Archive number: 1627
Preferred name: Ricky
Date interviewed: 10 March, 2004
41 Squadron - Fighter Command RAF
You are listening to the interview audio
We are starting now, so can you just give me a summary of your life?
Yes well I was born in Brisbane and brought up in a small country town of Gore, and moved through as my father moved through from butchering business to butchering business and we eventually finished up in Toowoomba. My entry into
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.
And then just a little bit about your family life back in Brisbane?
Oh well my family didn’t live in Brisbane, they lived in…
Oh sorry back in Toowoomba.
No. In Toowoomba, yes, well I came back.
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
Or the cultural field.
Fantastic summary. So now we’ll go back to your childhood, can you tell me some of your memories of your childhood?
Oh growing up in the country my father had a butchering business and so in a little one horse town of, apart from being in Gore
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.
Did you, growing up did you hear anything about the First World War?
Oh we used to hear about the First World War yes. My father wasn’t in it but yeah, yes we heard a fair bit about the First World War too. We used to go to the Anzac
parades like, you know yeah. I think we were all aware of World War II particularly those of us who were involved with, with the services anyway.
So can you describe a little bit about your family life, did you have brothers and sisters?
I had two younger brothers and one, the youngest one has since passed away and the second brother he’s not much younger than me, he’s about 15 to 18 months younger than
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?
When you were in the small town, was it difficult during the Depression around there?
Well it was in the Depression period that I used to miss schooling to give my father a hand, you know with getting cattle in, not that there was a great number of cattle but certainly you needed two horseman to you know heard them along
the open roads and what not and they can always be a bit troublesome cattle. So that was what was happening during the Depression years. My father was eking out an existence in his country town butchering. So he had a good sort of a grinding life I suppose he did. Anyway things improved when we came to Toowoomba and but unfortunately he died in 1939 and that put paid to the business
that he was running in Toowoomba, up in Newtown area.
How did he die?
How did he die? Well originally he had a nasty fall in the back of a big butcher shop, big butcher, a butcher shop or a big shed you had to pass through that shed to get to our living quarters. And we used to have a big brine cast, you know, for curing corned meat I say for corned beef. And one evening leaving the shop at close time, and
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.
That must have been difficult for the family then?
Oh well I think any loss in the family is difficult for a while, and you know takes a little bit of getting used to. So that was that and then…
Did your mother take over then on keeping the family together?
Oh yeah, yes. She had, we stuck with her of course we didn’t leave her and so, why would we?
Why would we? We were still fairly young I suppose, oh no, not that young.
What was she like, your mum?
Oh very good, very good. She didn’t, pretty much straight laced, she didn’t drink or she didn’t smoke. Used to offer her a glass of port wine at Christmas time, not that we drank very much, and she used to flush that around her neck you know. No, she was pretty
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.
My daughter yeah. It’s sad but she left as I say a boy and two girls. And yes, so she lived long, well she saw her boy, her son marry but she didn’t see
the girls marry, pity. Oh well these sadnesses happen to all families don’t they, they really do.
So after, when you left school were you disappointed that you had to leave school and go on to work?
Oh not really, not really I think I was happy to go to work you know and get back into a printing office. As I say I changed from one, the first couple of years in a printing office and then over to another one
and it was all an apprenticeship as a printer. So I had no real regrets about that. As I said earlier in the piece the only regret I might have had was not staying in the air force because I like flying.
What was the printing office like, describe the office?
Oh well the printing office was old time printing presses and they had one, two, three, five printing presses in the
printing room. One or two of them were very small and they printed the likes of envelopes and the things like that. Then the bigger, the two bigger plants they printed big sheets, for the likes of newspapers and we used to do The Cane Grower, I think it was. It was a sheet they printed out for the Queensland cane grower. They were a big unit of course, very big.
That’s the story of my work life you might say.
What were your brothers like when you were younger? What did you all do together for fun?
Well in the country we didn’t do much. We had a couple of ponies, we had a few horses, we had them around and oh well, they were work horses too for that matter they weren’t ponies. My next brother, my younger brother didn’t go
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.
Do you remember where you were when the war broke out?
Yes I was in Toowoomba. Toowoomba.
Can you describe that day?
Well describe the day? Well I wasn’t surprised I suppose I knew that Church – not Churchill, that Chamberlain had been to Germany to have discussions there to try and prevent a war and that didn’t come out and war was declared.
And I remember like a lot of other people going up to The Chronicle [local newspaper] office in Margaret Street to read the latest news that came through which was then printed onto a board out in front of the office. Se we followed the war through fairly well apart from the newspapers of course. That was our only information anyway you know, really, apart from radio.
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.
Why did you want to join the RAAF?
Well I felt I’d like to fly and I’d never, never flown in an,
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.
Before going on with that what was the initial training school like, can you describe the people that were there in that group?
Yeah, people like myself. Earl’s brother, he and I joined up together. It’s his eldest brother who is dead. He and I joined up together and he had a,
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…
Before we go to England, because we want to spend a bit more time hearing about your training process, describe
how you were learning to first get up in the Tiger Moth?
Well you first, well you’ve done your basic subjects they weren’t the more advanced subjects I’m talking about, ground subjects, the basic subjects. And getting into a Tiger Moth was quite exciting and the first trip, the first flying trip was lovely. So I was pretty well rapt in flying anyway. I
was making sure that I wasn’t going to miss out. I was going to you know do my best to keep the flying part of my life intact.
Was it hard because you hadn’t done much schooling? Was it difficult the teaching part?
The teaching part was a little difficult so yeah I had to work fairly hard at that because the nature of the studies.
What sort of things did you have to learn?
Oh well there was
navigation, you had to learn trigonometry and the likes of that. Some of that I did at the tech college in Toowoomba waiting to be called up. That was a big help being shown those ground subjects at the tech college here in Toowoomba. So…
What other things were you learning in the classroom?
Oh well you’ve got navigation, airframes, engines, general maintenance of the aircraft,
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.
What were the crew like, what were the rescue crew like?
Oh well we didn’t see, they weren’t rescue, they were already rescued all we had to do was pick them up, right. They had been rescued.
Did you talk to any?
Did you talk to them about their experience?
yes, I suppose we did, yeah. And I can’t remember much about what we talked about. Don’t think I can remember much of it at all. I won’t even try. Yeah so I’ll carry on. Our journey by ship to England.
How long did that journey take?
Longer then it should have. About three months. We left in December 1942 and got to – it would be more than that – got to England in
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.
So what was it like learning on the Wirraway, was it different to the Tiger Moth?
Well yeah. A because I mean you’ve got a bigger engine, bigger machines, more horse power in the Tiger, in the Wirraway and go faster of course. But once you had your
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.
Were the blokes that didn’t become pilots where they disappointed?
Oh I guess so, I guess so, yeah. Of course there were other members of the air force too, we knew, I knew a few of them, they wanted to be navigators, you know. They were
navigators. The chappie that died he was one of a number of, they didn’t train with me, but there was a number on board that were air gunners. As I said the chappie that was with us, he was horribly sick all the way from Sydney around to Fremantle. He wanted to be a pilot but he missed out. I don’t know why he missed out I think it might have been subject to, oh it might have been, oh no it might have been his ground subjects, I
Did you have any close mates that you were training with?
Any close mates?
Yes, this Earl’s brother for quite a while. He went on a different type of aircraft. He went on a twin engine aircraft from after his early days on Tiger Moths. Then I had another close friend from Toowoomba, he wasn’t on the course but he, his name was Gibson and he and I trained together at Deniliquin
on Wirraways. So then we got, well he was one of a number of us that was transferred to, or I should say posted to Britain. Some people on that particular course at Deniliquin were taken off the course and posted to Canada to finish their training on an equivalent type of aircraft in Canada, right. Got their wings over there and then they were posted to Britain.
And what was the Deniliquin base like? Can you describe what it looked like when you walked in?
Oh, flat area. All around the country side was flat and there were no concrete strips for working or taking off on, landing on open field.
And where did you sleep?
Oh they had billets. Yeah well we used to call them,
what did we, yeah I think we had huts like, what they called nissan huts at Sandgate, you know. You can see the odd one around still, the Nissen huts.
And how many blokes would be in a hut?
About, we’d have probably 20 at least, maybe more depending on the length of the hut of course. They were very little in
length. So anyway you know it was all good, good going really I mean depending on the other members of the flights that you were training with, it was all good.
Did you see many accidents in the training?
See many accidents. No not really. No I think
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.
Was it pretty shocking for you when you were on the boat and you saw that explosion, you hadn’t seen much of the war?
When we saw the what?
When you saw the explosion of the ship?
Ship, oh, I don’t think there was much reaction
it was just the case of being sorry for them, sorry for the personnel on board the ship and nothing that we could do to help them. Not a thing because there were other ships as well in the convoy and this one was back at the tail of the convoy. So we couldn’t do anything about it, oh, the skipper wouldn’t do anything about it anyway. So we just had to watch and say oh, poor devils you know that’s all you could do, just think of them you know
What was happening in the world at that point when you were going across to Britain, what was happening in the war?
In the war well Britain was being, having to put up, well they were still you know doing operations with their fighter aircraft and twin engine bombers and when I, we got there. When I say we I mean I’m talking about a few of us on that ship. Well they were still fighting a war and the Germans had come across with their
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’ll have to stop there
Interviewee: Eric Gray Archive ID 1627 Tape 02
So going back to Deniliquin, why did you have to go to that base as well?
Why did I have to go to Deniliquin?
Because I mean it was, you were posted there we didn’t volunteer to go there or didn’t request a posting there it was just in the training part of your programme that you went to Deniliquin. Other people went to airfields like Amberley in Queensland for twin engine flying, flying training,
right. And oh well certainly it was good flying conditions at Deniliquin and that’s why we were sent there. And they had other airfields down further south in Victoria doing the same sort of thing, training pilots to fly and for future operations actually.
And can you tell us the story that you were suggesting before, the story about taking the plane out
for the girl friend?
Oh, well that was a flying exercise of course and we used to do our flying training for about an hour at a time and then you’d get your aircraft back and then another pilot, a trainee pilot would get in and take it for an hour or whatever, that was about the usual plan. And this particular day, well actually go back a little bit further, I was, during the leave periods from Deniliquin the two of us, this good friend of mine from Toowoomba,
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.
For a girl?
For a girl yeah, it was a girl too, no intimate relationships
there or anything like that no. Yeah all very friendly, I think her brother joined the air force, he was in the air force too. He was training, he was training to be a pilot too but I didn’t have much to do with him, he was much later on in his role as a serviceman than I was.
What was your CO [commanding officer] like at Deniliquin?
Oh very good. Actually the CFI [Chief Flying Instructor],
the CFI was known as ‘Scrubbo’ Scott. And that where he got the name you know if you get through, get past the CFI for your flying it would be alright, but apparently he had a nickname for scrubbing [failing] a few pilots off the courses yeah because there bad flying etc. I’ve got an idea he had one trip to, to the South Pole or two with a group or a couple of these,
I can’t remember who they were.
What would he take them off the courses for?
What were you taken off the course? Who, the people I referred to?
The ‘scrubber’, why would he scrub people?
Oh for bad flying, mainly flying and that would be long before they got their wings. He’d go up to take them up to check his instructors out, you have an instructor. Ok, and then you got to have a check with the CFI so, and if you do something silly like pranging an
aircraft, you can count it pretty well out. So it didn’t happen while we were there but it had happened that’s why he got the nickname Scrubbo.
And did he ever say anything to you about your flying that was?
Oh no, apart from satisfactory. I mean we did flying and did a bit of cross country with him and then back and carried out the landing. That was it, it was only I think I only did one trip with him. He’d get the report from the other instructor, I mean your own
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.
And did you get on pretty well with him?
Did you get on OK with him?
Oh yes, I didn’t have much to do with him. He was the CFI and he was virtually in the distance you might say, yeah. He had very little to do with anyone on a personal basis.
Can you describe some of the men that were training with you?
Some of your close mates?
My close mates? Well, Gibson for instance, he was an ex-insurance chap, he worked in an insurance office yeah. A chap called Frame, he lives in South Australia and I’m not too sure what he did. No I’ve forgotten some of those little things, the professions of
some of the people I trained with.
What about their personalities, what was Gibbo Gibson like?
Oh good, you know yeah he was very good. Oh well not very good I mean we were very good friends. So if you couldn’t get along with somebody I mean you didn’t did you. I mean you end up having one or two good friends and that was it.
Were there any fights between the blokes?
Not as far as I know. Certainly wasn’t in my case anyway. No they were all,
it was all camaraderie, you know.
Was there any talk about what you were going to do in the war?
No apart from, there no you were going to be posted like as I said posted to England OK. You knew what you were going to do when you get over there, you were going to be, you did your early training on early mark Spitfires which were already obsolete as far as the war was concerned but you had to take, fly these things, they were a single engine aircraft. You had to do
a written subject, a written work on the cockpit drill and all that sort of thing associated with the Spitfire early mark and then you were on your own, right. So it was quite exciting I can assure you to get in a Spitfire for the first time, and the aircraft had a lot of swing in it you know. Anyway that was alright yeah so…
You didn’t get on a Spitfire until Britain?
Yeah there were no Spitfires here, down this neck of the woods anyway.
So when you were on the Wirraway did you learn
to fight in a plane as well?
Oh no, not really, no, no you didn’t. No you didn’t do, flying combat sort of thing amongst ourselves or even with an instructor on board. Yeah a lot of your flying is by the seat of your pants really as far as combat flying is concerned.
When you were first joining the RAAF,
what was it in your childhood, all those years before that attracted you to flying?
What did you like about flying before? You’d never been up in a plane.
No that’s right.
So why did you love the idea of flying?
Well it appealed to me and I rode horses up until we got rid of the business in Toowoomba. I rode horses, I rode bikes and I rode motorbikes, I raced motorbikes,
a local motorcycle club. So you know there was a certain amount of coordination there between what I was doing as far as balance and coordination was concerned which suited me, obviously suited me because I never ever displeased an instructor with my early flying.
Had you seen pictures of planes or did you own books about planes?
Not really. Oh
we used to get, oh there was publications would come out called TM or something like that and some of these other publications associated with the experiences and local news with what was happening with the squadrons around the place or news with certain fatalities. You know all that sort of, all local gossip you might say.
Had you heard much about the air force men?
Air force men?
Yeah, did something appeal
to you about being an air force soldier?
What was it, what appealed to you about being in the air force?
Pardon me. Oh I guess it was the flying part of it. For instance I didn’t want to be in the army and I certainly wouldn’t want to be in the navy and be in a submarine, right. The flying appealed to me, very much so. That’s why I you know joined up to
hopefully be a pilot, and I was a pilot.
Can you describe some of the fun things that you did in training?
I’m not too sure we did too many fun things during training. Oh, I’d take a shot gun I guess and go looking for quail and something like that on the airfield.
That wasn’t a fun thing I suppose but it was filling in time, some of your leisure time right. Not that you had much but that little bit of leisure time you had you could take a shot gun with a couple of your mates and go looking for quail or whatever.
And what about the dances?
The dances. Yeah, well they were good. I didn’t attend the dance at Deniliquin I’m sure of that. The only dances we
attended while at Deniliquin were in Melbourne, out at Camberwell I think it was where we used to.
