Archive number: 2015
Preferred name: Herb
Date interviewed: 10 May, 2004
You are listening to the interview audio
So Herb, whereabouts in Perth were you born?
In Leederville - that’s a suburb just out of the city.
What was Leederville like to grow up in?
It was a pretty ordinary sort of a suburb. Middle class sort of a suburb. Fairly old suburb of course because of it’s proximity, but it was quite pleasant.
Where about did you go to school?
Well I started off at the Thomasleigh School, I don’t know what it is now but it was the Thomasleigh School in those days and I was there for I think about 12 months of so, that was about it. I turned seven then and my father died and he was a war veteran, he was a Gallipoli veteran.
He was wounded and invalided out of the service. He was in the army, he was a New South Wales man and that’s where my mother met him. And then my mother decided that, she was from Northumberland in England and met a Geordie and she was a Geordie too, she was very outspoken, I hope the Geordies [native of Newcastle upon Tyne] are not offended at that.
It’s a trait is it?
Oh yes, very much so. And of course I’m supposed to have inherited it, if you ask my wife,
she would tell you that I have inherited some of that, too. But mother decided that it was time to get back to England to see the old country. They hadn’t gone back there, the rest of the family had come to Australia.
Did your father’s early demise have anything to do with the injuries that he suffered in the great war?
I believe it did. He was on a small pension but it wasn’t a great pension, but it wasn’t a great pension, he was on a small pension. For the injury.
I believe it affected his health. Caused quite a few problems in his life this experience. He had a brother killed in Gallipoli, just near the end of the war. And he had another brother there with him. I just recently received a letter from NSW [New South Wales], somebody who has been tracing the same family roots as we have and they mentioned, they enclosed a letter that my grandfather had written to the department, Grandfather
Dawson that is. Written to the department, asking if they could tell them anything about his son who was still in Gallipoli and he knew that his other son had been killed and he just wanted to know about the other two. They’ve all gone since of course. I’m 82 and they would be in their hundreds.
So this is a letter that was written at the time?
It was written at the time of the, near the end of the war, about 1916/17 I think it was.
And how did it get to you?
Well as a family we have, we do quite a bit of family research and I had researched the family line and it was on a database and this particular person in NSW was searching this database and he came across my name and so he was researching the same line and the information he found was under my name. Research had been done on the Dawson side. And his family,
the Fellowfields had married into the Dawson family and so he was keen on finding out what I could tell him that he doesn’t know and he was trying to fell me something, well he was telling me things that I didn’t know about the family. So this is the sort of thing that happens to people that do family research.
So you went back to England,
but hang on a second, before you go back over there, what sort of business were you parents in?
Corner shop, small corner shop. It’s called a mixed business. They ran this small shop and it was called a corner shop in those days and they were really the heart
and soul of the community because people used the corner shops a lot. Before the advent of the supermarkets. I can’t say too much about those because I worked for one for 33 years. The supermarkets forced a lot of them out of business. That’s still happening with delis these days. And so we had a reasonable sort of a living because, well it depended how well you ran them.
And they had a certain amount of expertise and most of the expertise came from my mother. My father hadn’t had any experience of this. He’d been in a farming community in the town in NSW that has the rock concerts, not rock concerts,
I can’t think of the town. There were about four or five sons I think and three or four girls. A family of eight or nine and they all lived up there. His father was, he had come to Australia as a five year old boy and
that was my grandfather on that side. But he didn’t know anything about shop keeping where as my mother had grown up type of thing, they’d had business’s over in East Perth. So shop keeping was no problem to her. Particularly that type of small shop. She did very well.
Did it sell a range of goods?
Oh yes, groceries, fruit and veg,
you name it, she even had a window full of haberdashery and that sort to stuff. Anything that she thought she could sell, she sold. She didn’t buy in large quantities of course, it was in small quantities but she ran it very well. Very capable. I always appreciated what she did for us. Particularly after my father died. She came back. As I said we went to the UK [United Kingdom] for about four months and when she came back she and sold the
business but not the property and when we came back the people were still running it but not very well and it was gradually going down but she took on work in cleaning offices and we stayed in various places with one aunt, who my mother and this aunt were very close. One decided to do something and the other decided it was time for them to do something too you see. And that was one of the reasons we went to England because my
Aunt Hannah, she was, decided that it was time she went back to England and so my mother decided it was time for her to go too you see. And that’s how it all happened. So when we came back we stayed with her for a while and of course I had to go to another school and that’s when I went to Leederville School. Leederville Primary. And we were staying there for a while, boys are different to girls and I don’t know whether you noticed this, but they are. So one day when we are having a game of cricket
in the backyard, I was the only boy and my sister and these two cousins, two of my cousins were playing and I hit a ball through the window. And that was the signal, ‘He has to go’. So they had to find another place for me to go. So she stayed there and I went up to a cousin up in Tower Street in Liverpool. They were a big family, the Sheriffs, and I was quite enjoying it there, but I was a rather chatty young fellow and because
I talked too much they put me at a separate table for my meals.
This sounds tragic.
Well it’s not really. I was not objecting at all, I was enjoying my life with a big family.
And your mother is still living with?
My mother was still living in Lachlan Street, Liverpool.
With your sister?
With my aunt and my sister. When my mother found out about this she objected
and decided to take me away from there and found me another aunt and uncle. One over in East Perth this time. So I was put over there. Now this uncle had two daughters and actually the aunt was my mother’s sister so it was a different name it was Davis, Bill Davis. And he was a baker and he worked in a bakery in East Perth. I was the apple of his eye because he didn’t have a son and it was quite a good life.
But some time after that my mother found that the people that were running the business had walked out of it and left the shop empty and the property behind and so she walked back in and started to build it up again.
When you say walked away?
They went broke and just walked. They didn’t have the ability to run a small business. It did require, I realise since, it did require some know how to run a shop like that.
So they walked out and Mum just walked back in again and we had a home to live in then, so we were back together as family.
So the house was attached to the shop?
Yes. All those type of things then had a shop it the front of a house. And it was a reasonable little place. It is now the site of the water department. In Lupter Street. And Cow Street has now become Cow Court I think, or Feign Court [?] I think it is,
named after a city councillor. So we walked back in and I was there until I joined up.
Did you have any duties as far as running the shop was concerned?
No, I was just being feed and looked after. The results of the shop keeping. It was during this time that I had a desire, at one stage to,
well first of all I met a, one of the boys at school and he was a boy choir singer at St (UNCLEAR) Cathedral and this appealed to me for some reason or other. I hadn’t done much at the stage in the way of singing. But I obtained permission, I spoke to my mother about joining the choir. And she said, “If you join you are going to stay there.” This is the way they are in Geordie land. Geordie land being of course the place where the Northumbrians came from.
I had no option but to agree to this so I joined the choir at nine and I was there until I was 14 and my voice broke. It did more than that, it shattered, because it never seemed to recover to a great degree and so I was a choir boy for about five years and that was a very peasant time, it kept me busy, because we had choir practise on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday afternoons and then Friday evening when we had the full choir there.
Wednesday we couldn’t have choir practice because that was scout day. So I was in and out of the city about four or five days a week and of course twice on Sundays. But I’ve always thought of that as a good time in my life and I’ve certainly benefited from it, in the friends I made. One of them of course was a chap by the name of Frank Travers. Frank was in the air force too but he was a choir boy. And his daughter eventually married our son. So we’ve
got common grandchildren. Now we’ve both got great grandchildren.
Did you enjoy the religious aspect of being a choir boy?
I can’t say that I did, because I don’t think it had much impact. We were there to do a, to work and sing each Sunday and occasionally to sing at what they called a choral wing. When the people concerned
wanted a choir as well as a minister. So we got special payments for doing that.
Oh yes, we were paid as choir boys. I think my pay started at a penny a practise. I think I gradually worked my way up to head (UNCLEAR) and got about thruppence I think, something around about there. But if we did a, of course I’m talking old currency now and when we had a choral wedding I think it was about one and sixpence. Something like that, I’m not, I may have those figures slightly wrong.
But it was a big different from what we got in normal practise or a normal service. So yes it was enjoyable time. I have never resented it. Never felt any regrets about it.
What about school? What sort of things would you get up to at school?
Well I was the junior, as I say when I moved to Sheriffs [?] I went to West (UNCLEAR) School and when I moved to East Perth I went to Mount Lawley Primary School.
Then when I went back into the chapel, I went back to Leederville again, Leederville School, so I had quite a bit of shifting around, in primary schools. And when I finished primary school I went to Perth Boys which was in the city in Jones Street.
What was Perth Boys like?
It would have been, well it was pleasant enough,
I was in a good class there. A funny thing happened there though. There were three of us in the class and the teacher couldn’t distinguish us, one from the other. One was a Jewish boy and his name was Krozenstein and the other one was Greek and I was the third one and they just couldn’t tell who was who. That was a little bit awkward but eventually they sorted us
out, I think.
My biggest problem there was that I didn’t, I was not prepared to do homework so I wasn’t progressing very far. I was in the seven A class, I think it was called, but I just wasn’t doing any homework. And then I went into the eighth in the second year and it wasn’t’ getting any better because I wasn’t doing any homework.
So what was the discipline like when you would show up without doing your homework?
Just disgust I think. Can’t remember really. The teacher in the second year said something to the effect that if you don’t do your homework don’t do anything for the rest of the year. I think when this happened my mother decided I should do something else, so she took me out of that school and I went to what was called a city commercial college where I learned typing and shorthand
and I persisted with a few other subjects, too, I think. I think one of the ones I started there was geology. And I attempted to junior from City Commercial College, and I got just half a subject short, I was able to master the typing but not the shorthand. I couldn’t get the speed in shorthand that you needed. There again probably if I had spent a bit of time leaning my grammalogues and things I probably would have been alright with that. So I finished the course there and hadn’t
quite got a junior, say four and a half subjects, and so I needed five and so I was, I made the decision to go to work. So I looked for a job and found a job with McRobertson and Company. I don’t know whether you have heard of McRobertson, but he was a man that started making chocolates in his own bathroom back in Victoria in the Melbourne area and peddling them
house to house. He had a very successful business. He gradually built it up to be a very successful business. You may have heard of a chocolate called Old Gold. That’s a dark chocolate and that was his speciality. Eventually he got bought out by the Cadbury company. The products that were made by McRobertson are now made by Cadbury - Cherry Ripe is one of them, Old Gold is one of the others. Quite a few,
they made good stuff. But he also founded an airline. McRobertson-Miller airline in WA [Western Australia]. He put his money into airlines later on after he made his fortune. I was there for a few years until.
What were you doing there?
I was a clerk, a junior clerk. A very small office. Only about four of us in it I think. The bookkeeper, head girl,
girl that looked after switchboard and I. So it was a very small office.
How did you find the job in the first place?
I can’t remember. It must have been advertised I think. I don’t remember anything else, any other way of doing it. It wasn’t my first job though. Before that I had a job clerical work again, mixed with tyre changing. I was working for a man that sold tyres on payment. And so
I would have to learn typing, so I used to type up the agreements after I had changed the tyres, put the new tyres on the cars. So that was a fill in until I got the job at McRobertsons and from McRobertsons I went to the retailer in Perth, which was a department store in Perth in those days, Boan’s. They were eventually taken over by Myers. And I was there until the war started and I left there to join the air force.
Was there anything you noticed about the Depression and the way it effected the community of Perth?
Well we were fortunate, we had our own little shop, so we lived on the proceeds from that. So we really didn’t, we didn’t notice that there was a Depression on because we never seemed to be short of food and…
Was there any sort of coupon rationing going on?
Yes there was, and this was one of the things that my mother had me do every week because
my father of course was no longer with us. And so I used to go around and convert these coupons to cash. Mother would receive the coupons over the counter which she was permitted to give certain goods and then she was able to convert these coupons into cash. And I used to go around to the place of issue of these coupons or the place of redemption for these coupons which was the markets, in West Perth, is now just being built as an outlet
for goods and that sort of thing. I forgot what they called it. And I used to go and convert these and I remember that riding around on my bike and coming back with the cash.
Can you remember what sort of items were bought with coupons?
No I can’t. They certainly weren’t luxury items. They were essentials, vitals. Enough to keep people alive I think, keep them going. Able to work, if they had work.
When you were working as a clerk, were you still living at home?
Yes, I lived at home until I joined the air force.
Did you have to contribute to the running of the house financially?
I can’t remember. I think I probably did because mother had pretty sound ideas as to how you should manage your affairs and one of them was paying your way. So I probably would have.
How about your sister?
She stayed at home. And she helped mother you see with running the shop and a house. Mum needed some help. So my sister Cath stayed at home and helped her there. She did that all her life really, until she was married. Then she went over to NSW because that is where her husband came from. He was an army bloke.
So how old were you when you were working as a clerk?
Fifteen or 16.
Why did you decide to change to Boan’s?
I did clerical work there too.
Why did you want to change companies?
I think I ran foul of the manager of the McRobertsons. I seem to have a recollection that I did do that.
Now it’s coming out, hey Herb?
I never try to hide these things.
What did you do?
It was embarrassing. I don’t think I did it. I used to take his cheque to the bank and bank it each week, and I came back with the little payment slip one day and somebody had made a mark on it and made it look indecent and I hadn’t done it, I was quite sure of that. Whether it was the teller who was collecting the money who put a couple of dots where they shouldn’t have been and made it embarrassing. And of
course I was accused of doing it. And I couldn’t say anything that I hasn’t done it and that, and so he wasn’t really keen on me from then on. So he suggested that I find another job. Because I was getting too old for the job of junior and they had no room in the office for a senior. But anyway. Boan’s was alright. They were quite a good company to work for.
What sort of work did you do as part of your work in Boan’s?
I was in the office, again clerical work.
Just what I was used to.
Still much the same thing?
It was different because it was in the section of the office, the buying section of the office where it was mainly responsible for the invoicing and that sort of thing, getting invoices paid, whereas at McRobertsons it had been more a job of selling to retailers like Boan’s and the chain stores that were there,
like Coles and all those. And McRobertsons had what they call special chain store lines. Bulk lines that they sold in bulk in their stores. It was, one was, it was still bookkeeping if you like but it was a different aspect of it.
Was the war actually developing in Europe at the time you were working at Boan’s?
Yes it was getting more and more serious, the demands from
Germany with the rise of Hitler and the German people’s dissatisfaction with the deal they got after the last war, after the 1418 war, so yes, tension was rising and it was really no surprise when in September 1939 the war started.
Were you following the progress of what was going on in Europe?
I can’t remember that I was particularly like most teenagers of that age, you know, you enjoy yourself as much as you could. I don’t think that has changed, in fact it seems to have got more developed. Worse, if you like. No, I don’t think so, but once the war started I had thoughts of joining up and…
Was it because a lot of your friends were doing the same thing?
I don’t recall that.
I know we used to, I was involved in a football team, not that I ever became a footballer but I was involved in a football team and I don’t remember any of those being particularly interested. Although in recent years, since the end of the war I’ve become across another fellow who was in the same squadron as I was in the UK [United Kingdom] and he was in the same football team.
He’s still around. There are not too many others that I know, that are. But that’s not uncommon.
So why did you decide on the army?
Air force. I can’t really say, it just appealed. I thought of my father’s
experience and that type of warfare didn’t appeal to me and nor did the idea of the sea. And I thought well, the air force, “This sounds pretty exciting.” It proved to be that way and when I applied to the air force, I was told, “We can’t use you for the air force, you haven’t got enough education.” So decided that yes, I would go in and be a clerk in the air force.
And once I got into the air force as a clerk, did what we called the rookies course, after that I was available to be allocated to some area where I could do clerical work. Without any previous experience I was allocated to the medical officer. Thereafter I seemed to specialise in that because the next station I went to I was also made the medical officer’s clerk.
There is a little more to that, but that what’s happened anyway, I became the medical officer’s clerk at Canungra too.
How did you go about joining up?
As far as I know, I just applied to the air force depot or office in what was St Georges Terrace in those days. Answered all the necessary
questions. (UNCLEAR) was in for the call up that came. So I went into the air force on the 15th of May in 1940. I turned 18 in the February and they called me up in May.
What did your mother think about you joining the air force?
She wasn’t very happy about it, but as she knew I was going in as a clerk. She didn’t think there was much danger in that – well, there wasn’t.
But after, she was quite resigned to it. She didn’t want her son to go into the forces at all but it was better to go in as something you wanted to go into rather than being forced into something you didn’t want to. That was the main reason I think for wanting to join up at that time.
So what’s the first training that you receive as…
Well they accepted me with the qualifications I had for being a clerk. But the first thing we did of course, as I said, a course, a rookies course, six months.
Six weeks on the drill square.
Whereabouts is this?
Pearce. And this is where I acquired my first nickname in the air force. I suppose it was interesting enough to tell. We had a Scottish drill instructor. And he had us marching in threes. And of course there was an uneven number of us so I was the one that was, instead of having 30, we had 31,
so one column had to be alone and that was always the second last column in the squad. And I was it. So we were marching along there one day and he gave an about turn. Well, this as I understand it is the signal for everyone to about turn but then for the back file to gradually file back, so it becomes a back file into the column again. And it didn’t happen because we’d never been told about this.
And I think this was just a drill instructor’s ploy to show how smart he was. So the next thing I know I hear a roar, “Hey you get out of there.” I looked around, I’m the only one by myself so it must be me. So I stopped and he came up and he said, “What’s your name?” and I said, “Dawson.” He being a Scot said, “Don’t tell me you’re a Scot!” “No,” I said. “You’re a Yid!” So then he said, “We’ll call you Abe.” So
I became Abe, Abraham, Abe Dawson instead of Herb Dawson, for all the time I was in ground crew. As I say I went to Canungra, no, we are still in the building, still at the Pearce, I was the medical officer’s clerk there and then I went to Canungra, I was the medical officer’s clerk, still aid. And I got to the glorious rank of corporal in the air force.
And one day the medical officer said to me, he said, “Why don’t you go to air crew?’ And I said, “they won’t have me I haven’t got enough education.” And he said, “They’ll have you now.” The war was well on, I mean, when Canungra was open, they were the intake was eight course and by the time the medical officer had said this to me, they’d got around to about 15. I said, “Good,” so I got my mother’s permission, with great difficulty and
re-mustered to aircrew. So I put in my application and it was accepted and about five or six of us on the station had done the same thing. So we had all done it at the same time and gone to aircrew. So we did the (UNCLEAR) course that meant going to Pearce. At this time Pearce was the still the OTU [Operational Training Unit] operational…no, anyway whatever it was for
the rookies for air force, for aircrew. We went back there….
