Archive number: 1771
Preferred name: Phil or Fos
Date interviewed: 31 March, 2004
You are listening to the interview audio
Phil, I was wondering if you could tell me very briefly a bit about your life, just a quick summary if you could?
All right. I was born in Tenterfield, New South Wales in 1920 where I went to school. For fifteen years I lived in Tenterfield, moved then to Bondi.
That would’ve been 1935, and worked in Hardy Rubber Company in Paddington and lived not too far away from the beach. So having lived in the country I was very happy to be somewhere near the sea and became quite proficient in surfing. I enjoyed it very much.
No thoughts of ever going to war of course, until the war broke out in 1939 and I wanted to join up and I was very patriotic of course like most young chaps my age and I requested my father, but he didn’t want me to join the army so I backed off and
a friend of mine said he was joining the air force so he said, “Why don’t you have a go at the air force?” So my father approved on my application to join the air force which I did in 1940. At that time because facilities weren’t ready to accept all the applications for training,
I was on the reserve until I was called up in April 1941. That was the beginning of my air force career. Now, do you want me to go into the air force career part of it?
If you could very briefly say what your career has been in the air force and then we’ll go back and talk about it in detail?
I understood that I would be trained as a navigator because having done study on navigation prior to being called up I thought, well, that was the way I’d go. However, when my turn came to be selected for aircrew training
there were no requirements for navigators at that time. The requirement was for pilots to be trained, or young to be trained for pilot and air gunner, and also quite a few went to Canada to be trained as air gunners. As far as I was concerned I was trained initially at Mascot which is Number 2, beg your pardon,
Number 4 Elementary Flying Training School, and then went on until the end of June, and having graduated flying Tiger Moths I was then posted to Wagga, Wagga Wagga, which was Number 2 Service Flying Training School and trained there on Wirraway, Wirraway aircraft and
having completed training there I was posted to 1AOS or Air Observers’ School, Cootamundra. After I’d been there a while I had a minor accident and it was decided that I would be probably better to train on a single-engine type rather than a twin-engined
Avro Anson. So I was posted to Port Pirie which was Number 2 BAGS, known as Number 2 BAGS, Bombing and Gunnery School at Port Pirie where I was a staff pilot for a period of about fifteen months. At the end of that period
I was posted to Williamstown to train on the Vultee Vengeance dive bomber, so that was my first step towards the AOS operations.
Could we talk about those operations, if you could just fast forward a little bit to tell me briefly where you were in the conflict?
my course were to go on operations in New Guinea, but because facilities weren’t available for us we went first to Cooktown where we stayed there for probably about six weeks, two months maybe. And then we did go to Merauke in New Guinea
and we found that there were also two other squadrons there already, being Dutch New Guinea. The Dutch had a twin-engined light bomber squadron and we also had a twin-engined light bomber squadron and we also had a Kittyhawk fighter squadron, Number 86, and our squadron, Number 12, with the Vultee Vengeance made three squadrons all using the same airstrip
which was made of PSP or pierced steel plating.
We’ll go back and talk in detail about these various operations. So if you could just tell me where it was that you went and we’ll leave the details for later?
Yes. Our operations mainly consisted of four-hour patrols. The main reason for the patrol was to, if possible,
find any shipping that may be coming around the coast of New Guinea into the Arafura Sea and heading towards Port Moresby, down that way or Darwin, because at that time it was considered likely that if there was a move by the Japanese to go towards Darwin or Port Moresby, around there across the Arafura Sea, that
there would be a sea force coming around that north west part of New Guinea. It never eventuated, so the whole time that we spent in Merauke was taken up by flying four hour patrols, pilot navigator, the Vultee Vengeance two-seater,
and after we finished, I think it was ten months was the time that we spent there, we flew our aeroplanes down to Laverton where we walked away and left them. As far as I know they were scrapped. Although it was disappointing because we didn’t really become involved in the actual operations, we did some, maybe two or three I think it was,
operations which were classed as operations because we had a suspect enemy which I don’t believe existed, but we were sent out to drop bombs in an area where we were told there could be a Japanese force.
I might interrupt you there. We might just go back and talk about your childhood. Could you tell me about your mother and father and what their background was?
Yes. I told you before I went to school in Tenterfield. My schooling finished in 1935. Just prior to my school finishing my mother died and my father was a school teacher, a headmaster of a small country school. He stayed in Tenterfield. My sister
and I were the only two of our four in the family remaining and it was decided that I would be better to go to Sydney to find work and my sister decided she would go nursing. She went to Sydney Hospital and I yeah, Sydney Hospital. She got into the army and she actually became a nursing sister
and she had quite a career in the army becoming a commissioned rank and my career of course went in a different direction. So that’s about all I can think to tell you about that phase of my life.
Do you have memories of your mother?
My mother was one of nine children in her family and they were country people. They were people on the land. When she met my father she was the postmistress at a small place hear Guyra in New South Wales. Guyra being south from Armidale.
And she grew up there on a sheep property, and after my father and mother were married they went to live in a small place near Taree on the Manning River and it was decided that my father would be better suited in a high dry area because he had some lung trouble
and this was the reason why they moved to Tenterfield to live and that was where I was born.
What are your memories of Tenterfield? Do you remember where you lived?
Where I lived in Tenterfield? Well yes, I’ve back there several times of course, and the house that I was born in, a lot of children were born at home in those days and I was born
in the old home in Tenterfield which still stands today, and we had a small property where we grew our own vegetables. I was a junior farmer. My projects as a junior farmer were vegetable growing and poultry raising, so we always had plenty of poultry and we always had plenty of vegetables,
in season of course. A very cold place, Tenterfield. I remember sleeping on an open verandah as a boy and having westerly winds blowing night and day, night, in the middle of winter and being very cold. Frost every morning. Up on the New England range
anyone who lives there will tell you it’s one of the coldest places in the state. Nearly 3,000 feet above sea level, so obviously it would be expected to be cold. But I enjoyed my life going to school. We had a creek where we would swim and as I say, we had a property of about, I think it was about ten
acres of land. We had a horse, had our own cow to milk, my job of course eventually, and that was life for me in Tenterfield. I loved being in the country. I had my own bicycle.
In those days that was something that a lot of other boys did not have. There were poor people in the school I went to when I was first of all up to sixth class. I remember one boy didn’t have any shoes.
Give me a break. But life in those days was what you made of it I suppose, and
I wouldn’t say that I had hardships compared to some of my friends who were very poor.
You said you were a junior farmer, what was the junior farmer system?
junior farmer movement was began because it was thought a wise thing for young people, young lads, to learn farming which would let them have a grounding to later on become farmers in their own right, go on the land
or poultry raising was another thing which I had. I had that as a project and actually got to the stage where I was showing my chooks at the local Tenterfield Show and winning prizes like that. You become very involved when you have two projects as I had with the vegetable growing and the
poultry raising. So I always had plenty to keep myself occupied and being able to provide for our family was a big help I suppose. I didn’t think at that time that I would be going to Sydney the way things turned out. In my own mind I thought well I
would continue living in Tenterfield and I had ideas of improving my vegetable growing and improving my poultry run to the stage where I could eventually probably make a living out of that. There didn’t seem to be any other avenue for me to look towards, until of course the war came along and that changed the whole thing completely.
Do you remember the war breaking out?
I remember, yes, I remember the outbreak of war in 1939 and at that time we thought that the war would be in Europe and we would not become involved. Of
course it soon became quite obvious that we were needed and young men were needed in the services as the war dragged on. So of course by this time I’d moved to Sydney to work and I think I mentioned to you that
I initially intended to join the army but it didn’t turn out that way. I eventually did join the air force and it seemed to me that I had a career that was not planned but somehow just happened.
What impact did the war
have on your family?
My family. I had two brothers. They became school teachers. They both followed in my father’s footsteps because he was a headmaster of a small school near Tenterfield. My two brothers both trained at Armidale Teachers’ College and my eldest brother then went to Hurlstone Agricultural
School. My other brother had gone to Hawkesbury Agricultural College and he eventually became a teacher in the metropolitan area. As a matter of fact he was teaching here, the Burraneer Bay
Primary School. He eventually became the principal of Burraneer Bay Primary School and he was there until he retired. My eldest brother, he became principal of South Grafton Primary School where he was when he died. He had a heart attack when he was only 54 and died early in life. My other brother
bought a place not far from here and he had two sons, a daughter. My eldest brother had three sons and as I say, his life was cut short when he had a heart attack at age 54. I think
it was 1969 from memory. My sister of course went to the army and she married a doctor and as a matter of fact the doctor is still living near Gosford. My sister died when she was 75.
What work did you do when you first came to Sydney? Can you explain what you did?
Right. As far as I was concerned, in those days you didn’t pick and chose. If you weren’t trained in a high education, I had Intermediate, standard education which is ninth grade I suppose you’d say, having
passed the Primary Final at sixth class and then going onto Intermediate, that was what I had in the way of education to back me up looking for a job. I first of all started work in a company called Kalamazoo in George Street, Sydney, a stationery place. I decided I didn’t like the type
of work I was doing and I applied for a job at Hardy Rubber Company and I worked there in the accounts department until I joined the air force. The work entailed normal accounting work, assisting the accountant and the next in charge, and at
that time I was doing also an accountancy course with Hemmingway and Robinsons with the idea of probably moving into a position and eventually becoming an accountant. Great ideas.
And what made you decide to enlist?
When I enlisted it was quite obvious to me that all the young men of my age were expected to join one of the services and serve our country. Because my friends of the same age were joining up I thought it was my duty to also join up.
So the idea of going to war didn’t appeal to me greatly, but I thought that I should join one of the services. First of all the army, because I had no idea that I would eventually become a pilot in the air force.
Although I did have some idea that I could become a pilot if luck came my way because I’d always been interested in flying, and as a boy I made pocket money when I worked in Tenterfield out my projects to go for a joy ride whenever there was an aeroplane
came visiting our place. However, the cost of paying to learn to fly was prohibitive. Naturally I didn’t have enough money, so when I was eventually selected for air force training that seemed to me to be the way I wanted to go.
However, for some reason or other which I wouldn’t say was fate, I don’t believe in fate. I think you make your own destiny in life. I did become a pilot and I had quite an extensive career which I’ll enlarge on if you wish me to do so.
I just might talk to you
about the first time you were in a plane? Do you remember that?
Now, the first time I was in an aeroplane was when I went for a joy ride in Tenterfield when I was a boy. That was quite exhilarating of course to me. A very short ride, but the idea of getting up in the air away from the ground was something that appealed to me, as it would
any young boy I suppose. But when I first went up in a Tiger Moth when I was training at Mascot I felt that this was what I wanted to do. We were given about six or seven hours of training to go solo, dual instruction
before we were sent off solo. I was able to reach the standard required in about seven hours I believe it was. So the idea of going off by myself in an aeroplane, being there without an instructor, was certainly a big step in my life where I felt that
I could be responsible for my own actions. I had no idea of course at that time what lay ahead of me. As I say, after we finished our training at Mascot we were posted to different places and for me it was to Wagga
to further my training on Wirraways. 1941 It was at that time, I was 21.
Could you tell me about the first training that you did with the air force? I just want to expand on the first training that you did with the air force and what kind of training it was, what it involved?
Well, can you explain what that involves in detail?
The training laid down was to understand how the aeroplane functioned and you needed to be able to do aerobatics. The main reason for that was to prove that you didn’t suffer from airsickness.
Unfortunately some of our young chaps did not complete their training due to the fact that they became airsick and they were taken off pilot training and some of them I believe continued as aircrew but were trained as navigator.
That was the first phase of my flying, our flying training, elementary training of course, Tiger Moth.
Were you training as a navigator at this stage?
Actually you see, in a single-engine aeroplane you have to also do some navigation training because you are pilot and navigator. You have to be able to navigate your way
from one place to the other, but that is not strictly navigation as such. Pilot navigation is simply more or less a matter of having a map on your lap with a stick in one hand and a map in the other and flying from A to B or from one place to the other simply by map reading. That was our form of navigation, and as far as I know
that did not change all through my flying. I was in a single-engine aeroplane, a single seater aeroplane. I found it not difficult at all to be able to map read, which is most important, and to find my way from place to the other
without any problem. That was the navigation part of it. I never found the flying difficult. I didn’t think that, I’ll rephrase that.
Being able to understand how the aeroplane functioned, being able to carry out any necessary action in the case of emergency, and it did happen to me actually and I’ll tell you about that if you like because it was very important to me that I did take immediate action. In my night
flying training at Wagga we had to have so many hours night flying as well as day flying. Most important that you should be able to be qualified at night, and on this particular occasion we had a night flying program where we could be on the program to fly at any hour
between the hours of darkness and light next morning. My time on the flying program was about 2 o’clock in the morning. There was another young chap and myself who shared the same aeroplane. The idea was that we would do probably forty-five minutes each and we were flying with the one instructor who was
the instructor for both us. The other young chap flew for as I say, for about forty-five minutes and the arrangement was that before he got out and before I got into the aeroplane with the engine still running, he was to change over the petrol selector from the tank, from the empty tank, not quite empty but the tank that he had been using
for fuel, to the other tank which is from the left hand wing tank to the right hand wing tank, and I was to then check that he had done this. Now most accidents occur because of some negligence on the part of the operator. They call it ‘pilot error’ which of course is quite correct.
So what happened was having not changed over to the fuel tank as I should have, I took off. We were doing our circuits at 800 feet or something, turned down wind and the engine stopped, which is rather embarrassing of course to say the least, and I immediately selected onto the full tank.
Now we didn’t have an electrical engine pump. It was all hand pump, so I had to pump the pressure up into the fuel line to enable the engine to start again, which fortunately it did otherwise I wouldn’t be here to tell you the story. Probably 150 feet, something like that, I was able to
level out with the engine running again, and I was very frightened and scared. I landed and talked to my friend who I had been sharing the aeroplane. We decided we’d say nothing about this little episode because we didn’t want to be hauled over the coals for being silly and stupid and not doing what we should’ve done, but we certainly learned a lesson and it’s something I remembered all
my flying career, that you must always have sufficient fuel to be able to go from one place to the other or be able to carry out whatever duty you were required to do. To have sufficient fuel was absolutely essential. Unfortunately as I recall we had occasions where
other pilots did not survive due to the fact that they ran out of fuel.
How common was that?
How common was that?
No, it wasn’t a common thing, but it did happen from time to time. Later on in my air force career record
where a single-engined aeroplane, a pilot’s flying a single-engined aeroplane had gone too far relying on the fuel that he had and ran into head wind and wasn’t able to return to a landing place and out over the war try to ditch unsuccessfully and was lost in that way.
But it didn’t have very often, but it did happen now and again. We were always very observant in regard to the fuel and when we started flying multi-engined aeroplanes, once again you had to make sure you had sufficient fuel to keep all engines running
for the required period of time. Sometimes it was a case of transferring fuel from one tank to another which is later on mainly with a four-engined aeroplane. It was most important that you leaned fuel management, as I found later on in my career when I was flying a four-engined aeroplane.
What other types of accidents were there in training?
There were a variety of accidents actually in the training phase. Quite often at night it wasn’t too unusual for a pilot to become disorientated. On a very dark night you have no horizon,
so you have to fly on your instruments. You must rely on your instruments to tell you whether the aeroplane is correctly, I’ll retract that, rely on instruments to tell you where your wings are in relation to the horizon. If you become disorientated or if the pilot did
became disorientated he could think that he was flying straight and level where in point of fact the aeroplane was not straight and level, and if that happened sometimes, not very often, but sometimes it could result in the pilot losing control of the aeroplane which might become, might
develop into a spin and if this happened close to the ground of course they would not be able to recover in time to avoid a fatal accident. Flying on instruments is something we learned in the early stages of our flying in what they called a lead trainer. It was a device
which you could fly or you could learn to fly relying on your instruments because you were put into this trainer, a hood was placed over the top of you so you could not see out and you were entirely relying on your instruments to keep this device, lead trainer,
on course depending on the particular exercise we did, and virtually to fly as you would if you were flying an aeroplane but you were aware of course that if you did something which was wrong that a spin could develop,
but because you’re not actually flying an aeroplane there was no fear that you would lose control altogether and you could come to any harm because the aeroplane was in a room on the ground. But the feeling was that you were actually flying an aeroplane,
Interviewee: Philip Hamilton-Foster Archive ID 1771 Tape 02
Well see, that was after Pearl Harbour of course, the 7th of December 1941, wasn’t it? Pearl Harbour.
Before, can I just ask you Phil, before the Japanese came into the war what sort of fighting were you being trained for?
Right, okay. The idea about training before the Japanese came into the war was to replace aircrew who, we were losing a lot of aircrew in the European war, the European theatre of the war, so a lot of our pilots went to Canada to complete their training and then to England
which was of course, the theatre of the war was in England and over Europe. So that was the whole idea of our training before the Japanese came into the war, to go to England and probably join a squadron there as replacements. I know from my experience at Port Pirie which I’ll come to later if you like,
that a lot of the young men who were not pilot trained were going to replace aircrew in four-engined aeroplanes like Lancaster because there were very heavy losses in the bombing raids and so forth
and they needed replacements. There were pilots too who were replacing other pilots who were lost in that phase of the war. Actually I did not become involved in that at all because I went to New Guinea and I did not
become involved at all in the bombing raids or anything of that nature in World War Two.
What do you remember about when the Japanese entered the war? Do you remember how you heard about it?