What about Sandgate, did they?
No we didn’t have any association with dances at Sandgate only the dances in Brisbane of course, but we never ever got, because we only had weekends off. Well of course that’s when the dances come on too of a weekend I know that. But we, no I didn’t anyway didn’t go to any dances in
from Sandgate, no, no. The only place I ever went to a dance from Deniliquin was, we stopped, yeah that’s right we had a forced landing and we had to spend a night in, I’ve just forgotten now, and we attended the local dance there, that was all.
Yeah that little incident I’d forgotten all about.
What was the dance like in Melbourne can you describe like that atmosphere?
Oh the atmosphere was good. You know the chaps were there looking at the dancers, ladies, young girls or when I say young girls I mean young women. And well that was an enjoyable time we didn’t you know, we used to dance with various women like you did here or anywhere else you know. You never, like
the olden days, those days during the war years when you had dances, the girls would be at the dance, at the dance floor and they would be sitting around the chairs, on stools on their own right. So you’d just pick your eyes on one that could dance to your way of thinking and go and ask her for a dance. And most times she’d get up with you and dance. Oh it was good.
And what was the girlfriend like that you danced with, the teacher?
The teacher, oh she was very nice. She danced well and
she was a homebody type of girl. She didn’t smoke or drink. I smoked I must admit, I didn’t drink very much but I did smoke. So no problem just as I say she was a home girl, I mean very much with her family when she was on leave, she was good.
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.
Was there a certain part of you that was excited about you know contributing to the war effort?
Was there what?
Contributing to the war effort, were you excited about you know being an Aussie, going over and fighting for your country?
Oh yes it was you know it was all exciting being an Aussie and,
and accepted where we were too. You know as service personnel, I mean army personnel would have been accepted too wherever they went I’m sure. I’ve got an idea army might have played up, some crowd might have played up in Durban or somewhere on one of the ships they were on. I’m talking about army personnel but that’s no reflection on what happened or anything. All these little
incidents do happen from time to time. But fortunately I was never involved with those sort of skirmishes anyway.
So what happened when you got to Britain, what was your first impression of Britain?
Oh Britain, my first impressions was farms, small farms everywhere you know small farms, hedges. And I suppose well landing I think we landed at yeah South Hampton and we were transported by road,
by air force personnel cars and vehicles to Bournemouth. That’s down the south east coast of New Britain and driving through the, on the road driving through all the various little villages and then the you know the pockets of, you know when I say pockets, that’s probably a bit of an exaggeration, the Brits mightn’t like me saying that. You know it was pretty small farms compared to what we were used to out here yeah.
So anyway it was interesting and the country side looked good. It really did.
And what was the place like that you went to, the base?
Oh Bournemouth, that was the disembarkation receiving depot you might say. It was not the expression but that’s where we were it was a holding sort of area and got
a lot of RAAF personnel prior to being posted to their various training fields.
So what was that like, can you describe that place? Sorry oh right OK. Can you describe that area, the holding place?
Oh yes. It was Bournemouth. It was quite a very
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.
What was it like your first flight in a Spitfire?
Oh it was quite exciting, yeah it really was. You had a lot of horse power in the engine and even though they were the early Mark and as I say were obsolete as far as the war was concerned but they were used as a training aircraft. Yeah they, they were good, they were lovely yeah. And I was pleased that I flew Spitfires. And I think it was at
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.
And what happened on the first day of flying a Spitfire, can you describe that day?
Well the day I mean the day was like any other day. I mean just the excitement of flying the Spitfire and flying it around the circuit and landing it a few times. So flying the circuit and tyring to get used to it, I say trying
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.
So what happened after you’d done some training on the Spitfire, where did you go?
Well Spitfire yeah, the training on the Spitfire well there were a few training establishments we had to go through and the last one was the Operational Training Unit which we called the OTU, that was up in Northumberland. And from there after you’d finished that course they went up to, we went up to Grangemouth up outside Scotland and we did
advanced type of OTU up there. That was in a flying combat missions and the like, training that is not actual combat. So we did that and…
What was that like?
Oh lovely, very nice because we were outside Edinburgh and so we you know liked Edinburgh too, it was great.
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.
And what happened then?
Well we as I say we flew through
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…
Back in Kent, go back to Kent and tell us exactly
what you had to do on that, in that squadron and what they were like?
Well the squadron personnel, we had a mixture of personnel on the squadron. There was two or three. One, two, three, four Australians I was one, I was fifth. I was one of the five I think. There was two or three Englishman, there was an English CO. There was two New Zealanders. There was a chap from
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.
So what were some of the nationalities and people in that squadron?
I just told you. There was a chap from Belgium, right.
Tell me a bit more about their personalities?
Oh, their personalities were good.
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
rural area of Germany.
So each day how would you know what you had to do that day, what would happen?
You wouldn’t know until you got the briefing from one of your, a CO or your fight commander but most time you were briefed before you got into your aircraft as to what you were going to do.
Can you explain what would happen at the briefing?
Well at the briefing, OK, your Fight Commander or CO or whatever it is said, “Well we’re going to do this, we’re going to
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…
I’m going to have to stop again sorry.
Interviewee: Eric Gray Archive ID 1627 Tape 03
You’re probably going to have to repeat a couple of things Eric, but don’t worry if you feel you’ve already told us, it doesn’t matter.
Ok well, I suppose you cut a lot of this stuff out do you?
Yeah, yeah. Eric I just want to go back to what happened when you were briefed, how the day began. Can you tell me how a typical day began when you were going out on the Spitfires?
Well yes, you had to be at the dispersal area where your aircraft were. And
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.
Just going back to the briefing, exactly what sort of things were you told?
Well we were told
where the possible camps, army camps might be. The German Army camps on the move you might say, we call them camps anyway, and where they possibly are and what we might expect from the German fire, ack-ack [anti-aircraft] fire and the nature of the country that we were going to be flying over and around.
You know doing our sortie, get to one point and you know fly around and if you got into any trouble well you took care of the trouble spot that you were able to. I’m talking about the actual action against that trouble spot.
Did the sorties vary very much or...?
Were your operations varied or was everyday quite similar?
Oh no it varied, it varied. As I said one day you might be asked or ordered to do a strafing
exercise, their not exercises either that’s a simple way of putting it. I’m just repeating what I said the strafing and then high level flying, not so high but anyway you’d be flying around 10, 12, 13 thousand feet looking for enemy aircraft that might be in the area and so you’d be trying to knock them out of the sky. And as I said the other
was the escort to the heavy bombers, the British bombers to Larooha. That’s about you know the long and short of it I guess.
How often did you come into contact with the enemy?
Not very often to be quite truthful to you. The, apart from shooting down a doodle bug over the channel we were doing those sort of the patrols up and down the channel,
over the entry of the, above the height of the entry of the doodle bugs over Kent. But even then you had to be careful because you got down to shoot one of them up or a couple of them up, they didn’t fly in formation they were just coming over willy nilly. You had to be careful you didn’t fly yourself into the balloon barrage if they got through the ack-ack barrage.
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.
What was a balloon cable?
Well a balloon, they had balloons up
around the south of England, right the south of London particularly on a big cable right, reaching right up into, I suppose 5000 feet possibly, 4000 I might be wrong there but they didn’t go forever.
What was the purpose of those?
Balloons? To try and trap the flying bombs that got through the flak belt down the south of England right. The British had
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.
Did you have any close calls?
Oh yeah a couple,
Can you tell us about those?
Yeah well, we were strafing and strafing engines, railway carriages, transport carriages and railway you know it wasn’t one station, one property, station I should say. And yeah we were strafing and as I did my strafing and as I got over the state railway station itself – bang bang bang – I got hit with flak. And
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.
So what was your response when you started being hit by ack-ack?
Oh well the noise of it let you know that you’d been hit, the noise of it. And the first reaction would have been to pull up you know as fast and as high as I could get to get back to base, if the aircraft was manoeuvrable and mine was. I mean had I been hit with heavier type of
flak it could have been you know curtains to me and the aircraft. As it was it was light flak and it was certainly enough damage, they could do enough damage too to bring you down.
So on that occasion did you have any trouble controlling the plane?
No, no, I didn’t, no. Then I was…
Did you have any difficulty controlling your emotions?
Oh no I don’t think so. Don’t think it entered your head you know.
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.
What was the expression on his face?
Oh well it wasn’t that, well I flew close enough to him to see it, well you might say a startled look. I mean I
don’t know what a startled look is really but you knew it was a look that was really I suppose in dismay, dismay oh it’s hard to express what the, what his face was trying to show, oh very difficult.
Did you have any feelings for what he was going through?
No, I don’t think so. I think the only feelings
I had was that at least he wasn’t in the aircraft when we shot it with, shot it into fire sort of thing you know.
So you were pleased not to have killed him?
Oh yeah, yeah. And there was another time when the CO and myself were on a patrol in Lubeck area, Schwerin Lake I think it was. Anyway we came across this
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.
It’s hard for us to imagine what it was like up there because it was just another world from today and for us.
Well it certainly is, yes.
Can you describe what aerial combat was really like?
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.
But you did shoot down a couple of planes.
Shared in one.
Oh I got that doodle bug and I shared in another one and that other one I couldn’t report it because it wasn’t, I couldn’t photograph what had happened to it, right. We had wing cameras, I just reported it but that’s all I could do.
So what was it like up in the sky chasing
after another plane? That’s what I want, I want you to try to describe that for me.
Well actually you get quite excited, really. That you’re after an enemy aircraft and you are hoping to get within range to shoot at it. For instance I’ll give you an example of meeting up with a couple of their latest jets on operation, German jets and two of us were, I’ll say that’s funny it might have been a
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.
Were you in any way disappointed that you hadn’t been involved in that?
Oh I suppose not really, but it was over before I got over there. And so I guess it, oh yeah that’s right it would have been very exciting but, oh well you can’t lament about those things.
What sort of operations did you enjoy the most?
Oh, I think from an exciting point of view would have been strafing. The aircraft, finding enemy aircraft in the fighter aircraft, even escort when we were doing escort to the bombers we didn’t, very rarely did we come across enemy aircraft tyring to shoot at them. They were shot at I know that but we didn’t find any and we never had, I know to the best of my knowledge our squadron never shot down enemy aircraft while doing escort work.
So tell me about strafing, why was it so exciting?
Well partly because it’s low level stuff. Low level flying is always quite exciting really. Even if it’s in peace time and it was also taboo too, you know. Unless you were doing a low flying exercise around the country, a country exercise for the purpose of flying training. Well that’s why you were doing those sort of exercises so when it came to the pinch
you were able to do low flying and keep your object in sight, oh well you could do of course trains going along a railway line. And just strafe the closed wagons on it, you know, not knowing what was in them, it certainly wouldn’t have been people in them. And then you would try and get the steam, the boilers I suppose out of the engines, shoot them up
and then of course they’ve got no steam and they would come to a halt. So that strafing was quite exciting really.
So what was it about low level flying that made it so much more exciting?
Well, low level flying is pretty exciting in itself. And once you, you’re coming down swooping on an object in front of you, you’re coming from about five or six thousand feet right down and
using your, oh, you’re travelling at a fair rate of speed and you do your strafing and then you pull up and pull away again right. So it was really the low level part of it that was exciting.
Can you really describe to me in detail how it would work? Exactly where you would be in the sky when you began to come down and tell me how it, what was involved?
Well it was involved in you spotting these enemy stuff, tanks
or army road vehicles and so therefore you would probably be doing it at around, a patrol at around about five or six thousand feet. So you would come from around five or six thousand feet, swoop down on their enemy and use your guns to knock them out, knock them off the road whatever.
How far down would you swoop?
Oh well, you’d be swooping down to probably about roof top maybe.
Maybe a bit higher than that of course, yeah. Yeah a bit higher than that, that would be a bit of an exaggeration, roof top. But oh you’d be down to fifteen hundred, a thousand, five hundred feet, five hundred to a thousand feet, it varies.
And at what point do you start firing?
Oh well, when you’ve got the objects in sight or your target in sight and you’re close enough to cause damage to the object or your target I should say well
then you fire your, put your finger on the gun button and fire.
How difficult was it to be operating a plane at that speed, at low level and firing guns?
Well you’ve got your gun button on the spade grip of the aircraft, of the control column right. And all you’ve got to do is just put your thumb on it, right that’s it. And you get a fair recoil from the guns going off,
going off shooting out, you know you get a recoil. You know it pulls your speed back a bit.
How did that affect you in terms of controlling the plane?
Oh there was no trouble at all, that was no problem. It was something you would expect. Even during your training period when you were firing at what we called drogue, drogue aircraft, you know a drogue behind another aircraft over the water or over the land we’d be
trying to shot at even at an angle, the drogue behind the aircraft towing it. So that’s no problem, that’s where you get some of the exercise of knowing when to fire, you know, and how close you can get. You can limit, you couldn’t get that close to a drogue anyway it was only being towed by one of your own aircraft and well a limit to how close you can get. If you didn’t, well you’d know you hit the drogue it was still being dragged
along by the other aircraft anyway.
How long would a strafing exercise take?
Oh, it would probably take an hour, an hour and a half. By the time you left base and got back to base.
And how long would you actually be firing the guns for?
Oh, not very long only two or three seconds all depends at what targets your at. I mean you don’t fire them for say half a minute or something like that. If you had that sort of target area or targets
you certainly would, but you’d be doing it in bursts. You know not one long burst I mean you’d do it in bursts because you’d get your target in sight and you might knock it out OK, and so then you’ve got to find another target, right.
Did you feel proud of what you were doing?
Feel part of what you were doing?
Oh I guess yes, why not? Well I don’t know about proud, but you certainly
oh yeah, I guess so, maybe it was. You got a feeling of pride that you were doing something for, you know, the war in Britain.
What about when you actually shot at these targets, what was your – what was going through your mind at that point?
Got to get it. Got to get it, you know. There it is, OK. That’s your reaction. You’re there
to try and shoot at it or shoot at it I should say not trying to, shoot at it and hopefully you might destroy it whatever it might be.
Was there a sense of exhilaration?
Yes, I guess yeah there would have been, yeah, yeah.
So can you describe that for me exactly how you were, how you
were feeling at that time?
Well I guess, yeah, you’ve got an enemy in your sight right, you come across an enemy right. And yeah you sight an enemy aircraft coming at you, it’s quite exciting to give chase, yeah. You were looking, I mean you were ready to get at him right. Yes it was quite exhilarating I guess, yeah.
What about when you shot those aircraft?
When you stopped?
What about when you actually successfully fired on an aircraft –
– or a target?
What was your reaction then?
Well if we got the target and oh well satisfaction, oh good, a job well done, yeah.
As simple as that?
Pretty much so yeah. You don’t waste much time thinking about it particularly in the air. You might give yourself some thoughts about it when you got back to base but still
while you were on operations you don’t have time to you know you try not to give yourself any major thoughts I suppose. But you know darn well that you were excited to a degree, yeah.
How dangerous was that low level flying?
Quite dangerous, quite dangerous. You would make a mistake and get too low and tip a tree or something, hit some trees but that’s when you’re getting pretty low. So you haven’t got much chance once you hit the tops of
a tree in your own aircraft. And that was most unlikely, but still it could happen, it could happen. And we had to get down fairly low anyway to strafe army tanks or road transport. You virtually had to get behind them and following them, follow the movement of the target and get it from behind, right. And then swoop on it, swoop at it.