What were the conditions like at Pearce?
They were quite good, it was a permanent station. So we lived in barracks, in exactly what they have there now. We lived in these brick double-story buildings. Conditions were good.
What sort of uniforms were you marching around in at the time?
In the drill squad? We had overalls.
Blue overalls of course. And that was virtually our uniform.
How about the dress uniform?
The normal uniform, the blue the dark blue. As they are today really. yes it was quite pleasant and it was close enough to Perth that we could get home in the weekends. Life wasn’t too bad, I must have stayed there…
Of the first time with the rookies course, how long were you there?
I think it was six weeks each time.
Were you just learning to march the first time you are at Pearce?
March and first time yes it was mainly marching and becoming used to discipline. There wasn’t much else to it as I recall.
How did you like the discipline?
You got used to it you know.
Most Australians are a little bit adverse to it. But we became accustomed to it and accepted it and if you didn’t you weren’t going to be much good for the air force. So we accepted it.
How was the food there?
It was something again that you had to get used to. It was not, it was certainly a lot better than something that I encountered later on when I was in Germany.
I’m just wondering whether you had enough to eat while you were in training?
Yes, we were well fed, there is no doubt about that.
And what sort of emphasis was there on fitness, certainly in the early stages?
We had regular fitness classes. I think it was everyday. Part of our daily grind if you like. So yes, there was an emphasis on it. Certainly I don’t
remember any fat boys or fat lads, or fat young men. They were all pretty fit. And it was quite an enjoyable time of my life I think.
If your job is clerk, what sort of things would you do?
Well of course my typing was invaluable to me and I’ve always kept that up, and it’s always been useful. On the computer now. And I learnt a lot of medical
terms which were used quite frequently of course. It was fairly basic medicine because these fellows had qualified to become aircrew and ground staff, so they had passed their medicals to get into the air force. So most of their sicknesses were day-to-day things. Only remember one unfortunate young man and he had somehow
slipped through the net. He hadn’t done anything to do, just present himself, but his doctor had missed that he had emphysema. And this was a pretty drastic infection of the lungs, or disease of the lungs. And he had to be invalided out. I don’t know why, but his case always stuck in my mind as being particularly unfortunate. Then the doctor then found out, discovered the condition and had to get him out. That was the only case serious case I can remember. You know they had their falls and their
accidents and that sort of thing. I don’t remember any results of crashes. The Tiger Moth was a pretty safe aircraft to fly. You happened to be pretty battered to crash a Tiger Moth. I hope there is nobody listening who has ever done that. So it was fairly basic sort of thing.
What was an average day like in rookies training?
We’re going back 60 years ago.
You mentioned that you could be on leave, certainly on the weekends, so what would you usually do?
I’d always been very keen on the beach and surfing and that sort of thing, so we’d do the same thing then, we’d go out to the beach and I don’t remember doing it so much before the air force but that
was a main occupation. I mean in a country like this you’d be silly not to take advantage of the conditions. And I think that we did that alright. Yes it was. By that time I probably started going to dances and parties. I can remember some of the parties, the old time parties all gathered around the piano. Singing our hearts out. It was a good life.
So when you went from the Pearce rookies course, what was it next? Was it Canungra that you went to?
Well first of all I served in Pearce in the medical quarters and then Canungra was about to open which was just close to Christmas, I don’t remember which year, and I was chosen to go up there and help to open the station. And we got to Pearce and…
Helped to open the actual station?
Get the station open and running.
It hadn’t been running at that stage. It was all new. It had just been constructed. They had all the aircraft there and they knew when their first course was due. And I went up to help the place get up and operating.
What sort of things did you have to do to get the place up and operating?
Until I got there I didn’t know what I was going to be doing, I just thought I would be a clerk and that was true. One of the things they told us
shortly after we got there was that there would be no Christmas leave, and I was an 18 year old, I might have been 19, and I was with a group of fellows. And they said if there is no leave we are going to go on leave. And I suppose on, very foolishly on retrospect, I said I would be one of them and so we went off on leave and I could see they weren’t at all pleased, strangely enough. So they sent the SPs [Security Police]
AWL [Absent Without Leave]?
AWL. So they sent the SPs after us. That’s right. And they came to my home and they came in and they said they were going to take us to Fremantle jail. That was COs [Commanding Officer] instructions again. CO being Commanding Officer of course. And my mother just happened to know the sergeant of the police, who was the service policeman and
she was, “You can’t take my boy to jail.” He was a big softy. He wasn’t equipped for the job in that respect.
Either that or he wasn’t equipped for your mother.
You could be right. It was decided to take me back to Pearce where they had a lock up. So I was in the cells there for five days before they took me back to Canungra. And then I had to appear
before the CO and he gave me the option of accepting his judgement on my offence or court martial. So I had enough sense to accept his. So he gave me seven days in the cells and 14 days confined to barracks. And that was strange because one of the fellows there
that was one of the guards turned out to be one of my best friends later on when we got into air crew. Because he got into aircrew also.
So he became your best friend because you were standing around talking when he was guarding you?
Well not really but that’s when I got to know him. We became good friends afterwards and there was quite a good football team up at Canungra and I was, I could never say I was a regular player, I was a hanger-on and got a game occasionally.
But I can’t say that I was a footballer, I was of mediocre ability. But I was a trier. So I did my seven days cell and 14 days CB [Confined to Barracks] and…
When you are confined to barracks, does that just mean you are confined to your hut?
No, you can’t leave the station.
So pretty much normal activity but you
don’t get leave.
In the cells of course you marched every day. And that was quite funny because there was one bloke there they just couldn’t control him, he just slouched along…and so it was quite frustrating for me and the warrant officer to sit with me, that was on the station and he used to march us. But that was just a thing. The funny thing about that was it always chased me around every where I went. They never got my pay book right as to how much…see while you are in cells you don’t get any pay.
And they never quite got it right. I was…
Interviewee: Herbert Dawson Archive ID 2015 Tape 02
This was the second time, the first time I talked about the little scrap I got into, but it ended up with the commander, CO of the station saying that he didn’t want me in his orderly room because I’d gone AWL so he’s putting me with the medical officer. That’s alright I’m used to that sort of work. So that’s where I went and then I got to the rank of corporal
and then the medical officer said that I should apply for air crew, which I did. That meant going back to Pearce, doing the training there.
What training was that?
‘Square bashing’, as it was known then. Also some training in Morse code and
become somewhat proficient in it and they also had a course on gas if I recall and just subjects to determine our ability. As a result of that I was chosen to be trained as a pilot. So the next move was back to Canungra where they were what they called an elementary flying school there. And that was training on
Tiger Moths. You couldn’t get anything more basic than that.
How were you introduced to the Tiger Moth, Herb?
Well, first of all they gave us a, well, I’d never been able to get a flight up there when I was a clerk. So the first flight was a familiarisation flight. I wasn’t actively sick but I felt as sick as a dog. I was terrible - I had to lie on the ground after when I came out.
But I never let this be known, so training went on. But I used to feel somewhat queasy every time I went up in the Tiger Moth and particularly when they did aerobatics. And so we went about 11 hours, I think, and I hadn’t gone solo. And so they took me into the flight commander’s office and he said to me, “Dawson, we could teach you to fly, but it would take too long, there is a war on.” So I had to be re-mustered into something else and it was decided that I
was suitable material to be a navigator. And in those days it was - navigators were a duel purpose person, they were called observers and they were trained in navigation and bomb aiming. So I was selected to be an observer.
How long does it usually take to train a pilot to go solo?
Anything from seven to 11 hours. Usually, but some went shorter than that. Some came in with a little experience in flying.
They could probably fly quicker. If you hadn’t gone by 11 hours, then you’re not learning fast enough. My tendency was to tend to fly into the ground. Well there is no future in that. So they decided that, you know, rather than keep me there, they would do that. I was somewhat nervous. Frightened to pull the stick back hard enough. As you speed drops off, any pilot will
tell you that you need more pronounced movement of the stick to get the response from the aircraft, and so we’d be flying into land, and instead of pulling on the stick, I’d just be a little bit gentle and we’d keep going towards the ground. As I say, no future. That’s when they decided that I should be re-mustered into something else. They didn’t decide to get me out of air crew just into something else. So as a result of that I was and in the meantime
it had been decided to shift from Pearce, shifting that training unit, that air crew, from Pearce…
ITS [Initial Training School]?
ITS, Initial Training School, that’s the one. I was thinking of ITU [Initial Training Unit] but that’s a long way further forward. And they decided to ship us to, shift the whole place to Clontarf, which was an orphanage at that time. Run by the Catholic church and the air force took it over for the duration. And they needed people to go and get the place
shipshape for the air force to come in. And so I was, a friend of mine, a mate of mine that was killed, we were part of the crew that went down there to get the place in shape for the air crew to come in. The air force to come in. And so we did that.
What did that require?
No skills - just strength.
You could lift this and lift that. Shift this and that.
Was there a lot of setting up to do?
A fair bit. But it filled in time waiting for the posting to a new course.
What actually needed to be done?
There again I can’t actually remember the details. But they had to be, I won’t say. Made suitable with class rooms and that sort of thing.
They supplied the equipment and we just had to get it all into place. No trouble finding, if you have a group or a bunch of young men with strength and not much ability, they will soon find you jobs to do, to clean up the pace and get it ready. So that’s what they did.
And what did you do when you completed setting up?
By that time I had been advised that I had been selected to be trained as an observer and they had to,
I think observers trained, that’s right I was then sent to Mount Gambier in, because I had done my British course, I didn’t have to do that again, so I was sent to Mount Gambier in South Australia where we did the direct, DR [Direct Reckoning] navigators course. DR - I think that is the word.
How did you get to Mount Gambier?
We got there by train
across the Nullarbor.
What was that journey like?
It was rather basic. Yes basic would be the word. We had a troop kitchen on board, which stopped every now and again and we’d go to the soup kitchen and get our meal, so we thought we were pretty badly treated there but of course that was a good thing to get used to these things. And Mount Gambier was quite a good station. We were flying (UNCLEAR),
not a very successful aircraft, hence they were pulled out of service and used for training. But they were quite good for training because you could do your bombing and your gunnery from the same aircraft. You could do your bombing because they were what they had been built to be. So you would do your bombing from down the front of the aircraft and do your gunnery from behind the pilot. I can’t remember the type of gun it was. Probably a (UNCLEAR) gun or something.
Can you describe
the exercises that you did?
The gunnery, there’d be two aircraft flying, one with a drove out the back, and far enough away that if you did make a mistake you wouldn’t shoot the pilot down. And the other one from the aircraft that had the gun in it would be trainee gunner. I’m in the wrong place now, I’m in Paroo, where we were doing bombing and gunnery.
What did you do at the Initial Air Observers School?
Well, we did direct plotting, navigational plotting, taking account of winds and the direction you wanted to go and the effect the wind had on your course and you set a certain course, allowing for the wind, that would give you a track and the track is how you would, track across the ground.
Basically that and also you learned a little about the weather, meteorology, that was part of the course and navigation. I can’t remember what else. They were the main subjects.
Did you find the navigation fairly complex?
I seemed to have a flair for it and if I recall I came top of the course for the exercise that we did to
pass us out. That seemed to stick in my mind. So I didn’t have any trouble there, and so from there we went to Nhill in Victoria which was an Astro Nav [astro navigation] course. And here it was a little different, you know, navigation by the stars. And I had a little trouble there, because I hadn’t done any,
in maths - I had done geometry and not trig, and there was some trig there and I had a little trouble there and I don’t know whether I ever had it explained to me because maths had always been - pretty tops in maths in my school days, but I had a little trouble, but I managed to pass the course. I became a fully fledged navigator and from there between Mount Gambier and Nhill and bombing and the gunnery,
we did that at Port Fairy. That was where I was explaining we were in Tiger, in Fairy Battle. Fairy Battle was a large cumbersome sort of an aircraft, somewhat like a fighter, but it was too heavy for one motor. And so it was fairly inflexible. I had, one of the (UNCLEAR) was in the same prison camp as I, he’s an Englishman, he’s in Western Australia now and he was flying Fairy Battles when they were front line aircraft in France before bomber command I think was even formed.
And he got shot down, so he had about five years in prison camp. So he wasn’t very impressed with Fairy Battle.
How long did the training last for in each of those incidents, you mentioned that you did the…
I can’t remember that. I think the total training, training as completely as air observers, took about 18 months.
And was it divided evenly up into Astro Navigation and Direct Navigation and Air Gunnery?
I can’t remember that. I could tell you, because I’ve got the times I had on each station, but without looking at that I’m going to have trouble.
Where were you posted once you completed that training?
We were posted back home for pre-embarkation leave. And we knew that they were sending us to the UK. So we were posted back for pre-embarkation leave and then we sent back to Melbourne to Ascot Vale which was the (UNCLEAR) course I think and there was a camp there. An embarkation depot and we were there for several weeks before embarking for the UK.
What did you do on your pre-embarkation leave?
I think we enjoyed ourselves. You know, Melbourne was a new town to us…
I mean the pre-embarkation leave when you came home?
Home? I suppose most of the things as I recall, going to the dances down at the, there used to be dance, an open-air dance place on top of what is now, at Cottesloe…
No, the Pagoda was in the city, it wasn’t the Pagoda. No, this one…
I don’t know what they called the dance hall then.
No, this was, it’s too long ago. Too long ago, but it was on top of the Cottesloe Surf Club. And it’s now an Indian restaurant and this dance floor was on top and it was open air. It was rather unique and we used to go there quite a lot. I was interested in dancing - again, never a champion dancer, but I enjoy what I do.
It was fun.
How long was your pre-embarkation leave?
I believe six weeks. No way of looking these things up before you come and finding out.
What about that time, how much of that time did you spend with your mother?
Not a great deal if I recall. I was only just over 18 when I joined the air force and (UNCLEAR)
two or three years later I embarked from Australia in…
Was it an emotional farewell from your mother?
My mother didn’t show much emotion. And I’d grown up in this atmosphere, so I was probably somewhat similar.
So I’d grown up in this atmosphere and I don’t think it was particularly…
Had you come home on the train?
Must have - can’t think of any other way. But I don’t think it was a troop train.
Your second time across the Nullarbor?
And then we had to go back again and get back to Melbourne - so again, it wasn’t a troop train. I can only remember one trip in troop train and that was the
After that they just blurred into one, did they?
Yes, I think so. Became common place.
You mentioned earlier that you were in Ascot Vale on embarkation leave?
Yes, that was in Melbourne. And the one thing I remember about that, it must have been in November because it was the time when the Melbourne Cup was run and we went to a Melbourne Cup meeting.
It was held at the, must have been, is Flemington next to Ascot Vale, I think it was held at Flemington. And we went along in shorts, that time of the year and we got soaked. It rained, as it only can in Melbourne and we got as wet as could be. And I do remember that was at the time, when we were waiting for a boat to pick us up to take us overseas.
And it eventually turned out to be the Ile de France. Forty thousand, 48000 tonne liner. Had been a very luxurious liner and I think it was the pride of the French nation. It was, had been converted into a troop ship and so we all went aboard, NCOs [Non Commissioned Officers] and officers, and some people had come off their training course as
NCOs, as pilot officers, and the rest of us were sergeants. And they were putting the officers into cabins. And they were putting the sergeants into bunks. And they got some of the sergeants into the bunks and then they found that they were infested with bed bugs or fleas, I can’t remember which. So my usual bunch of friends said, “We’re going to do better than this.”
So we went along where the options were berth and somebody had been careless enough to leave an open cabin and it was empty and so we put ourselves in there. The head steward found us there and we had locked the cabin and one of our number was a very persuasive fellow, he had a good tongue. I think he must have had the Irish in him because he had a very good tongue, he could talk his way in and out of trouble. No effort. So we went to see the head steward and had a chat to him.
He didn’t speak very good English, but he spoke enough English to understand what this chap was saying and he decided to leave us there. Not only did he leave us there but every morning he would come and say, “Cup of tea, Sir?” So we had a good trip across the Pacific. We sailed from Hobart. We’d been taken from (UNCLEAR) out of Hobart and down to military camp in Brighton, near Hobart, and stayed there for about a week until
a ship came through. And it had on board a bunch of prisoners from the Africa Corps, that was of course German troops and these were pretty tough birds. But they kept them locked up and every time they brought them out on exercise and they had to surround them with guns. I don’t know where they were supposed to be going because we were in the middle of the ocean by now. Maybe they were frightened of them taking over the ship. That’s where they, they used to come
out every day for exercise and we’d see them there. But one of the strangest things that happened on board that boat was there was a lieutenant colonel who was in charge of the ship and he had a medical on board. Not a medical officer, but today they would call them a…one of these fellows that accompany ambulances…
Maybe just a sick bay attendant, that’s what it was. First aid or sick bay. But he was a just a private and he complained to the officer in charge, he said, “I can’t control these Australians.” And he said, “They’re sergeants.” And he said, “Oh no, I’m just a private.” So they made him an unauthorised, unpaid lance corporal. And he was supposed to control sergeants from that low rank but he was never able to.
Anyway, we got to our destination.
What route did you take to Europe?
We went across the Pacific. We went from Hobart to Auckland and we spent a couple of days in Auckland as I recall and then from Auckland we went to Pearl Harbour, which was 12 months almost to the day from when the Japs [Japanese] had bombed Pearl Harbour. So we saw all the damage there, all the sunken ships in the harbour.
And then we sailed from there down to Honolulu, which was a port of course for Hawaii, or the island of Hawaii that we were at. And then we sailed from there across to San Francisco. We disembarked and were put on a train cross country and that coincided with Thanksgiving so we were really been well looked after by this time.
On this train, we had, what did they call those coaches in those days? Pullman, Pullman coaches. And we had a black man looking after us as coach attendants and when Thanksgiving came up they fed us up like nothing on earth. That was where many Australians saw their first snow. We were crossing the, must have been the Rockies I think at that stage. And we came to snow, snow bound, in December -
as to be expected. And a big snow fight took place one day when they stopped and they all got out and had a big snow fight. Great amusement for all the cabin attendants, but that was…I had seen snow because I’d been to England with my mother years before.
Sounds like the trip stood in contrast to the Nullarbor. Just getting back to the voyage, what happened when you
visited places like Hawaii?
