Archive number: 1549
Preferred name: Allan or Spud
Date interviewed: 10 March, 2004
You are listening to the interview audio
Right, we’re going to start up off, with that sum-up that we talked about, the overview, so I’ll get you to just start off telling me about where you were born, where you grew up, those sort of details.
I was born in Toowoomba on the 16th of April 1921. My mother and father
were Mark and Ethleen Mahony, from Leyburn, it’s a little country town. It was actually one of the Cobb and Co staging places for out west. And my father was a stock and station agent, and he’d been there all his life, along with all his family. And that was where I
spent my early childhood, went to the Leyburn State School, which was only a small school with one teacher. And it all depended on the number of pupils as to whether they got an assistant, but most of the time there was only the one, just the head teacher was there. His name was Mr Binnington. And he was there until about
19 28-29, I think. And then there was Mr Corrie came then. And he was there until after the war. I was the only boy in the family, I have
a sister, she is ten years younger than me, her name is Alexis, and she is still alive and, and living at Kingsall, just outside Toowoomba. My, the early days out there, it’s like, I think, all the little places in the country, everybody knows everybody and
it was quite a close knit community. The area was mostly good grazing, and dairy farming in those days. Up until I was at school then until 1935, and I went away
to St Joseph’s College at Nudgee in Brisbane, and I put in three years there at boarding school, which I hated. I think that mainly because, one of the teachers in particular, he didn’t like me and I didn’t like him, and needless to say, things didn’t go real well. But other than that, it was
a happy childhood out there. You got involved in everything when you live in the country. As I said, everybody knows everybody, and it’s, how do I put it, oh lost it, but not to worry. I worked in
there at, after I left school, I had a go at everything. Worked in timberwork, worked with, I carted wheat the hard way, there was no elevators or anything, you had to do it, pick it up off the ground, and throw it up on the truck. And then I got a job with a man that came up from, from Dubbo and Parkes,
and he owned three stations outside Leyburn, and I worked with him then for three years, which worked with the sheep and the cattle, which I really liked, I liked the work. Unfortunately he died without a will, and it caused a lot of hassles,
and that was at the outbreak of the war, so my idea then was to get out of that, it wasn’t a very happy place to work. And I went then, I joined the air force. It was a bit of hassle over that, I was still under age, and I had to get my parents’ consent, which they didn’t want to give, because one of my cousins
had just been killed in the air force, and the other one had just gone into the air force, in air crew. And we, eventually, they put their name on the dotted line and I got in. But then I had to wait then for about eight or nine months, I think it was, for the call-up, and I went to Toowoomba and worked in the Toowoomba Foundry, as a stop gap [in-between]
job. And from then, I got my call up and I went in to start my life in the air force. And we went to Sandgate, which is now Eventide, it’s the old age home, they converted it after the war to Eventide. And we were there for three or four weeks, I think it was, then we went to Kingaroy.
It was in the middle of winter, and it was a cold place. Between the cold westerly winds and the red dirt, it was not very, it wasn’t a happy place either. And we did our, it was the initial training as they call it there, and that’s where you do your selection then, as to what you’re going to be. And I was selected to be a wireless operator,
and we went to Maryborough then, which was, it was only just a wartime station, huts, and normal kind of place they had for the army. Morse code and I didn’t see eye to eye. Monday to Wednesday, I could take about ten or twelve words a minutes, on Thursday
it was a bit of a heap of sounds, and by Friday I didn’t have a clue. So I got scrubbed from being a wireless operator. But it was something as they said, that you can do or you can’t do. One of the boys that I was with, he had a degree, he was a Master of Arts, he used to get that frustrated with it,
that he couldn’t take it. He said, “I’ve got all the brains in the world, I got letters after my name, and I can’t take this stupid stuff”, so we got scrubbed off that, and we went then as straight air gunners. Left Maryborough and went to Evans Head, where we did our gunnery course, and we met up then with others that had been
with us, who had been classified for navigators and bomb aimers and wireless operators. And we passed out of there as sergeants, or if you went to the right school, you went to a commission, I didn’t go to that school. And from there, we had a bit of final leave, and back to Sandgate,
and then to Bradfield Park in Sydney, and from there we sailed for England. Went to New Zealand, I was hoping the boat would sink, it was that rough and dirty, and I was seasick.. I used to crawl up on the deck at half past two every afternoon for boat drill, and then I would get back on my bunk, and that’s where I stayed. But after we left New
Zealand, I was right as rain, no more hassles. Landed in San Francisco, went across by, on a troop train, but it was actually, everybody had sleepers, and you got your meals. The train would stop at a station, and they used to bring the meals on, they’d be hot meals.
And went across, I think we were five days and six nights, if I recall, to an American army staging camp, it was Miles Standish, just outside of Boston, and we were there for three weeks, and then we got our marching orders then to go to New York, and we boarded the Queen Elizabeth to go to Scotland.
It was, I think there was about 15,000 on board. You got your breakfast at nine o’clock, then your next meal was at four o’clock, you were given 20 minutes to eat it, and stack your plates and get out, because the next lot were there, waiting to come in. They ate around the clock,
and it was four days, I think, that we were on the boat. We landed in Greenwich, and straight off the boat onto a train, down to Brighton . And that was the staging camp for the air force in England, when I got there. Previously I think they had gone to Bournemouth, but we went to Brighton, and then,
I forget just how long we were there, off hand. And we went then to an operational training unit, which was just outside Oxford, and that’s where you met up with your crew. And this is where lady luck, or my guardian angel I think, they worked over time.
The crew that I was originally with, there was already three Australians in it, and I made the fourth. But I had got friendly with this other Australian, who was a rear gunner in another crew, and they only had two Australians, so by mutual consent, I went into their crew. The original crew, while at OTU [Operational Training Unit], they flew into a hill one night, and they were all
killed, so I ducked that one. In the crew, there was the pilot and rear gunner and myself, Australians, the bomb aimer was an American in the Canadian Air Force, and the other two boys were RAF [Royal Air Force]. We did our OTU on Wellingtons, and then we were sent then, to do a conversion course
onto Lancasters, and that’s where we picked up the flight engineer, who was from Liverpool. And we, when we finished the conversion, we were posted to a squadron, which was 49th Squadron, an RAF Squadron outside Lincoln. And we used to have, oh a fair few hassles with the languages.
The navigator was from Yorkshire, the wireless operator was from Coventry, the flight engineer was from Liverpool, and the Yank with his accent, there used to be some arguments at times. The skipper used to, would get an alteration of course from the
navigator, and he’d in his Yorkshire accent, he was a bit hard to understand, but. And the skipper would say, “I can’t understand you, Junior, will you write it down”, and the Yank [American] would say, “oh why don’t you speak English”, you know. And then of course, everybody would be up him for the rent, with his accent. But we got to the squadron, and
you’re still flying at night time and daytime exercises, regardless of where you are. Anyway, when you get to the squadron, you’ve got to do a certain amount of, certain amount of more training there, before you start flying operations. The pilot has to do, what they call a second dixie,
he’s got to fly as a second pilot with an experienced crew. And then you’re on your own then. Well on our first operation to Berlin, we ran into strike over the target with a fighter at, I opened fire on him, and he, I suppose, hoped discretion was the better part of valour,
and he shot through, and left us to it. We got back to England, and unfortunately there was fog, and on our way into land, the, our squadron had what they call FIDO [Fog Investigation and Dispersal Operation], which was a method of dispersing the fog, there was big petrol lines down the side of the runway, and they used to start
the fire in that, and the heat used to lift the fog, and you, in theory you came in and landed on the runway. But unfortunately we undershot and the wheels ran into a ditch, and we crashed. The fuselage snapped in front of my turret, I was the mid upper gunner, and we kept on going, and the rest went up in flames.
I got out with a cut to my forehead, and the rear gunner never got hurt, so, very lucky again. We eventually got back to our base. I was taken to the, to the doctor and he put some stitches in my forehead, and had a couple of hours sleep.
And that afternoon we were back in air again, with another crew, that was part of your training, you get straight back up in the air. They gave us a week’s leave, and back to the squadron again, and I was then without a crew. And I hated the thought of having to go back to OTU and start over again.
But fortunately there was a Canadian skipper, who, the mid upper gunner that he had, decided he wasn’t going to fly on operations, so he, he just said well that was it, he wasn’t going to fly. Well he was charged with LMF, lack of moral fibre, and he was really an outcast on the place. And
I was then put with their crew, Canadian pilot and navigator, the other four boys were RAF, and I was the only Australian there. And it was a good crew, we really got on exceptionally well. And we’d been to Berlin, I think it was four times, and once to Frankfurt. And then
we were, on New Year’s night, we had to go on operations, we left at midnight on New Year’s night, and we got back at eight o’clock in the morning, and by the time we got to bed it was about half past eleven. At two o’clock they pulled us out of bed, we were flying again that night. And I worked it out, in about 72 hours, I
might have had about three or four hours sleep. I, everybody was in the same boat, because we played up on New Year’s Eve night, in the mess, they all used to let their hair down. And then on our way into Berlin, we were turning to run into the target, and another aircraft came in behind us and underneath us, and knocked our starboard outer engine
and half a wing off, and that was it, there was nowhere to go but out. We, the rear gunner and the wireless operator and myself, went out the back door, the other boys went out the front. The rear gunner was sitting on the doorstep, not moving, so I gave him a helping hand with my foot. Because I didn’t know how high
we were, or what, or anything, anyway. We bailed out and I landed in a tree, and to undo my harness I had to climb up on the limbs, take the pressure off my parachute harness. And standing on the limb, and the limb broke and I fell about thirty feet and I busted my back up, so that was, but at least
I was in one piece. When I’d bailed out, I’d lost my boots, and I don’t know how long I was there on the ground. Everytime I moved, you could have heard me in Berlin. I crawled down, I could see a light at one stage, and I crawled down towards it, and it was, by this time it was breaking day. And I had to
get over a fence, and I got onto the road, and that’s where I thought, oh I’ll stay put. And this farmer came along in a German wagon, and I waved at him, and he waved back and kept going. And I thought, this is lovely. Not long after, he arrived back with an army bloke, and he had a tommy gun and the farmer had a pitchfork, so. And my introduction to them, “for you, the war is over”. That was their
pet saying, and when you got picked up. And we went to the, they took me to the farmhouse, and he offered to put me on the bed, because I was, they had to help me along the track. And all I wanted to do was get down on the floor. And unbeknownst to me, the bomb aimer had been picked up, and they told him, they wanted him
to come with them, to identify some person. Anyway, the bomb aimer arrived and he saw me lying on the floor and he thought I was dead. He said, “and the next thing, you started to snore”. And, but by that time he had said, you know, who I was, and that kind of upset him then, because
he’d identified me which he shouldn’t have really, but he thought I was carked it. And I think it was about six o’clock the next morning, all our crew was in the one, we were in one jail, in the New Brandenburg. Skipping forward a bit, I was back in England 12 years ago, and going
through record, found the other aircraft that hit us was off our squadron, and they were all killed, so we were very fortunate again. So my guardian angel was working overtime, really. Interrogation was one of the things that you had to face up to. We had lectures back in England, of what
to do, you give your rank, your name, your number and your next of kin, and that’s all you give them. But they knew more about us, than we knew ourselves. They showed me a photo of our, taken from the air of our squadron, and they pointed out where the CO [Commanding Officer], where his office was, and who he was, and where all the aircraft were. But that was one of those things you just
had to bear in mind. You had, when you went on operations, you were given money of the countries you were flying over and emergency rations, and that was it. Everything that was personal, had to be left at home, your wallet, any letters, anything like that, it had to be left back in the
base. By this time, we were, as I said, we were all, all the crew were together, the skipper had been hurt, he hurt his shoulder when he hit the ground, but all the others were all right. And then they put us in a train, and went up to Lubeck on the Baltic Sea,
and from there to Hamburg. We were, I can remember going into Hamburg and it was, all you could see was heaps of rubble, or might be a chimney here and there. And when we got in there, they took us to the jail, and the old bloke in charge, he wouldn’t have us, see, he kicked us out. So we had to go out then to, what is like, well,
if you’re up in Brisbane, out to Wacol or Boggo Road, as it used to be. And that’s where we spent that night. By this time, we’d picked up another two or three air force blokes. And we spent the night in a dungeon with a, there was a wooden bed and a thunderbox, that was the furnishings. This was in the middle of winter, as I said, I’d lost my
flying boots. But one of the air force, one of the, Luftwaffe officers he must have taken pity on me, and he gave me a pair of boots too, but strict instructions that I had to give them to the guard when we got down to Frankfurt, so that he could bring them back to him. Next morning, we were taken to the railway station in Hamburg,
what was left of it, it had originally had a glass roof, it was like a big oval building, but there was no glass in it, because of the bombs. Actually Hamburg had been more or less wiped out. And while we were on the platform, waiting for to get on the train to go to Frankfurt, all the mob get very upset, and they were going to do us.
But fortunately our guards, they turned their tommy guns on them, and they took us off the platform, and got us out of the road until the train was just about to leave. And then when we were all rushed out and put in the carriage just as the train was more or less moving, and we went to Frankfurt then, which was down in the south.
The interrogation camp there was called the Dulag Luft, and that’s where they put you through the mill. I was in the cell, there was no window and no light, and just the door on it. There was a heater, and it was either on or off, so they wouldn’t put it halfway, and give you a bit of, you know.
And I think I was there for eight or nine days, I’m not real certain, I ran out of time. But every now and then they’d take you out and interrogate you, the same thing over and over again. What were you flying, where were you flying, what were you doing, what were you carting, but all you give them is the same old thing. And eventually we were taken from there to staging camp, where
I was issued a pair of boots, and I was given an overcoat, all your flying gear is taken away. All I was left with was my battle vest and my white sweater, and that was it. And we, I think we were there about a week or so in this staging camp, until I suppose they had enough then to sent off to prison camps. The officers were
put in a separate lot, and they went off. We unfortunately were sent to a prison camp controlled by the army, which was, as far as we were concerned, wasn’t real good. Because the German army didn’t like the German air force, and needless to say, we were really on the outer, because of, you know, the dislike in their own side. And,
but the whole camp, there was only about 600 air force there, there was 25,000 in the camp. I think about 10,000 of those were Russians, and the rest were - you name it, we had them: French, Poles, Dutch, Serbs, all from the Balkan countries, there was Italians,
we even had a bloke from Switzerland, I don’t know what he was doing there, but I got an idea he was, he had gone to England to join the RAF, and he was in the cooler too. But the huts were just a wooden building, more or less two huts end on end, and in the centre was a concrete, an ablutions block, as they called it. Running
water and concrete troughs. Your hut was divided in half, half for sleeping, and there were two stoves. And the other half of the hut then, was for eating, and that’s where you lived. The bunks were three tier high, and there was 18 in a row, out from the wall, there was a little passage, and then another 18. I think in our hut there was about
120, 130 in the hut. There was a toilet at the end to be used at night. And your roll call. When we went there first, we were more or less segregated from the army, and everybody else used to have a roll call, morning and night. But air force had to be different, we had to have three roll calls,
one in the middle of the day, and we were locked up in the compound on our own, we weren’t allowed to mix with the British army blokes, or any of the others. But after a few months, they found we weren’t as bad as they thought we were, and we got, they stopped the roll call in the middle of the day then, and we were allowed to go and mix with the rest of the prisoners.
We got some parcels from the Red Cross to start with, but you formed yourselves into a kind of combine, either two or three of you together, and you shared everything, all your food. The Germans used to give you, you got your rations of food for the day,
sometime in the morning it would come round. There’d be a certain amount of potatoes that were cooked, black bread, and then it was a mixture, we called it ‘skilly’, it was dehydrated mixed vegetables. And at one stage they were very, very generous they put horse meat in it, but everybody paid for it, I think it went straight through.
The black bread was, oh, it weighed a tonne, and it sat on the right on the top of the chest, you got indigestion. I’d got there, I think it was towards the end of January that we arrived at the prison camp. It was Stalag 4B, which was Muhlenberg on the Elb River,
We were about 80 miles southeast of Berlin, in Saxony, it was. The Elb River was about three quarters of a mile away, and there was a railway, one of the main north-south railways was only four or five hundred yards away, which, after the invasion, that was a bit of a, wasn’t a good place to be. Because they used to come over strafing the
trains, and strafing the barges on the Elb River, and we used to get the leftovers from the Spits and Mustangs, or whatever they were using. And we, a few were killed with the strafing of these things, and we got what was left. And life in the camp,
you had to make your own entertainment, more or less. They were pretty well organised, that they had men going around, giving lectures on what they did, ordinary life. When you take about, oh 10,000 English speaking people, from all, all parts of England,
Australia, New Zealand and Canada, there’s quite a cross section of people there, and their work, it didn’t matter what you could kind of think of, there was somebody there that did it. And they used to give lectures on the things. We had some funny ones amongst them, one was an undertaker, he was an English bloke. You wouldn’t
remember Smith’s Weekly or The Bulletin, it was a paper, was published here. And the characters, the undertaker was big, tall bloke with a hooked nose and a white face, and black hair, and that’s this bloke to a T [perfect likeness]. But some of the lectures he used to give, he had everybody screaming their heads off, what they used to do. Once they laid this old bloke out in the
lounge at the house, but they took a spring out of one of the lounges, and put it under his head. And every time the double decker bus went past, the vibration used to, his head would be shaking. This is what some of the … and when you knew this bloke, you wouldn’t be the least bit surprised this is what he would do. After a while,
the Red Cross parcels started to dry up. And you were allowed, as I said, the potatoes you got from them were cooked, you weren’t allowed uncooked potatoes, you weren’t allowed civilian bread as we called. You weren’t allowed to have a wireless, naturally, but I think there was about three in the camp,
that they’d built out of nothing. But on the black market with the guards, cigarettes were your money, if you had cigarettes you could buy food. There were a lot of, even the prisoners would rather smoke than eat. I gave up the cigarettes when I got there, I used to put what cigarettes I had to food.
And I think a loaf of civilian bread was 25 cigarettes, and the guards used to bring that in at night. He’d come in, in his big overcoat, and he might have four or five loaves of bread, would be hanging inside his overcoat. And he’d come round your hut with, you know, if you knew, happened to know one of these guards, you’d give him the cigarettes, he’d give you the bread. And you had something else to eat then.
You weren’t allowed, as I said, wireless sets or tools. The German, he followed orders. They used to put on a search, and they would come in looking for tools. You could have uncooked potatoes or stuff there on the, around, all he was doing was looking for tools.
And then they’d come looking for wireless sets. In our hut, we happened to have one of the wireless sets there. A part of it was in a haversack hanging on the end of one of the bunks, and they used to leave some old stinking socks on the top of it, and the gerry would come along and he’d open the thing, pick the socks up and he’d start
abusing whoever owned it, and slam it back, and off he’d go. And there was another part of it was in a stool, and there was an old, one of the old guards there had been a Prisoner of War in England in World War I, and this old bloke used to come through the hut, and he used to sit on this stool where the wireless was. But, they never, ever found it. But they used to get the messages, we used to get the BBC [British Broadcasting Commission] News,
and then they used to take it round the huts. We used to get news from, the Germans used to give us the news. And after the invasion, we used to get the news from the Germans, and they’d be at such and such a place. And then we’d get the BBC News, and they’d be a bit further away, so you’d split the difference, and that’s about where they would be
at that time.
We’ll just pause there, cause we’re at the end of the tape,
so we’ll just switch over.
End of tape
Interviewee: Marcus Mahony Archive ID 1549 Tape 02
Yeah. OK. Are you rolling? Oh, OK, we’ll pick it up from where we left. We’re in the POW [prisoner of war] camp,
In the POW camp.
And the Allies were pushing.
The invasion was on, we, and then, sorry, we used to get the news from the Germans and you’d kind of split the difference. Towards the
middle of April, we knew things were getting very close, we could hear the artillery in the distance, aircraft would be over practically every day, strafing the railway and the barges. And I think it was somewhere about the 16th of April, we woke up in the morning, and all the guards had gone, and next thing, there was about half a dozen Cossacks came in on their horses,
opened the gates, and went in one end and out the other, and that was it, we were on, we were, we were free. But the war was still on. The Russians that were in the camp, they just went berserk, they took the fence, there were two fences about eight foot high, barbed wire, they just hit that on a face and knocked it down, and they went.
Well we had to go out then, and we had to live, they didn’t, the Russians didn’t give us anything, so we had to go out and knock stuff off. Eventually we walked to a German army camp, and we were there on the 8th of May when peace was declared. It was a rare old night. The Russians were on the grog,
and they had tanks there, and they used to fire a every pistol in the air, and then they’d let go with machine-guns at it, and they’d go big guns. I was up on the second storey when it started, and I got out of there very smartly. We had, we eventually, we walked out of there, and we walked a couple of hundred miles then until we got to the river. The Russians were on
one side, and the Yanks were on the other. And we called out that we were RAF, it wasn’t any good saying to the Russians you were Australian, cause they didn’t know what that was, but saying you, as Americanos you were right, they knew that. They took us from, we got with the Yanks, and then they took us to Halle by road. And from there, we were flown back to Brussels
in a DC-3. When you got into there, you were put into groups of 21, well there was four of us, four RAF, and, one other Australian and two English boys, and we had 21 Cypriots with us. And they couldn’t speak English, we couldn’t speak their lingo, and they’d never been in an aeroplane before, so that was a bit hairy, having to, when we got in the old boat to sort them out. Back to
Brussels, and spent the night there, and then they flew us back to England in a Lanc[aster]. I’m not quite sure where we landed, and then back to Brighton, again, from where we started. And we got back there on the 18th of May, and we were there then, until I think sometime in August, if I remember rightly. And we left from Liverpool,
through the Panama Canal, back to New Zealand and back to Sydney, and eventually home. So that was, I think if I remember rightly. August the 15th, I think the Japs, that’s when they threw it in. Well we had just got through the Panama Canal, and we couldn’t have a drink, there was nothing to drink on the boat, but when we got to New Zealand,
we made up for it. We had a lot of Kiwi [New Zealand] air force and army POWs, and we were all POWs, and we had some Royal Navy blokes that were coming out to man ships out here, because the war was still on when we left England. So, back to Sydney on a Sunday, which was a dead place, and we didn’t know anybody there. But we only spent the night
there, and then back up to Sandgate, and that’s where we met our parents, and then we were given three week’s leave to catch up with them. And then we came back then to Southport, which was a convalescent camp for the air force, and I had to go into hospital then, to operation for a hernia. And I think I spent
about four months there. Huntingdon, Hungtingdon Towers, which is now, and Seabank. Seabank, I think was the governor’s holiday residence, well the air force had taken that over, and they Huntingdon as well, there was a couple of real big old homes there, that’s where we lived. And I was there then until I got my discharge, I think it was
in the February 1945, no ’46 it would be, yeah.
And how were the preceding years? And what were your preceding years like? Not preceding, following?
After that. After that. Well I got my discharge, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do with myself. My father wanted me to
go in with him in the business, but I realised at the time, that I didn’t think there was enough there for two of us, I was single. And I knew that I couldn’t go back to station work again, with sheep and cattle, because my back was a mess, and I couldn’t sit on a horse for eight, nine hours a day, and the work involved. Through the rehabilitation, I took
on a carpentry, which I did, we did a crash course in that. And I just got a permanent job, or more or less permanent, with the Commonwealth Department of Works. And I had met my future wife just before that, she worked in Brisbane, and she’d
come up to outside Warwick, to her parents, on holidays, and that’s where I met her. And we got married in 19, 1947, I think it was, we got married on the 18th of October, we were married. And we had three boys,
they’re still all going, I lost my wife in 1987, in February. She was diagnosed with cancer in August, and they operated but unfortunately it was too far gone, and she died in the January, she died. And, I had shifted down to
the Gold Coast when I retired from work, and that’s where it was that she passed away. But going back, I got a job with the Commonwealth Works, and we did all the maintenance work on air force, army, anything run by the Commonwealth Government, which was post offices, social security, that type of thing. Our area went from Gatton out to Augathella,
Thargaminda, down to Wallangara and back into Toowoomba, all that area in there was what we had to look after. Which meant a fair bit away from home, which was very hard. Yeah well Mame had just, she wasn’t allowed to go back to work, she worked on the telephone exchange in Brisbane.