And then go back up?
Yeah, to strike it. You go down, swoop on it and then fly out of it.
Was that difficult once you were down low?
No, no. No it wasn’t it was just part of flying.
Did you find it came naturally to you?
Yes, yeah, sure.
Why do you think that was?
The flying part of it, what do I think it was?
Why did you think it came so naturally to you?
Well that’s what you were trained to do, right. Trained to do and you had the experience with, during your training period, with the aircraft you were using on operations so it was naturally, really.
Were you aware of the danger factor?
Of course, yes of course you were.
You were a danger factor when you were briefed and once you got into that aircraft regardless of what you might meet up with. I mean you had to be aware of any unforeseen circumstances such as surprise visits by a German aircraft on your tail. So you know all those little, they’re not little, all those big surprises coming to, at you in the operational exercises.
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.
Can you tell me a little bit more about that? Can you tell me the detail, how it happened?
Well how it happened was we were doing a patrol and as I guess they were too of some description as well. And
well after spotting the enemy aircraft at such and such a spot, not spot but at 4 o’clock say and below us, because then you lead, I was told to lead around so we could get behind them. I could see them and they were going to follow me, which they did they followed me down, we got in behind them. And we got up to them and we got in the tail
and they obviously hadn’t seen us and we let fly with our guns and we got five during that skirmish out of the one squadron of 109s.
Can you tell me what you could see? What was happening, what was in front of you? Imagine you are a camera, describe it to me?
Well you’ve got an aircraft in your vision, right in your sights, right. You’ve got an aircraft there and you’ve got to wait until you get
close enough to it to start firing, because once you do start firing you’re other members were up there looking at firing at other aircraft in the squadron, German aircraft. So that’s how you know they got fired in the one sortie.
And what did you see happen when you shot at those planes?
What actually, what could you see?
You could just see them going down in flames, it’s as simple as that?
Drastic as that if you like.
How close were they?
Were they? Well they were in formation, like we fly in formation too. You know you’ve got your aircraft tucked into the wing of your aircraft in front of you. You’re flying as a tight squadron, right. What we call squadron formation.
And they were in the same sort of formation?
Yeah they were in the squadron too, the same sort of a formation.
So how quickly did all that happen?
About, amazing, I suppose it all took place in about, about 30 seconds I suppose. It might have been a bit more it wouldn’t have been much more, because the action was pretty fast, really.
And how soon after firing did those planes go down?
As soon as they were hit, they caught fire and they went straight down. I think
a couple of the pilots baled out with their parachutes. Yeah that was pretty close to the end of the war years too, the end of the hostilities over there.
How did the squadron react to that afterwards? What did you talk about after that?
Oh we just talked about the exercise itself. How, you know, we got in behind a squadron of ME109s and we just fired at them.
So that was it, so not much more discussion about it.
What was the atmosphere like when you got back?
Oh good. They were all, oh all excited about, yeah, knocking these five aircrafts out, yeah quite excited about it all. Probably shouted a couple of beers amongst ourselves. Then you did a report of course about the intelligence officer and the squadron about what had happened.
When you were flying in formation like that, what sort of communication
were you using?
With your own group? Oh well your radio contact. I mean you know you understand radio contact. CO would give an order and you had your earphones on and you heard him. So you were able to report and talk about what you could see and what’s got to be done.
So can you describe that sort of system of communication to me a little bit more, exactly how it worked on a sortie like that one?
Well it was purely a verbal, a verbal, words of command over your RT or over your RT, radio transmitter right between your own aircraft. Then you were also in constant contact with your control right, back at base associated with your radio transmissions.
And what was your code?
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.
How were those codes, how did those codes come about?
don’t know, I think it had, well you had to have some sort of codes for contact with your flying partners right. You had to have some sort of control wouldn’t you, or some means of communication. And likewise see with your control back at base I mean they’d have, they’d probably have
radio contact with squadrons in other areas sort of thing right. So you had to have a call sign for recognition.
So did you, during a flight or during a sortie did you often talk to somebody else?
No in a general conversation, no.
What sort of things were said?
what sort of things were said? Oh like somebody spotting a target yeah or enemy aircraft or whatever spotted or whoever got it. Generally the bloke that spotted it would call up and say aircraft, enemy aircraft at 2 o’clock or 3 o’clock or whatever the case might be right, at such and such a height approximately. So there it was so you gave chase or they gave chase to you if they
could bounce you.
So on that day that you shot those five planes down, you were the one who spotted them?
Yeah, yes, yeah I was.
Was that unusual?
For me to have spotted them? Oh no I was a bit surprised that the other members of the flight hadn’t spotted them either. So you know it was just a bit of luck that I was flying number three which was
virtually a leader of a, you had a number two to fly behind you and so I happen to spot them. I mean any other member of the flight could have spotted them but they hadn’t spotted them. So that was the story there.
Was that considered something that you gained credit for?
Oh no not really, you don’t get any DFCs [Distinguished Flying Crosses] for it or anything like that. No, no, just part
of the exercise, part of the target I should say. No that’s not right either but part of the exercise will do.
What could you hear when you were involved in that operation? What could you hear?
Oh well you could only hear, you could only hear your own aircraft. Well, no different to when you were doing any other flying. Oh once you’d put your thumb on the gun button you’d hear the guns firing but
that’s about all, you couldn’t hear any of the other aircraft.
Can you describe the sound of the guns firing?
Oh well, I can’t really describe the sounds of them. I know what happens though. It’s very difficult to, it’s very difficult to emulate a guns firing.
Just in terms of how it sounded to you, can you describe that?
Oh well, all you could say was bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, sort of you know. Well that’s,
well that’s all you could say, I don’t know, I couldn’t give you any fact description about sound.
How loud or how impressive was it?
Oh it was loud enough and it was quite impressive once you’ve got your thumb on the gun button, firing bullets or 20 millimetre cannon shells. You know you’re firing it, I can assure you.
And when you hit
a target or a plane as you did, did you hear anything then?
Not apart from your own guns firing that’s all. I can’t remember I don’t think we, oh you heard you know you’re in a group of, or you know you’re in a squadron I should say and you know that’s there’s noise coming from the various engines in the squadron or various aircraft.
What about when those planes went down, could you hear anything?
No. No. No. No.
So what was that like watching those planes go down?
Well I suppose a little bit of excitement that you, you know were responsible with your crew members to, you know get five of them and so you can’t say what your feelings
are I suppose, or were apart from the fact that you’ve got a victory right. You’ve destroyed five enemy aircraft.
How significant was that day in your war experience?
Oh pretty reasonable I suppose the fact that I spotted these aircrafts, a squadron of aircraft and we were able to lead our squadron into the, into you know get them down, knock them down or shoot them
Ok well we might actually pause there.
Interviewee: Eric Gray Archive ID 1627 Tape 04
Eric you spoke earlier about how you elected to fly Spitfires, why was it so important for you to fly those?
Because I was rapt in them. I mean they excited me you know, Spitfires yeah. And don’t forget the Spitfire was the major role, played the major role in the battle of Britain. So the Spitfire really excited me, to
get to flying Spitfires, yes.
What was the image you had of the Spitfire?
Image? Well the image was
Before you flew them, what was your idea of the Spitfire? What did you think about it?
Well I thought about it, I thought about it and I had you know a lot of detail about it
to train. And what you read about it with the Battle of Britain. And well during our period of training here in this country. So I was excited about flying Spitfires, I really was.
What was it about the Spitfire that was different from other planes which was so exciting?
Well I think the design I suppose had a bit to do with it. It looked a lovely type of
fighter aircraft, mind you, Hurricanes were involved with the battle of Britain too. They were single engine fighter planes which were very effective. And later on there was the Typhoon and the Tempest, the Typhoon was first and the follow on was the Tempest. And they were, I think the Tempest was a pretty high powered fast aircraft. But the Spitfire,
the marks we were flying were really high or low level fighter plane. So they were exciting aircrafts as far as I was concerned, yeah.
Did you have a particular favourite mark?
A particular favourite?
Did you have a favourite mark of Spitfire?
Oh well I started off flying all the latest, on operations it was a Spitfire Mark 12, oh the Spitfire Mark 9s, they were on operations too.
But eventually they were phased out and the Spitfire Mark 12s and I think another one they had here in Australia the Mark 8s I think. Mark 5s were obsolete, yeah so I finished with the Squadrons on Mark 12s and then before we went over to Europe we were re-equipped with had Spitfire Mark 14s and as far as I’m concerned they were the top of the, top of the range.
Why was that?
Well I think their ability to
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.
Was that particularly dangerous?
Well dangerous enough. It’s not dangerous if your aircrafts performing alright but if your aircraft is performing badly then it could be dangerous of course, yeah. And anyway if your aircraft is
performing that badly, you should call up your flight leader and tell him what’s happening and he’ll instruct you to return to base if necessary.
Did you know any of those pilots who didn’t like flying over the water?
Did I know them? Oh only, I can’t remember their names but there were two or three in our squadron who didn’t like low level flying over water.
What did they say about that?
They just didn’t like it. They were probably
a bit nervous. I think they were more uncomfortable with the possibility of the aircraft engine failing, I think that was their real fear, yeah that the aircraft may falter and they’d be into the drink. For the sake of an expression into the drink, yeah.
What protection did you have against, if you did fall into the drink, what protection did you have?
Oh you had a Mae West [life jacket] on. Mae West would keep you floating, hopefully you’d be found by your own side rather
than the enemy. Yeah that’s right, Mae West.
What was it like inside your cockpit?
Pretty cramped, it wasn’t a roomy cockpit. Some fairly big blokes got into it though, the Spitfire. Johnny Johnson who was our GC [group captain] at one stage at Europe and he was a pretty big man and he could get in and out of it alright. And of course I wasn’t a bit, a bit what I am now, I suppose and
I had no trouble with it but they weren’t uncomfortable. It certainly was one of their, I suppose it was one of their characteristics that it had a small cockpit and certainly was if you compare it with a Typhoon or a Tempest. The Tempest was quite a roomy cockpit for single engines.
You did a lot of your training in Australia, that was a little bit unusual. Did it make any difference in terms
of being able to fly the Spitfires?
No, but you lead up to that, I mean see in my case we were three months on water getting to England. That’s three months without flying in this country or any other country. So you know you have your refresher flying on aircraft in a Master for instance, in an aircraft similar to our Wirraways and so you do these airfields with this sort of training with those
aircraft, just to bring you up to date with your refresher flying. I mean for schools I suppose if you may and then when you get to a Spitfire OTU, well then you do a written, written information about the cockpit drill, what you’ve got to do and so on. So you’ve got to sign a brief that you understand what it’s all about for your cockpit drill.
How confident were you
when you started flying Spitfires?
Very confident, very confident yes. I never ever had any doubts about any of them really. I was quite happy and comfortable when I was flying it and no worries at all.
Was that typical of your character?
I think so, possibly, yeah. No I never had any great fears about flying or the aircraft I was flying, no
But here you were, a very young man who’d grown up in a tiny little town in Queensland, and suddenly you’re flying Spitfires in Europe. How did you cope with that?
There was a bit of a gap between the young man in the country and going through later teenage stages and what not and getting on the reserve at 18 years of age or 19
eventually that year. So I think any normal person like myself, I think I’m normal I hope, no troubles at all, no. I certainly didn’t have any troubles with any of the aircraft I was flying, had flown. No trouble with the Spitfire Mark 12 or the 14.
But you were still quite a young man, how fast did you have to grow up?
fast did I have to grow up? I don’t know that I understand that question I might…
Well your experiences were in the country town and then in Toowoomba and then as a young man so far removed from young people today for example, our lives. We just can’t imagine what you were going through as a young man. How quickly, your life, your
life changed very quickly, how did you cope with that?
I coped very well, very well because you were involved with a lot of other chaps about your own age group right. Oh there might have been a bit of variation in some of them, some of them were a bit older and not too many of them younger, in the people I was mixed up with anyway. And I think well I must have coped alright with it them to get through the shemozzle that we had to go
through. I haven’t used that expression before, but you know, it doesn’t matter.
Did you any special rituals before you took off?
No. No I, no I don’t think I did. The only thoughts, the major thoughts I had is that,
I think it was thoughts of my mother I think, yeah that’s all yeah. I had no other ritual thoughts or anything like that.
What were your thoughts about your mother?
Well I guess hoping that I’d get home to see her, you know, like on deck of that old ship when it left the waters at Sydney Harbour you know, I wonder if I’ll ever see these shores again.
Your father had died, how did your mother deal with you leaving for
She accepted it, she accepted it. She had two of the other boys at home with her. They both got married eventually.
So your brothers didn’t go to war?
No not, well my next brother, yeah, he was in the air force too but he was a ground staff man, he was an engineer. And my youngest brother no he didn’t, he lost his a leg
in a motorcycle accident but he. Oh during some, yeah of course he had a blemish on one eye and when he was a baby, oh a little boy batting around and you know one of the tradesman was doing something with soldering on the tank or something at home and as he got outside and looked up there was a splash of the solder came off the soldering iron and splashed some of it into his eye.
He still had sight though, but it wouldn’t have allowed him to get into the air force or army, I’m sure it might have been, no I don’t think it would have.
How did your brothers react to you becoming a pilot?
Oh I don’t think there was any reaction, just probably if they were talking about it they’d say my brother’s a pilot, my brother’s a Spitfire pilot, I suppose that’s about the long and the short of that.
A pretty nonsense sort of an attitude I suppose.
What was the relationship like between the men on the squadron?
Oh very good, there was no animosity whatsoever with them, to my knowledge and I know I’m right. I know we all got along very well together. One bloke was renowned for airing deep pockets when it
came to his shout, that was all. We’d borrow a couple of bob from him and forget to pay it back, but that was only minor anyway.
How were friendships between the men actually formed?
Actually formed? Well you had to be in contact with the other members and as you went along in a squadron, I mean, you generally
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.
What sort of things did you do together?
Oh I suppose we did, looked the various
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.
How much did you know about one another’s personal lives?
Oh very little I think Ellen [interviewer], very little. Well we didn’t really enquire about their personal lives. I didn’t anyway to my knowledge, no. Maybe it was in general discussion on your family life or something like that, I don’t know.
Why do you think that is?
obviously a lot of people I suppose are people that don’t like their lives, their lives being delved into I guess. I never had any worries about anybody asking me what I did or where my parents were or anything like that, that was no worries to me, that was just general conversation. But as to delving into the real history of some of the other members lives, no I never delved into them, no.
Can you tell us
about contact with women during the time you were in Europe?
Yes, well, I had contact with women yeah. Oh well all very pleasant, all very pleasant.
Can you tell us about the sort of women you met and in what situations?
Well in Europe I think we only, Terry Spencer this flight commander and myself I think we met up with two,
two girls, sisters and we got friendly with them. You know we were friendly with them.
Who were they and what did they do, where were they?
Oh, now you’re asking me a question, I don’t know what they did you know. All I know was that they were sisters and they respectable girls.
Where were they from?
Brussels, Brussels. And then when we got up to Denmark, well I met up with a lass there I was very very friendly with.
I even asked her to marry me, yeah. And she would have too but her parents and her relations, uncles and aunts they were dead against her coming to Australia and they were suggesting that I try and get a flying job over there in that area.