Well Hawaii we weren’t allowed ashore. Some of them took that with a pinch of salt and went off but I wasn’t one of those. Behaving myself by then. I didn’t see anything of Hawaii at that stage, I did later in my life. But at that stage I didn’t see anything of it.
And what happened to the African Corps prisoners?
They must have been taken to America and imprisoned there, I think, because that is where
we landed. Whether they were taken from there to Britain, I don’t know, I wouldn’t think so, I think they were probably imprisoned in America. We didn’t get to know much about what happened.
Why had you boarded in Hobart?
Because the ship was expected to call, so they didn’t disrupt that, they just took us down there and took us across the Bass Strait into the north of Tasmania, went from there Cooktown, I think we went to, and then from there down
to just short of Hobart, which is Brighton Military Camp. And then we sailed from Hobart.
What was the Brighton Military Camp?
Well it was just an army camp, but there was enough room there for our group to be held for a day or two before we took off.
What were the conditions like on the ship?
Pretty basic. Except for us of course in our nice little cabin. We
were fairly well looked after.
Were there many troops on board?
I can’t remember the numbers.
Were the conditions crowded?
They didn’t appear to be, no I don’t think so.
What was the daily routine while you were on board?
I think it was do as you please pretty well. There wasn’t a strict routine or discipline, or keep us occupied even. Plus that was one of the troubles, there wasn’t enough to do.
And what was the food like?
I can’t remember that. It must have been satisfactory if I can’t remember because I can always remember unsatisfactory food.
Did you spend much time in San Francisco?
No, I don’t recall. I don’t want to get confused with the times I’ve been there, but no, I don’t recall.
Where were you heading across the continent? To New York?
We finished up in
a place called Mendon Town, Pennsylvania. We were there for about a fortnight and this is where we got our first indication of how cold it could get in these countries. I can always recall getting up one morning and seeing some stuff that had been hung on the line the night before and it was rigid. Frozen stiff overnight. But that was quite a good camp, they fed us well, they looked after us well. We had plenty of freedom, so some of them went to New York and I and my friends, we went to closer places
and made friends with the locals, and they treated us like returning heroes and we couldn’t convince them otherwise. We were Australians and that was all they needed to give us the usual American hospitality. And so we had quite an enjoyable time while we were (UNCLEAR).
How would you describe that hospitality?
Lavish. They really did look after you. And these families were happy to have
men like us who were going into a war zone into their homes and entertain them. So I gained a very good understanding, not an understanding, but very good thoughts about Americans’ and hospitality and how generous they were. They really treated us well.
Did you discuss the war?
I don’t recall that. I couldn’t have told them much because you know, 18 year olds, 19 year olds that we were.
How much were you considering the war that play ahead of you?
Not very much I don’t think. You had an attitude that whatever happened to others couldn’t happen to you, and this is the thing that kept you going in the war years. Typically on squadron, that was happening all around you, you didn’t think it would happen to you. Some, of course, didn’t have long to think
about that sort of thing. My first crew was a good example of that. When I went, this is getting a bit ahead.
Yes maybe when can store that for later. How did you get from the United States to Europe?
On the Queen Mary. Sounds like a luxury trip but there were 18,000 troops on board so it wasn’t very luxurious. It was very crowded and it was a matter of getting a meal and then lining up for the next one almost.
But it was quick, it took us six days to get across, the usual trip was about four. But we’d gone right up north and it was very stormy and of course we sailed unescorted because of the speed of the Mary. So we didn’t encounter any submarines and that was pretty much the way it went with the Mary or the Elizabeth going across each time.
And we arrived in Scotland at Gairloch. Caught the tail of the bank and unloaded there.
The Atlantic must have been quite hazardous at the time though.
It was, but as I say, going as far north as we did, we got out of the shipping lanes and at the speed we were going had to be pulled back a little bit because of the conditions. Six days instead of four days to get there.
But it was…we made it, that was the important thing.
What troops were on board?
American troops mainly. We were only a small contingent compared to them. Mainly America. They were building up the numbers at that time. Just starting.
What was it like being such a small contingent amongst so many troops?
Well, it didn’t seem to have any great effect.
We accepted each other I think, as I recall. And how did that work out, how did you approach each other? I can’t recall that. I just can’t think it’s too far back.
You got to Gairloch in Scotland?
Yes and then it was on a train and down to, from the Clyde down to the Thames you might say.
Although it was on the South Coast, we went to Bournemouth. And this was, reception there for troops was, all the Australians, all the Australians went to Bournemouth and we occupied one of the hotels there. The Grand or the Majestic. One of those. I’m in Brighton now. We were in some of the hotels in Bournemouth.
That was another long train journey.
How did that compare with travelling in Australia and the United States, now that you’d crossed all them…
I suppose there’s nothing to that to choose between that and the American trip, but there was a lot to choose between that and the Australian, first Australian trip. Although as I recall, Britain or England has always had a good train service and it was quite comfortable.
What was the atmosphere or the moral like amongst the troops?
Travelling to Bournemouth by train.
It was quite good. We weren’t involved in the war at that stage really and we were preparing for it, and we knew we weren’t fully trained, we had to have more training before we get into it. So Bournemouth was where they attempted to give us some further training with classes and things, but they weren’t very effective as I recall. And there was a dinner dance. Sort of a
lunch time dance at Bournemouth everyday, I can’t remember the place, and my mate and I used to go and quite a few others used to go to this instead of going to classes. And he had a talent, he could play the piano by ear. And he sounded like one of the leading pianists of the day when he did it. So invariably when, this is the chappie that I told you got killed, invariably when the
band went out to rest, he’d take over the piano. And before he knew where he was they were up dancing to his tunes. He was very good, a delightful man. He was somewhat eight years older than I was but were good friends. And he went to, and anyway that’s how we filled most of our days at Bournemouth. And from there we were posted to what they call operational training.
So what was the atmosphere in Bournemouth? Seems to me a lot of partying.
It seemed to be as I recall.
But I know there was some sort of classes, but there wasn’t much attention to whether you were there or not. So probably got there for some and not for others.
What accommodation did you have?
It was in hotels. I can’t remember which one now. I can’t remember.
It sounds rather civilised.
It was. There were certain places there that got the reputation for being the haunts for Australians or haunts for Canadians.
I don’t know whether they were there or not. Might have been just Australians.
How would you describe these haunts?
They were coffee palaces and dance halls and things like that. Places that the Australians gathered. Of course, the pubs.
How long were you in Bournemouth?
I couldn’t tell you that either. Some weeks.
And then we were posted in Operational Training.
Where did you do your OTU [Operational Training Unit]?
I went to Litchfield and was there for a week or so and then we were posted down, they broke up the squadron.
What happened in Litchfield?
We started flying. We first of all crewed up. At that stage we were just individuals. I was an observer and we had to crew up with a pilot
and a wireless air gunner , bomber, navigator and a gunner. The wireless air gunner was supposed to man a gun if he was needed. But he was pretty much at ease most of the time.
How did you crew up?
Well it was a very haphazardous sort of affair.
Sort of wandered around in a big group and said, “Have you got a pilot?” Or a pilot wandered around and they could see from your beret what you were and decided, “There’s a bomber, I need a bomber,” or, “There’s a navigator, I need a navigator,” and you just talked about it and said, “Yes, I’d like to serve with you.” And so that’s how it was done.
Did you accept your first offer?
I think I did.
I’m surprised you weren’t allocated a crew.
Yes, well, I suppose it was easier from the point of view of getting people who got on with each other to team up and choose their own way and that’s how it happened.
How well acquainted were you with your crew before you crewed up?
Not at all. you were just a bunch of Australians niggling around together saying, “Fly with me.” “Yes, I’ll fly with you.” “Do you want me?” That sort of thing. That’s how it happened.
Did you join an all-Australian crew?
Yes, the pilot was South Australian, the rear gunner was I think a Sydneysider. He’d flown up in the islands too, I don’t know how he got in. The wireless operator, he was Australian and I was the bomb aimer and I was Australian, and navigator. All Australian. They funny thing about becoming a bomb aimer, this friend I was talking
about was wandering along and he said, “Herb, it would be a lot easier to be a bomb aimer than a navigator. Why don’t we be bomb aimer.” “Okay, Don.” So that’s how we became bomb aimers. Just decided, we had the option having been trained at both.
Simple as that? There was no regard for giving up the navigation qualification?
No, I didn’t mind as long as I was flying, I suppose that was the thought in those days. It’s certainly turned out to be you’re more actively involved in the process of bombing than navigation. The navigator, he didn’t ever see daylight, he just sat at his bench and although he flew with the crew all the way through, he just sat at his bench and never saw anything happening. Whereas bomb aimer, you assisted him until you got to the target and then you set up your bomb sight and dropped your bombs.
So you were more part of what was going on.
What was at Litchfield?
It was an operational training unit and it was a Cathedral town in Staffordshire. And then we went from, after a couple of…
I just wondered if you would describe the school?
It was mainly flight training as a crew. I think we must have done some practise bombing but I can’t recall that either. But it was mainly getting the crew together teaching them to mix and learning each other’s, where each other fitted. Where you fitted into the crew as members of a team.
How did you form those relationships as a team?
I think it was mainly just out flying but then we used to go out altogether, too. That part, get to know each other personally as well as get to know each other as members of a team. A fair bit of that went on, a fair bit of fellowship went on.
What kind of flying exercises were you doing at Litchfield?
Mainly as I recall, navigational.
But there would be some firing of guns occasionally I think, and as I say, some bomb dropping. But I think that took place.
Was the OTU [Operational Training Unit] an airfield?
Yes, most of the aircraft we had were crapped out. They’d done their stint as bombers and they had various
faults with them and they were continually in the hands of the fitters. To be made airworthy even for training. But there was a not inconsiderable amount of crashes due to the state of the aircraft and due to the pilots and crews, navigators could make awful mistakes and give you wrong courses and the pilots could make mistakes with landing or taking off. And of
course they’d have quite a few hours but not sufficient to make them top-class pilots or top-class navigators. In fact, the crash rate in flying training school was quite high. I know of two lads who, two out of three brothers, and all four of us were in the choir back in Perth and they became air crew after they were shot down
and both of them got killed in flying accidents before they got dropped. So that’s an indication that it wasn’t, as we’d say, a (UNCLEAR) flying and training.
Did you see any accidents at Litchfield?
No, I didn’t.
Where did you go from Litchfield?
From Litchfield I went to the squadron. Now normally, I was going to the Wellington squadron, which was two engines, we’d done the training at OTU on two-engine aircraft. We went straight from the OTU
to the squadron at 466 Squadron which was at Leconfield in Yorkshire and that was an Australian squadron. Normally the crews went from the OTU to OCU [Operational Conservation Unit], no, HCU, Heavy Conversion Unit, where you went onto four engines. But because we were going from a two engine squadron, we went straight from OCU into the squadron. And it was 466 the Australian squadron. Attached to the RAF [Royal Air Force].
How were you welcomed into the squadron?
It was fairly low-key as I recall. Just another crew coming in, sprog crew - sprog being a newcomer, untrained, un-everything - and we just started from there. I was very fortunate, this is where I lost my first crew. They took off on their first operation and I was indisposed that night. And I never heard of them again. I think they went to Essen and that was the last I heard of them. And to this day I don’t know what happened. Either they got shot down by flak or fighters, possibly in those days flak. Being air crew target, could have been flak. So I was without a crew then.
What were you doing indisposed?
I can’t recall. I must have had some petty ailment to keep me from flying.
You hadn’t gone AWL again had you?
Someone was looking after me. So I was without a crew.
So this is the crew you had formed up with at OTU?
We did one trip from OTU, and this was called a ‘nickle’, this was dropping pamphlets over France. And somehow or other we got lost.
And we didn’t have any idea where we were and the pilot was either keen on corkscrewing, and this doesn’t help navigation because you easily get off course when you are corkscrewing because you are not flying a direct course. And so we got lost and so we rang up, no, you don’t ring up on an aircraft. We called up our base, it wasn’t our base,
and we called up and somebody picked up our call and they told us to get down on the base, they’d send out a fighter aircraft, a Spitfire or a Hurricane to escort us in. Because they had picked up where we were. We were actually flying up and down the French coast. We couldn’t have been in a worse place. Flying up and down the French Coast. Again there was a course to fly, due west, and we flew due west and they picked us up and escorted us into one of the air dromes on the south of England. Which was an emergency air drome for landing such cases as ours.
Interviewee: Herbert Dawson Archive ID 2015 Tape 03
We were just talking about this pamphlet drop that you were on. What sort of pamphlets were they?
They were variously worded, but they were mainly telling the people of France, who were of course allies, what the war was all about. Assuring them that, I’m speaking really, I’m guessing, because I can’t recall. They were called a nickel, because they had this piece of metal on them to make
sure they descended where they were needed or wanted, or required to be. Just various messages assuring the populace that yes, we were there and doing the best we could for them, because unless they could pick up the British radio they couldn’t get very much information. So it was a matter of assimilating information to them.
And was that your first practise run together?
Yes. Other than things up and down
Britain. Well, mainly navigational exercises. Because that was an important part of any bombing exercise was to get to the target. So we had to train our navigators.
You mentioned that the pilot was doing this corkscrewing business, did that mean that he wasn’t such a flash pilot?
No, it meant that he was doing what he thought was necessary. He was probably instructed to do it. Doing what was required to avoid fighter attacks
or evade fighter attacks. Because if you got a corkscrew, it’s a moving target and it’s much harder to hit something like that. It was just something that was waiting to be hit. Which was unfortunate for us later on.
In that situation where you are lost and you are flying up and down the French Coast. Is it your job to find the appropriate destination for you to land?
We were instructed, we were told. We were told where to go and the course to fly and they got us to the aerodrome concerned. Because they picked up work where we were from our signal. And they gave us a course to fly and that took us to this airfield that was equipped to, wide and longer than runways than normal. So it was
good to take (UNCLEAR).
How did you get lost in the first place?
I think it was mainly due to the corkscrewing that the navigator got to the stage where he didn’t know where we were so he didn’t have a point from which to start. And as I recall it must have been pretty confusing for him.
At Litchfield was that when you were in Wellingtons [bomber]?
Can you describe the Wellington for me?
It was a two-engine aircraft and it had Bristol motors in it. It was a good aircraft, it was what they call geodetic construction. I don’t know whether you have ever heard of Barnes Wallace. He was the scientist, he was the man who perfected, well, first of all dreamed up the idea of a bouncing bomb. You may have heard of the bombing of the dams
in Germany. He was the man that perfected the bomb for that and convinced the Air Ministry that it should be attempted. But he also was the man that conceived and had built the Wellington bomber. This was an aircraft that went through from the beginning of the war to the end of the war. Not front line bombing aircraft, but as an aircraft that was used. It was a very difficult aircraft to shoot down because you couldn’t
destroy it because of the geodetic construction, like a lattice construction, was particularly, held together well even it you shot a hole in it. It doesn’t fall apart, it just held together. It was a fabric-covered machine, and as I say, it had the two motors. It had a rear turret and I think they were .303 Browning machine guns in it.
It just seems to me quite unsafe flying around in something
that is made of material.
Yes, well, it can probably burn quite well but I never had that experience.
Were there any drills that you had to go through in case of fire?
The one I remember most was: Get out. Get your parachute on first of course, and get out. That came later on, that was in a Halifax. That was a (UNCLEAR) aircraft.
Were you at any point taught
anything about the parachute?
Yes, we had parachute drill and we were taught how to exit the aircraft, what to do, count before you pull your rip cord and that sort of thing. We also had dinghy drill in case we ever went into the sea, so we were told how to get into the dinghy and how to inflate the dinghy. Yes, we had quite a bit of training.
How do you inflate a dinghy?
You just have to pull a cord.
It has a cylinder to do the inflation, so there is no…but as a require there is also a provision there for blowing it up. So yes, the training was really quite good. It couldn’t be any better than it was. I mean, your job was to carry a load of bombs, not a load of safety equipment.
If you chuck the dinghy out first, does that mean it’s a really long distance from where you land?
I’ve never experienced this, but it is released after the aircraft has crashed, or after it has landed on water. It might be quite a safe landing but they sink of course, inevitably. But then the dinghy is released at that stage. So it’s not a matter of throwing it out until you rest.
I didn’t know that.
You mentioned before that you lost your first crew. That must have come of a bit of a shock.
It was, quite a shock.
How were you informed this had happened?
I just knew they hadn’t come back from the night before. In my disposition that night, if I recall, I wasn’t off the station, I just wasn’t well enough to fly. And so I that’s when I learned.
Was that really hard
news to take?
Funny attitude on squadrons, if anybody didn’t come back, they brought it. If you didn’t accept things this way, there is no way you could have lived with the constant loss of life on the squadron. You didn’t know if they had been killed or whether they had become prisoners. Most of them of course were killed. Prisoners were fairly low numbers compared to those that were killed. But you
always had to have this hope that they were prisoners of war. It’s hard to describe, if anything happens in peace time, it’s news. But it’s happening all the time on squadrons so it was accepted.
Did you talk to anybody about it?
I probably did. We hadn’t been together very long as a
crew so we probably weren’t as close as we might have been if we had been longer together.
What was your reaction to that you survived and the rest of them didn’t?
I suppose I was grateful.
Did it make it feel like you were lucky?
Very much so. I’ve felt that ever since. More so since then, than at the time. My family keep telling me,
“Oh yes, Dad, you were intended to be a father and a grandfather.” So I accept that.
Were there any fellows who were taking good luck charms with them?
Yes, I don’t know whether we had any in our crews, but there were quite a few. Rabbit’s foots and ... My mother-in-law to be, I used to complain about having to sit for eight hours without
having any cushioning. So my wife’s mother, it was, she’s a Scot, she gave me a cushion, an inflatable cushion, which I lost when I was shot down, but that was probably my good luck charm. I must always say I had luck because I’m still here, I didn’t get killed, I just was a prisoner.
Any other member of the crew?
I can’t recall.
I know some crews did. Good luck charms. I don’t know whether it did them any good. I do recall one thing, that in our, in the crew that, I’ve only got to the point where I flew two operations to finish with the crew that were finishing. And this was a highly decorated crew. The skipper had a CGM, a Conspicuous Gunnery Medal, which is the highest award an NCO can get,
other then the Victoria Cross. One of the crew had a DSO, Distinguished Service Order and another one had a DFC [Distinguished Flying Cross] and there was also a DFM [Distinguished Flying Medal]. DFM being for the sergeant and DFC being for an officer. So they were highly decorated crew and I was their bomber and I was the only (UNCLEAR) member in the crew. I did two trips with them.