And when we got married, well that was it, she wasn’t allowed to go back to work, part of their rules, so we had to struggle along, which we did. And the three boys all went through, they all went to their senior. Barry has got his own accountancy business, and his son Mark who is also an accountant,
works with him. Patrick, he’s in the office with a firm in Toowoomba that makes these concrete walls, that’s how they put a lot of these buildings up now, it just a big slab and they stand it up, and put another one of top of it. And Sean is out in Tallwood, working on the cotton, out there in the cotton projects.
So, where from now?
Oh right, that’s very good. So we’ll go right back to your earlier life, growing up in Leyburn. What kind of a place was Leyburn?
The population would possibly, oh it might 100, 120 in the town, but it had quite an area.
As I said, it was grazing and the dairy farms, though the people were poor. The kids coming to school, very few would have shoes, and some of them would walk three or four miles from home to school. I know one family, the girls would have to help the mother with the milking, the boy
would be, would have had their breakfast and gone with their father out on his place, working. They would go to school, and then they would on their way home from school, the boys would stop and help the father again, and the girls would have to help with the milking. That was just one family in particular. There were quite a few like that. See it was just at the start of the
Depression, which was the early ‘30s. And people were, they just never had anything, because the banks had gone down the drain. And I suppose we were a bit fortunate in one sense, my Father was a very keen fisherman, and he used to shoot a lot. And I know we would have duck, they’d be wild ducks, and
he’d go down to the creek and fish. The schoolteacher was a very keen fisherman too, he’d be there with him. And we more or less, I suppose you could call us, maybe self-sufficient. But then I was lucky that I went away to a boarding school, I think I was the only one in the few years of that era, that
was lucky enough to get away to school. My father and all his brothers, they’d all been to Nudgee, and that’s why I was sent there. And all the girls went to All Hallows Convent in Brisbane. But see, we were a bit too far away to, I used to get home in August for a fortnight’s holiday, that’s the only time I saw my people. But there were people, there were boys at Nudgee from all
over, all over Australia. We had a lot from New Guinea, some from West Australia, we even had one, there were two boys from Malta, their Father was the Consul in Brisbane, they were at Nudgee.
What was it like as a young man or kid to be away at boarding school?
Oh, homesick, lonely,
but you, you know, the hard part, see I’d never been away from home. And, well, I would have gone to grandmother’s and my grandfather’s place, but it’s not the same when you’re bundled off and you’ve more or less got to look after yourself in… your clothes had to be, you’d put your stuff into the laundry, when you got it back, you had to put it in your locker.
Whereas when you were at home, your mother did all that. And it, it was a bit of a shock to the system, really. But it did me the world of good, it makes you stand on your two feet. It was the same when I went into the air force. One of the boys that was next to me in number in the air force, he worked in the bank, he’d never been away from home, his Mother did everything for him, when he got
into the air force he didn’t have a clue. And I kind of helped him out to a degree. But the people out there, they just had to struggle along. The school, it was just a one teacher school, and we were all in the one room, and it’s hard if you’re trying to concentrate on something else, and the teacher’s giving a lecture on something else
to a different class and you’re all in one room, that type of thing. Sport out there was a, of a weekend, the men used to play, there’d be cricket. And then the men and women used to play tennis, that, they used to go round the other towns and there’d be matches against them, which was, a helpful thing.
But my mother, she was a pianist, and she used to play for the dances out there, and she also used to teach piano. I can remember they only had a horse and sulky, and it’d be nothing for them to drive about 15 miles, and she would play at a dance until possibly one or two o’clock in the morning, and then they’d get in the horse and sulky, and come home.
But that was the way they did it, and there was hardly anybody out there had a car. And eventually when the cars started to come round, it was a real novelty for someone to have a car, but my Father eventually got one. But as I said, after the war when he wanted me to go with him and I realised then, that the business would not have run
the two families. And as it worked out, that’s what happened really, because the big, big firms, they more or less owned a lot of the stations round, and it made it very hard for him wanting to sell stock and that, that he had to share with them all the time.
During those Depression years, how did your family make
money, or enough money, to send you to Nudgee?
The Grandfather on my Father’s side, he came out from Ireland when he was about 14. And he got involved with another man, and they had a shop in Leyburn, well the shop, the old shop is still there to this day. But they sold everything, it was a general store, and
he had land, and he had stock on the land, and that’s how. Well after he died, my Father was actually running, the land part of it with the cattle, and he used to sell some of them. And that kind of helped me through, helped him put me through Nudgee. But I was only thinking the other night, at twelve pound a
term, was what he paid, I shudder what it would be now, and that was full board. And it, it would be a huge shock to the system if you heard now, well all the boarding schools are the same now, they’re sky high.
And what were the staff like, what were the teachers like?
They were all Christian Brothers. They were, I got on
with the whole lot of them except this one, he was the principal, I didn’t like him. And strangely enough, he had three nephews, also at Nudgee, and they hated him too. And as they used to say, well you only have to put up with him in school term, on holidays he comes to our place, and we have him up there too. But he was just one of those persons, people I could not, I just didn’t like.
What was wrong with him?
Well, he had a big pair of hands, and you’d get a smack across the head, which I did not like. I wasn’t the only one who used to cop it, and I always swore and declared that if that ever happened to any of my kids, there’d be trouble, which it
did. My three boys went to St Mary’s in Toowoomba, it’s a Christian Brothers College. And one of the Brothers there, I always said to the boys, if you ever get hit across the head, come to me. And that’s what happened one day. And the second boy, Patrick, he arrived where I was working, and he told me what had happened. I said right, I borrowed the car from work, and picked
my wife up and we went in. And I lined this bloke up, I went to the principal first, and I explained what the situation was. And he got told, in no uncertain terms, to keep his hands to himself, or if he didn’t, he was going to be in big trouble. But, and not to take it out on the kid, which it worked out, as it happened. But some of them had a very sadistic streak in them,
it wasn’t only them. My sister went to the convent in Warwick, and a couple of the nuns were the same, they just had this streak in them, I don’t know what it was, why, but she was not happy there either, at the convent.
So how would they manifest this sadistic streak, what would they do?
this one, he was our history teacher and a maths teacher, a very smart man. And you’d get something wrong, and he’d be walking down, you know, between the desks, and next thing you’d get a whack across the back of the head for, because you’ve done something wrong. As I always said, you’ve got a pair of hands
if you want the cuts, on the hands, but not hitting across the head. And that’s what I said to this one at St Mary’s, you know, keep your hands to yourself. If you want to, if he’s acting up, doing the wrong thing, well get the strap across the hand, but not the head.
So tell us, when you finished up school, what did you do after that?
Ah, I did a bit of droving,
I had a horse out there, and as I said, my Father used to sell sheep and cattle round. Well, if it was only a short way to take the sheep and cattle, I would go out and pick the sheep up and take them from whereever they were, to the next place. I had a cousin that was, he was working on, out on the property that my
Father had been looking after, well I used to go out there occasionally with him. And then there were other ones out there in the wheat season, they would be carting wheat, I used to go with this one particular bloke and cart wheat into, into Clifton. It was hard work while you were picking the bags up off the ground to throw them up on a truck, there was no elevators or anything.
But then you might be on your backside for about three hours waiting, when you got to Clifton to unload it, because everybody else was there too. And I carted wool, worked in timber, splitting posts, and that’s when I got the job then, with this Mr Mews who had come up from Dubbo. He’d come up the hard way.
When he got married, he and his wife had nothing. And she was left some money by an Aunt of hers, and they put that into a rundown station property, and he was a real worker. He got out and worked, and he put up fences, built yards, and then he put it on the market, and sell it, and then he’d go and buy another one.
And he did that in around that area. Well then he went out around Usendorenbandy [?], he bought a big property out there, and did the same thing, Yelarban. And then he came into, just outside Leyburn, and he bought, there were two stations there he bought. And then he bought another property just outside Warwick,
which was South Tilborough, well that was one of the properties where the Lesley’s settled when they came up, and settled on the Darling Downs. His wife, she had a home in Sydney, overlooking Randwick Racecourse, and she used to come, oh she’d come up and stay for three or four months, then she’d go back. But I think I was about 18 at the time, and I became part of the
family. If she wanted to go to town during the week to do some shopping, she’d say to the boss, “well I, I want Alan to take me to town”. He used to whinge and, about it, but I still would go with her. And I’d get dressed, and we’d go into town, into Warwick, and we’d go to one of the cafes and have lunch,
she’d do her shopping, and then we’d come home. But I became, more or less, a part of the family, if they went to the pictures in Warwick on a Saturday night and I happened to be on that property, I always went with them, and I sat with them, it wasn’t a case of you’re just a worker, you go downstairs and sit. I was the, kind of the odd bod on the three properties.
Where there was work wanted, or they wanted extra work, extra hands, I would go there. In the shearing season, I would be on the, this one particular property, it had a big shearing shed, it was a ten stand plant, and there’d be possibly, oh 20 blokes there, there’d be ten shearers, and all the rouseabouts and what have you. And it would be
my job to keep the sheep up. They’d be possibly, they’d be shearing over a thousand a day. Well I had to keep the sheep up into the sheds. When they were shorn, they had to be branded, and put back out in the paddocks, I wasn’t on my own, there’d be other men there with me. And then, if the weather was looking dirty,
you had to be able to shed probably about two thousand sheep, so the shearers would have dry sheep to shear. In, beside that, you had to cart the wool to the railway station, that had to be loaded on the train, to go down to the wool stores in Brisbane. And he also was, a fodder, a conservationist, I suppose you’d
call him, he had lucerne everywhere. The place he had just outside Warwick, was on the Condamine River, I think it was, only 800 acres there, but there was over 200 acres of it under lucerne. And it was all, when it was ready to be cut, he’d have a team of blokes there with mowers and rakes and build stacks, and put it in sheds. And
it served its purpose in 1939, there was a very bad drought. And we bought, I think it was 300 head of Herefords just starting to calve from one property to one outside Warwick. I hand fed them for three months, and they were all calving, and I think I lost one cow out of the lot. But there was a lot of work, but it’s work I liked,
Did you, what did you think your future held?
Then. Ah, I didn’t know really, you know, I was only, I think I was 19. And then, see, when the war started, a fair few of my mates, they went into the army, and it was, as I said, after he died, that there was a hassle there, because he never had a will. And his rellies were like
hawks. And the mob that were looking after the business, it was pathetic really what they were doing, and I was on the place outside Warwick, and they’d come up from Brisbane, possibly two or three of them, stay in the big hotel, one of the hotels in Warwick. They’d arrive out there and I would have to take them then to one of the other properties, and show them
around that. They’d go back and back to Warwick, and then to one other place the next day. And then about three or four weeks later, there’d be some more of them come. And this kind of, was upsetting me, because he never had a will, all the hassles. But his wife, as I said, was fortunate that she had money on her own.
But it was then that, I then decided, well, I was going to join the air force, and went from there.
Well tell us, what you thought when you, or where you were and how you heard the news that World War II had begun?
Well, the old bloke had a wireless, it was, we were out in the, wasn’t any power, it was one of the old wirelesses with the battery, I think it was one out of a car,
was the power for it. And we used to hear the news there, it was the seven o’clock news, we’d go in with him, and he’d put the wireless on, we’d hear the news and it was all grim. And that was where it, more or less started, you know, when World War [II] started. And as I said, quite a few of the boys from Leyburn, and then these other places where I worked,
they went from there too. And I didn’t want to join the army, because you’ve got to walk, and I wasn’t fussy on the navy, because too much water around, and I thought well, best place would be in the air force, then you could fly.
Why did you want to join up?
Oh, I don’t know, just one of those things you, you kind of, you know, you thought you’re doing the right thing
to stop the way things were going on in Europe, well that’s where it was at the time, with Hitler. And a lot of the boys from Leyburn, they went to the Middle East, and they were in the desert, while the strife was there.
Did you feel a link to England?
Oh yes, to a degree.
We, you know, you could hear the news that, the way they were getting bombed, and they hardly had any aircraft. And even when I got in the air force and I went to Evans Head, the aircraft that they had there, were obsolete ones they’d had in England, old Fairy Battles that weren’t, they weren’t even fit to fly, that was what
we had to train in. And you kind of, you felt very sorry for them, because, they were getting it, you know, all night and all day.
What did your family think of you joining up?
They didn’t. My mother and father were very much against it, and my aunts and grandmother on my father’s side, they were dead against it. And also
on my mother’s side, they were very much against it. But it was just at that time, that one of the cousins, Martin, he had joined the air force, and he was at Narrandera, and wasn’t watching where he was going, and he flew into a tree and was killed. That happened at the same, just when I went in. And then there was Neil,
was another cousin, he’d just got his call-up to go into air crew, so that didn’t help matters any, either. But I wasn’t real popular with the household, but as it worked out, I came through.
Why do you think they were dead against it, in particular?
Well I think they were just against, well war. I suppose naturally. My mother
lost her sister in World War I, she married a, a major who was in the Light Horse [Brigade] in World War I, and they went to Egypt. She was over there as a nurse, and while she was there she got smallpox and died over there, and that, kind of, wouldn’t have helped the, you know, with me going in too.
Because they didn’t know, well wasn’t anybody knew where you were going. It was kind of the luck of the draw, I think. This other cousin that went in just ahead of me, Neil, he finished up flying in Hudsons, up in the islands. He never got anywhere other than up there, where he was, I did a Cook’s Tour of Europe.
Well tell us about the process you had to go through, joined up in Leyburn in particular. Where did you go?
I had to go to Toowoomba, there was a recruiting office in Toowoomba, and that’s where you had to go down and you had to get the papers. And because I was under 21, I had to bring them home and get the signature on the bottom line, and that’s where the hassle was. Until,
you know, eventually I kept harping, that they signed. Well then I had to go to Brisbane then to do the medical for the air force. Went to Creek Street where the air force recruiting centre was. If you got into aircrew, you were healthy, you were A1, they went
from stem to stern. I think there was three specialists that you had to front up in the end. One for your, you know, your legs and arm, one for your body, and then one for your mind. You had to, originally you had to have a Junior education. I had a Junior Standard, but I didn’t pass Junior, which I think now is grade ten.
I failed the medical first up. But one of the exercises, there was a U-tube of Mercury, and the hose you put it in your mouth, and they put a thing on your nose, to clamp your nose, you take a deep breath and you blow. And you’ve got to lift the mercury so far. They take your pulse rate,
and you’ve got to hold that for a certain time. And then when you’re starting to see things going round you, they say right, and then they put a stopwatch on you, and see from when you’re pulse rate then came back to normal. I failed that the first time in Brisbane, well then I had to come back and I had to go down to Toowoomba, and have another go, and I got through
it there. Well then you’re put on the reserve, and that’s when you have to wait then until they, see I think they only used to take about 300 in at a time. And that’s when the intake I went in on, there was, I think 300 went in. And I think I was, I think it was over 12 months, from,
from then, from when I actually joined up, until I got into the air force.
How did you pass the second medical?
Ah, I don’t know whether, I kind of knew what was coming. See they spring these things on you, you’re just, you’re seated, and they produce this thing of, a bit like the things they pump up the, you know, for your blood pressure, only this one, you have to blow
it up. And it takes a bit of blowing, the mercury, and then you, but you’ve got to hold it there. And that was the part that I failed on the first time, but then the next time I got through.
We’ll just pause there cause we’ve come to the end of the tape. How are you going there?
I’m alright. I might have a bit of a…
End of tape
Interviewee: Marcus Mahony Archive ID 1549 Tape 03
And after the medical which we were just talking about, what was the next process in terms of joining up?
When I, oh we had to wait then, you’re on, you’re put on reserve, and you’re accepted into air crew, and you had to wait then til you got your call-up. And I was
working in the Toowoomba foundry, just for something to do. And when I got my call-up, I went to the foreman, and said I was leaving, and going in the air force, he said, “no, you’re not, you’re in a protected industry”. And I said, “oh, I’ve got news for you!” ’Cause when I went there, I stipulated to the personnel officer, that when call-up got, came, that I was going,
and he said that was right. And I was having a bit of a blue with this character, and with that, the personnel officer happened to come through. I went up and nailed him, and I said, “do you remember me?” I said, “when you gave me the job here”, I said, “it was on condition that when I got my call up, I was leaving”, and he said, “yes, that’s right”, so that was it. And we got, I think we had about a week from that,
and we went to Brisbane, to Creek Street, and there was 300 of us, I think, in around about 300 of us on that intake. And we went there, and I scratched around all the red tape as usual, you know, filling in papers, and. And then we all got lined up and got marched up to Central Station, and got on the
train to Sandgate. And then I think we had to walk from there out to the camp, which was, now the Eventide home, it’s not far from where the Hornybrook Highway was, I forget what they call it now, goes over. And it’s right on the water there. We were put in tents, and I, it was a cold night, and
there was five of us in the tent, and I think somewhere about midnight, somebody must have said something, and that was it, we started to talk, and there was, no more sleep. See we were, you were all complete strangers, you didn’t know, you didn’t know anybody. I’d met one or two from Toowoomba, ’cause I was working in Toowoomba, I’d met one or two.
But on that particular intake, there was, I think, it finished up there was about ten of us, were there. And I think there was about five or six of us finished up in prison camp. And, but out of that 300, I think there was over 80, no, only just on 80 came back to Australia, the others were killed. We happened to strike a bad patch
of air raids over Europe, they were all, eight, eight and a half hour trips at night. And they, anti-aircraft and fighters, and then all the others elements you had to battle too, it was a bad, a bad era, to be flying over there.
And what was that first
feelings like, on that first night at Sandgate, with all?
Oh, it didn’t kind of worry me overly, because I’d been away from home, and you know, I’d been around a bit. But it wasn’t that much. But then these other boys, as I said, one worked in the bank, and he’d never been away from Mum, and he was, more or less pathetic,
we had to mother him.
What sort of things couldn’t he do?
In what way?
Well, how did you have to mother him?
Oh well, he didn’t know how to fold his clothes, or iron anything, and you had to iron your shirt. We were there in the winter time, so we only had the blue shirts to iron. But I only ever ironed the bit here that
you saw, and your collars. See, they had the blue shirts with the separate collars, and the studs, well you had to look after your studs so you could get dressed, and your black necktie. Everything had to be marked with your number on it, you were, everybody was given a number. But he just, you know, his Mum did everything, and he was a,
oh, I suppose in one sense, a bit useless, the way we used to put it. But he came through, actually I believe he finished up on our squadron, and he did a tour of operations which would have been, possibly 25, up to 30 trips, and he came home. Whereas there were other poor blokes didn’t, you know, they were killed. There was an awful lot of losses
in England, in training. I suppose inexperience, a lot of it with pilots, and different aircraft from what they’d been flying out here. The training was strict, but more or less, they were putting them through to try to get them
operational as it were, and then, you know. But even experience over there didn’t help, it was just the luck of the game.
And what was it that you were doing at Sandgate initially?
Drill. Marching up and down. Oh you, you were issued with all your clothing. I think I, when I went to Sandgate, I
had a pair of slacks and a shirt, my shoes and socks and my shaving gear, that was my wardrobe, because they told you, you know, not to bring much. You got issues then with, it was overalls, underclothes, socks and then seeing it was winter time, you got your blue uniform, and your blue shirt and collars and black tie and
your little cap, there was a beret to wear with your overalls. You had shoes to wear with your uniform, and you had boots for when you had your overalls on, you know, that’s do your drill in, and everything like that. I, we went to, that’s right, we were only there for a fortnight or so, and we went to Kingaroy.
And that is where we got issued then with our flying gear. There was flying boots, an inner suit, silk gloves, gauntlets, flying boots, your helmet, I think that was it. But you had a special kit bag to put all that stuff in, and then you had another kit bag
for your ordinary gear. And when you got to Kingaroy, well that’s where, I think that’s where we lined up for all our injections. It was like going through a race, they’d be, the doctors would be lined up on either side with needles, into each arm, and an awful lot of them used to faint, and others didn’t take any notice.
Kingaroy was a cold hole, the aerodrome out there, out of Kingaroy three or four miles, and the red dirt out there. And the huts were very basic. We had a straw palliasse on the floor, and there was a wire hanging along, running along the top of each side, and that’s where you hung your uniforms. Other
stuff went in the kit bags. Your meals were your breakfast, dinner and tea. That, when I went in for the first month, I reckon I was starved, because I used to eat, a pretty good eater, big breakfast, and when I was working I’d have a fair lunch, and then at night, tea. Well, the meals there, they’re
a basic, not so much basic, a set type thing, with the calories and all that are added up. But after about a month, I found that I was quite happy with what they were giving me. And I came home on my first leave, and my mother put a meal that I would have
ordinarily eaten, and I got half way through it, and I said I can’t eat anymore, and oh she was very upset, oh, you know, are they starving you in there. It’s just something that you, it’s a balanced, a very balanced diet.
What sort of food was it?
Oh, at night there’d be roasts, it could be cold meat for lunches, mornings
it might be sausages and eggs. Bacon sometimes. I think there’d be porridge, and sweets. Oh, you know, the meals were good, it’s just the quantity when we went there first. I wasn’t the only one hungry, you know, there’d be blokes wandering around there, wondering when they were going to get their next feed. But we used to go into Kingaroy, you know, you got your weekend leave,
and it was only, oh, three or four miles out, you could either walk in, or get a bus. And there was a couple of cafes there, well they must have made a fortune in there. And you get to know some of the people there. I knew the sergeant of police, because he had been out at Leyburn, when I was a kid, and I used to go to his place. And then, I
had a cousin there, as well, he was the chairman of the Shire Council. And I went out to their place a couple of times. Our weekend was Friday and Saturday, and on Sunday you’d have your church parade, but you did your drill, and then you had all the lectures you had to go through.
There was law, air force law had to be studied to a degree.
What’s air force law?
Well, if you happen to be, just a naughty boy, and you’re put in the slammer for something, you’d be on a charge, and then they would have one of the solicitors to defend you. Or if it wasn’t a bad, you know, you might have done the wrong thing, you’d have
to front up to the adjutant, and you might get, oh three or four days confined to barracks, you weren’t allowed out. I was lucky, touch wood, I went through the whole time without being charged. I was charged once, but I got out of it. The rest of the time, I never had a charge, I should have, I dodged it. But, you were given drill, your marching.
There’d be rifle drill, you’d have to go up to the miniature range, and you had to use a rifle up there. And then, you had to pass out with Morse there, I think it was six words a minute, and I eventually got that, I got through that one alright.
How did they teach you, the Morse?