So tell me about that relationship, how did you meet?
Well when we first arrived at Copenhagen, we were greeted by hundreds and hundreds of people you know. And they would scramble on to our jeeps and everything else
because they were pleased to see us. They had been under German control for so long, for a number of years, oh not that long I suppose but long enough. And they were pleased to see that the Allies had got through and you know relieve them of the worry of the Germans still being in their country. And there were Germans still there too working on some of their old aircraft. So yeah, so that’s how I came to meet this lass and she was the daughter of
a doctor. So yeah oh well it was quite a friendly relationship.
I can’t remember.
How old were you then?
25, I think. About 25.
Had you had any
close relationships with women before that?
Can you tell us about them?
Oh no. I didn’t have too many, I only had you know one or two relationships with a couple of young ladies and it was all very pleasant. There was no suggestion on their part that they get married to me or otherwise
or that I get married to them. Oh well that’s the same think isn’t it. No, well you can have these sorts of situations or relationships but if you know in the future and you don’t think the relationship is going to go on or be any good to you, well you just amicably walk away from it you know. Would you agree?
How did the war affect those
How did the war affect those relationships you had?
Oh it didn’t, I don’t think it did affect those relationships. I mean, oh no it didn’t affect, oh apart from the one in Denmark. Actually I was wanting to marry that girl teacher from down in Australian – Western Australia – New South Wales at one stage and she said, “I’ll wait for you come home and we’ll see.”
I said, “Alright.” In the meantime we were in Denmark and I virtually got engaged to this Danish girl. Her parents talked her out of anything like coming to Australia so that was that.
Can you tell me a little bit more about her?
Well she was a lovely blonde and quite active, not a big girl. She wore
glasses you know spectacles you know, just like you’ve got you now spectacles. Oh no, she was very pleasant and got along well with her.
What did you do together?
Well we didn’t go to the pictures, I know that much. I don’t know what pictures they would have had in Copenhagen at that time, if any. And we just kept company and have meals, restaurants you know meals. That’s all and when I was flying
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.
So that was that.
How did you finally part with this lass?
Well, just let things die, I think. Just didn’t make, she didn’t want to, well she would have come to Australia but her parents didn’t want her to come to Australia and her relations as well because they didn’t know much about our country at the time I don’t think. I think it was just an amicable parting.
Did you think about her later?
Think about her later?
Did you think about her?
Oh, the thoughts cross you mind you know every now and then, you think about your past. And I don’t know whether, no the lass in Deniliquin or west of Deniliquin I don’t. Oh yeah I was silly enough, that’s right, silly enough to write and tell her that I had got engaged and I wanted to marry her.
You know and I even wrote to her asking her to marry me before we got through, reached through Europe. And she wrote back and said, “Well just wait until you come home.” I didn’t and over there I wrote her a letter and said I got engaged. God what a silly thing to do, it really was, it really was. But anyway that’s a part of living isn’t it?
How did the girl in Deniliquin react?
Oh I don’t know. I mean I met up with her when I came home
and she even came up here after I came home, she came up and spent the week with my mother and I at home. And oh it was all very friendly and no problems there. So no problems there, it was good.
What about in Britain, did the squadron members have much contact with women?
Oh I suppose they did, quite a few of them were married.
But some of the signals blokes I guess they had favourites where they came from and you know their home towns and something like that. You know I don’t think they were loose, running around with other females, not to my knowledge anyway, apart from the fact that as I say they had girlfriends of their own in some of these other towns that they came from.
What about women in the services,
did you have much contact with them?
No, no apart from WAAFs [Women’s Auxiliary Air Force]. We had at Cranwell and Bedford we had WAAF ‘batwomen’ [assistants], you know, officers did. They were quite pleasant the one I had yeah. And another chap on the Squadron, Johnny Wilkinson he had, that’s right these two lasses, WAAFs were on,
in the same mess you might say you know and of course they used to come in and do the bunks for us and the shoes for us if you wanted to. So that was quite good I mean we didn’t have any relationships with them.
Can you tell me more about the batwomen, how did that work?
Well you know how, you’d know how a butler would work or a man servant would work, not too much a butler I suppose, so it would be much the same.
You’d put your shoes out and they’d clean them and make your bunk up, your bed up and in general keep your room tidy, up to scratch.
What sort of women were they?
Well they were English of course, yeah. The one that was doing my room she was a bit smaller then me. The one with Johnny Wilkinson’s batwomen, she was a little bit bigger but she was good, yeah quite good.
When I say good, I mean she had quite a nice figure too. So they were very good, very proper with the type of work they were doing you know. Yes sir, no, it was all, you know, yes sir and no sir.
Did you speak with them much? Did you speak with them much?
Oh yeah quite a bit, yeah quite a bit.
So what did you talk about?
Oh dear, I don’t know, Ellen.
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.
What sort of pyjamas were you wearing in the cold?
I wasn’t, I was in my flying suit, yeah. And
not that I didn’t dress or didn’t shower or anything like that but I think we stayed in our, oh not flying suit, no. We stayed in our, what we called, oh God it was a jacket, I mean a grey jacket and pants and they were pretty warm anyway. In a tent, there was not shower in a tent, right. All you can
do is go to bed and yeah in silk pyjamas if you wanted to. Yeah I’ll never forget that.
What was the relationship like between the men and the senior officers?
Oh very good, very good. I mean the sergeants, flight sergeants and warrant officers, they were very good. They flew together and naturally flew in the same squadron.
And back on the ground the only difference with us was that we were in the officers’ mess and they were in the sergeants’ mess. But they didn’t make any difference, there was no great discrimination there.
How did you pass your time when you were waiting around?
When you were in aerodromes and you had free time, how did the men pass their time?
I guess reading,
we had, in some of the messes we had billiard tables of coarse, billiard tables. So there would be a lot of the blokes playing billiards tables. We’d be at the bar having a few drinks, if the mess had the bar, in Lympne it did but we didn’t stay there and get drunk, it wasn’t the art. I used to read a fair bit in those days. More so than what I do, I don’t do any reading now I just scan through the papers and I
don’t do that very well.
What sort of access did you have to books?
Books, oh plenty of access. Magazines, I think they were all brought at the station, I think. The station had a library in it. Not all stations, not all airfields with their activities did they have a library. I’m
sure that Lympne would have had, that station had a library.
What sort of things did the men do to relieve tension?
Tension on the ground amongst themselves or what?
Tension as in, there must have been some tension when you knew everyday you were going out on a potentially dangerous operation, there must have been some tension among the men, or individually
anyway. Did they do anything to, how did you think the men generally coped?
I’m sure they coped, no doubt about that, but maybe some had more of the tension type feelings than others. Well you sort of, you don’t release that sort of information to your fellow pilots. If you’re all psyched up, then you
keep it to yourself really, wouldn’t you think. Yeah, I’m sure that’s the case, yeah.
Is that what happened?
I think so. I think so, yeah. I mean you don’t display your emotions really. Not where we were, not in the air force anyway and if you’re going out on operations you don’t display your emotions. Definitely not, whatever they are you keep them.
But people must have had some emotions, how do you think they kept them under control?
Well wouldn’t that come under willpower? I would think. Well either that or they didn’t want to expose their emotions. And I’m sure that might have been the case with a lot of blokes, a lot of pilots. They didn’t want to disclose their emotions. I certainly wouldn’t have disclosed mine. I don’t think I had any
real emotions about it. After the debriefing I told you what I’d do, go to the toilet. And then once I got in the aircraft, got my parachute on - my parachute was already in the aircraft - sat in the parachute did the harness up, got the engine started I was right. Just ready for the fray, whatever.
Did some of the men have lucky charms?
I think so, they did, yeah.
I was certainly one that didn’t have any lucky charms. But I can’t tell you who had them but they wore their charms around their neck and this sort of thing. Some had a rabbit, a white rabbit or something like that you know, anything as far as they were concerned was their lucky charm.
Where you a religious young man?
No I was not. I belonged to Church of England but
I was no more religious then to what I am now. I think Christianity is great and it’s a great pity it has been destroyed by you know by fighting, wars, countries you know. No I mean I’m not, my wife goes, that’s our church just across the road and I might go there
a couple of times a year and that’s about all, and Christmas time. My wife goes fairly regularly of a Sunday morning. I can’t say that I’m religious really.
And during the war you never thought about God?
Yeah, well we used to have church services there on parade at times you know, and we would have a padre on the squadron. So we
did hold these religious parades or church parades. So they were good, you didn’t have to go miles to get to a church because that was, here again it was a case with transport. If you were an individual and you were very very religious minded it was very doubtful that you’d get a jeep from the squadron or a CO or his permission to use it to go to church, I don’t know.
OK, I think we might pause there actually.
Interviewee: Eric Gray Archive ID 1627 Tape 05
Can you tell me about one of the trips into Victoria with the guys to go to a dance?
Oh well, those trips were only on odd weekends
and that was our only you might say female company, there was no WAAAFs [Women’s Australian Auxiliary Air Force] at the station so that was our only female company as far as dancing was concerned. Well understandably there was no dancing on the station so we’d go down there and we had these friends, you know lady friends, girl friends and we’d go to the dance with them and that was it and see them home.
How did you get there and where did you
Well we stayed out at a hotel out at Camberwell, I think it was, that’s north of the city of Melbourne itself – north east I think, and so we stayed in a motel there. Oh there were three of us I think, another chap there at the hotel and I went for a shower one evening before going out. I went for a shower and I don’t know what happened but – oh I think we’d had a few beers
in the afternoon yeah – anyway I went for a shower and I got under the shower and the maid in the hotel was walking past, she sang out to one of my friends, “Get him out from under there, he’s as red as a bloody beetroot.” And of course I was and I wasn’t feeling the pain. It was rather humorous so I didn’t do any harm to myself apart from this girl getting quite surprised at seeing me you know as red as a beetroot, she said, “Get him out from under there.”
And when you all went to the dance, you’re a very good looking man, they must have loved it
When you air force blokes walked in to the – ?
Oh well, there was lots of very presentable young men around of course, yeah there is. So yeah, we enjoyed ourselves and we didn’t get into any trouble. Well we didn’t have any intimate affairs with the lasses we were running around with, or seeing, meeting up with
at the weekend down there.
Did you learn much, did you know much about the facts of life before you got to that point?
Well I guess I did, because I’d been brought up in the country with livestock and the like. I mean you learn pretty quickly about what’s happened in a field of human race, I suppose, and affairs etc, etc.
We’ve heard from other guys that went through RAAF that there were a lot of courses in
venereal diseases and stuff like that, did you hear stuff yourself?
No, I think. No, well I guess we always had medical blokes on the station but I think they were just for medical checkups with us unless we had something seriously wrong with us. As far as I’m concerned I only ever had a check up to come home from, or a couple of needles for you know, prior to repatriation.
And I might have had a bit of a cold of some description at one stage in Europe but apart from that I didn’t have any medical worries at all. Oh we knew about the diseased, venereal disease and the like but certainly you never had any contact with it.
With the guys that you went to the dance with.
What were they like?
Well they, like.
Your two mates?
Are you talking about the dances in Australia?
Yeah, the two mates that you went to
Yeah well, OK, they were much the same as me, different looks, about the same body size and good company, good company. We enjoyed each others company, that’s why we went to the weekend at Victoria on our own. We didn’t take any groups of other blokes with us because they had other things to do too I suppose, other places to visit.
Did you all wear, did you wear civvies [civilian] clothes or – ?
No, no, no uniform.
Yeah, uniform all the time.
The girls would have loved the uniform.
Oh you reckon. You’re putting words into my mouth I think.
And what about the journey from Australia, I know I’m going forward a little bit, can you describe a little bit more of what happened on the boat from Australia all the way over to Britain?
Well on the boat as I told you, we
were in a convoy transfer. We called in at Durban, we were there a few days and we, I think we got around to Cape Town.
What was Durban like?
Quite good, quite good. Of course, I mean we had a race of black people as you know. It was quite good. The people we met up with were very friendly and cooperative and we didn’t have any outside leisure, dances
or anything like that. We’d just roam the city, I suppose, and looking at the spot there and we’d be back on board that evening.
What did you see in the city of Durban?
What did I?
What did you see, what was the city like?
Well I suppose it is pretty hard to describe now after so many years but as far as I was concerned it was well pretty clean sort of city, you know pretty clean. And you certainly had no trouble getting around Durban.
You know no problems with other people of any shape or colour or creed. Oh no I quite enjoyed it for the few days we were there. And then the trip around via Cape Town was OK. And then of course I told you we went to Cape Helena to pick up the few survivors that had been torpedoed in the Atlantic. I don’t know how many people lost their lives in the torpedo attack I don’t know. And if I was told I’ve forgotten
so I don’t know whether we discussed it much with the few people that we picked up.
Who was on the boat with you? Can you describe the other passengers on the boat with you?
The other passengers. Well there were virtually no other passengers apart from our aircrew personnel. Except we picked up these survivors, a male and a couple of females, or a couple of males I think and a couple of females, a mother and daughter.
But yeah. No, I don’t think there were any more I mean I don’t think there were any other passengers. Maybe there were a few, but I just can’t remember, you know.
So you had the boat to yourself?
Well, virtually. Well of course we played two-up and that sort of thing to amuse ourselves on the way over and played cards.
What was the sleeping arrangement
Well, we had to share a cabin with one of your mates, yeah. As a matter of fact the chappie I shared a cabin with, he was a pilot, and when he got to Britain he was posted to a RAF Bomber Command. And I think this first operational flight, a bombing trip to German he lost his life, killed in is first operational trip. It shook me up. Hit with a
anti ack-ack, oh not anti, an ack-ack gun. Used primarily for shooting at bombers at a fair hight. So that was most, well darn unlucky of course, but that’s how it goes, that’s the way it does go.
How did you hear about that?
Hear. I think probably one of the
other members of the squadron, he was on it also on the squadron. I know I was told by one of his pilot mates on the squadron that he had been shot down on his first trip. It got back to us by word of mouth through one of the other boys giving a run down on his fatality.
So you spent three months with him, you would have got close?
I was no closer to him than I was to any of the other members on the crew. Of the pilots that were on board or the few navigators, yeah.
So what else did the guys do on the boat?
Well that was about all, read, played cards, played some two-up.
Was there a bar?
No we didn’t have a bar, no.
No alcohol on board?
I don’t, I can’t remember there being any alcohol on board. I can’t remember drinking any anyway. You know, had there been some beer
on board, I’d have known about it, yeah.
So for three months going on that boat you must have been looking forward to a bit of action?
Yeah, looking forward to getting off the boat too, I can assure you, yeah. Three months on a small sailing ship you might say, or it was a steam ship but well it was long enough to be cooped up in a cabin you might say, yeah.
With 29 blokes?
Yeah that’s right, 29 or
so, I’ve forgotten how many were on. It’s all part and parcel of the action of the, you know of what was on at the time. So anyway we were looking forward to it and anybody with a moustache on, was not allowed to go aboard with a moustache. You know on land, or in Britain with a moustache, only because your mates would get you down and shave
half of it off, so that’s right you had to go and shave the rest of it off. But I grew mine again a little bit later. But they were the sort of tricks they’d get up to you know.
Why would they do that?
