun sight?
It was a cross on the projector? What method of communicating with the pilot did you have about what directions you would fly?
You found he was on course to the target. If he wasn’t quite on course you’d correct it. You’d get him flying exactly on course and the aircraft would, along the 10 minutes or five minutes to the target, it would veer a little to the left and you would correct it, “Left, left, centre, centre,” or, “Steady, steady, steady, left, left,” or whatever it happened to be,
and keep it steady as much as possible until you were right over the target and off it went.
So would you always repeat the word twice in the case of…
And the same with right, left, right?
“Left left, right right, steady steady.” It was more continuous when you were steady to let him know that he was on course.
What would happen if there was a variation during
that time and it didn’t look like you were going to hit the target? Did you ever have a…
Well, the bomb sight was so, with the gyros you could do reasonable manoeuvres. You wouldn’t do corkscrews or anything like that, but you could do turns if necessary and it would still work, but as far as possible you flew straight and
level. If by chance you couldn’t or you weren’t satisfied with the aiming point, you’d say, “Go around again,” which meant that you did a circuit and started off again, which wasn’t very popular with the crews at all.
We’ll pause for a second while the phone rings. I can imagine you would’ve loathed having to do that?
Nobody liked doing
that at all. Sometimes it was necessary if the aircraft had a violent manoeuvre just before the target or you weren’t satisfied with the aiming point or your flares had momentarily gone out and you were waiting [for] another flare, you had to go around again. There have been cases of going around three or four times. Not very often, it wasn’t very advisable because you were flying against the bomber stream and
the chances of colliding with another aircraft were very great.
On what occasions did you have to go around more than once? How many times in your…
We only did it about four or five times fortunately, and only once. Never did it twice.
Was there a tendency to want to drop your bombs anyway? Who was in charge of that?
The bomb aimer was in complete charge.
When there was a fighter sighted, the gunners had complete control of that aircraft. They gave the instructions. The bomb aimer was in complete control of the aircraft while the bombing run was on. The navigator gave his directions to the pilot, and the pilot obeyed the directions he received.
Was there ever a case when you were under fighter attack while over target?
Having to switch between the gunners and the bomb aimer having to tell the pilot what to do?
It was a case of which was the greater priority. If you were about two seconds from your target you’d keep going. If you were five minutes from the target you would do evasive action.
What could you see around you when you came over a target? I mean you could see the flares but what else was there?
Thousands and thousands of fires on the ground, sometimes a column of smoke. It was a very pretty sight with the coloured flares and the German flak batteries used to send up what they called “flaming ends” and “spoofs” and things like that which were coloured. It was quite a pyrotechnic show, like
Sydney on New Year’s Eve.
Was it something that occurred to you at the time, that this was a beautiful scene?
Yes, oh yes. Not that you could appreciate it but yes, a couple of notes in my diary. The target was quite a pretty sight with all the coloured lights, flares and other pyrotechnics, and
when the fighters were around you could see the tracers flying across the sky.
It seems almost surreal in a way.
In retrospect it does, and after you drop your bombs you have to travel straight and level for seven seconds. You carried a flare in the aircraft, which went at the same time as the bombs and it took seven seconds for the bombs to land and the flare
to explode and it automatically took photos which you had to bring back to know whether you had the aiming point or not.
What about the sounds up there? What sounds are in your ears at that moment?
I think if there was a fighter attack you’d hear the guns. You could hear the
flak rattling against the under side of the aircraft. There were literally, on a big target there were literally hundreds of flak guns just pouring up a carpet of shells. They weren’t aimed at anyone. They’d just pick out a pattern of say, 2,000 feet thick, a mile wide and half a mile long and they’d just pour up shells in that area knowing that the planes had to fly through it. So there was always
flak there. If you happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time you’d hit one of them directly or one of them would hit you.
How were they referred to? Were they boxes or what would you call the flak?
A box barrage.
And what would it look like from the aeroplane?
You didn’t see any. You knew it was there. If it was close enough you’d hear it explode. At night you didn’t
see much. You’d hear it and if it was close enough you’d see a little black cloud where it exploded, but apart from knowing it was there, it was just a hazard you had to fly though.
What about those spoofs or things that you were talking about a moment ago, coloured things that were sent up, what were they?
To distract the aircraft, to give the
impression of an aircraft being shot down, and probably a scare tactic.
In a large raid would you notice things, other aircraft around this area?
You would notice them, but not very many. It was surprisingly lonely, for want of a better word. You knew there were 700
or 800 aircraft within a mile or two but you very seldom saw them. If you were too close to one, someone may pass over you or come too close and very occasionally they collided. Sometimes also if you were a little behind time or someone else was a bit before time you would get a bomb through your aircraft, which again fortunately
didn’t happen very often. The bomb wouldn’t go off because at that stage it wouldn’t be pierced.
Would planes come back from raids after that had happened or was that generally…
Yes, they took a lot of punishment.
What sort of damage would you generally undertake if you got hit by flak?
It depends where you were hit. Normally you
came back with 20 or 30 small holes in the aircraft which hadn’t affected it. If it hit a petrol tank you had to use all the petrol you possibly could out of that tank before it drained away, and if it hit an engine and knocked it out, well you feathered that engine and isolated it and kept going.
You mentioned the first couple of times you went out you didn’t hit much opposition. What sort of opposition did you encounter from fighters or what instances?
Well our third trip was a trip on Stuttgart, which was a fairly long trip. Stuttgart is what, a fair way into Germany. It was about an eight-hour trip. Going into that target
we struck searchlights and flak over the coast of France, various places in France where the Luftwaffe dromes were. Sometimes they opened up their flak guns on us. Sometimes there were, there were always fighters somewhere. You may not see one for a whole trip and you may see two or three, but it was the gunners’
job and anyone else was free to keep an eye out for fighters and avoid them if possible. And your other big problem, over the target especially, was searchlights. They had hundreds of flak guns and hundreds of searchlights which were so bright at 20,000 feet that they’d blind you, and if a searchlight
got you, you wanted to get out of its way as quickly as possible because if one coned on you within seconds what they call the master searchlight, which was a blue beam, would be coming in on your predictor radar and within a few more seconds you’d have about 10 or 15 searchlights all coned on that one aircraft, and then what they call ‘predictor flak’
which was radar-controlled flak could very easily get you. To get out of that searchlight was a really major problem because for all the manoeuvres you could do all they had to do was wriggle their searchlight a very tiny amount to keep you in focus. So you could put it in a dive and lose 10,000 feet in a minute to try and get away from the searchlight, because if you stayed in the searchlight you were going to get
What happens in the aircraft? What was it like when you went into a searchlight?
You mentioned being blinded? Literally blinded?
It was like an extremely strong light shining in your eyes. The navigator and the wireless op were in their cabins. They weren’t exposed to it because they had screens around them.
The rest of the crew had the full blast of the searchlight. It was very hard on the gunners because they’d lose their night vision.
And the pilot would corkscrew? What manoeuvres would help you get out of it?
Corkscrew, dive, anything he could think of to get away from it. You build up very high speed trying to
avoid it, far in excess of what the aircraft was designed for.
What happened on that trip to Stuttgart, did you encounter searchlights there?
Oh yes, there was always fairly heavy searchlights and a big city such as Stuttgart had probably 100 or more flak guns or searchlights which just lit up the sky and poured up a curtain of flak
which you had to fly through. The fighters generally didn’t attack over the target because they were flying through their own flak. A lot of them did, but they waited until you got just outside the target area and the flak wasn’t as heavy.
What was your greatest fear up there?
What were you most afraid of?
Didn’t have time to be afraid. Sounds silly, but no you didn’t. I suppose what you tried, you’re afraid of being attacked by a fighter, being hit by flak, but it didn’t manifest. It was there but you didn’t, weren’t positively afraid
if that’s the way of putting it.
What about excitement or adrenaline, how did that affect you?
Well, once you got out of the target area it was a great relief, but you knew you couldn’t relax because you had three or four hours on the trip home. Going into the target area you had the wind behind you because the winds in Europe are, prevailing winds,
are from the east. Going home you had the head wind which meant you had at least another half hour flying against the wind. So you couldn’t afford to relax. You had a momentary, “Thank God we’re out of that target.”
Well stop there because the tape’s about to run out.
Interviewee: Keith Campbell Archive ID 1514 Tape 07
Our third trip was our first…
This is your diary, is it?
This is a record of the trips we did. Not a diary.
Let me throw a question and then you can introduce it. As your diary, can you share a bit about what that passage is and then read it out for us?
Well our third trip
in our operational tour was our first German target. The previous two targets were French targets, which possibly gave us a false impression of the opposition we could encounter. But Stuttgart was one of the main German targets. I think at that stage we were after the ball-bearing factories there, which were an essential part of the German arms program. But just reading from one of the
diaries that I kept on the trip, number 3 operation Stuttgart was March the 14th, 1944. “Early take off, a fair trip over to the target. We were a minute and a half late. Pathfinder force wasn’t very accurate. The first wave on target which was well lit up, there were plenty of fires with markers. The actual target was one of the prettiest
sights I have ever seen. White incandescent fires like diamonds sparkling in the ground, and the green and red markers making the whole city look like a fireworks display. If this wasn’t flak I could have enjoyed it. We left the target area and searchlights and flak and saw plenty of fighters on the way home and had three fighter attacks, but managed to get out of it.
The flak and the searchlights over, south of Paris on the way home, our rudder was holed by flak and due to the evasion with the fighters our petrol was very low, so instead of going to base at Leconfield which was half way up England we landed at a ’drome on the south of England.” Which I think was
a fighter ’drome, which was better than running out of petrol.
Excellent. Now you talk about how the Pathfinder force wasn’t particularly accurate.
On that particular occasion it wasn’t. Generally they were spot on.
What happened on that particular occasion?
I don’t know. Just one of those things. The initial flares were not on target, but the master bomber
who flew down below and managed the way, he was on the RT [radio transmitter] to all the aircraft, he got some more flares put down in the correct place and instructed the rest of the aircraft to bomb on, so we missed the reds and bombed the greens or something similar to that.
In respect to, we were talking before about your job finding out
the wind speed, getting the direction right for your actual bombing, did the lead aircraft at all share those details with you of what other planes should put in?
No. Each aircraft was a completely separate entity. We did get the broadcast winds from base every half hour but you could use those or if you had more confidence in your
own wind you’d use that. 466 was a wind-finding squadron so we used to broadcast what winds we found back to base with two or three other squadrons and they would re-broadcast to Bomber Command what the average wind was. There were several very notable occasions where the winds we broadcast were exceptional.
