Toowoomba was by horse. I rode a horse from Toowoomba by sulky [light buggy], mare, from Toowoomba to… I’m sorry, from Allora to Toowoomba that about 30 odd miles, 35 miles. I was about 10 years of age then. And then I worked after school I was in a printing office and later on as war broke out and I got on reserve for RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force] aircrew in 1940 and I was called up in
1941, July 1941. And I spent the, after getting my wings in Australia on Wirraways I was transferred to, took a posting I should say to England and did some refresher flying over there and then joined a RAF [Royal Air Force] Spitfire Squadron, 41 Squadron. And of course I was fortunate to see the war through from when I got over there to
end of 45 and I was discharged from, got my discharge from or repat discharge I should say from the squadron to Britain prior to coming back to Australia. So I arrived back in Australia in 1946.
I lost my father in 1939, the year war broke out, and when I came back and joined my mother and lived with her in her home for a few years. I went back to a printing office where I worked before the war and stayed there for another 18 months. And then I got out into the commercial field with a chemical company so I have been associated
with rural chemicals for 40 odd years now, yes yeah. And I did take up flying again about four or five years ago at the local aero club after 50 years of non-flying so it was quite, quite interesting, good and I enjoyed flying. I suppose one of the things, one of the regrets I had was after I came home I took a discharge from the air force instead of staying on. That was my original plan before I left England was to stay on in the air force. But I didn’t, I just
for some unknown reason myself I suppose I thought well there must have been a reason I should say. And I, and yeah I would have liked to have, with regret I would have liked to have stayed in the air force. I had no reason not to. I mean they asked me to stay on you know for another 12 months at least, but I said, “Oh no I’ll get out,” yeah and I did. I went back,
that’s right I just told you that I went back to the printing office and I was there for 18 month and then I was out into the commercial field
he had a butchering business there, that’s the old cement mills at Gore and it’s no longer in existence. And from there he moved to another little township called Pratten and it was a place with one blacksmith, one pub, one post office and one school teacher again. And so we were there for a couple of years and then we moved to Allora. He took on another butchering business in Allora, bought into one there. And I was involved with, missed a lot of schooling because I was helping out,
helping Dad out on horseback when he was going for cattle for slaughter and I would go with him so you know day time so I missed quite a lot of schooling. But anyway I battled through and as I told you a little while ago after he got out of the business in Allora he bought into another one in Toowoomba and of course he and my mother and two other younger brothers they came by vehicle and I rode this
sulky mare to Toowoomba at about 10 year old. I went to school at Newtown State School in Toowoomba and I was there until I turned just on 14 and then I left and jointed another printing office. A printing office I should say, not another one, joined a printing office. And from that printing office I went across to another one in the same, in Toowoomba and I stayed there for four and a half years and then I
got back into rhythm and, lack of a better expression, and got myself on the reserve for aircrew in the RAAF.
me. He lives in Western Australia in Kalgoorlie. And so he was he learned a trade in Toowoomba he was a fitter and turner by trade in Toowoomba. And then he married a Western Australian girl, he was in the air force too and he married a Western Australian girl but he was ground staff and so that’s where he domiciled himself in Kalgoorlie.
And he has one son, yeah, one son only too. And he’s married with a family. Actually my mother was, my father had a couple of wives before mine, one was a death by natural causes and another was thrown off a horse, they lived in the country and killed or died from the injuries.
And then my mother divorced her first husband and then she met up with Dad, she was running a little store at Amuttamurra and my father was involved in that area around there because his brothers were on property. And so I don’t, well I don’t know the lead up to it of course naturally. Anyway my father and my mother they had three boys, three of us. I was the eldest and the
next one, the one in Western Australia and the youngest one who died a few years ago. And now where was I?
it was dark, probably a winters evening and he toppled hitting this barrel and went into it. And I know that he was taken to hospital he had a burst bowel. And he over came that, I men the medical people got him right. But he then he was out it, he didn’t go back to the butcher business he got out of it and sold it to somebody else. And then when we were living
privately, he had a pony with him, at home too in Toowoomba he had a pony, he used to take it up the road to a little paddock where it would get some feed once a day and to stay overnight, we couldn’t keep it in the house yard. And leading that pony up one evening he, because the roads were being done up had a lot of heavy metal, you know, blue metal on the roads where prior to sealing them, and he tripped on that, fell over and that was it. I mean we had to cart
him, take him off to hospital again and he didn’t recover from that experience.
strong willed, naturally, but a very good mother, very good. You couldn’t fault my Mum for her activities and work and that sort of thing. So it was a great and we lost her yeah quite a few years ago now, yeah lost a long time ago. I got married in 70 no 50, 56 or 53, or something like that
and unfortunately I lost my first wife at the age of 48. We had one girl through that marriage and she married a local boy who was an engineer at university or did his course at university. And he, they got married and they were up in North Queensland, western stages at rum, he was with the Main Roads Department.
And he was joined Shell Chemical Company or Shell, it was Shell Chemical Company and he did a stint in New Guinea, he and his wife, my daughter did a stint in New Guinea. And they had three children, a boy and two girls. And then they were posted back to Australia, Darwin I think it was and then from Darwin back down to New South Wales
and he was based at western, out Windsor way in Sydney. And that when he lost his wife, she was only a baby too, you might say, 45 and she died.
on any little cattle trips with my father. Those sort of activities, you’re pretty limited with your activities in the country, a small country town. You know we used to know how to make our own fun and that sort of thing. And tell those sorts of things or going crabbing in a little creek after mud crabs in a little creek or round about. And yes there was not much you could do
really. Find things to amuse yourself you know, pretend you’re a blacksmith or something like that, or anything anything you’re always pretending to be someone you know. I don’t say that happens to all people but when you’re in a country town I mean I’m repeating myself, but there was not much activity associated with entertainment or pleasure there wasn’t, not commercial anyway.
What was Toowoomba like when you first came into town?
Oh Toowoomba was quite a big town compared to what we were used to. At that time I can’t think, I can’t remember what the population was, it was probably around about 50 or 60 thousand or so, it may have not even been that. So it was certainly a far different proposition to the smaller country towns. We had picture theatres and well, well picture theatres I suppose were the main entertainment because certainly as you would know, there was
no TV or anywhere near it. And radio, that was a little bit of entertainment I suppose listening to radio or a serial maybe and followed your parent’s footsteps as they were listening to the serial. What was that one, that man, we used to, that midday serial that come on, it was associated with the country? I know even the western people they’d get back off their, out working with the stock to get
home, to get back to the homestead to hear this serial. And I should remember it but I can’t think of it. Anyway it was a very popular midday serial you know associated with the country living. Well as I say leading up to the after, I left Toowoomba, well I was in Toowoomba until I worked and, and joined the air
force, I should say, yeah.
What were people saying when they were reading the papers? Where there people around you reading with you?
Oh well I’m talking about, if you’re reading The Chronicle office they had their sheets exposed out the front of their building. Yeah other people would be looking at them too, yeah definitely. Then the other news would be the following on news in the papers, local papers. So what they were doing was really putting up flash reports on the secrets of war events immediately after the 39
war. So from there on, did I say I was in the printing office and I got on the reserve for aircrew in 30 no 40, 1940, I was 18 years of age and I turned 19 later on that year. I was called up in July 1941.
I’d never been in an aircraft. And I’d had very good marks and done my first flight in a Tiger Moth. I did, I went to Sandgate to do what we call ITS, Initial Training School which puts you in line with ground subjects, meteorology and airplanes and all the basics you know associated with the aircraft and flying, navigation. And after that course for a couple of months
we go to Sandgate, to the Elementary Flying School where the school was a Tiger Moth school and did my elementary flying training there on Tiger Moths. My first flight ever in a Tiger Moth, I had an instructor called Cameron, a pilot officer called Cameron and he was an ex-insurance man. And he gave, he naturally gave me the controls
to get myself accustomed to it and - elementary I suppose I don’t know what you’d, well elementary flying anyway. And he came back and I kept the aircraft straight and low and did what he asked me to without losing great height or anything like that. Came back and he was boasting around our mess you know about my flight, my first
flight, my first flight. I was quite pleased with that. Yeah well, I think anybody giving you a bit of a wrap, though you do get a bit pleased about it don’t you.
I think there were about 30 on the course from memory, 25 to 30. And we were from all over the place, North Queensland. From down Goondiwindi way, there was a couple of people from there. And as I say Earl’s brother Leith and I joined up together at the same time. Yeah, and it was, it was quite interesting, well it had to be interesting because you were learning. You were learning to fly and you had to keep your subjects up, your ground work up.