You’ve got to learn the alphabet,
the Morse symbol for A, and B and so-on. And then you go in, and you’ve got a pair of headphones and there’s a Morse key beside you. And the instructor is up the front, and he sends the message. It wasn’t a message at first, all you got was just letters. And you had to write that down, and your
paper was all ruled off, and then in blocks for fives symbols, and you had to do that. And they could work out you had so many words a minute and that, and they used to time that through. Well then they’d also, they would be sending it automatically, there’d be a machine sending it. Well then you’d have to send stuff then with your key, and he could walk along then and
plug in, and you’d have what you were supposed to be sending in front of you, and he’d know then, whether you were doing it right. When we got to the wireless school in Maryborough, that’s when you went in there, and in the basic hut, and then I think it’s from eight to ten words, when you passed out of that, you went into the next hut. You had to pass out, I think it was 18 words a minute.
But as I said, Monday to Wednesday I might get, eight, nine, after that, just a jumble, a heap of sounds, I couldn’t make head nor tail of. But this one particular operator, he had a book of dirty yarns, and that’s what he used to send you. And oh, you’d be trying, you used to try your hardest to, you know, to get the punch line, but it used to be
very hard at times.
What sort of yarns were they?
Oh, dirty ones.
Do you remember any of them?
Not now, that was a very long time ago. And that’s what he had, he had a heap of books like that, and that’s what he used to send.
And how did you feel about the prospect of being a wireless operator?
I wasn’t overly thrilled about it. I wanted, as everybody wanted, to be a pilot. But
in my medical, they found that my legs were half inch short, when you sit, you’ve got to be able to, and they even put a, there was a group of us in the same situation. They had aircraft there and we had to go and get in the aircraft, and push the full rudder on, and I was trying to stretch my, and I just couldn’t make it. But maybe for the best, I don’t know.
How disappointed were you?
Oh, I was, but then again, I thought well, you know, why worry. That was our attitude, well, that was my attitude, you know, why worry about things, you only get ulcers.
And what did you know about what the role of the wireless operator was?
That he had a wireless set, and
in the aircraft. Oh getting back to Maryborough, when you, when you graduated at your 18 words a minute in the room, they had panel vans with transmitter and a receiver in the back. Well, they used to be driven around the area, and
the operator at the base would be sending them messages. And they had to receive them, and then they would have to send a reply back. Well they did that for a month, and then they had aircraft then, with radios in them, and they did a month of flying around the area and doing the same thing. Well I finished up, when I got scrubbed from
the wireless course, I had all kinds of jobs there. I did a bit of gardening, and then I got sent to the kitchen, washing up. That didn’t appeal to me, so I had an armful of plates one day and I kind of slipped, and the plates were airborne, so I got sacked from there. And I got into orderly room, that was a good job there.
And then I finished up down in transport, and I was driving these other blokes that I’d been with, around the area in these panel vans while they were receiving their messages. And after we left there, that’s when we went to Evans Head, to do our air gun, the gunnery course. The bomb aimers and the navigators, they had to do
some bombing course as well. The old fairy battle was obsolete. I think there was 80 odd aircraft there at Evans Head, and there was about half a dozen flying. There was no intercom on them, they’d had it. They used to have to go up under, underneath the pilot and get him by the leg and give it a shake, and either sing out at him, or write him a note. You did your gunnery course, there were ground targets,
and as you flew past, you had to shoot into, like, you’d have one here and one say, three hundred yards away, and they were all numbered, and you had a certain number to shoot into. And then after that, there’d be another aircraft with a drogue [wind sock] on the tail of it, and you’d have to shoot the drogue. And the ammunition was, it had been dipped in paint, and the heat used to melt it, and when it went through the
target, there was a colour, and that’s how they used to measure you, or add up your score.
Take me through from the beginning, how did they first introduce you to the guns that you’d be using?
Oh, you did that on the ground. There was, your basic training was a .303 rifle, you were shown all about it, how to pull it apart, how to clean it. And
the gun laws, every gun is loaded, every rifle. If I handed you a rifle, the first thing you’d do, you’d open it up, and look, see that it’s not loaded. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s your mother or your uncle or who, that’s the first thing you do, to prove your gun, that it’s not loaded.
Well, then there’s no accidents.
The, there was one here three or four years ago, up in Greenbank. There was a woman, one of the, she was an officer, I think, and somebody was shot. Well there’s no excuse as far as I’m concerned, she didn’t check the gun. And they have the rifle, and then the revolvers. You go the same procedure with them.
They never had machine-guns at Kingaroy, but when we got to Evans Head, they had the Vickers, it’s a gas operated machine-gun, and then there was the Browning machine-gun. The Vickers has a drum of ammunition that you put on top, it holds 100 rounds. The Browning machine-gun, it’s got a big long belt,
and it spits it out, I think it was twelve hundred a minute, it would spit out. In the fairy battles, we had the Vickers, the gas operated, and that’s the one that you used on your air to air firing, and your air to ground firing. But the Browning, it was down at the stop butts, and it was in a fixed mounting, because the vibration, when they, when they go off,
they jump all over the place, the amount of ammunition they throw out. In the Lancaster, I had two of those Brownings, and the rear gunner had four, and they spit out, I think it was twelve hundred rounds a minute. So, there’s a lot of bullets going out when you pull the trigger there.
And tell me
what the process is like, of aiming and firing the Vickers?
You’ve got a ring sight at the back, I think there was three little circles, and out the front there’s one with a kind of a dot. Well that is your, what you use,
to aim, you’ve got to get the middle of your circle, and that dot on what you’re firing at, if everything is still. But when the aircraft is moving, you’re flying at, say a hundred mile an hour, and the one goes past you at a hundred and fifty, well you’ve got to work the brain out, to shoot ahead, so that
when the target gets there, your bullets will be there. And that was just the sights on them. On a Lancaster, you’ve got to, it’s a little light, about that round with a dot, and when you look in that, that is projected out to what you ... if I was
aiming at you, that ring and dot would be on your nose. And with that, a part of your training is aircraft recognition. And you’ve got to know a Spitfire from a Messerschmitt, and you know the wingspan of a Spitfire, say is 34 feet. Well when the wingspan fills that
ring, you know he’s a certain distance away. Well then you’ve got to make allowances then for his speed, and you’ve got to aim ahead of him.
So how -
Your mind becomes like a little computer, in theory.
So how much time do you leave for different speeds and distances?
Oh, it’s well, if we’d be flying in a Lanc at about 180 mile an hour, and an ME-109 be
coming at about 300, well you’ve kind of got to sort things out in a hurry. But, see, our flying was night, but we used to practice over England with, oh Spits or Hurricanes or whatever was floating around, and they used to do these mock attacks on you, and you would have a camera mounted in your turret. And when you pulled the trigger, the bullets wouldn’t go out, but the camera would
operate, and then you would bring it back and you’d put it in a projector, and you could see where you were going wrong. But, the idea was to aim ahead, and in theory, just when he got there, the bullets would be there at the same time, that was the principle of it.
How long did it take you in training, to get this sort out?
Well, we were a month at Evans Head, and then
we went to England, and we were flying on Wellingtons there. Well we used to have to practice, there wasn’t any mid upper turret on a Wellington, so I’d be down the rear turret. And it had the same set-up, with the ring, they, can’t think of the name of this sight now, reflector sight, was, it was all the same principle. And we used to practice there, with,
I think they were Miles Magistors, and they, the pilots on them would fly, they’d, they’d come from behind us, up, down, wherever and you used to have to instruct the pilot then, what to do. We used to call it a corkscrew movement. Our aircraft would be, kind of going down there, and then there, and then you’d climb, it’s actually a corkscrew movement.
The fighter pilot, his guns are fixed. And he’s got to put his whole aircraft ahead of you, so you’ll fly into his bullets. But by us doing the corkscrew movement, that more or less throws him out of focus. And, and while he’s coming in, and you’re upsetting his aim, because our guns were,
you could shift them round, up and down, you could fire at him. And with the cameras, you could see where you were going wrong, or if you were right, and that’s how you, you practised. And we also used to have, oh, they had a, it was like a big dome roof, and it would be dark, and they would have a spotlight. Or when I say a spot, just a very small light on
that ceiling. And you used to have to follow that round with your guns in the turret. So, it’s all part of your training.
What was it like the first time that you fired the gun?
I only, oh, in…
Oh, in training. It didn’t, oh you got a shock because they fly out like nothing. I’d always
done a fair bit of shooting at home, just with a rifle, and that part, it never worried me really. But when you get a machine-gun, it’s spitting out, well, the Vickers I think was about 600 rounds a minute. You only give it, the trigger a bit of a pull, and there’s a lot of, well the bullets have gone out. But we also used to practice in England, they had some of
the gun turrets out in the paddock. And some of the pilots used to get an old Tiger Moth, and they would fly round and round, and you used to practice with your camera on them. They used to be able to let off a bit of steam flying the Tiger, whereas with the Lanc, you know, it was a big aircraft and you just couldn’t do what you could do with a little one.
And just describe to me a little bit more, how the cameras worked,
I don’t quite understand?
It’s like a little movie. It was only about that long with a, you put film in this end, you shut the lid, and it was hooked up to the trigger, and it was mounted the same as your guns and your sight. On
the bigger aircraft, they used to call it as a harmonisation board, you used to step out a certain distance from the aircraft, and you used to mount this board. And it had a circle, and there was, for me, with two guns, there were three crosses on it. And you used to have set your sight on the centre one, and then you had to, adjust your guns to those other two.
The rear gunner would have to do four, because he had four guns, and that, then whatever you were aiming at, your guns would be firing in that area. At 400 yards, I think, I forget the, the, but the vibration from the roundings, they used to shake that much, there’d be a wall,
it might be as big as that, would be bullets out, at 400 yards. And that was more or less the range that we operated on, to start firing. But any further, it was, they went everywhere and you wouldn’t hit anything. And your night flying, it was a different kettle of fish again. You had to adjust your eyes to the
night. We never flew in a full moon, or they tried to avoid a full moon, because you were open season on you there. And you used to, the dark of the night, the cloud, the happier we were. Well you mightn’t see them, and they mightn’t see you, hopefully. But we used to have to do these night vision tests.
You’d put on the black goggles for half an hour, and then you would walk into this room, and they’d, all the doors were shut. You’d take the goggles off, and they could adjust the light in there then, to, as though it was dark night, or a few stars, and then with a little bit of moon. And you had a piece of paper with, and a board with marks on it,
and you used to have to write down what was up on the screen. And they used to adjust the light then, to bring it up until you more or less got to three quarter moon, and you could read what was on the, on this screen. But, a 27 was your top score. I usually got about 23, 24, which was
What sort of images would they put up on the -
All kinds. It could be a river with a bridge over it, or a town. But the classic one when they put the lights on, was a woman in the raw, you can imagine what the aiming point was. But we had a bomb aimer, he ordinarily
would get, it might be 11 or 12. This particular morning, he arrived and had a hangover you couldn’t, you wouldn’t wish for. He got in there and he read everything. So he reckoned there was only one way to go, drunk. But that was a part of the test that you did over, you know, over there.
At Evans Head, did you ever practice night flying?
No, no. They were just all daylight flying around there. Even the bomb aimers didn’t do any night, well these things, they were shockers.
Where was the first time that you actually got to go up in an aircraft?
At Evans Head.
Well take me through that experience?
Ah, I’d never been in an aircraft before, and, you know, you’re kind of given instructions on the ground,
what to do. You, you’re given a parachute, your harness. You’ve got to put your harness on, it’s got to be adjusted up, so that you can’t stand up straight, you kind of stooped over. And then you got, it’s a chest type parachute, and the handle is, you know, there. And when you go out, you’re supposed to count to, oh I don’t know what it is now, three or five or something, and you pull the rip cord,
and, and hope it opens. That’s what we had at Evans Head, you had your harness on, and your parachute was stored in a thing on the side of the aircraft, you’d just strap over it. When you got to England, the Wellingtons, there was only one exit on a Wellington, it was up the nose, you had to, there was a hatch
there, you opened. And you walked up, and you used to kneel, put your head down, and you went out head first. And you were supposed to count to, I’ve just forgotten now whether it’s five or what, and you pull the handle. Well then, in Lancasters, you either went out the front or out the back. Well I went out the back, and you had to sit on the doorstep, face the front, and you’ve got to roll. Because you can’t
stand up, because you’ll hit the, the tailplane, because it’s only from here to there away, and you can’t go over it, so you’ve got to go under it. And I don’t remember counting when I went out, but all I know I got smack in the mouth from the parachute, and it broke my teeth in front, and the wind was, that night was a hundred mile an hour wind, and I was swinging
like all hell. And I, what I was really frightened of, that I would empty the air out of the chute, and with the wind, would fold up and down you’d go. And I’d lost my boots, and I’m floating down and I could see this black underneath, I thought it was more cloud. But it was a pine forest, and that’s where I finished up hanging up in the tree.
Just before, we’ll talk about that whole experience a lot more, but just tell me what the type of plane was, that you first went up in at Evans Head?
It was a fairy battle, it was one they had over in England before the war. It was a single engine Rolls Royce motor, and I think it’d do about a hundred and twenty
mile an hour, if it was lucky. It had, it would have had a crew of three, the pilot, wireless operator, and an observer he would have been called. He would have been the bomb aimer and the navigator. And it was a heavy old thing that was way out of date when we were flying in them.
where did you fire the guns from, in the fairy battle?
At the back, oh about half way down the back, there was a perspex cover, and then there was a piece of the perspex that lifted up, and there was a mounting there where the gun was mounted. And you stood in the back with your arm on the gun, and you had to lean over the side, depending where you were firing. And you had to fire between
the wing and the tail.
And what was the fairy battle like to fly in, what did it feel like, what did it smell like?
Oh, it flew. They were a slow aircraft, but that’s, well see in those days, I don’t know when they’d been built first. It had been in the ‘30s. Well see, they were more or less obsolete, when. I think they had them over in France, but
they were useless there, that was before they started building Spits and Hurricanes, and that type of thing. But there were no guns in the front of them, the pilot never had any guns. I think they could carry, it was a couple of bombs of sorts, but that was about it.
And what was the feeling like to be flying for the first time?
Oh, it, well, it was,
you kind of, as though you were floating. You can put your head over the side and see the ground going past, and look around. No it was quite exhilarating, really that you could, get up there and… Some of the pilots were quite good. Where one scrubber, he’d, something happened one day that
the other aircraft with the drogue didn’t turn up, so he decided we’d go out after sharks. We went out along the, over the water, and there was a school of fish, and the sharks, and he’s kind of pointing down, so that’s what we fired at. I don’t think we’d hit anything, but, oh no, he was quite good.
I thought you were pushing me.
End of tape
Interviewee: Marcus Mahony Archive ID 1549 Tape 04
OK Alan, tell us about finishing up at the gunnery school?
While we were at, while were doing the gunnery, we also had to do lectures on, as I said before, on air force law, and different kind of subjects,
that you got involved with. And then when we graduated, we all graduated as sergeants. Some were given a commission, it depended where you came on our course, but then again, there was a bit of a thing, if you went to a certain college in Sydney, you were, you were right for a commission.
I think there was only about a dozen, out of the lot that would have had a commission, the rest were sergeants. And we came from Evans Head back then, and we were given a week’s leave when we came, I went back to Leyburn. And from there, after our week’s leave, we had to report back to Sandgate, which was an embarkation depot for
air force, that were going overseas. And it was also, at that time, they were going to make it into Allied Headquarters for the Yanks, I think they were taking it over too. We left Evans Head, we left Sandgate after our final leave, which was another week, and we went by train to Sydney. And we went to Bradfield
Park, we were there for about a week, and we were given extra clothing. That’s where we more or less realised we were going to England, because there was no summer gear. We had to hand in all our flying gear, which was quite a godsend really, because there was a kit bag of that you had to cart round, and it was awkward stuff to pack.
And then after, we used to have our leave every night from Bradfield Park. One of my mates lived in Sydney, and I used to go home with him, and back to Bradfield in the morning. Well then next thing we knew, all leave was cancelled. And we laughed about it, the buses were all blacked out, but you went from Bradfield Park to the wharf,
they wouldn’t know where you were going of course. And we got on an American ship, the [USS] Mount Vernon, it was American crewed, and we left from Sydney, and we went to, I’m not real sure if it was Auckland or Wellington now, I’ve forgotten.
Just before we push on, we’ve just got to pause for one second ... OK, well tell us what the feeling was like getting on board the ship to go off?
It was a bit of a hassle. We were, you filed on board and they put us down in the hold. And it was, there were metal bunks, I think they were about three or four high, and the place stunk. I don’t know what they’d had in there before, but anyway, we kicked up a hell of a row over this. But we were told to stay there or else. Anyway,
and they said that when they got to New Zealand, they were going to pick up the wounded Americans, that had been injured up in the islands. We thought, oh well, see what gives. Well when we got to, to New Zealand, as I said before, I was hoping the boat would sink. There was volcanic eruptions in the Tasman sea, there were even sailors sea sick. I
used to crawl off the bunk, up to the deck at half past two for boat drill, I’d lie on the deck and then I used to crawl back again. And it was a shocking trip. But when we got into, say it was Wellington, we were off there for the day. We went out to, two or three of us went out to a lady’s house for lunch, and that night, the New Zealand Air Force band, put on a concert in the
Town Hall which we attended. And back on the boat, and then we were on our way. Well after we got back on the boat, we’d seen them bring in the American wounded, and so we were looking, and found there was a lot of empty cabins, so we just picked up our gear and shifted in. We’d been to the CO [Commanding Officer] in charge of us, and we’d told him
we weren’t going to spend three weeks or a month down in the stinking hold, it was below water line, actually. And we were on our own, we had no escort, so we just packed up and went up and shifted into the cabins, and there was no more said about it. It was, as I said, an American controlled ship, there was no grog, you stood up to eat, their tables were, oh,
you know, about so high, and everything was on a tray. You got your whole meal in the one go, and more likely you’d finish up with ice cream and maple syrup on the top of the whole lot, that was a bit hard to take. But oh, you got used to it. And then after lunch, there was always a movie on, and it was in the mess where we ate.
And the screen would possibly about eight-foot square. If you weren’t early and got in the front, you had to sit at the back, and I don’t know if you’ve ever watched the pictures from the back of the screen, everybody’s going the wrong way. And if you were on the side, they were elongated, the people, but it was, as far as we were concerned, something to fill the afternoon in. We got to San
Francisco, and sailed in under the Golden Gate Bridge, and that’s where we first saw Alcatraz, and as they say, ‘The Rock’. It was a grim looking sight, I’d hate to be stuck there. But we were off-loaded onto, on barges, and straight onto a train. It was a passenger train,
it was also a troop train. It was six to a compartment, well we were a bit lucky, there was only five of us, and when we went into the compartment, there was some magazines, a couple of cartons of cigarettes, a bag of fruit and a bag of what have you to each person. And you can, your compartment
it slept six, but as I said there was only five, we were lucky we only had five in our compartment. There was a porter with each carriage, the trains in America are owned by Pullman, the, the carriages are owned by Pullman, and with each one there is a porter, and that is his home, wherever the carriage goes, he goes. He was a Negro [Afro-American],
and, but he had been a school teacher, and he was a very well educated person. But what we found of the Americans, they didn’t know what we were, they thought we were black, and when we spoke English they got a shock. I don’t know what they, but then there’s always the hard doer, I said we speak Australian too, and he came out with a heap of garbage that meant nothing. But the trip was, I think
it was five days and six nights across the States. The only time they stopped would be once a day you’d get off the train for about 15 minutes, walk up and down the platform, and back on again. They used to stop for every meal, and they would put on their bit of wagons with food, there’d be one for each of the carriages, and there’d be two ladies would come through, and you would get your meal handed to you.
And then, by the time you finished your meal, they possibly would be at the next station, and they’d get off and all the garbage would go with it. Every so often, they would, the American Red Cross ladies would come on with more fruit, cigarettes. I didn’t smoke at the time, and I used to give the cigarettes to the boys that did, but they finished up they had more cigarettes than they could poke a stick
at, so I started to store them up then, too. This, the porter was very good, that we used to get him, that if we went through any place of importance, or what places we were coming to, he would come and say, “oh we’re coming into Salt Lake City”, and you went round the great Salt Lake on the journey, and through the Rockies [Rocky Mountains]
and all that, very picturesque and. We were there in July, I think it was, but their summertime over there. And eventually we got, oh, they had steam engines and then somewhere across the States, they switched them, they put on diesels. And this particular night we went to sleep and with the diesels on, and we’d left the windows open
and the screens open, and in the meantime they’d put steam back on, and when we woke up in the morning, we were covered in soot, oh there was a hell of a mess. And then we got to, outside Boston it was, where we went to this American army camp, Miles Standish, and we were there for three weeks, in this camp.
Their PXs [American Canteen Units] or canteens, you didn’t go in and buy a Mars Buy there, you went and bought the carton, and cigarettes were just, they were everywhere. But as I said, I started then to, I think when I got to England, I had a kit bag full of cigarettes. But we went, we used to go into Brockton, which was about 40 miles away
nearly every afternoon, we used to hitchhike in there. We got to know a bloke that, he’d be on his way home from work, and we got to know him, and we’d get out and he used to pick us up, there was five of us, he used to drop us off in Brockton, and we’d go to the nightclubs or whatever. The first afternoon we went in, there was three of us drank, and the other two tee totallers,
I was when I joined up too, strangely enough. We went into this, oh, hotel nightclub, and the five of us lined up, and I was on the end, and I pushed my money over, and we ordered, I think it was three beers and a couple of soft drinks. He put them on the counter and walked away, and when he came back, I said. “You didn’t take my money?” He said. “Oh, they’re paid for”.
Well I don’t know how long we stayed there, but the drinks just kept coming. I said, “Where are they coming from?” They said, “oh that old bloke over in the corner there”, and he said, “don’t worry about him, he’s got more money than you can poke a stick at, so if we wants to buy you drinks, you keep drinking”. But we used to go there a lot, to that one particular hotel, we kind of got to know the manager, owner whatever he was.
We got involved one night, there was a birthday party, and because we were kind of odd bods around the place, we finished up in the party. There was another, there was a Matty Robinson from Toowoomba and I went, decided one afternoon we were going in, when we went into Brockton we’d take our swimming togs and have a swim in the lake. And we put our clothes behind the counter with the attendants,
and when we came out, our gear was missing. Anyway, we kicked up a hell of a stink, and eventually they found them, but my watch and the contents of my wallets were taken, and his stuff was the same. Anyway, we went to the police and reported it, and it was, I think was only about three days after that, that we left. And there was
a big write-up in the paper, about how these Australians had their stuff stolen, and when we were, after we’d arrived in England, I got a letter from the Mayor with a cheque, that the people had taken up a collection for, to buy us a new watch and some money. But going back a bit, we had a
weekend in Boston, and another boy from Brisbane and I went to these people’s home, he was the manager of a church bank, and we went there for the weekend, and stayed with he and his wife. Their family, they had a girl in the army, and I think their son was out in the Pacific somewhere, but they really gave us a wonderful time there. And they corresponded
with my Mother for many years after the war, they corresponded backwards and forwards, just through us going there this weekend. And anyway, we got our marching orders from there, went by bus to New York, and we didn’t know what we were getting on, but we finished up on the Queen Elizabeth.