They were way out of what they should have been and we broadcast those back to base. They didn’t believe us, coming back I think from Berlin, and 80 per cent of Bomber Command I think ended up over the Ruhr and they copped all the flak and fighters that we shouldn’t have. We relied on our own wind and came back well north of the Ruhr. That was an occasion where
the winds were so unusual, so much, probably 70 or 80 mile an hour higher than they should’ve been, and not the direction, and base wouldn’t believe us. They re-broadcast what they thought should be the wind and a lot of aircraft ended up in the wrong place.
So base in a sense confirmed or didn’t confirm any information you were sending back
They didn’t confirm with any individual aircraft. They broadcast to the whole of Bomber Command what the winds that the wind-finding aircraft transmitted back to them which were averaged and generally were fairly good, but you’d get the occasional one, like the one I’ve just spoken of, that was way, way out and they weren’t prepared to believe it.
In your particular diary you mention that fighters attacked you three times on the way home. Can you talk me through those occasions and how they came at you?
Well the gunners fortunately saw them coming in and monitored their range, and before they started firing at us we were all over the sky trying to avoid them, and a lot of the time
if a fighter saw you had spotted him, he would break off and find someone that’s a more easy target. They could follow you all the way around if they were very keen and eventually they probably would get you, because there was only so much manoeuvring you can do and they’re far more manoeuvrable. But also they had the gunners firing at them. As often as not they’d stay out of range.
The range of the guns we had, which were Browning 303s, was only about 700 or 800 yards where the fighters could stay off at 1500 yards with their cannon and shoot at us. It wouldn’t be as accurate of course but you only need a couple of cannon shells in the wrong place.
During this particular return home did you actually go into
Oh yes. That’s why we used up a lot of petrol. Normally you carried enough petrol with a small margin to get you back to base. When you were doing those manoeuvres you used up a vast amount of petrol because your engines were top speed and you were trying to avoid the fighter and you had to get back to height again which used up a lot of petrol.
So at that stage we were running short.
On these three particular occasions did the fighter lose interest?
Yes. Followed us around for a couple of turns and then broke off.
So was there cloud cover at all to help you guys?
There was cloud cover. The biggest friend of Bomber Command was cloud, to some extent, not over the target,
but if a fighter was on your tail and you could see some cloud you went for it. Generally speaking a fighter came in from the rear. Very, very occasionally from the front.
And never underneath?
Oh yes. When they came underneath the rear gunner could to some extent see them coming.
Because I presume that
underneath was in a sense your blind spot?
It was a very blind spot. Talk about something later, the upward firing cannons that the ME2 10s [Messerschmitts] had. They’d just sneak up under you and fire upwards instead of straight ahead, and they were deadly. You didn’t know they were there. There was no defence against them because we had no under turrets
and the only way you’d find them was if the rear gunner happened to see them coming up.
What year did they actually come in and become a real threat?
That came in about the end of ’43. They were the standard, I think the two-engined German fighters, a lot of them had these ‘schlarge mischek’ I think they called them,
which was a code name. They were two cannons, instead of firing four they were firing up at an angle of 80 degrees, which meant that the fighter could slowly ease up underneath you and get a perfect sight and just shoot a few cannon shells into you. Generally they aimed at the petrol tanks.
Were there occasions on these fighter attacks where the cannon shell actually went
through the fuselage or did they mainly miss you?
We had shells through the tail plain mainly and machine-gunfire through the fuselage at times. Over the target you invariably got some flak you could hear on the side of the aircraft. In fact 20 years later, it might’ve been 15 or 20 years later, I had an irritation in my
elbow and a little piece of flak came out. It had been there for all these years. I didn’t even know I had it.
Just before lunch we were discussing targets and you shared with me the type of bombs and bombing of cities or factories and cities, also the German rockets that would take off towards London and there are some
other places that you also mentioned off tape in respect to bombing, railway lines and other sorts of things, targets that you would bomb. Could you just run through the types of targets and bombs you’d use?
In France the targets were mainly V1 launching sites, which were very unpopular in London. They used to come over, they’d launch them from about
50 or 60 miles inside France and they were just pilotless bombs, worked on a gyro. They’d take off and they’d have so much petrol which when the petrol ran out they would descend and blow up preferably over London, and they weren’t very popular. So Bomber Command at that stage was switched to these
V1 bomb sites to eliminate them, and generally about 200 or 300 aircraft would be on these bomb sites and just saturate bomb them. A vast waste of bombs but they hoped that some of then would hit. Generally it did put them out of action but there were so many and a lot of them were mobile.
They could launch them from the back of a truck. They’d just move the truck around to a different spot every time. And the marshalling yards, they were another communication. They were wrecked because they knew D Day was coming up and the German Wehrmacht [army] would use the communication system, railways, roads and that type of thing. So
they had a major job in wrecking the railway yards, viaducts, bridges, tunnels, road junctions and anything that would upset communications. On those targets it was mainly high explosive bombs that were used.
And you also laid mines I understand?
Could you tell me about that
and how that was different from normal?
Well different in as much as instead of bombs we were carrying mines. Generally two or three mines which were long cylinders. Particular, we went to Kiel a couple of times and laid mines in Kiel Harbour[Baltic Sea port]. Generally they were, you were flying over the North Sea most of the time, so you knew you had a
long trip without flak and probably without fighters, and as soon as you got over Helgolander [Bucht, Atlantic coastal Germany] and silt the defences were extremely heavy and you had to get down at a certain level quite low to lay the mines and flew on a particular height, course and speed so they would drop in the optimum position. Drop them and get the
hell out of it as quick as possible.
From your point of view in dropping the mine, is it the exact same process?
Same procedure, except that you’re down a lot lower and you were dropping a large object in the water.
What sort of height are we talking about?
2,000 or 3,000 feet.
Did you have to be as accurate as you were?
Oh yes. They weren’t any good on land. They’d just explode. But they were mainly on time fuses. They’d go to the bottom of the harbour and when a ship went over them hopefully they’d explode. On a time fuse, and I forget what they call it, the ship going over the mine would activate
the mechanism and off they’d go, hopefully taking the ship with them.
You’ve mentioned with high explosive, mines, are there other sorts of types of bombs that you would actually drop?
We were mainly high explosive and incendiaries. The high explosives were the ones to do the damage. The incendiaries were the ones to light the fires once the damage had been done.
If you dropped your high explosives after the incendiaries they would put out the fires and defeat the whole purpose.
Good, excellent. D Day is approaching and I understand you were returning from one of your trips and you actually saw the ships?
You could’ve jumped out over the Channel and not got your feet wet.
Can you describe where you were returning from and what you actually saw?
We were bombing a French target called Laval. It was a late take off. We were a stand-by
crew but went in someone else’s aircraft. Due to being a stand-by crew we were 13 minutes late, crossed the French coast at 7,000, light flak, flew in ten-tenths cloud to the target and heard the master bomber say, “Come below the cloud.” So we descended to 15,000 feet, saw the TIs [target indicators] and bombed at 2,000 feet and were shaken by the concussion when the bombs
went off. Climbed again past the coast at 5,000 feet through ten-tenths cloud, saw plenty of flak and searchlights over the coastal area but were not attacked, and saw the, we were on the fringes of the invasion fleet and we saw all these hundreds and hundreds of ships from battle cruisers to rowing boats heading towards France.
They got to France and all these ships coming in. For the first week it was just a constant stream of ships going to and from the invasion ports.
So before you actually saw that sight you knew about D Day, what had actually happened?
We knew something was going to happen but we didn’t know when it was. Flying over the south of England there were so many
army camps, vehicle areas and, you could hardly move for jeeps and traffic. So much of England was a completely restricted area apart from the people that lived there.
And just coming back obviously to the diary, which you read, you dropped down low to 2,000 feet. Was that because of cloud cover?
Because of cloud
and that’s where the master bomber told us to go.
Does that therefore require a re-setting of the bombs to their distance of dropping?
It required re-setting of the bomb sight to the height that we were down to, and that automatically adjusted at the time the bombs were dropped.
And so what you describe there in the diary is
when you dropped them you actually felt…
Felt the concussion from them. Not only us, but 300 or 400, no, I think there was about 70 or 80 aircraft on that raid I think, which made quite a bit of concussion when they fell.
And obviously if you’re lower you’re going to be far more accurate as well?
You would be more accurate, yes.
And a better target?
Your margin of error is far less.
And a better target I take it?
You could see the target, see more of it.
Sorry, I mean when flak is shooting at you, you’re a better target for the enemy to shoot at?
Oh yes. You get all the light flak then. Heavy flak was from say about 15,000 feet up. Light flak was everything say from Bofors guns, heavy machine guns, and that was very lethal up to about 3,000 or 4,000 feet.
Okay. And so heavier flak wasn’t as accurate as the lighter flak I take it?
Well, heavy flak in most cases over the cities was a barrage. They weren’t specifically aimed at you. They were just a carpet of shells that you had to fly through. Unless you got a master searchlight and then the predictor flak would get on to that and
if you didn’t get out of it, the third shot would get you.
Just on that subject of the master searchlight, was there an occasion in which you guys got caught?
Not in the master searchlight fortunately. We were coned by ordinary searchlights and managed to get out of them, but once the master searchlight got an aircraft it was radar controlled and it just hung on like glue.
You also mentioned earlier the fact that the gunners would lose their night vision if they got…
Yes, that was very important.
Was that also a case for you given that you’re looking down upon targets that you’d lose your night [vision]?
I’d lose my night vision but it didn’t matter as much because there were the Pathfinder flares. We were bombing on the flares, not on a visual target as such, and the flares were very very right.
OK. If we can now, if you would be kind enough to share your story of where you got hit, the plane actually got hit and you parachuted out, from the point of the actual briefing for the operation?