And from there after I finished at elementary flying training school, we were posted to Deniliquin. No, all of us only, some of us went various ways, some of them didn’t turn out to be pilots some of the ended up being air gunners and a couple of them wireless operators, that’s how they finished up even though they might have wanted to be a pilot in the first place. So anyway I was posted to Deniliquin,
Western Australian, Western New South Wales – sorry I don’t like those expressions I bunged on there. And yes so on to Wirraways and did my flying training on Wirraways and got my wings at the end of the training period there. And from there well it was a case of being posted then to an invitation depot which was at Sydney
and prior to boarding a ship for England and the ship was the TSS Nista, it was an old steam ship. It didn’t carry many passengers but we had a total of about 30 or 40 crew members, navigators and a few air gunners that we didn’t train with and…
characteristics of the aircraft and at that particular time it was the characteristics of the Tiger Moth. And when you went to Wirraway you went further on to an advanced type of aircraft you were doing the same thing again. You know you were going through the process of learning all about the aircraft and engines and airframes and undercarriage, everything associated with that particular type of aircraft. And that didn’t change very much once we got to England either, when you were going onto
we did a – pardon me – oh well prior to getting to England be boarded this TSS Nista and we called in at Fremantle and we had an air gunner with us who was ridging on our course to be a pilot but he didn’t make it, so he was he ended up being an air gunner. And he was horribly sick all the way from Sydney around to Fremantle. And believe it or not, the poor chap
died between when we got back on board at Fremantle to make the rest of the journey, the poor chap died at sea. Yeah, a horrible sea sickness, I think they put it down to colic but he was sick, you know he couldn’t handle the sea at all. That was rather sad then we got to Cape Town, we had a few days in Cape Town then we sailed around to
Cape Town, we were only there for a very short period. Forgotten how long, it might have only been a few days there I think. Oh yes we got a message or the ship’s captain got a message that we had to call in at Cape Helena. That’s to pick up some few survivors from a torpedoed ship, and we did. Well Cape Helena’s approximately 2000 kilometres south west of Cape Town. We pulled in there and
I was quite impressed with the nature of the water, it was a beautiful clear blue water, lovely. Anyway that was just one of my observations at Cape Helena, but then they brought this rescue crew on board and we got going again.
early April 1943, yeah. So it was a bit of a, old ship, she wasn’t a very fast ship either. And one of the trips one area we did, down in the Atlantic I think it was, we got a convoy of quite a number of other ships going in the same direction and a pack of German submarines attacked the convoy one night, yeah. Gee, we raced out of our cabins, we were up, we were actually up on the stern of our ship looking what was going on. You couldn’t see much and all of a sudden we saw one ship in the
convey got hit with a torpedo and you see it go up. I wouldn’t, I don’t think they would have saved, although some of the other ships may have, or one of the other ships may have got some of the crew off I suppose, I don’t know. They were behind us so when you saw that sort of thing happen to one ship. So it was one of the reasons I suppose why we were picking up people from Cape Helena and one of the reasons for the slow trip. The old Nista used to only do about 13 or 14
knots yeah. Which wasn’t fast, fast enough for certain those days and so we used to do. Ok.
instructor with you for a few flights, a couple of flights whatever it might be and he was satisfied that you were confident to fly it on your own, so you did your first solo. And then eventually you were doing cross country fights, navigational purposes, night flying for experience. Not many hours night flying, but you did a few hours night flying. And then at the end of the period
those of us on the course got our wings. There was no passing out phrase or anything like that you just got, you’ve done your course, you’ve got your wings and that’s it, goodbye.
one, I think one member of our group on a course on Deniliquin I think he landed a Wirraway and ran it into a ditch. Oh didn’t land it in a ditch, misjudged his landing run and ended up in a ditch and his name was Clarke and he came from Brisbane. And believe it or not, that same boy he got his wings alright. Sent to Brisbane, England and he got there
a bit before us. He wasn’t on the TSS Nista he was obviously on a faster ship than what we were on. And when I was posted to that elementary, not elementary, advance refresher type course and arrived on the station and transported by you know RAF [Royal Air Force] vehicles and he walked into the hut and I said, “Is there any vacant beds here?”
And one of the blokes or two or three of them there said, “Well there’s one bed there,” he said and he said, “It belongs to one of your country men.” I said, “Oh.” He said, “Yeah.” “Tell me who it was?” I said, “What.” He said, “Yeah he spun in on the circuit and killed,” yeah he didn’t even get to operations. So I didn’t see the accident but I certainly knew it happened. Oh yeah I saw another, one of our Spitfire
when I joined the squadron, one of our Spitfire boys coming into land and he still had a slipper, a petrol slipper tank under the fuselage and got his wheels down on the ground and next minute he flipped over and fire, you know. We got him out of the aircraft alright. We were all there watching the action happen you might say, but fortunately we got him out. Apart from seeing action, other aircraft shot down
on operations you know. A couple of bombers, at times we were escorting bombers and particularly daylight raids by the RAF bombers to Berlin and areas.
aircraft and strafed our, strafed the area or dropped bombs around London and what not. It was action all the time. Certainly there was no let up in action and then the Germans came forth with their, what we called the flying bomb or they flying bomb, doodle bugs we called them. They were a jet propelled thing, it was launched in, from a launching pad in France and they crossed the channel
and if they got through to flak belt down in the southern part of England, Mount Kent, if they got through to flak belt then they’d have to get through the balloon barrage that was on the south of London because that’s where they were aiming these things at. I mean they had a limited fuel range and of course once they cut out, once their fuel cut out, you’d cock your ear and wait for the bang because they’d
just drop down and explode. And they didn’t cause great big craters but they certainly spread their explosives and burst in horizontal you know and destroy buildings of course. And well when I joined the squadron it was just after D-Day and we were doing those sort of patrols, over the channel across the channel. Came out of the reach of German
fire in France and trying to shoot down these border boats as they crossed the channel. And I only ever got one myself, they seemed to evade us a fair bit although they weren’t you know manually operated or controlled they were just let fly from a rocket launching site and that was it. Then we were doing escort to fighter sweeps and low level
attacks on some of their installations in France and later on we were involved with doing escorts to the heavy bombers that were bombing Larooha [?]. That was OK, as I say I saw a couple of those bombers hit the ground and flak from Germans and they went up in flames of course and aircrew were lost, yeah. And then we moved across to, as the war
progressed we moved across to Belgium as the army moved forwards, you know to take on the Germany area, the German area you know battling the Germans all the time but they seemed to be getting a little bit on top of them when so far as the invasion was concerned, and then they moved through and we went to an airfield called Asch just outside of Brussels and we were operating from there for quite a while. And we moved through up to Holland and we had a couple of airfields in Holland, Eindhoven and Vultow.
And that was after the, well yes after the British crossed the Rhine and we were then across the Rhine ourselves and we were operating from over in a German airfield called Sellar and …
we’d go to Melbourne and have the weekend there and we out at one of the suburbs went to a local dance there and danced with some of the girls. And one girl I met with I seemed to get along pretty well with and she was a trainee school teacher from Melbourne but her people had property at Terang, or Kerang I think it was at Western New South Wales, a bit west of Deniliquin too. Anyway we did the flying and it came her holiday period
and so I decided to, when I got off to do my hours flying I decided to fly straight out there and just check where the property was. I found that alright and flew around the house and then she and her mother came out and they were waving madly and I kept flying and I spotted this field, vacant field and I thought, “Will I or won’t I?” So I decided to land.
So I landed what we call a precautionary landing because you didn’t have the full length of a runway or something like that. So anyway, I landed this aircraft quite close to their house and she and her mother came across and I met her mother but the first time naturally, when I say naturally well I hadn’t had a chance to meet her mother before. So I, you know I landed this Wirraway to say hello to Dorothy, her name was Young. And I only spoke to them for a couple
of seconds, oh I say a couple of seconds I mean a few minutes a few minutes yeah. And then I started the engine up to you know take off to go back and the engine started to sink in the soft ground. I thought, oh God, you know, I had an awful shock through the tummy or whatever it feels whatever you like you know. Anyway you know I put some more power into it and kept it rolling OK and good so then I got it right up to the end of the long section of the paddock. And
had to be very very careful here to because I had full flaps down, I don’t know whether you know what that means but full flaps down and - well you land with flaps down but you don’t take off with flaps down – so I put the full flaps down and put my feet hard on the brakes and then I pushed the throttle to the maximum and away she moved, took off. And then of course there were trees at the end of this particular paddock too in another area
but anyway took off, got over the trees alright and then it was great, I was really thrilled about it and then I got back to the base, a chap called Bell, he was from Tasmania I think, we called him Dinger. I wonder why we called him Dinger? Anyway, he was performing a bit he said, I can’t tell you what he said but he wasn’t too happy with me getting back taking up 10 minutes or so of his flying time and that was that.
Anyway later on in the day, I told my friend Gibson about it and he said, “He didn’t.” I said, “I did.” He said, “God what are you doing? You’re mad.” I said, “Yeah, I know I was mad,” of course had the CFI [chief flying instructor] known about it, I probably wouldn’t have completed the course, I would have been taken off the course you know, subjecting one of the Government’s aircrafts, putting one of the Government’s aircraft in a spot of bother. Anyway he said, “Oh you didn’t.” I said, “I did.”