Oh just devilment, just for something to do, just devilment you know. It was probably the attitude towards moustaches, I don’t know but that’s what they did.
Did you hear about that before you went on land?
What hear about that sort of thing? No, I didn’t know anything about that. I don’t think it happened
to other people, I wouldn’t know. This was just a devil made crew you know we had, you know the pilots we had, yeah. I don’t think it happened to other members on other ships going across.
What were some of the other tricks they played on board? They must have had some fun times, 30 blokes.
Well the fun times were pretty – what would you say? – pretty, the fun times were
pretty quiet I think, really. I mean you call them fun times, we had to amuse ourselves we couldn’t do any, play any deck sport of anything like that. It was either walk the deck for exercise right and the other relaxation was cards and playing two-up of some description. Two-up was no description, two-up or cards of some description.
One of the other guys was telling us on the ships that they made
quite a bit of money out of two-up, the people who organised it. Was that the same way on your boat, there was quite a bit of money to be made in organising the two-up?
I suppose there is, I wonder where you got that from.
Just one of the other pilots was saying that there was you know a bit of a racket.
Oh I suppose there’s always a lair, there’s always, yeah. Normally two-up, a two-up school is run by, there’s somebody running, an individual running it. That applies in this country too,
even in the west when I was travelling in the west, where I was I mean they used to have two-up schools out there in one or two of the pubs you know and there’d be somebody running it. But as far was cards were concerned you couldn’t, you couldn’t get somebody running a card game. It was an individual game or four of you or something, or six, whatever game you were playing.
Was there any singing on board?
no community type singing, no. No it was all very quite and pretty low key trip, I can assure you.
What did you think of the enemy at that point?
What did I think of them at that point? I don’t know, I just thought that I didn’t have much to think about did I. They were an enemy and I was going over there to help Britain and to fight them. That was true of all out blokes
going there, you’re there for a job and that’s what it was all about.
Was there talk of the Germans on board?
No I don’t think so, I don’t think so. Well if there was, normally those sort of things I mean you forget anyway. If there was what news you might get on board was new of the day from Britain. The likes of bombers had bombed some
middle country are or middle, Midlands, middle counties. All bombs, more bombs on London, you know, London, East End, they copped the worst part of the bombing. So no we wouldn’t have had any great discussion about it. What was the use of it? I mean it was just a surface sort of a job, we were there and we couldn’t get in the depth of discussion over their activities there.
I mean over the German activities.
When you got to Britain, how did you get to your first base?
The first base we were transported by RAAF vehicles to Bournemouth. That was our depot, you know, on arrival.
And then you were in a holding base there, weren’t you?
Yeah that’s right, yeah.
So what was the real training ground?
First real training ground was,
it was a refresher flying course and that took place at Wootton on the east coast of Britain, Wootton, yeah. That was the early part of it. And then there was another, couple of other stations we were on with the same thing, you were just transported elsewhere to do a little bit more refresher flying.
So at Wootton when you first went up in a plane again, was it difficult?
Was it what?
No, no, no. No because you were flying the same type of aircraft as Wirraways right, it was on that level, yeah. So there was no problem there.
You hadn’t flown for three months, was there a little bit of tension about going up again?
No, no tension, no. We just had to, only if you had any tension or any doubts I mean it was just the type of aircraft you were flying and you knew darn well it was similar to a Wirraway in lots of respects, not identical but still the same type
of training aircraft, and probably you were probably a little bit concerned that you could handle it alright but you went up with an instructor in the first place to get you off the ground, after not being in the air for three months that was not great drama, yeah.
We might put that over there if that’s OK, just because of the sound with the microphone.
Oh right, they’re very sensitive.
Yeah, they are very sensitive, yeah.
And what was the first training base like at Wootton?
Oh it was only a training base, it was only a refresher course right, that was all, just a refresher course for your flying. It certainly wasn’t a training base, no training done there at all. You just took a, had an instructor with you, flew around for the first half hour or so
and that was it and then you took the aircraft up and flew it around yourself to get used to it. And from there of course we went to Eshott in Northumberland on Spitfires.
It says in some of our notes that there was a big impact for you when you saw some of the results of the Germans bombing England. Can you talk a bit about that?
Well, the destruction of buildings and well they always looked a mess anyway regardless of what building is destroyed or burnt
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.
And that night you were in the air raid shelter what was happening outside that you found out about later?
That I found out?
What was happening around you?
Well certainly there was no destruction around us there was no buildings around us. We were lucky enough not to have one cut out on us above our heads, you know.
Were you afraid for your life that night?
No really. Not really.
I was in the shelter with my friend and, yeah that’s right Penny, and she was a friend of my older brother and her daughter and her little boy.
Where they afraid?
Oh well if they were, they didn’t give any, didn’t show any of it but we talked about the bloody – pardon me – the bombers coming across you know. And one night it
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.
He was a captain in the British Army and he’d returned from the Middle East too. So he and I had a day out in London, right, had our photo taken plus a few beers and what no
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.
It’s pretty brave to throw yourself on someone I suppose you don’t think too much about it at the time?
To throw yourself onto someone.
Oh I mean that little boy. I mean I was only concerned with protecting him with other falling stuff around us. Well if I got it I got it, I wasn’t interested in that. It was only a case of saving that little life,
if it had to be saved.
What was London like?
Oh terrific, terrific place, yeah. We used to, there was a hotel in Fleet Street, London which was called the Codger’s Bar – Codger’s, Collar’s Bar, Codger’s I think it was. Us Australians use to go there and have a drink, you know. And yeah, Queensland House was the headquarters for a lot of our activities, our social activities that is,
Did you meet men from other areas of the army in the Codgers Bar?
No, not really. No I can’t ever recall. I mean you’d be with only two or three of your mates and you’d end up there you know. Oh you could have idle conversation with them, that’s all, you didn’t get to know them in a really friendly manner or to the extent where you were going to socialise with them.
Describe some of
the destruction around London at that time?
Well you had destruction of factories that were there, factories, homes, primarily what it was all about, homes and factories. And up in the Midlands that copped a fair bit of attention too with the German bombers. They were hard to describe, you can’t get down into real detail of describing what happened you can only see it
as a broad area of destruction, yeah.
Some other pilots and soldiers have said when they see that kind of destruction it makes them want to get in there and fight the Germans?
Oh that would be right too of course, yeah, yeah. Yeah that would be right.
Is that how you felt about it?
Oh well, I felt I was, you know I’d like to be doing what I was doing, that’s helping the war effort, yeah.
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.
What happened after you’d, when you went to do the Spitfire training, can you explain a little bit about that part of your
Well it was a case of, yeah, well first of all you learned to, the refresher course brought you up to going to a Spitfire training establishment right, so as I said earlier you get a written brief on cockpit drill etc and that’s how you get a sign that you understand it. And then of course once you do that then they make a Spitfire available, a Spitfire, you’re assigned to
a Spitfire and you take it up and have your circuit and landing experience and also circuit drill the area, familiarisation with the area that you’re operating in. Then you do other taxi-ing exercising, like gunnery and small bomb dropping, you know practice bombs on a target in the area of the aerodrome.
What was it like when you first operated the gunnery machine, machinery?
Oh, OK. You only got a bit of recoil action, you expected that anyway so no effect on, to doing you know pulling your speed back a bit or you got this recoil action apart from that it was no problem. There’s not much to tell about those sort of
training establishments really they’re pretty much laid down and sort of what you’ve got to do and what you’re expected to do. You can’t go willy nilly with it. You can’t go off flying just around the place, around the area without advising somebody or getting permission to do it. You don’t have to get permission to for a circuit flight or just around the area as long as you, there’s an aircraft
available for you to do just that.
So no flying off to girlfriends places?
No, not up there in those days, no way, no.
What were the Pommy COs like?
The Pommy COs.
Oh, they were good. Oh, they were good yeah, very good. No risk about them not being good, I mean they were. They were you know probably pretty thorough with the work they had to do and looking after 12 pilots
and aircraft, yeah. And of course then the squadron was about 12 aircraft and 12 personnel or maybe 14 and the squadron then was involved in the wing, involved in the wing which was three squadrons right. A wing was about 12 pilots, so in just round figures about 36 pilots right, one to each squadron, each aircraft.
And what was your CO
like at that point?
Quite good, quite helpful yeah at the training, oh yeah quite helpful. Certainly no animosity or anything like that no, well he didn’t do anything to cause any animosity. You just did your flying exercises as required and that was it.
Where was the war at that point, when you were training?
Oh the war was being still fought from Britain. See it
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.
When you’d first join a squadron, would they take you in, how did that work?
Oh well you just make yourself, no you accept your report to the squadron, once you’re posted to the squadron you report to the squadron, to the CO or the flight commander and whatever flight you’re attached to, you wouldn’t know until you got there which flight you were going to be with whether you’re going to be A Flight or B Flight. And a matter of fact
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.
Sit down, have a few beers?
Oh yeah, we had a mess there. Yeah, a mess and a lovely old English home and a big gardens and what not. That was our billet of course, and we had a bar, a
billiard table and where we were at that place was quite in the line in behind where the ack ack guns that were on the coast too so we could have had one of those flying bombs land on us at the, coming across, you know, that got through, particularly at night time.
So were you aware that that was the case, that you could have been bombed?
Oh yeah, oh definitely. Don’t forget I told you that we were flying at times above the ack-ack fire
to try and get those bombs that got through the ack-ack. Not every solo of ack-ack got a flying bomb.
So you were just hoping that they’d know the markings?
You were hoping that they would see the markings on your plane, is that right?
Oh well no, that didn’t apply to the flying bombs because they just shot off from a rocket in France or Belgium, right, a German rocket. They would come straight through, they were propelled,
fuel propelled and jets and no pilot of course. I think I made a reference to that before, no pilot. They just had enough fuel to get to England or London that’s where most of them were aimed at London and once the engine cut out or the jet cut out they would just drop and fell. Of course that’s a silly statement, they just fell, yeah.
So you were trying to intercept that?
That’s right exactly yeah. And that’s either by doing patrols over the English Channel
and out of reach of the guns, the German guns on the French coast and trying and catch them in mid channel and shoot them down. We didn’t get too many, well I didn’t see, you didn’t get too many coming across, I mean they weren’t coming across in hoards but night time was the time they used to come across in numbers.
How many would there have been?
Oh Nicole [interviewer], I wouldn’t have a clue, wouldn’t have a clue. I
don’t know whether the Ministry or Britain would have that, they might have a record of how many came across. I don’t know.
Some pilots have described flying through flak as one of their most terrifying moments, would you agree?
Flying through flak.
Flying through flak?
Yeah as terrifying.
Oh yeah, yeah definitely. Well we were, you know you could liken us to a flying bomb. The flying bombs were getting through our flak and when we were doing the raids
on the German areas, we’d have to go you know we’d be flying through their flak too, oh yeah. So that’s where the luck of it comes in because you’re flying your aircraft to do a job OK, and they’re sending up flak to you and it’s really coming up to so you’re lucky to get through that sort of flak barrage.
What would you do to get through it? Were there some…?
Well you couldn’t take evasive action, because you didn’t know where it was coming from.
It was just bang, bang, bang, bang, bang. You know you’d see the black smoke where it had exploded out on your wing tip or a bit further out then your wing tip or it would have damaged it and that sort of thing and puffs of black smoke exploding around you. You know a lot of luck is associated with getting through a flak belt too.
What was the job of your squadron, then, in Brussels?
Oh we were doing the same work from Brussels, this airfield in Diest
doing exactly what we were doing from Britain. Except this time we were as I say following the army through because they pushed the Germans back then we moved in behind them and trying to give them the air support that they needed.
When you’re in the middle of a war, can you feel it winding down?
In the middle of a?
War. When you’re involved in a war, can you feel it winding down?
the way the army progressed and the way we moved in behind them I think you could probably, yeah, think along those lines a bit. That you know it’s going to come to a halt shortly, because you know, upsetting Germans transport systems and what not, yeah I think you could safely say you could more or less see the end of it, or hear or forecast the end of it.
Were people excited that the Germans were being pushed back?
Oh yeah, oh yeah definitely,
yeah. As a matter of fact there was, I haven’t met him but one of the chaps I play golf with, he knows a German pilot in Toowoomba and that pilot was a Messerschmitt pilot, you know one that we used to like to shoot at, you know, and that’s right they like to shoot at us too. Yeah, so I’d like to meet him one day.
Just to hear what he though of you guys?
To hear. Why would you want to meet him?
Oh just to say hello to him, say g’day and hail fellow well met sort of thing. I’ve got no animosity towards the Germans at all now, probably had some sort of animosity towards them during the war years fighting against them but I certainly hold no animosity towards them. No, I’d like to meet him, just to say g’day to him. We have a little bit in common, he was flying aircraft on one side of the war and I was flying on the other side
yeah. Not really complicated, do you think?
No, no, I think that would be interesting to meet someone on the other side. You certainly would have a lot in common.
Yeah well I haven’t, I haven’t made myself try and get organised to see him but I have been thinking about it when I first heard about him being here. I’ll get around to it one day. One day, you know sometimes that’s the day that never comes, procrastination, they call it I think.
Go and play a round of golf with him.
Yeah, I wouldn’t know whether he is a golfer or not but yeah. I’d do that too, I’d do that. That wouldn’t be a problem.
Interviewee: Eric Gray Archive ID 1627 Tape 06
Can you tell me a little bit more about Lord Gisborough?
Who he was and what he did?
Oh Lloyd Gisborough.
L O R D, Lord.
Lord Gisborough, that’s what I said, Lord Gisborough, yeah. Can you tell me a little bit more about him?
Well apart from, no I don’t know his background you know, Lord I don’t know his background that way but yeah he was on the squadron. I think I told you that sometimes there at the mess there
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.
And he was the intelligence officer?
oh yeah. Oh well, the intelligence officer was writing reports on our various sortie trips right. If we met any aircraft or what the sortie trip knew, I mean did you strafe anything, see any aircraft because you’re limited with how far you can go with a Spitfire and by way of distance. So you know he’d get back, you’d get back and you’d report to him just what you did do, et cetera.
And of course he’d have to write that up for the squadron reports.
Was he always a little bit vague like that?
I don’t think so, no. No, I don’t think so. I’m sure he wasn’t just those little slips I think.
Did you have any other characters around like that?
No I can’t recall any of them like that. I might have been the only one that was like that.
So everybody was normal,
I think so.
Yeah, I guess so, yeah.
They were normal, yeah, there was probably a lot of fun remarks made of course but you can’t remember them. I just remember those two little things associated with that one particular person.
You were surrounded by, there was a whole bunch of young men together.
No women around.
Flying potentially deadly sorties everyday.
what sort of things did these young men do to try to make life a little bit easier or not so serious?
What when they’re not flying? Oh well in that particular instance we had, they had a pool table, a billiard table and had a bar. A lot of chaps used to congregate at the bar of course and swallow a few yards and what not and they certainly didn’t get drunk.
Was there any humour?
Humour? Oh there was lots of humour, Ellen, but you can’t remember all the humour that went on, I can’t anyway. And obviously lots of little funny stories that were on the go.
No pranks that people played on one another?
Oh I, no I don’t think so. No I think
the blokes were pretty serious minded about what they were doing with the flying you know the operations so I don’t think there were any real serious pranks, you know, off your flying time.