Well the briefing for that particular operation was our 33rd trip. We’d done German targets
and French targets and we were nearing the end of our operational tour. Oddly enough the trip was Stuttgart where the first German target we had done, and we were going back there. July ’44, was the middle of summer and it was a fairly late take off so we’d get the benefit of the
moon being down. You never wanted to fly in moonlight, because you were silhouetted by the moon between the cloud, if there was cloud, or the searchlights would pick you up much easier. It made the fighter’s job particularly easy. And, diverting for a moment, the night they bombed Nuremberg the powers that be decreed it would be done
in full moonlight and as a consequence they lost 97 aircraft. Of course, the fighters just had an open go. There was supposed to be cloud cover and there was none, and they lost 97 aircraft on the trip and probably about another 20 were shot up so badly when they got home that they were write-offs. Getting back to Stuttgart, we had a normal briefing, given the route into the target
and the various places to avoid. What the aiming point was and why we were doing it and what the bomb load was which was generally I think the usual high explosive followed by the incendiaries. Everything went well. Flying into the target, from memory I think it was about eight- or nine-tenths cloud
over the target at that point and we had the, must’ve been sky markers we were bombing on. We bombed, stayed straight and level for our photo, set course for home and about two minutes out of the target area just on the fringe of Stuttgart I had checked the bomb panel drill that all the bombs had gone
and I told the engineer to check them visually because sometimes there would be a hang up and he could manually release it, and when I was bombing I usually pulled my parachute down and lent on it, mainly to give myself height above the floor to operate the bomb panel and get better vision and
on four or five occasion the parachute clips, engaged with the clips in the harness, and normally after the bombing run I just took them off and put the parachute back in its stand. Just one of those things I did. It was easy to do and I think also psychologically it gave a feeling of confidence having it close at hand
going over that area. On this occasion one of the clips did engage with the clip in the harness and just when I was turning around to take the thing off and put it back in its stowage and [I] asked the engineer to check the bombs, all I heard was a very dull explosion at the back of the aircraft and someone saying, “Bloody hell,” and that was the
only recollection I had. The next time was conscious, [and I] was about 10,000 feet at the end of a parachute. The aircraft completely blew up and I was blown out the front and only for the fact that I had that shoot clipped on was the reason I survived, and
I suppose I must’ve been unconscious because I certainly didn’t pull the parachute myself, and when I got to about 8,000 or 10,000 feet I came to. The oxygen at that stage was breathable. Above that there wasn’t very much and I just came down on the end of a parachute. Coming down, I remembered that there was
a way to do a landing correctly. So I thought the ground is there and did this correct landing and went straight through the cloud, and about half minute later or less the ground came up very rapidly and I hit it without doing a proper landing, but fortunately it was a soft wheat field which must’ve been on the outskirts of Stuttgart and I’d say we were probably picked up by
predictor flak or just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and got a direct hit and the petrol tanks exploded and the aircraft just exploded with it. I was blown out of the front. I still had my helmet on. My oxygen mask had come unclipped. Normally they were fairly well clipped into the points on the aircraft,
but fortunately they did come undone, otherwise I just could’ve broken my neck because the helmet was just literally strapped on to your head and having these two leads on it, if they didn’t come undone, well, it would be like being hung, and so I floated down on a parachute.
Just a couple of
questions in regard to all that. You mentioned that you checked to see that all the bombs had actually been gone and then you asked the engineer to…
Well normally you switched off the bomb panel switches and the engineer would visually check that they had all gone. Occasionally you might get a hang up and he would release it manually which he could do through a trap door,
and I don’t know whether we did or we didn’t cause before that was done the aircraft blew up.
And it’s not likely that a bomb could have, if there was one there, blown up.
No. Normally if flak hit a bomb it would be unlikely to explode because it had to have, there was a little propeller on the bomb, front of the bomb
to activate the fuse. It had to drop probably 1,000 feet before it was live. So generally a bomb going off in the aircraft was most unusual.
You mentioned way earlier in the interview to Chris [interviewer] about the theory of parachute practice and going through what was required, and I take it in a sense you jumped out, 10 seconds
and then you pulled
That was the theory. You jumped out and counted to 10 so you wouldn’t hit the tail plane and pull the ripcord and the pilot chute would come out and followed by the main chute, and instead of descending at terminal velocity you descended at, well, a comfortable rate.
Given obviously you were blacked out or unconscious,
how did your chute actually open? Do you know?
I have no idea. The only thing I can think of the force of the explosion opened the pilot chute and it opened the main chute. That’s all I can put it down to. It was a very major explosion. Subsequently, about 10 years ago we were discussing things
at one of the reunions and one of the other aircraft on that trip was flying parallel to us. He assumed it was our aircraft, and he saw this aircraft exploding and it just went down in a ball of fire and by the time, or by the position we were in, the position he was in and the time, he said it was almost certainly our aircraft.
Does he, I mean is there a response then to radio back home to tell everyone that a plane’s gone down or does he keep silent?
No, when you got back if your name wasn’t crossed off the board you were missing.
So basically the aim really was just to get back, full stop, not worry about someone else who’s been hit?
You couldn’t. You couldn’t do a thing about it.
You were just thankful it wasn’t you.
Just before we talk a bit more about landing and what you did from there, in respect to Stuttgart, had you bombed Stuttgart since your third operation?
No, we’d been to various other German cities but this last operation just happened to be Stuttgart, not through any design,
and there was no apprehension about going back there because we’d been on other targets more than once. The fact that you were going back to a target didn’t make it any more psychologically different.
Even though you’d had a rough time last time at Stuttgart?
That didn’t mean a thing. You could have a rough time over France.
With so many aircraft on say a German trip, it was generally 700 to 800, it’s remarkably odd that you could do a trip and not see a thing. Just like doing a cross country at home. You’d fly in, do your correct things, you’d bomb, turn around, come home and you wouldn’t see a thing. Wouldn’t be coned by searchlights. You’d fly through the flak at the target of course, but
it could be a trip just like flying from here to Melbourne. Someone else, invariably somebody else, would be shot down on that same trip and quite often you’d see the other aircraft being hit. It was so many aircraft in the sky it was remarkable how few that you actually did see
at night. The Americans flew by day, which was a very different ball game. We did some daylights ourselves but we didn’t like them one little bit.
Given that you’re an easy target? Is that what you’re…
How is it different to the night?
We could see too much. The night was a cover.
You knew everything was there but you couldn’t see it necessarily and daylight, there was too much to see. You knew how close you were to the next aircraft.
We’re now coming back to your…
We didn’t fly in formation as the Americans did. Well, the first daylight we did, we flew in formation and over the French coast the
predictor flak got us. We were a V formation. You could literally see the shells coming up, quite literally, and explode. We saw one or two come up and the third shell hit the lead aircraft. The one on the starboard side was hit. We were on the portside and that’s enough for us. We weren’t in formation any more. We just sheared off and that was the last formation flight any of us did.
It was too much of a target. The Americans did it and I’ve got a great respect for their ability to fly in formation. Certainly they had a lot of fighter cover for some of the trips. Fighters, until the end of the war they couldn’t cover the deep penetrations, but the Americans flew by day in formation and
I had a great respect for them, the way they flew. Equally, they wouldn’t fly at night.
Was there a reason they didn’t fly at night?
Well their air force worked on day bombing, on formation flying and they had a fighter director in the lead aircraft. The lead aircraft was the navigator and everyone else followed him.
There were two or three other aircraft could take over if he was shot down, but all the aircraft followed the leader. All the guns were controlled by separate, or by the gun controller who would say which guns were going to fire at which fighters and they kept formation during the fighter attack as far as possible,
and that would’ve been very very hard to do.
Just coming back to your particular story now. You’ve landed on the ground after parachuting out. What was your response, what did you do next?
I realised at the time that there was no chance of the others having got out so I was on my own. Normally if you parachuted out
you were within possible shouting distance of someone else in the crew and you’d probably try to join up with them. I did realise at the time I was the only one that had any chance of getting out, through no fault of my own. It was just a circumstance that I was in the right place at the wrong time, and when I landed I just took stock of what I had,
took my harness off and collected the parachute and buried them in the wheat field. Wasn’t very, just dug a bit of a hole and put some wheat over it so it wasn’t easily visible when they came looking for me, if they did, that they wouldn’t find it straight away. Then I took stock of what I had, which was,
we flew in battle dress with flying boots which were generally in those days we had what were called ‘escape boots’ which were flying boots and they had a zip fastener around the bottom of the leggings which could undo and then they became a pair of shoes. So I took that off.
Took all rank and breviary [dress] off and I had a knife, an escape kit, a heavy flying pullover, a Mae West [flotation vest, named after the buxom American actress], which was the thing you had in case you ditched over water. You had that at all times. A parachute and a parachute harness which were no good to me. I ditched the Mae West,
taking the compass out of it, had a cigarette and thought what the hell do I do now? This was 2 o’clock in the morning.
We’ll just pause there because we’re at the end of a tape.
Interviewee: Keith Campbell Archive ID 1514 Tape 08
What was in your escape kit? You mentioned you had one.
A supply of Horlicks milk tablets, water purifier
tablets, a water bag, escape maps, compasses, emergency high-energy chocolate. That’s basically about all I think, what I remember. Possibly were a few other things, but the essential things for starting you off.
Which of those
items came in the most handy when you were on the ground?
The water bag.
Was it filled with water?
You had to find the water.
2 o’clock in the morning, you’re in the middle of a field. Is that right? What did you do next?
Had a cigarette. I smoked in those days.
What affect did that
cigarette have on you?
I think it was just a subconscious reaction. Sit down, have a cigarette and work out, “Where do I go from here?” and very vaguely I thought I’d make for Switzerland, which was very ambitious because it was quite a few hundred mile away
and there was no underground in Germany as there was in France. The only underground in Germany was six feet, so I thought, “Well I’ll set off anyway and see what happens.”
You’d been reading the map in the air. Did you have a fair idea of where you were?
I knew, well not exactly, but I knew where I was.
And where was that?
South, about 10 or 20 miles
south, south west of Stuttgart. As it turned out it was near a village called Boblingen.
What did you, how much did you think about what had happened to rest of the crew?
I think I blanked it out. I knew what had happened. I couldn’t do a thing about it and I think I just
mentally blanked it out.
When much later on that blanking stopped, was there a moment that it dawned on you what had happened?
I knew what had happened.
I mean not dawned on you, do you know what I mean? It became real.
Realised? No, I think I knew that all the time, not a particular moment or time. I knew that they’d been,
they had no chance of survival, accepted it and concentrated on what do I do next.
Once you finished your cigarette what did you do?
The idea was, we used to have escape lectures on the squadron, how to escape. It was mainly oriented towards France where there was an underground to help you if you were lucky.
In Germany you had your escape map and generally knew where you were and the idea was to try by the best way you could to get out of Germany. The only way I could conceive of getting out of Germany was walking. Also in your escape kit was a supply of money. Each trip had a different currency
or collection of currency. This particular trip I was on had French and German currency because those were the two places I was flying over, and I had this German money and I couldn’t conceive how it would be any use to me. The idea was to walk by night and hide by day. So after about half an hour or so I said, “Well I better start walking.” So I walked in what I thought was a western
direction along the edge of a road and came about dawn there was a forest or a wood, so I holed up there for the day. I slept until about 11 o’clock and spent the rest of the day waiting until dark again.