This is going back to Pearl
Harbour of course. That was where the Japanese entered the war, and of course that was where America also came into the war. Now, as it affected us the war then became a war in the south west Pacific area. At the time, as far as the
Royal Australian Air Force was concerned, we didn’t have a fighter. We had Wirraways, and at first Wirraways were deployed in the south west Pacific area in places around the north of New Guinea and
along the coast of New Guinea. Fortunately we were, our air force was equipped with Kittyhawks because it was quite obvious that the Wirraway was totally inadequate against the Zero, which was the Japanese aeroplane. The Zero, which was quite a good
aeroplane considering the availability of a fighter type aeroplane. Kittyhawks were a very good aeroplane initially to combat the Zeros, but later on relegated to being a trainer rather than a frontline fighter.
I wasn’t involved in the war against the Japanese because I was in the dive bomber squadron in Merauke, that’s New Guinea, but I knew quite a few of my friends who I trained with who did go to
Fighter Squadron, that was the Kittyhawk squadrons in the south-west Pacific area, and once they became very efficient in flying the Kittyhawk and they would compete against the Japanese and
probably I would say due to the Kittyhawk squadrons we had at that time we stemmed the advance of the Japanese which was towards Port Moresby and eventually I understand the Japanese intended to land on the mainland of Australia
and it was probably the two main conflicts, the Coral Sea Battle and the Bismarck Sea Battle which were the telling points and the turning points in the war in the south west Pacific area as we were concerned.
Can I just ask you Phil,
do you remember where you were when the Battle of the Coral Sea happened? Were you at Merauke?
A that time I was at, no, I was not at Merauke. We were, I personally was waiting for another posting. I’d returned from New Guinea and I was in Victoria waiting for a posting to be trained
as replacement in one of the squadrons. The fighter pilot training place was at, let me think, Mildura. Yeah, Mildura which was the home of the knuckle-heads as they called them, fighter pilots.
Why were they called knuckle-heads?
It became a very common phrase to describe a fighter pilot because you didn’t need to have much brains to fly a fighter aeroplane, a single-engined aeroplane, but they sort of said this because all you have is one engine to worry about. It’s different
to a bomber pilot who has to have a crew to be responsible for. ‘Knuckle-heads’ was a term – I think it might’ve originated from the Americans. I’m not sure about that, but it was very common. As a matter of fact Williamstown where a lot of the fighter pilots
were trained was known at one stage as ‘the home of the knuckle-heads’.
Generally how did the fighter pilots and the bomber pilots get along?
Yeah, well we always got along well. I don’t think you could say that
the bomber pilots thought that they were better by virtue of the fact that they had responsibility for a crew and for a larger aeroplane, than a fighter pilot, single-engine pilot. You had to realise that in a fighter aeroplane normally the missions are short in
duration as a rule, whereas with a bomber pilot the flights, the missions, can be a couple of hours, maybe a little bit more depending on the type of aeroplane, the theatre of war. So where a bomber pilot would be responsible for his aeroplane and a crew as I
said before, for that mission quite often in the fighter pilot business you could be flying just not one sortie [operational flight] a day, but maybe two or three, which happened in the Korean War. So it’s very difficult to make a comparison. It was just that you were trained in one aspect of flying.
You had to be, I don’t say a certain type of person to be one or the other because I knew and the personal experience of going from flying a single-engined aeroplane, a fighter type aeroplane, to multi engined aeroplanes and finding
that the fact that you were responsible for two, maybe four-engines in a four-engined aeroplane didn’t make that much difference. It meant that you had more responsibility as far as operating the aeroplane was concerned naturally, and a crew to consider. But I don’t
know that we had any distinction as far as the personal side of it was concerned. I mean we respected the, when I say we, the single-engine pilot fraternity respected the multi engine crews, pilots and other members of the crews and I have no doubt they respected us,
the single-engine pilots, having been trained in that way of flying. So we always got along well together.
Who got more girls?
I beg your pardon?
Who got more girls?
Who got more girls? Depending on whether you were single or married. I think I know what you’re talking about.
There was a certain bit of glamour attached to the fact of being a fighter pilot I think. The idea was that a fighter pilot was a happy-go-lucky, in some, I’m trying to
phrase this so that it gives you more of the idea of what a typical fighter pilot would be like. It doesn’t necessarily say that he needs to be a handsome man at all because I’ve known some very good fighter pilots who you would not think was the ideal type for a fighter pilot,
but very good and would not attract girls because of their appearance. The girls don’t go so much on ability as far as the appearance is concerned. So I suppose if you took X number of pilots who were not handsome
pilots and compared them with X number of pilots who, single-engined pilots, I’d put some money on the single-engined fellows I’d say.
When you were at Port Pirie was that bomber training?
I was at Port Pirie as a staff pilot. The training there was for air gunners and bomb aimers.
That’s why the name of the place was BAGS, Bombing and Gunnery School. There were three bombing and gunnery schools, Port Pirie and Sale in Victoria and Evans Head, north New South Wales, and that was the whole idea of those three establishments, training places, that these young men would train as bomb aimers and gunners.
You didn’t know what the responsibility would be in a bomber crew, whether you’d be a tail gunner or what part of the aeroplane you’d be responsible for as a gunner. The bomb aimer of course would, one bomb aimer and he had the responsibility as the name implied of dropping the bombs at the precise moment
hopefully. So that was the way that we trained a lot of these young men who went to England and became replacement crews at the time when the RAF [Royal Air Force] would not be able to, didn’t have the capability of training sufficient
crews for replacements for the losses that were occurring. So they called on, not just the Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans, Canadians, any empire country to provide young men trained to the point where they could replace crews lost
at the height of the war and before the tide turned and became obvious that the war was going to be won. But before this occurred there was a possibility that England could be invaded
which is another story entirely and doesn’t really concern what I’m talking about I don’t think, the training part of it. So those three bases we had here in Australia
Can I just interrupt you Phil, and ask you what was the reason why you didn’t go into the Empire Air Training Scheme?
I was a member of the Empire Air Training Scheme.
All of the places in Australia we were training on Tiger Moths firstly and then Wirraways or twin-engined Oxfords or Avro Ansons was all part of the Empire Air Training Scheme. Being Empire Air Training as I say, it was also New Zealand and Canada
and the other empire, South Africa, other empire places.
What was the base like at Port Pirie?
Well now the living side of it was a bit rough but then this is what you expected. We were well looked after. We were well
sheltered and fed let me say, the two essentials of course. We always had plenty of food. Our living quarters were basic but compared to what the army had to contend with we were very well off. There’s no doubt about that at all, but that was circumstantial because
we were on a place where it was necessary for us to be kept healthy. The living quarters at Port Pirie were similar to any other place, similar to any other Bombing and Gunnery School. The living quarters were more normally just huts.
There would probably be about twenty men to a hut. They were open, they weren’t partitioned off. So you had a bed and a locker. You had a straw palliasse and blankets, normally about three blankets I believe from memory. We didn’t have
the luxury of sheets. I’m sorry, depending on the rank. Non commissioned officers were treated a little bit differently from commissioned officers. The NCOs [Non Commissioned Officers] certainly didn’t have any sheets on their beds. In the mess itself, once again there was a distinction between commissioned rank and non
commissioned rank and no doubt that was the same in all the services. I was non commissioned and some of the young men trained at the same time as me, having completed their training were commissioned. I don’t know what the percentage was. Roughly probably more completed their training
and went on as non commissioned pilots to the number who were commissioned. Although we performed the same duties as far as the flying side of it was concerned, we followed what the
British did. Now, this was quite obvious and went on for quite a lot time as far as our air force was concerned. We were trained along the same lines as aircrew were trained in England. When you compare our training with the American training
and the fact that the training, there was no difference, I beg your pardon, I’ll rephrase that. There was no distinction at the end of the training course with the Americans who were commissioned which was
I believe only fair and just. There was the distinction in our training, in the Australian Air Force, where a certain number were commissioned and a certain number were non commissioned. Now, this was not just air force, this was also in the army of course, navy.
In my personal life was as a non commissioned officer, NCO. First of all sergeant pilot and then flight sergeant and warrant officer and after about nine years would you believe I finally was commissioned.
So can you explain to me then what the politics were of being commissioned and non- commissioned and how that worked and what it meant?
I can explain it to you but I didn’t subscribe to the way it was put into effect because
in retrospect I don’t think it was fair, and that also came into, it became obvious in the 77th Squadron in Korea, but I’ll go into that later if you like. A report was put in, annually a report was put in
known as a ‘PP29’ which was, one forgets what the actual name of it was apart from PP29. It was a confidential report which the person involved did not have the privilege of knowing
what was put in that report. All we were told that there would be a confidential report at the end of every year or sometimes where necessary or where it was considered necessary a confidential report could be made on a posting from place to another, from one unit to another. This was
a description if I can use that term, a description of what sort of person you were, whether it was considered that you could be a leader was one thing that was
high on the list of what you were expected to be, your manner and bearing, your capability or your, I’m trying to find the exact words which would
tell you what was looked for. I had the occasion myself later on in life to become involved in doing a lot of confidential reports and I thought it was a bit unfair. I thought it was quite unfair that some people, some young men were given a bad confidential report
which didn’t favour them in their promotion although they had nothing wrong, but by the same token had nothing more than the average young fellow, keeping on talking about pilots. If
you did not knuckle down and accept responsibility, if you kicked over the traces so to speak, a good term I believe which I became pretty familiar with myself, if you resented being told what to do and if you disliked
your superior officers, if you did not present yourself as what they termed officer material then your chances of being promoted to commissioned rank were not very good at all. So there were a lot of young fellows made sure that they did
nothing wrong which would detract from their chances of becoming commissioned. There were also quite a number who did not think it was worthwhile trying it on all the time when there was plenty of opportunity to play up, have a good time so to speak,
and even if that meant that you weren’t going to be promoted. This, how can I describe this now? This line of thinking was very prevalent because the
reason why some young men, and myself included, I had the experience of resenting being told what to do by other young men who I didn’t consider any better than myself. The idea that we joined
the air force to fly aeroplanes was paramount of course and that was no doubt why we were there, to fly aeroplanes. But that wasn’t the be all and end all obviously. You had to also be expected to look for a promotion. You had to be responsible not just in the air, but also in
other phases of your air force life.
Phil, can I just interrupt you and ask were there particular incidents that you remember personally where that sort of discipline or like what you were just describing, can you give me an example?
Discipline is the word that would describe how a young man, a pilot, would progress in his air force life, whether he would accept discipline or whether he would resent discipline.
Now, in the actual flying part of it there were orders about what you could do and what you couldn’t do. A lot of us didn’t realise fully the fact that the aeroplane is provided by the tax payers’ money and it’s not yours
to do as you like with, but it was rather a temptation I suppose, could be described as a temptation to do things which are not what you should do and not what you were expected to do as far as the flying was concerned.
This was not so much in operations but where you were training or where you were doing your job of flying involving training which can be very boring, many times young people, young pilots would resent that and resent the fact that you were subject to discipline
and to carry out orders which were rather, what shall I say, boring, and yes, one of the main things was in low flying. Low flying is obviously quite an exhilarating experience.
You can get the feeling of being close to the ground, even though you’re close to the ground you can fly without any fear of hurting yourself, damaging the aeroplane, but this was of course frowned upon because in some cases
low flying resulted in accidents with aircraft badly damaged, or worse still where the pilot was killed. So low flying was one thing was very much frowned upon, but there was a lot of low flying went on anyway and this was due to lack of discipline no doubt and
this affected your career because if you didn’t obey the orders well then it was the end of your promotion. I was a non commissioned officer for nine years, but not proud of it, but
I think in some way I became self reliant. I believe that in some respects it could’ve helped me when I did eventually become an operational pilot. I felt that
I had a sense of being quite capable of doing anything I was required to do. I did not see that my training and the time when I did not obey the orders had affected in any way my ability as an operational
Can I just ask you Phil, were you reprimanded for low flying?
Yes. Over at Port Pirie there were some of the fellows put in gaol.
Can you tell me about that?
Yes. I was never put in gaol, it wasn’t a personal thing, but
I did know a couple of our pilots who were staff pilots who disobeyed the flying rules and who were first of all cautioned and reprimanded for low flying, but did not accept that as being a warning and
were caught again for low flying or reported for low flying. A charge against the pilot could result in him being gaoled which happened at Port Pirie on a couple of occasions. The gaol was at Crystalbrook and the pilot was reduced in rank if he was a
sergeant pilot. Normally sergeant pilots were the ones who were more involved than any others for disobeying orders, and was reduced in rank from sergeant to a corporal. This meant that he would not be able to use the sergeants’ mess.
He would be in the airmen’s mess, a corporal. The term of course depending on the severity of, or should I say not so much, the term of his imprisonment would be decided upon how bad was the low flying
that he was participating in so to speak, and whether he had previously been warned more than once I think. It would go against him of course as far as promotion was concerned. He would still be expected to fly and carry the duties
of a staff pilot when he returned after his term in gaol. You don’t think that’s very nice, eh? Well, it didn’t happen very often but I do remember quite clearly a couple of times and I thought it was pretty unfair that a pilot should be put in gaol,
but that was the way it went. I probably was very lucky myself on a couple of occasions. I was let off with a caution. Actually, don’t know whether to mention this,
I actually formatted on a truck, formatted on a train. This is something I feel that I must’ve been stupid to actually do something like that.
I’ll tell you how it occurred.
Interviewee: Philip Hamilton-Foster Archive ID 1771 Tape 03
Phil, if you could you just continue the story, could you just continue that story for us?
Yes, about the train thing. It was unusual if one of the officers was posted. He became very popular with all the other pilots that he would be invited into the sergeants’ mess to have a few drinks before he
left on his posting. The chief flying instructor was quite a personable sort of gentleman. He came into the sergeants’ mess the night before he left and he went and trained the next day down to Adelaide. So
we were talking and he said to me, “Tomorrow when I’m on the train heading for Adelaide if you have the opportunity just come and give me a wave.” The implication of course was that I’d fly very low along beside of the train. So it just so happened the next day I had finished a detail, that is
I’d done what I had to do as far as the training side of it was concerned, and I was returning to land and I spotted the train proceeding along a level stretch so I thought it was a good chance to go and give him a wave. This squadron leader was quite a popular
fellow and we all got on well together regardless that he was an officer and we were non commissioned. So I flew down beside the train and put my wheels and flaps down and got my speed wheel back so I could fly along beside the train, waved to the squadron leader who came out and gave me a big wave, and
unfortunately I was flying over a farm and the farmer had a horse which apparently got scared and ran through a fence. So I went back and landed and I had a feeling that
I might be in a bit of trouble and I was quite right of course. I was questioned about the incident and had to admit that I’d been low flying. Now I thought I better try and get out of this some how or other. I said, “Well, it wasn’t really my fault. The
squadron leader invited me to come and fly beside the train and wave to him as a last gesture of our friendship and I just did this for his benefit.” That story didn’t wash and I was given a severe reprimand
which meant that my promotion would be, I would not be likely to get any promotion for some time depending on how I behaved myself from that time on. It certainly did go against me
and something I’m not proud of, but then these things happen. In those days it wasn’t unusual. I had a friend of mine who was there at the time and I saw him only about twelve months ago now and he said, “You were stupid, weren’t you?” I said, “Oh well, a lot of us were then, that would do something like that and not do too much about it.”
But it could’ve been very serious. If I’d lost control of the aeroplane and damaged it of course I probably would’ve been invited to leave the air force or possibly be posted somewhere which would not be to my liking.
Phil, could you tell me about the journey you made to New Guinea? Could you tell me about the journey you made to New Guinea, getting up there?
To New Guinea. That’s going back to the Vultee Vengeance days.
Vultee Vengeance days in 12 Squadron?
Yes, well I think I mentioned to you previously that the facilities weren’t available
for us to move to Merauke. First of all we had to have tents of course to live in. All of these things had to be provided, the domestic side of it, and we were staging at Cooktown on the way until the facilities were prepared for us
in Merauke, New Guinea. So we trained there by doing dive bombing training. We did short travel exercises, but mostly
it was a matter of waiting, keeping our flying training current until we were able to proceed to New Guinea. Cooktown in those days was a very very, what should I say? Not backward, but there wasn’t much doing in Cooktown
at all. There was a hospital. I remember seeing the matron there a couple of times. She’d organise dances and there were only a few girls. Actually we didn’t, there was no train as I remember to Cooktown from Townsville. I believe we travelled by boat. That’s right, yeah.
There was no train, but the airstrip was there of course. The first thing of course you realise that you’re living in a different part of the country where it was
subtropical and you had to put up with the, not hardship, but the sort of life that you would expect in a subtropical place, plenty of mosquitoes, sweating a lot. But then of course nothing like when we moved to New Guinea. I don’t
remember a whole lot about Cooktown. As I say, we continued training there and we didn’t have much in the way of social life. So it was just a matter of marking time more or less.
Could you tell me about your first impressions of New Guinea?
My first impression of New Guinea was real hot and very very sticky and steamy and the place where we were was in a bit of swampy area. We had to have malaria,
anti-malaria tablets, Atebrin, which was a yellow tablet. We took salt tablets because you perspired quite a lot and it was considered that you needed a salt tablet to replace the salt out of your body because of the perspiring and sweating.
The flying side of it, I think I mentioned the airstrip was made from pierced steel platting. The other squadrons, 86 Squadron with the Kittyhawks and that squadron, 120 Squadron, with their twin-engined night bomber. We didn’t have to much to do with them at all. They had their own routine of course as far as
flying and as far as the domestic side of it was, the camp, the living quarters and the messing arrangements. That was entirely the responsibility of each squadron. Out toilet had to be on a mound because of the fact that we were in a swampy area and if you dug a hole it soon became full
of water. So the toilet was a mound built up specially with the seat at the top of the mound. We had to have 44 gallon drums with wire mesh over
the top of the drums and then we’d build out tent on top of that for sleeping. We were in the middle of a coconut plantation or a lot of coconut trees. In point of fact at one time in the middle of a storm one of these coconut trees was blown over and fell across out tent. There were only three
of us in the tent and where it fell was on the side, or the end of the bed of one of the other chaps, so nobody was injured. Coconuts of course were available and that was very nice because when we first got there I made myself very busy collecting some nice dry coconuts which had fallen
so that we could leave them under the tent in the cool and when we returned from the strip to our living quarters we could have a cool coconut drink. We had to improvise quite a bit. You can make quite a few things that are useful with a
coconut shell. You can have it as a cup for drinking or a shaving mug. If you’re enthusiastic enough you could polish it and make a little ornament from it. People used to improvise quite a lot depending on where you were, but one thing, it was something that occupied
your mind and you were able to do in your spare time. I actually grew a little garden of marigolds which flourished quite nicely. Merauke was a very backward place as far as the natives were concerned.