What were your expectations of the war – I’ll just ask that again – What were your expectations of the war before you got to Britain?
Well my expectations were that I would be involved with helping win the war, getting to win the war with the services and that’s what I would be hoping. And I would have my luck go with me to get through what we had to get through, the various flying programmes associated with activity against the Germans. So I
think the expectations of winning were pretty good.
How did you cope with the possibility of being killed or wounded?
You couldn’t. If you were killed, I mean, you were killed.
But how did you cope with that mentally?
Well, well you had it, you know the thought in your mind, in the back of your mind that it might be your last operations trip,
or something. These throughs certainly crept into your area of mental thinking but it had to be that you just had to forget about it, you know try and put it. But once you got in your aircraft and got going you were too busy doing what you were supposed to do with flying your aircraft and keeping a look out for enemy vehicles and aircraft and so you were occupied right. So the thoughts of being killed or wounded
didn’t actually enter your head. I don’t think they did. They didn’t enter mine anyway, I mean I just kept doing what I was supposed to do.
Did it ever cross your mind that you might be wounded or?
Of course well if you were wounded I mean here again you would just have, you’d be unlucky but you can’t do much about it, and hopefully if you were wounded it wouldn’t be that serious that you’d have to
spend your lifetime in a wheelchair or something like that no. Wounded, if you were wounded I would be hoping that you were only wounded, been shot down and be able to crash land the aircraft and get out of it or something like that. So a pretty dull existence, isn’t it?
No. That’s the whole thing it’s not, we’re so excited by it. We can’t, I can’t even begin to image what it was like and I know it’s a long time ago but it really,
the whole, it’s like another world, really. Did you think it was a dull existence?
Did I think?
Did you think it was a dull existence at the time?
Oh dull. Oh it could be dull when there was yeah, when you were sort of sorting around the dispersal hut and you know just sitting around. Yeah you could think it was dull then because you were just sitting around and either waiting for orders
to come through or maybe there was nothing coming through that you had to do as far as acting was concerned so go shooting quail or something like that but that didn’t happen very often either. So there were dull times involved, there sure was.
What were the most difficult times?
Most difficult times.
I don’t know that there was any time a bit different to any of the others. All much as a fighter pilot we were all doing much the same was we were doing day in and day out you might say. No I can’t recall any serious difficult times, difficult when you were at work, when I say working you know what I
mean by working getting into the action and so.
What were the worst times?
The worst times. I’m not too, the worst times well the worst times I suppose, oh
dear I don’t know how to answer that, the worst times. Well, wouldn’t any of your operational flights be the worst times, even though you didn’t treat it as such. I would think anyway, your worst times that would be your worst times doing operational flying, no doubt about that. Worst because it’s the most dangerous you know and when you’re back on
board, back on your own air field and what not you’re free of the problem of being shot down. I suppose that’s a mental sort of an attitude, yeah.
What were the best times?
Best times. Best times were times with the squadron on the station. Cricket against another army crowd at times, that was
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.
What went through your mind when you heard those gun fires?
Oh well we suspected we heard big aircraft, shells going off before so we were aware of what the shells
were all about and been warned that that’s what could happen if they spotted us and they did. We survived.
How did the other men around you react?
The three chaps that were with me? Oh they didn’t have any serious reaction, I mean, we just accepted that the Germans had tried to knock us out, that’s all there was to it.
Did you have to run for cover?
Not run, we were in a jeep.
Yeah, we were on four wheels all the time.
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.
Who won the cricket game?
Oh, Ellen, don’t ask me that I couldn’t remember. I don’t know.
How did the air force blokes get on with the army men?
Alright, alright yeah. The air force personnel had
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.
were away for three years, what did you know about what was happening back in Australia?
Not much. Well I used to get some news from my mother as to what’s happening but she couldn’t give much news because there was not that much happening around here. Oh we used to get those cuttings of the Australia squadrons up in Darwin fighting the Japanese. We used to get that sort of information, yeah.
And they did bring a wing of, or a squadron I think or it might have been a wing of Spitfires in Darwin at one stage because the boys on Wirraways that I trained on at Deniliquin that was the only fighting aircraft we had in the country until the Americans got here with their Aerocobras and Lightnings. Our boys were flying Wirraways against the Japanese Zeros which is a very fast little fighter plane. So some of our boys
lost their lives being shot down by Japanese Zeros and they were shot down while flying Wirraways.
What did you know of what your mother was doing while you were away?
Oh what did I know of, oh well my mother kept herself occupied. She ran a little guest house with a few little, you know, boarders to keep her occupied.
So, oh no she looked after herself very well. That was yeah she did as a matter of fact yeah. And her letters were always very you know pleasant and no worry associated with her health or anything else. No it was good.
How important were those letters for you?
Oh very important, yeah very important. To know that your mother was well, with no serious
ailments with any of my other family such as my brothers or half sisters you know. So yeah, it was always good news coming through really apart from the war effort from Darwin.
We sort of have an image from movies of people in the war clambering to get their letters from home. Is that what it was like?
Oh yeah I think, yeah. And I don’t know about clambering we used
to, any letters delivered, they were delivered in a batch I guess and well they were addressed to you and you got it. As a matter of fact at one stage in the airfield out at Lympne I think it was we used to have to censor the Brits letters coming back to their folk in Britain. As officers we had to open their mail and have a look what the contents were,
anyway that was that. I mean if we found anything that shouldn’t be there associated with enemy secrets or something like that we didn’t expect to find any either, because most of the British were you know army personnel, the corporals and lieutenants and all that sort of thing.
What were your thoughts about reading other people’s mail?
Oh I wasn’t very fussed about
it. I read a couple of them, quite funny articles I don’t think I can repeat them to you.
Not even now?
No. I know the contents, I know the words used, but I don’t think I better tell you.
Ok one of the letters that came back that I opened and I had to read was he was
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.
Did you understand that sentiment?
Of course, yeah.
Was that a difficult part of being at war?
No, no the absence of women?
Oh no you got used to it. No, no, no that wasn’t a difficult part.
But we’ve heard a lot of stories from other men in the army and air force about how men would seek out prostitutes while they were overseas. Did you ever see any of that?
No, I never ever sought out
prostitutes, never no.
What about other men around you?
I don’t know, I suppose. I don’t know about them either, I mean some of the chaps around me in the squadron they were already married. And I don’t know what they did when they were on their own leave, when they were in London, I can’t tell you that but I never had occasion to worry about, well I never put myself out to worry about a prostitute, no.
I wasn’t asking about you
personally, I was asking about the other men and what you saw?
Oh well they could, yeah, yeah.
It seems to me you had quite a few girlfriends along the way actually.
Oh, I had one or two.
Were you a bit of a charmer?
I don’t know. I don’t know.
Did you get letters from your girlfriend back in Deniliquin?
Oh yes, yeah, definitely, we corresponded quite regularly too. As I said
I upset the apple cart when I wrote and told her I’d got engaged and that didn’t go down too well, but she was still friendly towards me when I came home.
What do you know of her life during that time that you were away?
Oh, she was teaching. Teaching and I’m not too sure where she was teaching obviously not too far from home anyway I think because her people had property, grain property, crop property. And she had a younger brother who was in
the air force too. I’d only met him once and he was doing his training when I was finishing mine.
You told us earlier about a story of the Belgian pilot who was killed and that you had to go to his mother and tell her that he had died.
No, I went to go and see his wife.
Oh sorry his wife, I beg your pardon.
His wife, yeah. Yeah
Can you tell me about that again?
Well my flight commander, he –
it doesn’t matter, he was one of the blokes that went across with me, well with us on the first batch going across. He spoke fluent French, he was living in France for quite a while he was an engineer, a civil engineer. And so it was no trouble going to see this woman apart from taking the sad news to her that, I think she would have been advised by the war office anyway. And of course we went to see her and you know give her our sympathies
on losing her husband in action you know. So that’s about all we could do and she accepted it. I think most people accepted that sort of thing when war was on you know and I think you know these sort of fatalities and being shot down I think was part of the existence and I think people accepted it.
Did that have an impact on you?
No I don’t think it did, I don’t think it did. I was single, I didn’t have that sort of matrimonial,
I wasn’t in that sort of matrimonial situation so apart from being very very sympathetic towards this airman’s wife, you know that’s all I could do it, didn’t upset me in any way.
I know you might feel you’ve already explained this to us, but I don’t know if you’ve actually told us exactly what the cockpit drill was. What did you, what was the cockpit drill?
Oh well you get
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.
What was, is there a particular day that really stands out in your mind?
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.
Can you tell us about the relationship between the pilots and the engineers?
Oh, very good, yeah. Pilots had to rely on the engineers and the engineers, you would report any troubles with your aircraft to the engineers, that’s your ground staff or ground engineers I should say that were looking after the aircraft. And no, it was good. No it was a relationship, well look
I couldn’t say there was a bad relationship anyway during my air force days, my career in the air force, you know. I could not say there was any animosity towards anybody, no arguments, no dissension with anybody. No it was all pretty good as far as I was concerned.
What was morale like?
Oh good, good. Morale was no problem. I mean everybody’s morale was quite high, yeah. Well it had to be otherwise you wouldn’t be doing your job.
Wouldn’t it? Wouldn’t it be, it had to be high, morale right, yes.
So did you develop close relationships with the engineers?
Oh not that close, not that close. The closest we got to having a close relationship with the engineers was at Lympne and an Australian and myself had a little Prefect car. I don’t know what we paid for it, not much I know that. And we use to let one of the engineers, the engineer
that used to look after our aircraft used to look after it and fill it us and we used to let him take the car home. He’d live close, handy to the airfield. So we used to let him use the car. So we were always sure that our tank was fuelled and the aircraft was right up to scratch. Oh that was all yes. That was just one of his irks as we used to call them, irks, yeah.
But you must have relied on one another
Oh you did actually, you did, you certainly did. Yeah well here again it’s a case of synchronising your movements and words what not with other people on the ground and your own flying comrades. It’s all very interesting. It’s all interwoven you might say.
Did you ever see any great acts of bravery?
No never. No certainly not. I doubt it too many people have. Not the act itself. I know of them but not the action that brought the bravery award about, no.
What about any acts of cowardess?
I think there was one Australia, one Australia in that we feel that he deliberately got himself out because of the dangers associated with flying. I can’t, might remember his name but I’m pretty certain that he got himself out by fake means which means
you know he was, he didn’t want to be in the war. OK, he used to like being in the service and that sort of thing but he wasn’t going to lose his life fighting. I know no more than that. And he was the only one. Only one I ever came across.
Was he in your squadron?
No he wasn’t, he wasn’t. It was during our AFS
re-courses, you know refresher courses and what not, that’s where I think he spat the dummy you know. He got away with it all this and I don’t know what was in his log book, how it was worded in his log book or whether he showed any sign of cowardice or anything like that, I don’t know.
How did the other pilots react to that?
Well, they were a bit surprised but because of his attitude they reckoned we were better off without him anyway, right. He wouldn’t have been an
asset to you or the squadron or anybody else, you know, with that feeling you know you didn’t want to be in it. It’s as simple as that.
Do you know what happened to him?
Eventually, no I don’t, I don’t know what happened to him. I would be very certain that he didn’t, he didn’t operate any that he didn’t carry out any operations with any squadron, no.
Did you ever here about any charges of
LMF [lack of moral fibre]?
No. No, well that bloke could have been charged with LMF, but I don’t know that for certain either. I would say that the way it went on that he deserved it, was deserving of that sort of title.
What were your own personal thoughts about that?
Well my own personal thoughts were that he
was a coward, right. That’s what I thought anyway.
Could you understand that?
Could I understand that? That he was? Of course, yeah. It means that you were very much afraid, it’s as simple as that, very much afraid. Going on operational flying or any other service work where it
involves enemy action and yourself, yeah.
But could you understand that he might feel that way?
Oh I can’t say that but he must have felt that way to do what he did, right, to do what he did. And I can’t remember what he did but I know that he did something, you know, that got him off the hook you might say. It was all to do with his attitude.
Do you think there were any pilots in your squadron who were not afraid?
I think we were all afraid on operation but look you couldn’t, no point being afraid because you had a job to do. You were flying an aircraft for a start and once you came into any enemy territory and you were look for you know your enemy to attack in any shape or form. So there were no doubts about that.
Where there any ace pilots in your squadron?
Ace pilots? No there were all, a couple you know pretty good, pretty good but no. Oh yeah one of the, our first wing CO was a, his name was Gray too, Colin Gray. He was a New Zealander, he was the wing CO of the wing and he was a DFC. He spent time in the Middle East before going back to Britain and I think he had a DSO [Distinguished Service Order] and DFC.
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.
That was enough for you?
Enough for me, oh yes, yes. Yeah, I didn’t expect to win medals and only got the services medals and the France Germany star for my activities in France and Germany 39-45 star. They
are just defence medals, they are just the standard type medals. But certainly the France Germany star stands out, because that was where most of my operations were carried out. So there is some significance for me.
Are they important for you?
Oh, they are to a degree. When Anzac Day comes out and you go marching out with the troops you like to spread your medals out a bit. Oh spread them, I should say, you know,
cluster them up on your lapel.
What do they mean to you?
Well I suppose in effect they only mean that I had been very active during my term in the air force, of being an active and a good airman, and was able to carry out my duties as required. But they,
I must admit I don’t look at them. Only once a year when I put them together, put them on a belt and go to the Anzac march. All those blokes that march in the Anzac parade have got many the same, the same medals, yeah.
Did you think of yourself as part of the Anzac tradition?
Oh yes. I guess so, I guess so, yeah. Oh yes, well I was still Anzac as far as I’m, I’m from the original you know
from the World War I didn’t it. Yeah, World War I. Yep.
So during those three years did you think a lot about representing your country?
Oh, I guess so I think that would have been a natural thought, yeah that you’re representing Australia and then in defence of the Mother Country. Oh yeah, I’d reckon
What about the Empire?
Well the Empire, oh well they had to be involved in the same sort of thinking, yeah.
Did you have a strong sense of that?
Did I have a?
Did you have a strong sense of that, being part of the Empire?
I guess, yes yeah. And even the initial training scheme we were on was under the Empire Training Scheme but you’re not referring to that, I know you’re referring to the Empire as a
So I just was wondering whether you thought, whether you had a strong feeling for Australia being part of the Mother Country Britain fighting for Britain. Did you think about that?
Oh yes, and I was happy to you know be involved, be happy to be posted to Britain, quite
happy about that, help fight the war over there. Yeah, there were no problems with me with that in that regard.
Ok we might have a pause there.
Interviewee: Eric Gray Archive ID 1627 Tape 07
Eric how did they choose people for the Empire Air Training Scheme?
Well, well you volunteered to join up in under the Empire Air Training Scheme. Once you were called up of course as
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.
How long did that take?
Oh a couple of months, yeah. And then…
It only took you a couple of months to be able to fly a Tiger Moth?
Oh yeah not, oh less than that really, yeah. But you only get a few hours up in the two months period. Ok so your flying is satisfactory, your ground subjects that you did there are satisfactory so then you were posted to Deniliquin onto Wirraways, hopefully to get your wings on Wirraways. Well I did. So you know it’s rather intensive really and I had to battle a fair bit because of the lot of schooling I lost
years ago as a young boy, as a boy. Anyway I made it.