Water, where did you find water?
I found a little stream fortunately and filled
up my water bag and we had a mirror as well in that escape kit. Had a look at myself and didn’t recognise myself. I was all blood and scratches, but having washed in the stream it was all very superficial where I’d gone through the front of the aircraft and the aircraft, or some of the perspex had scratched on the way out. After I had a wash I found I was myself again.
I could recognise, it was all just surface…
Any other injuries?
Not at the time, no.
When you were in this wood, did you see anyone or have any idea there were people around?
I didn’t see anyone the first day. I just holed up in the wood and when it got dark I started walking again.
Did you mention a
compass among the things that you had?
Oh yes, we had compasses. The buttons, some of the buttons on the battle dress were compasses. You generally carried a small compass yourself and there were compasses in the escape kit. So you knew vaguely which, they weren’t accurate compasses but they were quite near enough for the purpose. So you knew in which direction you were heading.
This second night, what happened?
the dark, darkness, I set off walking again and I came to a village and in the distance probably 200 or 300 yards ahead I could see two figures come out of a side street so I promptly dived in the side of a ditch and they passed without seeing me. So I continued on and there was a village pump so I refilled my water bag and just kept going.
Nothing, I saw people but they didn’t take any notice of me. I kept going until I found another wood about 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning and holed up for that day and woke up probably about 8 or 9 o’clock and thought, well I’ve got another to put in and 400 or 500 yards away there was either a river or a
lake and there were a lot of, I think there were schoolchildren having a picnic and I think I had my white sweater on and I was standing up and I think one of them spotted me and they started pointing at me. So I’m not going to stand here, so I just walked around the lake and they just pointed at me, so I just waved at them.
You know, like that and they waved back and ignored me from then on. So it was daylight and I was exposed so I just kept on walking. It was through the, on the road but no town and from memory I think I kept going that day.
What were you wearing?
You had a white sweater?
have a white sweater. It was a flying sweater, which I kept because I didn’t know whether I would need it subsequently or not. It was the middle of summer but I was carrying it. I took all ranks and breviary off and in Germany they had so many uniforms that another one didn’t make any difference. I did pass through one village
and met people, or passed people. They didn’t say anything to me, so I didn’t say anything to them, just kept going. They didn’t query what I was doing. They were all older people, and I just kept on walking.
How were you deciding where you were headed by this stage? Were there any other signs of where you were?
Well I was generally following in a westerly direction,
making for Switzerland, which I had no hope whatsoever of getting there, but the alternative was just to give yourself up, which I eventually would’ve had to because I was out of food. I had no way of replenishing food stocks. In the fields there were cabbages, which I ate, and potatoes.
Raw potatoes are not very tasty, and some wheat which again is not very good. But I think it was about the third day I was, I think I was, I forget the circumstances but I was on the road looking for a wood to… it must’ve been
when I was walking at night, walking along the road looking for a suitable place to hide for the day and I was walking along and this truck came along and he stopped to give me a ride. I shook my head didn’t want a ride. He started talking to me and
I couldn’t talk back so I tried to make out I was a French worker and talk French to him, schoolboy French, was very schoolboy, but he unfortunately could speak far better French than I could. So he eventually said, “Englander?” So, “Ja.” So he motioned to get into the truck with him, which I did. I was quite pleased
at that stage to be captive and I suppose psychologically I didn’t give myself up, I was taken prisoner. Ultimately I would’ve had to give my self up through lack of resources. There was no way of getting to Switzerland. The possibility of getting a train was, unless
you knew German, the stations were well guarded and you couldn’t buy a ticket unless you knew how to ask for it. So that was out. So I was quite pleased to be taken at that stage.
What was the attitude of the man who picked you up once he established your identity?
He was a, well what will I say? He was a very decent type. He had his little daughter with him, and I had a very
small amount of chocolate left so I thought, “I’ll give it to the kid and surely they’ll give me something sooner or later,” and she ate it and I said something to, assuming it was her father, and he said, “Thanks,” and came to a village and we stopped at the local pub. He said,
“Beer?” “Ja.” Stopped at the pub, brought out two beers and he gave it to me. So I had a beer and then he took me to the local police. From then on I was really a prisoner.
What happened at the local police station?
He was an old policeman
and he had a very old, let’s say First War German revolver in his desk which he flashed around very spectacularly making sure I knew I was his prisoner. He took my details, confiscated everything I had, watch, pencil, what was left of the escape kits, maps and any personal things.
Put them in a bag and then put me in a cell and notified the local army or the services. Whether it was army or whoever it was I’m not quite sure, but a corporal from, I think it was army, came along and escorted me about eight or nine
mile in the rain to the nearest army barracks and I was put in a cell there, or interrogated again and put in a cell and awaited the next to see what would happen. I think I was there for about a day and they must’ve notified the Luftwaffe because
a chap from the Gestapo [German Secret Police] came down and tried to take me, but fortunately three or four minutes later a fairly high ranking Luftwaffe, I think he was a captain, came in and demanded that I go with him because I was a Luftwaffe prisoner and he was taking me. And I was never so happy to not be taken, or to be taken by them and not the Gestapo.
How much did
you, could you understand about what was going on during this time?
Well I knew I was a prisoner, I knew I would be taken to the interrogation centre at Frankfurt by whichever route they could get me there. I was fed basic food, given a bowl of soup in the morning, a couple of slices of black bread for,
bread for breakfast and soup for lunch and another couple of slices of bread for the evening meal, and from there to the army barracks the Luftwaffe took over and they took me to another station where I met up with four or five other aircrew that had also been shot down during the last ten days, and the whole lot of us were put on the back of a truck and taken back to
Stuttgart. And from there we went to Stuttgart Station and we saw how much devastation Stuttgart had suffered and when we got to the station to catch a train the civilian population were most hostile, for which I couldn’t blame them. The escort we had turned their guns out. We were their prisoners and we were a
valuable commodity and as much as the civilians wanted to get to us we were fortunately kept from them. We were subsequently taken down to the cellar so they couldn’t see us before the train came in.
How much did that hostility and indeed the devastation in Stuttgart give you pause to reflect on the consequences
of what you’d been doing up in the air?
You realised that war was not a happy thing. Devastation to civilians was something that was quite horrific. That was probably the only time I’d actively been positively afraid, that we knew that aircrew had been captured by the civilians [and]
as often as not they’d hang them. The same thing happened in England with the Luftwaffe raiding London. There were cases where the Luftwaffe people were very ill treated, for which you couldn’t blame them [English civilians]. We were subsequently put on a train in a separate compartment with an armed guard and
taken to the interrogation centre at Frankfurt.
How much training had you been given on what to do in an interrogation centre?
We were fully prepared for, fully briefed, on what to do and what to say.
And what was that?
Name, rank and number, name, rank and number, name, rank and number, whatever they asked you.
What was your name, rank and number at the time?
Name is Keith William Campbell,
Australia 423220, warrant officer. You just kept on repeating that.
Were you individually interrogated?
We were taken to the interrogation centre and I think there was ten of us, something like that, and we were all put into individual cells and kept there for about four or five days in solitary, nothing to do, nothing to
read, nothing, we were just there. You counted the number of nails on the floor, the number of fly specks on the ceiling and whatever else you could pass your time doing. Probably a softening-up process. We were finally taken to the interrogation officer still just as dirty and scruffy as we’d been since the time I was shot down. And we were literally dirty, hadn’t had a shave
for a week or ten days and you just were put at complete disadvantage, and started off with, he sat you down at a table and offered you a cigarette, which is fine, so I had a cigarette and he said, “What’s your name?” I told him. “What’s your rank?” Told him. “What’s your number?” Told him, and he said, “Well no doubt you want your people to
be, let them know as soon as possible that you’re our prisoner?” I said, “That would be very appreciated.” So he said, “I’ll just get you to fill in this Red Cross form and we’ll get it off to the Red Cross as soon as possible and they will notify your people.” So he gave me a pen and the Red Cross form, and the Red Cross form was name, rank and number, where were you stationed, what was your aircraft
and all the questions that we couldn’t possibly answer. So I just filled in the three relevant parts which was name, rank and number and handed it back, and he said, “You haven’t filled that in for me,” and I said, “No, I can’t and you know very well I can’t,” and he said, “Well your people won’t be notified that you are a prisoner.” “That’s all I can fill in.” So he said, “We’ll send you back to
your room and think about it,” which they did. While we were in solitary we had the two slices of black bread for breakfast, bowl of cabbage soup for lunch and another two slices of bread for our evening meal and a cup of acorn coffee and a cup of herbal tea, none of which was very palatable, but when you’re hungry you
eat anything. And the second day was the same thing. We got taken in and the same interrogating officer asked us the same questions and he said, “Well there’s not a thing we can do unless you do fill in this form.” We went back to the room again. Third day, same procedure, “Fill in the form.”
I said, “I can’t fill in the form.” My name is so and so, my rank is so and so, and that, my name, rank and number. He was a very, well say a decent type. He said, “I appreciate that you can’t give me any information but I know all about you anyway.” I said, “You couldn’t possibly.” He called one of his secretaries and he said in German,
he must’ve said, “Bring in the 466 file,” which she did, and he said, “Now I’ll tell you the answers to all the questions I would’ve asked you,” and he told me the squadron, the name of the CO, the name of the flight commanders, where we were stationed, what the bomb loads were that we had, the various trips and
he traced my career back from where I started. He could do that from number and a lot of intelligent guess work.
What was your response to this?
I was flabbergasted. I just couldn’t believe that they had so much information. They knew far more about the squadron than I did.
What was the most extreme piece of information that he’d give you?
I suppose the names of all the personnel on the squadron, where we were situated, the fact that various raids we’d flown on, where we, personalities, that obviously there must’ve been someone on the squadron who was a spy that gave these details
because normally aircrew would not give those details. Possibly from some of the remarks that are made they could piece a lot together which they were very proficient at doing and also they had, after our interrogation we were all put in, all the POWs that had been in solitary were put in together
in an area to await transport to camps for a couple of days, and we were allowed just to talk among ourselves and do whatever we liked. Just kept in a compound of course, and it was generally thought that there was one or more of those POWs who was a German posing as a POW and that is how they got a lot of their
Were you conscious of the need to sort of remain poker faced during that, or what was your response when you were told this information?
You just kept repeating mechanically name, rank and number. He knew that I wouldn’t say more or it was unlikely that I would and he was trying to get me to say more, to fill in this Red Cross form, which gave
details of the squadron. Possibly some air crew may have filled in the form and inadvertently given some of those details on the premise of had they filled it in their folks would’ve been notified straight away. The Geneva Convention stated that through the interrogation centre the Red Cross would’ve been notified
any way and they would send that information back as soon as possible.