We could go to the village, it wasn’t too far away, walk to the village. Some of the natives would chew the beetle nut [plant which gives a natural high] which would rot their teeth away of course and it seemed very sad that they seemed to get some enjoyment out of this, personal satisfaction, regardless of the fact that they’d lose their teeth.
What kind of contact did you have with the natives?
We didn’t have much contact at all with the natives. They would make little grass skirts which you could buy as a souvenir. I don’t know what they did with the money to be quite honest. I don’t know whether they were traded
amongst themselves. But it was forbidden, not forbidden, but it was not encouraged that you buy from the natives because grass skirts could have germs or something, which would prevent you from bringing them home anyway. I certainly didn’t wear one.
There were ponies, little ponies they called Timor Ponies, and there was an army camp there and the army chaps would organise a race meeting with the Timor Ponies. That
wasn’t very often, but on occasions. We did have one area which was reasonably dry and we had a couple of football teams. The fact that an area was small didn’t prevent the ones who were enthusiastic enough from playing football.
your role in New Guinea? What was your fighting role?
Now, as I say, the three squadrons had different roles altogether. The Kittyhawk squadron, the 86 Squadron, Kittyhawks, they did have occasions where they ran into opposition with the Zero
and a couple of times I believe they did manage to shoot a Zero down. The role as far as we were concerned, dive bomber, was not very useful in the war effort. We were there as a
prevention in case. I believe this was General MacArthur’s [General Douglas MacArthur, Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Forces] idea that we have a deterrent in the event of the Japanese moving towards northern Australia, the Darwin area or perhaps going around to Port Moresby, if and when
the other Japanese force were able to come through to Moresby, which never happened, and of course the Japanese force didn’t ever move in the direction that General MacArthur anticipated it could. So we had the three squadrons virtually there just in case we were needed. As it turned out the Japanese didn’t come our
way at all. So it was more or less a, how should I say? It was something that was put there in case the requirement did occur. In this case of course it didn’t occur so we did not see any
real operational action, although there were two cases I remember where we were given an actual target which was supposed to be a Japanese force. I don’t think it was. Our operation report read something like this, “We dropped so many
bombs, did not account for any Japanese but probably killed quite a few monkeys.” That was the net result.
So what were you doing on a daily basis when you were based there?
Our main role was
patrols, looking for possible enemy boats which could move around the coastline. The patrol was four hours. The course we would follow would be from Merauke westward
towards an area which was Frederick Henry Island, about two hours flying. Then we would return much along the same course. There would be two Vultees
would fly together and the duration was about four hours. There was one incidence which may be worthwhile recounting. I asked for leave. Now I wanted just to get away from the locality
if I could and there was the opportunity to go with some Dutch missionaries. These Dutch missionaries had a half cabin cruiser, a small half cabin cruiser, the half cabin being big enough for two. That was the two Dutch missionaries, and I said, “Well if you don’t mind I’d like to go along with you,” and they said, “Well you’ll have to sleep on the deck.” I said, “Well, okay.” Proceeded along the Arafura Sea.
That night ran into a storm. I feared that I might be washed from off the deck and I lashed myself to the mast and the next morning found I’d lost some of my equipment but I still had the necessary
clothing. We got to the area where the natives had the village. The Dutch missionaries were to go to the natives and as far as I could see the whole idea of the exercise was to spread the gospel amongst the natives.
But when we arrived we noticed that they were very excited, something unusual must’ve happened. I said to these Dutch missionaries, “Can you tell me what’s happening amongst the natives?” They said, “Well, there were two people amongst them who looked like they were white people,” and it turned out they were in fact white people. They were two Americans,
a pilot and navigator, and when we looked further we could see about a quarter of a mile away in the big swamp near the village was their aeroplane. What had happened was they’d taken off from Cooktown to fly to Port Moresby. They’d run into some bad weather and although they didn’t like to admit it, they got a bit lost.
They got into the Gulf of Carpentaria and thought that the west side of Cape York was part of New Guinea and proceeded to where they would hit the coast of New Guinea and then turn towards Moresby. In point of fact they,
by this stage, had moved towards the west side of the coastline and were running short of fuel. The pilot decided that he would have to land if possible on a beach, if he could find a beach area to land on. He found this large lagoon and put it down in the lagoon. Did a very good job
I thought. The pilot was very annoyed with the navigator who got him lost, but the navigator was not very happy about the pilot who he said had taken over and had decided he would try and find his way to Port Moresby. The long and short of it all was they were not talking to each other, which I thought was a bit comical. I tried to assure them that
I thought the pilot had done a very good job landing in this big swamp and they would have a story to tell their children and grandchildren about how they lived with the natives of New Guinea and their experience, which would be something they could recount many times no doubt.
How long had they been there for?
They’d been there about a week and
the fact that the missionaries had decided to go there at that time was just purely by luck that they were able to take them on the deck of the cabin cruiser. As I say, there was no room for them in the cabin. They joined me on the deck and we took them back to Merauke and then we got them back to Moresby. But that aeroplane is still
in that big swamp. The natives were jubilant, they were very very happy because they had a big aeroplane in their swamp and it were all theirs.
What would you do for recreation? What would you do for recreation?
Well, I did say I think that they were able to play football.
It wasn’t a regulation size football field but it was an area big enough so you could play a kind of football game. We had a beach, the southern beach of the Arafura Sea
was about half a mile or so away. You could walk to there and walk along the beach. That was purely exercise I suppose. Cards, anywhere in any of the services where you want to pass the time away you must make sure you’ve got a deck of cards. So there
was a lot of card playing. In the tents we couldn’t do anything. Well we didn’t go in the tent apart from sleeping because you had a net over the bed that was just a camp stretcher with a net over it and you just
went there to sleep. The mess as such was a concrete floor with a fly wire or a mosquito-proof wire meshing around it which didn’t keep the mosquitoes out entirely. The mosquitoes were very large and quite fierce. If you wanted to
have a game with a mosquito, because we had anti-malaria tablets we weren’t afraid of getting malaria so you’d let a mosquito land on your bare arm and let it fill up with blood and it became so heavy it couldn’t fly. They’d just let it waddle off and onto the concrete.
That might sound a funny way of passing the time away, but it just goes to show how large these mosquitoes were that they could suck enough blood out of you so they’d get too heavy to fly. Quite big.
Were the Americans based there as well? Were the Americans based there as well?
There were no Americans in Port Moresby. I’m sorry, no Americans at Merauke.
There was just the C Squadron, the Dutch, 120 Squadron and the Kittyhawk squadron, Australian, Royal Australian Airforce, 86 Squadron Kittyhawks and the 12 Squadron Vultee Vengeance dive bomber. No Americans there at all.
How did you get along with the Dutch?
They kept to themselves. I don’t know that they stayed there the full time that we were there. I
can’t recall that. We used guilders for money. I remember that quite well. We couldn’t get very much in the way of beer to drink but once or twice we did go over to Horn Island.
I remember going there once. We had three Vultee Vengeance to go to Horn Island to get a load of bottled beer. We found that we could get forty dozen bottles of beer in each aeroplane in the bomb bay.
That was where we’d normally have bombs. Instead of that we had beer, cartons of beer, forty dozen in each aeroplane. There was 120 dozen bottles total. With a load like that which is quite heavy, you can imagine what forty dozen bottles of beer would weigh, I had to be very careful on taking off from Horn Island which was not a very long strip.
I remember taxiing out to the end of the strip, holding the aeroplane on brakes to full power and releasing the brakes and hoping to make it off the other end of the strip. We didn’t have any accident in taking off fortunately, although
you’ve got to remember we had a technique of using a little bit of flap which would get you airborne a bit quicker. 120 dozen bottles of beer might sound a lot but amongst a squadron it didn’t go all that far. I’ll show you a photo if you like of 12 Squadron which I happen to have.
We might have a look at that a bit later.
Yeah. I had it enlarged
not so long ago actually to give to the widow of my navigator who lives now near Bendigo in Victoria.
That will be good to have a look at later. How long were you in New Guinea for?
Ten months. That was the time we decided would be
sufficient time to prove that it was futile to remain there any longer due to the fact that by this time the Japanese had been repelled from the movement towards Port Moresby. I’m not certain about the Coral Sea Battle and the Bismarck. I think the Bismarck Sea Battle
may have been at the same time that we were there. I’m not sure about that. But it was quite obvious that we were not required there. We were not going to be of any use so we returned to, brought the aeroplanes back to Australia and back to Laverton down near Melbourne
where as far as I know they were scrapped.
And what did you do after that?
Now, what happened quite a bit during the war years was that sometimes we had to wait in what they called a ‘pool’, which was just a place where
you would have living quarters and you would have to fill in the time as best you could somehow or other until you were posted somewhere. Personally I was accommodated in the Melbourne Cricket Ground grandstand where there were quarters
or little rooms under the main part of the grandstand and I lived there at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. I don’t know about the rest of the Australians who were waiting for posting. I think they made other arrangements about living,
sharing accommodation to defray the costs. You just looked after yourself the best you could, not saying it was difficult. At one stage of the game I remember going into Melbourne and booking myself into a place for a bit of a change, into a
hotel in Little Collins Street. So I stayed there for a couple of weeks.
What was Melbourne like at this time? How was the war impacting on it?
Well, life just went on. They played their football. I met a couple of girls down there, a friend of mine and myself.
We’d take them out to lunch now and again. We didn’t have all that much money to spend, you see, so we were a bit sort of, we had to be careful that we didn’t go anywhere where it would cost us much money. I’m trying to
think of one particular thing that happened down there at that time. Yeah, so it was decided we’d try to maintain our air force life as much as possible. We’d have a parade every morning at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. We’d make sure that
everyone who was supposed to be there was there, they hadn’t gone off somewhere or got lost or whatever. So I was put in charge of this group of air force, I was a warrant officer and non commissioned ranks.
So it was left to us to decide what we’d do with our time. So after the parade I got my little group together and said, “Where would you like to go today?” I listed the places where we could go. On top of the list of course was the brewery, the Carlton and United Brewery in Melbourne. We could visit there. So that was decided for the day we’d visit there.
It was very interesting. We went to other places of interest in Melbourne, the match factory I remember where they make, or they did at that time make matches. I just honestly don’t remember the different places we visited but the visits would normally only take probably a couple of hours.
I had the responsibility of making sure that my little group proceeded back to their accommodation after we’d made the visit. Now with the brewery visit, the gentleman who was escorting us around invited us to taste some of the beer
which was what he called green beer, that is it hadn’t processed to the stage where it was bottled, and there was a tube leading from this great reservoir of beer, and he said, “Anyone who fancies themselves as good beer drinkers can help themselves and you can drink this tube for the next hour if you want. Won’t make any difference to the amount of beer that we’ve got.”
We sampled it but not for very long, and the rest of the group went away. I don’t know what they did with their time, but that wasn’t my responsibility once they’d left that place where we visited. It was up to each one to look after himself. I found that
it was a very pleasant to go into the garden.
Interviewee: Philip Hamilton-Foster Archive ID 1771 Tape 04
Where were you when World War Two ended?
Up in Townsville at a place called the Boley River about eleven miles out along the Cairns Road from Townsville.
What were you doing there?
Well, we were just being, this is 86 Squadron, we’d just been re-equipped with Mustangs, brand new Mustangs and we thought that we were going north.
We didn’t know where, maybe in the Philippines, but of course the war ended so it put a stop to that, and so we were asked whether we wanted to stay in the air force or not stay in the air force, and the idea of going to Japan appealed to me
and they needed pilots for three Mustang squadrons which would be in Japan for the occupation, and having been a Mustang pilot for a while and not liking the idea of going back to work, I thought well, I was still single at the time.
Can I ask you
what appealed to you about going to Japan?
Good question because it wasn’t the fact of going to Japan so much, it was the fact that I’d be still flying, continue flying as a vocation. Also of course to have a look at how people live in another country,
and where we were going to be based was near the inland sea. Now the inland sea in Japan is a very picturesque, very pretty area. That’s mainly the reason I suppose, but basically and predominantly the idea of continuing in a flying career.
I wasn’t, not at that time, a permanent air force man. I was only interim air force, so it wasn’t for a couple more years before I was permanent, I got my permanent, actually I got my permanent commission in 19…
I was in Sale, about 1956 or something like that. I forget. But after that I got a permanent commission and so I had to decide then to stay in the air force or not. But being a assured of
a flying job having got a permanent commission, I felt that I was justified in the decision to go to Japan in the first place. So it really all started from there. We had to make the decision to go to the occupation in Japan or not.
What was the role of your squadron in that occupation force?
As far as I could see
the role was to let the Japanese people know that we had an air force of, had an air power, I’ll put it that way, which in case of any trouble coming out
after the war, if their should be, well, we had three Mustang squadrons based in Japan apart from what the Americans had anyway. It was more a token thing to say that we would look after a certain area and that was the south west part of Japan. That was sort of our area of responsibility, to look after that part of it.
When I say look after it, I mean just to be there in case of any eventuality which was very unlikely to happen anyway.
So what was your day to day routine?
We still, see, if you’ve got a flying job you have to be current all the time. If you are away
from the flying for about a month or so you need to do some refresher flying. You can get out of practice so to speak. So you have to be on continual flying practice no matter what sort of aeroplane you may be flying. In commercial flying the pilots say in Qantas, they have,
they’re flying a range so that they make sure they’re in current practice all the time and they do simulated training as well. We didn’t have simulated in those days so we would do flying training on a regular basis to make sure that we were current in our flying.
What sort of aircraft were you predominantly working with?
Mustangs. We had three squadrons of Mustangs. Now a Mustang
in many respects was a better aeroplane than a Spitfire. A Spitfire was designed for World War Two operations in England or in neighbouring areas like France. It didn’t have the range to go very far at all, a beautiful aeroplane but with very limited range. Whereas
the Mustang was used quite a lot on escort duty when they were flying raids over Germany because the Spitfire didn’t have the range to do the escort work. So a Mustang in that respect was a much better aeroplane.
Did you travel to Japan on a ship?
Did you travel to Japan on a ship?
Yeah. No no, I beg your pardon. No. I came back on a ship. We flew the Mustangs up there, we took them up there, ferried them up there. First of all we went to Labuan which is off the coast of Borneo and we staged there because one again the accommodation hadn’t been organised for us to go to Japan immediately,
so we stayed at Labuan. This was directly after the war. You understand that it takes a while to get things organised. The living facilities and messing facilities and maintenance for aeroplanes, all of those things would have to be provided.
So we were at Labuan for about three or four months. Quite a while actually. I remember that you could go out into the hillside places and the fox holes still had dead Japanese bodies. Well, I don’t think that they were ever taken back to their homeland. The bodies
were just left there. Probably the fox holes were eventually filled in. I remember our doctor there wanted a skull and he just went out one day and got himself a head and brought it up to provide himself with a skull.
Given that the war had just ended and you squadron was on its way to Japan, what was the general feeling of the men about
It’s difficult because when you’ve got people who don’t speak the same language, you’ve got that language barrier for a start. We were warned that the Japanese could be a bit promiscuous, would be the word I think.
That you had to look after yourself obviously. You didn’t go visiting the Japanese places of ill repute because wherever there’s a military force there’s sure to be these places. Anywhere you go in my experience anyway. The Americans always made sure that
they were well provided for. I know that. So once again you might ask me what we would do in our spare time because we could only fly a certain number of hours a week and possibly quite a few days when the weather’s not, the weather can be a big controlling factor in the amount of flying you do.
You can’t fly in the pouring rain and the clouds are right down. You’ve got no visibility obviously. This might go on for a couple of days or so, but once again we had to keep in flying practice so we would do a certain number of hours per month. To be specific the flying would probably involve
going on a formation exercise with all of the squadron aeroplanes that were serviceable participating, or you might, we did set up a range, a range, a place where we could do air to ground practice, firing our guns at a target on the ground.
You mentioned Phil, that the presence was important in terms of the war had ended and the Japanese had lost. Was training or practises designed specifically to show the Japanese the power of the occupying force?
To a limited extent I think. I don’t think that was a big factor in having our
aeroplanes there. Now, before the Korean War commenced it was quite obvious that we didn’t need three squadrons. Our squadrons were 76, 77 and 82. They were the three Mustang squadrons, so 76 and 82 were disbanded. The aeroplanes I think were brought back to Williamstown near Newcastle.
So at that stage there was only 77 Squadron left and moved from where we had been based at a place called Bofu, B O F U, Bofu, moved to Iwakuni which is not very far from Hiroshima anyway, Iwakuni. The reason why we didn’t go there in the first place was that
the RAF [Royal Air Force], the Brits [British] had got in first and they had taken the accommodation. It boiled down to not enough accommodation for us, the RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force]. So when these other two squadrons were disbanded 77 Squadron remained at Iwakuni and that’s where
77 Squadron were when the Korean War broke out, and 77 Squadron virtually operated from Japan, from Iwakuni across to Korea. Now, will I go on.