Where there any men in your position having to study hard?
Well I guess so, I guess so you know you don’t get to meet them all. And I think the people I joined up with were, that joined up I mean going onto the same course number course, I think most of the people there would have certainly had a better education than me. That’s why I had to go to the tech college
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.
How did you get chosen to go to
How did I get to what?
Chosen to go to Britain? How did they choose you to go overseas to Britain?
Oh I don’t know they just took it, well yeah. What, to finish your training?
Are you talking about the people off the Deniliquin course?
They took a few off there and sent them to Canada to finish their training over there, on similar aircraft to what we were doing refresher courses in Britain, but also similar to the Wirraways.
Did everybody else
go to Britain?
No I don’t think so, no.
How did you get chosen to go to Britain?
Oh well, I was one of a few of course chosen to go to Britain off my course. So that was alright.
Was that, was that good to be chosen to go to Britain?
Oh yes, yeah. On the other hand when I, with what the invasion and Japan up here in the north,
I must admit I had second thoughts. I couldn’t understand why we were being you know posted to Britain when we got the Japanese on our doorstep. Those thoughts went through my mind but of course it didn’t take me long to realise that they didn’t have the aircraft here for us, and they reckon they could hold the Japanese invasion with what we had and with the help of the Americans. So we went across to, a few of us you know quite a few a lot of us went overseas to Britain, you know, in the air
force yeah. So people that I didn’t train with and never got to knew any of them and the bomber blokes never got to knew any of them, apart from a little chat in the pub or something like that when you were on leave. So yeah so it just I think it was just the luck of the draw you might say.
Do you think they made the right decision sending those people over to Britain?
I think so, yeah. What about the people they sent to Canada to finish their training,
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.
How did you become an officer?
Well I went through this non commissioned officer stage where sergeant pilot, flight sergeant pilot, warrant officer pilot
and well, do myself fairly well and behaving myself well and that could act a part of an officer, right, without being blasé and all this sort of thing. I mean they weigh up your personality associated with whether they recommend you for a commission or otherwise. So I was recommended for a commission and that was before I joined the 41 Squadron, 41 RAF Squadron at Lympne, in Kent.
they detected something about your personality?
I guess so, yeah. Well there are some of them that didn’t make it to the officer class. We had a few on our squadron. But anyway and oh yeah they were doing that flying training period on Spitfires it’s in my log book as a spider pilot, under training above average, so that probably helped a little bit too.
I think it was personality that really weighs up whether they recommend you for a commission or not. And I was the RAF personnel, the instructors and what not on the base that made a recommendation that offered a commission.
What do you think it is about your personality?
I don’t know, I don’t know. Well, I think I’m easy to get along with, I’m not a
trouble maker. I have a sense of humour and sense of feeling of good will to my fellow man. In general I think I’m a reasonable bloke under all circumstances.
So how did you react to becoming an officer?
Well quite easy, quite pleasant, quite good. And so I got out of the, out of the
got out of being a senior in the sergeants’ mess and went to being a junior in the big mess.
How did that change your work as a pilot?
I don’t think it did, I don’t think it did. See I was a, I had my commission before I joined the squadron. I was up to the earlier stages of going through OTUs on Spitfire
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.
Everywhere you were?
So did that mean you were in charge of the men when you went into the squadron?
No, no I was just one of the squadron boys, a junior officer on the squadron. The bloke that met me into the squadron, his OC [Officer Commanding] flight
commander was away and he was Acting Flight Commander Beesh, Beef, I think, he welcomed me there and welcomed – getting mixed up with my words – he welcomed me there and that’s right he was only a pilot officer too, he was the same age as I was you know and he was just another pilot on the squadron too. And of course then his flight commander came back from duty and I was introduced to
him naturally, and so it goes from there you know.
Who were the men that you were closest too in that squadron?
Pretty close to Johnny Wilkinson, who was a RAF pilot, British pilot. Jack Henry, who was a New Zealander.
What was Jack like?
Good. He was
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.
That’s a bit of a compliment?
Yeah, I guess so.
And what was Johnny like? The British pilot, was it John, before you mentioned Jack?
Oh John Wilkinson, yeah he was a very pleasant young bloke too, yeah. Yeah Baby Face we used to call him, he had a very baby sort of a face yeah. A very pleasant bloke otherwise I wouldn’t be going out with him. We went up to London together and on leave a couple of
Did he show you around London being from England?
Oh well, a lot of those English people have never been to London either you know. We found our way around and generally hung around one area and that was around Queensland House and Boomerang House, was it Boomerang House, Boomerang Club, yeah, that was an Aussie hang out. So that’s where most of us used to get to when we were on leave or for a weekend.
What were some of the other guys in the group?
Some of the other guys in the squadron? Oh well there was a Norwegian, a Belgian, there was a Palestinian I think, it was or a Jew, I’ve forgotten which he was now, a Jew, a Canadian.
What was the Norwegian, who was the Norwegian and what was he like?
The Norwegian bloke, oh he was pleasant, look they were all very pleasant you know. The, you couldn’t
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.
Did they ask you about Australia?
Oh yes they would, ask you various questions from time to time about Australia. And fortunately most the questions asked were able to be answered, I should imagine.
And you wanted to be a pilot with the cosmopolitan group?
Yeah I did. Yeah I had that choice you know and we finished the OTU courses and you were just ready you were waiting now to
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.
post war Christmas in London?
Well it was good as far as I was concerned. There was snow falling and Christmas lights were on. A lot of, well you know a lot of the big buildings were back on power and their lights were streaming out. Oh yes and people were singing in the streets with their, you know with the cessation of hostilities. And oh, it was really gay, it was worthwhile staying back, it really was.
Was it hard, still hard to
get food and Christmas things?
Oh, we didn’t have any trouble. The people I was staying with, we had no trouble. I know we, Mrs Penny Cook took us to an Indian curry place one evening, it was lovely too an Indian curry place that was in her own suburb sort of thing, Deltam. And oh no we, the only time I struck a snag was in London and some of my mates,
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.
So where did you stay in London?
Well London I used to stay at, you had to you know find your own accommodation, Queensland House or the Boomerang Club. They didn’t have accommodation although they used to serve personnel with
drinks and that sort of thing and we used to stay at a hotel in London. And that’s where Johnny Wilkinson and I used to go up to London to, when we went up I think we were in the Strand, hotel in the Strand and stayed there until our leave was up, 48 hour leave pass and then back. Of course, all leave passes you did your travelling by train. That was no trouble if you wanted to go anywhere and you had a leave pass, I mean you got a train pass too.
And where did you have the Christmas parties?
Oh at my friend’s place, the people I used to stay with. Well the photograph of Ella’s son, the captain there with me, he was home. Alex the next brother, who was in Australia, came to Australia early he was there. His girlfriend that chose to be my future bride, she was there. And another friend of
Vanessa, Penny Cooks, she was there, she used to stay and live with them in the house, she was there. Yeah and of course a couple of their other friends you know, friends of the girl and Alex, their group of friends too, friends their age. So I was it was very very good I’ll tell you, yeah.
Eat and drink?
Yeah we didn’t drink that much. I don’t think, I think I only ever drank
beer over there. I might have had a couple of scotches at Edinburgh when I was stationed at Grangemouth in the RAF Club there or hotel, I’ve forgotten which. I might have had a couple there that’s all, I didn’t drink scotch, I drank beer most of the time. I don’t think I drank any wine either.
Was it snowing for that Christmas?
Was it snowing for that Christmas?
Yeah, it was snowing, yeah. I had my first experience of rolling a snowball. I went out to the front to get the mail out of the box
and there was snow on the ground and then there was a cat walked by so I picked up a roll of snow, rolled it into a ball and threw it at the cat. It didn’t hurt the cat, it was just a playful mood I was in.
You’ll have to be careful with your tie.
Start over again?
Yeah, so just tell us about London at that time.
Over the Christmas period? OK, well I got the Christmas stay in London as I requested and as schemed you might say.
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.
No harm done by anybody.
Just talk about the atmosphere in London, post war?
Oh it was great, it really was, yeah. Oh yeah people were beaming and you know just a great atmosphere of pleasure, joy not the doom and gloom that was on their faces what not for years. No really good. Most pleased I was there for the post war, yeah it really was.
Did you miss the blokes in your squadron?
Did I miss them? Oh I don’t think so, I don’t think so. Oh no I thought of them, you know, but I didn’t miss their company, you know, I was in another direction you might say. And so yeah, no I didn’t miss them, I didn’t miss them.
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.
Drive through the streets with people cheering?
Yeah a convoy, yeah. A convoy of us, yeah in jeeps, yeah. And some of them got on the vehicles
and jeeps. As many as you could fit on the jeeps you know. Waving to their friends on the footpath, oh it was really great.
Was that just celebrating the end of the war?
Yeah, celebrating the end of the war because they’d been occupied too for years by the Germans, right. So they were out of the clutches of the Germans you might say and that was it, well there was still Germans there. I know we went across to another, a German airfield there to pick up a light
aircraft, a small German aircraft and fly it back to our squadron, just as a souvenir you might say, yeah. So there was German ground staff they were still working on aircraft in the hangers there as we left, yeah.
And what were they like toward you?
Oh we didn’t get to speak with them or get near enough to them, Nicole. There was no need for us
too, we didn’t have to. We just took delivery of this light aircraft and I think one of the other boys flew it back. Oh because we went over in a light aircraft ourselves, a Moth or something like that, one of our own aircraft. One pilot to bring it back, two pilots when and one pilot would bring it back. So that was that. The war years were over. I think most people would have been relieved. The French were relieved, the Germans were relieved – I think they would have
been – and Dutch people and the Belgians. All of those European countries that were occupied would be really relieved.
You were mostly involved in European –
You were mostly involved in the European –
The war, yes.
Had you heard much of what was happening with the Japs?
With the Japs? No we used to get you know newspaper reports about there being Wirraways attacking, being attacked by Japanese Zeros
and that sort of information we were getting. And then the squadron of Spitfires arrived at Darwin and they could handle and match the Japs’ Zeros. So it was a big change, a big relief for the Australians to have that the Spit 8s out here. So, but that’s all we knew about it you know what we got through the local rag, newspaper.
What did you think when you heard that Australia was being bombed?
Oh shocked, well naturally I was and that’s why one of the thoughts that crossed my mind, why am I going over to Britain when our own country is in danger? But then we didn’t have the aircraft here, we had enough manpower, air pilots but we didn’t have the aircraft to put them into battle with. So the powers that be thought it better that we, some of us go to Britain and it wasn’t a bad move either in the long term.
Did you hear about some of the POWs
in Japanese camps?
I read a bit about them, yeah. I think as a, this is only bar talk, but I think a chap I knew, he was a soldier and his name was Digger Thelander, I think he did one of these set ups. I only heard that at the bar the other day and he passed away only a matter of, oh a few months ago I suppose. And when they knew that I was going
to do this show today, I wasn’t boasting about it I wasn’t trying to boast about it and they said oh well you know Digger Thelander he did one of those shows for Australians at War because he’d been in training camp you know. So and I didn’t know much of his background but that’s probably the theme he worked on being a prisoner of war in a training camp.
Do you think in some ways you’re lucky to miss the Burma – you know, some
of the conflicts that happened in South East Asia?
Yeah. Lucky because you know it’s like everything else you keep going at the same thing time and time again, you know you’re going to have that bit of luck run out on you. So but anyway if the posting had of come to go there, oh well, I would have had to go. I mean you just can’t refuse a posting because you don’t like the situation.
But some of your experiences were quite positive in Europe as well?
Yes, yes. Yes, yeah well, let’s hope there’s not another world war, fronting up for wars certainly in those Middle East countries you know, suicide bombers and the like, shocking isn’t it.
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.
What did you think of some of the leaders back in the Second World War, like MacArthur
and [General Thomas] Blamey?
Oh well Blamey was in the Middle East wasn’t he, MacArthur was in the Pacific. And well as I say we never had much to do with them but apart from knowing that he was here and he was the general and I think from what I understand, what I read about him, I found he did a very good job.
Who was some of the leaders that you really respected at that time?
Oh, Churchill probably would be the most respected man I’ve ever had the fortune to know about anyway. Churchill yes, not being in the Middle East I don’t know how efficient Blamey was, but he obviously was or he wouldn’t have been a general I guess.
What did you respect about Churchill?
Well I think he had a great influence
over the people you know with what he did, “We shall fight until the end of the British last child, we will fight on the beaches, we will fight here and there.” And then V for victory you know, oh that was a V for victory sign. So I think he gave, he was a moral support to the British people during his term as Prime Minister.
Was there any time, just talking about leaders and politics of that era, was there any time that you felt that people were making the wrong decisions for you?
I can’t say so, I probably wouldn’t have be thinking along those lines anyway, politically wise. I was doing a job as I was supposed to do and didn’t have much interest in politics, I was just one of the mob being led.
What about the guys in your
squadron they were all from different countries, was there different views about what was happening in the world?
Oh we, I don’t think we discussed politics that much, even with different countries I don’t think we discussed it that much. If we did I can’t remember what we talked about. I probably asked for general knowledge about the country from where they came. I suppose I would have asked the Norwegian, you know, what it was like in his country and likewise the Canadian, talked about their you know
tourist attractions but – pardon me – oh well I don’t suppose I would have talked to the Belgic along those lines, the Belgian or the Palestinian or whatever he was, no.
Did he speak pretty good English?
Yeah. He spoke English, yeah. The Norwegian did, spoke good English. The Belgian did too of course. Of course a lot of those, quite a few of those
particularly all those Swedish countries, the Norwegians they were taught English through their school days from what I know so that they’re speaking pretty fluent English when they leave school.
Did you have a friendly teasing about you know being an Aussie? Did they tease you about G’day mate or any of that sort of stuff?
No, no. Homos [homosexual]?
No, no about being, about being an Aussie. You know how
we have various distinct Aussie mannerisms, did they tease you about being an Aussie?
Oh, occasionally an English one would come up and like we went back to England in 94, I think it was 94 for a squadron reunion. Judy was with me, we went back and then we did a tour through Europe. At this particular official function was dinner that night with the rest of the squadron and members of the
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.
And did you tease them about being Pommies?
Oh yeah, of course,
What sort of things did you say to them?
What sort of things would you say to the Pommies?
Well anything that came to your mind it might have been a bit vulgar it all depends what the person…
That’s OK, you can tell us that.
Pommy ‘B’. Oh get out you Pommy, yeah. Just those sort of things nothing really insulting or offending and we didn’t take any offence
at you know what we were being slung off about either, there was no point in taking offence.
Interviewee: Eric Gray Archive ID 1627 Tape 08
Eric, there was something I meant to ask you earlier. Sometimes when you landed you were at new airfields I understand that you took over some private homes to stay in for accommodation?
Took over some private?
You moved into some private homes.
Can you tell us about that?
Oh the first one was Lympne, it was a big big colonial type home belonged to people of note, I don’t know who but anyway it was Lympne. And it was very comfortable and had all the facilities that you wanted in a home of that anyway.
And then we were in a billet of some description, what was it? In Diest, I think it was a type of army personnel, in Belgian Army stuff and we were just there waiting for the squadron to arrive. Eindhoven in Holland...
How did you come to stay in a private home? How did you actually come to stay in a private home?