I said, “Now you come with me tonight,” I said, “I’ll ring Dorothy right.” He said, “Ok.” So we went down to the local phone box on the station and you had to be careful of what you say because of the other personnel around the place. I rang Dorothy and I said, “How are you?” “Oh fine thanks.” And then I said, “Yeah, gee it was nice seeing you today.” She said, “Yeah OK.” I said, “I’ve got Gibby here,” Gibson, Ian no it wasn’t Ian Gibson, “Ken Gibson here with me.” I said
“Just tell him what you saw today,” you know. So anyway she said, “Hello Ken.” He said, “Hello Dorothy.” And he said, “Did you see anybody today that you know?” She said, “Yes we did.” And of course that convinced him then that I’d landed the aircraft. After I got my wings and he got his wings and other people on the course they got their wings and took our instructors down to the local pub
for celebration drinks and then I told him and he said, “God love it, lucky, I wouldn’t have been game to do that.” But anyway I got it, they couldn’t take my wings off me. I’d already got my wings so he wasn’t displeased with me but he thought I was a bit of a nut to do it. I think I was too, but still a risk being taken off the course that’s what I did, you know. That’s how foolish the act was really.
instructor. I only ever had two instructors there. There was two parts of Deniliquin, there was AFT, advanced - AFT, yeah AFT, air force no – Advanced Flying Training [AFS – Advanced Flying School], that’s right, that was the first part of the Deniliquin course and the second part was called SFT [School of Flying Training]. And once you get through SFT you get your wings.
But he would be fed information from the instructor you had as to how you were progressing right. And he’d probably end up, well probably he’d take all of them at some time for a fly.
Were you excited about the idea of going to war?
I don’t think so, no not really, no because having not experienced it. I mean you were looking forward to the, you were looking forward to it really I was. And when we got on, when we were on board this TSS Nista [Nestor?] we sailed through the headland of Sydney Harbour and I was standing out on the deck
and I looked, I seriously looked and I said to myself, “I wonder will I ever see these shores again?” And I did. So I was lucky like a lot of other people because a lot of other people that weren’t lucky. Yes I remember that distinctly, my words on the deck, “I wonder will I ever see these shores again?” So I was aware of what was going to happen,
you know really and the war was on, your life was at risk and this is what you joined up for, to be part of it.
active town you might say on the south coast, yeah very active and quite a few hotels there. We were billeted. Well it was a pretty idle sort of time really, just waiting for a posting to one of your training course. You know for a refresher course as we hadn’t flown for about three or four months as you know, I just told you before, left in late 1942 and didn’t get to Britain until 40 what did
I say? 43. So yeah you had to do a refresher course on similar type of aircraft we were flying, got our wings on a similar type of aircraft to Wirraway and in this case it was their master aircraft, Master two, Master one two. So you did your refresher course on those before going along to the Spitfire OTUs [operational training units] and that’s where you started to learn to fly Spitfires and do operational training there you know.
Bournemouth, yeah that’s right we were up before a panel of RAF personnel, you know a couple of wing commanders and I think there was three of them in total or four in total and they had a group of us lined up on chairs. Well OK now that you people, you personnel are here we’d like to know what you want to do, what you’ve been flying, well they knew what we’d been flying I think. Anyway they started with this bloke at the end
And, “What do you want to fly?” Whatever his name what he said, “Oh I don’t mind,” he said, “I’ve done single engine training.” And they said, “Would you go to twin engine flying if need be?” “Oh yeah I wouldn’t, yeah that would be alright, I wouldn’t mind, that’d be OK.” Then the next question was to a bloke, Frame a South Australian chap “What about you Frame, what would you like to fly, you’ve been training on these single engines?” He said, “Oh I’d like
to go onto dive bombers.” And they said, “Oh, well that won’t be any trouble,” getting a posting to a dive bomber squadron. Another chap wanted to be, stay on twin, he trained on twins and he wanted to stay on bombers, twin bombers, well that’s OK, that’s fine. And what about you Gray, I said, “I’d like single engine night flyers, Sir.” “Oh,” he said
“You won’t get single engine night flyers because they’ve been phased out,” because I like night flying too. And then he said, then he said, “What about,” he said, “OK,” he said, “The aircraft replacing Hurricanes for night flying activities is the Mosquito, would you go on a Mosquito?” I said, “No Sir I wouldn’t fly one.” I said I wanted Spitfires. He said, “You seem to know what you want, Gray.” I said, “Yes Sir, OK.”
So I got my posting to a Spitfire, yeah. They were all very, already puckersar or whatever you’d like to say, yeah.
because you can’t just get used to them in one fell swoop. And so you know you do your various circuits as part of the training course to get to handle the aircraft properly and particularly your take offs and landings, you know. So they had a few little characteristics that needed to be watched closely, for instance you get in a Spitfire and you had a long nose out in front and see Wirraways only had a
short nose and a radial engine. So and when you’re taxiing on a runway in a Spitfire you had to taxi like that because you couldn’t see straight ahead, you had to keep your aircraft in a swing to where you get to your starting point, your take off point. And once you get to your take off point, OK you do your cockpit drill right, everything’s checked to go, flaps down and so you take off.
And there’s a certain amount of swing with the aircraft taking off but you’ve got to control it naturally and then you, once you get off you get your under guard up. And the early model Spitfires, you had a lever down your right hand side and you had to pump it up and down right. And you could see pilots like me at the time trying to pump this up and down and your aircraft’s going like this. Yes so it was quite interesting actually the way we had to do it.
We were well looked after. When I say looked after I mean I’m talking about the general people you know accepted us very well, so it was good. And from there down to Cranwell which is in Bedford, that’s another airfield where you flew the latest type of aircraft that they had on the squadrons around the place. And so then I got my posting to 41 RAF Squadron
in Lympne, Kent. And during this period of at Cranwell I’d learnt to fly a Spitfire Mark 14 when I joined the Squadron at Lympne they had Spitfire Mark 12’s which was a flip wing Spitfire used mainly for low level flying to try to get these doodle bugs etc. OK then we were on them for quite a while and then prior to departure for overseas we were re-equipped with
Spitfire Mark 14’s and they were a lovely aircraft too. Elliptical wings and big horse power, 2500 horse power so we did all our operational flying training on a Spitfire, not training all our operational flying on Spitfire Mark 12’s and then Spitfire Mark 14’s.
the, followed the army through as they moved in, moved into Germany we were following through, as I said we went from being a Squadron at Lympne across to, we took our Squadron across to Diest just outside Brussels and then we were at two or three airfields on the way through Ironhoe, Vulkilner [?] and Holland and eventually moved across the line to an airfield called Sellars. So we were actually operating from a German airfield when as I say the hostility came about.
And once that came about there was a bit of a silence in the mess that night, you know. A couple of days and we weren’t accustomed to the, you know so what do we do? I’ve forgotten what our thoughts were but I know we were all a bit dull about it all. All the hostilities being finished, we shouldn’t have been we should have been excited. I suppose we were but we were just wondering what we were going to do. Anyway…
Belgium, Belgic, Norwegian on the squadron. Yeah, and also a Canadian. So there was a mixture of personnel which suited me fine, that’s absolutely what I wanted. That’s why I was asking did I want to go to, that was after the initial Spitfire OTU days and what not and you’d have another level of procession prior to posting to a squadron. A little questionnaire type of thing and what about
joining a RAAF squadron. We only had two RAAF squadrons over there I think, 451 and 453 I think. I stand corrected there, I think I’m right. Said, “Do you want to join a RAAF squadron I suppose?” I said, “No,” I said, “I don’t I want to join RAF Squadron,” because I like the cosmopolitan make up of the OTUs where I’d been through, various personnel from various countries and that appealed to me greatly so
I didn’t want to join a RAAF squadron where all the pilots were Australian. I suppose that might be a bit, a bit what, a bit negative, I don’t know whether it is negative or positive. It doesn’t matter anyway that was my attitude towards it. So I got my posting to 41 RAF Squadron.
Arie was Belgian, he was a married man, he had left his wife back in Belgium. He was shot down actually, we had to go and see his wife. One of my flight commanders and myself had to bad news to find his wife, we had her address of course, we had to go and tell her that her husband killed in action you know, it wasn’t very pleasant. The Norwegian was,
he was very good, all spoke very good English. And so they were good personalities, good people, nice people you know, as comrades they were good. And the Australians, Danny Rees he came home and he became a, he was an Australian and came back he was a, joined a priesthood and last I heard of Danny he was at New Guinea doing his priest work up there. He’s deceased since then.
A chap called Jimmy Ware, he was a warrant officer in the squadron, by that time I was a pilot officer, the early stages of being a pilot officer. Jimmy Ware, don’t know what happened to him. Another chap Anderson he came too, he came back to Australia. And the Canadian lieut [lieutenant] he got through the exercise you know, the four years with us.