I just wanted to ask you, you mentioned before that you’d been warned about the promiscuity of the Japanese. Can you tell me about the brothels in Japan?
Never went to one. I can’t give you any first hand knowledge there at all, but I know they were. In this little placed, Bofu, which is really a village they were commonly known as a cat-house, and that’s quite a, not an unusual term. I think it’s been around for quite a while. I remember I had a friend in the air force, we used to talk about we’d do when we got out of the air force and
we said, “We’d open a cat-house and you can’t miss making money.” They were places that were out of bounds actually in Bofu. The service police would raid these places now and again if they had any idea that any of
our personnel were visiting, and it did happen a couple of times when some of our fellows had to be told to get out of the place and go back to camp. But it’s inevitable anywhere you go this is going to happen. As far as the Americans were concerned they
always had it very well organised. I know that for a fact. Not only did they have it well organised they would have… I think they would have Japanese employed on their bases who they would quite often
become very friendly with. As far as we were concerned the Japanese who worked, and there were Japanese who worked, I’ll show you a photo of a couple who worked in Iwakuni when I was in Korea, they would arrive at 9 o’clock or about. They were never allowed overnight on lead base and they would
leave again about 5, 4 o’clock in the afternoon. So there was no chance of any overnight, what’s the word? Playing up.
So how did you know about these women that would stay overnight at the American base?
Yeah, good question.
I got to know some Americans when I was up there and you talk about this and that and so forth. I think the fact that the American guards perhaps, the fellows who were supposed to regulate the visits made a few dollars
when nobody was looking. I don’t know how they arranged it but I’m darn [very] sure that they would arrange it somehow.
What were your general impressions of how the Americans treated the Japanese?
Well I reckon the Americans treated the Japanese very very well. The fact that their saying was that the Japanese had
lost the war but they’d won the peace was very true. I will get some water. I’ve got a book that you might be interested in having a look at. Not just now, but I’ll show it to you later on. It’s about the American, reckons when they first came
in to Japan as occupation force, of course they had a very big occupation force. I mean they were everywhere. I don’t know whey they needed it. I’m sure they didn’t need it any more than they needed the number of Americans that were here and the various places in Australia during World War Two. I mean over at Port Pirie for example, there were Americans there.
Were the Japanese ever likely to come to Port Pirie? You know, I wouldn’t think so, but the Americans were there all right.
How did the locals in Port Pirie respond to that American presence?
Well they weren’t there permanently. They were there as far as I can remember for a limited time.
I think it probably became obvious that there was no need for them to be there. I know, I had a girlfriend who was an usherette at the picture show and I was away for a while and I was on attachment to another place for about a month I think it was, and when I got back this wretched American had pinched my girl. I thought that was a bit rough.
He moved in while I was away and she started using these American expressions and so forth. In Japan, I don’t know to what extent, but I’m quite sure, well there were a lot of marriages between Americans and Japanese girls. I don’t know that, there were also in our army, our Australian Army, there were
marriages between Japanese, army fellows and Japanese girls. It was not all that long ago actually that they had a big reunion, a lot of the Japanese that were married to our Australian servicemen. No air force as far as I know.
So were there men in your squadron who had romances with Japanese girls outside, paid for?
Not to my knowledge, could’ve. I wouldn’t say definitely no, but not to my knowledge. It’s possible. A lot of fellows were married, you know, who went to the occupation force. Comparatively speaking, there were many more single fellows than married, but there were a certain number of married
who went there. When the Korean War broke out the wives of some of the pilots in 77 Squadron were living at Iwakuni. There was no accommodation for them in Bofu where we were. No way that we could get our
wives and or girlfriends or whoever. No.
What was the base like at Iwakuni?
Very nice, very nice indeed. The rooms were very comfortable.
They had a normal messing arrangement such as the dining room arrangement, the bar, drinking arrangement, was all very similar to what we have here in Australia. I didn’t spend much time there because being based in Korea the only time I’d spend at Iwakuni
was when I first went there and I had two days I think it was to do a conversion on a Meteor and then at other times I was at Iwakuni when I might have to take an aeroplane over there a couple of times. We could fly a Meteor across from Korea to Iwakuni and leave it
with the mostly Japanese trained technicians will I say, engine fitters, engine men mostly. They would do a double engine change overnight, take the two engines out of the Meteor. It was a Rolls Royce, jets, and put two new ones in and that aeroplane was be on the line at 8.00 o’clock the next morning.
You could fly it back to Korea and it would be out on operations that day. So they were very good. They were very efficient in that respect. So it was just good to get to Iwakuni to have a nice ordinary sort of bed to sleep in and use of the bar facilities, because in Korea we didn’t have that sort of thing. We lived in tents.
So when you were first in Japan as part of the occupation force were you based at Iwakuni or Bofu?
Based at Bofu until two of our squadrons were disbanded and 77 was the only one left and then they moved to Iwakuni, yeah.
What were your first impressions of the Japanese and
the post-war situation in Japan when you arrived?
You see, it was pretty limited in the type of people you would meet. The language barrier was something that made it very difficult. It was quite obvious that the Japanese people
learn very quickly and they were very good at making something. This has been proven of course with the Japanese cars you see, and anything like that. They’re very good mechanically, very clever people.
What else can I say?
Was there much rebuilding going on that you saw?
Well for a start, you take Hiroshima, you see. Eventually Hiroshima hosted the Olympic Games. So immediately they started rebuilding because they had no requirement to rebuild the armed forces because that was part of the deal that Japan would not
re-arm. America would assist Japan in rebuilding the country as an industrial country, nation. So they became very good at manufacturing, carrying life as they normally would in any other part of the world in a big community.
Can you describe to me what your visit to
Hiroshima was like, what you saw?
I don’t know whether I’ve got a photo that I could produce readily, but there was nothing left. When I say nothing, there was a couple, there was one tower which was a shell really, not a very big building, and that was the aiming point for the A bomb [atomic bomb], and the A bomb detonated not quite on the ground.
But it was built to detonate above the ground, and that was the aiming point and very accurate, and that’s what happened. What are we talking about again?
We were talking about what you saw on the day you visited?
Yeah, when I went there. Well like I say, devastation, complete devastation. These couple of shells
of buildings, that was all that was left. I saw, it was very pathetic, I saw a Japanese woman. She was obviously a victim of, it wasn’t very long after. We arrived in Japan before Christmas about 1945 and when I went there
I saw this Japanese woman and she had a little child and she was trying, she had no milk for it and she was trying to look after this little child. It was quite obvious that she was fighting a losing battle and all I could give her was money, and money was no good to her because there was nowhere where she could buy food or anything like that. There were a couple of Japanese fellows there, looked like businessmen, they were obviously planning on the
rebuilding and I spoke to them and I said, “Look, Japanese woman needs help,” and whether they understood or not I don’t know. I couldn’t help her. Very pathetic. There were a couple of Japanese girls who came down to Bofu and they talked about the effect of the bomb
and they had scars, burns. What they did when the bomb, after the blast, they made for the river because a lot of them were so badly burnt they were burning, you know, and trying to cool off a bit they
made for the river. Oh well, that’s a long time ago isn’t it, 1945.
What did these girls tell you about
They described it the way it was. They said, actually they didn’t expect it. It was totally unexpected. They saw the aeroplane. They reckon that their remembrance of it was they saw the aeroplane and they saw this small white
parachute that came away from the aeroplane and they didn’t realise that was the drag shoot that dragged the bomb out, and when the bomb detonated and this big mushroom cloud came up they realised
then it was something they couldn’t describe and never heard of and never, didn’t know what to do about it, you know. In no time at all the whole of the area was razed and it was devastated, and people who were on the fringe were not so badly
injured. Naturally the further you got away from it the better chance you had of surviving, but there was immediate loss of life. So many, I don’t know how many numbers. I probably could find out. I’ve got this book that probably tells it all.
Phil, what effects were these women living with that you could see as
a result of the bomb?
To my way, my impression was they realised that although it was a dreadful thing, although there was such a loss of life that the chances were, they were pretty intelligent women, they were no mugs [fools], that if
the decision had not been made to drop the A bomb there and Nagasaki that they Japan would’ve been invaded anyway, and once the Americans started putting a big bomber force in with a target like Tokyo, there probably would’ve been more loss of life. See, what you’ve got to rationalise that
it was dreadful and the loss of life was dreadful, a tragedy, but it could’ve been worse if they had not used the A bomb on two occasions. The Japanese were all set, they had to make the decision whether to go ahead with it or whether to just put in waves of bomber force.
Who were these women and what were they doing on your base?
Well they were just going about their, not these girl sailors, they weren’t girls, they were fairly, in their late teens I’d imagine they were, young women. People were going about their normal day’s shopping and such like, a normal day’s whatever. It was in the morning.
They didn’t understand what had happened, you know. All they knew there was something dreadful happened and there was this dreadful scorching heat.
I can only imagine
what it must be like. They said people were making for the water, making for the river because they were so badly burned and trying to get some relief from the water, the river.
Even though you say well they were the enemy, well see, this is the part about war,
there’s always more casualties amongst the people who live in the country, the civilian population, there’s always more casualties than there is in the armed forces. I know in Korea, I don’t know the exact numbers but there were more casualties among the people who lived in Korea who were
not involved in the actual fighting than there were who were killed in operations in the army, air force and navy, armed forces. It’s inevitable, you see. You can’t discriminate. You can’t say, “We’ll only kill these people and not…” What are
the people going to do that live there? They’re going to be subject to all the bombing and everything else all the time. If you were given the opportunity to avoid any civilian target,
like you wouldn’t intentionally go and strafe a place which you knew there were only people living there and there was no armed force or no soldier there or no enemy opposition there. I mean you’re not that callous that you’d go and do that, kill people who are not involved in the war, if you can possibly avoid it, but unfortunately in many cases it’s
unavoidable. The Americans had the B29s going over from Guam to Korea and dropping their bombs. They were trying to knock a bridge out at one stage and they were trying to disrupt the Koreans, the communist force from building an airfield which they were
trying to do, and so they just dropped their bombs. Well where the bombs finished up is anybody’s guess, you know. They don’t always hit the target and they’re very wide of the target on may occasions. That’s the dreadful part about it I think. You imagine, I mean if
an enemy force dropped bombs on our place here, on any one of our cities trying to knock out a military installation. It’s inevitable that may people are going to be killed.
Even with enemy the very fact that you haven’t, like in the air force you have an advantage.
I mean you’ve got people on the ground. You can move so quickly. You can go into a target and you can strafe [harass with shells] and bomb it, whatever you feel like, or whatever you not feel like but are equipped to do, at the target. Now, you go back and land back at your base and you say, “Well, that was our target,” and so
that’s the justification for it. If you want to
Interviewee: Philip Hamilton-Foster Archive ID 1771 Tape 05
Could you tell me how you came to go to Korea, when that was?
I was posted.
When was that?
In 1951, about August, September. See, permanent air force you just go where you’re sent. You’ve got no choice.
Whereabouts were you posted in Korea?
We were based at K14. That’s the
American designation just out of Kimpo which now is the international airport for Seoul, just out of Seoul.
Could you tell me about the day you arrived there?
OK. I’d been at Iwakuni for two days to do conversion because I hadn’t flown the Meteor before,
so I got two days there and then over to Korea. The next day I was on operations flying number 4. When I say flying number, you have a section, you have a leader, he’s number 1, you have 2, he’s the leader, the number 2 flyer is on his right
side, number 3 on his left side, then you’ve got number 4. Someone new to the squadron as I was new to the squadron regardless of my previous experience, would fly number 4. After a little while, well what happened to me actually, when we got a ground attack, I was leading because I had all the two years experience as an instructor.
So I got straight to lead on ground attack. But that was it. We were pretty short of pilots in the squadron. We lost quite a few, so I was flying number 4.
How do the formations work in that way?
does the which?
How does the formation work when you’re number 4?
Right. The numbers are significant because number 3, that’s number 2, that’s number 3. If number 1 is shot down or anything happens to number 1 I can’t lead, so number 3 takes over. So actually when you’re
ground attack you go out as a four. When you start doing your ground attack number 1 and 2 fly as a pair and number 3 and 4 fly as a pair. It’s much better and easier to control, to turn and everything else if you’ve just got a pair instead of a four. So that’s why have those numbers.
Number 4 they reckoned was the unlucky number because if anyone was going to get the chop, the chances are number 4’s going to. The reason being that, I’ll have to go into technicalities a little bit. We were flying at 35,000 feet initially when I first got there, 35,000 feet,
and we could actually see the MiGs, the MiG was the enemy aeroplanes. We could actually see them taking off from across the Yalu River. The Yalu River is the defining border line between North Korea and Manchuria. Now, they had their base just over the Yalu River in Manchuria. We weren’t allowed, or nobody was allowed,
not on our side, Americans or us, anybody on our side was allowed to go anywhere near the big base because that was in neutral territory. They were allowed to use it and they were allowed to take off, fly up to height and get mixed up in everything that was going on at the time and would return over the Yalu River border and land safely.
That might sound crazy to you, and it was a crazy arrangement, but so what could we do about it? That was it. So I started at number 4 and what happened, I think it was December, I forget the, I’ve got it in that book. I’ll show you later on. What happened was our section or the
whole formation actually, normally there’s twelve aeroplanes in a formation. You’ve got the lead four, you’ve got two on the right and two, a number 2 section, that’s four, so there’s twelve. Four, four and four, like that. Unfortunately with the Meteor a bad feature was that you could only see a certain distance behind you. Because of the canopy being blanked out at the back,
which is a bad feature, it wasn’t a complete open view where you could see through the hole thing and screw your head around and see behind you. You couldn’t do it because it was blanked out the way it was designed. You’ve got to remember the Meteor was a hangover from World War Two. Meteors were used at the end of World War Two by the RAF, so when we got them
we got the hangover from World War Two. It was a straight wing aeroplane. We had the biggest and the F86 the Americans had were all swept wing. You know what I mean by straight wing and swept wing? Straight wing like that and a swept wing back, swept back and swept wing aeroplanes of course are much better to manoeuvre. They are in all respects are a
much better aeroplane. The MiGs were designed by Russians who had got a hold of the Rolls Royce engine and copied it. Because the Rolls Royce was such a good engine they copied the Rolls, put the Rolls Royce copy engines into their MiGs and
they were adamant they had one 37 millimetre cannon and two 23 millimetre cannon. Now to give you an idea of what you could expect to get hit with if you got hit with a slug from a 37 millimetre cannon, it’s about the size of a golf ball. A pretty big projectile about the size of a golf ball, but because
they were fairly big and they weighed a lot more than other ammunition, they only carried a limited number. I think they carried about 35 or 40 of those 37 millimetre cannon projectiles, but if you got hit by one you’d know it, as I found out later on. Any rate, the other two, the 23 millimetres, were about each side of the nose
of the aeroplane. So they had the three cannon, one 37 millimetre, two 23s and the thing about them, the enemy MiGs… MiG by the way is the name of the company which produces the aeroplane. Now I can’t tell you if it’s a Russian word or two actually, there are two. I could look it up
for you and tell you if you like, but it’s Megavan or something or other Giovich [Mikoyan Gurevich] and it’s shortened to MIG, MiG. So what these cunning so-and-sos used to do and was what I used to teach when I was instructing down in Sale in Victoria, you get half your attacking
force up at that side, and the other half down that side, and the ones this side make the attack. They initiate the attack, and because they’re at 45,000 feet and we’re at 35,000, that’s a 10,000 foot drop they had on us which is a big advantage. So their method, and it was
like I say something I used when I was instructing, I knew all about this, they would initiate the attack. Now, we would have to turn into it. You always turn, if the aeroplane’s coming down like that you turn into it. You don’t turn, once you turn away you get them right behind you. You’ve got to turn right into it and hope that you make your break and get around before
the attacking aeroplane is in position to fire. While you’re busily doing this and turning that way, the other cunning mob who are positioned up in the right hand side, they all come down now. They’ve got a good shot dead astern right behind you. So you’re a sitting duck, you know. You couldn’t do anything about it.
So no wonder our fellows were getting shot down.
How many people were getting shot down? What were the casualty rates?
Well, we had a total of thirty-four that never came back. They weren’t all shot down, but of that number there would’ve been three-quarters anyway who were actually shot down by the MiGs.
What happened to the others?
Yeah, okay. Now what a lot of people don’t understand is every now and then there’s a mid-air collision and you’ve got two aeroplanes collide. That happened not once but twice in our squadron. Should never have happened of course. It happens when people get
tired and they’re not vigilant enough. They’re not, they relaxed, too much relaxed and they’re not watching and they’re thinking about getting home and landing and having a couple of beers and that, you know. Next thing you’ve got an aeroplane that verges like that, that section over here and that section there, this bloke’s sitting there and this bloke’s sitting there, they verge like that and they collide. It happened twice and we lost
two in one collision and we lost one in another because one of the fellows baled out. He ejected and he got home. They picked him up in a helicopter. The other bloke didn’t get out. I think he got three from collision. We had another one that aborted his take off.
What I mean by that, he was taking off and he thought he had a fire in the engine and he slammed his brakes on, pulled his landing gear up and skidded on his belly. Unfortunately the end of the strip had a very nasty slope and the aeroplane went down the slope. He was thrown forward and he hit his head against the gun sight and he didn’t survive that. Another one strangely
enough died at a fire, attached to a fire. We don’t know the circumstances of that. So they weren’t all shot down. There was one incidence where one of our pilots was somehow or other, how can I put it?