Is this your second and third trip?
Second and third.
And we flew. The first trip was what we called a mining trip, dropping sea mines into the Bay of Biscay. And we dropped our mine and we were on our way home and we got coned, two flak ships, these were heavily armed ships that sat in the sea lanes, and if any aircraft came over they just let go with everything they had - and they had plenty. So I was down in the bomb bay, having dropped the mines, and
all of this flak started coming up at us. Instant panic on board, “Where is it coming from? Sounds like it’s down there?” And it was actually right, right in the centre. They didn’t touch us but there was plenty coming up. That was the first one and the next was a place called Bergen-Belsen which was in the Ruhr as I recall.
Did you have to get fairly low to the sea?
Yes, we were about 600 feet, I think, for dropping mines,
which doesn’t seem very low but it’s pretty low compared to where you drop your bombs from.
Does that create a certain increased element of danger.
Well you pass over your target quicker. Or you pass over the flak ships quicker at that high, because the higher you are, the greater angle they have to keep firing at you. So there were elements both ways.
You were in range of the night flak, which is machine gun fire and that sort of thing, which of course can only go a certain distance, but the higher you are, you are out of range of that normally. So you are in range of more fire.
What was your initial reaction to being teamed up with this highly decorated crew?
It sounded pretty good to me that
I get some experience with them and I certainly did. The second trip was, I don’t recall the details of it but it is in my log book.
What did they get decorated for?
They must have pressed on regardless - that was the term that was used. Anybody that didn’t give into problems they had, they must have really pressed on. They got
badly shot up, and the reason I became their bomb aimer was that their own bomb aimer was in hospital from being shot up on this trip and this pilot got them all back home. They had had a pretty horrific sortie that night. They must have all done something to have earned a gong, or (UNCLEAR) and I didn’t know, I think his account does appear, in a book I’ve got there about the squadron activities.
They were all involved so they all got decorated. That was, I appreciate being able to do that with that crew.
You mentioned that you learnt a lot. What exactly did you learn on those two missions?
Well I suppose the best thing you could learn from that is how a crew operated - not that I could have much effect on my own crew. But you
did learn that there were certain things that you did in the crew and that were vital to the crew’s staying as a crew, staying together. Team work - you had a job to do and you had to do it. There were no individual heroics in a bomber crew. There were heroics exhibited by bomber crews when they got into difficulties, when they got into situations
that required something heroic to be done. But I never became involved in that sort of thing. But I’ve read enough of those that did.
You mentioned that you don’t remember much of the second mission. Before you go out on a mission, what sort of preparation do you do?
Well you’re briefed, and the briefing consist of all the crews being together and any
targeting pointed out and the course in and the course out and any possible danger spots from fighters and flak and of course there are plenty of flak around cities. And the fighters were in, usually in groups and the course, the track in and the track out was usually to avoid these as far as possible. You were given estimated winds, direction and speed.
And the navigators had a special briefing as I understand it to prepare them for their duties. We were onto the stage now where I wasn’t assistant navigator in the Wellington - it was only in the four engine. But the navigators were briefed as to all of these things and they were given the estimated winds, speed and direction and they worked on those things until they got able to
pinpoint where they were exactly and get a correct wind from there. So of course it was a constant battle to keep on course with the changing winds and the changing area where you were. They did quite a good job.
How does that affect your bomb aiming?
Getting us to the target. You don’t get to the target, you can’t bomb. Once it’s over the target of course, you the bomber directed the pilot where to fly to get, so that you lined up your bomb sight
to drop them on the correct markers.
How do you figure out where you’ve got to…
The war got to the stage, the war was pretty much at that stage then where they were passed (UNCLEAR) and they were dropping flares and these flares were the ones that we had to bomb. We bombed the flares because the flares were place d in the places where the bombs needed to be dropped. And so we just had to fly over and direct
the pilot so, “Left, left, right, steady,” until we got spot on and we pressed the bomb button and dropped the bombs.
How would wind affect your figuring out of how to do that?
Well at that stage you were so close that wind effected anything getting to the target, but once you were over the target and bombing the flares, it was mainly your directions to the pilot that determined where you were.
Did the bombs change course depending on the direction of the wind?
I don’t know that we were ever given any instruction on that. I don’t recall. I don’t know whether we took that into account. I don’t think the bomb sights could – no, I’m sure they couldn’t. So that was, whether I know an aircraft, it’s carried with the wind, but whether the bombs are…but they do drop
a lot faster than an aircraft. So that was possibly just disregarded.
What sort of bombs were they?
Well mainly high explosives and incendiary. Well, have to be one or other. Most of the time we had a mixed load. High explosive and incendiary because the incendiaries could do a lot of damage. When Hamburg was bombed and they had the greatest blast that they ever encountered.
I think the same thing happened in Dresden. That’s not usually mentioned because there is still a lot of controversy about bombing Dresden. That was the end of the war.
What was the controversy?
Because some people still way we shouldn’t have bombed it and we shouldn’t have done that and the other thing. And our commander, Sir Arthur Harris, got most of the blame for that. But that was when the politicians stepped back and disclaimed all knowledge of it.
But Hamburg gave the Germans a terrible fright because I’ve read since that there have been five or six such bombing on similar big towns on Germany, that would have been the end of the war for Germany. But it was never achievable because the conditions were right. Killed thousands and thousands of people.
With the incendiary bombs, do they create fire storms?
Well, if the conditions are right they create fires. The fire storms come as a result of the
conditions on the ground. You know, with the targets. If they’ve got a lot of material that burns, and once the fires get going of course they create their own draughts and winds. Depends a lot on conditions.
What sort of targets were you mostly bombing?
Towns, where there was
some military significance. They might have aircraft factories or armament factories or anything that was related to the war effort of that country - Germany.
On your fourth mission, do you change crews again?
No. On my 14th. Well, we got to 14. We’d done about five to Berlin in what I’d done, in my 13 at that stage, and my crew were not flying this particular night and I was some six troops behind them. I didn’t want them to finish
and then me to have to do another six because then I would be available for any crew that wanted a bomb aimer. I wouldn’t have much choice. So I thought I’ll choose the crew I want to fly with and catch up the six before I finish the course and we can all finish together. That suited them, too, so I chose to fly whose bomb aimer was away doing a bombing leader course. He used to be the bombing leader on the squadron. He was an officer, a nice chap. He was a Sydney-sider.
And so I volunteered to fly with this crew and I did. It wasn’t a very good decision. Although I mightn’t have been here today if I hadn’t.
What were the conditions like at the squadron?
It was a good station and a good squadron. There were two squadrons on the station. This was in Yorkshire, in a little village,
the four of us in a little village called Leconfield, which was just outside the town of Beverley, which was the market town for that part of Yorkshire for what they called the West Riding. East of West Riding. And West Riding, no East Riding it was, near the coast. And it was a peacetime station so we had good barracks and good living quarters.
I had at that stage managed to find a vacant room in the barracks which had been in peace time had been the room for a sergeant. And we were all sergeants or above, and I was a flight sergeant by then. I was able to find this room and have a room to myself. So I enjoyed that. And the mess, well, we
always said that our, that the cooks and the mess had the capability of spoiling good food, but it sustained us, put it that way.
So what sort of food were they…
Oh, whatever was available at that time. I mean Britain was pretty strictly rationed and we always had our supply of bacon and eggs, the crews that returned. That was one of the bonuses you got from getting back from an operation, a meal of bacon and eggs,
so we were healthy.
How big was the mess? Were people going into the mess all the time?
Only at regular meal times. But they were, it was a sergeants’ mess so it was, you know, not - you had an airman’s’ mess and you have a, the sergeants’ mess catered for sergeants and warrant officers and the officers’ mess catered
for everything from pilots up to the main man on the station, usually a group captain, and the wing commander was in charge of the squadron. Then you had squadron leaders in charge of flights. And then the flight lieutenants were under them, but yes, it was a well organised squadron. It was a happy sort of a station.
Was there a social aspect to it?
we had regular parties of entertainment. People that used to come - we used to get some of the main entertainers who volunteered their services to entertain the troops and they would come and put on a show. I can’t recall the name of some of them but my wife might because she was an RT [Radio Telephony] operator, she was a WAAAF [Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force] on the same station. She used to bring us in to land, so she might recall some of them because she was there longer than I was.
I mean, I was spending a bit of time in prison camps and she was still there. So yes, there was entertainment and then in the town of Beverley, there were dances there and there were hotels there, and of course they were always favourite spots for most people. We also took advantage of some of the church activities there. There was St Mary’s church if I recall, a lovely church, lovely old place. And they had, there was also
a congregational church there and they had a good canteen, and occasionally they had chocolates at the canteen and we could go in and buy chocolates. Yes, it was a pretty good life in my squadron except for the casualty rate of course which was pretty high. But if you sort of dismissed that from
your mind and said it couldn’t happen to you - you just got on with life.
Did you got to church on a regular basis?
We started going to church there but we found the people weren’t terribly friendly, they weren’t very accepting of us, you know, they, I don’t know why. We didn’t feel very wanted, so we just went occasionally…
So this was the local community?
In the township.
What do you think was wrong?
I don’t know.
Did you find the same thing when you were just mixing about in the pubs and places?
I wasn’t drinking at that stage. I stopped drinking for some reason or other and I wasn’t drinking, so I didn’t got to pubs very much. On the whole, people just accepted us as being part of the scenery if you like. So never had any, never felt any animosity or any
unwantedness about being where we were. I think they appreciated that we were there to do a job and it was helping them. We used to go into Hole quite a bit, Hole was on the Humber. It was a bigger town, and Maisy and I found a restaurant there which couldn’t serve much of a meal but our favourite was cooked Spam, you know what Spam is, it’s a processed ham,
and the lady that ran that was very friendly towards us and she used to make sure we got a good meal whenever we went in there. We had a good social life from the point of view it was war time and it was limited. But yes, good.
How did you actually meet your wife-to-be?
It’s a strange thing. A couple of times I had taken out a girl on the station, and one day I was in Beverley,
I’d been in there, (UNCLEAR) bikes. Bikes were the only way to get around on the station and I had a bike and I needed a new tyre or a new wheel or something and I got into Beverley, the market town to get it. That’s the nearest town from Leconfield. And I came onto the bus with this tyre over my shoulder and I went onto the top floor of the bus where there are two WAAAFs sitting there and one of them was this girl I’d been taking out. She was the hairdresser on the station. Quite a pretty girl.
And she was sitting with Maisy, my wife. And I stopped to talk to them and sat behind them and talked all the way back to the station and then Maisy said that she was going onto duty. So I said, “You can’t walk around there by yourself, I’ll walk around with you.” And she appreciated that, so we walked around and I was quite taken with this
Maisy and I thought, “She’s a lovely girl.” So the next afternoon when she was about to come off duty, I was waiting at the flying control tower. And she was quite surprised, but apparently not unhappy. And so I asked her if she would go out with me and she said, “Well, I’ll think about that.” And in the meantime she asked this other girl and this other girl said, “I’m not interested in him. You can have him,” sort of thing. So that was how it started, as simple as that.
And so we, our friendship started from there and that was about July, because she had just come on the squadron too and I had just come on the squadron. And we went out whenever possible when I wasn’t flying. On my first leave, I used to get leave every six weeks and she’d get it every three months. So my first leave after six weeks, she had leave at the same time.
And she was going up to her home in Paisley in Scotland. I said well I was going on leave too, and she said, “Where are you going?” And I said, “I haven’t made up my mind where I am going.” She said, “Would you like to come home to Scotland and meet the family.” And I said, “Yes, I would love to do that.” So I met her parents, and her mother, quite a tiny little person, she met us at the door and I said, “Hello.” Or something similar like that
and she said something to me and I didn’t understand what she said. Broad Scots. I asked my wife what she said and I don’t know whether she told me the truth at that time. She might have told me something else, but what she said is, “You’re not going to take my Maisy to Australia.” And of course we hadn’t even thought of marriage, we hadn’t even discussed it. And so I asked her something and she said to her
daughter, to Maisy, “What did he say.” So Maisy was the interpreter, “What did he say? What did she say? What did he say?” So we didn’t understand each other very much at that stage, but after a week we were talking like old friends and we had learned to cope with each other’s peculiarities of language. And that’s how it all started. And the next time I went on leave, Maisy didn’t have leave you see, it was only six weeks. And so she said,
“Where are you going on leave?” And I said, “Up to Scotland.” She wasn’t very pleased about me going up to see her Mum and Dad, but I went anyway and it was a wonderful, I got a wonderful reception. Next time we went was in the December and we were able to go again and that is when we got engaged. I had gone up there without a pay book or anything but her sister very nicely offered to lend me the money to buy the ring, so that’s where we got our engagement ring.
And so that’s how we got engaged and it’s in the March after that that I got shot down.
Did you go out very much with the rest of your crew?
Not a great deal, no.
Did they go out together without you?
Yes. They were happy to go to the pubs and drink themselves silly. I wasn’t interested in that. Much more interested in the lady I was taking out.
Were any of the other crew dating some of the WAAAFs there?
No, not that I know of, but they could have been without my knowledge.
Sounds like your crew was more interested in drinking than girls.
Seemed to be a bit that way to me. Seemed a bit odd. But just this (UNCLEAR) that I did the last trip with, I went in May, when I was trying to catch up, bridge the gap, one of them had been going out, one in particular, young girl
who was transport driver, motor transport driver, she used to drive the crews out to the aircraft. And this poor girl had a terrible reputation. Everyone that she went out with was supposed to have got shot down. And I happened that way. She was a lovely girl, as I recall. Well I know she was, very pretty and nice girl. But she had this terrible reputation. I don’t know whether she knew about it, but I suppose she did. It might have only been amongst
the air crew. But it happened, because she was going out with this gunner that I flew with that night. And we got shot down.
So she was regarded as the worst piece of luck on the base then?
Bit of a jinx. But didn’t decrease her popularity. As I say, she was pretty and a nice person.
At what point was it that you decided to cut back on the drinking?
Quite early, just before I got to the squadron actually.
Any particular reason for it?
Not that I can recall. It might have been. It was very fortuitous really because my wife didn’t drink. She had come from a family that was pretty involved and her father and her brother were both elders in the Presbyterian church and there is no drinking in there. Something
must have prompted it.
Was there a lot of drinking amongst the men at the base?
Always, air crews. If they had a night off and they weren’t flying, into the bar.
What did the bar look like around there?
I can’t recall that. I didn’t have much to do with it so I can’t tell you really.
Were you issued with any particular equipment to keep
the cold out?
In the aircraft? We had our flying suits which were fairly heavy and we had a heated aircraft . It was primitive of course because the aircraft was just a shell. The rear gunner, of course he had an electrically heated suit because he was way down the tarmac and couldn’t get any benefit of the aircraft heating. But mainly the heating came from the engine. So if you got a hole you got an icy blast coming through. Once
you got to 20,000 feet, you lost at least, I think it was what was called the lux rate, was a degree every 1,000 feet. So if you were 20,000 feet you lost 20 degrees. That’s 20 colder than it was at ground level. And sometimes we’d be flying at pretty close to zero at a lot of the times in England, particularly in Yorkshire, it’s a pretty bleak place. So you needed some sort of heating and you felt it if you ever had a hole in your aircraft.
I don’t recall ever getting a hole in the fuselage. We got a couple of shells occasionally in the wings. But I don’t recall ever suffering from cold.
What sort of clothing did you have on to protect yourself from the cold?
Well, we had sweaters and gloves. I don’t know whether we took those off to do our jobs. I can’t imagine how that worked, but with
regards to using pencils and things all the time, it must have been warm enough in our cabin, in our little area. We sat on our seat side by side so it heated, so he did the plotting and I took all the fixtures. And that’s how we worked as a navigational team. It was fortunate that we had both had navigational training - I knew what he was doing.
Was that common for someone in your position?
Well, both of us were trained as observers, yes. And that was cut out later on
and they just started training bomb aimers and navigators so they changed from having an ‘O’ to an ‘N’ or a ‘B’.
And what did you have?
‘O’. It was just a half wing with an ‘O’ on it. I had an ambition, if I ever finished my first tour, and I knew I would have to do a second, that I wanted to fly a Mosquito. Because they were magnificent aircraft. One of the real aircraft of the war.
They were built in furniture factories, they were all timber. And they had two motors, Rolls Royce motors, and the fighters couldn’t catch them, they were too fast and the casualty rate was fairly low. So it was a thought. But I was never recalled for a second tour. Might not have been allowed to.
What actually was Maisy doing at the base?
She was in the flying control. So she was on the radio, radio telephone to the aircraft. So when they came back to land at base, she controlled the height at which they were, they’d be at 500 feet level, so she’d gradually bring them lower until they were at the stage where they were five hundred feet off the ground and they were the next aircraft to land and she’d say, “Land.” And give them the landing instruction. So that was her job. Unfortunately she was on duty the night I was shot down and didn’t come back.
So she was in quite a state and the station commanding officer, he was an Englishman, he was a group captain, very kindly man. He saw the state she was in and said, “Look lass, you’ve had enough, you go home back to the quarters and come to the headquarters and pick up a leave pass for a couple of weeks off.”
So that helped. And then four weeks after she got back from that, the information got through to the squadron that I was a prisoner of war. Now it was usually a three month wait for that sort of thing but I don’t know it was whether it was because we were a squadron and it got through to the squadron quickly. Next of kin didn’t get to know for about three months. My mother wasn’t told officially for three months. But Maisy had written to her and told her that
I was a prisoner of war. They were rejoicing apparently in the flying control because they were a close little group there. Good atmosphere in the flying control.
Were there a lot of women in flight control?
As I know there were only three operators and they worked in shifts. So that there shifts were normal depending of course on the flying, the amount of flying, whether it was daylight. Most of
our flights were night flights. Because that is what the RAF was doing night bombing. The Americans tried day bombing and they lost huge numbers of crews until they got an aircraft that could escort them all the way in the Mustang. And of course that was an America-built aircraft, and when it was first built it was not very good, it had an Alison motor in it, which was an American motor, and it
couldn’t get the distance and didn’t have the performance until it’s motor was replaced with a Merlin motor, which was made in the Packard company of America but it was made to Merlin specifications or Rolls Royce specifications and then it became a front-line aircraft and it could with overload tanks, it could escort their bombers all the way in, and back again too. So the Luftwaffe [German Air Force] couldn’t get to the bombers. They were too frightened of these Mustang, which were very good aircraft.