Were there any other interrogation methods used? Was there ever a threat of violence or anything?
Not to us. Only possibly with more senior officers. We knew nothing really that could’ve been of any great use to them. They knew far more about the squadron than the average aircrew member
Who were the other blokes that had been shot down?
Various aircrew categories from various squadrons. I didn’t personally know any of them.
And where were you headed? When did you find out about what would happen to you?
After about two or three days in the collective section the Red Cross gave us
overcoat, blankets, shoes or boots and a Red Cross parcel and we were put on a train. We didn’t know where we were going. They said, “You’ll be on this train and you’ve got a Red Cross parcel and you’ll be on that train until you arrive at wherever you’re going.” We didn’t find out until, where it was until the time we got there.
It took us about three or four days to get from Frankfurt to a place called Barkowo which is far eastern Germany, quite near Breslau [modern Wroclaw, Poland today], to a new POW camp which was just being built and during the, it was, the train had zero priority.
Troop trains and transport had much more priority than the railways, and it took us a long time to get there, and confined into a very small compartment with an armed guard it was quite an unpleasant trip. Nobody, well,
occasionally, we were allowed out of the truck for sanitary purposes but you were put straight in again.
You mentioned when you were first captured you were resigned to becoming a prisoner. Can you take us through that mental change. How did you feel now that you were obviously no more part in the war, taken out of the game?
As they said, the Germans said, “For you, the war is over.”
I wasn’t happy about being a prisoner of course. I was very happy about being still alive. I knew I was going to be a prisoner for the rest of the war, which at that stage we knew would not be too long. We thought it would be all over by Christmas, most people did, but unfortunately it wasn’t.
I think it’s one of those things you accept, that was the best alternative. You would’ve liked things to have been different, but you were alive and there you are reasonably safe for the rest of the time.
From looking at the Germans you came into contact with, do you think they shared the view that the war was over or they sensed that they were going to lose the war at that stage?
A lot of the Germans we came in contact with, the younger ones
were fanatic Nazis, most of them. A lot of the older ones realised that it was only a matter of time. They couldn’t say so, but we sensed that was their reaction. A lot of the younger ones boasted that this was only a temporary thing and Hitler would produce some of his secret weapons and drive the Allies out of France again and
attack England. Their V2s would destroy the whole of England, which they were doing. That was the rockets. Fortunately the advance, the army advance was sufficiently rapid to overtake their launching sites and they stopped sending them over because they didn’t have the range.
The older Germans you mentioned, how was their resignation to
defeat or something along those lines reflected in their treatment of you, do you think?
Well the guards in the camp were generally older Germans that had been called up and they treated us quite well generally. There were exceptions to every rule, some didn’t, and some were quite antagonistic to the fact
that they knew they were going to be defeated and they wanted to make life as unpleasant as possible for us, but generally speaking they were reasonable. I can’t speak for every camp but the ones at this particular camp were.
Just to give me an overview, how many camps were you in over your time as a prisoner?
Two, Bankhaur and?
Luckenwalde. So Bankhaur first, can you just describe what was going on at Bankhaur when you arrived?
was a new camp when we arrived there. I was only POW number 447. It was a compound of huts, was mid summer fortunately, early August by then. The huts were makeshift huts similar to say masonite about
16 feet by eight feet and there was about eight of us to a hut. Just room to sleep and that was about all. There was a central recreation are and a water pump in the middle of the square and that was our water supply for all purposes. They were building a permanent
camp next door which they hoped to have ready very shortly. Being the middle of summer it was quite reasonable there. We weren’t cold or didn’t suffer from any climatic problems. Food was very short. At that stage the German POW
parcel distribution was quite good. Sometimes we’d get a Red Cross parcel a week. Sometimes one a fortnight, and they literally kept us alive. The German rations were the same, four slices of bread which was mainly sawdust and some of this ersatz tea and coffee and a bowl of soup for lunch which sometimes had a
smidgen of meat in it.
What were the, how were you fenced in? What were the defences like at this camp?
Well the camp was surrounded by one lot of barbed wire, by a small fence about say two foot six high with a wire on top of it. That went all the way around the camp and you were not allowed to cross that wire.
About 10 feet outside that again was the main fence which was a mesh about 15 feet high with barbed wire on the top and a watch tower about 50 yards with a guard and a machine gun. If you stepped over the wire for any reason they were quite entitled to
shoot you. Sometimes when we were playing sport the ball would go over the wire and you’d have to get the attention of the guard, point to the ball was over the wire and in sign language, “Can I go and get it?” And he would indicate that you could get it. But if you just crossed the wire with no reason he was quite entitled to shoot you. There were one or two occasions when people were shot
for crossing the wire.
Were they escape attempts or mistakes?
No. One was, a chap came back and he’d been very ill treated by the Gestapo and he was sort of wandering and he crossed the wire and didn’t respond to the command to get back and he was shot.
You mentioned there was another one?
from memory, he crossed the wire unintentionally. I forget the circumstances but I know he was shot, not hurt actively, just winged shall we say, and he was taken back and put in solitary.
What was the organisation for the Allied prisoners? How was their chain of command and such within the camp?
Well, the senior
British officer who controlled it and it was run more or less along the lines of a camp, an army camp or an air force camp. You were disciplined to the state that every morning or twice a day generally you were on parade. The Germans counted you meticulously to make sure you were all there,
and off parade you were allowed to do whatever you wanted to do. You played cricket, football, there were some Red Cross things such as a cricket set and things like that that the Red Cross had supplied. We could play games. We could just walk around the compound. That’s where I learnt to play bridge. We used to
occupy ourselves. There was very little reading matter, so a group of 10 of us had a very basic knowledge of bridge but there were three people in the place that were very highly qualified bridge players and they taught us how to play bridge, which was one game that can be played without stakes and it doesn’t lose any interest without betting on it. So we became quite proficient bridge
players and being summer it was just, well apart from the wire being there it was like being on a summer camp with restrictions. We used to…
I’ll just stop you there because we’re about to run out of tape, but we’ll hold that thought for a second.
Interviewee: Keith Campbell Archive ID 1514 Tape 09
So had the Red Cross been notified that you were at Bankhaur?
When we were at the interrogation centre at Frankfurt the Red Cross were automatically notified then and I don’t know how long it took
from that date to the time when my people were notified, probably a month or more. Obviously they were very concerned that they got a telegram saying that I was missing in action.
So did you send or receive mail at any time?
We were allowed, I think it was two air letters a month. So as soon as I possibly could, I wrote. Subsequently I did get mail from
Given your mother’s desire for you not to go to the war, do you know what her reaction was when she received news?
I can imagine it. She’d be very, say distressed, to say the least. She had a very strong Christian faith and
I think she, I’m sure she prayed that I would be safe.
I’ll just get you to watch your foot, (UNCLEAR) wood might get picked up on the audio. So how long had you been in the POW camp, the Bankhaur camp for before you were moved.
We were in the first camp for I think it was about the
end of September while they were finishing the main camp. The big day came and we were taken from the first camp to the new one, which was adjacent. We went through one by one to the gates. We were searched to see that we weren’t taking anything with us that would’ve been not allowed. We did have a radio,
a secret radio. Every camp had one. Nobody knew who ran it, where it was or how it worked. A certain person would come around each time, each day and give us the BBC [British Broadcasting Corporation] news. You never asked where it was or never queried it. It was just there and you accepted it.
Somehow or other that radio, or the parts of it, got through the complete search from one camp to the next and within two days of it being in the new camp it was operating. The new camp was what they had intended to be a permanent camp. It was very well constructed on a barrack style, a central aisle with
fairly large rooms on either side with two-tier bunks and a table and a stove. I’d say it was one of the very better camps. It was quite comfortable. It had a bathroom at the end of the corridor and the amenities were quite good. It had a recreation hall that we could use, and yes, it was more than we
had expected. I think there was, initially there were six of us to a room. As more prisoners came in it got to eight to a room. As the new prisoners came in everyone lined up to see them come through the gate one at a time after having been searched, and came in with their belongings that they were allowed to have. That was always
quite a thing to see if you knew anyone, cause quite often you did. Sometimes there was someone off the same squadron or somebody that you knew from another squadron and for the first couple of days each new arrival was sort of taken over by one of the rooms and fed until they were given their Red Cross parcel and had a chance to
orient themselves in the camp, and also for us to find out all the details of what was happening back home.
Given that some of the men obviously smuggled in the radio that you were hearing broadcasts from, to what extent was the search done on you?
stripped searched, but you were very thoroughly searched. How it was taken in I don’t know and I never found out.
So what items could you take into the camp?
Your clothing, what Red Cross food you had over which was sometimes opened, any
personal belongings that would not hide anything that you weren’t supposed to have. If it could be thoroughly searched you could have it, within reason.
During your initial interrogation you said you had your watch, you had everything taken including your watch and other sorts of things.
Did you ever get those personal belongings such as your watch back?
The watch was given back, yes. The rest of the personal belongings were kept. They were put in a bag with your name, rank and number on them and in theory they followed you around. I’m going quite away ahead, right at the end of the war
I did get that bag back.
What mail did you get from either your unit, the squadron or even from home?
Mainly from home, and from people that I knew in England.
What were they telling information wise?
Mainly just personal things. They could say anything, send military details. They’d just give you,
my uncle’s fine, Joe went on holidays and impersonal things that didn’t, more or less just conveyed that you were there and they were in contact. Some aircrew did, before being shot down, work out a code with people that certain words would mean certain things.
Sometimes that worked.
You mentioned that when new fellows came in everyone lined up to see if they recognised them, was there anyone that you knew from the squadron?
Could you tell me about them?
Just two or three people that were shot down subsequently to me, and they just brought in the latest squadron news, who was missing, who had finished their tour and any details like that.
What was happening down the local pub, who was going out with who, where your girlfriend was, who she was going out with.
You also mentioned during your interrogation they had an enormous amount of information on you and your squadron and there could’ve been German spies in amongst the men. Was there any likelihood of having German spies in amongst the prisoners to glean
Yes, oh yes.
Did you hear of…
We heard rumours that there were. We never knew. As far as we knew all the people that were there were authentic. But the way they could slip them in was from the original interrogation centre. They came in as POWs and established contact with the
Germans when they were in the camp. Some of the guards in the camp were called ‘ferrets’, who were English-speaking guards and they were, they just wandered around the camp talking to people trying to pick up as much information as they could, and that could’ve been one source of information with an intruder, through the ferrets back to the
intelligence section, and their intelligence section was excellent. So was ours for that matter.