He wasn’t following his leader and he finished up losing the leader and trying to get home by himself and we don’t know what happened because another section saw this lone aeroplane flying along straight and level. One of our other section pilots went over to have a look and there was
nobody in it, no pilot. So we assumed he ejected, he got out and whether he was shot down, sometimes they shoot you down on the way, pick you off in the parachute. We think that could’ve happened, otherwise we think he did get down on the ground and we all carried a revolver, 38 Smith and
Wesson, and that he might’ve decided he’d try and shoot it out with the crowd on the ground and they just picked him off and got rid of him like that because he wasn’t taken prisoner of war. So nobody knows what happened to him really. So there were these fellows like that that weren’t taken prisoners of war and we can’t say that they were shot down.
I made a vow that I would do my utmost not to lose one of my wing men. If you’re leading, you’ve got two, three and four, you call them the wing men because they fly out on your wing, and I said, “I’m going to do my best not to lose a wing man.” So I had it all worked out
that before we’d take off I’d brief my section and I would impress on them that under no circumstances are they to leave the section. Sometimes you get a cowboy and he’ll peel off and he’ll have a go by themself. Call them cowboy. No cowboys.
“We’ll make one pass, I’ll call the shots all the time and as soon as we are attack we will break hard away and return to base.” No matter how hot, we reckon we’ve got a real good hot target, we’ll go home and if necessary we’ll call another section in and they can have a go.
This particular day I lost one and he was number 4. Anyway we attacked the target which we thought was an ammo [ammunition], could’ve been an ammo dump. It could’ve been a fuel dump. We don’t know what it was because you never knew what your target was precisely. You could only, if you got a lot of ground fire in return,
they were firing back at you, you could assume that it was a pretty good target, you know, worthwhile, something they wanted to defend. So we did the normal attack, normal approach and a normal attack which we’d done before quite a number of times, and my number 2 and I, once again we split into pairs
so I’ve got number 2 and myself as a pair and the other fellow who’s name was Ken Murray, known as Black Murray, he was number 3 and he had the number 4 as his wing man. Incidentally Ken Murray finished up being the top pilot in the squadron or of any pilot in Korea including all the Americans. He flew 333
sorties. A very good fighter pilot. Anyway, so after we attacked and broke away I saw this great sheet of flame come up and I thought straight away I’ve lost one.
What happened I believe, I don’t think he was shot down but we had to report him shot down. You do this sometimes when you think it’s the best way to let,
well the best way of telling the family what happened. You say he was a very good pilot, he was shot down, the enemy shot him down. I don’t think that happened actually. I worked it out myself and I’m quite sure that what happened was we had a procedure of firing our cannon, we had four 20 millimetre
cannons, fired them from 1,000 yards out and at 300 yards which is not very far, and we were doing a fair speed, at 300 yard we would release our rockets. By this time we’d hope to have drawn fire from the ground so we’d know where the guns are that are defending the target so we could release the rocket with pretty good
accuracy. I reckon I could release rockets, I could guarantee to hit a target about twenty foot square and that size. If you rounded it off it would be about ten foot diameter or maybe fifteen foot diameter, something like that, not very big. I could
guarantee seventy-five hits, seventy-five per cent hits. Anyway, what this fellow did I believe, he released the rocket. Now, how you release the rocket is you’ve got his control column and on the top you’ve got a little button and that is the firing button. I think we had six rockets, three under each wing, and we hadn’t released our
rockets, that is number 1, myself, and the other 2 and 3, and number 4 released his rockets and I believe that instead of breaking immediately which you were briefed to do, that he wanted to see where the rocket went, whether they hit the target, and in doing this he delayed about a second, maybe only half a second and he flew into the target
because the aeroplane went up, hit the ground and went up in a ball of flame. I worked out that if he had just been hit by ground fire, by the enemy ground fire, he would’ve called, “Mayday, Mayday,” which is the,
that’s the call we normally use, you see, if you’re in real trouble. Any rate, they didn’t call. He didn’t attempt to take any evasive action. He demonstrated straight into the target and the aeroplane exploded. So I believe that he was just that fraction too late to pull out and when he tried to pull
out he pulled out to abruptly and the aeroplane won’t change direction immediately. When you pull the stick back it won’t change, it keeps on going on that original path. When you pull it out of a steep dive you’ve got to be careful that you pull out very smoothly. If you don’t, if you jerk the stick back the aeroplane will just keep on going in the original direction. You can understand that, and that’s what I believe happened to him. He,
at the last moment he could see that he was going to have to be pretty smart not to hit the target with his aeroplane, not to fly into it, so he pulled the stick back and the aeroplane just squashed into it and blew himself up. I met his mother, I met
his mother some time after when I was flying Hercules. I met her in Brisbane because I had this bloke’s brother who was in the army as a captain in the army, bringing him back from Port Moresby I think it was, and he said, “Mum is waiting at the airport to pick me up, would you like to say hello?” And I said, “Yeah, I’ll say hello to her,” and I said, “I can’t tell her any more than she’d know.”
Any rate, so I met her. I explained the situation and I couldn’t tell her any more than what she’d probably been told already. I expressed my sympathy and so forth. I said, “He was a very courageous young pilot and I had great respect for him,” etcetera, etcetera.
It’s not very often do you meet the parents or one of the parents or any close relative like that. It wasn’t that you avoided doing it because if I had the opportunity I would’ve gone out of my way to visit one of the relatives, parents maybe, if I could
in any way explain what I thought happened. But the chances of doing that, unless you were actually there like I was on that particular day, the chances of being there, and unfortunately the way the air force went about it was to advise the next of kin which was normally if the bloke was married, if he was single, advise the parent
or parents that he was missing. That was the first notice they would get, that he was missing. Then there’d be a follow up to say he was missing believed killed, but it wasn’t until, it was for a purpose I suppose because they had to be sure. When you see a bloke blow up like that I mean there’s no doubt about it whatsoever. They could’ve straight away said
they expressed their condolences and straight away say he was seen to blow up or the aeroplane was seen to hit the target and blow up. How else can you describe it? That’s what happened. So he was the only one I lost.
But that’s the way it goes. They reckon that’s war.
Yeah right, well with me on the fighter sweeps
we were sitting ducks. We were really bait for the 586s. They would take off after us and the arrangement was that we would try and get these MiGs to come down to our height, to drop down 10,000 feet and then the F86s, the Americans, would come in and they would tangle with the MiGs. They were about even, you know. Well,
I looked up one day. You could see them taking off from across the Yalu River and we were just doing a sweep up and down on our side of the Yalu River, the border line, see these fellows taking off, and I thought there’s a few of them because they took a while to take off. In fact there were sixty-four. How I know this is that given time for them to get to their altitude
and with aeroplanes that fly on height like that quite often they’ll pull con trails, condensation trails. Ever seen them in the sky, you know? And their method was to fly in pairs, eight pairs one behind the other, that’s eight twos, sixteen and that was a train, what they called a train.
Like eight carriages in pairs making sixteen. They had four trains, there were sixty-four. Now, how I know for certain was you’ve just got to glance and you can see the con trails. Straight away you can tell how many. Well that’s all right while you can see them, but as soon as they disappear
you know that they’re ready to attack. So that was their method and it was probably the best way of attacking. If we’d had F86s we might’ve been able to do something like that too, but we could never get a hold of the 86s. We were stuck with these Meteors. Anyway, we shouldn’t have been there in the first place. But,
that’s how many. This particular day we had sixteen. We had four sections of four, sixteen and sixty-four is eighty. The Americans came up, they had two squadrons of twelve, that’s another twenty-four. So you’ve got all these aeroplanes
in the sky and you never know what’s going to happen next. Somehow or other there was no collision despite the fact we had all these aeroplanes milling around in the sky. So I just guess it was one of those days when we were a bit lucky. What we had to do of course was when the MiGs attacked us we had
to break into them, or break in towards their attack and then get the hell out of the way so we wouldn’t get in the way of the F86s, the Americans. That was the arrangement. Anyway, in the early days when I was number 4, being the new chum [man] in the squadron, we were attacked and we broke as we were briefed to do,
and I was number 4 like I say, and quite often they pick off number 4 because they know there was nobody behind him, he’s the last one. They pick him off and then have a go at anything else they can get a bead on. They picked me off and the next thing I knew I was spinning out of control, so I called my leader, the squadron
leader and I told him, I said, “I’ve been hit, I’m spinning out of control,” and he said, “Well bail out, or eject.” “Bail out” were his words I think, bail out, which meant you get out of the aeroplane. We had ejection seats so it was a matter of pulling the ejection lever and you eject yourself out of the aeroplane. Well, it was 35,000 feet, bitterly bloody cold, you know, and I reckon you’d freeze.
Well, you’d certainly be pretty cold by the time you got down on the ground. That was one reason I didn’t. I just said, I acknowledged that he said to bail out. I just said, “I’ll see you later,” which I did because on the way down I got out of this spin and I got into a spiral. A spin is when you’re spinning. A spiral is
just when you’re going around in a spiral, that’s the difference. Any rate, so I got out of the spin and I got it into a spiral. Now I realised I had no elevator control. The elevators, if you move the stick backward or forward like that you go up or down. Rudder controls you control with your feet. You’ve got the three controls, that’s it, elevator, rudder and aileron [hinged flap]. Aileron you move the stick one way or the other to the
side and it either raises the wings or lower the wings. I’d lost the elevator control which is the main control. So I thought, “This is nice, what do I do next?” So I thought, “Well I’ll wait until I get down to about 5,000 feet and I’ll eject. In the meantime I’ll try and get away from this part of North Korea and I’ll try to get over towards the coast.” If you could
get near the coast then you could eject into the sea, you could possibly get a helicopter to pick you up. If you ejected over land, very hilly, and the chances are when you hit the ground you might break a couple of legs. So I wasn’t keen about the ejection thing right from the word go, but fortunately also in the aeroplane you’ve got three subsidiary, or three
minor things called trim tabs. Now you trim the aeroplane fore and aft elevator by getting to the wheel and very carefully you move it back and forwards, and actually in any, it’s the same in any aeroplane whether it’s a little aeroplane or big aeroplane or whatever, you can trim the aeroplane so you can fly it hands off or feet off. Trim it to fly perfectly straight and
level, wings level, once you’ve got the trims right with the trim, the elevator, aileron and rudder trim. So I got this elevator trim and to my great relief I found it was working. So I got it out of the spiral and
I got down to just under 10,000 feet. By this time I had aileron and rudder with my feet, and by this time I could fly the aeroplane on the trim, trim tab thing. So I thought, “Thank goodness for that because now I can head for the coast and if necessary I can bail, I can eject or bail out”, whatever,
and if I didn’t have that I would’ve certainly had to eject and would’ve been taken prisoner of war. I didn’t fancy that very much either. Didn’t appeal to me one little bit, prisoner of war thing. I’d heard about how they treat fellows when they’re a prisoner of war. The first thing they do is take all their clothing, their warm clothing. So
I decided that I would not go towards the coast, I would head directly back to home base which we called K14 or Kimpo. So I realised then that I was losing fuel because glancing at the fuel gauges fuel seemed to be disappearing faster that it
should, so I thought, “The chances are I’ve got a hole in the fuel tank somewhere.” Anyway that was the last of my worries because once I got over the dividing line between North Korea and South Korea, I got into home territory out of enemy territory and over the borderline sort of thing into friendly territory, I could eject then if necessary
and they’d send a helicopter out and pick me up. Any rate, I didn’t have to as luck turned out, or whatever. I got back about, on the way back I decided to see how long it would take me to lower the landing gear and raise it again, and I found out that I could do
that in a certain number of seconds and so I rang up, I got in touch with the controller down at Kimpo, the American air traffic controller. I told him I was on my way back, I’d lost my elevator but I had the trim and I wanted to bring the aeroplane back to
the airfield, well airfield, only one strip. He said, “All right, belly it off the side of the runway,” because by this time the F86s were on their way back and they were all short of fuel. I said, “What I’m asking you is that I want to land with wheels down,” and he wasn’t too happy about that idea at all. He’d rather me belly it. At any rate I said, “I believe
I can land with wheels down. If I have any trouble I’ll pull it off.” Actually he said to me, “If you have any trouble lift your landing gear and belly it.” I said, “Okay.” So to cut a long story short I got it onto final approach and landed from about 4,000 feet. Normally you approach from about 1,000 feet. So I
needed that height and that time to re-trim the aeroplane all the time, because by this time I’m flying it with my left hand on the elevator trim and my feet on the rudder and the only time I’m using my hand is on the aileron. But then the next thing my port engine flamed out. So I’ve got engine left so that’s all right, but
I decided I wouldn’t use it because the gauge was showing empty. I thought if I rely on it and it cuts, if it flames out, I will probably land short or have to pull the wheels up like the bloke said and belly it. So anyway, I didn’t have to do that fortunately. I landed wheels down and taxied off. I got it off the side of the strip into a taxi
way and the other engine flamed out which is good because I didn’t need it anyway. You might say, well you were lucky. Sure I was lucky.
I kept on making little decisions all the way and as it turned out little decisions kept on coming up trumps. By the time I was on late final, we call it over the fence where you get the aeroplane over the end of the strip and you’ve got an imaginary fence and you get it over the fence and you’ve got plenty of strip to land on, you’re over the fence,
Interviewee: Philip Hamilton-Foster Archive ID 1771 Tape 06
Phil, I just wanted to ask you, can you just for the record explain exactly how that flight finished, where we left off on the last tape?
Yeah. Right, I had aimed to land initially from 4,000 feet about two miles back. I headed for halfway up the strip. This is standard practice because
when you start putting wheels and flaps down you’re going to lose speed and you need that extra distance. So by the time I got wheels and a bit of flap I was then aiming for about a third up the strip and by the time, I got no power by this time usually in the other engine, so the aeroplane was heading for just over the end of the strip, which is what I worked out should happen.
So that was what happened to get it down on the ground, clear the strip for the F86s which were by that time in a circuit. So once I got it down and got the nose wheel down I was able to steer, you steer the aeroplane with the nose wheel, you steer them with a little steering wheel. Did you know that? Very convenient.
So I was able to steer it and headed off the strip and I was empty.
How were you recognised for your conduct during that flight?
Well, I wasn’t frightened at any stage. I wasn’t apprehensive. When you’ve got an emergency you’re usually too busy trying to sort it out
to think about the danger. You’re just too busy working things out and making sure you’re doing the right thing, making little decisions, the right decisions. So I’ve been on a couple of in-flight emergencies I’ve found out this is what happens, that normally you get in-flight emergency you’re pretty busy
because it’s your neck and all you’re thinking about is making sure you survive. It’s a survival thing, and I tell you what, you seem to get a lot smarter when it’s a matter of life.
I believe you were mentioned in despatches?
Yes, mentioned in despatches. That means that a despatch is a
notification I suppose you could say or a message, and in the case of, in my case I think it’s normal procedure that the queen or the king or the queen, whoever is on the throne is notified. One of the aids probably gets the message and handles it, I wouldn’t be surprised. It is considered to be an unusual
occurrence and you’ve done a good job to handle it the way you did. How you know that someone’s been awarded a mention in despatches, you’ve got a little oak leaf which you wear on a ribbon. I’ll show you my ribbons, and that is a MID [Mentioned in Despatches]. Now, you might think I was pretty smart. Well I can tell you this, there were a lot of MIDs awarded in our squadron.
I don’t know the circumstances of the others. There was no other one that I know of or had heard of before or since that could land on an elevator trim without your main control. But then you see you would have to have, I was fortunate to get the aeroplane back because then you could see exactly where it was hit.
It was hit on the wing and the wing was a bit messed up and probably the 37 millimetre slug went through the fuselage and had severed the elevator cable, like a clothesline cable, about that big, and it severed that and that’s when I lost my elevator main control, and the hole was quite obviously on the side of the aeroplane where it went in.
But they patched it up and sent it back to Iwakuni and they changed the left hand, the port aileron, and they put a new elevator cable in. It took about a week to get it going again and we had her back in the squadron.
What was it like flying at night in Korea?
Very dicey. Not to
be recommended. I had two goes at flying at night. The second time I had great difficulty in finding the little lights that tell you where the runway is. They were hooded so if you were approaching from the north end which is where an enemy aeroplane might be approaching, you can’t see those little lights. So you have to get down the other end and you have to be
pretty quick to pick them up and then you have to time it actually to go around and put yourself in the same position, but this time heading in the direction of the lights, the runway lights. Once you get the hang of it it’s like shelling peas.
What were your typical targets?
I’ve been asked that a few times before and I say, “A variety.” First of all, ammunition dumps was a good target, fuel dumps, stores, personnel. They were probably
the usual things. You didn’t know where they were precisely because you couldn’t see them. I’d always open fire from about 1,000 yards back, my section, our full, we’d open fire from 1,000 yards back and if you got the enemy firing back at you, then by the time you got down to (estry? UNCLEAR)
rockets, you knew where to fire at. So sort of cat and mouse thing. But the reason why I always insisted we only make one pass and we don’t come around. If you’re silly enough to do that and go around and have another go, have a second, you think you’ve got a good target, you know where they were firing from. In the meantime they don’t stay there, they’re not silly. They’re going to move their guns and they probably
spread them out so they’ve got some there and some there, and when you turn away they get you in the tail.
What were they firing back at you with?
We had some cases where we actually got the slugs back. Usually about 20 millimetre size, sometimes even down to as low as a .303, like a .303 rifle size which I’ve got one over there somewhere. Not very big, it was what you call small
arms fire. Actually one day I felt this thing hit the side of the aeroplane just about there where I was sitting and this slug landed on the combing. I picked it up and it was still hot. This is what happens when you fire a bullet. If you fire, ever had the occasion to be anywhere where a bullet was fired and you pick
it up, you’ll find it’s hot. What they call hot lead. So does that answer your question all right?
Yeah, I think so. How deep into North Korea, how far above the parallel were these targets?