It was docked there, and in the next bay was the Normandy, which had been set on fire and had tipped over on its side, and it was lying in the, across the wharf, the other side of the wharf from where we were moored. But the Queen Elizabeth was a monster, I think it was about 79,000 tonnes in those days, which was a big ship. And we were
all in cabins, I forget how many in the cabin now. You ate around the clock, for 20 minutes you were allocated from when you got to the door, until you had your meal, stacked your plates and were on the way out, because the next lot were there, waiting to come in, and that went round the clock. The American
troops there that slept during the day, while others walked round. But every hour on the hour, they used to close the bulkheads, alternate bulkheads, if you were on, say number six deck, this one here would be closed, that one would be open, and so on down. But on the other side, they would be
shut. Well then on the deck up, they would be opposite to what you were. And you’d walk through a bulkhead, and when you went to come back, it’d be shut, well then you’d start wandering round, and sometimes you might spend an hour trying to find your way home. And it was no good asking anybody else, because they were in the same boat, you were all, you’d be all lost. We were four days, I think it was, from, from New York to Greenwich,
on our own, the Queen Elizabeth was too fast for destroyers as an escort. I think we had an airship out for about half a day, out of New York. And just before we got into to Greenwich, I think it was a flying boat came out and met us. We anchored out there, out in the middle of the river, harbour, and
we were transported in then on barges, and straight onto a train, and that’s where we went to Brighton. And that was our, oh your collection centre, I suppose, that’s where all Australian Air Force were going at the time. The Kiwi air force were there as well, they were doing the same as we were doing. Oh while we were in New York, we’d picked
up Australians and Kiwis and Canadians that had trained in Canada. The biggest part of Australians did their training here, but then there was, just out of the blue, they picked odd ones and they trained in Canada. And we picked them up in New York, and they came over with us. And then we got down to Brighton, and that’s where we were stationed then until such time as they wanted extra crews,
extra personnel to go to crews on bomber command.
Well tell us about your time in Brighton, what did you do there?
Oh, played up. We, we used to lead the Poms [British] a pretty fair old dance [get up to mischief]. We were all sergeants, and they had some Pommie corporals who were drill instructors,
they were supposed to be giving us drill, and they’d take us on route marches. But where we were living, in the Metropole and the Grand Hotel in Brighton, if you remember, I think it was the Grand Hotel, Mrs Thatcher was there a few years back, and it got blown up. Well we were, that’s one of the hotels were we were staying. And these blokes used to take us
on a route march. Well they used to get out in front, and there was little back alleys where we would line up to march up to get up to the high street. Well by the time he got up there, there’d only be half the blokes there, they used to go off into shops or around a corner, or if there was a bus going past, they’d hop on that. It was a thankless task for them.
But, oh we used to go to, there was a dance, there were two dance halls in Brighton, the Regent, it was a big modern dances there and there was a picture theatre as well. And the Dome, it was another big dance hall, one floor was modern, and the, down the hallway, and there was another big dance hall for old timers.
And it didn’t matter what you wanted to dance, and there were dances of an afternoon, and if you wanted to go to a dance, or go to the movies. The seashore was off limits, well it was all barbed wire and there was anti-aircraft guns, machine-guns nests and all the beach was mined.
The pier was all mined, and I think, if I remember rightly, they’d blown a section of it out. So if there was an invasion they wouldn’t be able to land on the pier and come up there. It was all mined all that, the whole area there, all the coastline. And other than that, we, you just, odd times you’d go down to one of the halls, and they’d give you some lectures on,
possibly operations, or some of the blokes that had been on operations, and they were screens, as we called them, they were acting as instructors to give you an idea what you were going into. We had lectures on escape, as to what to do, where to go, but it was very hard if. See, we came down outside Berlin, and
not being able to speak any of the lingo, that puts you at a disadvantage straight away.
What would they tell you in these lectures about what to do on -
Oh, to try to hide out by day. They always told us if you got to Paris, to head to the red light district, to go to the brothels, because that’s where a lot of the underground operated from. I had heard
of a few got there, and that’s where they stayed, they were having too good a time, they weren’t going back to England to fight again. But that was one of the things, even in some of the other towns, if you got to the red light district. But it was very difficult, well as far as we were concerned, we were miles from, well from Berlin to the border of France, or
Holland or Belgium, it was very, very difficult.
Well tell us, did these men who had been on missions, paint a picture of what you would be facing?
They, you know, when you left England, see our flying was all at night. When you got out over the water, the Gerries [Germans], they had flack ships, as they called them,
they were just a big, more or less a cargo boat with anti-aircraft guns poking in the air, and when you got within range, they used to let go. Well then, when you hit the, some of the islands were the same, they, anti-aircraft guns there. The coast of France was the same, Holland, Denmark, you, you just didn’t fly straight in and straight out. You’d go,
up, you might go up over the Baltic and, you know, and to come into Berlin, and then you’d come out down the south, or you might go a different route, you know, they just sent them. Because they might be aiming for Berlin, and then they often used to send in, they’d call it a spoof raid, there might be a certain number of aircraft would be just ahead, and they might aim for Leipzig. Well that would get the
gerry fighters up, and by the time they realised the main force wasn’t going there, you’d be into Berlin, hopefully, and on your way out. But that was the idea of it, to, to confuse the, the enemy.
And tell us, after Brighton, where did you go next, what was the next thing?
We went to OTU, Operational Training Unit, that was outside Oxford.
Chipping Warden was the main drome, and then there was a satellite drome, they called it Edge Hill. The pilots had to do a certain number of hours on dual control on a Wellington. Circuits and bumps, as we used to call it, it used to take off, and do a circuit and come in and land, with an instructor. And when he was satisfied that they could do
that, well then they would be on their own, and the crew would be with him. I had to go to Edge Hill to do a gunnery course. That’s where we learnt this, the corkscrew, an evasive action, by altering the direction and position of your aircraft,
it made it harder for the fighters to hit you, because they had to shift their whole aircraft, and the speed that they would be going, would be much faster than you were, and they would overshoot you, and it wasn’t any good in firing, because you wouldn’t have been there. And that’s where it was with our ring sights, on our, in the gun turrets, that, as I said, it was like a little computer. You had to work out,
you knew the wing span of an aircraft, it was part of your, your training, aircraft recognition. And you knew the wingspan, and if the wingspan filled your ring sight, he was say, 400 yards, well then you could, you could start shooting. But if he only filled half of it, well he was too far away, and you held your fire.
And by this stage had
you crewed up?
Ah, when I got to OTU, I was put with this one crew that already had the three Australians in it, and I made the fourth. And I’d got matey with the rear gunner of this other crew, and by mutual consent, we swapped. And I went with the, it was Roy Richardson was the skipper from Sydney.
Frank Morrissey was from Hobart, Harry Lowe was the navigator, no was the bomb aimer from New York, he was in the Canadian air force, he’d gone across the border and joined up there, and Junior was the navigator from Yorkshire, and Shorty was the wireless operator from Coventry. And I was the mid upper
gunner, but there wasn’t any position for me on a Wellington. So I used to wander round the aircraft, half the time I used to sit up beside the pilot, or stand beside him, there was only a bit of a jump seat in a Wellington, and I’d be up there with him, while we were flying round England. You did, after he kind of got to the stage where he could fly on his own during the day,
he did a certain number of hours on cross countries and daylight exercises. Well then you had to start all over again with your night flying, and you had to do the same with the night stuff. And that was, I forget how many hours we did there, but that was a part of your training to do it by day, and then by night.
Why had you swapped with this other rear gunner? Why had you
made the swap?
Well the crew I finished with, there was only two Australians in it, and he wanted a third Australian in the crew, and the other crew already had three, and I made the fourth. And just by mutual consent, we had to go to the powers that be, and they OK’d it, and that was when I said earlier, that that particular crew, they flew into a hill, and were all killed.
And I was, on the, that’s the lucky side again, I missed out.
Do you think about that?
Oh, odd times you do, it depends on, you know, there’s different things sometimes come up. Of late, they’ve been putting on some of these things ‘The World At War’. And you, you see these things there, that remind you of happenings
back in those days. And after we’ve finished all the training at OTU, we were given a week’s leave in London. We’d actually been posted to Sterlings, which we weren’t very happy about, because they were getting a bit long in the tooth, and they could only get to about 15,000 feet, where Lancs and Halifaxes were, they flying at over 20.
And they were getting it from underneath, the anti-aircraft was giving them a hiding, and when we were dropping bombs, if they were in the road, they were getting it there too, from above. And while we were on leave, we got word to go to Lancs, which we were much happier. And we finished up then, was in Lincolnshire, training in there was Wigglsley,
and that’s where the pilot then had to learn to fly a Lancaster, from two engines to four engines. The rear gunner and I went to another unit to do more, as gunnery training, and then I think we were there about a fortnight, then we came back with the crew again. And we went through all the
daylight circuits and bumps, and the cross countries. Well then you got to do the same at night time, you, you, you’d go the system again. We had one, the rear gunner and I were in the mess one night and we’d, the only reason we weren’t out was because we were broke. The orderly officer came in and he wanted two air gunners.
And we happened to be on the end of the line and we were picked. We didn’t know what for, and we were informed then that the wing commander, Wing Commander Bonham Carter wanted two air gunners to fill his crew. And we thought, oh well, he’s a Wing Commander, he must know what he’s doing. So off we go with the orderly officer, and we get to up the aircraft, this is at night time, and there’s a
heap of bods up the front, and the old character introduced himself, and we said who we were. We get in the aircraft and we get out, and we realise he’s doing circuits and bumps the same as we were, he was only learning to fly as well, it put a bit of a dirty taste in our mouths, really. But we did a couple of circuits with the instructors, and he said, “oh, I think you’ll be right to go on your own”. And they,
with the circuit and bump, you take off, lift your undercarriage, get your flaps up, and do a big circuit. You get three parts of the way down, and you’ve got to put your wheels down and your flaps down to a certain thing, and you make your approach and land. Anyway, the first couple of landings were not too bad, and then the next one it was very rugged. And there wasn’t much said, and
he went around again and it was worse. And he said, “what was that like?”, and he was told, we were very, you know, it was a shocker, only a bit more polite, it wasn’t very politely the way he was told. Anyway, he went around again, and oh it was bloody terrible. I didn’t wait for him, I told him, if he wanted a job after the war,
he might get a job out here to teach the kangaroos how to hop. There was a lot of silence up the front of the aircraft, but strangely enough, I found out afterwards, he wasn’t just a wing commander, he was a Lord, he was Lord Bonham Carter, I think his daughter was on the screen at one stage. And he got through a tour of operations.
But he sent for us also, one day during the day, like our skipper put on a real performance, you know, he didn’t want his crew flying with anybody. Anyway, he, he, he sent for the two of us one day, he was doing cross country over England, and we had to go with him, we had no, you know, no option. But I think, you know, if we’d have said, “do you want a crew”, he would have had, because
we didn’t beat around the bush and we told him what we thought of him. But he had a hearing aid, which seemed to be remarkable to us, but I’d say because of who he was, that’s how he got there. But he, I found out he did a tour of operations, so, if luck was on your side, you got there.
Well that raises the question, I mean, how important was it for you to form a team?
You get to know
one another, you know, kind of what they’re thinking. In both crews there was never any rank, the pilot is always the Captain, he’s the boss, but if I was to say, “scramble starboard”, he wouldn’t say, “what for?” He would start doing the corkscrew move. That,
when something was said, it was meant. There wasn’t any just kind of idle chatter, you were there, you did your job, and you spoke when you had to. The rear gunner would be the same, or the engineer or whoever. When they said something, it was meant. And that’s,
but you got to know your crew, we all lived in the one hut, except the bomb aimer, he had a commission, but that didn’t make any difference to Harry, well we used to call him Mum, the skipper was Dad. The bomb aimer’s wife had a little baby, I think she was, the little girl was about six weeks old when Harry was killed, that was
a, you know, a hell of a thing when we, that was on the squadron. But after we left, left conversion unit, they picked certain crews to do a special course, they call it ‘H to S’[?]. It was a, as a navigational aid, and, what it did it actually sent out a beam and reflected back onto a screen in the aircraft, and that
showed if they were over a river or there was a bridge or coastline. And from that, they could actually bomb, on that, if the bomb aimer, if he couldn’t see the target, they could do the bombing on that, from this H to S screen, it was only about that big in the navigator’s compartment. We did a special course on that,
well then, when we got to the squadron, the navigator and the bomb aimer, they had to instruct other ones who hadn’t done it. And that was when we got to 49th Squadron, which was south east of Lincoln. All these units, where we were on Lancs, were all in the vicinity of Lincoln, possible four or five miles. There were aerodromes everywhere there. Unfortunately
it’s a wonder there weren’t a lot of accidents. We were taking off one day, and we were just airborne, and there was another aircraft from another aerodrome coming at us. There wasn’t any wind and they were just using the long runways, and they were opposites, so there was a bit of heading for cover for a while, until they, kind of, sorted things out.
We’ll just pause there, because we’re close to the end of the tape, and we’ll take a lunchbreak.
End of tape
Interviewee: Marcus Mahony Archive ID 1549 Tape 05
I want you to take me through, step by step, the first mission that you went on, from in the morning when you woke up?
This morning. No, sorry.
The first mission.
Oh, sorry, I didn’t get that bit.
Operations usually, our squadron was a scattered place, the billets were all around, possibly we might have been half a mile from the mess. And you would go up there.
What were you housed in?
The Nissen huts. I don’t know whether you’ve ever seen, it’s like
a big tank, like that, and there, possibly, possibly 40 or 50 feet long with a concrete floor, and your beds around the outside. Ours had a heater, oh, the coke heater in the middle, but there was only a few of us in our hut, and we used to pull our beds up, all around the heater, it was in the winter time.
And the unwritten law was, the last one into bed, filled the heater up with coke, so it’d keep the place warm. We’d get up, and have your shower, shave, whatever. Get dressed, hop on your bike and ride up to the mess. You’d have your breakfast, and you’d go up to the flights, which would be another half, three quarters of a mile away, and you went into your section,
I’d go into the gunnery section along with the rear gunner. Each of the crew had their own parts they went into. And we would know then, possibly if there were operations on. And you then had to go out to your aircraft, and do a check on whatever part you operated,
made sure everything was in working order. Well then, you had to do an air test. Things would work on the ground, but when you got airborne, they wouldn’t sometimes, and that was why you always did an air test. And if everything was alright, and then when you came back. We had a very, very, very good lot
of ground staff, they were all, possibly, some of them would have been old enough to be our Father. And they had a bit of an unwritten rule, they always came with us on an air test, no parachute, nothing, they’d just hop in, which gave us all the confidence in the world, that they were confident in their work, and we knew then that everything was,
as far as they were concerned, this aircraft was A1. You’d do your air test, and then come back. Well then, it would have to be fuelled, and then all the bombs would have to be loaded onto the aircraft. The WAAFs [Women’s Auxiliary Air Force] used to drive a tractor, and there’d be three or four bomb trolleys hung on that, and they would go round each aircraft
with the bombs. We used to cart a, a 4,000 pounder, and then possibly a heap of incendiaries, which were done up in crates. Then they were loaded into the aircraft, the ground, the ones that had worked on the engines would give it a final check, fuel and all that. Well then you would be back into your
respective sections. You would know there were operations on, but you wouldn’t know where. And, and then sometime in the afternoon they would tell you, you had to be at briefing at say 8 o’clock at night. You would have your, you know, that night you’d have your tea, and we always used to go then and have a shower and a shave
and start putting on your gear. I still had some of my khaki shirts from Australia, well I used to wear them instead of the air force blue one. And then you’d have your ordinary singlet and underpants. Well then you had the silk and wool long johns, put them on, and then your battle dress, and I’d have a
sleeveless sweater, and then another sweater over that, and then there was a big, a heavy white one, went over that, then my battle jacket. And then I’d put on an electrically heated overall, it’s like the electric blanket now, there’s wire all through it. And there were clips down at the feet, and they hooked in slipper, and there were also the clips
on your wrists, and they went into electrically heated gloves. You’d put them on, and then over that I’d have, put a thick pair of white socks, and then you had a pair of silk gloves, and then there was the electrically heated glove, and then there was your gauntlets, and then you put your flying suit on over that, the
particular flying suit I had, they called it a tailor suit. If and when you flew over water, you had to wear a ‘Mae West’ life jacket. Well the flying suit I had, it was a built in, the life jacket was all built in. If you were unconscious when you hit the water, you automatically floated on your back, and the collar supported your head.
It was a shocking thing to get into. There was a zip up on both legs, and one up the middle, but you didn’t pull it all the way up, you left about three inches down, and when you wanted to get out of it, you pulled it that little bit up and gave it a shake and it used to fall apart. And then on top of that, then you would put your parachute harness, I had a turtle neck sweater I used to wear, and I
also had a scarf that was about six foot long, used to wrap that around my neck. And then you had your helmet, your oxygen mask, and in your oxygen mask was your intercom and you plugged that into, when you got into the aircraft, and you plugged your oxygen in. Ordinarily, you didn’t put your oxygen until you got to 10,000 feet, but we used to, as soon as we got into the aircraft,
it was plugged in, and you were on oxygen. Well then when you got up to the flights, you would go in then to be briefed. You each went into your sections, and you were told the target, and then after you left your section, you would then go into the main briefing. And the commanding officer, and whoever would be
there, and they would give you the final, the time you were to take off, what time you would, you used to, you used to take off and do a short cross country to gain height, and you would come back over your base, and then you would set course which ever way you were to go. After your briefing, you would,
during the briefing, you would get intelligence reports of where to expect searchlights, flack, fighters and then the weather man would give you a final weather report, and what to expect all the way into Germany. It was a bit of hit and miss, you wouldn’t know whether it, you hoped it would be overcast
or cloudy, but then again, odd times if the cloud was at a certain height, and you were just above that with searchlights underneath, it kind of stood you out in the, in the cloud. Where you were to strike fighters. You went in waves, the aircraft were usually it might have been 100, 150 aircraft in a wave, you didn’t fly in formation,
you all did your thing. The pathfinders went ahead of you, and they used to drop flares if there was a turning point, and the navigator would say, “look out for a green marker”, and if you spotted one, you would say as to where it was. And then he would know then, as to whether he was on course, or wherever. And on the way,
that was on your way into the target. You took off in, you had your sequence to get out to the end of the runway, there was no, it was radio silence. When you got to the end of the runway, there was a bloke there with an oilers’ lamp, and he would give you a green for you to take off,
and the moment you were at the end of the runway, the next bloke would be lined up to go, you went off, you know, there was no space between it, and you went then and you did your bit of a cross country. You came back over base, and then you set course to catch up with your wave. As I said the pathfinders marked the course, they were ahead of you, it might be three or four
minutes. Each of the waves had their own pathfinders. And when you got into the target, the pathfinders used to then, they would mark out the target for you to bomb, it might be four greens and a red, four greens in a square, and the red in the centre, well you aimed at the red, in theory, hoped your bombs landed in that square
of greens. The next wave, it would be the next section or wherever. And you would head for home. It wasn’t very often you went straight in and straight out. Our last operation was, because we had a hundred mile an hour wind that night. We went in, I think, at
two and a half hours to Berlin, and we would have been six hours on the way home, on the same track with that, we’d had a head wind on the way home, we were battling. When you went in over the target, well it was all the flack in the world usually over Berlin, they used to just aim their guns in the air and let go because they knew we were flying in the 20,000 feet upwards,
and that’s where they used to set their fuses to explode. If they had searchlights, you had to, more or less, try to dodge them, because if the searchlights picked you up, there’d be fighters upstairs waiting, and they also used to affect your night vision. And then they used to fire what we used to call scarecrows, it was
an anti-aircraft shell that used to burn with a very, a very, very bright light, and that would affect your night vision, and you, you can’t see anything, it might be three or four minutes or longer before your vision gets back to what you could see before. On the way home, would be the same with the pathfinders, they would mark your course.
When you got back over the North Sea, you would let down, then you’d head for home. And when you got within a certain range of home, you would call up on your radio, and let them know that you were on the way, and then when you got over base, you would again
speak to them, and then they used to stack you up then at, I think it was 500 feet, and you just did a circuit at that height, that they, they told you, then as one went into land, the next bloke would get the order to pancake, the next bloke to come into the circuit, and you’d step down at 500, until everybody was home, hopefully.
When you landed, you would, the girl, we had a particular girl that used to look after our crew, she was always there, didn’t matter what time you got home, could be one or two o’clock in the morning, it could be six o’clock in the morning. And Dot was always there to pick us up to take us back into headquarters. There we’d, you would get out of your
flying gear, and then you would go in to be interrogated. The intelligence officers would go through every bit of your flight. The navigator, part of the navigator’s job was to log everything, if I reported a fire on the starboard side, he would put it down in his log there was a fire at such and such
an area, and he would mark that on his chart. When it, say for instance, I shot an aircraft down, I would say it went down in flames, but they would not take any notice of my report alone. Three of four others would have to report an aircraft going down in flames at the same time, the same place. And if there was an aircraft of ours that
was being shot up by flack or fighters, you would it report it, and it all went down in the navigator’s log. You got back, then you debriefed, and you went and had your bacon and egg breakfast, or, whatever time it was. And you went then, you went to bed, it could be anytime. That was one of the hard parts was to, you got that way, you’d sleep
whenever, whenever you hit the bed you were gone. The hours were very, were all over the place. As I said earlier, the second last raid we did, we left at midnight and got back at eight o’clock in the morning, and they pulled us out of bed at two o’clock and we flew again that night at midnight, so there wasn’t asleep then, you’re dog tired.
Was there any particular, like, superstitions or lucky charms for you or for the rest of your crew?
Oh, there was some strange ones. In the first crew, as I told you we had an American bomb aimer, and his little girl had been born, well his wife sent him a rag doll, well that was hanging in the aircraft.
And when Harry was killed, the CO has to write to all the parents or the next of kin, offering his condolences and all that. Well the Aussie rear gunner and I, we decided to write as well to the English boy’s people, and I wrote to
Gloria, who was the bomb aimer’s wife in New York. And I said that very sorry that Harry had been killed, and a couple of weeks later I got a letter from her cousin, saying that Gloria did not believe that Harry was dead. And I thought well what am I going to do. Anyhow, I went to the CO and I, told him
what I’d done, and I showed him the letter. And he said, “well I’ve written to her as well, but” he said, “ I think you’ve got to write to her, and say that you were in it”, and you know, that’s, you just had to be blunt. I had a letter from Gloria and one from her cousin. Well then, I came down, it was about six weeks after that, and there was a letter arrived for me,
from Gloria. And my rear gunner, he got the letter, and he had to write then, explain that I’d gone missing, and strangely they corresponded right through the war. He came back to Australia, he wrote and told her he was engaged, and he never, ever heard from her
again, which was strange, whether, I don’t know whether she thought, there may have been, made something of it or, but it was just one of those quirks that happen. And then in the second crew that I was with, the Canadian skipper, we had, I think it was an old rag doll too, that this, the girl called Dot, who used to drive us out,
well she gave us, and that was hanging up in the aircraft too. And getting back to the ground staff, how they always used to do an air, come up for an air test with us, no parachutes. The last thing they did before we took off, was to put their caps in the back door, to go with us. So there’d be about four blokes would have to go and buy
new caps, because we didn’t come home on that particular raid. But that was one of the things, that, you know, the kind of quirks that they did.
What did that mean to you?
Oh well, it was just something, the confidence that you had in these boys, and the confidence they had in their work. We came home one night, and we knew there’d been a bit of flack around, but,
and they said to, you know, when we landed, “any damage?” And we said, “oh no, we hadn’t been hit”, we went out next morning, where there was about three or four inches off one of the blades of the prop, and there was a hole in the leading edge of the wing, apparently there had been flack that we hadn’t realised. We were not real popular, because that engine had to come out, and be changed because of that bit of damage. But it was just one
of those things, we realised the flack was around, but we didn’t realise we had been hit. One of the pars for the course, really. But, well life on the squadron was very, more or less, relaxed. There, there was no, the CO of the station was a Group Captain in New Zealand. In theory, he was not allowed to fly
on operations, because of his rank. But what he used to do, he used to reduce himself to a sergeant, he’d put on a sergeant’s uniform, and he’d be on operations that night. Oh, they caught up with him in the end, they said, “no, you, you’re not to fly anymore”. But that was the type of people they were. And the only time you saluted one of the, the higher officers,
if you wanted to go up and speak to him. But if you walked past, you didn’t bother, because they were wandering around all the time, you just didn’t. Well rank just didn’t mean anything to us, because you were all in one happy family, more or less, when you were flying, and that was the way you acted.
was the reaction on base, when a crew wouldn’t come back?