And a few of the RAF personnel too, and we lost a couple during operational flying. So these are the activities of the squadron and the activities were to chase strafe engine and railway carriages and not so much carriages but railway trucks and try and blow their, well not blow their engine but knock their engine out of action where they’d lose their steam.
And that was part of the exercise of the RAF too, because once you have your lines of communication knocked out, which transporting materials and all this sort of thing they would start to feel the pinch. And we were doing fighter sweep, which we’d look for fighter aircraft and we did the fighter escort to the bomber crews. You know a great gaggle of the daylight bombers Lancasters had to bomb the
fly through around Brussels, through Belgium around Brussels do a circuit and try and pick out enemy tanks and enemy transport on the road, right?” So that meant you were looking for these sort of aircraft to strafe them, knock them out of action. And then OK that’s one debriefing right, this is what the debriefing was for the hour and a half flight or what ever it might be.
And the other one might be, you’re doing a recce, a reconnaissance that is and for enemy aircraft so you’d be flying as a squadron over you know France, Belgium, Germany. Not so much Germany because we hadn’t got that far then. And so we were looking for enemy aircraft that were in the air you know probably looking to strike our ground
efforts you know in the local airfields and what not. Ok so, that was a fighter sweep…
depending on the time, most of the times it was in the morning 8 o’clock, 9 o’clock, 10 o’clock all depends what the debriefing was all about. So you get your debriefing orders and explanation as to where you are going to be or going to fly to or around and so you take if from there. Then once you get in your cockpit and take off you’re either going with a squadron or you’re going with a flight of two or four depending on what
type of operation you might be on. So most times you were certainly being briefed as a squadron. And as I said a moment ago you are briefed as to the type of operation you are doing. It could be as I said a strafing exercise or an exercise in, you know against bombers or enemy aircraft of any description and you know freight trains
yeah that was about it. And then came the British raids on Larooha, the big large daylight raids on Larooha. So we did escorts to them, like a cowboy riding herd on a mob of cattle. Not quite the same.
Sorry can you just describe that a little bit more, I don’t quite understand. You had to be careful that you didn’t fly into?
Oh well, if you got excited or you just a bit, you couldn’t quite get to your doodle bug enemy, right, you were flying after him. And if you hadn’t got him in a pretty short space of time, once you got through the British RAF flak belt in the south of England and you were trying to get one, well you could misjudge your distance or your speed. You shouldn’t misjudge your speed but you could misjudge the gap between
the doodle bug or flying bomb and therefore I mean if he was out of range I mean he could leave you and you would be too close to the flak belt around London. And also not so much around London either there was flak guns there but they had to fly and get through a balloon barrage. So once they got into a balloon cable that was the end of them too, they just crashed.
the heavy flak belts in the south and where we were based at Lympne, we were virtually in the line of flight right. So once the doodle bug got across the channel see they were coming across at night time too so there was no channel flight to look after them or take care of them at night and as I say once they got through that flak belt
even at night time or day time, if you didn’t get them in an area or in the distance you should have, if you flew into a balloon barrage yourself by mistake I mean that would be your mistake too, you know. So these balloon barrages were there to trap flying bombs that got through the flak belt, OK, before they reached the heart of London.
I thought, “Hooley dooley!” and anyway the aircraft was functioning normally, flying normally, no action against the controls or anything. So I went back and the other chaps were still working the area so I flew back over to strafe and do a bit more strafing there and blow me down I got hit again with flak, only light flak you know, about the equivalent to our .303. They were based on some of these
characters right to protect them against us. Now that was all but anyway and I got back to base with the squadron I had no worry and I told the ground the engineer ground bloke that I’d been hit with a bit of flak and he said, “Yeah OK.” So he checked it out and came back and he said, “Do you know where you were hit?” And I said, “No, under the fuselage there.” He said, “Yeah on your rudder bars about that size,
a shell went straight through it in the middle and left the sides of the rudder bar intact.” So that was a bit lucky really, yeah. Mind you had it broken I mean possibly, I might have been in trouble trying to get out, take a parachute leap or the only other alternative was to false land the aircraft, you know. Paddock if there was one handy with no obstacles in it yeah but you can never really rely on getting that sort of
land base to put the aircraft down in a crash sort of landing.
Even with debriefing, after you’d been to the debriefing I think yeah. You used to go to the toilet and have a little widdle, you know a nervous widdle as we used to refer to it as and once you got out and got in your aircraft and got your engines started, fine you know you were in action and it was good. Another time I found some aircraft in the sky, Germans and one, I said to the instruction of it with one flight
commander and he was a squadron leader of the other flight, but anyway he got the starboard engine of this twin engine Messerschmitt and I got the port engine, right. And of course by that time the crew had bailed out, pilot and navigator and as I flew past the navigator, and one of them I’m not too sure which, his parachute I was close enough to see the look in this face right. And I certainly had no intentions of pulling the, shooting at him, none
whatsoever, I wouldn’t have done that. I mean we’re looking for aircraft right and either one of those crew members we could have shot them down, shot their pilots or shot them. That wasn’t for me, we just let them use their parachutes and get to earth.
lone fighter aircraft, German fighter aircraft is was a Messerschmitt 109 and we gave chase to him and he got in, went straight into a cloud and the CO, I think the CO just pulled off on account of the cloud and I happened to stay in the cloud, at least I kept firing at this air, because when this Messerschmitt 109 went into the cloud of course I was not that far behind him really so I just fired blankly, I didn’t know where he
was you know. And then he got through the cloud, here’s me I’d hit him alright and his aircraft was in flames on the ground outside, you know along side the lake. Oh not a very pleasant sight regardless no matter who was in it, enemy or friend. So that was that.
When you were flying around you were trying to shoot down planes, did you think about the people who were in those planes?
Well I suppose you might do. There was a certain amount of - what would you say? Certain amount of like kinds you know. Pilot in that aircraft, you’re a pilot in other aircraft. I don’t know whether we gave it that much thought, but still I’m sure I wouldn’t have been involved in strafing,
apart from army reserves - army camps and the locals trying to strafe ammo that’s different. I know the personnel there to be, that you were killing too if necessary or if you strafe one of the camps, sites whatever you like to term it.
aerial combat really I missed that. That was talking about the battle of Britain, well I didn’t get to the Battle of Britain, the Battle of Britain was virtually over when I got to England. And that sort of combat was you know fighter versus fighter you know, it was a lot of enemy fighter aircraft over Britain, over Scotland, Britain. And of course we had a lot of British aircraft, fighter aircraft in the sky. Dog fighting, that was actually what it was known as, dog fighting, you know. And I know Britain lost quite a few pilots at that caper and
likewise they shot down a lot of Germans in those sort of exercises.
squadron, but we were fairly wide apart anyway as a squadron and these German jets were there to our starboard and I let fly with my cannon and point 5s at them but I knew damn well I wouldn’t get near them because I was too far away. But of course the moment they spotted us and saw the gun belch flames from my Spitfire, they just turned on the tap and you saw the smoke coming from behind and then when they turned on their jets to go a bit
faster and get out of the road. They didn’t want to turn around and have a go at us. But we had aircraft, German aircraft turn around and have a go at us. So yes, I suppose the battle of Britain was really something I know there were pilots lost on both sides, oh men were lost on both sides regardless of what services you were in. But the Battle of Britain with the dog fights would have been extremely exciting. And you wouldn’t have been,
well all you’d be doing was trying to protect your own skin and shoot an aircraft down.
What sort of surprises did you have?
I don’t think from any of the aircraft I don’t think I had any surprises, I’m sure I didn’t. This other one I did get, just towards the end of the war I was doing a patrol, the squadron was doing a patrol and we were north west of Berlin and we were flying along at our height, I think we were about eight,
ten thousand feet. And I spotted a Squadron of ME109s below us, to the right to the starboard. And I called the CO up and I said, “ME109s,” “This is Kudos 3, there’s enemy aircraft at 4 o’clock,” such and such a height approximately. Well they couldn’t see them at the
time, I could I spotted them. He said, “Lead on, Kudos 3,” so I led them down and got in behind the, got in behind the squadron of ME109s. We got five of them in that skirmish without loss to ourselves.
You had a special code to talk to one another?