They were spread. Some were, I won’t say more popular, but some, apparently
some were easier for the communist crowd who were the enemy, they were easier to get into and out of. That is to say they had their roads. They never moved in the day time. There was nothing at all on the roads in the day time. All the movement was at night. So you can imagine they were moving trucks with fuel or ammunition or stores or food,
whatever, they would have to have a reasonable road. They couldn’t go on any side road or anything like that. So the targets were easy access from fairly well used roads. What they did try or what we knew they were doing was, because of the nature of the terrain, it was pretty hilly, they had also
rail transport, they would use the tunnels. Now they weren’t using any rail transport at all. All the movements were by road with trucks and that sort, but apparently before the war they did have trains and that moving around because the tunnels were still there. Now, what they did was use these tunnels quite a lot.
They used them to shelter in, they used them to store ammunition and fuel in, and what we would try to do was send a few rockets up the tunnel to scare them out a bit. It didn’t do much good because obviously they weren’t clowns and they would always make sure they got well inside towards the centre of the tunnel.
How were you able to identify a tunnel system?
Well, it wasn’t too hard because a tunnel is a tunnel, it looks like a tunnel. I mean, you see any railway tunnel, you know the size of it and the size of a hill, well, you can recognise a railway tunnel.
What were your impressions of the enemy in terms of their equipment and their skill and their expertise?
This is a different story from what you might get from the army, from the ground troops, because see, they fought a different war. Our war was different to the ground war. I’m sorry, I lost track of the question.
That’s all right, can I ask you then…?
No, ask me the same question. What were you saying?
What were your impressions
of the enemy and how good they were?
Well right, okay. Given that they, I’d say there were under-equipped. They were restricted by the very fact that they had to move at night. There were big restrictions on their movements.
They also had a problem with storage of their ammunition, fuel. We kept on harassing them and trying to get rid of it as much as we could so they didn’t have to move it too far. We were thinking of them all the time you see. Like fun. Any rate, like I say having to move at night was a big disadvantage. I think the only time I can recall
seeing anything on the road, and there were about half a dozen, and normally they wore white, this is civilians. I reckon these are civilians, but you couldn’t be sure. Anyway I said to, I called up and said, “Not firing, hold your fire, we’ll just give them a buzz [pass over them].” Well we flew over the top and buzzed them.
From behind they wouldn’t have seen us coming. They dived off the road into the grass and over the side off the road. No point in shooting. What’s to be gained by that? That’s the only time I ever saw any movement on the road at all. We had the CO [Commanding Officer] there,
he was a very good ex-World War Two fighter pilot and he took over as commanding officer. He had a little quirky habit of shooting a church. Now, apparently they did have churches over in North Korea, but this church was already a ruin, but it was still,
it still had little sort of places where people could shelter. You could get in there and hide sort of thing. Well this bloke, our CO, he used to take delight in strafing the church. On the way back, it was not far over the bomb line, that’s the admin [administration] line, not far. He was always making a point of strafing it just in case someone was hiding there. He said, “I’ll give them a bit of a fright.”
Were there villages close to where you were
The 38th Parallel which was the dividing line between North and South Korea was probably about twenty minutes flying time. Not very far really when you consider the whole of North Korea is not a very big area anyway. Before I came home after I finished my tour of operations
I would take my padre on one occasion, an American, I’ll tell you about him later if you like, on another occasion and give them a ride over the parallel and enter into North Korean territory to give them a look so they could see for themselves what it looked like, what sort of terrain. Now, if you read the army account
of their operations in North Korea and see the photos that they’ve got in that book, Remembering Korea, there’s some very good photos actually, and they had it really tough, you know, they really did, especially all through the winter months when it was so bitterly cold. We could go back and the chances are we had a hot pot-belly stove and we could get into a sleeping
bag at night. A lot of these poor army fellows, they really had it tough. I felt sorry for them, but then I didn’t join the army, I joined the air force anyway.
What sort of village life was there around your base?
Well, you’d say almost normal village life as you might expect it. Rice-growing, that’s the normal thing you might expect. They had their rice fields.
Of course rice is the main diet. I suppose fish, they could catch a bit of fish if they were anywhere near the coast where they could go and catch some fish or any waterway where there might be fish. They didn’t grow, you see, it was very seasonal. Nothing much at all would survive in the winter time because it was all covered in snow.
Given that there had been an invasion into South Korea, what evidence was there in the villages of
the impact of the war?
Impact of the war, do you mean?
Were there villages that were, were there ruins, were there…?
I know what you mean, yeah.
In South Korea.
Yeah. The whole of Seoul was ravaged twice because the North Korean Communist Army moved south
and went through Seoul and looked like taking possession of the whole South Korea until the Americans realised that it was very serious stuff. They were treating it a bit too casually in the first instance. They virtually let the North Korean force through Seoul and down to almost the bottom of the peninsular before they realised that things were very very serious and they had to immediately bring in a lot more troops
to hold this mob back. So once they got them retreating they went back through Seoul because that’s where the main highway was, and we went into Seoul once to have a look around and there were still a few buildings reasonably intact. Nobody there, there was no life there at all, so it was amazing how they
resurrected it virtually to the stage where it’s a booming city.
Did you have any contact with South Koreans?
One I did because he was our house boy. No, not really at all. Why I say this about the house boy, what we did, there were these young Korean fellows and
they had no school to go to or anything like that so we had them come and look after our tents. There was really nothing for them to do. I said to one of the boys, we used to have a big can of water on the pot-belly stove, if we had a stove that had a flame out we would have a pot-belly stove
with water on it. I’d get them, his name was Kim, I think half of them were Kim. Any rate, I said, “Throw it over the tree.” “No, no, no.” I said, “Why not, what’s wrong?” So he got this and he threw it over of course and straight away it froze in a little puddle of ice. So what he was trying to tell me was you can’t sweep it, you can’t sweep little puddles of ice. It got very cold.
The only other time I can remember having anyone in our tents was, this was a bit nasty. We were about to go up flying and leave our house boys look after our tents. They had nothing to do, but I don’t know what, they had some game they’d play I think. Any rate, so there were a couple, only about four, a little bunch of army blokes, three or four or five. I
don’t know how many. So there were three of them I remember wandering around our tent so I invited them to come and warm themselves because it was very very cold, warm themselves a little bit. So they said, “OK.” So we went off and when we came back this boy was very distressed and he said, “Australian soldiers take everything.” What these
fellows did, our Australian Army mates, they’d whipped everything they could possibly lay their hands on because they were waiting for this flight to take them out back to Japan and they were filling the time in going around our tents and cleaned us out. Anyway.
How did you feel about that sort of conduct?
Well, what can you do? I mean what
they took was of little value really. It was just, I had an alarm clock, very cheap alarm clock. We had nothing much that was worthwhile, that was worth anything really, you know. I mean there were four of us. There were four of us in a tent so you’ve got four little stretchers we got to sleep on.
We had the stove in the middle of the tent and I don’t know, I think we might’ve had a box or something, a wooden box that we might’ve put stuff in. But that was it, you know. There was nothing worth anything really. It just leaves a nasty taste in your mouth when you try and do a good deed and this is what happens.
How did the Korean climate conditions
affect your flying hours?
Most of the time the flying conditions were fairly reasonable. When I say fairly reasonable, that is to say depending on the time of the year, you see once again, whether you had cloud
build up or if you had cloud build up it might be a bank of cloud which you could sort of get around or go through over the top or underneath, whatever. If you had a layer of cloud which is a heavy layer, as I say it’s continuous cloud over quite a bit of North Korea, then it
might make operations a little bit, well, not worthwhile because your target might be obscured by cloud and you would avoid going into a low cloud because most of the operations were low level. So we had to have a minimum sort of base, probably about 3,000 or 4,000 feet, hopefully 3,000 at least,
to operate under the cloud where there was a bank of cloud.
What about snow?
Well, a lot of the time in the winter months and there were plenty of times when we had to sweep the wings of the aeroplane, sweep the snow off. Now what we had to do was borrow from the Americans some covers. They were
in pretty short supply I think and the Americans were using them on their own aeroplanes to cover the wings so that when you went to fly you could pull the covers off and you’d get rid of the snow. If you didn’t have something, you’d sweep the snow off. It didn’t affect us so much as far as the aeroplanes were concerned but when you had the strip after heavy snow fall, you couldn’t see the strip.
You had these steel pegs or steel things about six foot, five foot maybe high which marked the side of the strip and they were always on the left hand side so you didn’t make a mistake and land on the wrong side or take off on the wrong side. So you’d take off on the right hand side. The reason for that
is that mostly pilots get into the habit of looking out the left hand side for visibility. I can’t remember why it always seemed to be the case. So you look out the left hand side and these little steel pegs and once you had about X number, half a dozen maybe, take off,
you could see the tracks in the snow and you’d use that as a guide until the snow melted, if it ever did. Sometimes it took a while. Sometimes you’d get more snow and if you got more snow it would cover up the tracks. May as well go and play cards.
What did you do when you had leave?
no girls to chase I can assure you. They were there though. I remember the day we went into Seoul and there was this bunch of girls and they had beautiful silk printed flower patterned dresses and they were waving and saying, “Come on, come on.” We weren’t allowed to get off the road. Always happy, like the
Japanese girls. Something about those girls, they always seemed happy and laughing and cheerful. When I was in Japan I thought it would be nice if I could take one of these back with me and she could sort of do the washing and stuff like that and you know, I’d obviously live out in the back room or something like that until she got somewhere else. I thought, now how would I be walking in and saying, “Peter, I’ve
brought a Japanese girl home with me and she’s going to do the washing and stuff until she gets somewhere else to live.” “Get out of here.” I can imagine the reception I’d get. But no, they all seemed a happy cheerful crowd of people, the girls particularly.
And you were always well behaved?
Yes. Yes, ma’am, of course. Because what else could you do? As I say, as far as
the Koreans were concerned, yeah, I think that in an account there, it didn’t happen in my time, apparently it happened later where they had Japanese house girls as they were known and it was decided in Korea they would give the Korean girls a go.
You know, like I say, we had these Korean boys who would watch our tents and there was nothing much they could do actually. In the better weather there were times when there wasn’t snow. In the warmer months they’d get these Korean girls to come and sweep the floor, do a bit of washing. I’m getting around to the washing, the laundry side of it. All through the
winter months we couldn’t do any laundry, any washing, because the water would freeze all the time and if you washed your clothes there was no where to hang them anyway and they’d be frozen anyway. So we’d wear the same old outer clothes but we passed our underpants, usually the long ones and a string singlet, and sent them over to Japan to the house girls at Iwakuni and they would give them a bit of a wash and
send them back.
Can I ask you Phil, what experience had you had with communism before you went to Korea?
Communism, there’s a bit of a joke about communism. What’s the difference between communism and sex? Well, they reckon communism is all left but sex is all right.
How about that? Communism, I read about it. It’s a doctrine that is an ideal. I don’t know that, well we had a communist party here at election time. They would put up their candidates,
the Communist Party. It was never very popular, was it? Do you remember that at all, the communist party? I don’t think it exists any more as a matter of fact. Now the reason why it didn’t sort of flourish was because the ideals were against a normal person’s ideas about our way of living.
If you’ve got a group that comes up with difference ideals such as the communist party and they’ve got a different leader, they can cause trouble. They can get into businesses where they can call strikes and stuff like that if they feel inclined. I’ve had no experience with that at all but I believe that this did happen,
because there were a bit of troublemakers more than anything else.
Before you went to Korea, how did you feel about the necessity for the war?
About which one?
The Korean War, how did you feel about the necessity for it?
Yeah. Well, there’s a bit of Catch 22.
I believe if you looked at it from two aspects, one aspect was that it was necessary to prevent the communist North Korean people or communist Korean Army and military force to take over the whole of Korea because then they would’ve had the South Koreans, the whole peninsular, not just down to the 38th parallel, but the whole peninsular
would’ve been under communist control. In the case of wanting to move any further if the occasion arose where they could assist in, how am I going to put this? I can’t envisage
how the Americans would have allowed the communist army and military forces to move any further than the end of the peninsular in South Korea because the Americans were very very, what should I say, aware of the danger if they got into a
position where they could move to assist maybe Indonesia, and Indonesia was at the time, at one time at least Indonesia wasn’t trusted at all. I know this for a fact because I was in ASIO [Australian Security Intelligence Organisation] and I knew what was going on, and so what’s that? That was one aspect of it.
I lost the question.
While I guess, rather than talking about communism now, I’m interested in what you knew about communism in Asia when you were in Korea and just prior to going there to fight.
The whole thing about it was it was an unwinnable war. Now that wasn’t obvious at the beginning, but it became obvious that it was an unwinnable
war. MacArthur [General Douglas MacArthur] had the idea how to fix this. He said, “We’ll drop the bomb and we’ll drop it on Antung,” which was the base for the communist air force, just over the border, over the other border. “Drop the bomb,” he said, “That will fix it.”
How was it…?
Let me finish please. What happened was that as soon as he came up with this idea they recalled
him. They said, “Douglas, come back to Washington, we need you. We don’t need you over there dropping A bombs and starting World War Three,” which would’ve happened because behind Manchuria was Russia and after all weren’t the MiGs built by Russia? They were Russian built MiGs that they were using, and there was no way in the world that anyone in their
right mind would even think of dropping an A bomb over the Manchurian border. But see, Doug MacArthur had that idea. He said, “We’ll fix it.”
I just wanted to ask how was it obvious to you personally that the war was unwinnable?
Well, it became obvious when there was a cease fire.
When the 38th Parallel was established as the demarcation between North and South Korea and when peace talks began at P’anmunjom, which went on for 50 years until only last year or the year before that it was sort of declared finally
over, the war between the North communists and the South. So to us sitting back and looking at what was going on, it seemed quite obvious that the war was unwinnable and I don’t think anybody that had any experience there would think any differently.
Can you give me an example or can you give me some detail about how
the operations made it seem that it was unwinnable? I’m just trying to understand what you mean about how it was unwinnable?
In hindsight we know about the protracted peace talks, but how did it seem at the time?
Well, it’s such a dreadful
place. I say dreadful place, World War Two, they probably had a worse dreadful place was in Russia where so many perished in the snow. They finally realised that, in World War Two that is, that that war could drag on. It had to come to an end,
otherwise you’re going to have poor human being strewn all over the place frozen stiff. Now, in the winter in Korea it was like that see, to a point, where you’re going to have armies that couldn’t move because the place was frozen. The name for Korea is Chosen, C H O S E N, Chosen, and they used to call it “Frozen
Chosen.” So difficult to move where you’ve got the roads all snowed under all the time, the winter time. Even the Han River which is the main river near Seoul, the Han River would freeze up believe it or not and you could drive a truck across it. That’s right. That’s how hard the water would freeze.
About the unwinnable thing I’ll come back to. If the other mob, the Americans, because they’re the main force, if they attempted to push
the communist forces back to the Yalu River border, the border between North Korea and Manchuria, what would they achieve by doing that because they couldn’t go over the river into Manchuria. So where does that get them? If the communist forces were going to attempt to move south of the 38th Parallel into South Korea, they’re going to come up against the Americans who
were making darn sure that this time they didn’t make the same mistake twice and allow them to push down to the end of the peninsular. So it was a situation where it was unwinnable. One mob couldn’t push the other mob up to the Yalu River border and the other crowd couldn’t push the Americans down to the tip of the peninsular in South Korea.
Interviewee: Philip Hamilton-Foster Archive ID 1771 Tape 07
Phil, could you tell me about Gordon Steege? Gordon Steege? Is that how you pronounce his last name?
Yeah. Gordon Steege, a gentleman and a very astute man. Now he was a decorated man from World War Two, fighter pilot type. We was posted in as in the commanding officer
of our 77 Squadron. At that time we were losing pilots and when you consider even one pilot and forget his aeroplane, aeroplanes are replaceable, but even losing one pilot is bad enough for no good reason, for no gain, and then when you consider
the numbers we were losing it was obvious we were on the wrong track. The whole way that our squad was being utilised was wrong and he told the powers that be that he didn’t want the job. As easy as that, and he was quite honest about it, and he told them why he didn’t want the job, and I would’ve backed him all the way because, it wasn’t for me to
put my spoke in [interfere], but he was correct. He was right with what he said. Now due to his stand and due to probably some comments that were made by some other people I won’t name, we were taken off the fighter sweeps where we were losing pilots. We couldn’t afford to, and
by this time Second World War pilots who were experienced, they were needed like myself with experience, but they were objecting to being posted to 77 Squadron and some even flat refused to go. They said, “No, we did our bit in World War Two.” Now this is what Gordon Steege said,
“I did my bit in World War Two. I’m not going out there to get shot down. For what gain?” So the next thing he was pulled out because he refused to take the job and for a while we had Squadron Leader Doug, what was his name again?
Any rate, the squadron leader who was second in charge, he took over as our leader. We weren’t officially told to stop those operations. That was the fighter sweep. We were flying 35,000, the MiGs were 45,000.
We weren’t officially told until, I’ve got to try and remember, crikey. I’m sorry,
yeah, so we were, our role was changed so that we were taken off the fighter sweeps so we no longer were flying around at 35,000 feet as big bait, while the MiGs were 45,000 feet and that was a big relief to a lot of us because it was a most unfair fight
when you’ve got one hand tied behind your back type thing. So we went on what they call strip alert. Now that was we would base some aeroplane at K13 which is another base a bit south of where we were at Kimpo and we would have say four aeroplanes there on what they call “strip alert.” We’d be on alert ready to jump in
the aeroplane and take off and if we should be called on to, if there was any movement by the MiGs to come down to our altitude and come down towards South Korea, we were to sort of go along and chase them away. The MiG fellows weren’t going to be as silly as that. They were built,
they’re role was to fight the F86s and anyone with half a brain could see that this is what was happening. It was a testing ground to see which was the best aeroplane, whether the communist MiGs, which was a very good aeroplane, was any better or worse than the F86s, the American F86 Sabre jets.