Excellent. Now the Russians are on the advance. What news did you receive from those who listened to the BBC about this?
We knew where they were, and from about November of ’44 we knew
they were very close to Bankhaur, a matter of 50 or 60 mile. Some nights you could hear the guns. We didn’t know what was going to happen to us. Would the camp be overrun? Would the Germans take us back east, or just what would happen? Nobody knew and we weren’t told. As the
Russian army got nearer and the winter was drawing on we were quite apprehensive as to what would happen to us, and come the middle of January the Russians were quite close and we were told to be ready in 24 hours to pack up and go, that they were going to march us east.
That panic was over. Two or three days later the same thing happened and we were all ready and they cancelled it, and I think it was the next day they said, “You’ve got one hour before you go. You can carry what you like but what you carry, you carry it.” People started off, we did actually start the march.
We were told that the guards would be there and they would, anyone tried to escape they would be shot and initially at the interrogation centre, going back again, they said, “The Geneva Convention says we have to give you three warnings before we shoot you,” and someone got up and said, “Halt or I’ll fire.” Another one got up and said, “Halt or I’ll fire.” They said, “You’ve had two
warnings. The next one is the third one.” So we knew where we stood. Whether they would’ve or not I don’t know, but at the middle of January there was about eight or nine feet of snow on the ground and it was extremely cold. We were very thankful that the Red Cross had given us boots
and an overcoat. Fortunately I had kept my very heavy woollen pullover, which I was very tempted to ditch in the summer time when I was walking. Fortunately I had kept it and it was much appreciated then. We were marched eastward. Some started off with a case, suitcases, bags,
a vast amount of things. Within the first day there was a trail of suitcases, excess clothing, things that you could not carry. You ended up with a very small rucksack or something similar. I made a rucksack out of some of the clothing I had, a very small
thing that I had hanging over my shoulders and all you could carry was what food you had and anything else you considered was sufficiently valuable to cart along. But you very very soon found out that any excess baggage was a vast liability. You were down to basics.
Did you have to take your own food or food was being supplied?
You took your own, what Red Cross parcels you had. Very very basic food was supplied. They tried to billet us at night in farms. We were put in the barns and locked in the barn until the morning. The field kitchen hopefully came along and you were given a ration of bread and soup. In the mornings
hopefully you might get another ration. If you were lucky you still had Red Cross parcel food which we, some of us or most of us did have, started off with a reasonable amount of tinned food and milk powder and things like that which did last a reasonable, about a week
the way we spread it out. If there was food around, such as crops, we appropriated it. If there was livestock around they didn’t last long.
So the German guards would allow you to kill the livestock?
Well, they didn’t really
know we were doing it, I suppose. If we could catch a chicken or a rabbit or even a calf. On one occasion a calf was killed and there was all hell to pay about it cause the farmer realised in the morning his calf was killed and there was a major problem there. By that time it had been well and truly eaten.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get any of it, but I think from memory the group were fined so many cigarettes as compensation. Cigarettes were currency.
Given that there wasn’t much food and some blokes would have more than others, did fellows share or was there a bargaining
Generally in the camp itself you had a little group who messed together and on the actual march often that same group were together. Food shared goes a lot further than individual food. We managed to, four of us managed to pool our resources
and keep together and survive on what food we could carry, and it was meticulously shared.
Meticulously shared in?
The portions to eat. Each person had the task of preparing the meal, for want of a better term, and sharing it and it was put out on a
table if we had one, or on the ground or wherever we were and the other three members were each invited to take their portion and the person preparing the meal had last choice. So there was no favouritism in that respect. Everybody trusted each other. It was that or survival. It had to be a matter of trust. Same as
in the air, every member of aircrew was utterly dependent on their lives on each other, and a similar situation in a POW camp or a march like we had. Each one was, if you didn’t trust your mate, you were in trouble.
How many fellows were on this march?
The camp started off with about 400 or 500
and then we, on the way across we, another big camp at Sargen also joined that march and we all moved, probably a couple of thousand people moved westward, a straggling horde. There was no march involved, it was just a straggle.
There was a cart at the end of the march that if you were really ill they would put you on the cart for an hour to give you a rest, but generally you just had to put one foot in front of the other. You couldn’t stop. If you stopped and sat you quite literally froze to death in a matter of minutes. It was 35 to 40 below. It was cold. You had to keep moving.
The snow around the road was four or five foot high. The road was just slush where the people had marched over it. The Germans were just as badly off as we were.
You mentioned obviously the Germans telling you you had three warning before they shot you if you tried to escape, and they gave you two. Did anyone try and escape?
Not actively on the march.
A lot of them did at night when we went in the barns or whatever accommodation we had for the night. Some of them hid and stayed behind. It was quite impossible to do a count with so many people under those conditions. So quite a few did stay behind and were overtaken by the Russians. We never did know what happened to them.
Just as a
sidetrack slightly, the Russians, what were your feelings towards them?
They were an unknown quantity. We knew they were Allies. We didn’t know how they would react to a bunch of prisoners. They were renown for not taking German prisoners because they were a nuisance and what could they do with them? So they generally disposed of them.
They lived off the land. They were known to be very aggressive and we were very apprehensive about staying behind and being overtaken by them. Some of them, the people that did stay behind, had Union Jacks painted
on a piece of cardboard and they hoped that way would establish their identity and they would be taken over by the Russians. I think some did get through. We never did hear what happened to the ones who stayed behind, but quite a few at various places tried that. We didn’t, most of us didn’t because we were too concerned about what might happen.
We knew what would happen with the Germans. They would keep us marching under very adverse conditions but at least we were proceeding westward in their so-called protective custody. We were still nominally under Red Cross coverage.
It’s funny, you use the word ‘protective custody’ when you were a couple of weeks ago
prisoners under their guard.
Well, it was custody. We were being protected.
How long was this march for and where were you going?
We didn’t know where we were going. We were just heading generally eastward and ahead of the Russians. The actual march itself I think was about 150
mile or so. We were only doing about 30 or 40 mile a day if we were lucky, and wandering around the back tracks of Germany. Somewhere or other I’ve got a map of where the march was, but we went through a few very small towns and they seemed to be equally
apprehensive about what was going to happen to them to, as some of the guards used to tell us. They were frightened about what was going to happen to them when the Russians came because they had a very bad reputation of when they went to a town that it wasn’t a very happy town. We were marched eastward. One of the main reasons was
I think that aircrew and prisoners generally were a valuable commodity at that stage to Germany. We were prisoners that the Allied Forces actively wanted back in fact. We were sort of a bargaining chip, but if they behaved,
we behaved, we would be let back and by treating us well they may in turn be treated well themselves. That was the general idea of it. The prisoners generally, especially aircrew, were a valuable commodity.
You mentioned the conditions, I mean the snow, the mud and
earlier you also mentioned that you got a new pair of boots from the Red Cross.
They were the most wonderful gift that you could possibly have. Without a sound pair of boots you were dead. The ones that had traded their boots for food were in a really bad way. You were so hungry you would trade anything for food. Some of the town we passed through you’d trade say a watch for
a loaf of bread or something like that or a part of clothing just to survive. Without boots you were in trouble. I never took my boots off from the time I left Bankhaur to the time we got to the final camp. If you took them off at night sometimes you would lose them.
So there was theft amongst…
some theft, particularly boots. We knew three or four occasions where boots were stolen. We didn’t know who stole them. Had we known, they would’ve been lynched. That was survival.
So was there ever an occasion when someone got caught pinching something?
Not that I know of. Food and clothing were
sacred. You did not thieve from your own people or you hoped no one did. Obviously there were occasions where it did happen, but after about half way to the camp we were at for some reason or other, we were put on a train in
cattle trucks with a five-gallon drum in the middle and put in. The doors were locked and we very slowly proceeded eastwards. I think we were on that train for about four or five days and I think most of us would’ve preferred to have been marched because we knew the Allies were shooting up all the trains
everywhere, and they had long range fighters that could get that far and our train wasn’t marked in any way as a Red Cross train or they wouldn’t know it was a POW train, so we were fair game.
Was it attacked at all?
And the five gallon drums, what…
A toilet drum.
A toilet drum.
Could you just describe for me how that actually operated?
Well you just used it as toilet.
I’m thinking five gallons is this big by this big. Is that right?
Yes. It overflows certainly. You were allowed out very occasionally. Conditions in that truck were very unpleasant. The drum obviously did overflow and sloshed
on the floor and there was always standing room only so you sort of slept half standing up.
And no heating provided whatsoever?
No. Well, the heating was 40 odd people in a truck provided their own heat.
And where did this train end up?
At a place called Luckenwalde which was 50 miles [30 miles]
south of Berlin. We were taken off the train there and marched to the camp at Luckenwalde. The camp at Luckenwalde went back, I think it was built for the Franco-Prussian War. It was a jerry-built place at the best of times. It was infested with lice and other vermin. At that stage
all the, or many of the POW camps had their prisoners taken there. There were a vast number of civilian refugees taken there and thousands of Russian prisoners were quartered there. It was a very big camp and that was where we were taken, which would be about
April ’44, mid April. One of the nicest things that ever happened to me was coming off the train and before we went into the camp itself, we were put through the de-louser and our clothes were de-loused, we were de-loused and we felt clean again for a short while. When we were in the
barracks themselves at night the lice used to just drop from the ceiling. You spent 10 minutes or quarter of an hour every morning going through the seams of your clothing just killing lice. If we had cigarettes we’d burn them. It wasn’t a very hygienic camp at all.
The de-louse process, does that mean your clothes were washed?
They were put through a,
I think they were washed and we were de-loused by a pipe going up our trousers, down our neck, up our sleeves with some sort of powder that would kill the lice we had accumulated, or the vermin, which was inevitable under the conditions in which we were travelling. Believe me, lice are very very uncomfortable.
In this particular
camp, were all the inhabitants intermixed? Were you with the Russians?
No, separated. Each, or the aircrew were kept separate, the nationalities were kept separate, the civilians were kept separate. All in the same camp but in separate areas. We got very very basic food. I think we got a
couple of Red Cross parcels in the six to eight weeks we were there. The food position was fairly drastic.
I take it at this point a lot of your body weight would’ve been lost?
Oh yes. We were down to six stone, seven stone, whatever that is in kilos?
You could see Berlin?