Yeah well we, yeah our call sign was Kudos, K U D O S, Kudos. That was our call sign for the squadron wherever we were, it was a Kudos, Kudos one, Kudos two. Kudos one was generally the CO or the leader of the flight and so on. Kudos one, Kudos two, Kudos three, Kudos four, Kudos five, you know.
be, it was lovely to handle as an aircraft, you could do anything with them, you needn’t have an unnecessary stall. You could let the aircraft stall if you wanted it to, you could hold it in the stall too. That means if it was shaking around wanting to tip over, lack of a better expression but no they were safe and as far as I was concerned never had any fears. Never had any doubts when we were doing low level, get across to Europe over the channel from Britain, right we used to fly low
over the water right. And we’d get over the coast line, the European coast line that’s over towards France and Belgium. And of course once you got through their flak belt to, you know protect you from the flak belt because they’d have radar on you, and you’d get up to your height operational height. That was the reason for the, no I never had a moments worry with flying close to the water with a Spitfire. There were pilots who did have that but they didn’t, wouldn’t have liked flying over the water so low anyway,
regardless of what aircraft they were in, some of them didn’t like it. We had no trouble, we had no loses in our squadron with crossing the channel at very low levels.
ended up being probably a little more closer, a little closer to one or two than the others sort of thing, but that was likewise with their life. And I was particularly comfortable and I was pretty comfortable with my flight commander and my CO. And when we were in Belgium or it might have been Holland at the time, and yeah the flight commander and myself used to
go down to Brussels, if we had leave or a weekend we’d go down. Drive down to Brussels in the air force jeep and the CO, Shepherd, he’s a Scotsman and I got on very well together, he was my CO and we’d do things together too on a bit of leave time you know.
town over that we were based in, you know. You were limited with road transport don’t forget, you had no owner vehicles, so any travelling out we had to do we had to use our squadron jeep, that wasn’t for recreational purposes. I’m telling a lie there, we did use it for recreational purposes when we were based at Diest outside of Brussels.
Yeah, but then we were waiting for the rest of the squadron to come across. He and one of our other personnel and myself went across earlier with the contingent that was to come across. We went across in a tank landing craft, I think it was. So we were based at Diest waiting for the Army Intelligence Officer and we were based, went to Diest, an airfield outside Brussels waiting for the rest of the Squadron to arrive. And they duly did and from thereon it was fly, fly, fly.
then we were taken away from Copenhagen we went back to the west coast of Germany, the squadron, right. So I mean I wasn’t going to be seeing her again I thought. Anyway in the interim we went back from the west coast of Germany back to Lubeck on the Baltic and the, I had occasioned to have to go back and fly back up to
Copenhagen for the air marshal and the group captain, Johnny Johnson because I was flourishing a contacts camera, a 35 millimetre camera which was the top camera, a German camera. And they said, “How the dickens did you get that?” And I had got it with cigarettes, you know cigarettes, x number of cigarettes because they were short of cigarettes in that country. So I got that contact camera that I
sold my, I gave my rations of cigarettes you know to get the camera. And of course when Johnny Johnson and the air marshal saw this the air marshal arrived on the scene one day at the airfield and he said, because he was the air officer commanding the area, and he said, got me in and Johnny Johnson and the CO said, “There’s the air marshal’s aircraft out there.” And I said, “Oh yeah.” He said, “We’ve got a few thousand cigarettes to give away
and I want you to see what you can do in Copenhagen, so take his aircraft.” So they pulled the seat forward and loaded a couple of parachutes with, loaded with cigarettes on the rudder bar and I took off for Copenhagen you know. Anyway I got in and of course then I was met by one of the other CO and other squadron that you know come after us. He got in the jeep and met
me out in the airfield and we unloaded the bags of cigarettes and I took them to the contact I had in Denmark. But all I could get for them was, a couple of, I couldn’t get any cameras, I got shot guns I think I got them a couple of shot guns. We had shot guns on the squadron too for that matter, what did I get? I don’t think it was shot guns, I must have got something I forgotten now. But I didn’t get the cameras that they were looking for, but anyway, I wasn’t in any disgrace about not
getting what they wanted but at least they did get something I vaguely remember. I can’t remember what it was. So then of course I met up with my lass again and went back. And oh that was about it the long and short of it. I think I might have had a couple of trips back up there for some reason or other. It would have been on the authorised, my trips up there would have been authorised, you can’t just go, you couldn’t go willy nilly up there.
Probably what sort of flying I’d been doing that day and etc. I think, no it was pretty normal sort of a few words you might say no great long discussions about anything. I guess we were too busy to worry about it, we you know had enough to do all day anyway with flying. And we’d go to the movies at night time, on the squadron that is.
I’m talking about going with these ladies, WAAFs, go the movies when they came on the squadron or in the mess, on the station I should say. And we’d see these movies, movie films of the Australian troops in New Guinea and what they had to go through. Slogging up there in mud and slush and God, you know.
We said, “Gee, imagine being involved with that show out there, you know.” Well we were very very sympathetic towards the conditions under which they were fighting you know. And we were living in luxury you might say, sheets on beds. We were flying of course and we had cold weather but that was good. So it wasn’t uncomfortable living at all. The only uncomfortable living I had was one night
before we went across to Belgium I think in this tank landing ship, craft or whatever you call it. And here we had the intelligence officer with us, Lord, Lord Gisborough, Terry Spence, myself and one other pilot, I think it might have been Vin Rothdale, no it was Ricky Moore, another Australian. We went across and
oh yes that’s right the IO [intelligence officer], Lord Gisborough. It was as cold as charity you know we were in this and we got into our beds in this tent right, rugged up and Lord Gisberra gets undressed and gets into silk pyjamas. Oh god I laughed, yeah he’s shivering like billyo you know and he still gets into his silk pyjamas, oh dear. That amused me. Anyway,
he survived. Funny old bloke he was with lots of things. Two of our vehicles were bogged on the stations, one of the stations in I think it was Holland after a wet period. And two, one was pulling the other out of the bog and he says “Oh which one’s bogged? Which one’s doing the pulling?” And then at the mess back at Lympne and he’d come in late for work one morning, or the odd mornings late or he might have had breakfast and he’d go in,
“Oh Sir have I had breakfast?” You know, “Have I had breakfast?” “Yes Sir, you’ve had breakfast.” Yeah, it was quite humorous really. A lot of humorous things you know when on. A lot of them you forget you can’t remember until you start talking about some of them, you’d be aware of that I guess.
down. Yeah the destruction was there alright, it was a sickening sort of a sight too, and then don’t forget a lot of civilians were killed in those bombing raids, right. And the only night I’d ever spent in an air raid shelter, I stayed with friends, Deltam that’s south of London and these people were friends of my eldest half brother who was in the RAF. And he was over there in the Middle East while I was
training here and I got to England and we met up after he got back from the Middle East into Britain. He told me to see these friends of his through Queensland House, a friend of his in Queensland House was running it and he made contact with them and they came and got me and I was looked after me like a son, like one of their own, yeah it was very good. And they had an air raid shelter in the back yard and that was the
only time I ever spent, and even thought I’d spent time in London while these bombers were flying around and landing, the only time I spent in an air raid shelter was one night and it was probably the heaviest raid all of the doodle bugs coming across from France. So certainly none landed around in our immediate area, in the vicinity, you could hear them coming and then they’d go and you’d hear them go over and then the next little second or so later or a couple of minutes later you’d hear nothing, until you heard the crunch
until the flying bomb hit the deck and exploded.
was another air raid came on and this time the bombs were dropping by air, dropped from air right. And they were dropping around us and one landed very close and I remember, yeah we thought another one was going to hit the home of these people. So a crash outside and bang and we dived for the table and I dived and I put myself over the body of the little boy you know. And anyway fortunately we didn’t get hit and
the house next door to us got hit so we were waiting for some collapse of our friends building you know associated with that bomb. It didn’t come about. So yeah, I can recall that very vividly you know, as a result of the little boy I think. I used to take him to school, walk him to school, this is when I was on leave mind you. I used to walk him to school in the mornings, something to do pick him up and walk him home. That was only during my leave
periods, it was all very pleasant. And their son eldest son, oh there’s a photo of their eldest son Doug in the army, he was a captain in the army, and myself over there, I’ll show it to you later on.
I guess. And then their youngest son Alex, he was in plastics, early part of plastics, you know plastics. And he came out to Australia and I think we nominated, he and his mother came out to Australia, and he set up business in – oh he worked for Charles Hope Refrigerators for a while in Brisbane. And eventually got back into the deeper plastics and with another chap, an Australian,
they set up another business in Sydney. He ended up quite a wealthy man. So it was good. We still make contact with him occasionally. His mother passed on of course a number of years ago. And his sister she and her husband, they emigrated after the boy and the other girl came out. They emigrated out too and they were here, in
Sydney lived in Sydney for quite a while. We had them up for a while a week or so too and then we had a week down there with them over the years and then in Canberra. So you know there has been quite an influx of Pommies I suppose but they were only a family of five. Five? That’s it yeah. And that boy I was telling you about my throwing myself over him to you know save him from any collapse of buildings collapsing
around us. He ended up as a school teacher and he was the head teacher at one of the schools in Canberra. We stayed with him on one of our visits down there for a week. That was with Judy, we went down by car from here. So it was quite good, that was the July period, pretty cool down there at that time too. He lost an eye too, he lost an eye when he got out here. He was hit by a stone in the eye I think by another
kid at the time. So he lost an eye, lost the sight of it anyway.