Oh, you kind of bottled it, you’d sort of say, “oh poor bugger, I wonder what happened to him”. Or somebody may have been in the vicinity and they may have heard something, and they’d say, “oh we heard somebody speaking on the radio over there, they were in trouble”. But other than that,
you wouldn’t know sometimes for three or four weeks, I think I was six weeks from when we came down till my parents found out I was still alive, that they got the cable that I was missing, it’s in that book there, I think, one of them. Well when he had the crash in England, the first crew, I didn’t say anything home, but then
I got a cable from home, wanting to know if I was alright, apparently, because I had a bit of skin off my head, they’d, they sent a cable to my parents that I’d been injured. So then I had to write then and square off, that I was alright. The main thing was you knew that they worried as it was. You knew you were alright, but you just
had to, you didn’t talk about those things in the letters, and, you know, everybody was having a good time.
And, with knowing that the odds were that you might not come back, what were the feelings of fear or tension as you prepared to go out on a mission?
Ah, you bottled it up, you didn’t, kind of say anything to anybody.
You had to make life a big joke. Oh, we used to argue a lot in the crew, not if you get what I mean, if somebody would say something , well it’d be wrong, you’d argue on principle. Seeing I was the only Australian in the second crew, I used to cop a fair bit of flack. But the skipper and I, he was a Canadian,
we used to, sometimes I might be out of the aircraft first, and I’d be standing on the ground and he’d come to the back door, and he used to just take just a flying jump and land on me back. And we’d be on the ground, abusing one another and these, the poor Pommie [British] ground staff, I think they thought we were off our heads. But that was just our way of, of letting go.
No the ground staff. The NAAFI [Navy, Army, Air Force Institute] van, and there was another lot used to come around with morning tea. Well we had an understanding that morning tea was on us, even if we weren’t there, well they got what they wanted for morning tea, and we used to pay them next time we were out there. It’s, that’s how we worked it, and we used to take them into Lincoln, I think, every second pay night,
take them into Lincoln and shout them tea, and go to the pub and have a skinful. The only condition was, if we weren’t capable, they had to put us to bed.
And was there any kind of physical reaction in your body as you prepared to go on a flight?
Well, you tensed up to a degree, which is only natural. But
I tended to think, you know, can’t happen to me. But that was my attitude all along, I thought, “oh, I’m coming home”. I didn’t realise I’d be locked up for a while, in the process, but. The biggest part of aircrew that was their attitude, they, you know, because we were only kids.
What was it like trying to form relationships with other people outside of
your crew, not knowing?
I met an English, a WAAF when I got to England, and we got friendly. And well then, when I was on the squadron, we used to go into Lincoln. If you weren’t flying at night, we used to go into Lincoln and we used to go to dances. Even, they used to have dances in the afternoon, there.
If the, the girls that worked wouldn’t be there, the older ones would be there, and you got up and danced with everybody. And I got friendly with a girl there, her stepfather was on the ground staff on one of the Australian squadrons, and I used to go to their place. And
if I couldn’t go to sleep, if we’d been out on a raid and I couldn’t go to sleep, I’d get my bike and ride into Lincoln, I’d go to her place, and the house was always open, I’d just go in, and get into bed and go to sleep. By that time, you’d have unwound. She’d come home from work, and I’d be on the lounge there somewhere asleep, and she used to give me a kick in the ribs, and we’d get up, have tea and we’d go to the dance.
And what was she like?
She was a very nice girl. I had a letter while I was in prison camp that something had happened, so I, and that was it, so I don’t know whether she met somebody else or what, so I never, ever heard from her again. And the other one, the other WAAF, I got engaged to her, but when I got, I was in Greenslopes, and I hadn’t had a letter for about
three weeks, and one of the boys, one of the boys beside me, he’d been in Germany too. And I said to Phil, “I think I’ve got the chop”. He said, “oh no, the mails out”. Any there was a letter arrived this day, and it was very, very thin and I opened it, and there was about a dozen lines, and she didn’t want to know me anymore.
I just handed it over to him, and he said, “oh, you know, hard luck, and not to worry”, only three or four weeks later she wrote and wanted to start it off again, and I thought “oh, no”. So that was it.
Was she British?
Yes, actually she was Welsh.
And were you in Greenslopes in -
Here, I was in hospital here, this was after, when we got back to Australia that I got this letter.
More or less a ‘Dear John’ [letter informing that a relationship is over], I suppose you’d call it.
And what did she say, why?
Oh she didn’t want to come to Australia, but when I was over there, oh yes, she, she wanted to come to Australia. But looking in hindsight, I don’t think it would have worked out, because it’s a big, big thing to leave over there to come out here, and not knowing what you’re going into. It happened to an awful lot, that they were under
a misapprehension as to conditions, we, well, I never had a job, I didn’t know what I was going to do, never had a clue. And you, when you got out, everybody was very unsettled. You, it was very hard to settle. We had
jumping ahead of myself a bit, my wife and I, before we got married, somebody said to her Mother, “don’t let Mame marry him, he was a POW [prisoner of war], and they’re all mad”. And strange thing, somebody told Jean’s Mother, the same thing in Melbourne, because she was engaged to Ron, who was a
POW of the Japs, all POWs were mad. Well they might have been right too, but it was just one of those strange things, but oh well, it worked out alright for the two of us, really.
And what does it feel like to get a ‘Dear John’ letter?
Well in a way, I half expected it, I don’t know what it was, you just, you know, you get a feeling. And
strangely enough, the bloke that was beside me, I knew his sister in Toowoomba, because Phil had been taken prisoner, and he was engaged to a girl in Toowoomba before the war. And I knew, I got to know her, and I know that she was playing up. But I never ever said a word to Phil about it, well I didn’t meet him until we got to, in Greenslopes
together, he was in the next bed to me. And I never ever said to him, you know, what had, that I knew that she was playing up. But it got, it went by the board, and he met another girl and they got married, and had a family, and happily ever after, like.
And this letter that you got in the POW camp from
the other -
The other one? Well it was only about three or four lines, you may have seen in that folder, there was a little card about that big. That was what we used to write out, but all you put was, “I’m alright, see you soon, hopefully”, because we put anything else, well they used to black it out. She just said that she didn’t want to hear from me anymore, so. I said, “oh well, no worries”.
Is that an awful thing to do to someone in a POW camp?
Well, I wasn’t the only one; there would have been a lot, if, it would have happened to a lot. We used to get books, they’d come from Switzerland, written by goodness knows, but a lot of it was rubbishing the English wives and sweethearts at home.
Their husbands and boyfriends were in prison camps, and they were knocking around with Yanks and whoever, that was the story in the book. Well it used to kind of upset the blokes there, they used to laugh about it, because they knew it was propaganda more or less, but that’s what they used to do, to put these books around the camp, to stir the blokes up, but it didn’t work.
Did you come across any other types of propaganda during the war?
Oh yes, it was. You know, we used to, as I said, the books, it wasn’t that often that we got them, but that was the gist of the stories. And they always said, that, you know, what this one was doing and the Germans were winning the war all the time, and we kind of knew they weren’t, hopefully. But
as I said after the invasion, we used to get the news, and you’d split the difference and that’s where it was, halfway.
And when you were in England, would you ever hear any propaganda radio from Germany?
What’s his name, Lord Hawhaw, you’d hear him, but we never used to listen to him.
What did he sound like?
Oh,he was a Pommie bloke, I think, I think his name was Joyce, and
he was spreading for the Germans, saying what good blokes they were, and blah blah. But it was like the Tokyo Rose that used to broadcast from Japan, and they used to come up with stuff. And they would get, odd times in Germany, they would broadcast names of ones that were taken prisoner,
which, that part was alright. But see, it had to go through the Red Cross. I think there was about six weeks, and when I came down to, when my parents got word that I was alive, but other than that, they didn’t, all they got was a telegram that I was missing, and hopefully would be some good news, but that was the telegram, of course, that
upset the apple cart at home. Yet as far as we were concerned, we knew we were alright, but it was harder on your parents, really.
Would Haw Haw make any specific reference to Australians, or -
Oh, not so much over there. It was more the, well see the Yanks were in the war by that time. And their,
I suppose their propaganda machines were, well they were all at, you know, saying what good blokes they were and what they were doing, and all the damage they were doing, and the Gerries were doing the same. But people just had to be realistic. The bombing that the Germans
bombed altogether differently to us. The wireless operator I had in my first crew came from Coventry. And he said they would get air raids would start just after dark, the air raid sirens would go, they’d come over, they’d drop a few bombs, and they’d go, they’d get the all clear. And then next, half an hour later, it would be on again. And it was a war of nerves,
but they, they weren’t getting any sleep, and this was starting to tell. Whereas with our raids, we’d go over possibly 600 or 700 aircraft in an hour, it’d be over. We just hit for the big heap, and, and made a big mess, whereas they coming all night just upsetting all the people. But Coventry was a
mess, I was in there a few, you know, when I went back over. The cathedral, a part of the structure, the steel beams, it landed in the form of a cross, and it’s still there. They built a new one beside where the old one was, and they have a memorial service there every morning at 11 o’clock, I think it is, at a certain part of the
old cathedral, and all the different churches take turn to do the service.
We’ll just pause there because we’re at the end of the tape.
End of tape
Interviewee: Marcus Mahony Archive ID 1549 Tape 06
Ok. Maybe not when you were flying, but at the base, before and after enduring operations that you went on, where there any kind of horrific sights, that you’d see from planes coming back in from bombing raids?
We were lucky, in as much, well see,
all our flying was at night, and when you landed you got out of your aircraft and you went into to get your gear off and went to interrogation, that you didn’t really see what was coming in. They were either, they either got home or they didn’t make it, that was the main part of it. There were odd times that aircraft would be shot
up, but I didn’t actually see any that had been, you know, badly damaged. Some of them might come home on three engines, but well, the Lanc could fly on three.
Did you hear any news about any bad events?
Well, my rear gunner in the first crew, he had to fly as a spare one night, and they landed in strife somewhere over there.
And when they got back and they eventually had to ditch, but they finished up on a mud bank, and they got out of the aircraft, they got in the dinghy but there was nowhere to go, because they were in mud, but they didn’t realise that. But that was a part of your training, as to how to get out, if you had to ditch. Everybody gets out and gets down the back of the aircraft, and you
brace yourselves, and the dinghy in theory, automatically pops out, and inflates, but then there’s a couple of things that you do, in case it doesn’t. Then you all have to get out through the hatch on top. If you’ve got time, you pass out the emergency kit. In theory, a Lancaster would float for 17 seconds.
And a part of your training is to get out in 17 seconds, more, we could never do it. A few crews did, but there were very few crews that could get out, and get the seven blokes out through a hatch about that square, out the top and into the dinghy in 17 seconds. But then, but when you have to do it, it’s marvellous what you will do,
as to where you’ll, you know, as to where you’ll fit. Go on.
You kind of told us briefly before, but if you could talk us through your very first operation where there was that bad landing. Talk us through that operation from the start, through to that event?
Ah, we took off, and
as I say, you do your short cross country to gain height, and you come back over base to set your course for your rendezvous, it could be south of England, or it could be out over the wash.
What was it on that particular mission, do you remember that particular?
Off hand, no, I just don’t know whether we, Beachy Head in the south of England, was one of their,
seemed to be one of their favourite meeting places, but then it depended if they were going to go across the south of France, or up across the north of France, Holland, Belgium and in that way. It depended just which your course was, and that’s where you met up with your wave, and you would still
be climbing, because we would be carting possibly 10,000 pound of bombs, and be over 2,000 gallons of fuel, and you had to get as much height as you could. We normally flew at about, oh, 22 or 23,000, that was about our maximum. The more fuel you used, the higher you would get, but then you had to stay, you tried to stay
in a certain height, because your wave of aircraft would be in that space. And we used to cart what they called window, it was a strip of foil paper on one side, and black on the other. Well part of the engineers and the bomb aimers job was to throw these little packets of window out about so long, and there might be a dozen pieces
in little each bunch. And when the wind hit it, that used to open it up, and on the German, on their radar screen, it was just like snow. Well those little blips used to throw their radar out, because an aircraft was a blip on their screen. Well with all these bits floating around the sky,
it didn’t protect you, but it protected the other aircraft from the whole, everybody would be putting it out, and that was the idea in theory, it was one of the few things that the Germans, they never countered. A lot of our stuff we used, gee, they could jam it, it was an instrument, it’d send a signal out,
and you’d come back, and from that, because the navigators used to get positions. Or they would be, the wireless operator would be listening out to, he’d have a certain area to listen on his radio, on the band, a certain part of the band. And if he heard a German voice come up, he’d immediately jam down his key, which would interrupt their transmission on that particular wavelength. He had to listen out
all the time for messages from England, in case there was a recall. But that part of his job, was to listen for German instructions to fighters, along. And we had H to S, was the one we did the special course on, it used to send out a signal. They had one then at the back of the aircraft, we called it Monica. If an
aircraft was approaching, it would start to send a beep through your headphones. If the beep was slow, you knew it was one of your aircraft. But if, if it was coming at a rate of knots, we’ll you’d start to panic a bit then, because it could be a gerry fighter, and you’d have to start to really look to see what, what was coming. But then they used to jam that too. It was a case of
they’d just come up with something new, and it’d last for a while, then out it would go, so then they’d come up again. On the way into the target, you’d cop, there were certain areas you’d get searchlights and possibly fighters, and then there’d be flack. Well you knew if the flack was there, hopefully
the Gerry fighters wouldn’t be up, because they would have to fly through it as well, as you. And on the approach to the target this particular, on our first trip, there was an ME-110, it came in and I saw him, and I opened fire, and I told the skipper to corkscrew which he did. And according to my,
the trace, your ammunition is a mixture of armour piercing and trace incendiary more, and with the trace, you can see where you’re firing. And according to the, the trace that I was firing, it was hitting the aircraft. Anyway, he decided to go a different way, thankfully. And that was the only time that I
ever had to fire my guns, was that, that night. Everything was uneventful on the way home, and when we got back to England, there was fog. Our squadron had FIDO, it was a fog dispersing, I just forget the, but it was a fog dispersing thing-o. There were three big fuel pipes running down each side of the runway.
And they used to light them, light the petrol with, and it would create a fire, and that heat would disperse the fog. You had to come in then, those pipes were possibly 30 or 40 yards either side of the runway, and there was a bar across the inn, which was the start of the runway, and that’s where you landed. On, you went over that bar and landed down,
or landed along. Along, on the runway, there was a different series of lights, there’d be greens and blues, and well then you got near the end and there’d be reds, and that’s when you knew you were running out of road, and you had to put the anchors on really, to pull yourself up. But anyway, as we were going in, I don’t know really what happened, whether. I spoke to a bloke from Canberra, who was in the aircraft behind us
that night, I’ve spoken to him back here in Australia. And he seems to think that the bar of light reflected on the windscreen on the aircraft, and the skipper must have mistaken the end of the runway, and he touched down before we got there. And over there, instead of a fence round the place, they have a hedge and a ditch,
and the ditch is about six foot deep. Well that’s what happened, the wheels ran into that, it just went down and the nose hit, and fortunately for rear gunner and I, the fuselage broke in front of my turret, and we kept on going, while the others just exploded and went up in flames. And I got out of the, when I got out of the turret,
in my stupidity, I’m trying to go out the back door, but actual fact, I was out of the aircraft, but you know, you, you’re trying to do something, and I’m trying to head down the back, and I realised then that I couldn’t get out the door because it was lying on its side, the turret had been pushed down into the aircraft. And I got out, and I went up the front, and
I got a hold of the, I could see him where he was sitting in the seat, and I got a hold of his harness to drag him out, but the harness burnt through. I landed on my backside in the fire, I got up, and next thing these hands came from nowhere and dragged me away. Apparently some farmers had appeared on the scene, and they realised there was nothing. In my own mind, I knew
he was dead, but, as you do these things. And then I went looking for the rear gunner, and he had got himself out of the turret and he was alright, there was nothing wrong with him, and I had a cut on the forehead that was, and bruises. I suppose when you’re doing about 120 miles an hour, and you stop in a hurry, it’s only natural you’re going to get a few bumps.
The ambulance eventually came after a few phone calls. We got back to base, and I went to the doctor, he examined me, he scratched in the cut on the forehead to see there was no bits of metal and paint and that. And stitched it up, and I think he hit me with a pill,
went to bed and they, I think it was about half past eleven in the morning when I woke, and the rear gunner was in the bed beside me, they’d done the same to him. We went back up then, we were interrogated, because we hadn’t been there, the night before and everybody else was. And then that afternoon we were back in the air again.
You do a, you go back up, and we were up for half an hour, three quarters of an hour with another crew, and we flew round and came back, and had a week’s leave on the strength of it. I had nowhere to go, but this English boy, that night we had with us, lived in Brighton, and he said, ”would you like to come down with him?” So I went and stayed with him at
Brighton, with his mother and father. And it was while I was there, that I didn’t realise at the time, but the shock more or less caught up with us, and I, ordinarily I’m an easy going bloke, but apparently I was arguing with everybody and cranky, and it was afterwards that I realised
that the shock had kind of caught up with me. But that went on for a couple of days, and then I came good then, and I was right.
Did anyone talk to you about it?
Yes, well, see, as I said, the Aussie rear gunner I had in my first crew, he finished up then with a different crew altogether, and he and I were kind of on our own, we’re in a hut on our own, because I was flying then
with this Canadian crew, and he never had a crew, he was flying spare, if they, somebody wanted an air gunner, well he would fly with them. And he and I went everywhere, we used to go out at night and get on the scoot, or if we couldn’t afford to go out, we’d stay in the mess, and, but that was our outlet, go out and get on the grog.
When I joined up, I didn’t drink. I think I’ve made up for it when I was over there, but that was your outlet. You just left yourself go, and a few drinks and get it out of your system. The Canadian skipper and I used to go out a lot together, and this Aussie, pardon me, rear gunner, and he just kind of got used to their company,
and used to talk about things, but. When I got then with the Canadian crew, we, you’re doing the same things all the time. If there’s no operations on, they’ll have you doing a cross country during the day, or it might be one at night, but you’ve got to do a cross country. And you
practise with searchlights over there, that used to be a part of your, your night flying training, to fly over a certain area, to give the blokes on the ground practise with searchlights. They had a radar controlled one, which was a blue beam, and everything would be as black,
and out of the darkness would come this blue beam, and hit you. Well then all the manually operated ones then, which were more or less as a yellowy white light, they would pick you up, and you would be combed up there then, and didn’t matter what you did to try and get away, it was a hell of a battle. And that happened to us one night over Germany, we got combed, but you’ve got no friends over there. We saw an
aircraft underneath us, so we flew over the top of him and came back, and left him with it, so they cottoned on to him then. Well it was up to him then to think it out, survival of the fittest. And also something else over there, you used to run adrift with, were the barrage balloons, they would have them up over the cities, and they’d be at all heights. But you knew,
when you got into them, they had, there’s a beep system, and that used to come through your headphones, and you knew then that you had to get away from that area because of the barrage balloons.
What are they?
A big balloon with steel cables hanging down, they were up at certain heights. On the wings of Lanc, they have cable cutters, it’s a
thing that sticks out about that far, and if the cable hits the wing, it slides along into that thing, and there’s a charge, it hits and explodes and in theory, it cuts the cable. So a few of the ground staff, they lost fingers, they’d be out on the wing at night, you know, if it was slippery, and they’d forget and put their hand over the leading edge of the wing, and bang, and your’re minus a finger.
What would happen if they didn’t cut the cables, how did the -
What would happen to the plane?
Well it would depend if it was in between your motors, it could hit the motor then and you could possibly lose a prop, or a motor. But that was the theory of it. But at the height that we would be flying over Germany, it, very rarely would you strike them, over there,
at that height. But this was over England where we used to, where we struck them. Coventry and York, Liverpool, in that vicinity, they’d have these barrage balloons up, and they’d have them up at any height, and it wasn’t just one cable, it would be possibly a heap of cables hanging down.
How did you feel about dropping bombs on Germany, yourself?
Well you had to just think, well you’re getting even with what they did to England. It’s not real good when you’re on the wrong end of them. We were, we had a few in the prison camp, it wasn’t that they were aimed at us, but blokes in strife, you immediately open the bomb doors and hit the lever and everything goes.
You don’t care where it goes, you want to get rid of it. And we had a few, oh close ones, that, they landed where the prison camp was, was open farmland. And goodness knows where the aircraft finished up, but he’d be in trouble, and he had to get rid of his bombs, so he just pulled the plug, and away they went. But when you see the damage the
bombs actually did, and the fires. See we used to cart incendiaries as well. And in theory, the, you drop the 4,000 pounder, and then the 32 pound incendiaries went a short time later, and then the four pounders. Well then in theory, when the big one hit the deck, it would explode and knock stuff down, and then these other bombs would come in and start fires. Well at the
same time, there was a photo flash in the aircraft that would go off, it used to go down and explode at a certain height. And the camera in the aircraft would take a photo of you, where your bombs hit. And when you got back to England, they would take the camera out and get the film out and develop it, and see where your stuff was going, that was a part of the system up there.
But the photo flash, I think it was 60 million candle power of magnesium, I didn’t like where it used to be stored, it was stuck under my turret, I was more or less sitting on top of it. Because if it was hit, well, it was just whoosh and you were gone.
Well speaking of conditions in your turret, how would you go through a mission of
eight hours, where would you go to the toilet, and -
You didn’t. You could get a, like a funnel with a hose and out through the side of your boot into a tin, but we never worried. Well we used to worry about it, but it was a hassle to put the damn thing on, so you used to just have to keep your legs crossed, and think of something else. It was very hard, you were there eight, eight and a
half hours in the cold. Well see it would be 45 degrees below freezing, and the only heating you got was your electrically heated flying suit, and that’s all you got. The boys up from the front had a bit of heat from the motors, but they still wore heavy gear too, because, if the aircraft got hit and there were holes in the fuselage, see there was no insulation in the Lanc at all, just a
metal skin. And all I had was a, just a seat and everything around you and a perspex, perspex dome. There was no armour plating, there was originally in the aircraft, but it all went out. The only bit in the end, was a bit about a foot square about the pilots head, which was useless, they might as well have thrown it out too. But it was the weight,
that they were trying to overcome, you know. The rear gunner used to have a big heap in front of him, I had a heap in front of where I sat. But they threw it out.
Was it scary going through some of these defences facing ack-ack, and -
Oh, you used to get frightened. You’d see the ack-ack start, and if you happened, the main thing was
your navigator to keep in the stream. If you got out on your own, or you got lost and you were a, say a half mile off course, they would pick you up on radar, and then you’d be for it, because their ack-ack guns would start to pick you out then, or the fighters, or the, if the searchlights happened to nail you. But that was the main thing, was to, for your navigator
to stay on time, on course and … you were, it was only a matter of, I forget the seconds that they used to audit, used to try to work on that, that you were due over the target at ‘x’ time, and you went in on that wave. And there might be possibly five minutes between
you and the next wave, and they’d come in then. And that was how, that was how it worked.
And this occasion when you were caught in the cone of light, how did you feel about passing it off to someone else?