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.
Before you arrived in Copenhagen after the cease fire, had you ever experienced anything like that sort of welcome before?
No we hadn’t we missed the one when France
you know gave the British a big welcome, we missed that one. We certainly got the one in Copenhagen, yeah. And there’d been a welcoming through Belgium too, through Brussels but that was before we got across there.
What sort of impact did that have on you as a young pilot, to be welcomed in that way?
Well it was really great you know, you felt proud knowing that you were wearing the uniform of the air force
and greeted with such friendly faces and laughter. It was lovely it really was, yeah. You couldn’t help but return their greetings and complements you know and out flowing sort of smiles and what not, cheers, yep, really good.
Did people kiss and hug each other?
Well we weren’t, no I don’t think we were kissed and hugged. On the
reception we got when we were first arrived there, with getting out on the streets with quite a number of jeeps I can’t remember any of us being hugged or kissed. Certainly not in the jeep I was in anyway. No, I can’t remember. It might have happened, I mean there might have been handshaking and that sort of thing as you drove past, you know, plenty of that went on and cheers and cheers and cheers and claps, clap of hands. Yeah, OK it
was still a pleasant sort of an exercise, yeah.
Can you tell me about the trip home, back to Australia?
Left Australia, left Britain early January I think it was. Yeah, I had the first post war Christmas in Britain and came home on a ship called the Stirling Castle
and a lot of other personnel on that ship at the same time returning to Australia. And we had a good trip home, because it had everything too, you know. We got home I think we were home in about April, April 1946.
What was the mood like on the ship?
Oh it was OK, OK. No axe to grind there, there again it
was just a friendly sort of people on board both from our side of point of view and the ship's crew.
Were people celebrating the end of the war?
Oh they’d been over the real serious part of celebrating you know with the hand claps and the marches in the streets and all that sort of thing that had all gone by the board. So it was a case of thinking about getting back to normal work, to normal practice whatever you did
or what you wanted to do. So that was all very well and I got back to Australia in early April that’s right, early April. I was discharged on the 5th of April from Sandgate where I joined up and I was discharged from there on the 5th of April 1946.
How much was there a sense of anti-climax?
Oh there was when the cessation of hostilities came about when we were
in Germany. That was a bit of an anti-climax to have all of a sudden cessation had stopped you know, action had stopped. Aircraft couldn’t fly, naturally they couldn’t because action was stopped you know. So a bit of anti-climax there, that was on the squadron itself.
How did you cope with your life suddenly changing again so dramatically from one day to the next?
Back into civvie life? Oh I coped with it I think for a while and
a friend, there was another air force chap and I was very friendly with him. And his people had a farm out here at Cambooya and we went to the courses together here at the tech college and he became a bomber pilot. And came home and we met up and we both came back, got home.
Would you like some water?
No I’m right. And he disappeared one day we used to go to the dances together here in Toowoomba. He disappeared for a
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.
So how old were you when you started flying again?
I was 18, 19. 19 when I started flying.
No when you started flying again, 50 years after the war.
Oh 50 years later, yeah. Oh it’s in my log book there somewhere. So yeah, I held that, yes, kept that licence for a few years and
decided to give it away because I was getting on in years and I thought well, and I was only using up money to fly around the circuit area here or around the Downs area, you know not extending any great distance, just for the sake of flying.
How was it to fly again after so long?
Oh great, great yeah it was, yeah. And the type of aircraft I was flying, well it was only a single engine Primary Warrior, you wouldn’t know that aircraft. It’s a single engine mono plane like,
well, similar to the Spitfire but on a much smaller scale, much less horse power etc. And so yeah, so anyway I gave it away and let my licence lapse last year.
When you started flying again did it bring back memories of the war?
Oh, I guess so. I used to think about various things that were happening, you know doing the circuits and landings and that sort of thing yeah.
I guess, I think so, yeah. Nothing in particular comes to mind but I’m sure I would’ve thought to myself, well this is what you were doing in Europe a few years ago, taking off and you know keeping your eyes open for other aircraft in the sky, you know. Oh all those general thoughts from your past training training experience you know comes into being too, yeah.
Did it just
come back to you when you started flying again?
Oh no I had to have a few lessons on this particular type of aircraft by one of the instructors. An instructor out here at the Darling Downs Aero Club, oh no, he had to go through the motions again. Anyway I had no trouble and got the licence and my medical was right. My medical was OK and my flying was alright, so I had no trouble being
issued with a Department of Civil Aviation Flying Licence.
How would you compare the trip on the boat home from Britain compared with the trip out?
On no, there wouldn’t be any comparison. You know the old TSS Nista was a very slow boat and because of it, it took us nearly three months to get there and I think it only took us about four or five weeks to come home on the Stirling Castle. And that’s a bit of a guess too it might have been a bit longer, six weeks.
But certainly it was nothing like three months, no.
What about in terms of your state of mind. How would you compare your state of mind on those two trips?
Well, I suppose the outward trip would be a little bit exciting I suppose thinking of what might come and what might happen and looking forward to flying, and hopefully Spitfires at the time. And on the trip home it was
a feeling I suppose of, oh a feeling of luffing, happiness to go home after a conflict over there, happy to get home back into ones own country. Yeah and so that was, those were my thoughts anyway and that was my actual attitude towards it you know. Nice to be home, nice to go back to see Mum, nice to see my brothers and all my friends back
here. I had a number of friends back here, so it was nice to get back and see them.
Can you tell us about the meeting with your mother when you arrived back?
Yeah, I came from Brisbane, Sandgate Brisbane to Toowoomba by train, because it was a leave pass, not a leave pass a free pass and of course my mother greeted me and she had with her at the time one of her grand
nieces, that’s right. So they both greeted me with open arms and happy to see me, and I was happy to see them. So from thereon, I got a taxi back to Mum’s place, swapped stories and what not. Yeah, I don’t suppose I raved on. I mean you people got more out of me then my mother would have.
Did you speak to your brothers about your experience?
Oh a little bit yeah, a little bit yeah.
Oh I think I probably went through a bit of history with the youngest one that was here and the other boy was in the air force in Western Australia, yeah, Kalgoorlie. So I think, yeah, discussed things because he had a couple of his mates come over into the house to see some of the things that I brought home you know a state of curiosity you might say. So it was all very good, very well.
Did you catch up with your girlfriend?
Yeah, I did as a matter of fact yes, she
came up to Toowoomba, came up to Toowoomba.
Can you tell us about that?
Sure, well she came up and she had I think it was nearly a week with us at home, with my mother and I and we were very pleasant. We went on a drive, on a motorbike at the time so we drove around sight seeing Toowoomba for her benefit. We, Picnic Point we went up there and we walked from Picnic Point across the Tabletop [mountain]. And
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.
That’s alright. Were you able to resume your relationship with your girlfriend?
Yes well, yeah apart from that, no we didn’t carry on with it, no.
I think it was probably a, just an agreeable solution I think and that was it.
How long did it take you to return to what you might say a normal life after the war?
Oh well when I went back to work I guess that seem to be back to normal activities with me in a printing office. So I settled down there and I was with that first printing company for
18 months, two years, and then I went across to that other company. So you know things were back to normal as far as I was concerned, yeah.
Did your experience in the war make it difficult to adjust to life as a civilian again?
No not really, not really no, no. I adjusted pretty quickly. No hang up about my war years and just followed into the usual grind of civilian life.
You made a trip back to Britain
a few years ago, was that the first time you went back?
Yes, yes, yeah.
Can you tell us about that?
Yes well it was a squadron reunion, 41 Squadron, 41 RAF Squadron reunion for their 80th Anniversary. The squadron was originally formed in Belgium I think during World War II, World War I and it became a RAF permanent squadron. So we got the invitations came through to me
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.
Was there a strong sense of camaraderie between you?
Yeah. What, the pilots on the squadron? Oh my word, oh yes definitely.
Can you describe what that was like?
what it was like was you were there to do a job. You were there to help protect your comrades on the flight or in the squadron or whatever, whatever was on. So you couldn’t do much for them while you were flying in the air doing a combat but back on the ground when you were giving your reports in after an exercise, a sortie exercise you head back to
the ground you’d be discussing your activities. Mind you, we’d be flying together as a squadron too, so we all knew what the activities were all about. And so but there was a great sense of camaraderie yes that’s right, no questions about that.
And did you feel that when you went back for that reunion?
Yes I did because, I did because meeting up with the younger pilots now on the squadron and they had different types of aircraft, they were
flying jets. And then the Canadian was there, the American was there, the New Zealander was there and I think I might have been the only Aussie, I think the other two boys that went across earlier that would have been Mickey Mall and he went over earlier to one of the reunions. Yeah, so yeah, I was very pleased to see them, you know, and have a great chat to them.
Did you talk about your experiences during the war?
Oh yeah, we did, because we were flying together on the squadron and we experienced a lot of the same experiences, you know. With our attacks on vehicles, our efforts in the air escorting bomber raids to Narooha, the English RAF bombers, heavy bombers to Narooha. So all those things came into force you know. And so it was quite good, yeah,
it was a good reunion. So we were there for a few days celebrating there and then we checked out and did a tour of Europe you know. But I’d been, well naturally I’d been to Europe before, but we went to France and Italy, Austria, Munich
yeah, and back to Belgium and a trip across the Rhine, you know the Rhine River.
How was it to revisit those countries that you’d been in during the war?
How was it?
How was it to revisit them?
Oh well, I don’t suppose it meant that much to me, apart from you know everybody was back in civilian life and things seemed to be going normal you know there was no
great fear and anxiety with people. I think there was, they were freer people of course, they were not being occupied by German forces, they felt free.
Did you see a dramatic change?
I don’t know in that time whether there was any dramatic change. If there was any dramatic change taking place it would have taken place I think immediately after the war. So I’d say by the time we’d got back
in 19, 1984, did I say 84, yeah. Yeah I did, didn’t I, 1984, yeah that’s right.
How did the war change you personally?
I don’t know that it did change me very much. I can’t see any, I can’t recall any real
changes in my makeup. I think I was still a pretty reasonable sort of bloke to get along with. I enjoyed the sport I was playing in. I played hockey and I raced motorbikes. And oh well, you know, I didn’t feel anymore about the war after so many years.
Are your memories from the war among the most significant in your life?
Oh I guess so, yes. No, they would be, yeah
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…
I’m sorry to interrupt I just want,
we might go back there later in a minute. I just want to go back quickly to the questions about the war. We’ll continue that story a bit later if we’ve got time. I just wanted to ask you about your experiences relating to the war a little bit more. You ended up getting married, how soon after the war were you able, did you meet your wife?
My first wife? Oh I met my first wife
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.
Did you ever speak with her or your daughter about the war?
Oh yes, at various instances I suppose I associated with the flying and the things relating to it you know. I can’t remember exactly what I would have told her. I can’t remember what I’m telling you, actually, or actually what I’m telling you.
Do you ever dream about your wartime experiences?
I dream a lot, I certainly do. I reckon I dream every night but I,
well if I’ve dreamt about my wartime experiences, I mean I’ve forgotten all about them. They could have happened years ago immediately after the war for instance you know. But dreams are always contorted anyway aren’t they, they really are. You wonder how the dickens they formulate in your mind, yeah. Things you know, things you dream about, unrelated to what you are doing or whatever.
What about during the wartime, did you ever dream about what you were doing then?
No I don’t think so. I can’t recall, Ellen. I can’t recall dreaming about those days at all, no, no. I was happy to do what I was doing you know and thankful that I had the luck to get through it. That was it, but I didn’t go dreaming about it you know, to my knowledge I didn’t.
How would you describe your memories of the war?
Oh, fairly accurate, I suppose, but at the time I was involved with you know the action over there.
I mean are they largely happy memories or –
Oh, most of them were yeah. I can’t see, I didn’t have any sad memories anyway you know associated with my activities, with the people I was involved with as far as my leave periods were concerned with being with a
family at home. No everything was, no, everything was OK, as far as I was concerned.
So do you think the war prepared you for life afterwards?
Oh I think it probably had a bearing on it, you know, you seemed to come home with a broader outlook on things. And that you would get that from being mixed up with personnel, you know, how shoulder to shoulder with personnel you know
personnel on your squadron and this sort of thing. So yeah, I’d say so.
What is your view about the way films depict war?
What are my views?
What is your view about the way modern movies depict war?
Oh well, I don’t think I’ve seen a total film of war. I’ve seen
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.
Having had those experiences you had would you recommend to a young man today to volunteer to fight in a war?
yes I would, yeah. Providing he joined the service that he wanted to join, I mean if he was a bloke looking for an air force career I’d say yeah join it, yeah by all means.
So just to go back to that story you were telling me about your life after the war, how you got involved in the agricultural, can you go back and resume that story for me?
Well so I got involved in the horticultural
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.
You said you march on Anzac Day?
I do. Oh actually I’m telling a fib there too, because I generally ride in a jeep right. A few of us ride in a jeep because the marching, I can play golf, I can work but the march from A to B to the memorial is not that pleasant for me, because I’ve got an ankle
that’s fairly well swollen. My left leg has been broken twice is a bit shorter than the right, so that’s why I have my left heel on my shoe built up. But all in all I mean I can do it but I’m not that fussed about it.
In what way is it significant for you to be there on Anzac Day?
Oh I think it is fairly significant. I mean you’re dealing with your thoughts about people you flew with and on active service with, their passing and that sort of thing.
I think your general broad range of thoughts goes through your mind on Anzac Day.
How important is it, do you think, for Australians to remember the war that you fought in?
Oh I think it is very important and I think the young people are being educated along those lines. They are getting to know more about World War II and one I suppose, oh yeah and one, to know what it is all about.
I just wanted to ask you if you have a final word to say to Australians?
To Australians? Oh well, yeah, my word to them is that Australia, Australians we should be proud of you and I am proud of you. I am proud of being an Australian and will always be. So I think we’ve got a marvellous lot of people in Australia, with you know there’s been
from overseas and I know some of these newer ones are not Australian true to type, but still I’m sure in all respects they’ll grow into the Australian way in more ways than one. But primarily I’m certainly very proud of being an Australian, I’m proud of my war efforts and I’m happy to be home.
Do you have any advice for leaders of today regarding war?
not really, well the leaders I don’t come into contact with them very much if at all, you know, so I don’t have no advice for them.
But what would you say to them if you could?
About the war, about joining with them?
About wartime now or in the future? Would you have anything to say to anyone regarding war now?
Well I’d say you have to, you’d have to be loyal to your country and get into the action, get
into the services for your safety, for your protection of your interest in the country and you’d have to be, well you’d be fighting for it too. So let’s hope it doesn’t happen, but there are plenty of opportunities in the current forces the way they are for people like these young blokes or you know to get into and they’ll get another further education in their activities with the services.
Excellent, I think we’ll stop. Give us the song.
“Oh! Lay that Spitfire down Sprog, lay that Spitfire down! Pull your bloody finger out and lay that Spitfire down! Doing rolls at 50 feet, what a lot of cock! Upside down, a bank of cloud and nothing on the clock. Oh! Lay that Spitfire down Sprog, lay that Spitfire down! Lay that
Spitfire down Sprog and walk away!” Walk away doesn’t come into it but I think I’ll finish on that ‘lay that Spitfire down’. Yeah, OK, is that alright? Oh dear.