Interviewee: Herbert Dawson Archive ID 2015 Tape 04
Herb, what was the daily routine in the squadron when you were flying operations?
Well, you waited for the call to come, and if you had operations that night, then you would, the skipper would look at the board - the skipper being the pilot in most cases - and he would look at the board to see if his crew was to fly an op [operations] that night, and then if it was it was a matter of letting all the crew know so that they
could turn up, be present at the briefing for the operation that night. From then on it was all go, depending on what you were ding in the aircraft, the navigator had a lot of preparation to do, the pilot always had to check with the ground staff that his aircraft was available to fly and check with them for any small discrepancies that needed
fixing that he could tell them about. So it was mainly a matter of preparation from then on. Because they were night operations, you wouldn’t be taking off until late afternoon depending on the distance to the target. And then you knew when you were going to take off and it was all bustle because the squadron or the station was barred from having any outgoing calls, because there was some suspicion that there might be some people that wanted to let the enemy know we were coming over that night.
There was radio silence. Nothing coming from the aircraft to let them know that anything was on, so it was just a matter of preparing yourself and getting your meal before you went and getting your parachute and all of these things. They call became routine of course in time. But I suppose there was a certain amount of apprehension in it too because…
But I can recall one time when there was one crew and they had a premonition that this particular flight, in fact the bomb aimer confided to me, “I don’t think we are going to come back on this one.” They didn’t of course, but I met them afterwards and in fact some of them became members of our ex-POW [Prisoner of War] association. They were shot down but I don’t know whether they lost any of their crew. We didn’t lose any of ours,
but I don’t know. So this sort of thing went on, but as I say, mainly preparation, preparing yourself mentally and physically with what you had to take with you and get fed and be there.
How were you fed before you went?
Normal meal, I think. The bacon and eggs was there when you came back. That was the reward for getting back. You had nothing much to do with it, but it was there.
What was the routine when you returned from an op?
Briefing. No, not briefing, interrogation to find out where you had dropped your bombs and any fight activity that might have been, what was the flak like over the target…that was mainly what it was about.
What was your role during the debriefing?
Just to be there and to report on the bombing.
What kind of report would you have to make?
I don’t know whether I did it or whether the pilot did it. The pilot would have seen what was happening. Golly, it’s a long time ago - 60 years. It was a team thing, you were all gathered around. I suppose it was the skipper who was being interrogated and he would just ask members of his crew
some points that he couldn’t cover. That’s how I recall it.
What sort of information would you receive at the briefing prior to the op?
The track, and it would be up to the navigator to work out the course to make that track. Winds, you’d be briefed by the navigation officer, you’d be briefed by the net officer, and I think the gunnery
officer came into it too. He would just be talking to the rear and the other gunners because in a four-engine aircraft you had two tails in the mid and upper area and they both had four guns. And probably the station commander or the squadron commander, he would probably have some words of encouragement. It don’t think he did much else because it was mainly left to the navigation officer
to tell them where to expect the opposition in the way of flak or fighters.
What sort of information would be specific to your role as the aimer?
Well, I was involved to a degree in the navigational part of it because they would be telling us what equipment we had on board. You see we had
several forms of navigation. One was called ‘G’ and that only operated towards, only a short distance across the channel if it went that far. But then we had another one on board that was H2S [ground mapping radar] and that was where we sent a signal out from the aircraft, and if there were any built up areas, the signal hit the ground went off at the opposite angle and if it hit a wall, it came off at an opposite angle again and came back to the aircraft
so we could see. It was like a primitive TV [television]. It showed large areas where there were built up areas. So we could pick up cities by reading a map and comparing it with the signal on what was called the PPI [Planned Position Indicator], you could determine where you were on the map. So you could help the navigator to work out a course to where he wanted to be, to where the pilot wanted to be.
You know we need to know about this, H2S was a terrific help with the navigation, but I also proved to be a terrific help, if you kept it on too long, it proved a terrific help for the fighter crews, or the fighter control at ground level because they learnt to hone aircraft onto the bomb.
Did you have any incidents with night fighters?
That’s how we got shot down - with night fighters. They positioned themselves underneath us.
Just with regards to that information you get during the briefing. How much information would you get about the target that you were bombing? Because you would have to be following some specific instructions I’d imagine if you are the bomb aimer.
Our instructions were to bomb the markers. As I say at this stage they were path fighter forces operating and they would drop markers. They would have specific instructions as to where those markers were to go down. Our instructions were to bomb certain markers and if they weren’t visible what to do. I don’t recall ever getting to a target and not finding the markers. The PFF [Path Finder Force] became a very efficient force.
The Path Finder Force - PFF.
What sort of markers did they drop?
For want of a better term, pyrotechnics, I was going to say fire works but pyrotechnics they were called. They just floated down gently so they had to keep dropping them because they dropped to earth and became extinguished. So they had to keep dropping them, so they had to do their job in waves in the same way we had to do our bombing in waves.
So that we weren’t crowding the target. One of the things was, particularly with pilots, was to keep in the concentration. The idea was to get a large number of aircraft over a target in as short a time as possible. This restricted the amount of firepower you’re exposed to, and the shorter time that the whole of the aircraft were over the target, the less time there was to fire on
them and have the fighter aircraft up to fire upon them and get down again and get up a second time. So this was always the object to keep the amount of fire you could be under control or to a limit.
What could you see when you were over the target?
Depends when you got there whether the aircraft had been there before. You’d see plenty of fires,
plenty of aircraft search lights and you occasionally saw fighter aircraft in there. They used to ignore their own guns to a degree and come into the target area where the aircraft guns were firing. Occasionally you’d see an aircraft go down in flames - that wasn’t a very pretty sight because you knew it was some of your mates, you might say.
It could be your mates going down, particularly if they got to the target at the same time as you did. And this was feasible.
What about noise?
I don’t recall much in the way of noise. Those aircraft were very noisy things to be in. There were no silencers on them, there was no deadening of the noise. All the engine noise came straight in because all you had was just the skin of the aircraft. So you couldn’t really hear the noise of battle, you couldn’t hear the bombs
as I recall, couldn’t hear the bombs exploding, I couldn’t recall hearing that at all. Pretty noisy environment really.
Sounds like anarchy.
Could be - you could say that. It was something you got used to. You became accustomed to the conditions inside the aircraft.
Did your anxiety levels rise when you go to…
No, I don’t recall that they did. It was a very brave bomb
aimer that would say to the skipper that he wasn’t lined up properly and he’d overshot, before he got rid of his bombs to say go around again, because you know, you wouldn’t be popular with the crew if you did that. It was bad enough coming up once to be the centre of attention without coming up a second time.
Can you describe the communication you had with the pilot on your approach to the target?
You were simply in communication with your internal
telephone sort of thing it was. And you simply gave him instructions to keep him on track for those markers - to either go left or to go right. Or when he was on course to say, “Steady.” And when you released the bombs you pressed the bomb button to let the bombs go and the bomb was gone. And that was his
position to go off course and turn to go home.
How accurate was the bomb aiming sight?
The Americans had a better one than we did. With the bomb aimer you had to set it up for the height you were at, and so that varied. That would effect the accuracy of the bomb sight and dropping the bombs.
I don’t know how much this improved towards the end of the war but I think we were still using very much the same bomb sight at my stage of the war as they were at the beginning. The Americans came up with what they called the Northern Bomb Sight. But I think that was restricted to their squadrons for their daylight bombing so they were bombing what they could actually see, they weren’t bombing flares and markers.
Can you describe the bomb sight?
I can’t - too long ago.
Was it a very complicated apparatus to use?
No, not that I recall.
What kind of altitude did you usually approach targets on?
Round about 20,000 feet. Twenty-four.
Why was that the optimum height?
That got you away from the light flak. You were still in position for the heavier stuff. And the higher you were the longer it took the fighters
to get to height. So you were restricted to just being exposed to one attack, one fighter aircraft.
You mentioned earlier that you qualified as a navigator and you decided to become a bomb aimer. You mentioned that it put you more in the action?
When you got to the target you were required to drop the bombs.
The navigator was still there working out courses and things to go home, so in that respect, yes, you were more involved. Also as a bomb aimer, in Halifax we had a gun up forward and that was the responsibility of the bomb aimer. And in our aircraft, I don’t know about any other aircraft, ours was never fired in anger, we fired out to sea to practise sometimes but we never fired in anger at another aircraft.
I don’t think it was particularly suitable. I mean, an aircraft going forward with a fixed gun, you’d have to wait until somebody got in your sight before you could use it. So I think it was just a bit of a, maybe a confidence builder or something like that. But I can’t remember using it. Well, I know I never used it. Also, in our aircraft I was supposed to be the second pilot. I’d had
some pilot training on Tiger Moths and some training on the squadron in the flight simulator - I forget what they called them in those days. But I always said I was the best pilot they had for flying underground you see, so I don’t think I would have been much use. But if the skipper had been injured, if he couldn’t fly the aircraft then I would have been expected to take over. So in that respect
you were really part of the team. A responsible part of the team.
What sort of presence of mind would you have when you pushed the buttons to release the bombs?
Certainly no regrets. We were doing something that - to the German populace - that had been done to those in Britain, and they had called it all on themselves sort of thing.
They by not having the resistance to defy their master, not that they really had much of a choice, but my thoughts were more along that line than any regret at having to do it. We were young and it was war. It was a bit unreal I suppose.
What about the label, LMF [Lack of Moral Fibre]? Did that ever arise in the squadron?
Yes, and it was one of those things
that was very much resented, because some of the men that were branded LMF had really done terrific things before that happened. One man I read of, he got his last flight, he just couldn’t do it. That was it. It was the limit of his endurance and he couldn’t fly and he was given LMF, which meant it restricted his rank, he was kept in the service but he was given menial tasks to perform. Now much of that
has been recognised since the war and this branding of LMF has been taken off a man’s record because of the efforts that have been made on their behalf. I think this is more to the point. I would never have judged a man who just got to the stage where he couldn’t fly any more. It might have happened to me if I kept on flying, so who am I to judge?
Would you like to walk me through the events of the day you flew your last operation?
I knew my aircraft wasn’t flying and I had this thought that one of these days I’d better start catching up to my crew to be with them when they finish. I want to finish with them. And I gave the obvious reason, that (UNCLEAR) experience man flying with a sprog crew. Because there are more men shot down in their first six or eight operations than there are thereafter.
Inexperience. Lots of reasons, but mainly inexperience - inability to operate properly as a crew. These are just a few of them. So I decided that this was an opportunity to start catching up and I knew that the bomb owner was away on a bombing leader’s course and so I volunteered to go with this crew. I didn’t know the crew.
You really only knew your own crew, but they were mainly Australians. They had all of the crews, all of the crews in Australian squadrons had English flight engineers. Because flight engineers was one of the two extra men that you got when you became a four-engine crew. A two-engine crew was only five. Four-engine crew was seven. The extra crew being a mid-upper gunner and a flight engineer.
So we had an English flight engineer and he was quite a lad. Makes me laugh every time I think of him, but he was quite amusing. I remember George Umah was his name. And we had also an Englishman, this crew had an English rear gunner and an English navigator, so it was quite a mixed crew really. I don’t know how that happened, but
it was all crewed up much the same. But they must have been present at the OTU when they crewed up and so they were chosen. So that’s how we were. And the mid-gunners, the rear gunner was the one that had been with the English transport driver. So it just seemed like a normal op to me. It was to Stuttgart - it was a fairly distant target in the south of Germany.
Now one of the, this is an interesting part of it, one of the girls that was serving with Maisy in flying control as an RT operator was another Scots girl and she didn’t know until Maisy told her that I was flying with this crew. And Maisy distinctly remembers that when she told her that, she went almost white. She was regarded as being somewhat clairvoyant.
And she had thoughts about this crew, that they were not going to come back this night. She didn’t dare say it to Maisy because we were going that night. Maisy detected there was something wrong when this girl went suddenly quiet when she said what troops he was flying with. Anyway, I took off with them and one of the instructions I said earlier was to keep on the concentration because that is part of your protection. The more aircraft there are, the more concentration the less chance is of you being picked off.
You get right out in front, then you are making yourself a sitting duck. So we flew off, we took off and the idea was to, we were up on the east coast…
Just before your take off, what sort of briefing had you received before?
Same as normal.
Anything in particular of interest?
No, just that it was Stuttgart, and they warned us of where all the danger points were as far as flak. Cities mainly you had to be warned about cities because that was where the
flak concentration was. They didn’t put flak guns in the country. They just put them in cities to protect the city. And as far as they knew, where the fighters would be coming from. Just a normal standard sort of a briefing, so we took off and then we had to fly from, where we were on the west coast, on the east coast rather, down south to Beachy Head, no, point off the south coast of England where we were to concentrate and set off on a massive aircraft to the continent.
We got down there and we arrived a little early and so the skipper asked the navigator for a course so that he could sort of circle until the rest of the aircraft arrived and we all took off at the same time for the continent. The navigator gave me the course but he hadn’t thought about it very deeply because we ended up flying across the aircraft coming in. When one whizzed over our heads
it almost took our head off with it. The skipper realised and told the navigator what he felt about him and so we changed our course. That was the first thing, and I began to think then, “I hope I’ve done the right thing here.” I was having doubts. So we started off and we got to the target without incident and we bombed and we turned home and the skipper said, “Right, I’m going to be first home.” That was his mistake because he exposed himself,
because he went right out in front, and why I know we were in front is because when we were shot at, when we were on fire, we got out of the aircraft and it was only when we were descending that I heard the noise of other aircraft. So I knew we were right out in front and the fighters had just been waiting. They were sitting on our course waiting for us. And so that’s how we got shot down and we were shot down by a twin engine (UNCLEAR). One hundred and ten, yes it would be a 110. It sat underneath us and the Germans had perfected a method of
having an upward firing gun and they had these aircraft manned by a pilot with a gun sitting behind him firing straight upwards as if it was a canon and they just waited then until they were waiting to fire and they couldn’t be seen by our gunner because our gunners had no vision underneath. And so that was how they got us. Now the Canadians who were in the same group, in what we called ‘four group’, ‘bomber command four group’, they had twigged to this and some of
their aircraft instead of having H2S had a booster, same as the H2S, booster under the aircraft and in it they had a downward firing gun and somebody manning this gun that could look down directly underneath. We didn’t have this. They didn’t tell anybody about this, this little devise that they had. If we had had that and we’d been equipped with it, we wouldn’t have had H2S but we would have had this gun underneath us. Anyway we didn’t have that so we got shot down. And the fire
came from underneath. We were carrying, because the Halifax is somewhat limited in its range compared to the Lancaster, the Lancaster had a longer range until they got the threes and that could fly higher and faster. But we could fly high and as fast as the Lancaster, maybe faster than the Lancaster. But we didn’t have the range. So we had to carry in the bombing bay, as well as bombs we had to carry an overload tank. And it had been, it’s the first thing that they use,
but you never get rid of the fumes and you never get rid of the little bit of juice in there. The bombs hit this overload tank and it just went up in flames straight away. And so our aircraft was really alight and the skipper had to give the instructions to abandon aircraft. I had to go from where I was sitting with the navigator, once we had left the target area I had gone back to sit with the navigator to assist with
the navigation and I had to go from there up to the front to get my parachute which was a clip, chest-type parachute. Everybody wore this except the pilot and he wore it under his seat or on his seat. And I remember as soon as we got the order to abandon aircraft I was shoved off the seat and the navigator was gone before I got my parachute. He opened the hatch, we had a hatch
right in front of us where we had to, where we had departed from and he had gone before I got my chute on. So I got back and I was the next one out and then everybody got out and the skipper stayed in just a bit too long to make sure all his crew were gone. He did the right thing and he got burnt, so he was in hospital for a few months. We were all picked up, we all landed safely. The mid-upper gunner, I don’t know whether he got in the hands of
the underground but he got back into Switzerland, so he was back in England within a few weeks. The rest of us were all taken prisoner. I was adrift for four days, I picked up the rear gunner shortly after getting out of the aircraft and we started to drift for four days. He injured himself getting out of the aircraft because to get out he’d swung his turret
and then released his parachute and had the parachute pull him out. He was lucky, he didn’t tear it to shreds, but he pulled himself out like that and in doing so he hurt his back. But we walked for four days and he was suffering quite badly from the injuries he had sustained. It wasn’t a visible injury but you know what it’s like with a back, and so we used to hide up by day and walk by night and the idea was to get over the mountains, over to France and then down into Switzerland.
I think that was our intention, and on this day we decided he was in such a bad way we would walk in daylight. So we walked in the lights of the forest and the road was only a couple of hundred meters away, or yards away it was in those day, and a young lad from the Hitler youth came past. He didn’t acknowledge that he’d seen us but he obviously had because when we got to the next village and tried to walk through that in daylight, deserted, absolutely deserted. Passing the first little dwelling the door opened and somebody came out with a gun and said,
“For you the war is over.” So I didn’t argue, I just put my hands up, that was it. You know distress is better than thou, there is not future in arguing with a gun. And so that was how it started.
Can you just tell me a little bit more about the experience you had parachuting?
Well, as I say I got out of the aircraft. I don’t remember anything until I came to coming down under my parachute going down and I had the rip cord in my hand by I don’t remember pulling it, I must have just done it automatically.
I don’t remember whether I counted the required 10, I did it before that I was lucky the parachute didn’t strike the aircraft . Anyway, there I was going down and as I say, I heard the retuning aircraft passing overhead and still going down, and of course we were still fairly high when we were shot down. Took a while and then all of sudden I was passing something and then the parachute caught in the top of a fir tree.
And there I was hanging there in my parachute and I was able to get into the tree and find a branch and sit on it and release myself from the parachute and it was pitch black. We didn’t fly in moonlight because it was too easy to see you, an aircraft flying in bright moonlight, so we always flew on moonless nights and I knew I had to get down that tree and as I say I got out of my parachute harness and I got down the tree, a fir tree has plenty of branches.
And then I went through a stage where there were no more branches and I still couldn’t see the ground. So what to do, I had to get away from there if I was to stay free because they would start, knowing an aircraft had been shot down in the area, they would start searching. And our instructions were that whenever we got to that stage to hide our parachute. That was impossible for me because mine was in the top of the tree. So I thought, well first of all, you have to get out of this tree, Herb. So I got my arms around the tree and I started to go down gradually.