Oh, look after yourself, mate. That was, it was the skipper, that’s what they you know, they think, oh well, I’m looking after me, and survival of the fittest.
It wasn’t very, well gentlemanly to do, but that’s what they, the way you looked after yourself up there.
Well I know you’ve talked about it before briefly, but talk us through the story of the lead-up, and the event of crashing in Germany?
We left, as I said, we’d been to
Berlin the night before. We were pulled out of bed at two o’clock that afternoon again, and we had to go through all the air tests, ground tests, the aircraft had to be bond[?] and fuelled, and we were given the midnight, was the take off time. And you went through the same procedure as we’d done the night before. Only this particular night, we had a hundred
mile an hour wind up our tail, and we went straight, more or less straight into Berlin. And then we were coming out, practically on the same course. We went into Berlin and we were north east of Berlin, and we were on the turn to come in on the bombing run. We had our starboard wing dipped in, we were banking
round and this other Lancaster came in behind us and underneath. And he knocked our starboard outer motor off, and half a wing. So it was just one almighty bang, and we didn’t know what, well we knew we’d hit another aircraft, but it was that big of a shock. And it just fell out of the sky, and Johnny gave the order to bail out, but we were
just falling, and you got to, I had to get out of the turret, and the g-pressure, you’re kind of struggling to get out, and the turret was on the beam, on the side, it was the starboard mount engine was the one that supplied the power to my turret. And it wouldn’t operate, so I had to struggle over
pipes and things to get out and get into the aircraft. You’d take your, I was supposed to take my helmet off then, but I still had it on, and I picked my parachute up, it was on a, in a container on the wall, you put it on. You’ve got two hooks there and on the back of the parachute there’s two ‘Ds’, and that fits into those things. And by this time, the
skipper had got a bit of control over it, and he’d straightened it out. And he said to hang on. Well I had to get a hold of the wireless operator, because he’d come down the back, and he was trying to open the door with the rear gunner, and I had to get a hold of them to stop them from going out, because the skipper had told us, had said to hang on, he might be able to keep it airborne. But that
didn’t last long, because you could kind of feel the aircraft, it just wasn’t flyable. And that’s when the engineer said to him, “it just won’t stay up, we’re losing height”, and it was about 600 mile back to England, we never had a hope of flying that far the way it was. And that’s when he told us to bail out then. And the wireless operator had got the door open, and he sat on
the step, and you face the front and you roll. He went out, and then the rear gunner sat there, and he wasn’t going. So I got my foot up against him and gave him a helping hand, and then I went out. But when I sat on the doorstep, I went to reach for the rip, for the handle, but it wasn’t there, I’d put it on back to front. Instead of having the right hand, I put it in my left, which didn’t make any difference but you, one of those things that
happens. I went out then, and I lost my boots, and with the wind blowing, I, it was like a giant swing, and all I was worried about then, that I was going to spill the air out of the chute, and I kicked and struggled against the swing, I eventually got myself that I wasn’t swinging so much. And I could see the black underneath me, and
I thought, “oh that’s more cloud”, but it was a pine forest. And next thing I’m in, through the branches, and I’m hanging up, stuck in Germany, didn’t know where the hell I was. And after a lot of effort, I eventually, I swung myself onto the trunk, and I climbed up on the limbs and I undid
my harness from the parachute, it was still stuck up on the trees. And I was kind of thinking, “now I’ve got to get down”, and next thing I was down, the limbs broke and I fell about 30 feet I reckon, and busted things up with my back. At the time, well it wasn’t until I got back to Australia, that I found my back had been broken and it never
been set. It’s got a, between the shoulders, there’s a dog leg in it. But it’s in the lumbar area where I have all the problems now. And the discs are worn, but I’ve learned to live with it, I get around. And I got down and I had to crawl then. I could see a light along the, on the ground, and I headed to that,
because I knew it was just impossible for me to try and escape anywhere. I didn’t even know where I was in Germany. And that’s when the German farmer went passed, and I sang out and waved to him, and he waved back, and kept going. And he came back then with an army bloke with a tommy gun, and he had a pitchfork, and, “for you, the war is over”, so there I was. And
that’s when he took me, they took me back to the farm, and he wanted to put me on a bed, but I just couldn’t. Well I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I was in a mess.
Well describe the pain for us?
Well, it, even when, when I wasn’t trying to move, it was just kind of thought, something was, oh tearing you apart.
And oh, I think I was screaming my head off, and I suppose the language was quite choice. But it wast just one of those things, and you’re in shock, because, one minute you’re up there flying along, minding your own business, the next minute you’re on the deck, in strife. But eventually after the bomb aimer had come and
identified me, when he thought I was dead, and he snored, it didn’t help him any, but at least he knew I was alive. And he then went with the German guards to another farm, and here’s the rear gunner with the German farmer, in front of the fire having a cup of coffee. It’s got its humourous sides,
you had to have a sense of humour, if you didn’t have that, you were history.
What did the rear gunner tell you about his, his experience?
Oh, what he called me, it wasn’t real choice, when I pushed him out. But he said afterwards, he wouldn’t have gone, he had frozen up there. And well he’d have gone down with the aircraft. If I’d have gone out ahead of him, he’d have been killed, cause he wouldn’t have gone.
But I thought oh, to hell with you, it’s me next.
And what did he tell you about his little cup of coffee with the farmer?
Oh, he laughed about it, you know. He couldn’t, well there wasn’t any of us could speak any German. Oh, we had a phrase book which was useless, with a bit of German, there was even of French. I learnt French at school, but when you’re talking to a Frenchman, it’s a foreign language, he didn’t know what you’re talking about.
But it’s, he was enjoying himself having a cup of coffee with the gerry farmer. And then I got to a farm and I still hadn’t been to the toilet. And my bit of German I think was ‘Scheissenhausen’, and I said to the bloke that’s where I wanted to go, and he pointed, and I thought to go to the shed. And next minute he let out a yell, and
there, where I was, that’s where I was, and that’s where I, that’s where I had a leak in the... But looking back on these things, you can laugh about them now, you know, hilarious really, but at the time, very serious.
What was the German farms like, that you were on?
Oh, the, this,
a couple that I was in, I was in one after we got set free. It’s a big, there was a big long shed, the house was one end, and the barn, and in the winter time that’s where the cattle are in there. We were, after we set free, we spent a night in a German, in the loft, in the hay. I always read
in books, that if you sleep in a haystack, its warm: you don’t believe it; it’s not! And I went down into the kitchen, and I said to the woman, you know, I wanted to go to the toilet, and she pointed to this door. So I opened the door, and I was greeted by a black and white cow. As I opened the door, this, all the cows were in the, next door to the kitchen, but that was... But their farms, they’re like ours,
open cultivation, and… Actually, where the prison camp was, it was farmland all around it. And all the stuff from the toilets that was their fertilizer, it went out there.
And when you were feeling this pain, this back pain, did you ever think that perhaps you’d had it, that you were gone for?
Oh no, I knew I was alive, and I
thought “well”, but I didn’t know what, I didn’t know what I’d done. I couldn’t stand up straight, even when the boys would help me up, I was stooped over. And I was like that for three or four months, even when I got to the prison camp. But jumping ahead, there was a South African masseur there, and through exercise and massages, he straightened me up.
What kind of exercises?
Oh twisting and bending and, but he used to get, I’d be hanging onto something, and he’d be pushing and, oh God, it used to hurt. I’d be abusing him, and he’d be swearing at me in Afrikaans, I wouldn’t know what he was saying. But thanks to him, that I got, I’m standing up straight now. But I just couldn’t, and when I was, if I was lying on my right side and I wanted to turn over,
I would have to push, I had to get a hold of the, the bunk up on top of me and get myself up, wriggle around and then just kind of let myself go and land on the bed again, I had no strength whatsoever in my back, I just had to wear that.
We’ll stop there because we’ve come to the end of the tape.
End of tape
Interviewee: Marcus Mahony Archive ID 1549 Tape 07
Are you right? OK. How long did you stay at the farmhouse for?
Oh I think I was only there for, possibly, a couple of hours.
How would you describe the manner of the farmer?
Ah, we was quite good. What I found overall, the old German, he didn’t want, it was only the young, like, oh blokes our age, the Hitler youth, that’s all they knew, it had been hammered into them at school. You know, that
Hitler was the lord and master and what he did was right, but the German, the old German, he didn’t want to be in it, even in the prison camp. We had a couple of guards that were, they were old men, as I might have told you, one was a prisoner of war in England in the First World War. You know, he wouldn’t say straight out, but you knew
they didn’t want it. And, but they were just forced into it, and that was it. But the women and all had to, they were in the services and… but when we got to the first place where we were in New Brandenburg, is where we were more or less put in jail.
One of the first English speaking Germans, he threw me, he had an American accent, and that kind of tossed me. And I said, “what the hell are you doing here, you’re a Yank?”. He said, “no, I’m not, I’m German, I was at Harvard, been there for four or five years, and I came home on holidays”, and he said,
“the war started and here I am”. And he was an interpreter. But he wouldn’t have been allowed to go back, because he just wouldn’t have fought. But speaking of New Brandenburg, I had a phone call from my English wireless operator, oh, three or four months ago. He’d got in contact with a
German through either computers or emails, or what have you. And he came from New Brandenburg, and he invited Ted back to New Brandenburg to see where he’d been in the cooler. And he wanted me to go over, and I, it was a bit iffy, but then the cold weather, it was about minus 40 over there, and I thought, oh I can’t hack that. And then
the costs, and it was, I think he had to be there just before New Year, which would have been the time when we finished up there. So he went over, I haven’t heard from him, so I don’t know whether he could be still locked up there. But I’m looking forward to an answer from him as to how, what kind of a reception he got. But the way this German that he’d spoken to, he was quite interested to get him to go back
over, so I suppose to compare notes and see how things worked out. But from New Brandenburg, we were put in a train and sent up to Lubeck on the Baltic Sea. And from then to Hamburg. Hamburg was a mess. It had been bombed, and they’d had what they
call a fire storm go through. The fires start, and more or less all the oxygen is burnt out of the air, and it just explodes and the place was just heaps of rubble. And that’s where we were put in, in the jail in town, and the old bloke wouldn’t have us, and he kicked us out. And we went out, like to Bogga Road, or out to Wacol, and spent the night there with a few others. In the dungeon,
a wooden bed and a thunderbox, and that was it.
Just a few more questions about New Brandenburg. But just before that, did you have anything particular in your uniform, or part of your uniform that was to help you, if you were shot down?
No, you didn’t take anything. All you had was, I had my stripes, my half wing. As you know, or you knew, the Australian
Air Force uniform was a dark blue, all the other air forces were a grey. The Norwegian air force had a uniform just about the same as ours, but we were kind of, a bit unique. A bit of a hassle at times, if there was any strife on, the Australian uniform stuck out like a sore thumb. But a few years ago, they went to that kind of field grey,
But now they have reverted back to the dark blue in the air force. But other than that, you had your dog tags and nothing else, or you could have a handkerchief. But no correspondence, no letters, no money of any kind. You put all your personal stuff in a bag back on the squadron, it went into the safe, and when
you came home, they gave it back to you, your wallet and your money. See, if I’d have come down with money, English money, they would have taken that to give to their operatives that were in England as spies, so that’s the idea of that. But we were given an escape kit, they called it. It had, there’s money of the countries that you were actually flying over, and there were maps,
there was some iron rations [tinned food], a compass and in theory, you were supposed to find your way home. But there were very few people ever got home. There were some that came down in France, that got back. But from Germany is was a long, long way and then the language difficulties, and
all the blocks, and you know, the road blocks you would have to go through, very, very difficult.
And describe New Brandenburg for me?
Oh, I didn’t see much of it really. I can just remember the jail where we were, I know we were all lined up in this office, and
we were supposed to stand up, I couldn’t, so I’m half lying on the floor, and the skipper was down beside me. And some old gerry came in, and he abused us up hill and down dale, and we were supposed to stand in a straight line. I think he was told what to do. Well, I just couldn’t get up, not unless the boys helped me, and they more or less, you know, just they stood up and
got into a line, and left the two of us lying on the floor. But we got over that. But, they interrogated us there to a certain degree, who we were, we, as I said we had our dog tags on, that’s all you had. We had our stripes and half wing, and our uniform had Australia on the shoulder, but other than that, there was no,
there just wasn’t anything you had, other than those few things.
And tell me who took you to New Brandenburg?
Ah, it’d be one of the Luftwaffe guards. After we got to this farm, that’s when the Luftwaffe came, the German Air Force came, and they took over then. Because we were air force, and we were under their, more or less,
care. But we found, they were not too bad. The, as I may have said, the German air force and German army didn’t get on, they were at loggerheads. And that was why, when we finished up in the prison camp which was controlled by the German army, we were on the outer, because we were air force and we, oh we didn’t help
ourselves either. In a kind of roundabout ways, you stirred as much as you could, within reason. You could go so far, and then you had to kind of back off. But, from Lubeck down to Hamburg, and that’s where we spent the night in the dungeon.
initially, were you afraid of, of the Germans when they first -
Well, yes, we’d heard a lot of conflicting stories. We didn’t know what was going to happen. As a matter of fact, only about a month ago, I had a phone call from my wireless operator in regards to a young bloke that was on our
squadron, before I was there. And he’d been killed. And he went to Nudgee, where I went to school, and he said, “would you know him?” And I said, “yes, we were in the same class”. And apparently, I’ve got the book there, Beware of the Dogs at War, and it’s history of our squadron, right through from World War I, and World War II, every raid that we
did, is in that book. And all names and everything. Well, I got onto this bloke at Nudgee and said who I was and what’s the story. Apparently they got this book, and I’m supposed to go up and make this presentation, I don’t know when, but time will tell. And he had a computer in front of him apparently, and he said, “did you know so-and-so?”
And he started to rattle off names, I knew a lot of them. I think there was 80 odd that I went to school with, were killed, and he mentioned two, one was in my class, and one was in the senior class, that Harry Gordon, he came down somewhere in Germany, they caught him and they hung him. And
the other bloke, when they caught him, he was shot. So no beg pardons, and this is one of the things that, see you didn’t know what, it depended who you struck. And it was a worry. But you, like everything else, you bottled it up inside yourself, and you hoped and prayed that you got through it.
And how long did you spend in
I think we were only there, possibly a night. It’s kind of vague really, and you’re, you’re still half stupid with, you know, reaction and coming down. But I, I know we were in this orderly room, and it was all spit and polish, and all the German guards around us. Oh, and some of the women in their uniform they were there too.
And you wondered what the hell you’d run into.
What sort of things were on the wall in the orderly room?
Off hand, I just can’t remember really. I’d imagine there’d be a photo of Hitler or the swastika up somewhere, that, he seemed to be everywhere.
And how much of that sort of, the swastika and things like that, were evident as you moved through Germany, just in towns, and -
Well the towns we were in,
I’m not, I can’t remember whether we got off the train in Lubeck or not. And I know we were off it in Hamburg, that’s when we got thrown in the dungeon, and then when we got to the railway station, they, the mob were going to do us over there. That started as a big panic job. But fortunately the guards, they took us off the platform, out of harms way.
But we knew of other cases where they’d, they’d just, you know, went berserk, and some of the Americans had bailed out over there, well as soon as they landed they just hung them in their parachutes wherever. Well see they come down during the day, which wouldn’t have helped.
And you mentioned that Hamburg was damaged,
Describe what you saw?
As we went in on the train, you could see out through the windows, there was heaps of rubble. You’d see a chimney here and there. And then, when we had to, when we were kicked out of the first jail, we had to walk to this next one, and it was just a track through the fallen bricks and, you know, the rubbish that was there, to this other jail. And it was
as high as you could see, where it was all thrown up in a heap. But I believe Hamburg now, is one of the prettiest places, it’s all been rebuilt.
What did it feel like seeing that damage?
Ah, well you realise then, what the damage our aircraft were doing to the German cities. I saw
Berlin from the air, and when you look down, if you were looking, if you can visualise looking at an open fire, it’s just that red, well that’s what it looked like when we were up twenty odd thousand feet. And you know, it must have been hell on wheels to be down there, on the wrong end of it, I was quite pleased that I was up there.
And so take me through
the story in Hamburg where the man wouldn’t let you stay in prison?
Ah, he was an old German. He’d possibly seen the pictures with the coal scuttle helmet with the spike on top, and the big moustache, well that was him. Oh, well he got fair through us out.
I suppose he didn’t want the air force there. He, more than likely, if he’d had his way, he’d knocked us off there and then.
But oh no, he got very up in the air.
What was his jail like?
Oh well, we weren’t in there. We were only in the, kind of the front office, that’s where he met us, and on your way, get out.
What was the reaction of your guards?
Well, they were air force guards, and they sort of, “oh well, he’s the boss here, we’ll go.” And that’s when they, I don’t know
how they found where to go, but they must have got onto somebody, and they took us out to this other jail.
How did they transport you?
Walked, shuffled, out to there. I don’t know how far it was, I just can’t recall off hand. But we struggled along, and.
And what was this other place like?
Ah, well the dungeon was four walls,
no window, there was a steel door, there was a wooden bed and a thunderbox in the corner. There was no light, no hot and cold running water, or anything. But everybody was just, they were to the stage, you know, you were tired, and you know, you’re in a, I suppose, we’re all in a mess, not knowing what was coming next.
Who were you with?
We had all our crew,
the seven of us were together by this. And we’d picked up a couple of other air force, RAF blokes. I can’t recall who they were, all I knew they were air force that had possibly come down the same time as we did.
Did you talk amongst yourselves at all?
Ah, we talked amongst ourselves, but you had to be very careful talking to people you didn’t know.
Because what the gerries used to do, they would put English speaking Germans in our uniform, and put them in with you, to find out who you were, what you were, what you were in, just to check up on what they knew. But they, as I said, they knew more about us, than we knew about our own unit.
And what did you talk to your own crew about?
Oh, you know, what the hell happened, it was just unavoidable. See that particular night, there was cloud, we were flying in cloud, and you were lucky to see the wing tips. And you didn’t have any lights, there was no lights on the aircraft at all, you were just in
complete darkness. And this other bloke, he wouldn’t have seen us, and I didn’t see him. Although we were on a turn, with our wing dipped down, and he came in behind us and underneath us. So we never had a hope in hell, and he didn’t either. I’d say he’d hit our wing with their fuselage, they’d have all been killed in the front, and their aircraft would have gone straight down.
And we still had all our bombs on, and all the fuel. Our skipper unloaded our bombs, but then it wouldn’t stay up, poor thing.
And tell me how they moved you from Hamburg the next morning?
We went onto the station, as I said, we got onto the train at the last minute.
It was just a carriage with windows in it, but I think there was three or four guards, and only one door. And they were watching us all the way.
Was this before or after the mob practically -
This was after.
Tell me about the types of people who were in that crowd?
They were civilians. They would have been people like the ones in London
that had been bombed. Their homes, well they wouldn’t have had homes, and they would have been living on the station or in the underground. See that’s where, a lot of them lived in the underground in London, their homes had been wiped out. An awful lot of them, that’s where they went, when there was air raids on, they went down into the underground, and just hoped that there was no bombs landed there, for the places
to fall in. But I suppose it’s understandable if your homes had been smashed and wrecked and burnt. And whoever did it, well if they’d have got a hold of us, well they’d have killed us, that’s all there was about it, there’d be no beg pardons with it. We were just fortunate that we got away with it. And from there
we went to Frankfurt.
Just tell me a bit about the train trip, how many people were in the section of the train that you were in?
Where we were, from there to Frankfurt, there was our crew and these, either two or three other air force personnel, who’d been picked up too. And I think there was about four guards. It was actually two compartments, but there was one of them was in
with us all the time. And the others used to take it in turn, they’d come in, and that’s all there was, you just had to stay in there, there was nowhere to go, and, and the train was hooked along, you know, pretty well. We stayed, we were there until we got to Frankfurt, and then we were taken from there to Dulag Luft, which is the interrogation centre, for the
air force in Germany. And that’s where they go through you, make all the threats in the world, but you still only tell them your name, number, rank and your next of kin.
Take me through this interrogation, from the beginning, what kind of room was it in, what kind of furnishings?
Well the cell I was in had no windows and no light, just the door with a peep hole.
And there was a heater, either hot or cold, they wouldn’t put it halfway. And you’d be, there was a bed in it. I think, I think I just hit that and I used to go to sleep, because I’d just had it. And they’d come in and drag you out of there, down into an office, which was quite airy, and then there’d be these couple of blokes would be firing all these question at
Do you remember the questions?
Oh you know, “what’s your name, what’s your number, what’s your rank, what were you doing, what aircraft were you flying, what were you in the aircraft, what squadron were you on and how many aircraft were on the squadron?” But you kind of, you’d been warned what the interrogation was about. And they wanted to know who your crew were.
And, but as I said, they knew we were all a crew. And I think that went on for eight or nine days, I’m not real certain, lost track.
How much did they actually know about you?
Well they showed us a photo of our, an aerial photograph of our squadron, and they pointed our CO’s office, and who he was,
and the aircraft, where their dispersal was, and what aircraft was in each dispersal, and then, there’s the bomb dump over there. And as I said, they knew more about us, than the blokes in the place did. See there were spies in, well, we always reckoned the Saracens Head was a hotel in Lincoln. If you went in there an hour after the aircraft
went off on a raid, you could find out there as to where they were going, the intelligence, you know, there was people would know where the, what was going on, but you didn’t know who was what, over there.
What did it feel like to have that photo of your squadron, shown to you?
Well, you got a shock, you know, that’s when you realised then, that they knew, you know,
more about the places than we did. As far as we were concerned, I knew where the CO’s office was, because we had been into his office. But then they pointed out other places on the, you know, as to what was in each building. Of course we knew where the gunnery section was, and the armament wear was, and the parachute section, but then lots of other buildings there, we didn’t know what they were,
but they knew of; we learnt from them.
And what’s it like to be in a room by yourself for that length of time?
Ah, it could be frightening to, you know, you can hear other voices and you can hear people singing out, I knew there was
an Australian there, because he was singing ‘Waltzing Matilda’. And then they’d come down and abuse him and tell him to shut up. But you’d hear the voices in the next cell, and well, we knew they were all RAF blokes, but then you could pick the Canadian accent, and the Poms have all got different accents as you know, the
Cockneys, and from Yorkshire, Liverpool, it’s like walking into a foreign country over there, you walk across the road, and you’re speaking a different language. But you kind of getting to, you can pick most of them, where they come from. Well we had a variety, one of the blokes that slept beside me in the prison camp, was from Edinburgh.
Jock was hard enough to understand like we’re talking, but we used to get him into an argument, and he used to do the ’nana, and oh, he was pathetic, you couldn’t understand a word he’d be saying. And then we’d stir him by singing out to Paddy Malloy in the south of Ireland to come and interpret for us, and that used to stir things up more. But strange enough, the two of them used to eat together,
and fight like cat and dog over it.
And would you talk to, try and talk to anyone through the walls of the cell?
Oh not really. When he sung ‘Waltzing Matilda’, I tried to join in with him, so at least they would know there was another Australian there. But then with the voices, you kind of picked that there were, you know, somebody from our side in the
And what sort of things would you do to keep your mind entertained?
Well, you just kind of, had to turn yourself off. If you could go to sleep, hopefully, until they come and hauled you out and started again, or else they got sick of you, or there were more came in, and they shifted you out, then and went down to the, the transit centre.
That was, that’s where we got Red Cross food, and I got, pardon me, issued with an overcoat, it was a Yankee Army overcoat through the Red Cross, and a pair of boots, cause I’d lost mine.