And hating people, well of course the hate disappears after the end of war doesn’t it? As it does in these countries I mean Britain, Germany are on friendly footing now. Germany and France are on a friendly footing, they were occupied. Germany and Belgium and now you’ve got this horrible stuff that’s going on in the Middle East there. So its, yeah it’s the way you see it I suppose at
the time to how you feel about it. Of course I can understand the Brits feeling a bit differently to us, you know because they were copping the rough end of the pineapple, you might say, as far as destruction to their country was concerned. Yeah.
was after D-Day that they moved across to Europe, they got in moved across to and invaded Europe. I wasn’t actually on the squadron just then when the D-Day came about I was on the squadron immediately after. Of course the air, the air around over Britain was just loaded with aircraft you might say and all marked under the wings with wide fat stripes and wide stripes, straps, stripes under the wings
right, for identification purposes mainly for the ground ackark, ackack people yeah. So they wouldn’t be firing on their own planes, yeah. So that was the story there. You know that, well I told you that we moved across to Diest and outside Brussels and three of us went across and we all across the intelligence officer, we all went across for the defence party for the
for the rest of the squadron, they weren’t long following us and therefore we were back in the air again.
I got my greeting when I was flown to the squadron right, that last place I was at, at Cranwell that was where you had aircraft, the latest likes of the Spitfire Mark 14 went up where personnel would take an aircraft and replace one that had been shot down right, it would go straight to the squadron. But anyway so I was involved, I was flown down by an
RAF Hanson I think it was to the squadron. So I was a replacement for one of the people that had been shot down and the. Yeah and I was greeted, the flight commander at the time was an acting flight commander and he was a pilot officer same rank as me, Pilot Officer Payne, yeah. Anyway they make you welcome and well you’ve got to mix in yourself I mean you can’t stay loose you’ve got to
be friendly to the other people too whether they’re your country or Englishmen or Canadians, oh there was no trouble with that anyway. I didn’t think there was any trouble with it. I was quite comfortable making friends with other people, yeah other countries, it was good.
he’d go back in after doing some duties outside at 10 o’clock or something like that or doing something with one of the boys, getting a run down on what sortie he’d just done with one of his other co-pilots and then he’d go back to the mess and he said, “Have I had breakfast?” He’d asked if he’d had breakfast, he’d forget. Another time in Europe he was, it was in Holland I’ve got an idea it was Eindhoven and he
one of the vehicles got bogged, one of the huge big vehicles got bogged so they had to pull it out with another vehicle of course. And I think it went like this. “What’s going on here?” you know what’s going on. They said, “Oh the vehicle’s bogged, it’s being towed out.” “Oh which one’s being towed? Which one is being towed? Which is the one that is bogged?” So you know just simple little things that he came out with but other than that he was a good old stick, yeah.
when we were in, we got to Europe yeah. We played army bods, personnel battalion that was based near us, you know, we played cricket against them, just a one day match. And yeah, oh well one of the other, not a funny time, the other time we went up toward their front line, oh, this is when we were just driving to Diest the three of us, right, the four of us. So we got in the jeep and we got permission to go up to the front line where the army was
operating from, the trenches, the British trenches. And we get to the post and saw the CO there and he said, “Ok.” He said, “Now to get in,” he said, “You’ve got to cross this area here,” a field of I don’t know how big the field was, anyway a fairly big area a big paddock. He said, “You’ve got to get across there,” he said, “So I wouldn’t waste any time getting across there because the Germans,” and we could see the Germans and before that
before I go onto that. We looked through the spy, periscope – not periscope you know what I mean – telescope no, I don’t know it that’s right either but anyway, we seen there was movement on the German lines right, the Germans. So anyway we got in the jeep, we kept getting across this big paddock and we no sooner got to the other side and bang, bang, bang. Yeah, shells came down of the
field behind us so they could see what we were up to, even though we were in a jeep. Well they were doing what we were going to do you know, shoot the enemies, yeah, and then we got back and we got back again without any problems, yeah.
No we didn’t have to run for covers. But as I say, the Germans as far was we were concerned the British up in the front lines and you know they were doing it pretty tough too. As I told you out looking at movies, movie news of the Australian soldiers in New Guinea, they were doing it tough. We’d see this on the movies on the station, you know, the movie news. But no the British were doing it just as tough you know and only under more,
what would you say, more, more, nicer conditions. That’s not what I’m looking but anyway under better conditions.
to have a top level, a top level, would have had meetings and communication with their counter parts in the other service, in the air force yeah. So there had to be a communication set up there, yeah. Funny thing, the wars got many clicks to it, many little clicks,
different lurks, different attitudes, different methods of doing this or doing that but I can’t think of too many. The planning that goes on, you know, the planning for supplies, your ammos and your supplies. So that is a very important thing with the planing of movements of, even the army to of course and the other air force.
talking to his wife in the letter and he said to her and he said, I forgotten the exact wording but I’ll get home, he said when I get home, he said I’ll tell you what, he said I’ll be so frustrated or frustrated from being over here OK. When I get home what I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll take it down the street to the girl down the road, yeah. He wasn’t going to make love to his wife, he was going to make love to the girl
down the street, yeah. I don’t, that’s not so funny really is it, a little bit funny to read the way he put it just the same. So that was it, just another little piece of our time taken up reading other people’s mail.
in the cockpit right and strap up your parachute, you strap it on. It’s sitting in the cockpit waiting for you alright, you strap that up. You check your controls you know if they’re moving alright. And you check your brakes and your flap up you know flap down sort of thing, flap up. You switch it on
and press your starter and check the engine kicks over and then you’re pretty much set. So after that you get going and you taxi to your point of take off and during that period your checking your oil temperature gauge, not temperature, gauge. Check your fuel gauges that the maintenance men or he’s the aircraft engineers on the ground, had fuelled the tank properly.
And so once you get to the end of your taxi, the take off point then you certainly lower some flap if necessary depending on the length of airstrip, check your instruments again and everything’s in order so you open your throttle and take off. Most times you didn’t have to use flaps, you had flaps because the length of the runways alright. Even the
airfield we were operating from, airfield we were operating from at Lympne it was no necessity to use flaps there, that’s only to give you that extra bit of lift you know in an emergency or if you had a short, a short airfield to get off.
A particular day during the war that really stands out in your mind?
Oh, blowed if I know. I suppose the day that I was hit with flak strafing a railway station, yeah. Oh
the other time when we were at just north west of Berlin and we had the, I you know spotted the enemy aircraft and we got up and it was late in the evening too, just on dusk. So in the melee that fired, you know, our aircraft and theirs and we split up sort of thing. And so I got back to base on my own, you know. And well that was no drama but at least I couldn’t see the other aircraft. I mean
I got mixed up, got lost, lost sight of them so anyway that was a thought, you know, I hope, you know, I hope I don’t get attacked by couple of other German aircraft or something like that on my own, you know, or get, what we used to say get bounced by them. Yeah, I think every day had its differences you can’t really select one particular day I don’t think that you remember. I can’t, other than those two that I mentioned to you.
A lot of the others were just normal run of the mill trips.
And Johnny Johnson, who was the ace pilot of the British Air Force, he I think he had a tally of about 35 enemy aircraft destroyed and of course he had the rings of DSO and DFC twice etc. And then Patty Finooken, he was a Canadian, Screwball Finooken they used to call him. He shot quite a few enemy aircraft down too.
But there were other aces that I wasn’t associated with, the likes of Cat’s-Eyes Cunningham they called him, he was, had Cats-Eyes nicknamed because he shot down aircraft during the night time flying and that sort of thing. Oh there were quite a few, but I suppose in effect they are all heroes when you’re fighting a war. Yeah all heroes, but you don’t get the accolades for
it. Oh you don’t need accolades anyway, all you need is your life and to see victory come about.
a recruit for the Air Training Scheme and training as an airman. So OK, so that’s your brief I mean you’re going into the initial stages – of initial training stages, we called it ITS. And that means in our case or my case with to Sandgate, alright. Where you’re doing ground subjects what not and you’ve got to pass the exams OK. So you pass those exams
satisfactorily and then you’re still a tentative LAC, leading aircraftman was our title. So then you’ve done your subjects, ground subjects so you, they carry on with their initial thoughts OK. Well not their thoughts but their programme, oh yes, Gray can be trained as a pilot and start his training at Archerfield on Tiger Moths. So that’s what I did, I went to Archerfield,
like a lot of other blokes you know and different courses of course and went to Archerfield for elementary flying training on Tiger Moths. Ok so you get through your elementary training on flying Tiger Moths, so your results there are quite satisfactory.