And the further I went down the further my hands came apart until I got this stage I could hang on no longer and I let myself drop and exactly two inches, so I got down and kissed the earth and said, “Wonderful I’m here and, “What do I do next?” I’ve got to get moving so I started moving and I came to a paddock or what they would call a field and I saw this big patch of white in the middle of it and so I thought, “I wonder what that is?” And it was the rear gunner
and he’d knocked himself out somewhat in getting out of his turret. So I woke him and I didn’t know him and he didn’t know me and I sort of recognised him and I talked to him and told him who I was and he accepted me in the end and I said, “Let’s get moving.” So we wrapped up his parachute and hid it as best we could and got moving. Well as I say we stayed, we kept under cover for a day and walked by night
trying to get to where I thought we should go. We weren’t in the snow line at that stage but the higher we climbed we eventually got into the snowline and we finished walking in about 18 inches of snow. And that was when he started to really suffer.
What happened to the rest of your crew members?
They were in the vicinity and I caught up with them all mainly at later camps. Mainly at what’s called the Stalag Luft - the interrogation centre.
So you were reunited with them as POWs?
The skipper was a pilot officer and he went into an officer camp. My commission hadn’t been promulgated that that stage, I was still flying as a flight sergeant. It was actually promulgated but hadn’t been notified to the squadron so I was still flying as sergeant. I became flight officer while I was in prison camp. By the time I got out I was a flight officer. For mostly
doing nothing sort of thing.
How long were you walking until you were captured?
And you went up into the snow line?
Yes, we went up into the snow line with the idea of getting over those mountains. We had a little map, I knew approximately where we were. Because I’d been flying with the navigator and I knew approximately where we were.
What were you wearing?
We were shot down in flying suits, but we got rid of that and we had our battle dress on. Battledress was sort of a uniform but it wasn’t cumbersome like a uniform. It was a waisted thing with a jacket and you had your flying insignia on it and your rank and that was your battle dress.
So you must have looked quite conspicuous in an enemy
Yes, well, we took off our insignia and took off our thing to try and appear as normal as possible. But there was no doubt what we were.
How did you expect to make it through the village where you said you were captured in that uniform?
Well, it looked deserted and it wasn’t a very sensible thing to do. Maybe in retrospect it was because they put us in the
hands of the local police and the police held us for several days and that was where the two of us got our first introduction to German bread. And really the first day I couldn’t even, I was hungry after four days of only emergency rations but I couldn’t even look at it. It was black bread. But the next day when they gave it to me I ate it as if it was cake. I was just that much more desperate. And got used to it thereafter.
And then we were picked up by the Luftwaffe and taken to, the Luftwaffe being the German air force.
Can you describe the civilian prison to me?
It was just an ordinary cell and we were just kept in there. Given regular meals and treated quite kindly. Actually it was the German population rather than the officials, the public officials, the SS [Schutzstaffel – German guards] were a nasty lot to get entangled with but I was fortunate that I never did.
And the Gestapo could be nasty too, but I never got involved with them. But the police were quite, I wouldn’t say friendly, but they weren’t harsh, they weren’t cruel. And of course when we got handed to the Luftwaffe they took us to the interrogation centre, the Dulag Luft it was called.
What happened when you were taken into custody by the Luftwaffe?
As I recall it was just a matter of getting us to the Dulag Luft,
the interrogation centre.
How did they do that?
I can’t remember the type of transport, it might have been a truck, might have been a train. It was just outside Frankfurt and this is where all aircrew were interrogated to see if they could get any information from them about their squadron and the bomb load. They wanted to know what bomb load I was carrying, but we were told to give only number rank and name.
Just before you describe the interrogation, were you under guard on your way there?
Oh yes, it would have been armed guard, definitely.
How was the interrogation run?
Well a very pleasant German, English-speaking German came in and started and told us that you know, that indicated that they wanted us to fill in a form and gave us a form that had all sorts of things on it about our squadron and mainly about the squadron and this sort of thing, but we had been warned
to expect this so all we put was our number rank and name. So the tone of the interview changed a bit then and the threat came to me was that they would hand us over to the people of the town we bombed, for them to do what they liked. But we’d been told that that was bluff, and good thing it turned out to be because then they kept us in these cells and one to a cell and they alternately warmed them
and chilled them so that you know, you didn’t know what was happening and any time of the day or night they would appear and give you another interrogation, but this went on for a few days and then they released you into the main camp where you met up with your mates if there were any there. And I met up with one or two there and you could speak freely with them as long as you weren’t in earshot of others because there were other people listening for anything that might be dropped. It was amazing how much information that they had on your squadron.
They could tell you your squadron leaders, they could tell you your station commander’s name, they could tell you the squadron commander’s name, they could tell you what aircraft you were flying. But they were interested in what bomb loads you had and any other little snippet you might have about the squadron that they could then use as part of their information to get more information out of future captives. So it was all a matter of bluff and bluster - typical Germans.
I wonder what use that information would be to them?
Well, we didn’t ever know but we were always warned that they could put little pieces together and get some idea of some of the equipment we were carrying. So we just had to not say anything because you couldn’t be the judge of what you said was or was not of use to the German.
Did you feel that your safety was threatened?
We just had to believe what we had been told and go along with it. I became, I don’t know why but I got the, I became known as the ‘stubborn Australian’, so I must have done the right thing which was rather gratifying.
What did they say to you?
I heard that said. You see a lot of the Germans speak English. On the continent English is really the second language so it wasn’t unusual to be spoken to in English.
Were they armed during the interrogation?
No. They knew they had you locked up so they didn’t have to have you armed.
How long did the interrogation last for?
As I recall, a couple of days and then we spent another week or so in the compound until we were shipped off to our regular camp.
A couple of days in interrogation did you say?
You didn’t know much about time. I don’t recall whether my watch was taken from me,
it probably was - I know it was later.
When you say you were known as the stubborn Australian did you enjoy the game of resisting their questions?
I must have because I wasn’t brave. I must have.
Was it a struggle of wits?
I think so as much as anything. They were trying to undermine you and try to, you know, fool you with the things they were telling you, making you think they knew more than they actually knew in order to get more out of you.
But I think it was much the same for everybody that went there, but obviously they got more from some than they did from others.
Interviewee: Herbert Dawson Archive ID 2015 Tape 05
On board the Wellington, did it have any sort of radar?
Yes I spoke about the navigational systems, the GHS [Globally Harmonized System], we had that on the Wellington, we had that and then (UNCLEAR).
So was that pre-radar days but still the early stages of radar?
Was it useful?
Oh yes. The boffins were called then, the scientists, they kept inventing things and then the opposition kept countering them. We had to keep coming up with new devices all the time and this was through out the war.
Was there any other technology that the so-called boffins inserted into the planes that you can remember?
Well there was another one a signal that went out and it identified friend or foe. That was quite a useful one, to know that there was something friendly behind you.
I can’t think of anything in my field. Mainly for navigation and making the skipper aware of what the situation was around him. We were slightly familiar with them but not to the extent that the captain of the aircraft was.
Did you notice any differences between the Australian crew and British crew?
They mingled very well. Most crews had, there were no flight engineers trained in Australia so all the flight engineers were Englishmen. And on the whole as far as I know there was no contention and there was certainly - friction is the word I am looking for rather than contention. They just blended into the crew. They recognised that they were a minority in the crew and
I don’t know whether that had an effect but it worked well. Very well indeed.
Was there a difference in sense of humour?
Never noticed it. We had a Scot on our crew and I’m sorry to say he was a bit hard to get on with.
When you originally parachuted down, did you think that you were in Switzerland?
No, I knew where I was in Germany. Very close to the border of France we were though.
What was your plan while you were parachuting down?
I didn’t really have one. I remember feeling, “They’re going home and I’m stuck here, what will Maisy be thinking?” It was mainly along those lines. Funny how after 60-odd years you can still remember
things like that but that’s how it was.
Because that’s a pretty extreme situation to be put in when you don’t know exactly what you are going to be landing on and where you are going to be landing really. And whether or not you are going to be safe?
Yes, what the future is. That’s one of the things about being a prisoner of war, you don’t know. You are in the hands of somebody and you’re not responsible for your own actions and you can’t determined anything that has to be done, it’s all determined for you. Not good.
When you were going through the interrogation, did you treat it as something that was a bit of fun rather than
No, it wasn’t a bit of fun. It was a little bit threatening. Because although we’d been assured that this would happen to a large degree, you were still at the mercy of your captors and really the things that were done and said to you were really at the whim of the interrogator.
How many interrogators were there?
I remember there was more than one but I can’t remember how many.
Did they keep you awake
They had a habit of waking us at any time of the night or day for a further stage in the interview and then they’d put us in our cells which were heated and cooled alternatively. And then they would just wait and take us to a further interview. So it seemed to go on for quite a while.
Who were you sharing a cell with?
At that stage, nobody. We had single cells. When I first went into the, I think right from the time we got to the
interrogation centre it was single cells. The only time I shared a cell was in the police station with the rear gunner. There was something that happened when we arrived at the interrogation centre, I was with a navigator, I don’t know how I picked him up but somehow I came to him and he was the one that pushed me off the seat, but we were friends. But
we, that’s right, the air force came over, the RAF came over on a bomb raid and they bombed a town or city quite close to us and we felt the effects and the German’s immediately locked us in the room we were in with three American airmen and they went off to the shelters and they just left us in there. That was a frightening business, being bombed by your own side. Another occasion of friendly fire, we had a bit of a…
What did you think of the Americans?
They were a good bunch, they were terrific. They had a moment where they just accepted what was happening to them. We were never incarcerated with them in permanent camps, they were always in a lager or compound, lager is the German word for it, but one of the lagers I was in was next to an American lager. We never really spoke to them, you couldn’t, there was too much
of a distance between them. You see, we had a warning wire before a dividing wire, and both camps had those so you were a fair distance from them. The one thing I do remember is that one morning we’d heard shots during the night and we got up the next morning and a couple of American bodies draped over the wire between the two compounds. That was the warning, but it happened.
With the place you were interrogated, was it part of a larger compound?
I don’t remember the composition of the compound. It seemed to be just a big space with one section with cells in it and I can’t remember what we slept in after we got out of those cells. There must have been a barracks there or something because they gave us the usual palliator, hessian filled with straw and that was the usual, probably pretty much like a prison camp itself.
Did they give you anything to eat?
They fed us at that stage.
What sort of things were they feeding you?
Well the thing I remember mainly was sauerkraut and it was. That’s a good onomatopoeic word for it - it’s sour and it’s awful, it’s a sour vegetable. It’s dried, and one of the things we used to get is a dehydrated reconstituted sauerkraut. That’s some of the stuff we got. Dried and
re-hydrated, re-wet or re-watered, if you like, to make it palatable. Never succeeded, never was palatable.
Fresh sauerkraut is bad enough. Re-constituted sauerkraut. That a torture amongst itself really, isn’t it? So what happened after you got out of this confinement camp? Did you move to a different
sort of camp.
A permanent camp and it was the furthermost camp in Germany. It was up in East Prussia on the banks of the, well quite near the coast of the Baltic Sea, around the corner here, not along the flat part, not in the Pomeranian section but just across the border of Estonia or Latvia. Are you with me?
I’m just thinking what sort of season is it? Is it winter?
That was April, so it was summer.
Because I’m thinking that area has got to get cold in winter.
You get violent thunderstorms in summer and very cold conditions in winter. It was so far north that they didn’t think there was any necessity to switch out lights for air raids, black outs, this sort of thing, at that stage.
How did you get to the camp?
By train, that was the most comfortable trip I had in Germany. it was by train in a passenger train and there were seven Americans with us in the carriage, they were going to the same camp. And I can’t remember if I was the only Australian or the only Englishman with these seven Americans. One thing I vividly remember about that was there was a song very popular at the time and one of the Americans sang it nearly all the way.
I’d rather paint a girl than a real live girl - you wouldn’t know that one, too far away for you.
I think so.
I won’t sing it for you.
Please feel free, I know you have a tune in there somewhere with all your choir practise from your earlier years.
No as I said, my voice shattered, it didn’t just break.
So you’re only in the train really with a handful of fellows. And they all came down out of the sky in a similar way
Was it the navigator that you had with the sore back?
No, that was the rear gunner. The navigator was okay. He was an officer and Tony Fitch was his name and I don’t know where he is now, he might be dead. Some of us are and some of us are not. But Tony was, something funny happened with Tony, I can’t work out what it was but he was shown on the records at the end of the war
as having been killed but he wasn’t. I spoke to him and I spoke to him after the war. On one of our visits to the UK - we went back several times to see my wife’s family - one of the visits there, I went on a little tour by myself while Maisy stayed with her sister who was quite sick at that time. And I went down to York which would be one of our places to visit when we were in Leconfield because it’s in Yorkshire
naturally, it’s the capital. And I went down to breakfast this morning and just two of us sharing one table with a gentleman and myself, and ‘me’ I hate that, myself, and we were talking about the war and he said, “I knew a chap and he was working with me in America, he was American, he was working with me in America and he was shot down.” And I said, “What was his name?” And I said, “He happened to be the navigator on the same
plane as I was.” So he was working in America at that time. He got a good job over there and then subsequent to that he called me and we spoke and he was going to tell me something about his consequences of his getting shot down and what happened, but he never got back to me so I don’t know what happened. It was very interesting. He was nice young chap.
So what were your first impressions of the camp that you were taken to?
Heydekrug. (UNCLEAR) six at Heydekrug. Well I hadn’t had any experiences of any other camp so I thought it was quite a reasonable camp but people that had come from other camps thought it was a little bit oppressive. It was of course like a lot of them it was constructed, it was a barbed wire enclosure in a sand plain and the reason for this being it’s very hard to tunnel in sand without it
collapsing and you need a lot of shoring up boards and if you haven’t got those everything collapses on you. So it wasn’t a very friendly camp, it was thought not to be a very friendly camp. I still remember we had frequent, we had quite a few visits from the Abwehr, this was the secret police or the Gestapo. I don’t know that the SS ever came in but they would go through the camp supposedly looking for something. Whether they found anything I know not.
That was quite a thing so we were always herded out into the parade ground then and that was it.
When you say unfriendly, was it because of these sorts of searches?
That was it mainly. And the guards, most of the guards were known as goons. That doesn’t sound very complimentary, but it wasn’t meant to be of course. They on the whole, they were pretty well tame little fellows. Old ex-army, maybe men from the last war
who could be spared to do that work. Others were on the Russian front or other fronts. There was only the Russian front at that stage. So they were fairly good. But you had to be careful what you said, nothing could be taken back to their overseers and make conditions tougher for the prisoners who in our camp, not in our compound, not in our compound, but there was a secret radio. So we used to get the BBC [British Broadcasting Corporation]. And then this would be typed out. They had decrepit old typewriters
that they had got through the Germans or through the Red Cross. And they used to come down with the news bulletin every day and read it to the prisoners. They’d have guards at the door so that if the Goons appeared they’d immediately shut up and have hiding paces for everything. So it was pretty well organised camp from that point of view. And the strange thing that, I think I told you, Peter Stubbs, he was shot down in a battle. Peter was one of those instrumental in getting
the radio and the parts for it.
Well how did they get the parts for the radio?
They, at this stage it was possible to bargain with some of the goons, with some of the guards. Cigarettes were very much in favour and we used to get cigarettes in our parcels and because I didn’t smoke but that was the currency in the camp. So I used to get them, Maisy would send me parcels. I didn’t get them all but I got enough of them to have some excess bargaining power. So not being a smoker and not being a drinker I used
to bargain for chocolate. Probably kept me healthy, but not too healthy because there wasn’t enough of it. So that was how they got things - they bargained with the Germans. Watches, they all had to sacrifice their watches and other items of value that they still had. We lost our watches for a while after I got to that camp, the Germans confiscated them all. But we had an outstanding camp leader, he’d been shot down, he was a Scot and he’d been shot down as a
sergeant pilot and he was in the permanent air force in the RAF, but he knew the Germans, he’d worked as a salesman I think amongst them or in their country and he knew them and he knew how to handle them and he did it with aplomb and sternness. He wasn’t cowed by them at all. And he achieved wonders, and one of the things he did for us was to get our watches back. But he did a lot more than that. His story is quite amazing.
What sort of things did he do for you?
At one stage there, towards the end of the war, we weren’t getting any Red Cross parcels because the Red Cross didn’t know where we were. So, Dixie Deans was his name, Dixie was a nickname that he had, James, James Dean, sergeant, and he could talk to the Germans. He spoke their own language, of course, fluently and he arranged with them because they were getting a little friendly towards the end of the war because they knew that the end was there.
And he arranged with them that he could, on a bicycle, pedal through the line and acquaint the Red Cross with where the prison of war formations were. Which he did, that was one thing, but as a I say he got our watches back and he would take any complaints to the Germans and put them in such a way that they just had to listen. So there were quite a number of things that he was able to accomplish. The strange thing about it was there were other men in the camp, senior to him
in rank, but everybody recognised, that was responsible, recognised that he had the ability to talk to the Germans and obtain the best for the prisoners. So every camp he went to he became the British man on the spot sort of thing. It was great.
What is the hierarchy with the Germans in a camp such as the one that you are in?
The camp commandant would be
he was an officer of course. I can’t remember what rank, I think it depends on the size of the camp. And I can’t remember the rank of our commandants. I didn’t have anything to do with them strangely enough.
And who were the minions under the commandants?
They’d have a feldwebel, that was equivalent of a sergeant. And he would be responsible for a group of them and probably corporals under them,
or the equivalent of corporal. It was only ranks. Although when I way it was only ranks, it was possibly in our camps, in the air force camps it was probably Luftwaffe or air force, because the air force prisoners were in air force camps which was a good thing. We weren’t allowed to work because anybody of the rank of sergeant or above under the Geneva Convention was not allowed to work. That was one
reason. But I think the main reason as far as the Germans were concerned was that as trained to the degree we were it took a long time to train an airman to be part of a crew and aircraft, so they weren’t going to have people like us escaping and getting back to Britain and back again bombing their country. So that was one of the reasons, but I’ve always put that down as the main reason. I could be just wrong, it’s just surmise on my part.
It’s a good theory.
I think it’s a good theory. It suits me.
How many people were in the camp?