We could see the Americans’
Fortresses of daytime flying to bomb Berlin. They usually flew at about 25,000 feet and you could see the planes in the sky. Their vapour trails were miles long and you knew they were headed towards Berlin. At night the RAF raided it with Mosquitos, generally sending,
or at that stage they were nuisance raids cause they didn’t, all the damage had been done to Berlin and all they did was send the Mosquitos over so the sirens would go and the population would go to their shelters and they’d drop some bombs and they’d go home again, and you knew when that was on because you could see the anti-aircraft
fire and hear them. So you knew that Berlin was not a happy place to be. We also had that radio. How they got it to Luckenwalde I’ll never know, but it was there. Somehow or other the people that operated it managed to get it to Luckenwalde and had it operating. So we knew what was happening on both fronts, that the Russians were very very close
and the American and British armies had just about reached the Elbe [River] and the German armies were in a very precarious position and they expected that they would surrender more or less at any time, but they still kept on going.
We were expecting the Russians to take over our camp at any time and one morning the Russian tanks just drove into the camp. We knew one day, or the previous night the Germans were there. We woke up in the morning and there wasn’t a German in sight and an hour or two after that the Russian tanks came in, mowed down some of the
wire and the Russian commandant took over the camp. From that stage on we were under Russian control.
Would you use the word you were freed in a sense?
We thought we were free, wonderful. We were free, not POWs. The first, the frontline Russians were wonderful people.
Well, when I say wonderful, they couldn’t do enough for us. They didn’t have any food but if we wanted food they’d take us to the countryside to a farm, tell the farmer we wanted something. No, he had nothing to give us. So they’d spray a few bullets around and if he didn’t produce something he was history. Generally they produced some hidden stocks and the Russians,
the Russian frontline troops, were very good from our point of view. From the German point of view they were very harsh. Unfortunately, after a couple of days the administration took over. That was a very very different story. We were treated not as prisoners, but as
people that were needed to be kept in custody. We might be in the way of the Russian army and the Russian guards were in the towers again and Russian troops were posted around the perimeter to stop us going, escaping, literally escaping to the
American lines. At that stage we knew by the wireless that the Americans had crossed the Elbe and they were sending trucks over to take the American POWs from Luckenwalde back to their lines. Some of the Americans got out, until the Russians found out they were getting out and they sent the trucks back and they wouldn’t let any more Americans or any of us go on the trucks,
and we subsequently found out the Americans said they would wait there for two or three days at a certain spot and if anybody could make it, well good luck. The Russian administration were most uncooperative. The senior British officer tried to reason with
them that we were now their allies, they were our allies and why shouldn’t we be allowed to go back.? And they said all the paperwork would have to go back to Moscow. What we did work out was that the thousands of Russian prisoners in Germany very very actively did not want to return to Russia, because they knew very well what was going to happen to them.
Any Russian soldier that had been exposed to western conditions and coming back to Russia would be either shot or sent to Siberia, and what we worked out that the Russians were holding the POWs as bargaining chips. We get ours or you don’t get yours.
After about three or four days under those conditions, a small group of us decided to try and escape.
I’ll just hold you right there at the escape point because we’ve just got to change.
Interviewee: Keith Campbell Archive ID 1514 Tape 10
What happened when you decided to escape from the Russians? What did you do?
We commandeered a bike and we tried to go through the
perimeter fence. We were spotted and they fired a warning shot which was a very good reason to go back.
I’ll just stop you for a second there, just pat your hair down for a second. Who were you with, when you say ‘we’, who are we talking about?
The group that, we’d been together from Bankhaur, four of us and three or four others had also wanted to
escape. Sounds silly, escaping from your allies, but that’s exactly what it was.
When you say bike, what sort of bike are you talking about?
One between eight of you?
No. We had, I think three or four of us had bikes. I’ve forgotten where we got them from. I think it was in the first few days of the Russian occupation when we had the frontline Russian people, we’d go out with them and
anything we saw we could have, so we commandeered a few bikes from the local town.
What happened when you were given a warning shot and went back?
We went back very rapidly. They were very trigger happy, those Russians. So discussed it among ourselves and said, “Well, we’ll wait until it gets dark and try again.” So we tried again and we
did get away and we knew vaguely where the trucks were. So from memory we rested up for the night. It was very much a battle area between the camp and where the Elbe was. There was a German panzer [tank] division that had been trapped and they were trying to fight their way south and
both the Americans and the Russians were fighting with them, and we were more or less trying to escape on the outskirts of a battle. But anyway, we did find where these trucks were and there were about five or six trucks there with some of the POWs in them and the drivers were American. There was one American lieutenant.
They were very very twitchy about staying there and we gave them an update about what was happening in the camp and they said, “We’ll wait another hour. If no more come, we’re off.” They did wait and I don’t think any more came and we did go back and crossed the pontoon bridge over the Elbe and into the American lines,
who most apologetic because the ice-cream machine had broken down and there were no clean sheets, and this was half an hour from the frontline.
What was in the American section of the lines? How long did you have to stay there, what did you do?
I think we were only there for a couple of days. This was, when I say it’s the frontline, it’s the base and the frontline was
probably four or five mile ahead, a very fluid frontline and they had sort of just the back base. They’d taken over the buildings of the town and that was their headquarters for that area, and like all Americans they had their ice-cream machine, their PX [American canteen unit], which followed very closely behind the troops, which was a very good way of fighting a war.
You wouldn’t have had much to do with Americans in
the rest of the war, is that right? Is this the first time you’d sort of been with a group of Americans?
From the time we were shot down, yes. We used to know them in Britain of course. When I say know them, we’d not actively go out with them or anything like that, but when you were on leave in London or wherever it might be there were always Americans there. We’d probably talk to them, compare notes and one thing
and another. But no, the only Americans we finally saw were the ones that were in Luckenwalde.
What did you do then, after a couple of days spent there?
They took us by transport from there to... I forget where, an aerodrome probably about a day’s
run from the Elbe, a German aerodrome which had been taken over where they were going to fly us to Belgium first and then fly us home. On that trip the devastation that we passed through in the German cities through which we passed, it was total. There were buildings that were shells
only, no roof, no windows. Most of the walls had fallen down and the rubble in the streets just had to be pushed aside to make a path for the vehicles. It was total devastation.
Where did you end up?
I forget the name of the German ’drome,
but we flew from there to Brussels where we were met by the Red Cross and given everything that you could imagine we may or may not need, cigarettes, chocolate, clothing, letters to write, whatever it was you wanted it was there, and we were only there, I think, a day and a half. We were given £5 and if we wanted to have a night out in Brussels
we could, which we did but we found out that the £5 went nowhere in Brussels in that area. Anyway we got back to our camp and the next day we were flown out to England.
Who did you write to when you got the chance to write a letter?
We wrote to home and to people we knew in England who also knew my family at home.
Had you been given the chance to write in Bankhaur and these other camps?
yes. I probably had written about a dozen letters and received about six or eight. One of the letters I received was from the squadron saying that your effects have been put in storage which you can reclaim when you get back and we would like advice as to what you would like done with your bicycle,
which at that stage I thought was a little superfluous.
Did you ever see that bicycle again?
You’re finally free, how did that feel and how was the dawning realisation that you were out of confines and out of camp?
It was a sort of an anti-climax, something that we’d built up to for so long. We landed in
England at an RAF ’drome. We were greeted by Red Cross girls and other groups like that, showered with chocolates, cigarettes, clothing, whatever we wanted was there, and it wasn’t a let down but it was hard to
realise that things had changed so quickly from being incarcerated to complete, and first we’d been under German control at Luckenwalde and then being, thought we were being, freed under the Russians and then being confined by the Russians, escaping from them, getting back, having thought we were free at that stage, being
disappointed. Got back to England and we were free. It was a wonderful feeling but it took a while to realise it was so. We were taken from there back to Brighton where we were given,
re-kitted, given uniforms and everything else we needed and told we had a fortnight’s leave, “Come back then and you’ve got a year’s pay. You can do what you like with it, send it home, spend it or whatever.”
You said it was a strange feeling in a way to be free. Was there anything you wanted more than anything else now you could sort of have
Just to know that tomorrow was yours to do whatever you liked. There was no roll call, there was no lining up for things, there was no shortage of food or shortages or camp discipline, which was necessary but then when we got back we
were totally free. I went, had this fortnight’s leave and a rail pass to go wherever I wanted to and I went up to some friends that we had in Chester who I’d been corresponding with while I was in Germany and I had a very quiet week there. It was so pleasant just to
sit in their garden and do absolutely nothing. I had a petrol ration, they had a small car and the family, the mother and father and daughter who was about my own age, we went for picnics in the countryside around Chester and to the theatre and just relaxed. It was a very
A lot of prisoners of war talk about having a little bit of difficulty relating to people after they’ve come out of incarceration?
I think that probably applied to the long-term prisoners.
You didn’t feel you’d been locked up long enough for that to have something, any problems?
That part didn’t affect me. What we did find out was the ones that had stayed behind with
the Russians were eventually repatriated through Odessa and didn’t get to England until months later. So we were very glad that we had taken the chance and got back early. We got back to England I think a day after the war ended.
What were your ambitions at this point? I mean the war with Japan was still on back in Australia.
Well we knew we would be sent back to
Australia and we knew that we would be retrained and be part of the South East Asian Forces.
Was that something you looked forward to or something you accepted or you didn’t want it at all?
Accepted more than looked forward to.
Had you had enough of war by this stage?
We were prepared to go on. We felt that we had done our fair share, even though some of the POWs had been shot down on say their first or second trip. They still had a long time in Germany.
When did you eventually get mustered to
return to Australia?
When did we?
When did you eventually get sent back to Australia? What was the sequence of events?
We went back to Brighton after a fortnight’s leave and nobody really wanted us. There were no vacancies in troopships going back or no ships available to take us back. So they just sent us on leave again and report back every three or four days and see if there’s anything happening, and that
went on I think until quite late in the piece. What was that, we got back in May. I think it was about probably end of June or early July before they wanted anything to do with us. We were debriefed by our intelligence people, but it wasn’t very relevant at that stage.
How did you eventually get back to Australia?
On the Orion which was a troopship. Conditions were better than before but it was still not a very good voyage. We came back via Panama Canal. We didn’t get off in Panama at all. I don’t
really think any of us wanted to. It was interesting passing through the canal and about three days past going through the canal the Japanese War ended. So we knew at that stage we would be going back and eventually be discharged, but the ship was still
under military orders in as much as no lights were to be shown at night because it was realised there probably were Japanese submarines in the area that wouldn’t necessarily accept the surrender. So until the time we got home it was troopship conditions.
What did you find when you
came back? Where did you arrive in Australia?