here in Toowoomba when they were running these sort of classes for aircrew trainees, or possible aircrew trainees. That was a big help you know but you still had to work at it pretty hard, well work at it pretty hard that would be pretty right too particularly when you weren’t familiar with the type of arithmetic or trigonometry whatever you weren’t familiar with so. Then it was
more advanced type of tuition, I suppose, until you got to Sandgate and then you moved up a bit further you know into what they wanted to teach you with engines and airframes and the like and navigation. And then once you get through your elementary flying training at Archerfield in my case it was onto Wirraways at Deniliquin in Western New South Wales. And fortunately apart from that little skirmish with landing, landing
to see a young lady, I got through there very well and got my wings. And so when I got my wings I was transferred, not transferred, posted to the Embarkation Depot at Sydney, at Bradfield Park I think, yeah. That was prior to boarding the TSS Nista to leave Australian waters.
see you wonder if that’s the right decision. I’d say it was, so they finished their training like I finished my training here and they were doing their finishing course in Canada and it was then that they were posted to Britain. So I guess once they got to Britain, they could have been then posted back to the Middle East but of course in the case of Earl, he did his flying training in Australia and then he went to,
no I think he finished his flying training in South Africa from memory, yeah he did. So we all, they were all, I mean the RAAF personnel were posted in all directions you might add, you might say.
what not, advanced training units on Spitfires and no it didn’t change my attitude at all. I didn’t go around saying, oh, I’ve got a commission you salute me, it something like that, no it wasn’t on that. I’d still salute senior officers to me, wing commanders or group captains you know walking past them in London for instance, I’d salute them as a PO [Pilot Officer] and also as a non commissioned officer because that was pretty familiar in
those days too it was saluting senior officers, common sight really.
a flight commander. I was going to, a screen came through from RAF Headquarters, a screen came through for volunteers to join such and such – I’ve forgotten the number – squadron which they were flying Tempests. That would have meant moving into Europe pretty quickly. So anyway you were asked to advise whether you would join the RAF Tempest squadron, whatever it was.
I put my name down that I would go because I was feeling a bit – what would you say – discouraged with not much action associated within my activities with 41. Anyway Jack Henry spotted this so he immediately took my name off didn’t he, he said, “You’re not going, you’re staying here.” So you know we were quite firm friends, not because of that, oh yeah, I think so I mean I didn’t know him very well then I only got to know him after we were on the squadron for a while.
well I couldn’t find fault with any of them. I got along well with all of them and so I was pleased with that, that I didn’t have to have any misgivings or any grievances with any of them and I’m certain they didn’t have any against me. Oh there were a lot of other blokes, Terry Spencer he was the flight commander of the A Flight, I was in B Flight.
Then we got a change of COs and then we got this other change of CO to go to Diest, to go to, yeah, Diest. And he was a Scotsman too, I should know his name I used to knock around with him too you know. We’d go together, we had a little bit in common.
be called up to a squadron and you were called up before a couple of beaks and said, “Well do you want to join a RAF squadron or go to an all Australian squadron, 451 or 453,” I think. And I said, “No, Sir.” I said, “I want to join an RAF squadron.” “Why would that be?” I said, “Well I like the mix up of the cosmopolitan click in it,” you know.
I don’t know whether I used exactly those words but I said something like that anyway. And I enjoyed you know all the flying training I’d done with these various nationalities it’s been very good so I got my posting to 41 RAF Squadron. And I was with them from the day I got there to the day I was on repat leave from Lubeck to England for repat [repatriation] to home, back to Aussie.
I wanted to have the first post war Christmas in England you know because everything was closed down during the war years, darkness you know of night time except where they had sheltered light areas. So I wanted to have a post war Christmas in England, that’s right. So I got permission, I was at the Embarkation Depot at the time. So I went to the CO and I said, “Look, Sir,” I said, “I’d like to go up to London.”
“Oh ,” he says “I can’t give you permission to just go up to London, you’re on draft you know to be on this ship that is leaving for Australia.” I said, “Well look,” I said, “It’s like this. I’ve met a girl since I’ve been back, you know the few weeks since I’ve been back,” and I said, “We’ve are very friendly and I’d like to, I think we could get married and I’d like to be here and until I got to know here a little bit better.” It was my friend’s son, oh
my friend’s girlfriend at the time, they weren’t married and she agreed to accept the proposal you know that she was going to be my girlfriend, you know I’d only known her for a few weeks and that was that. “Alright,” he said, “You can go up, Gray,” this wing CO he said, “OK, I give you permission to go up.” So I got a leave pass to go up. I went to London House, told them who I was. Well I didn’t have to tell them, they knew I was a RAF pilot
and I said, “Look, I want to stay in London for another few weeks.” And this Flight I think he was from the same part of Toowoomba too, the same chap joker, and he was doing his part of the admin the fill in course for one of his senior COs and, “Oh,” he said and thought for a while. He said, “What have you been flying?” I said, “Spitfire Mark 14s with 41 RAF Squadron.” “Oh,” he said, “Have you?” I said, “Yeah.” “Well,” he said, “Look,
there is a 451 Squadron based at Berlin and they, I believe, have got Spitfire 14s.” I said, “Yeah, I think they got ours, the 14s from our squadron.” He said, “Well, would you volunteer to go back and join the RAAF Squadron at Berlin?” I said, “Certainly would.” So he said, “Good, well, OK, we’ll get you off that draft for Australia alright.” Of course then I went back to Brighton and I was taken off the draft for Australia, it was leaving in a matter of days I think. And I
stayed in Britain for during the Christmas period, all the lights on, what not. And of course I didn’t have to get married to or have any dealings with Alex’s girlfriend, because we were all in the scheme you know. Yeah, so it was very good, it worked out and I had my post war Christmas in England. We had good company and a Christmas party and oh, it was lovely, yeah. And I didn’t get the posting to
Berlin either. No, no I didn’t get the posting to Berlin. I was happy to go but anyway they decided they didn’t want me and they didn’t have a vacancy or maybe it had been filled in between the time I was at another you know another, another squadron or something like that I don’t know. But I’d have been happy to go yeah. Because then you know, you belong to the occupational forces then.
we went into this restaurant for lunch, restaurant for lunch and he gave us the menu and I said, “Oh I’ll have a steak,” you know. I don’t know what I ordered with it whether it was salad or vegies I don’t know but that’s by the by. Anyway I ordered this steak and Julie arrived and I started into it and I thought funny taste this steak, funny. I had
another mouthful and I said, “What do you,” because the other two weren’t eating steak, I think they were eating something else. I said, “Do you find.” I said, “This steak tastes funny to me.” So I looked around the inside of the restaurant like that and up in one corner, one corner of the restaurant was ‘Horse meat sold here’. So I pushed it aside, no more for me, just the taste. And also it would have had a, it would have had a probably more of a
sympathetic note towards it, the horse you know. That’s being a little bit odd but you know but yeah, so I wasn’t going to eat the rest of that steak, no. Don’t know what it had in it but it certainly wasn’t that meat.
with my friends who I used to stay with so it was great. Alex had some of his younger friends with him and he and a couple of their girlfriends. So it was really good, there was quite a party of us and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Anyway I think, oh I don’t know which morning it was, but I walked out to the letterbox I think. Oh no it was, I walked out to the letterbox and
there was snow on the ground. So on the way back I saw a cat so I picked up and rolled a snowball and threw it at the cat. That was my first pleasurable little joy, not trying to hurt the cat of course but it was good. Because I’d been in snow before in Europe, yeah, so snow really wasn’t new to me. It was being in London to see the lights come on and that’s what I wanted to see and I did even though I had to pull a couple of strings you know. It was good though.
Can you describe the day that you heard the war was over?
Yeah, the cessation of hostilities they were over, can I describe the day? Yeah well as far was we were concerned on the squadron we were grounded of course I mean you couldn’t fly. Grounded, no aircraft could fly. No allied aircraft were flying neither doing normal flying circuits or anything else. And there was a bit of a dullness about the effort in the mess that evening, that day. There was no great hoolaring haring or
shouting all over the place about it, you know. I think we sort of, maybe sort of looked a bit downhearted that the war was over, that the action was over. We shouldn’t have, but we got to learn about and appreciate the fact that it was over you know. So we were there for another couple of weeks after the cessation of hostilities and then we were posted to Copenhagen, we were there for a few weeks. And that was a pleasurable
trip too, because we got a great welcome from the locals there when we were met at the airport with a couple of RAF jeeps and a personnel army I don’t know which. Anyway so we had a right royal welcome there, they got all the jeeps on the streets, as many as you could fit on the jeeps and it was good.
Do you think war is different now?
War is different now. I’d say so because of different, well, different missiles right yeah, lack of various reasons, different missiles, engineered missiles now you know. Science has moved on pretty much and technology yeah. And missiles today, I mean they’re pretty disastrous, you know, and of course the suicide bombers you know bombing up,
travelling around in a car to blow the opposition up. I’m talking about the Palestinian and Jerusalem war but the same has happened in Iraq, the suicide bombers there. Those that are anti to the American rule, they’d be causing a lot of trouble, those rebels.
day and the CO had to make a speech and welcome those of us from over a couple of the other countries. Matter of fact, he said Aussie he said, I think one of the other squadrons woke up in hospital and he said, “Did I come in here to die?” You know.