What was the Red Cross food like?
Oh, it was a parcel,
oh about so square, and about that deep. And there’d be some biscuits in it, some tea, some bully beef, sometimes you might get some coffee in it or a bit of jam, some dried fruit. It was supposed to be a, I think in theory you were supposed to get one a fortnight or something. But we didn’t.
But when you got them, you used to kind of share, you got in a combine, or you got your mate, or three or four of you, and you pooled all your food, and that was how you lived. Even when we got to the prison camp and got the stuff from the Germans, you put it all in a pool and then you divided
it up between the three or four of you, whatever there were. And you shared, you shared everything, even your mail, if and when you got some, you’d read it and hand it on. You got to know everybody’s business and, not that there was much, kind of, in the letters, because they were censored, and if it was anything of importance it’d be scratched out, or chopped out. But,
everybody kind of knew all about everybody’s family, and what went on. But I got, when I got to the prison camp, I eventually got with a Peter Kennedy from Sydney, I’m to meet him tomorrow, strangely enough, and a Jimmy Munro from Tenterfield. We stuck together and shared everything, until we got back to Australia.
Before you got the Red Cross parcels, what kind of food had you been given by the Germans, previously?
I think there was a bit of German sausage and some of their bread, if I recall, that’s all we got. You’re kind of in a state of shock, I suppose, you’re not quite sure what’s going on, and whatever they gave you, you ate.
And it was the same even afterwards, whatever came you ate it, there was nothing else, you couldn’t pick and choose.
And, after you were given the Red Cross parcels and the overcoat, how did they take you to the prison camp?
You got, I think there were two box cars of us, there’d have been about 40 odd in each
box car, sitting room only, on the floor. And they put all the NCO’s [Non Commissioned Officers] together, and the officers went to a different camp, but they would have got the same kind of transport, just because they were an officer, didn’t mean that they went in a carriage,
they went in a box car. And there was a German guard in with you, all the way. And I think we were about two days in that box car. And you were given your rations before you left, and you had to make that last, but you didn’t know how long you were going to be there. And we didn’t even know where the hell we were going. And from Frankfurt up to Amielberg [?],
on the Elb River, there was a couple of days, I think, we were in the train. And the guards used to alternate, oh every three or four hours. The train would, when it pulled up, that guard would get out of your wagon, and he’d go down to another place, and then he’d be replaced by another guard. And he sat at the door with a tommy gun, and you just sat and behaved
What kind of things went through your mind?
Well, you’re wondering where the hell you were going to go. You’re wondering what your people, you know, what would be going through their minds, because they didn’t know you were alive. Oh, or your mind becomes a blank, you, as I said, you try to turn yourself off, and
not get yourself in a flat spin. But it’s still, you know, it gets. As I said, we were only kids, and you don’t know what that hell’s in store for you, really, or how long you’re going to be, be there.
And what did the prison camp look like, as you arrived at the outside of it?
Grim. It was, it would be about,
oh, it wouldn’t be quite half a mile square, out on a flat plain. There was a sentry tower on each corner, one in the middle of each side, and then the main gate where you went in, there was a big guard tower there. There was a searchlight and machine-guns on each, in each
of those towers. The fence would be eight or ten foot high, with barbed wire about six inches apart, and then there was about six or eight feet to the next lot of barbed wire. And in between that, there was a barbed wire entanglement. And then inside that again, there was a trip wire about a foot high, and that was it, you daren’t put your foot over that, or they would
shoot, no beg pardons, that was it. We, we got out of this station, and it was rather amusing, we, everybody got out and you lined up in fives, over there, ‘fumfs’, as they call it, fives. And then they said, anybody that was not fit to walk
to the camp, they would arrange transport. I thought, oh I’m struggling, but I think I’ll make it. Anyway, we started off to walk, it, you could see the camp from the railway station, on this, where we pulled up. Well then, the transport eventually arrived, it was a German, a couple of German wagons with a cow pulling it, and three or four Russians.
They were pulling it, that was your transport. You know, we thought this was quite hilarious to, these poor buggers, getting transport, and, but, oh, they were worse off than I was, some of them. But that was the transport to the camp. When you got to the, in the gate, you were put into groups, and
before you went entered and left prison camp, all your belongings were fumigated, and you had a hot shower, so that’s what you, what you had on, was all you belonged to, or belonged to you, and your bit of food. And you went and had a hot shower, and then you were
allocated to, into a compound, into a hut, and that was home then.
What was it like to have a hot shower?
Very good. We hadn’t had one, oh it must have been a fortnight, we started to smell a bit, even though it was wintertime.
We’ll just pause there for a second, while I fall off the chair.
End of tape
Interviewee: Marcus Mahony Archive ID 1549 Tape 08
OK, you were just telling us about your compound, describe that for us?
The compounds were divided up, more or less, into the countries, to a certain ... all the Russians were in one section. There was, I think about 12,000, I think,
I wouldn’t be real certain of numbers, but they had a rugged time. And then the Poles, Czechs, French, Dutch, they all had their own huts, but they were in kind of sections, they weren’t in separate compounds. But then this other compound, is where they put, eventually put all the air force. And that’s where we used to have the three roll calls a day, and we
weren’t allowed out, because we were on the outer with the gerry, German Army guards that were there. But eventually then, they kind of realised we weren’t as bad as they thought we were. We were known as aterror fleegers [?], that was their name for us, because we were supposed to frighten the hell out of the poor people on the ground. The huts were,
they’d hold about, I think our hut held 120, that was half the hut. The other half was where you lived. There were two stoves, you got a ration of coke every week, that was supposed to do, what bit of heating you had or cooking or what have you. There was an ablution block in between each hut, and the other end would have been the same.
There was a little toilet at the end of each hut for at night time. The other was a concrete, more or less a big cement tank with a floor, and all the purchase. Rather humour one day, there was about 30 or 40 blokes sitting side by side, and somebody decided it was somebody’s birthday, so everybody
sang ‘Happy Birthday’ sitting on the throne, but. They used to pump that out periodically, or when it got full. That went outside on the farm was right up to the fence, and that was then put out there as fertilizer. But their transport would have been a tank on a wagon, there might have been three or four Russians and a couple of Iti’s [Italians] would be the horse power to pull it,
and that just went out in the paddock. But one of the first sights I saw, it really upset the apple cart. There’d have been a group of possibly 20 Russians, everyone was an amputee, and in the front, there was one bloke, he had two legs and one arm, and he had a little,
oh four wheel cart, and the bloke on it had neither arms or legs, and he was pulling him along. But the Russians, they really had a bad time from the Germans. They used to, at one stage, I forget what the epidemic went through, and the Russians were dying. But instead of putting out the dead, they used to keep them for a couple of days,
so they’d get their rations, then they’d have to stick them out in the end, because they were starting to go bad. But I had, there was a Canadian air force bloke, he was in the solitary jail, I forget what he did. But he got out of there, and he climbed the fence into one of the other compounds,
and they caught up with him, and they just shot him, he was hanging in the fence, and that’s where they left him for the night. According to international law, he had to be buried and he had to have, I think it was five or six witnesses had to go from the prison camp to the village, to witness that he had been properly buried.
And I went on this, just to get out of the place for half an hour. You had to sign that you were on parole and you would not try and escape. When we went down to this cemetery, there was two big pieces of lawn, they’d be possibly 60 or 70 feet square. And we didn’t know, you know, what, and we asked the couple of guards that
we were with, and they were mass graves of Russians, there was four thousand in one, and five thousand in the other. Some other epidemic went through, and they used to pick them up of the morning and take them down and throw them in the hole, and put unslate lime over them. And then next day, they’d bring the next lot down, and that was what was in those two graves.
But the prisoners that were there, they had just a wooden cross, with their name, rank, number and their country on them. But it was also a civilian cemetery and the headstones there were, it was, more or less a family grave. And some of the black marble there, it was just like a big mirror.
And that was where the whole family was buried there. But we used to have to have a roll call every morning and every night regardless. You went outside and you lined up in your huts, there was a German, not an officer, he’d be an NCO over a compound. And
there’d be a guard at each, in each group. It used to amuse us, they used to line you up in fives, he would walk down, see everybody was in fives, then he’d walk back then, and he would count. He’d get down the end, and he’d do his adding up, and he wouldn’t have enough. So he’d come back again, he’d line you up in fives again, and do the same again.
But the blokes used to shift, and they’d make either extra, extra fives or not enough. Well then they used to help him count, and he’d get confused and oh, there’d be a big blue then. This happened in the winter, our aim was to keep the gerries out there with us, if we had to stay out, they might as well be with us. But that was one of the few things that they used to, try to stir.
We had a few of the German guards were, were young blokes that had been wounded, they were all, more or less, not fit for frontline duty. And some of them were pretty reasonable, but then there were a few others you, you just steered clear of them, you didn’t do anything when they were floating around.
Oh, they’d take a swing at you with their, they all had a revolver and a
holster on a belt. And they’d undo the belt, and come in swinging. I saw them one day, there was a group of Dutchmen, they were marching them up the centre street. And this German guard was walking behind this bloke, and he was walking on his heels. You know, it got too much for the Dutchman, he properly hauled around and let fly, and he dropped the German guard, and one
of the others just came out, pulled out his gun and shot him, there and then, there was no beg pardons. He’d done the wrong thing, so. And then we had a, 200 Polish, oh girls I suppose you’d call them. They were in Warsaw, and the Russians were trying to get in, and the Germans were trying to get in, and
all these women were holding them out. And eventually the Germans captured them, and they brought them into our camp. And they had them in a compound not far from where we were, and we used to walk around the compound, that was your exercise. And next thing there’d be a stone would come across the fence with a note in it, and you’d pick it up and you’d take it down to one of the Polish huts, and give it to them. Apparently there was a couple there, they
found their sisters or wives or relations, in amongst the women. And, but, they were there for three or four weeks, the Polish girls, and they took them then from there, I don’t know where they went.
What impression did you have of what they looked like, and their faces?
Oh, we thought they were very attractive. You know, when you hadn’t seen any girls for 12 months or so,
I suppose anything would have looked good, but there were some very attractive girls amongst them. One of my mates, he was a Romanian, he’s living up now in Ersk. Sandy lived on the Gold Coast here, and he married a Polish girl who was a prisoner at the … she died unfortunately, and they had a couple of children. That was, it wasn’t in our
prison camp, but in another prison camp where he met her.
Can I just ask you to straighten up, you just, yes, just keep the eyes looking at me, that’d be great. So what was the talk amongst the men, about these Polish girls?
As to what you’d like to do, naturally. Most of the conversations, you know, discussions would be food,
as to what you’d eat, if you had it. And at one stage there, I think it started in our group, I think there was about six of us together, and one of them said, “I’d like a big steak”, and somebody would like a chicken, somebody wanted fish. And then somebody said oh, you, if they gave you as a rabbit,
you wouldn’t know the difference from rabbit and chicken, and it kind of got into, not a heated argument, but you know, they were snarling at one another. But then it got to the stage where the Poms in the hut, kind of joined in. That argument went on for three or four days. But they wouldn’t, they wouldn’t know the difference between a chicken and a rabbit, or a fish, but it
was just something that we started as a discussion, and it kind of got out of hand. Oh, a few of them got hot under the collar, they were going to come the knuckle because the other bloke said he wouldn’t, didn’t know chicken from rabbit. But they used to argue over anything, just on principle really. And
our hut was a mixture. In the middle of it, there was Australians and Kiwis and Canadians, we kind of stuck together. And then we had these, we had this Scotch bloke from Edinburgh, who we used to stir unmercifully, because of his accent. And you were given a hot shower
every six weeks, whether you wanted it or not. By the time they went around the camp, but the only way we could overcome that, alright in the summer time, you just went and got into cold water and washed yourself. But in the winter time, there was no hot water, only what you could kind of heat. And so, we used to report we had lice, we’d report that to the hut bloke,
so he’d report it to the Germans so we’d have to pick all our gear up, take it down to the hot showers, ’cause it’d be fumigated, and back again. But they never ever woke up that we had no lice, we just wanted a hot shower in the winter. It was only our, you know, the Aussies and the Kiwis and the Canadians, more or less, that used to do that. They were a bit allergic to water, some of them over there.
But your mates helped you out, no end. If you were kind of down, there was always somebody there to talk to, or they’d see you weren’t really happy, and they’d come and, “what’s wrong with you?” And, “come on, stir, sort yourself out”, and you had to have a sense of humour.
If you didn’t, you were history. There was always somebody could see the funny side of something, even though it was deadly serious, there was always somebody would come up with a wisecrack, and stop the tension.
Any very memorable wisecracks, jokes?
Oh, not particularly. Oh, there was one night, the mosquitoes were coming over every
night, you could nearly set your watch, half past seven. In theory, the prison camp was not supposed to put out their lights, but they did. Which I don’t blame them, because an aircraft up there, if he’d have seen lights, he’d have dropped something on it. But the mosquitoes used to come over every night, everybody’d go to bed because they might be out for a couple of hours. Anyway, this,
Kiwi bloke said, “I’ll stir these Poms tonight”, and we didn’t know what was coming. Anyway, they’re all in bed yacking away, and he says, “shut up you mob of Pommy so-and-so’s, you’re like you were at Dunkirk, you ran away”. There was complete silence for about a minute, and then they exploded. But they didn’t know where the hell this voice came from. Oh, did they get hot under the collar,
but they were fighting amongst themselves. And we were sitting back, laughing our heads off at them. That’s what they used to do to, just to stir somebody up to, to get something going, to create a difference. But a few other things, we had a Kiwi army bloke, he’d been picked up in Crete, and
he was in Italy, as a prisoner. And when the Iti’s capitulated, he got loose, and he was up in the hills with the Partisans. And apparently, he had quite a record, he’d, I don’t know how many Germans he’d killed, but eventually they caught him. And according to international law, once you’re a prisoner, if you kill somebody, it is a civilian offence. When they bought him into our camp,
he was in leg irons, chains, handcuffs, and you wouldn’t recognise him, they had really worked him over. And as I said, when you went or left a prison camp, you had to be hot showered and fumigated. Well he was there for six or eight weeks, and he’d healed up, so the guard came and picked him up, and he he took him down to the shower.
While he was in the shower, they were talking, some of the other blokes were talking to the guard, this Kiwi walked across the room, got into some other clothes and walked out. He was there for 12 months in that camp, and they couldn’t find him. There was only one of the guards he had to dodge, but there, there were very few in the camp that knew him, because he’d been in such a state. But then,
they had, as you saw my documents there, with your photograph and fingerprints. Well, every so often, it might be one or two o’clock in the morning, there’d be a, you’d be hauled out of your huts, they’d have searchlights out there, and they’d go through you, looking. Take your fingerprints and have your photo there and look at you,
and they couldn’t find this bloke. But he would, might be in a Polish hut, he might be in an Iti’s, French, he might be in one of our huts. And he come back to New Zealand, he come back with us on the boat. He was just, he was a hard man, a very, he was a wild man, but I think that is what, more or less got him through, because he, he didn’t care, and that was his attitude,
that if they found him. But he knew, if they’d have got him out of the camp, he wouldn’t have got to court, he’d have been shot down the road. But the…
Did you ever think of escape, or talk about escape plans?
Not personally, because I knew I wasn’t in a fit state.
Ah, they dug a tunnel in our camp, I think they had one in every camp, as you read some of the books. They had the tunnel and it came out under the wire, and just outside the fence, there was a, the miniature range where the German guards used to go and practice with their rifles and revolvers. And it came out just the other side of the stop butts.
And they were all ready to go this night, and a German farmer went along with his tractor, and the bloody tunnel fell in, so that was that. So what they did then, instead of taking all the stuff from the toilets out onto the farm, they filled the tunnel up with it, so that stopped anybody using that. But by that time, it wasn’t
worth the hassle then of starting another tunnel. But there were different ones, they tried to get out. One of the boys on the coast here, he was flying Typhoons, he and a Canadian. They went out on a working party. They, what they used to do, they would swap personalities, or, if I would swap with you, well I became you, I would get your mail, you would get mine,
and you went out on the working party, and that was the idea, to get out and try to escape. Well they got to an aerodrome, and they were all lined up, they were just about to get in the aircraft, and they got caught. So back to the cooler, back to the prison camp, and the number of days you were away, was the number of weeks you spent in solitary. That was your punishment.
Did you ever receive any extra punishment while you were there?
No. I suppose I was lucky, I did the right thing, or else I wasn’t caught. But you weren’t allowed, as I said the other, this morning, you weren’t allowed tools or wirelesses, civilian bread, uncooked potatoes. I know I had a pair of pliers that I’d knocked off one day, and they put on a search, and I didn’t now what to do with it, so I had a long
sleeved jacket, and as you went out the door, they searched you, but I had them, kind of in the sleeve, and I got out and got away with it, I don’t know what I was going to do with the pliers, but you knocked them off on principle, if they were lying around. But stealing was a real, was a no-on from your mates. They caught a couple of blokes that were stealing from, stealing food. So
they were given a hell of a beating in the hut, and kicked out of the hut, that was the punishment that they got. But if the gerries put anything down, that wasn’t anchored, you took it on principle. But they were very one-eyed, if they went looking for one thing, that’s all they were searching for. Whereas I reckon,
if it was our blokes and they were doing the search, anything they weren’t supposed to have, they would have gone, but they were told to look for something, and that’s what they looked for.
Was there any kind of black market, kind of, trade in the camp?
Tell us about that.
Cigarettes, if you had cigarettes, that was your money. There were ones that would rather smoke than eat. I gave up smoking when I hit
there, and you could, if there was anything to be had, there was a kind of a set price on stuff. I think a box of uncooked potatoes was worth about 20 cigarettes, a loaf of civilian bread, 25, and it was a kind of a standard. But then it got to the stage when nobody had any
food, and nobody had cigarettes and what have you. We used to get stuff from the German guards, used to bring it in at night. They’d bring in the uncooked potatoes and the bread. At one stage there, we had sultanas in the Red Cross parcels, and potato peelings, so we made grog.
I don’t know whether you’ve had vodka, well this, about 100 times worse than vodka. Oh, how the hell, you know, we ever existed after it. But that was one of your outlets, was to make it. It might explode in the meantime, but start again.
What was it like, the effects of it?
Oh deadly. I saw two blokes,
one day, on their hands and knees like dogs, barking at one another, they went berserk, it was just raw alcohol, really. Deadly.
Was there any cases that you remember of madness, people going mad?
We had two in our hut, they had to be watched around the clock. At night time, when the curfew was on,
there was nobody allowed out of the hut. If anything happened very drastic, the hut, whoever was in charge of the hut, had a lantern, and he would go and wave that at the door, and the guard would come. They had the outside guards, but then there were also roving guards with dogs in all the compounds every night. But these two blokes we had to watch,
there was always, there were two blokes stayed awake every night, enough to watch these two, because just out of the blue, they’d get up and walk out. They weren’t violent, but they had to be, more of less, get a hold of them and aim them back into bed.
Where would they go, if they?
Oh, God knows. Oh, if they’d have walked outside, they could have been shot. So that’s why we had to, you know, why we had to keep them,
keep them in. That was the problem with them, that you just had to watch them, cause you knew where they slept, and there was a watch kept on them, all night. It was alright during the day, they could walk outside, but there was always somebody with them, to, you know, just to make sure they didn’t step across the trip wire. Because if they’d have walked over that, the guards in the watchtowers would have shot them.
So you just had to, they had to be, more or less, under surveillance all the time.
And how did these two end up?
Oh, I imagine they got home. See after we got set free, we were set free by the Cossacks, but they just, they came in on their horses, opened the gates and shot through again. This was in the middle of April,
the war was still on, and well we just went out of the camp then, and we had to go out then, and knock stuff off to live, to eat, because there wasn’t any, there was nothing in the camp. But as I said, it was in the country, and they all had a cellar, and you got to know where to
look, and they all had food there. And you always went out, either two or three together, you never went on your own. And you’d go to these places, anybody there you would ask for food, if not, you went in and went looking. And you’d bring it back, and you’d eat again. We were there, I think, for about a week or so in that camp, after we’d been set free. The guards
all shot through the night before, but we found out afterwards, the Russians, they caught up with them, and I think they were all killed. Some of them, they would have died a very excruciating death, they, some of them they hung up by the legs, and just split them across the stomach, and left them to it. Others they hung, some of them they shot.
But the Russians were getting even for what the Germans had done to them. And they were caught.
Well during your time in the prison camp, how would you keep up on what was happening in the war, how would you know the news?
Oh, we had unofficial wirelesses, and we used to get news from the Germans. They used to put out a bulletin about once a week, as to what was going on.
But there was a few wirelesses in the camp, they knew they were there, but they could never find them. And they used to get the, you know, get the news around. More so after the invasion, we used to split the difference where the Germans said we were, and where the Poms said the Germans were, we’d kind of down the middle, and you’d have a fair idea that’s about where they were
and who was winning.
How did it affect your morale?
Oh, you were on top of the world, you know. We kind of half expected the invasion, but we didn’t know when. But then all of a sudden, the aircraft that were flying over, the German aircraft, their transports heading for France, we knew there was something on. And then we got word that D-day [6th June 1944, Allied forces invade Europe] had
happened, and that the landing at Normandy was on. And we used to get the news then, and then things would start to go wrong, and we’d think, oh, you know, we’re going, we’re coming second in the war, you’d start to panic a bit. But then, you could see the writing on the wall. The only thing we were crooked on, that instead of letting the Yanks and the British through, they
were holding them up, and letting the Russians come, well that’s how the Russians finished up in Berlin, and on further. Whereas they should have let the others through. See they held, the Yanks and the Canadians and the Poms up, when they were at the Rhine River, they held them up there for weeks. They should have known the writing was on the wall, but that was it.