The figures show that they were pretty evenly matched in point of fact. I could tell you, I’ve got a book which will show you the figures of a number of MiGs that were shot down by 86s compared to the other side, the number of 86s shot down by the MiGs is about even because the fellows that were flying the MiGs were very
very good pilots. They were Russian for a start and they were ex-World War Two and they were very experienced. They weren’t Chinese, they weren’t North Korean. We’d got a hold of a MiG, how? One of the North Koreans, they weren’t using some of them and apparently this boy decided
that he’d earn himself a few dollars I think, so he brought the MiG down and landed it at Kimpo. Said, “There you go, here’s a MiG fellows.” They couldn’t believe their eyes. They had this MiG and they cold go over it, they could do all the checking against the 86s that they wanted to. So they reckon that this fellow wasn’t paid but I know darn well that he must’ve. If he wasn’t
paid in money he was certainly well looked after. That’s the North Korean pilot who defected and complete with one good serviceable MiG aeroplane. So getting back to Ron Susan, I remember the day he arrived there and I remember he called me into the tent and he said, “Well, what do you reckon?” And I said, “Well,
I don’t speak for everybody but it’s a personal thing as far as I’m concerned that we as a squadron should not be doing what we have been doing.” They were no match for the MiGs, it’s quite obvious. “So we’ve got to change our role.” That’s what I said. He went along and saw the commanding general,
the American turnout, and he put the case to him that we had a good aeroplane or had good aeroplanes in the Meteors which were very suitable for ground attack, which it was. That’s all it was suitable for, ground attack operations. So the American hierarchy agreed that that was the best thing to do. Now let me say
how we got mixed up with the Americans, like this is because we didn’t have our own facilities in the way of messing and tents and living. They were all supplied by the Americans and we were just one unit in the 4th Fighter Wing. So that was the American wing that operated with two
I think, later on they had three F86 squadrons. They had an F84 squadron. They had an F100 Surveillance Squadron and we were the ground attacks. We were the elite ground attack squadron because we had a good aeroplane which was suitable for those operations. So the Americans were real glad to have us in that role and their one stipulation was
that we would be given our targets. We would not select our targets ourselves. We would be given our targets by the Americans and we would operate under those conditions along those lines. So we usually did, we did actually use the aeroplanes to the best advantage and thank goodness, except for
one thing, we were still losing pilots. And you could say why are we still, you might say, “Well we thought the whole idea was to avoid the losses that we were having?” The reason why we were still losing pilots was that, there was nothing wrong with the aeroplane, it was the way that some very keen
young inexperienced pilots were using their scant knowledge to go out and attack targets. You know, they didn’t realise that one target, even if it’s a fuel dump, even if it’s an ammunition dump
and you clean that up, but in the process you lose one aeroplane which is nothing, but if you lose one pilot there’s no balance, is there then? All you’ve done is clean up one fuel dump or one ammunition dump but you’ve lost a good pilot. So you had to be educated. There was this old fellow and myself, we were two ex-instructors. So Ron Susan, the
new CO got us and another fellow and we went out and we did some demonstrations you might say, demonstration attacks on ground targets to prove the suitability of the Meteor, which we were quite we could do and convince the Americans that we had the right aeroplane for the job, and so that’s what happened. Ron Susan
proved to be a very very good man. Now this is what Gordon Steege was on about, you see, getting back to him. He said the same thing but because he refused to take over CO and keep on the original way with the fighter sweeps against the MiGs, he became unpopular not
doing what he was told more or less, or expected to do. But I admired him because he stuck to his guns and he was quite, to my way of thinking he was quite correct.
Who was giving the order to do the sweep?
Who did what?
Who was giving the orders to do the sweeps, like who were they answering to?
Yeah, I would say it originated from guess where, Canberra. It would’ve originated
from the top of our air force.
So it was the Australians, not the Americans in that regard?
Like I say, who gives the order? Well the Americans were in charge obviously, but it wasn’t until Ron Susan as wing commander who took over our
squadron, it wasn’t until he made the approach to the Americans that we were able to change our role and start using the Meteors in ground attack without any reference to the previous way we were being used on fighter sweeps. So that was where, but that should’ve happened before. See, Gordon Steege had
the right idea. I don’t know that he ever did approach the Americans about this. I think he just refused and said, “Well I’m not going to go out and stick my neck out. I did my bit in World War Two. You can stick it,” virtually, not in so many words. He was quite polite no doubt the way he refused to take the job. But then of course when Squadron Leader Dick Wilson it was, Squadron Leader Dick Wilson
took over and we were still in these fighter sweeps and he was hit. He was hit once like I was hit. He fortunately, his aeroplane was controllable and he was able to fly it back damaged, and he himself I think was wounded. It was quite obvious that this just wasn’t on. When you start talking about numbers of pilots we lost
it just was, there was no balance for the results we were getting as against the pilots we were losing. So what do you think about that? It would’ve been the same, I’m not questioning you, but that was what the situation was. There was this big imbalance that we couldn’t afford to loose these young fellows, and some of them were not so young. Some of them were more experienced. The
two of us that went up there as pilot instructors, this bloke ‘Butch’ Hammond and myself, I think it was in January, 1952 he was shot down. Now we were on ground attack by this time so I don’t know what happened there. I don’t know whether he got too adventuresome. I always thought, with due respect to him, I always thought that
he was a bit of a cowboy and I think that he might’ve decided he still had plenty of ammunition in his guns and he was going to clean this target up and do this thing that I reckon, which I would never advise or always advise against, going back for a second run when you had a target that might’ve been a fuel dump or an
ammunition dump or whatever. Might’ve been a worthwhile target and he might’ve done that. I don’t know. I never thought that he’d actually do that, but I couldn’t think of any other reason why he would’ve got shot down, but he did. He was a POW [prisoner of war] for the rest of the war, so what good was he to the rest of the squadron?
What stories were you hearing about what was happening to the POWs in Korea?
What happened to them?
What stories were you hearing at the time about what was happening to the POWs in Korea?
Well, actually we didn’t know what hardships they were suffering until they were released you see because we had no contact with them. I’ve got a book that you can borrow if you like, if you’re interested, and it was written by a bloke who was a POW.
So you didn’t know at that stage
what kind of conditions they were in?
We had a pretty good guess. We had a fair idea, but it was speculation to a large extent. We knew darn well they would be very badly treated. If they tried anything smart like trying to escape that they would certainly get punished for it, and a couple did have a go at escaping
and they did get very severely punished for it.
I just want to talk to you about the existence in the base. What kind of conditions were you living in, in terms of food and rationing?
When we were at Kimpo? As I say, we were living with the Americans. We were a unit in the 4th Fighter Wing and we were using their messing facilities.
The food was all supplied by the Americans and we had American tents with board floors and most of them had a pot belly stove for heating. The only time you’d have that was when conditions were such that the oil, because the stoves were oil fed by an oil line, when the oil closed up. Now it’s got to be pretty cold when the oil freezes
up. If the oil froze up well then you lost your heating. We had American clothing, see. I was going to tell you something then.
You mentioned the American clothing. How did that differ to what other Australians would’ve been wearing?
Like if we’d been supplied by our mob for clothing, it would not have been anything like what we were supplied with by the Americans. We had those Bugs Bunny caps as they called them, you know, fur lined, which were always very handy because if you can keep your head warm, and I must confess that I do wear a thing in bed in the winter time
to keep my head warm because there’s not much else up there to keep it warm. So if you can keep your head warm, and swimmers will vouch for this because they will put a little cap on when they go swimming in the cold water to keep their head warm. Once they keep their head warm they reckon they’re right. It’s a known fact that if you keep your head warm you feel much more comfortable. At any rate apart from that,
parkas, these jackets, fur lined jackets, very nice. We had nylon pants. I think we actually would wear three pairs of pants, underclothing. You’d have, it would take you about twenty minutes to get dressed with all you put on before you got in the aeroplane.
Thermal type clothing. You know what thermal underwear looks like, long johns? Well, you got a pair of them for a start, and then you had a pair of fleecy pants which you pulled on over the long johns and then you’d have waterproof over the top of that.
String singlet, string singlets were all the go. Somebody said that they’re better than ordinary singlets. I was never convinced they were, and then you had another flannel. Then you had an outer jacket which was waterproof. So you got very well dressed up when you went flying.
Could you describe the interior of the planes that you were flying in?
The interior of them, what did they look like?
Yeah, when you got into a plane what were you looking at?
Well, being a twin-engine aeroplane you had two sets of instruments, one for the port engine, one for the starboard engine, engine
instruments that is. The basic instruments were the same as you’d find in any aeroplane, single-engine or twin-engine. You’ve got an airspeed indicator, your altimeter or altimeter as some Americans call it, will tell you the height. Airspeed indicator for speed, altimeter or altimeter for the height. You’ve got a turn bank.
See, the thing about, if you’ve got to have basic instruments that you can use to fly the aeroplane in the event you don’t have the other instruments available for some reason they’re not working. But your basic instruments are such that they will work even when the other instruments won’t work. There is that little clock
to tell you the time. I’m just being facetious, but I actually have a couple of clocks that I somehow or other finished up in my bag when I was going to Japan and I went through up at Clark Field in the Philippines I went through a lot of old American aeroplanes for the parts there and I whipped a
couple of clocks out for souvenirs.
How long were you in Korea for?
Not a long time, but I tell you what, we didn’t have any weekends for a start. No such thing as a weekend sort of thing. Sometimes we would have Saturday afternoon off. The reason being not that we didn’t want to fly, but the reason
being we had to give our ground crew, ground staff people some time to do a bit of maintenance on the aeroplanes. You can’t keep on using aeroplanes continuously day after day without doing some maintenance. So that was why quite often we would have Saturday afternoon off. I’ll tell you what happened one Saturday afternoon. I don’t know whether the
enemy mob got the idea that we wouldn’t fly on a Saturday afternoon. They might’ve, I don’t know, but this is, our main role was protecting our army. If they army needed us they’d ring up and say, “We need you,” sort of thing, you know, and we were there to look after our army forces,
to be called on if required. So what happened was the communist mob decided that they were going to attack our army force which was not far from the border, their parallel, not far bot not far from the, no, it was over on our side. That’s right, it was on our side.
So they were ready on a Saturday afternoon preparing for this attack which was going to happen first light next morning. I can never understand why they were so stupid to be quite honest, as to prepare for an attack and
think that we didn’t know about it because the Americans had aeroplanes which were constantly patrolling and looking out for any enemy force and they knew darn well where this crowd was. They were in a big treed area where there were a lot of heavy trees and obviously they must’ve thought they’d be safe there. But the Americans had been shadowing this mob, moved at night, not
in the day time, they move at night, until they got into this bivouac area and our intelligence said, “You’ve virtually got them cornered now, you know, go get them,” sort of thing. So we got the call on a Saturday afternoon. Like I say we normally would’ve not been flying.
We got the call to go out and get rid of this crowd. There was roughly 500 or 600 estimated and Ron Susan, our CO, called us to let us know we had a task, we had a target. Our target was troops in bivouac [camp] preparing to attack
and we had to clean them up, get rid of them. So we got six out, six Meteors. I think he had, and we flew in pairs because it’s much easier to control a pair of two than three or four. So he had a pair, I had a pair and only one other bloke had a lead. I think it was Dick Whitman, I’m not sure. Anyway, we had six Meteors
and we just went over to the area we knew where they were hiding and we strafed them and rocketed them. I believe the Americans were offered this target and they declined it. They said, “Give it to the Aussies, it’s right up their alley. They’ll handle this better.” Didn’t want it anyway, they passed it.
So we got the target. There was a big scream, but the communist crowd, their intelligence knew all the time what we were doing and our mob knew what they were doing and there was a big scream that night about the ‘Australian butcher’ and his butcher boys and how we’d gone over and butchered all
these fellows. Now how can you justify this sort of thing? Well, it’s pretty hard to justify isn’t it, when you’re talking about human beings as a target. But I could never understand how they would’ve laid themselves open to an attack by our squadron when they must’ve known, their intelligence must’ve told them that
we would know they were there and we would obviously prevent them from attacking our army the next morning, and why they put themselves in that position is what I’d class as a bad tactical mistake. But there was a big scream about it by Radio Peking I think, this woman that always used to comment on the day’s operations, and she was screaming about the Australian
butcher and his butcher boys.
Whereabouts was this, at what month in the war? Can you remember?
It was, I think it was in December. Look, I’ve got it in my log book. If you like I can show you.
But roughly you think it
I came home in April. It may not have been.
That’s OK, we can check that later. So you came home in April what year?
1952. See my tour was seven months. Now I flew 175 sorties in that time and
frankly I started to think, well you know, this is unwinnable and I suppose talking like that, and they said, “Well you better pack up and go home,” and I thought well, after all I’d done my tour of operations, I’ve flown 175 sorties so I felt
I was justified in leaving the squadron at that time. There were other pilots I would say, I wasn’t the best pilot around the place but in my estimation I was as good as the next one when it came to ground attack operations. I was highly trained and there were others who wanted to get into the act type
thing. So I thought, “Oh well, let them, let them come if they’re that enthusiastic, let them have a go, but I’m going home, see you later.”
Where did you go to when you came home?
I was up at Williamstown instructing then. That was the usual thing when you finished your tour of operations you got an instructing job. That was good because as a family we were able to
start living together and I was quite happy having got an instructor’s job and having a little house for us to live in and not having to go out and fly around the sky chased by the MiGs or the rest of it. So I thought, “Now this is good, I’ll
sit back and take it easy.” Wrong. I’m posted, next thing I’m posted and Freda always had to go home because when we were posted we didn’t have any home to go to at the next place because there were never any vacant places waiting for you to walk in. You were on a waiting list sort of thing to get into a married quarters. Yes, so that’s what happened.
How were you as a Korean veteran treated when you came home? What was the reception?
I’m terribly sorry?
What was the reception when you came home from Korea?
Well, the reception did you say? Funny you ask that question because I don’t know whether you mean reception as far as the air force was concerned or reception as the general public was concerned.
I don’t think a lot of people knew there was a war going on. You know, the average person in the street would say, or you’d go into a pub and have a drink and say, “I just got back from 77 Squadron Korea.” They’d say, “Where’s Korea?” See because it didn’t concern a lot of people because it was the forgotten war as they say. If you weren’t involved
in it personally well then you know, why worry? Why poke your nose into something that didn’t concern you type thing? As far as the air force was concerned, well, I believe it did me a lot of good. I certainly progressed from there to fly a variety of other aeroplanes which I don’t think I would have
had I not had the experience in Korea. It gave me a lot more self confidence because I proved a point to myself individually that if you go about something the right way methodically and weighing up the pros and cons and not trying to make a big, not being a
cowboy type person and not stretching your capabilities to the limit, but flying well within your capabilities, things like that, and I was quite satisfied. I didn’t want any more of it for sure, but from a personal point of view it certainly helped in my career in the air force. I made a lot of friends, some of
who are still alive, but not that many.
So the bulk of the work that you did between Korea and Vietnam
I didn’t go to Vietnam on operations. I went to Vietnam
after I finished my flying and I went there as an observer, but I was never posted to Vietnam on operations. I went there to see what they were up to, to be quite honest. They were using the Caribou, which is a light transport, twin-engine light transport. They were using the Caribou to transport what, I wasn’t sure. I knew they were moving some strange cargoes.
At the time I begun work as the Commanding Officer, Air Trials and Development Movement out at Richmond and I was building that up and we were in the business of doing trials of different kind of cargoes, not just with the Caribou but with the Hercules too because
I’d brought a Hercules back and I had intimate knowledge of the Hercules and what it could carry and so forth, and I built up a good little unit at Richmond and I just got curious as to what they were doing up in Vietnam with Caribou operations. So I applied to our hierarchy to allow me to go
and have a look around, and I was accused of snooping they said. “All you want to do is snoop around and poke your nose into something that’s not your business,” and there was one particular man, an officer, who did his utmost to prevent me from going until I went to the air commodore who happened to be a bit of a golfing friend of mine and I told him what I was on about and he said, “You can pack your bags and go on
the next Hercules.” He said, “You can go on have a look around and let me know what you find when you come back.”
Why do you think the officer was trying to prevent you from going?
Is this still on tape? It’s a personal thing actually. He didn’t like me because I had built a little unit up from nothing and that
every minute, or not every minute, but quite often on a Wednesday I would go golfing with the air commodore while he had to sit and do some work in the office. He didn’t like me at all. He reckons I was a teacher’s pet type fellow, I was the air commodore’s white-haired boy. But I reckon I earned the right to have a look because that was part and
parcel of what we were teaching in the unit that I had, what sort of loads that you carry in a Caribou, and when I got up there I wasn’t far wrong because I did actually fly a couple of sorties in the Caribou and I also did the helicopter, the HU1B, and I found that on one particular load they were moving cows would you believe. The load was
three cows in the Caribou and they would get them in and tie them somehow or other so they didn’t, they made a lot of mess I must add, but they didn’t damage the aeroplane, but they moved them from one place to another. Why, I don’t know. I thought this was very strange, to use an air force transport aeroplane to move cows.
Interviewee: Philip Hamilton-Foster Archive ID 1771 Tape 08
Not being derogatory, but comparing the conditions that the fellows, when I say the fellows, the aircrew who were flying Caribou and the helicopters, the conditions they had, were living under compared to what we had in Korea, we had tents, we had to put up with the cold
and stuff. They were living in old villas, French villas when the French were occupying up there in Vietnam and every night the locals would have a stall down on the beach and you could wander down along the beach sort of, you know, have a soft drink or whatever.