And they’ve said, “No you came in, you came in yesterday.” “Did I come in here – did I come in here to-die, to-die today, to-die,” yeah that was it, I think that was the way he put it. But yeah, oh yeah but you often get them throw up a little bit of Aussie lingo at you, you know. Only because they correctively talked strine, that was what they were saying, that we talked strine.
were available to us, right. Because the people that rented them out I suppose to the air force, right, as a home, as a unit we could have had three or four homes in one place. And also in oh well certain civilian, not civilian but certain service huts too were available on the airfields
we were on and that applied to an airfield up at the north of Holland, Belkel. And we were billeted in another army, oh air force billets in Germany when we got across to Sellar. We were operating from the Germany billets there, they were German billets. And then
up to Denmark well I know we had a few houses for accommodation there. Three or four of us shared one house and other personnel shared another house. So the accommodation was made available to us.
few days and I rang his mother and I said you know, “Gordon hasn’t been in, where is he?” She said, “Oh he’s gone to Brisbane, Eric. He should be back Friday.” I said, “Ok, thank you.” And that Friday evening Gordon arrived at the door and of course I said, “Where have you been?” You know. He said, “I went to Brisbane to get a flying job.” I said, “Flying job with who?” He said, “K.N.I.L.M.” I said, “You didn’t tell me you were going down, I was getting a bit annoyed,” you know being left out of the
action you might say. I said, “Oh did you?” He said, “Yes.” And he said, “There is one vacancy there left, one vacancy left.” So he said, “If I were you I’d get down there as quickly as possible.” So I went to my manager of the printing office at the time and told him the story and he said, he used to stutter a bit and he said, “E-E-Eric,” he said, “Y-Y-You t-t-take t-t-the time off because I-I-I’m s-s-sure you wouldn’t like looking at t-t-these b-b-bloody
four walls all the day,” you know. I said, “Ok, thanks very much Mr Chew.” His son was killed, he was an air force pilot too, he was killed in action up there in the north somewhere. Anyway, getting back to the story. So I duly got my log book together the following day and I lofted off to Brisbane to Breakfast Creek to see this CFI, he went through my log book and he said, “Mr Gray,” he said, “Had you come down with your friend Rowbotham
you would’ve had the job. You’ve got more experience than the chap that got the job.” And apart from that, he was a twin engine pilot and I was a single so they would have had to do a conversion course for me. So in that regard I missed out on a job with K.N.I.L.M. Had I gone down with Gordon I would have made it. So I missed out, and then I went to Queensland Aero Club at Archerfield and asked if they were interested in my being an, instructing with them.
They said, “Oh no that would be OK, yeah. You have to do an instructor type course.” I said, “OK.” Now when I got back to Toowoomba, I thought about it. I said oh God there’s no weekends off, all the weekends I work, you know, and do I want to be an instructor, having experienced instructor during my flying career, they were all very good. I though no, no I won’t worry about it. So I didn’t. I went back to the printing office,
headed out into the commercial world, and 50 years later I decided to get myself a private licence again and I’m a member of the Darling Downs Aero Club. So I did quite a few hours on various little aircrafts around the place mainly Primary Warriors, single engine type mono plane. And it was no good the reason I intended it, my wife might come with me and we do around Australia trip, but she does not like light aircrafts. And so that was it,
she experienced a light aircraft when she went on a trip to New Zealand years ago and she wasn’t very happy about it, so.
that you would have seen that Tabletop in your lunch period, yeah. Yeah we did that trip and that was quite a jaunt, quite a walk. I’d done it before with a group of my friends when we were about 13 years of age I think. No it would have been 14 or 15, 16 yeah. We were over at Webb Park at the eastern escarpment and we decided on the spare of the moment to walk cross country to Tabletop, so we did. Amongst all that scrub down in the range area and up
the part the eastern part, the northern part of Tabletop which was certainly you might say unexplored and no tracks, so we had to scramble our way amongst rocks and what not to get our way to the top. And it was very rocky up on top too but I suppose that’s not very interesting to you, for what we are talking about anyway.
and another few Australians on the squadron, Canada, American. So they all turned up and I turned up and so we had a wonderful time, they had the big dinner that night. And first of all that wing CO turned up and said well, you know, he tried to copy the Australian slang. And talking about Australian slang, when I came home my brother in Western Australia and the way I was speaking, he said, “God, get the bloody plum out of your mouth, will you.”
So yeah, and that’s how friends of mine (UNCLEAR) too, this chap I used to work with in the printing office his wife said, “God what have you got a plum in your mouth for?” You know, I was talking like I’m talking now. Maybe I got rid of some of the Aussie, not so much slang but the Aussie tone would you say, you know. I don’t know, I must have got rid of something for them to put those remarks on me when I came home. I think being with the Englishmen a lot I mean you tend to copy their style
of talking or your just falling into it. The likes of ‘good day, old chap’, you know and that sort of thing, you’d never hear that in Australia would you? You’d say, ‘g’day, how are you?’ and that sort of thing. ‘Oh thanks very much old chap’ or those sort of expressions.
because of the dangers you were involved in. The danger of the war and all sorts of things, flying an aircraft and all those sort of dangers and some of them caused, if they did caused, cause you to have a problem then it probably wasn’t your fault. Unless you what we called had a finger trouble, had finger trouble and you didn’t do the right thing with your aircraft with landing or take off.
So yeah, but I don’t think I’ve changed very much really. I’ve had to get along with people anyway even in the commercial world I’m in now, I mean I’ve been in that for 40 odd years. And so, yeah I left the printing office and got involved with a chemical company and so I was with them for, ICI that is, Imperial Chemistry Industries, this is a British-based parent company. And
I was with them for 24 years and then after I lost my first wife I stayed with them for another I think maybe 12, 15 months I think, 18 months and then I got out. I had a chance to get out on my own with an offer of a particular franchise that was offered to one of our major distributors in Toowoomba and they said, “Well look try Eric Gray, because he’s going out on his own and we’re not interested in the products,” because they were produce merchants. So they approached
me and I said, “Ok.” So this then was infancy, the styrene packaging was in it’s infancy so for me to get involved in the lock out with this particular type of box for tomato packaging I had to go front up and show the tomato growers around the place what the packaging was going to do for them etc, etc, you know. So that’s how I got involved with the horticultural industry. See my big…
in I think it was 96, 46. 46, I had my leg in plaster at the time, I’d broken my leg motorcycle racing on a motorcycle circuit out here. And her sister was friendly with another chap I knew, he was an ex-army bloke, he lived in Toowoomba too. And
so he and his girlfriend, my wife’s sister at the time, I hadn’t met her and they asked me to go to the pictures just to make up the four. I said, “Ok, I’ll go.” I suppose my wife-to-be wondered what the hell she’d met when she had a bloke with his leg in plaster. Anyway, it all turned out very well really.
the shots of them and some of the skits leading up to them. I think the one I did see was the Battle of Britain, the story on the Battle of Britain I would have sat and watched that right through. And even now, you know, I do look at the odd movie films associated with the war and take them in alright. Well, I think they’re depicting what did really happen
and of course being dramatised you know naturally, yeah, well you understand that. A lot of it might be a bit exaggerated, but what’s the odds? I mean the point is that they’re trying to show you what was actually happening in the war years in the various theatres, war, yeah.
industry with these styrene packaging for tomatoes primarily in the first instance. And so I had to detail those to the various tomato growers around the area and of course they took off like anything, they were really in demand. So that’s how, and I had a bigger connection on the Downs amongst the grain growers and the sheep and cattle blokes further out in the west then I did with the smaller growers down in the Lockyer area like the horticultural growers, vegetable
growers. So after I was there for quite a while I had to, I wrote to the people I was doing business, I had been doing business with on the Downs to say I would not be calling again, that I have decided to join the horticultural field of activities in Toowoomba and down in the Lockyer district. So that was the letter I wrote to those people that I had business dealings with in the grain belt. And so I’ve been doing it ever since, supplying those people with,
with styrene boxes, no longer because the plant was put on them by the likes of Woolworths and Coles that they are hard to dispose of. And so with the chemical industry and the fertilisers so I’ve got quite a few customers that I supply chemicals for their work and the fertilisers. So it’s kept me occupied, I mean I work pretty well six days a week, I take one Tuesday
afternoon off to play golf. Did I say six? I mean five. And then I generally go to the races on Saturday afternoon, I’m not a big punter, I just grab a little bit of an afternoon nap and I play golf most times on Sundays. And my wife and I used to play a lot together but they’re not having too many mixed events at the club these days, so we don’t get involved
with golf together. And so that’s the story there.