Arrived back in Sydney. We were taken by bus from the ship to Bradfield Park, met our family, spent a couple of hours with them and taken back to the centre, given leave passes, coupons and anything else
that we might need, and again said, “There’s your leave pass, come back in a couple of weeks,” and went back to meet up with our families and just went home. No parades, no ticker-tape receptions. We were just happy to be back and be home again.
How was the response on seeing you from your parents?
of great relief, seeing me in one piece, tempered with the realisation that my parents had contacted the other crew members or as soon as they knew the plane had been shot down, I think they all contacted air force headquarters and got the addresses of the parents and
the various parents corresponded and compared notes, and when my parents got the notification I was a POW I think it probably raised the hopes of the other parents and they were subsequently told that their sons had been killed in action.
I subsequently went to see them, the parents in Brisbane and Sydney and the country one. I didn’t get to Perth until years later. I couldn’t tell them any more than they already knew.
Why did you feel that that was something you needed to do?
I think that it was something that
I felt I had to do, tell them just what happened on that night and that there was no hope whatsoever of their sons turning up later. There were cases of POWs or people being taken prisoner who did escape and weren’t heard of again
until years or well after the war, had hidden up in various ways and they got back and their families didn’t know anything about them until months after the war ended, and I thought that I had to tell the parents that there was absolutely no hope whatsoever of their survival and they were killed instantly.
There was no, the plane wasn’t burnt, it just exploded and the explosion would’ve killed them straight away. I did find out the place where two of them were buried and the other ones, their graves were never found, or their bodies were never found.
It’s a very
solemn and sad task I imagine to be the bearer of that news, but was it comforting to their parents? How did they react?
I think so. They made me very welcome and I felt it was something I had to do.
It might be a slightly strange question, but what’s it like to be the only one left out of a crew?
Is it more difficult, or how do you account for your own survival in some way?
I can’t account for it. Just happened to have that parachute on at the specific time we were hit. Thirty seconds later it would’ve been off. Just the fact that I used to use that parachute as a sort of a cushion,
or not a cushion but something to raise my body from the floor of the plane to give me a better sighting. Something I not always did, but quite often did, and just put it back in its stowage and continued on. On this occasion it was there.
A lot of people in similar situations
might be drawn to draw conclusions from their survival or perhaps feel guilty about it. I mean what emotions have gone through your mind in the many many years since?
Just thankfulness that I was a survivor. I didn’t have a guilt complex as many people apparently did. I was lucky to survive and thankful that I had
Did you have an extra urge to get on with your life, do you think, because of your survival where others didn’t?
Was there an alternative? No, I think I was quite looking forward to be going back to civvy street [civilian life] again and resuming my normal activities. I had no,
apart from my immediate family, I had no attachments that I, no girlfriends or specific girlfriends to go back to. I had a lot of acquaintances whom I looked up and enjoyed their company, but I think I was, the air force sent us down to Jervis Bay Rehabilitation Centre.
All ex-aircrew POWs were sent down there to readjust. It was more or less just a holiday camp we used to go. It was a navy place. We used to go out in their navy boats in the bay and just generally have a good time for a couple of weeks and we were given a month’s leave again,
leave pass, pay and, “Come back and you’re discharged.”
Your feelings on leaving the air force?
I had four years of air force. I didn’t have any real ambition to join the air force, join the permanent air force.
So the only way was to get on. You went back to civvy street. How did that, was it a smooth process for you?
How did it go?
It took a lot of getting used to. To the discipline of going to work each morning. Certainly we were disciplined in the service, but it was a different type of discipline. Going to work was something that was normal that you needed to do. It was part of civilian life
to which you had to adjust. It did take quite a few months to really get back to it.
Just a question that was brought up during the break and something that must’ve gone through your mind when you came back. Australia had gone through a very different war to you.
I mean you’d been sent off by your country to fight and you fought in Europe and you’d been a prisoner of war. They’d been fighting the Japanese.
They hadn’t been invaded but there’d been a threat. How were you and your kind who went off to Europe seen do you think by the Australians who stayed at home?
Well going back to the time when the, say 1943 and 1944, there were quite a lot of aircrew received white feathers with a little note that, “Why are you over there enjoying the fleshpots of England, while we’re fighting for our life out here?”
In fact one Sydney paper quoted a lot of the Australian aircrew in England [saying they] are receiving white feathers, accusing them of having a wonderful time in England, leaves in the countryside with an occasional exhilarating jaunt over Germany. And one of the crew letters back was, if those people could see the hell that is a German target they would certainly
change their mind. There was no comparison to conditions, to air force conditions in Europe to here. It was a different war altogether. A lot of people did resent the fact that we were over there fighting for what they said was ‘England’s war’ when we should be fighting the war here, and a
lot of us would’ve preferred to do so, but we didn’t have a choice in the matter. The fact that initially when I volunteered to go over to Canada as a foreign country, or to see a foreign country, I really didn’t anticipate what was to follow as much as I would be so involved in,
I didn’t realise just what the war in Europe would be. Completely total commitment to war.
Did you encounter any of that ignorance or animosity when you came back to Australia?
To a small extent, yes. “Well, had you not gone to England you could’ve been fighting up in New Guinea or Borneo or somewhere
in the South Pacific. A lot of your mates were up there and you must’ve been very envious of them,” and I said, “In the service you go where you’re told, you don’t have a choice.” Mind you, even with the problems we had in UK, the conditions there
for people on a squadron were good. We had a peacetime squadron. We’d fly when we were required to fly. We knew the odds, what the odds were. Every time there was a raid on there’d be two or three planes missing. You accepted it. But we did come back to clean sheets. We could go down to the
local town and relax if we weren’t scheduled to fly the next day or night. That was one of the compensations of being there. The conditions here as I understand it were not anywhere near as bad,
say bad, the raids weren’t as extensive, the opposition wasn’t, shall we say, as much. Not to denigrate in any way the people who did fly here. It was a different ball game altogether.
On the flip side there, their sleeping conditions were worse.
They were infinitely worse. They were sleeping in huts and things like that and it wasn’t good. Certainly we were, some of the stations we were at, we were sleeping in Nissen huts. We still had the ability to go to the nearest town and enjoy ourselves, where they didn’t.
All right. We’re coming to the end of the interview so we’ll have to sort of start wrapping it up.
One more question that comes out of what we’re talking about about the different wars that went on, Australia’s relationship with prisoners of war is based mainly on the experience of the 8th Division and those who ended up prisoners under the Japanese. How do you as a prisoner of war in Europe relate to that and the fact that your story in a way has been lost in many respects when people talk about Australian prisoners of war?
From my personal point of view
our period in captivity was a Sunday School picnic compared to theirs. I was so pleased, that’s not the right word, that I wasn’t flying in the area where I could’ve been taken prisoner by the Japs. I couldn’t imagine the conditions under which those POWs
existed. We thought sometimes we had hard conditions but even the worst parts of the march were nothing compared to the conditions they had. How they survived only they knew.
How has that affected the way in which you might talk about your own experiences, especially around other Australian servicemen?
With great respect to the people that did service in the south west Pacific area.
The conditions under which they served were very primitive. The opposition may not have been the same, but the survival conditions were terrible.
On the subject of just talking about the war, today you’ve done a lot of it. Obviously you’re quite comfortable talking about it at this distance. Has that always been the case? How
much have you talked about your experiences?
I’m quite comfortable talking about it. It’s not something that upsets me or distresses me. It was an experience I went through and fortunately survived. A lot of the things that happened I would rather didn’t happen, but it was a period that was,
well, it was war and you either survived or you didn’t.
Was there ever any nervous trouble or tension, stress, trauma that you suffered after the war?
For about six months, yes. I used to get nightmares and I don’t think they affected me very much during the day, but
my wife tells me I used to get nightmares and being shot down and things like that and apparently I used to dream about it, although I don’t specifically remember it. Fortunately they faded out over the years. What probably now would’ve been called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,
which wasn’t a term known then.
Did you seek any help or how did you deal with it at the time?
No, I didn’t need help. Possibly, no, I don’t think we realised that we could need help. You just got on with things. I was fortunate in that respect
that I, or thought I could cope with it.
When you think about the war today with all the many many years of hindsight that you have, what are the things that come to mind? How do you feel about it now?
It’s a very unnecessary activity.
It could and should be solved by more peaceful means. Unfortunately it has always been so and I’m afraid it will always be so. You have the United, the League of Nations, which was totally ineffectual. We now have the United Nations, which is,
depending on your point of view, marginally effective. But anyone who wishes to start a war outside of their control, well as you know they do and have done since the Second War. Most I think regard the war from 1914,
it was just a breathing space between 1918 and 1939 until things started again. If you ever get time and the opportunity, time mainly, read the various books of Douglas Read. He was a Times foreign correspondent for the London Times in Germany
from about 1937 and his assessment between the various books he wrote before the war, during the war, post war and up to probably the late ’60s are the best insight to
what the causes of the war were.
I guess that my question was also on the personal side of your own war experience. When you think about that now, how did it change you as a person? What did it do as far as you’re concerned?
It gave me a lot of maturity in a few short years that I otherwise wouldn’t have had. Apart from
the personal losses I think it was a period that I would, in retrospect, that I would not have liked to have missed.
We’re at the very end of the interview, only a couple of minutes left, but is there any last words or any message you’d like for someone who might be watching this in 50 or 100 years’ time?
Don’t trust politicians.
What do you mean by that? Can you expand on that a little bit.
Well, what the causes of the war as stated by politics were nothing like the actual causes. The propaganda given out
and the inner workings of what actually went on were totally and completely different to what people were told. People generally, both in the service, the ordinary ranks of the service and civilians were what is now known as mushrooms.
Kept in the dark and fed bullshit.
I guess then the very last question to talk about is was it all worth it, briefly?
Look at the way Europe was then, is now. The war ended. The Allies supposedly who were allies, within a month Russia was an enemy.
Britain was tens of billions of pounds in debt to America. Europe was in a shambles. Germany was completely wrecked. Ten years later with the American assistance of the Marshall Plan Germany was a first rate industrial power with modern machinery.
France was still staggering on with their pre-war factories. Britain hadn’t had a chance to re-establish their production. They still had rationing up to the early ’50s and it took many many years for Britain
to recover from that war and the people of Britain were, they survived but they did have a very hard time, and France. The Germans certainly had a hard time but they were very materially assisted by American aid.
Right, well we’ll have to leave it there because we’re very
literally out of tape but thank you very much for talking to us today. It’s been a great pleasure. From me and from Michael and everyone, thank you very much.