I can only say thousands. There were three compounds all up. Two of them were British and one was American. And there were a lot of me. The casualties towards the end of the war were getting higher and higher. The bombing was becoming more intense. Even though they were taking a beating and acknowledged that,
they were still able to keep up their production of aircraft and to man their aircraft guns. I don’t think they ever did. I think that what happened was that they used a lot of slave labour in their factories. In their armament factories and aircraft factories. This way they were able to keep people on guns and aircraft. Towards, later on towards, as the war progressed, they
got short of skilful pilots because if you fly long enough you get shot down. You make a mistake and you’re gone. And this was what was happening. They were losing their pilots. But they kept up with their aircraft. They had a jet flying at one time. And that gave the Mosquitos a terrible fight because they had ruled the skies. When I talk about Mosquitos, I’m not talking about those things that land on you and bite, you know. They bite alright, but they were terrific aircraft.
So that is how it was.
What were your quarters like at Stalag 6?
Crowded. We had palliasses, we had double bunk beds. I never got to a place where it was triple bunks. But they were crowded. But I was only there for a few months. I got there in about the April
‘44. I was shot down on the 15th of March in Stuttgart and I got there in the April.
Where you given blankets and things like that?
Yes. But barely sufficient. We, I suppose the number of people in the, they were all locked up at night and shutters on the windows so probably the numbers in there helped to preserve the warmth of the place.
So what was it actually made out of?
It was a brick building and there were several rooms or barracks in each block. And probably they were meant to take about 20 men but I think we had about 60 or something. And of course it didn’t get any better as the war went on. And as I said earlier, we were regarded as sufficiently far away that we didn’t need to worry about aircraft attacks or anything like that.
But when the Russians started the big offensive and they were getting closer and closer, we realised that we were right in their path so we had to move out. So they moved us out and took us up to a Port called Memel and that’s where were put in a boat called the Insterburg. Insterburg was an old coal hulk and it was a filthy old thing. It had two holds, one forward and one aft. And they ploughed 600 of us into the aft hold with one light in the place, down a long steep ladder
and our camp leaders had to really fight to get us on deck occasionally. There were no latrines or facilities down there at all. A bucket was used and suspected that it was used for both drinking and urinal purposes, and it was a very unpleasant three days.
Before I ask you a couple more questions about that. Going back to the Stalag 6, was there any work being done outside of the camp,
from what you could see, or were officers under the Geneva Convention?
That’s right. We were all sergeants or above. Non commissioned officers. It was a non commission officers’ camp. The camp before that had been Sargen and that had been mixed. Those non-commissioned and commissioned officers. They decided to make that a commissioned officers camp. So was made air force camp for NCOs.
How often were you being fed with what?
It’s hard to describe it - it was very inadequate. They gave us what they considered to be basic rations. That is, if you didn’t do a guard duty, you’re just lying around doing nothing, and this is what they would give base troops. We had a lot of trouble recognising that that is all they got because very often it was just a thin sort of a soup, of course there was no coffee, no tea. We had this substitute for it which was burnt acorn.
And that was, what do we call it, that suits me too. Anyway that is what we had to drink. No milk of course. So without Red Cross parcels, we were in a bad way, but being in a permanent camp they knew exactly where we were and got the Red Cross parcels to us on a very regular basis. So we could count on getting about half a parcel a week. It was the Red Cross parcels that kept us alive.
And what sort of thins would you get in these Red Cross parcels?
They came from different sources. You could get a British Red Cross parcel or you could get an American Red Cross parcel, or a Canadian. And most of the parcels we got in that camp were American. They had in them, the thing I can always remember, they had a block of chocolate and it was dark black chocolate, it was really rich. It was exactly what you needed. The other thing I remember was the tin Klim. If you turned Klim the other way it was milk, well, it was powdered milk. And that was a very useful
thing. There were some cigarettes, I can’t remember how many. There was some sugar. A lot of the vital things that were, you know, needed and the things that helped make, gave a little variety to what we were getting from the Germans. The Germans gave us bread. But we became expert at cutting that into thin slices. Make it go a long way. make it spread out until we got the next lot. So what we usually do was to, what we usually did
is formed ourselves into combines so that you shared everything. I was only in a combine of two Australians and a West Australian, this combined. He has since died. And we were then sharing our rations and sharing them in a way, there was a lot trust involved in it too, you see. You had to trust the men you were combining with. It worked.
Why would you find the need to combine?
It seemed to make things go further. It didn’t of course, but it just helped. I suppose it was a feeling of comradeship as much as anything.
An interesting psychological response.
Oh yes. You had to watch your relations, because feelings were always just under the surface, you know. So it wasn’t a strange thing to see a couple of prisoners engaged in a fisticuff. It just happened.
What would the biffo [fight] be
Could be anything. Something stupid, something small, insignificant. You’ve just got to realise that the conditions under which they were held, they had no responsibility for their own actions. They were told what to do and where to go and how to do and everything else. And they had no idea what their future was. There was always the threat that the Germans might use us as
hostages. Or that they might just shoot us when the enemy got too close. We just didn’t know what our fate was. So this thought was always in your mind. Unless I suppose there were some of us who could not think about other things. I know at , one of the things I found that was very helpful
is that they had quite a useful library. The Red Cross had set this up and books kept coming in and I caught up on a lot of the readings I should have done when I was at school. Dickens and Trollope and that type of author. I was enjoying it immensely. I used to go and lie in the sun. The exercise there, they had some sporting equipment from the Red Cross too. This wasn’t a bad camp.
They had some sporting equipment there and I was taught to play softball by some Canadians we had in the camp and got to be a fairly good first base man, I believe, according to one of the Canadians. So I quite enjoyed that. But I enjoyed my reading and the favourite occupation was bashing the, walking around the compound where the track is. As long as you stayed inside the warning wire, which was only about that high, you were safe, but if you put a foot over that,
there were towers all around and they were manned with machine guns, or Germans handling machine guns, and you knew if you stepped over there you had a good chance of getting shot. So you stayed within the wire and just around and round the compound. That was the exercise you got. You couldn’t do much else. We weren’t fed well enough to do anything else.
You have to be concerned about how many calories you are burning up if you’re not…
We knew it wasn’t enough. We steadily lost weight.
Even under camp conditions, even with Red Cross parcels.
What about ablution facilities?
Well they were adequate, I suppose you should say. There were no sewered toilets of course, they were all pits and they had to be cleaned out occasionally, but the Germans sent a German in with another bucket, a great tank with a horse drawing it and
they were all pumped out. It wasn’t very adequate. I should have said less than adequate. It was very primitive.
Would it be unhygienic?
There were some camps that had dysentery. There were some places that had dysentery on the track but ours wasn’t one of them, we didn’t have any problem like that.
Did you have any problems with medical facilities?
The only occasion I had, I didn’t have to see a doctor. I don’t know what happened, maybe I did, but I got an attack of scabies and so I had to be treated for that. Some of the things we did have that were of benefit, we had, because our stuff was coming through the Red Cross and the Red Cross was supplying it, American underwear, you know, long johns, underpants down to here, and they were in khaki.
And that was a very big help.
Why was that?
Because it was so cold. It was good. With this attack of scabies, we were given some salve ointment to overcome it.
Is this a bug?
Yes, it is. Attacks the skin and the salve ointment gets rid of them, kills them or drives them away, I’m not sure which, but I didn’t realise that the salve ointment
had the effect of irritating my skin. So I kept on using it thinking I still had scabies. So I was compounding the problem. But I eventually found out that that was what it was. And of course the washing facilities were, you couldn’t wash your underwear every day as you would now. So conditions were not what they should be.
What would you wash in?
It was war time in the camp of course. But
we must have had a basin of some sort. There were ablution blocks where you could bathe or shower. I can’t remember how often you were allowed to do that. So things were not ideal.
What sort of things would you talk about in those early stages?
The war and how it was progressing. And some of the fellows. No this is in the next camp. But the war it was mainly. They followed it closely and they had maps up on the walls.
And they followed closely what was happening from the information they were getting. The Germans knew there was a radio on the camp but they never could find it. That was the main topic of conversation. So when you arrived as a new prisoner of war, the first thing the Kriegers as we called them, that’s an abbreviation of Kriegsgefangener. The Germans have a great habit of putting six words together to make a word. Krieg meaning war, gefangener meaning prisoner. So it was war prisoner.
And the place you lived was the Kriegsgefangenlager, one word again. Great habit. And as soon as you arrived as the Krieger, they would be onto you like a pack of flies. “How is the war going, what is happening here?” You hadn’t been taking any notice of that, you had been enjoying your spare time when you were not flying. Not taking much notice. Just doing your bit. Well always disappointed with these new Kriegs of war because they couldn’t tell them the things they wanted to know, that they were
most interested in. So it was quite amusing in that respect. And of course I was one of those at that stage but I settled down. I got as bad as the rest. Used to talk about Krieg madness, and I think after you had been there a while, everybody had it.
Krieg madness. You know you could figure what the Kriegs did, the prisoners did. You weren’t thinking like a person outside the camp. You all got infected with this
manner of thinking as a prisoner of war, which was different .
What is different about it?
It’s concerned with food - girls didn’t come into it, we didn’t have enough to eat to think about the girls, it was food and the things we were going to have when we got back. Which became a huge disappointment because your stomach couldn’t handle very much when you got back.
That seems to stick in my mind more than anything - food.
What would you do, sit around and imagine a meal?
I got a cartoon there which shows Kriege having dinner after he gets home and he looks like a wild beast. And the
person in charge was saying, “Will you excuse me, excuse Mr and so and so, he’s just got back from prison.” He’s snatching everybody’s food and that sort of thing. But on the whole the spirit in the prison camp was very good. People were prepared to share and do the right thing. One of the big occupations, this was in both camps really, was cards. Bridge, the game bridge became very popular.
You had your foursomes and they played on a regular basis. it became a very serious business this playing of bridge. And they became very expert some of them too.
Serious business? In what way? Just competitive?
And what sort of bets would be on?
No bets, just the glory of wining and being the top two for the day. Oh yes.
I’ve always thought about it as being a pretty good sort of a camp. But as I say, those that had commander from other camps, that had been prisoners for two or three years at that stage, they weren’t very impressed with. It depended where you came from.
Was the main enemy boredom?
Yes, very much so. Some people got to the stage where they couldn’t stand it. They had to escape. What happened to us was I was shot down towards the end of March,
we the 15th of March in ’44 and at that time there was a mass escape from Sargen, that was the officer’s camp. Seventy-six men escaped. They were planning 200 or 300 and they had this special tunnel built and it came up outside the main wire but just a hundred yards or so short of where they wanted to be, they wanted to be in the bush. The wanted it to come up in the middle of the thing. So they got out 76 and then they
were discovered and so they recaptured 75 or four of these.
Was it near you?
Sargen was south of us. It was down towards Berlin way. And they recaptured them and they shot 50. The Germans shot 50 and then they tried to explain it to the prisoners and the prisoners weren’t having any and somebody asked the obvious question, “What happened to those that tried to escape?’ And of course if you are trying to escape they shoot
you in the back, I don’t think it’s very good with the Geneva Convention. So it was never believed that there had not being anything other than a deliberate attempt to cowl prisoners and stop them from trying to escape. Churchill broadcast to us and said, “Stay pat [stay still]. Harass the Germans as much as you can but stay pat and don’t endanger yourself.” In other words, always keep the maximum number of people there as your guards so that they can’t be released for the war effort,
on the Russian front or the incoming, what came in June with the Normandy landing of course. So we were encouraged to stay pat but to worry the Germans as much as we could. I have another thing that comes to mind - you don’t mind me telling you this? One day we were on the parade ground and this (UNCLEAR) , I told you that the Germans can’t pronounce the ‘W’, it’s all ‘V’,
was telling us about something and we were not to do this and we would be warned by three times by ‘vhistling’, well you should have heard the shout that went up when he said that. They just couldn’t, and they would keep it up until they saw, the prisoners would keep it up until they saw they had the Germans just about at shooting point and then they would stop. It was harassment all the time. But we were encouraged to do it, and let’s face it, they enjoyed doing it. It was their effort.
How much of a morale booster was it?
It was good, very good. But the best one of all of course was the day when the Normandy landings were announced and lots of the prisoners, well most of us were expecting that the war would soon be over but it went on for another, that was June, it went on for almost another 12 months before the war ended and we had some rather harrowing ordeals in that next 12 months. We left that camp,
we got there in March and I think we went out at about July I think. Only about three months in that camp. But I seemed to achieve a lot when I was there.
What did you achieve?
I did all that reading and I didn’t do any study or anything. I wasn’t like Alan Kerr, he had five years there, that’s when he became a professor. He did well in that
respect. He applied himself well. So I did that reading and that helped me a lot. All good reading I think helps you. gives you a better understanding of life.
Did you make any good mates there at Stalag 6?
Just the fellows that I shared the room with. There were about 20 of them around. And you just felt you had
closer association with some of them. One that I, well two that I recall, one was a chappie called Garlands, of course he got the name of Judy Garland, naturally enough and another one was a chappie by the name of Lutin, these were both NSW [New South Wales] men and for some reason or other, I think Reg was his name, Reg Lutin, but he was known as Straub, I don’t now why. Straub Lutin. He has since died.
They both have. So I can only consider myself pretty fortunate that I’m still here and that I’m going to stay around. But yes, you make some very good friendships in prison. But I think that’s a reason why our association of ex-prisoners of war, Royal Air Force, is such a strong one, you had more lasting association with men in the prison camp than you did with men in the squadron. Even with your own crew, because let’s face it, two operations could last,
like my crew, only one night and they were gone. Or it could last as long as you were in the squadron, which could be a short or long period depending on the number of operations that were in your squadron at that time. So it was a relatively short period, and being a prisoner of war wasn’t, you were there for a relatively long time. And you seemed to stay, once you were allocated a hut or a bed within a hut, you pretty well stayed there. You either learned to tolerate it or
otherwise you fell out with your mates.
So with this camp that you ended up with this horrible cold bug…
Interviewee: Herbert Dawson Archive ID 2015 Tape 06
Go from where we left off then Herb.
After three days in the hold of this boat, dreadful conditions. Thirst was one of the main problems. You can do without food but you can’t do without water. And then they took us off there and immediately manacled us in twos and put us in cattle trucks and they had on them, “Forty Chevaux or 10 Homme.”
Forty horses or 10 men. But I think it was more like 30 or 40 men in each one, packed in, and whilst we were standing there, this was into a railway truck, while we were waiting there we were bombed by the Americans. It was day time and they were doing a raid on an adjacent city. Couple of stray bombs came within cooee of us. But I don’t think anybody was hurt. And then we took off and we got to this little town.
What happened when the bombs were landing?
We just stayed, they just kept us in the station.
And then eventually moved off and we got to…
You were still on board the train were you?
On the train. It wasn’t such a long journey, maybe about, I think it was about 24 hours and we got to the new camp. Things were not pleasant on the train. We saw some rather unpleasant things that are not good to talk about happening to Russian prisoners of war, women prisoners of war.
Perhaps we should record them though, for…
I don’t remember looking at it too much but I know that it did happen on this voyage. But anyway we got to our new Gostichio [?] which was this new little village with a siding.
Herb would you mind sharing with us, with the archive, what did happen, for the record?
Well all I know is that these women were standing by the
side of the tracks labouring and they were being pretty badly treated. That’s it in a nutshell. But we got to our new camp and all the guards were changed. We suddenly ended up with about twice as many guards as we had had and they were all young men. They were Kriegsmarine from the navy service. They all had guns and they all had bayonets on their guns and
we didn’t know what was happening. But we were kept on the train overnight and the next morning when we arose they were all waiting for us there and they were lined up on two sides of the road. We were lined up and put into our ranks and you know, get into line that sort of thing with rifle butts and things like this. And then so we had the guards up both sides of the road, these new guards, up one side of the road and the Luftwaffe men behind us with machine guns.
So we didn’t know what was happening but then the order was given for us to march off and we had to keep pace with a German out front who was a rather long striding German, and there was a little officer, highly centred he was too, he was not a very nice fellow. And he was riding up and down in his car, in his Mercedes, and he was haranguing the guards to keep them moving, keep the prisoners moving.
Then there was rifle shot and I think it came from him and that was the signal for the guards to move in. You see, we all had our packs and the only way we could carry things, no provision was made to put our packs anywhere and we had to carry everything to our new camp on our backs. So we had all these made up haversacks and things from clothing and bags and whatever we could get hold of and this was a signal for the guards to march in and start cutting the packs from our backs.
And of course in doing so they wounded some. I don’t recall getting wounded, somebody told me I did, but I don’t recall it if it happened. I know I lost my pack and we didn’t know how far we were going. And I think it was something like, I believe it was something like three kilometres. And then we came around a bend in the road and there was the new prison camp in front of us. So we stopped, those of us who could, those of us,
there were some that had been wounded badly enough to put them out of the run. And we stopped and the guards lined up each side of the entrance to the camp and we had to run another gauntlet to get into the camp. And we found some Americans in there that had done the same thing the day before but they said that their run hadn’t been as bad as ours had for some reason or other, they hadn’t been as treated as badly as our run. So that was running the gauntlet to get into our new camp. And then we found our new camp
this was Gross Tychow Luft 4. Luft 4 at Gross Tychow in at Pomerania. We found that that was inadequate, it wasn’t really finished, so we had to live in fairly different conditions for a few weeks until the camp was complete. And it was always a camp that wasn’t, to my mind it wasn’t in the same category as the camp we had left. There was no library.
One of things we had done, those of us who had use of the library at , we’d all taken a book as part of our luggage. But of course when we lost all our luggage, we lost the books so we had no nucleus of a library to get started. And the Red Cross were a little bit, they were neglectful of the Red Cross, because they were marvellous. But they didn’t ever manage to get our library to what it had been at. And rations were a little bit scarcer too.
They got worse instead of better. Having to feed more and more and having to contend with more air raids and everything that moved on German roads was getting shot at. It wasn’t getting easy for the Germans. It didn’t make it any easier for us as prisoners, because we were probably at the end of the line as far as supplies were concerned. So camp wasn’t a good camp at all and I was there from just some time
in April until the next February. So it was a good long stay there. We marched out of there in February, that was what it was. February the next year. And this was the start of a long trek.
What happened during that 12 months?
About eight or nine months.
Well, prison life just went on. Our exercise was confined to walking the perimeter. I didn’t ever see much in terms of sporting equipment there. I never partook of any. Anything I had learned about softball was swiftly forgotten. A lot of indoor games were played like card games and somebody in our room had what they
called a Ouija board. You know what a Ouija board was. We had one of those and they were always saying, “This is what is happening with the war.” And of course they were never right. But they kept it up. It was a bit of a farce I thought.