Were you fearful of what could happen to you, like being
shot, or -
Oh yes, there were rumours going round that they were going to do us over before they shot through. It wasn’t only there, that happened up too with the Japs. A couple of the boys here, have told me that they dug a tunnel, and that was what was going to happen to them, they were just going to be stuck in the tunnel and shot, and the tunnel would have been blocked off. But
fortunately it didn’t happen. But we had heard that’s what was to happen to us, that the prisoners were just going to be shot. As it worked out, they didn’t. But an awful lot of the prison camps, when the Russians were coming through, they started to shift the prisoners. Some of them walked for weeks in the snow to get away from the Russians, and they’d get so far,
and then they’d have to wheel around and go somewhere else. And they had a hell of a spin, some of them. But we were just left in our camp, but we knew the Russians weren’t far away, because we could hear the artillery, but you couldn’t kind of see anything. And then, all of a sudden, there were no, there were no German aircraft around, but the Yanks
and the RAF were, well they were over practically every day, with fighters. And they were strafing anything on the ground that moved. So, they’d get into it, boats on the Elb River, trains, there was a heap of wagons at this station where we got out of the train that day. We thought they were just empty wagons, they came over one day
and strafed them and started them on fire, and we found out they were full of ammunition. And that kind of rocked the boat a bit, because there was stuff flying, some of the wheels from the, the trucks, they were coming up to the fence of the prison camp, that’s what the ammo was in there. We just thought they were empty wagons, but it was a different kettle of fish when they started to burn. But
we got to know, oh, the fighters then, they knew that the prison camp was there, because they, sometimes they used to fly right down low, and as they went past, they’d be waving to us, and we knew we weren’t going to be shot by them then. But we had a bad incident there one stage, there was a big German Air Force
base not far from us, and when they found out there were air force in the camp, they used to come over very low over the camp. Anyway, this particular day, this JU-88 he came a bit too low, and his tail wheel got hung up on the fence. And he skittled one of the sentry boxes, but he got away, he still kept flying. But
he killed a Canadian that was on the ground, and some other bloke. We heard afterwards that he was court martialled. I would imagine, I don’t know whether he’d be shot, if he was court martialled for doing the damage that he did, well he shouldn’t have been doing it really. But we got into, after we got out of the prison camp, we walked,
or marched to this German army camp, I can’t think of the name of it. And that’s where we were when peace was declared. I found a radio down in one of the rooms that had been dumped. And I brought it up and plugged it in, and a lot of fiddling and it went. And we used to get
the news on that, the BBC News, and then I think they called it Radio Paris, it was run by the Americans, but regardless of what you had on the radio, when they wanted to broadcast, it just went over everything, it more or less out-powered the lot. And we heard that peace was declared. And everybody was,
you know, happy about that. But the Russians didn’t, they weren’t told till the next day. And oh, they went berserk. I panicked then, I was up on the top floor of this barracks, and this mob were drunk on grog, and they started to shoot at anything, machine-guns, the tanks and the, which ever way the
gun was pointing, that’s where it went off. So I bailed out of that top floor, and went right down to the bottom, hoping they weren’t going to come my way. But we were there for about a week with them, and then Jimmy Munro and two English boys and I decided, “oh, to hell with this, we’re not staying”, we packed up and started walking then. And eventually got to the American, the Americans were on one side of the river,
and the Russians were on the side where we were. And we yelled out at the Yanks who we were, and we told the Russians we were Americans, and we got across, it was just a foot bridge. And we got with the Yanks then, and they took us by truck to Halle, which was an American camp. And there were prisoners actually coming in
from everywhere. And when you went in, you got into groups, that’s where I said well, we got in with the Cypriots who couldn’t speak English, and we couldn’t speak their lingo. And there was four of us had to, kind of sort them out when we got into the DC-3. And from there, they flew us to Brussels,
we were there overnight, and then in a Lancaster back to England; where, I don’t know. And then we got out of the Lanc down to Brighton, and back, more or less, where we started from.
And tell us about the time in the prison camp. Oh sorry, we’ll just pause there.
End of tape
Interviewee: Marcus Mahony Archive ID 1549 Tape 09
You told me a while ago about different lectures that would happen in the prison camp,
How were there organised, and how would they be structured?
We had a, we called him a man of confidence, he was elected by the
English speaking ones, he was our man of confidence, he was a Canadian that we had, and he was a go-between, between us, between the prisoners and the commandant of the camp, if there was any hassles. ‘Snow-shoes’ as he was nicknamed, he would be approached and he would then go to the German commandant, and sort things out.
But we had, in each hut, there was somebody in charge of the hut, he was usually elected from the, call them inmates, he was there by, as he was voted in to that job. And they used to arrange, they’d kind of, there was
one in charge of the Red Cross, an Australian who was in charge of the Red Cross, when the stuff, when it come through. And there were other people around who would organise these lectures, or anybody would volunteer to give talks. As I said, we had people from all walks of life there. I mentioned the undertaker, I know there was an Australia that worked on a
sheep property, well he gave a talk on, on the sheep industry in Australia. We had buskers who were, that was their living in peace time. We had people that’d been on the stage, there were solicitors.
What sort of things would they teach you?
Oh there were ones there, some of the camps had
a library, more than we had, but some of them studied. I know, I forget how many solicitors there were, I know there were two Australians, not mentioning Pete, he was a solicitor, but he wasn’t kind of through. But there was two there, and they organised a divorce for one of the English blokes through Red Cross,
apparently his wife was doing the wrong thing, and somebody must have told him, through correspondence. Anyway, they arranged the divorce for him, through the Red Cross, while his, his old woman was playing up, somebody spilled the beans, and they organised the divorce. But you know, as I said, they came from everywhere,
you weren’t too sure.
And speaking of the, you know, women back home and that sort of thing, at what stage was it that you got your ‘Dear John’ letter?
The war was over, and I was in Greenslopes.
The one I was engaged to.
How about the first one?
Oh well she wrote, while I was in prison camp, she just said, “something awful’s happened,
I can’t write to you anymore”, so I don’t know whether she got mixed up with somebody and finished up with a baby or not, I never ever heard from her again, so I don’t know.
Did you show the letter to -
Oh yes, to me mates, oh we all read each other’s mail, there was no privacy there.
What did they say in response?
Oh, you know, I wonder what the hell she’s been doing, and you know, you got no sympathy. But that was
a part of life.
Did you ever read any other ‘Dear John’ letters from, that anyone else got?
Oh, I didn’t read them but I heard about them, or they’d read them out. They’d, you know, they’d get a letter from home, and they’d read it, well then they’d start and, you know, something’s gone wrong here, and…
Did anyone get any humourous or ridiculous, sort of, ‘Dear John’ letters?
Not to my knowledge. See in our hut, as I said, there was about 120,
but in the middle of their hut was where the Canadians and the Kiwis and the Aussies[Australians] kind of, we stuck. And they were a mob of stirrers, they’d have a go at you over anything, just on principle, they call each for everything. But it was always a funny
side of things.
And did anyone ever get really cut up about a ‘Dear John’ letter?
Oh, there would have been some of them I imagine, you know, the ones, if it was their wife, but the one that, you know, I got in the prison camp, there was nothing serious with us. It was just we used to go to dances together, or if she was at the
dance first, I used to take her home. And then I’d have to get on my bike and ride back to the squadron, three or four mile, in the dark, with no lights, but the bike knew the way. But there was nothing, as far as we were concerned, there was nothing serious about it. But whatever happened, I don’t know. I know it was her stepfather, but as to whether there was something there,
but I never, ever found out, so when she said there was, she didn’t want to correspond anymore, well I, that was it. Well we, you could only write one of those little cards a month, and then you might have got one a bit bigger the next month. So by the time you wrote home, and you know, that was about it. But there was nothing to write about anyway, because you couldn’t put
anything. And when they wrote to you, well I got a heap of mail at one stage, all my Christmas mail arrived. But half had been blocked out, so I just got them all in their sequence and started at the top and read through. I think I brought all those letters back to England that I’d got from home, and well
I don’t know what become of them, whether I destroyed them back in England, ’cause I had enough stuff to cart as it was, without all those letters. Well not that there was that many, but there was a fair few. But, as I said, the boys would get their mail, and they would read it, and then they’d read it out or hand it over, but you knew everybody’s business, all their families.
And just a few more questions about
the lectures, you mentioned the one with the undertaker which stood out, are there any other ones which stand out?
Oh, these blokes that did the busking, they were professional buskers. And I struck them in London, you’d go to the theatres, and there’d be a queue three hundred yards long,
and the buskers would be there, doing their bit. And it was a professional business that they had there, that was their bit of dirt. And the next folks, and then they would be there for, say a couple of months, well then they would go to another area. But they were all over England these buskers, and they were all, a very,
a close knit lot of people. Some of them were excellent artists, others were hopeless.
What sort of busking?
Some of them would sing, some of them might have a banjo, mouth organ, anything.
What did the ones in the prison camp have?
Well they never had anything. But we had a band there, the commandant was
very theatrical minded. And through the Red Cross there was a lot of musical instruments there. We had some very clever musicians and artists. I know that they put on a show there, ‘Rhapsody in Blue’, there was not one piece of music, and it was a full orchestration,
and these blokes, they just played. But they were, well professional artists, and they, some of them had beautiful voices. There was one bloke there, oh, I forget, he’s higher than a tenor, it’s like a soprano, I just forget what, what they call it now. But speaking,
he had a deep voice, the moment he opened his mouth, he was way up. And they put different shows on, they did ‘Little Women’, I think a 24 female parts, and all men. If you saw them outside, there were some rugged characters amongst them, but some of them had been on the stage.
What did they do for things like costumes?
They made it out of nothing. See there were bits of uniforms, and some of the stuff would come from the Red Cross, but they get it and dye it, out of nothing. And they’d put these things on. I know there was a French bloke there, he was an impersonator,
and I tell you what, 15 or 20 yards away, he looked all the world like a woman, and he’d just be in a pair of very, in very small briefs, and even the way he walked, if you’d been outside on a dark night, you more than likely, you’d have try to cart him off. He was, he had been on the stage,
I believe, in peace time too. But as I said, these blokes, they were, you weren’t quite sure what the other blokes was, until you got talking to him. And the rear gunner I had in the second crew, he was from London, he was a butcher. I forget what the other two, the other boys were in peacetime.
Junior had his 21st birthday in the prison camp, he was the navigator, no that was the first crew, he was from Yorkshire, he had his 21st birthday just before he was killed.
Is, is there anything you learnt in those lectures in the prison camps, that came to be useful in later life?
I don’t think,
not to me, not to me personally. See the bloke that gave the, the Australian that gave the talk on the sheep industry, well he was very interesting because I’d been involved with sheep and cattle before the war, I’d worked with them. And but unfortunately, I wasn’t able to go back to it after the war, I’d like to have. But I knew the way my back was, I couldn’t,
Do you want to grab that.
No she’s in there. We’ve got a phone in the bedroom.
Oh right, OK.
I think she might be in there, it was answered. See the way my back was, I knew I couldn’t sit on a horse for eight or ten hours a day, which you had to do, on the places where I worked. It was rough country, and you’d
be on a horse, you’d be off working sheep and cattle, it was hard work. But I knew I couldn’t, couldn’t cope.
And you told Kiernan [interviewer] briefly before about the Russians coming in, can you just describe what they looked like, what they wore, what they said to you?
They were on shaggy looking horses about so high, and they were allergic to water, the Russians.
And they were filthy dirty, but they had these shaggy looking coats, you may have seen pictures of the Cossacks, real wild looking characters, bushy hair, big hats with the sheepskin kind of caps, and the shaggy looking horses, they were wild men. Possibly a Tommy gun and rifle, revolver, you couldn’t know what they’d be carting.
I saw this Russian woman one day, she’d have been as high as Kieren, and about as half as wide again. She had two bandoliers of cartridges across, she had a Tommy gun on her shoulder, and a 45 on the hip. And I thought, I wouldn’t want to cross you. But she was in the, with the troops. Oh they, they all fought.
And what did they say to you when they came into the camp?
There was no conversation with us. They just opened the gates and went through, and off they took. See the war was still on, they were still fighting the Gerries.
What about the Russians in the camp?
Well they just went berserk. The fence, as I said, eight to ten foot high, the barbed wire would be that far apart. And about six or eight feet was
barb wire entanglement. Well they knocked about 60 or 70 yards of that flat, they just hit it on the face. And you could follow them through the country, as though a cyclone had gone through it, every thing out the front got knocked down, if it was edible, it got eaten, and I suppose it was a woman, she got raped. Just everything was taken on face. I found a couple of
them after, I saw, I caught up with one, one day, he had a big dish about so big, of potatoes. And there was, they were sitting on a fire, and he was lying around it, he was asleep. I reckon he’d just eaten until he couldn’t eat anymore, that’s where he was. But, they were a very hard too, the Russians in our camp, we had a lot of
Mongolians, we had some of the white Russians. But the Mongolians were used as, more or less, cannon fodder. What the Russians were doing when they started attacking the Gerries, they had artillery, and then there’d be a mob of these Mongolians, and then there’d be more tanks, and be more
Mongolians, and they just used them as cannon fodder. And well the Germans, it’s been on the TV [television] the last week or so, they went into Leningrad and Moscow and they’d eaten everything behind them, and they had no winter gear. And the winter hit, and they had nothing. And the Russians, then they brought in these
special, more or less snow troops that they had sitting back, and they just went through. And the Gerries never had a leg to stand on, well they had no food, because they’d eaten it as they came through, thinking when they got to Moscow, they were home and hosed, but they didn’t get there. And these blokes just came through, and
they just overran them, and in the winter, well they just, an awful lot of them froze to death where they were.
And when you were essentially set free, who became in charge, who sort of unofficially took over within the camp?
Nobody. We, had this man of confidence and a few of the powers that be, they tried to stop the blokes from going out, to get food. But they
didn’t have a hope in hell, because, well the blokes were hungry. And when you get, well I think there was about 10,000 English speaking people, that was British Army and there were 600 air force, there was only about 100 Australians there, but they said “oh, we’re hungry, where’s the food coming? We’ve got to go and get our own food”. Well I found these big
mounds of dirt, and I didn’t know what it was, this other bloke and I we started scratching, and it was asparagus. So we had a real picnic on that, we scratched down, you found how it was planted, and you could kind of dig in, and we came back, I think we had a kitbag full of asparagus. And then another day we found rhubarb, that wasn’t real crash hot for the bowels, it kind of stirred the possum and things. And somebody came back
one day with a goose, and they didn’t know what to do with it, so I finished up with that. I had it in the hut for a couple of days, and I couldn’t get rid of him, and nobody wanted him, so I thought, oh, I’ll knock his head off. I had to skin it, I couldn’t pluck it, I don’t know how long I cooked him for, he was as old as Adam, I think, but we ate it. But as I said,
you went to these houses, and they all had their cellars, and if there was nobody there, you gone and got to know where to look for stuff, a lot of preserves they had. Like I think, the typical German that came out here, they were very much self-contained, they had their own vegetables and fruit and everything, and this is what it was like over there. But unfortunately, a lot of the boys
found Red Cross parcels as well, that had been knocked off, well that didn’t help matters any. But after we started walking from this German Army barracks where we were, to go to the Russian, to get out of the Russian zone, you’d go to a farm, or anywhere, and the German women would stop you
on the road, and ask you to come and stay there with them, because if you were there, the Russians wouldn’t bother coming in. So we used to, we’d spend the night where they were, and we’d get up the next morning, and off we’d go again. But you got food, they’d always give you food, and this particular one where I opened the door from the kitchen and found the cow, we got milk
from, you know, she gave us something for breakfast, and milk. And there was another old girl, we found her house and she had chooks, so we got eggs from her. And we used to, I used to take stuff that we’d knocked off from somewhere else, to give to her for the eggs, but she didn’t know we’d swiped it. We said we were given it by the Russians, and then
one day, this other bloke and I found a truck, it was full of money, all the Reich marks that had just come from the mint, so we had half a kit bag of that, it was no good, but we thought, “oh we might be able to get something”. And this day we went out to the old girls with the eggs, we didn’t have any stuff that we’d swiped, so I gave her a fistful of money. And when she looked at it,
she got a bit, you know, suspicious that we’d stolen it, but oh no, we’d been working for the Russians, and they paid us, so she was happy. But I don’t know whether she could ever spend it, well it wasn’t any good to us.
And you told Kiernan before about the Lancaster back to Brighton, what were your feelings when you arrived back in England?
Relief, we’re half way home.
And you know, it was a big, heave a sigh of relief when we landed on British soil, and we’re here. Because there were times you thought, “oh, well, are we going to make it?”
And when did you end up back in Australia?
We came through the Panama Canal, and we were just in the Pacific Ocean,
when they declared peace with the Japs, I think that’s the 15th of August. So it would have been possibly, towards the end of August.
What did you hear about the bombs that were dropped in Japan?
We didn’t hear, we just heard over the ship’s PA [public address] system, that peace had been declared. But we were still under wartime footing, because of the ship was blacked out
at night. As they said, “there are Jap subs out there, and they don’t know the war’s over, or they wouldn’t care if the war’s over, if there’s a troop ship they can barrel”. We had Australian air force POWs, the Kiwi air force and army, and we had a Royal Navy blokes that were coming out to take over ships out here. But when we got
back to Brighton, there was Australian air force, New Zealand air force and South African army in Brighton. I forget how many South Africans were there, they’d been picked up in Tobruk, and they’d been there for three or four years. But I got to know an awful lot of them, they were, a lot of them were the Boer descendants,
but there were some, some really wonderful people amongst the South Africans. One of them in particular mate, he was a black and white artist, and finished up went to Walt Disney and worked for him after the war, as a cartoonist.
What were your feelings like when you first arrived back in Australia?
You can’t kind of describe it, it was a big
feeling of relief, that you’re home. We landed in Sydney, and I, what a rotten place on a Sunday, there’s nothing. And we got off the wharf, I think at Woolloomooloo, and those that had relations in Sydney were there to meet them, but seeing we were from Queensland, we were taken out to Bradfield Park, the Victorians well,
the other states were the same. And we came back into Sydney that night, but there was just nothing around. But we did find, there was a dance, we were walking up this street and we heard music, there were three or four of us together. We went up the steps and looked in and there was a dance on, and people saw us, and of course, we were invited in, and when they found out who we were,
we were made very welcome. And then back to Bradfield, and back to Central Station in the morning, and on the train to, back up to Brisbane. One of the first things I did, was to buy a pineapple, hadn’t had one since we left. And another Victorian and I bought a stalk of bananas in Panama, we weren’t allowed off the wharf there, but they had stuff there, and we bought a
hand of bananas, a stalk of bananas, green, and they ripened as we kind of ate them, that was the first bananas we’d had since we’d left home. And the pineapple, I cut it in two, sat down with a spoon and ate half, and my mate had the other half. It was just so good to get, you know, that type of fruit.
And when you did you realise that you needed to go to Greenslopes, and -
Oh, I knew when I’d bailed out,
your parachute harness is between your legs, and things got squashed up, and I had a hernia. I didn’t want to get it done in England, I waited till I got back home, and they bunged me into hospital. There’s another little anecdote, Jimmy Munro, who I, we kind of lived with, Jim had a bit of sugar. And when we got back to England, you had to
go before the medical board, and they examined you. And because Jimmy had a bit of sugar, he didn’t want them to catch up with him there, so he had to piddle in the bottle, I gave Jim half of mine, I went in first, and they tested it, it was right, so he bought the other half in, and, but when we got back to Australia, they found he had sugar then, that was all right, he was home. But poor bugger died, oh,
he had everything went wrong inside. We often used to laugh about the sharing the waterworks.
And what was Greenslopes Hospital like at the time?
Oh, pretty good really, we thought it was. The, strangely enough, I went back up, oh it’d be,
18 or 19 years ago, to get my teeth out under anaesthetic, and I finished up in the same old ward down the, Ward 5. But they’re all gone now, I believe, I’d have finished up in the same ward where I was when I was there at the end of the war. No, it was quite good there.
What was the atmosphere like with so many returned servicemen in the hospital?
Ah, there was a real mixture there. There was one, two, about four of us in the same little section, had been in prison camp, I think we caused a lot of trouble there. We wouldn’t do the right thing, and just kind of natural. When I had the operation,
I had a spinal, which didn’t take quickly enough, so they gave me ether. And when I came back into the ward, I, I was there three weeks, and I was the only one who talked. I had to get it out of my system, apparently.
What sort of things did you say?
Ah, they weren’t real choice. My mother and
aunt were there, they’re trying to shut me up, the language was quite choice, and they used to get me just about settled down, and this other bloke across the passageway, he would ask me something, and away I’d go again. They’re trying to shut him up, trying to shut me up, but this went on for about three hours apparently.
Why didn’t they want you to talk?
Because of the language I was using,
it was, apparently it was pretty foul, but I had no control over my tongue, it was just kind of rolling out. And this, Stan Hodges, he was from Gympie, he was kept stirring me all the time.
What sort of things was the bad language directed towards?
Oh, just in general. But he unfortunately had appendix operated on the day before, and with all the laughing he was creating, he had to go back
the next day and get the stitches put back in again. But I really suffered the day after, I had a headache that I never want another one like it, and I thought my head was going to explode. Apparently with a spinal, you’ve got to lie with your head underneath the level of your body. And having had ether, I was propped up, and I had this almighty headache, and oh, it was not at all
And once you got out of hospital and had spent time in the convalescence camps and things like that, how hard was it to settle back into civilian life?
Very hard, you kind of don’t know what you want to do. When I got my discharge, that’s when I decided I was going to do a building course, but it wasn’t to start for a few months. And I was
at home, and one of my cousins had a contract to fell timber, and I finished up working with him for that time, as something to do. But even then, you’re very unsettled, you just can’t kind of get yourself in a, I suppose, on the straight and narrow. But they were reasonably good, the
mob. At the school where I went, there was, I think there was three or four that had been POWs, and we were given a, you know, a fair bit of leeway, not that we made, you know, anything of it. But you’d go, you used to go walkabout, you’d get sick of trying to, stuck at a bench there doing something, you’d put your hat on and go for a walk, come back. And then when
I started working, they, the mob that I worked with, we were only a very small group, and they really looked after me. But I think we’re all in the same boat. I know Jean has spoken to Ron, he, you know, he was unsettled, and he was only, he was 16 when he went in.
Did you have any problems with dreams, or -
What sort of?
Oh, you wake up, or you’ll be back flying again. And I’d often wake up in a cold sweat, and I’d be up, up in bed, and I wouldn’t know what I was doing, and I used to upset Mame, she’d put her hand, you know, “are you alright?” “I’m alright, nothing wrong with me.” But you knew, you’d be in a sweat.
And after you’d spoken at Greenslopes, when else in your life did you talk about your experiences during the war?
Oh not so much until you got with other blokes. I think we’re still the same. As Jean has said, well Ron never spoke about it much, until he got with some of our, some of the blokes, and they’d start,
you know, remember this, and you do that, and so-and-so, and that’s how it kind of went.
And when did you start having anything to do with Anzac Day?
Ah, I lived and I, after we were married, we were, there was two, four, be about seven years I was in Drayton, which is on the edge of Toowoomba, I don’t know, do you know Toowoomba?
And there was one of the blokes there, they had the service station. And he was flying Spitfires over there, and I got to know Graham and June very well, they had three girls the same age as our boys. And I got to know him, well Anzac Day at Drayton, there was Graham and I used to march, and sometimes there might be one or two others. There’d be the
school kids, the scouts, and the cubs and the guides, and that was it. But then it kind of grew, and the whole time I was at Drayton, I marched every year there. And it had just grown and grown there now. I went back a few yeas ago, and I marched with them, with them there. But ever since I’ve been down here, I’ve marched just about every, every year, I go to Surfers now and march.
And what does Anzac Day mean to you?
Well it’s kind of, you can reminisce about the, the times. And it’s good too, for the young ones now. This coming one, I hope to have my grandson and Jean’s son, who was, he was in the navy after the war, Greg. And
any of her family that we can round up, and we’re, we’re going to line them up, and they’re going to march with me in Surfers. Well Jean’s got Ron’s medals, so they’ll wear them, and I’ve got mine and I’ve got a set of miniatures for my grandson, he’ll have to wear them.
When you look back at your wartime experience,
what would you say were the biggest sort of things that it taught you?
I think mateship. You made a lot of, lot of very good friends there, and more so when you were locked up. Because you got dependent, well not dependent, well yes, you were dependent on your mates. If you were having a bad spasm, I know, when I
went there first, I was in a bad way. And this Jimmy Munro and Peter Kennedy came over, and they used to talk to me. But this day they came over and they upset me, and I got them to help me up off the bed, I was going to fight them. And they laughed, and then walked away. And I thought, well it’s about time you woke up to yourself, and you kind of came good. But they’re the type of things,
where your mates were there for you. And I saw other instances where, where an American in the camp, he went to the pack, we tried to talk him out of it, abused him, everything, they put him in the hospital, he died, and three days later we were set free. But he just, he didn’t want to live,
and they’re the type of things that you, kind of your mates were there to, to get you over the rough patches.
We’re just coming right to the end of this tape, and I’m just wondering if there’s any final words that you’d like to say, or anything we haven’t covered?
I think I’ve talked pretty well, don’t you think. Oh, I, I think we’ve covered most things, not unless you can think of anything that you, you want to know.
Well, that’s about it for you.
Yes. OK. Thank you very much.