They had a picture show at night. They had a good bar, which the bar girl was a very attractive Vietnamese young lady and she ran the bar for them. Compared to what we had in Korea, not much like it, was it? And I couldn’t help but think maybe they didn’t want
me up there because they didn’t want me to have a look. They reckoned I was snooping around, but I could be wrong. I might be doing them an injustice. I did have one trip with Ray Scott who was a CO, Helicopter Squadron. I did have one trip to Hanoi. Hanoi? No that’s not right.
Saigon. He took me over to Saigon and I said, “Ray,
I just want to see what the fellows over here are up to,” and sure enough they weren’t up to very much at all. They were there.
So what were the activities that you observed?
Okay, I don’t think that the Caribou Squadron were
fully employed, or properly employed, put it that way. I could be wrong there. I could be speaking out of turn because I was only there a short time, but during the time I was there I got the impression they could’ve been better employed or better used, but then as I say, I was only there a very short time really, so I probably,
I don’t think it would be fair for me to criticise the way their operations were being carried out when that was only maybe for that brief time. The rest of the time it could’ve been completely different.
How did the facilities compare at the base?
Yeah. I think I mentioned to you that they had a very good set up as far as the accommodation was concerned and their
entertainment, having a picture show every night and having a slinky bar girl to look after things. As far as the operation of the aircraft was concerned it was very good. We had a Hercules I think on a bi-weekly arrangement to fly there to,
Vung Tau was the name of the place, Vung Tau, which was a seaside resort. When the French were there it was known as a very nice seaside resort. So that anything urgently needed could be taken up by the Hercules. We moved people there and back like whatever, like I went there and back. It was a different war altogether you see. It’s hard to compare
the war in Vietnam with the war we had in Korea. Different country altogether, climate, different climate altogether, different circumstances. Once again though, as time flew it was futile war and there was nothing to be gained by it in the long run at all. There you go, that’s Vietnam.
What were your impressions of Vung Tau?
Vung Tau itself, well do you mean from an operational point of view, or what point of view at all?
All points of view.
Yeah, well as I say, it was a holiday resort place when the French had it.
It was still being used in some regard as a holiday resort place even when the war was going on. The local people kept their little stalls going in the evenings on the beach. The living conditions were very good, the proper bedding and no tents.
Food was good, and I would say in as far as the aircraft operations were concerned I would reiterate to my way of thinking the Caribous could’ve been better used, but if that’s what was required, that was the way that they wanted it,
it wasn’t for me to criticise because that was probably a considered option and so they used them like that, but I did fly a couple of sorties. I don’t think I ever logged them as a matter of fact. I don’t think I ever even mentioned I went to Vietnam. It was interesting.
In what way?
Well it was interesting because it satisfied by curiosity,
that’s all mainly. I had an idea what it was like because I did talk to a couple of fellows that I knew fairly well who’d been there and they said, “It’s just an easy going sort of a place.”
What did you see of the war and the landscape and the people on these sorties?
Well, the time we went over to Saigon when I went with Ray Scott in a helicopter, HU1B,
he instructed me, there was no door on the side of the helicopter and I was sitting behind a gun and he said, “For God’s sake don’t fire no matter what you see. We don’t want to stir up any trouble.” So I don’t think where we were, where the camp was, where the situation at Vung Tau
was, I went out drinking one night actually with some of the local army fellows and I thought that was a bit, you know, very nice of them to invite me to come and have a few drinks with them, but it seemed to be a sort of a day time war, a night time peace-type operation.
That’s about all I care to say about that. I wouldn’t like to comment and what comments I have made only apply to the short period of time I was there.
What was the other sortie you went on?
On the Caribou? I’m trying to remember what the cargo
load was. I don’t remember what it was to be quite honest. I know I did the co-pilot. The Caribou was a strange aeroplane in that the power levers or throttles are overhead. Normally you’ve got the throttles down on the throttle by, the Caribou which is a Canadian built aeroplane had their throttles overhead. It wasn’t difficult, it would be a basic aeroplane to fly.
I had a fair bit to do with the Caribous out at Richmond because we had to work out loading for them in the unit that I had out there.
At the time you went up to Vietnam as an observer, can you describe what the climate was like in Australia in terms of the public’s perception of the war?
The war in Vietnam?
Well, as far as I can recall, see, you could be exonerated, that’s not quite the proper word I don’t think, but if you were in some sort of type of employment where you were considered to essential to what was going on, that was a good reason for you
not to have to go to Vietnam. I think it wasn’t too long after the war in Vietnam began, and it went on for quite a long time you know, right through the 1960s and, I think a lot of people from the reports that they got from what was going on in Vietnam formed the opinion it was an unwinnable war like Korea was unwinnable.
That word may not have been commonplace but that’s the best way I can describe it. Nobody was going to win it, which proved right and the Americans had to pull out without, because it became obvious that they were not going to win it, and I don’t know that, see,
if you are a member country of what do you call it? Where you’re obligated to be in it and send a force to it, well then you have no choice. You have to provide a force from that country.
So it seemed a bit wrong to me that we did have the number that we had there. I know there were a couple of fellows in the golf club who were up in Vietnam, I know them pretty well, and over the RSL [Returned and Services League] also. I think they might give you a different answer to what I, because they were there and were in the conflict that they would
feel that their presence was justified. I would question it really, whether the number was justified. The United Nations was behind a lot of this because in the Korean War I think there were twenty-three, I’ve the number out there amongst my papers, there were about twenty-three countries who, countries
where the representatives were in Korea, and some of them didn’t have many representatives there at all, but they were obligated if they were a member country of the United Nations. That was their obligation, and I believe the same thing applied in Vietnam, that the United Nations was behind this, the fact that you had the numbers or representative from the countries that were there
to justify the fact that they were there because they were member countries of the United Nations. You get these things that are formulated by the hierarchy, meetings somewhere on the other side of the world formulating the reasons why they must be members, there must be representation from so many countries
because they’re member of the United Nations. That’s it, you’re stuck with it.
Can I ask you about what your view was at the time in regard to National Service [compulsory military service]?
I think that National Service is a good thing. I think it should be
regulated in a sense that, it should be a certain period of time and not necessarily a lengthy period of time, when National Service should be a compulsory thing. I think money would be well spent that’s now not being well spent in other ways.
But I believe in young people, young men, I don’t know about young ladies, I’m not too switched on about the young ladies getting in the act here at all. I think that young men should get a taste of what to expect if they were called up. We’re always saying we have these squadrons of fighters which
cost millions and millions of dollars and set the tax payer back quite a lot which never actually get into the war at all. I’ve said it myself and I’ve been criticised for it, that you can have a young pilot who is fully trained, highly trained, flying a very very costly aeroplane. He could go through his whole flying career without ever having been in an operational theatre of war.
They say, “Well what do you suggest how it should be organised?” Well I say, “I don’t think it should be a full time thing. It can be tailored down to where you’ve got reserves, more or less, of qualified pilots in the air force who can be fairly easily trained
to be able to fly on operations.” We did have some of our pilots in Korea in 77 Squadron who were, I’m sorry, what they call weekend pilots, weekend air force. They had flown a particular type of aeroplane and they could be very easily brought up to the standard required to be operational. So this
is the same sort of thing I’m talking about with what you said, National Service. I think it’s the thing, I think I might talk to Mark Latham [Federal Leader of the Opposition] about this, you know. Give him something to have a go at John Howard [Australian Prime Minister] about.
How did you feel at the time about young men being compelled to fight in the Vietnam
I think that was wrong. I don’t think it should’ve been a call-up thing at all. If you’ve got somebody who doesn’t want to be in it, that sort of hostility, if they haven’t got their heart and soul in it, if they’re not prepared to go willingly, they go against their will, I think this is wrong. I think you’ve got to have
people who are well trained like myself. When I went to Korea I was very well trained. So I was very grateful to have that two years instruction behind me. It served me very well. It gives you a lot of self confidence for a start that you know what you’re doing, you know what it’s all about.
And I think the same would apply to the Vietnam conflict. There should not have been a compulsory call-up. That’s what I think, but then I could be wrong. But then I don’t think I was wrong. I’m a bit inclined to
speak out now and again perhaps when I’d be better to listen rather than put my views forward. Well, if you’ve got something to say I believe you should, and you think it makes a lot of sense or at least a fair bit of sense, and you might, I wouldn’t go out to poke my nose in everywhere, but if I was asked for an opinion
I’m always prepared to give an honest opinion and I’m not afraid to give an opinion that might be contrary to what the general consensus of opinion is.
Okay, given that, what is your opinion about some of the treatment that Vietnam veterans received from say the RSL when they returned?
I’m not aware of exactly what you’re talking about because we’ve got Vietnam Veterans in our RSL. As a matter of fact, only recently
one of them was elected as the President of our Cronulla RSL. I thought that they were, I don’t know what you mean by what treatment was dished out to them. I thought they were well treated when they came back. Not so?
I’ve just heard of some personal experiences of veterans who when they were immediately returned were not treated in a way that they
would’ve liked. Well, I’ll put this question to you, how do you feel about the treatment that the public then, the public reception to Vietnam veterans at the time they returned?
Well, I would say that it’s similar to what the public thought about the Korean War and the Korean veterans like I say. By and large a lot of public, and these days there’s a lot who are, nothing against
the people who have settled here from other countries, but a lot of them are not recent Australians, put it that way, and they’re not sort of worried at all. It doesn’t concern them. They feel it’s not their business to have an opinion about that sort of thing at all. That’s not in their field at all, so they don’t worry about it at all. Like Joh
Bjelke-Petersen [Premier of Queensland] used to say, “Don’t you worry about that.” But no, it’s the next question I suppose. I’ve always felt that the politicians are always… Here we go with politicians. Politicians are always ready to get other people
organised in (wnscm? UNCLEAR) conflicts to make sure that they send them away and they’re there to say, “Hooray,” and they’re there to say, “Hello,” when they come back and that’s about as far as they want to go with it. So how many politicians do we know that are ex Korean or ex-Vietnam Veterans? Very very few, if
any. So they are the ones that formulate the policy.
Well what sort of an impact might that have on say the current conflict in Iraq?
That’s another kettle of fish, isn’t it? That’s another one altogether. I’m a bit with the thinking we could withdraw at least some and make it
a gradual withdrawal. I don’t know about the idea of bringing everyone back by Christmas like Mr Latham’s talking. I think he might’ve jumped the gun a bit there, but if it is considered that they’re necessary there, and I don’t think that’s been spelt out because every time I listen to John Howard he says,
“They’ve got to be there until the job’s done.” And if I was listening to him and near enough to him I would say immediately, “What job are you talking about Mr Howard? Just name me precisely what they are doing there and is it really necessary for all of our fellows to be there, or can it be reduced?” The numbers can be reduced because considering the numbers of Americans who are there, and I would go so far as to say
as I said about the Korean War, if we had not been there it would not have made any difference at all to the end result, and I don’t think it would make any difference to the end result of this business in Iraq considering is sort of another part of the world and the Americans are doing very well looking after it,
and if they want to have an occupation force, which is what they have, actually an occupation force, well then let them go ahead and have one, but do we need to take part in their occupation force? Frankly I don’t think so. That’s all I’d like to say about it. I think that might be enough.
Can I ask you about, I think we touched on it but I just
want to ask you what your opinion is on the necessity of the Korean War?
I believe it was necessary because it proved that if you have a force which will prevent, when you consider
that the communist North Korean force was backed by Russia, which a lot of people never knew, they weren’t interested enough to want to know or want to find out, that, now you’re saying the Korean War,
not just our part in the Korean War. If you’d asked me was it necessary for Australia to have a part in the Korean War as we did, I would say only because we’re a member country of the United Nations and because therefore we had that responsibility to honour our agreement as a member country of the United Nations that we would join in a conflict
such as the Korean War. That was why we were there, but I’ll say again, the end result, it would not have made any difference to the end result if we had no agreement as a United Nations country and if we had no agreement to be in the Korean War at all. The end result would’ve been the same and we would not have lost thirty-four pilots for a start and all the rest of it.
The army people would not have lost the number they lost. I don’t know about the navy. So I’m just going to finish off. You don’t mind? See, it’s all very well to be wise after the act as they say, isn’t it, you know? Now I’m saying the end result would not have been any different. I think that, this is my own
personal opinion, that it would not matter, and I’ve said this a few times, this is not the first time, having been there and having seen what goes on, we’re only one part of the 4th Fighter Wing, if we had not been there, the Americans have got heaps of aeroplanes and young fellows, maybe not all that young but pilots who would probably have been quite happy to
have taken over the job that we did, and it would’ve made no difference to the end result. What do you reckon about that?
What was it like to, after these war time experiences, what was it like for you to adjust to becoming a civilian?
I didn’t know what hit me. No,
I anticipated, I knew that I would have to go and work. When I say work, I never considered my flying job in the air force as work. It was a duty, I was doing something I enjoyed and when you get paid for doing something you enjoy, you know, it’s a pretty nice situation, isn’t it? I knew that I would not, I didn’t want to anyway,
get into commercial flying. I especially didn’t want to get into Qantas although I had all the necessary qualifications and I believe that I could’ve got a job in Qantas. I didn’t want to because I wanted to be home with my family. I’d been away so much of the time during my air force career and missed out on seeing them growing up and having my wife having to move around from one place to another and make a new home and wait
sometimes and live in very unpleasant circumstances until we were able to get some more accommodation, which was something that apparently has been looked at in recent years but which is long overdue. They can’t expect to have people shifted around and not know from one week to the next where they’re going to live, and find it very difficult to get somewhere to live anyway.
This is something that I believe, they had admittedly done quite a bit to alleviate that problem, the situation where they’ve got people having to move interstate. Well we moved, I don’t know how many times we moved around you know, and it awes me having to move everything that you’ve got, you know, or put some in storage and some here and some there and try and sort things out again, and then
only be there about twelve months or so, or less than that, and I would have to then pack up and go overseas because I went sent to America on a Hercules deal. Twice I was in America. I was sent to England on what they call the Red Dean, highly secret thing. Hardship, you have no idea the hardships I put up with. I happened to be living in the
south of England. All right for me, but not very good for the family, and sometimes the marriage suffers also because no woman likes to be left by herself for too long. So from that point of view when I finished up my air force career I didn’t want to continue. I had about three years on Hercules operations and I’d been away quite a bit
of the time and, although I would’ve liked to continue flying, but not only that, and the other thing was the next posting I would’ve got would’ve been to Canberra and I didn’t want to live in Canberra. As I say, commercial flying as in Qantas, I did not fancy that at all to be quite honest.
The money was good, sure, but money’s not everything in life. There are move important things in life than money. A, good friend, good health for a start. Obviously you can’t order good heath but you can certainly choose your friends I believe, lead an organised life where you don’t have to work weekends when you would rather be out playing golf if
you’re a golfer or doing something that you enjoy doing, and you can’t because suddenly someone calls up sick so they call you up and say, “We need you, jump in a taxi and come straight in,” as they do, and I know that happens with commercial flying. As a case in point, Tony and Maree, they were married. Maree divorced her husband, he was a Qantas captain,
mainly because a lot of the time he wasn’t there, and so they were living quite a disjointed sort of bad life. Tony, a high school teacher, he was there all the time or he was up at the pub, one of the two. No, he’s not there very often.
Can I just interrupt you Phil and ask you how your war time experiences in terms of the fighter pilots
that were lost and the civilian cost of war that you witnessed in Japan, how that has affected you?
Only when I think about it. I’m not trying to be facetious, but I think I said this before, it’s inevitable in any war that the civilian population is going to suffer
and it’s something that’s unavoidable. It’s something that has always been the case. My personal experience like I said, was in Korea where I know that there were more civilian casualties than there were military. I don’t think there’s an answer to that, how to avoid it. I don’t know how you would be able to avoid
that happening because you’re fighting a war in their country, you know, where they live, where they’re trying to exist, where they’re trying to get enough food to live from day to day, from week to week. A lot of them didn’t and starved. I know that for a fact. So it’s very distressing when you see people
who have to suffer that way through something that’s not their affair really. You’re fighting a war in someone else’s home or homes. So this is the thing about it, not that it makes me feel better, but I don’t chose to think about it deliberately because I don’t think
that would achieve anything. I’ve got four sons now. If the situation arose where there was conscription, I tell you there would be a big howl against it. I mean it shouldn’t be brought in unless, I don’t think it could possibly be brought in unless
there was public agreement that this was the way to go. I would not recommend, I told my sons that, if they had been in a situation where they were at the age where they were called up to go to Vietnam I would’ve said, “Don’t go.” I mean, it’s not your war.
You’re not protecting our country and as it turned out, or time proved, it was a futile thing anyway and the fact that they weren’t there wouldn’t have made the slightest bit of difference. I don’t know whether I’m on the right track here or not. Every now and again I think I get a bit sidetracked. I start talking through my neck.
I’m just going to ask you one final question, what does Anzac Day mean to you?
Practically it means reunions. I think anyone who’s had an experience in wartime would agree that they look forward to Anzac Day as a time when they will see their old mates, the reunion side of it. I don’t
think it’s a time when we should glorify war at all. That’s wrong. I think Anzac is a time when we do appreciate the fact that we have had in the past the original ANZACs [members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corp in World War One] and then in World War Two men who were very brave.
I was never very brave in my experience in the Korean War. I wouldn’t say I was very brave. I was highly trained and I was very confident in being able to carry out the flying duties I had to. So I don’t think I could sort of come into the equation there at all. Anzac
mainly, and the older you get the more you appreciate seeing that you’ve still got some mates left. Reunions, I’d say. If I was asked the question directly and say, “How many out of ten would you give to reunions or talking about your experiences and glorifying war in any way at all?” I would say reunions would get more points
any day. How about that.
On that note I’m going to thank you very very much for today.
It’s a pleasure.