Were they reading from the Ouija board - positive readings?
Yes all the time. Maybe it was a morale booster, who knows. Somebody with more brains than we had.
What was the morale like?
not bad. You know if you get somebody with a sense of humour, that can help to keep up morale, and there were several in that room that were very good, and it was a mixture. We had several Australians. I think we had about four Australians in the room. Straub was one, I was the other. And we had some Englishmen. With very pronounced accents. They’d been shot down in various types of aircraft, was of them was in a very…
Beaufighter. And he had a fairly hairy experience. But most of them were from bomber command.
Was it common to share your experiences?
What sort of setting would you share your experiences in?
Mainly when it was time to go to bed at night and a voice would come out of the darkness and talk about the things they’d experience. That’s what I remember.
What story time?
Yeah. They used to lock us in every night.
What kind of accommodation did you have?
The usual barracks. A barrack block and it would have rooms going off it, and there would be 15 to 20 or maybe even more in those rooms. All double rooms. So they were fairly large rooms to have that number of, for 24 you would need 12 beds. They were packed fairly close. Yes I’ve got a list somewhere showing all of
those who were in any room. So I can still identify the people that were in the room I was in.
How were you treated by the guards and that?
The guards were alright. They were alright. Mainly the Advar that came in and (UNCLEAR).
The Advar, the secret police.
How often did they visit.
What happened during one of their visits?
They go through all the barracks looking for something, supposedly something that they had a tip off about.
But they just made in uncomfortable. And then the Russians started advancing again.
Before we move on, what was your morale like during that eight or nine months?
I don’t know, I don’t seem to remember being particularly upset about it. I thought, “While I’m here, I’m just going to put up with it. I’d love to get home, I’d love to get back to my sweetheart in the UK,”
but it was a strange feeling. It was sort of a mixture of feelings and it was hard to bear. Not knowing what was going to happen next. That was the uncertainty of it. It wasn’t an easy life, but by the same token, I wasn’t desperate. I just thought, “I’ve got to sit here and see what happens.”
Did the POWs provide each other with much support?
It was there, it was a latent sort of
a thing. It wasn’t a thing that was on the surface, do you know what I mean? It was felt rather than expressed, but it was always there. They were good, they helped each other and much as they could. I remember when I first got to prison camp and this stage too, we had nothing, we had to depend on the Red Cross for flying it. So it took a little while to get back to where we had been, when we left Heydekrug. Because the Germans never gave out luggage, never gave anything back to us. And so we were
right back to what we were wearing. But the camp did get some support from the Red Cross, quite a lot of support. But it was mainly essentials.
What kind of essentials?
Clothing. Underwear. Red Cross parcels were quite good in the camp. Really mainly, as I say, essentials.
How did you occupy yourself for that time if you didn’t have the comforts that you had had previously?
Well, I recall we used to take a couple of walks around the compound every day and that broke up the day. There wasn’t much to eat. As I say there was a lot of card playing, a lot of bridge playing went on. It became quite competitive. Not nastily so but quite competitive spirit with the card games.
Really they are the things that stand out in my mind. There must have been other things we did. Probably talked quite a lot. I remember having some talks with men who were married and just trying to find out what marriage was all about. And that was quite helpful to me. But you know, things, there probably many other things that have gone over the years.
What was the daily routine?
I couldn’t tell you now. Just don’t remember. We’d have a parade every day. A count. And the prisoners did their best to confuse the count as much as they possibly could. Like if you were standing at that end of the file, you were counted and you wanted to be counted twice, you dashed to between the lines and got to the end type of thing. You could never get a really correct count. Because at this stage there was no object in doing this. Earlier on the object had been to hide
prisoners disappearing in escape attempts. But it was just to irritate the Germans when they did it later on.
How else was that time structured?
Really I can’t remember.
Did you have to take charge of structuring your experience for yourself, or was it purely structured by the Germans?
We were left mainly to ourselves. We had to find our
own amusements and we weren’t allowed, I mean in the army camps they all were mainly in work groups. They might be living outside the camp. But we were never allowed that because of the Geneva Convention and the law of NCOs, or senior NCOs and above. So we were never allowed out of the camp environment. So mainly you were left to your own boredom unless you could construct something to
make something of it and we did a pretty good job of that. I can’t remember even, I don’t think we had a theatre in that camp. And anyway the one they had in Heydekrug, that was one of the things you asked me about previously but I couldn’t think what happened. One of the things they needed for their radio was a certain part, and it was in this loud speaker that the Germans had provided for them in their theatre and they needed it for their radio. But they
couldn’t take it out of the theatre because the Germans would immediately suspect that it was being used for other purposes. So they burnt down the theatre after taking out the part. And that’s how they got the part to get a radio on that first camp. Now when they came to the next camp they carried that radio with them. There or four men carried the part each and they hid it in such a way that they Germans never did find them. So there was a lot of
cunning employed in these camps to find the things that were done for their fellow prisoners.
Was escape considered there?
It was after Churchill had said, “Stay put. Harass the Germans as much as you can so they have to keep the maximum there looking after you, but don’t attempt to escape.” As I said earlier, the two Americans had tried to escape after that warning came and they just got shot. Shot them out of grounds.
What happened when you moved from?
When we moved from Heydekrug, we didn’t know where we were going. All we knew was that we were going west. South west actually.
How were you moving?
On foot. They had some Red Cross parcels, so they opened up the Red Cross parcel store so we all got a parcel. It might have been a parcel and a half each. And they opened up, they had some boots and shoes and things
in the store and I thought, “I have to get a pair of boots.” I only had a pair of very light shoes that Maisy had sent me. So I needed some shoes or boots or something and I found that they had shoes and they were decent solid shoes but they were just slightly too small for me. But I thought, “I’ve got to take them, they’ll probably be alright.” Well after the first day they were killing me, they were just too short. So I got a knife and cut the toes out. And this was January, or December,
January, so it was still fairly cold. In fact, it was the coldest winter they had in Germany for many years. So here I am walking around Germany with no toes in my shoes, and I was lucky I didn’t get frostbite. Some did. I didn’t. I don’t know why. I don’t know why these things happen to me. So we had to walk and that was just, in total we walked about 500 miles because we walked down to a place called
Fallingbostel which was another big camp, 357 and another number, about 18 or something like that.
How far were you marching each day?
Depended on conditions and depended on how hard they could force us, sometimes they lacked the desire to march very far and they just made it awkward for the Germans to do anything until they were threatened by guns. They didn’t move very fast
or very far. One of the things that happened on that march was my first encounter with friendly fire. That’s a euphemism for being shot at by your own forces. We marched, we didn’t often get to sleep in barns during that march. But this one night we were in shelter, we slept very often under the stars, but this night they came to huge barns and these were made available for us. And so we were put in there.
I think we had 600 in our barn. There wasn’t much room we were all just lying stacked one next to the other and that was for keeping warm and we had noticed an aircraft, a Spitfire I think, watching us during the day. Nobody took much notice but we got into these barns at night and we heard, from inside we heard the approach of some Mosquitos. You got, in the air force you got to recognise the sound of aircraft. You could tell one aircraft from another by the sound of it.
We were taught aircraft recognition, but this was a different thing altogether. You could always recognise a Mosquito, it had two engines on it and a Spitfire only had one, so there was a difference in sound. When you hear the military aircraft flying around here I can soon tell you whether they are military or not because they have a different sound altogether than commercial. But we heard this Mosquito flying and then it turned away and we thought, “Oh well, they’re just looking over the place,” and then
a little while later we heard one coming in at a low level and it sounded like two, and it was two. And didn’t think anything of it until they started firing their guns and the thatched roofs went up and some of the people in the barn were shot and they were strafing the barns because they thought German troops were housed in there. They killed several of the blokes and the Germans had locked up the barn from outside, had locked up the doors, but there were some large poles still in those barns
so the men were enterprising, and I was at the back and didn’t have anything to do with this, but some of the more enterprising fellows picked up these poles and battered the doors down. The Germans weren’t going to let them out, they were just going to leave them in there. The battered the doors down so we all escaped. But we didn’t try to escape into the countryside. We decided our best interest was to get back in a group again. So we came back the next day and all that was left the barn was charred wood.
How was the night spent?
I can’t recall that. Probably just wandering around in the…it was just too long ago. I remember what happened then but I have a vivid memory of being shot at in those barns. I tell the story, too, of one of the fellows in that barn was a Scots man who had been in the same hut, or barrack block as I was in Heydekrug, and he came to Australia
after the war and he joined a theatrical group. I think he learned his theatrics in prison camp, his skills, and he came and he was in a play that came to Perth called Seagulls Have This Momento. And it was a story about war time. A group in war time. And he played the Scot of course, in it. And he was walking along one day and I was quite close to him and one of his mates said,
“Look, there is a hole in your great coat.” And it was a bullet hole in his great coat and he’d had his great coat spread over his knee. So he was a very lucky fellow to come to Australia and do a bit of acting. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bloke go greyer than he did when they pointed that out to him. But I caught up with him on the Esplanade in Perth when he came over and tried to acquaint him with the fact that I had been with him, but he didn’t seem to be very interested. Maybe he was trying to forget it all, I don’t know. But that was just one of the things that happened on that march.
Part of that being shot up.
How would you spend an evening along that long march?
Well, if some farmers were a little bit careless and left their potato heaps unguarded, that was quite a thing, to raid the potato heaps to get something to eat because there were no arrangements made to feed us so it was live off the land as you go. So if
your guards could arrange to requisition something from the local farmer, we were going through farming country and they would requisition from the farmers when they could do so. But there were thousands of men marching at that stage so it wasn’t easy. So on the whole you’d eat potatoes and beets and things that were available, that we got to eat. Potato became the main ingredient we had most of the time.
Never enough. And of course there were no parcels getting to us because they Red Cross didn’t know where we were. That didn’t happen until later in the war.
Where did you sleep?
Well sometimes they would find a barn for us, or huts or some sort of shelter, but a lot of the time we slept on the outside. There are some thing you have vivid memories of, but I can remember sleeping in a barn one night, lovely in the straw it was until I found something crawling through my hair and I think it must have been a rat.
I put a blanket over my head and I never thought very kindly of barns after that.
How many men were you marching with?
Thousands. I don’t know how many thousands but there were thousands of them. They had come from camps further north, they had come from a place called Carlsberg was it. No, Konnensberg I think, and they’d come down into our camp and marched out with us again.
How were you being guarded during the march?
A few guards with guns. I don’t know how many. They did have orders if anybody attempted to escape to shoot. So it wasn’t worth risking it at that stage. To us the war seemed very close to ending, and why try to escape? Why don’t we stay together, and then when we’re picked up, we’ll all…This was the general thinking the general thought throughout the columns. That was the reason for it.
How did the
POWs behave on the march?
Pretty well really. They didn’t march as though they were a band of Germans. I always thought we were straggling and I thought there is a good reason for this. We don’t look from the air like an orderly mob. We’re raggedy and we could be prisoners of war or we could be civilians, so they wouldn’t shoot at us. And this was the thinking behind it I believe.
How did the POWs behave towards each other during the march? Was there any sort of candid conversation?
There was conversation but there was also, I remember one occasion where we went through a village and the people there, they were German but they were fairly kind toward us, they were feeling sorry for us rather than kindly towards us and they started handing food over the fences to us. Well, it was every man for himself.
“It doesn’t matter about my mate, as long as I get something.” That’s how desperate they were at that stage. But other than that they were pretty orderly. Deans was with us, the sergeant and Dixie. Dixie was with us and he had good control over prisoners and Germans, so he wasn’t afraid to exercise it. A remarkable man. A real hero of the war but he never really got recognised. He got a OB [Order of Britain] or something after the war.
But people with more rank got a lot more than that.
Were you ever concerned about your endurance during the march?
I seemed to have done pretty well. I wasn’t, I don’t think I ever thought about it. Probably too young and silly. At that stage you just accept things as they come. No, I don’t
think I let my imagination run to riot. That’s a big help if you don’t do that.
Were there any stragglers that couldn’t continue?
Yes, I had an experience. One young chap dropped out and I thought, “I wonder if I can help him,” so I stepped out of the column and tried to help him and the next thing I know a little German officer came up with his pistol, cocked it and put it at my head. And so I got the message that I was not supposed to be there,
so I moved on. But I don’t know what happened to that bloke. But I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he just got shot, because that’s what they threatened - if you’re stragglers, that will be the end. And we don’t know how many we lost that way, but we know a lot of men were lost in conditions like that.
How far did you march?
Well, it’s calculated roughly 500 miles. And it must have taken about six weeks to do it, I think.
What was your destination?
This place called Fallingbostel
which was next door to, what was it Dachau or Belsen, and of course rumour was, “Are we being marched there to be exterminated?” And this was another thing, rumour was rife in those sorts of conditions, so you always had to contend with that and take the brighter view - that the Germans wouldn’t do that, they are too civilised. Ha ha.
And what happened once you arrived?
Well, we got to Fallingbostel and it was a dreadful camp, absolutely dreadful. Starvation was rife there. They had a Russian compound there and I’ve never seen people worse treated than those Russians were. They had, I can still see the pile of coffins waiting for the days dead to be stacked in them. They were in a shocking state. I’ve got some photos
there showing the American prisoners as they were when we arrived at the camp. And I know some of our fellows were in a shocking state to because they’d been on a march for six weeks with inadequate rations and they were in a bad way. Anyway, we got into that camp and there were thousands there. They had been coming in from all areas. See the idea of the Germans was to get closer to the Russian lines and the British lines. And the Russians were advancing and we were coming the other way. You know it all started on the 6th of June.
And we were there for 10 days as I remember and then they marched us out of there, and instead of going back the way we came, we were going north towards Lubeck. And we, I don’t know how many days we marched but the Germans were very casual about the whole thing. One morning we woke up and we had no guards, they were all gone. We just
sat around for an hour or so or a couple of hours and then we heard the rumble of tanks, with the British tanks coming through. And they had some provisions on board which they provided us with.
What was your reaction to seeing the British tanks?
Tears. A couple of days before that we were also engaged in more of this friendly fire and we got to a place called Gresse and this is where Dixie Deans had somehow
got through to the Red Cross and arranged to - he knew that the columns were heading for this particular town and he arranged for them to deliver these parcels in trucks and they had quite a bit of equipment. They had to keep themselves well covered with red crosses and things and convince the pilots of the aircraft that they were Red Cross. But they had arrived with this and there were quite a number of parcels that they had there for us and
so the columns as they came through they stopped and got their parcels and our column got there and we got our parcels and I was some way towards the back of the column I think and I saw these three British Typhoons coming and I just thought they are friendly and everybody is waving like this. And then they lined up astern and came in. And the next thing we know, we’re being fired on by these
Typhoons who had mistaken us for Germans. As I say I could never understand it because we looked anything but troops. We looked like raggedy muffins. But they lined up and they killed quite a few that time. Some of these fellows had been prisoners for years. And there was a story told, I read it somewhere that some of the chaps who were casuals who weren’t killed, were going back to, on an airfield going back to Britain and
wing commander came along, a Canadian wing commander came along and he said, “Where are you chaps from?” And they said, “We’re so and so and we were shot up by our own aircraft .” And he said, “Where was that?” And they told him and he said, “Oh, I was leading that flight.” And he went away with tears in his eyes. Because it took someone to point out to him that many of the men that had been killed in that had been prisoners for four or five years and they were on their way home. So that was a sad tale.
I was under fire twice at least from our own guys. But it must happen. I’ve been trying to convince the commonwealth government, through the prime minister, I’ve written a letter and sent it recently, through the prime minister and through Danna Vale, the minister for Veteran’s Affairs, and also acquainted the leader of the opposition, Mark Latham and the commissioner for repatriation,
I think he is, and the leader of the RSL [Returned and Services League]. I sent them all the same material, photos and a long letter, about a seven-page letter telling them about the conditions that I have been talking to you about today. To convince them that if Vietnam veterans are worth consideration and others, so are we. It was a long time ago but we are still here some of us. You know, some recompense for what we went through, because it was buried. When we got back from the war it was buried under the sympathy for people that had been in Japanese hands.
Sure that treatment was bad, but that didn’t lessen ours. Anyway, that is another story.
That’s a very valid point.
I think you did mention previously that the British tanks had arrived. They had some rations on board so they were very generous, they just handed out a lot of the stuff they had on their tanks.
What sort of rations?
Probably hard tack, you know, the sort of things they give troops
on the move. And so we took advantage of those and then some of this little township in which we were. I can’t remember the name, but I don’t know that I ever did know it. But they had been careless, they’d left their vehicles out and hid themselves behind closed doors and they didn’t trust us poor innocent prisoners or war. But they left their cars out and they left petrol in them. We commandeered these and
drove from where we were, down to the Elbe. Which is the river we had crossed to get to Fallingbostel. We’d been taken out of the Elbe again and marched up to Blumberg and then we had, then we motored back to Lauenburg or something, Lauenburg Heath or something around there. But we were waiting to get across . The bridges had all been blown up but the army was building Baily bridges. Just temporary bridges
that they can take trucks and things across. And so we got down to their in our borrowed vehicle.
What vehicle had you borrowed?
I don’t know. The thing I do remember about it was that it was a big old thing and it had of course the mudguards on the side and I’m on (UNCLEAR) sitting on the front mudguard, hanging on for grim death. Might have been hanging onto the headlight. I don’t know what I was hanging onto then. But I hung on and we got to the Elbe and they said we can’t get you across tonight
because there are too many frogmen around, you know these blokes that carry Limpet bombs and this sort of thing. They’re trying to blow up the bridges and things and so we’ll get you out in the morning. They did and then they got us into a camp. A reception camp for prisoners or something, or just an army camp. We were treated like royalty from then on. They fed us up, as much as we could eat, which wasn’t very much at that stage.
What sort of condition was your digestive system in if you had been on such limited rations?
Not very good. One of the things we’d always dreamed about the prison camp and one of the things we’d talked about of course was how much we’d enjoy eating when we got back. We found our stomachs had shrunk so much we couldn’t eat half the stuff that was put in front of us. It was quite an experience to see all this food, to see how these army officers who are part of this camp came and ate at the same tables as we did,
or army men they might have been. They might not have been army officers. They came and ate at the same table as we did and they had no thought for anybody else. They just grabbed things. There was plenty of it but we couldn’t get used to that. It took us a while to adjust. It came. I was helped, I was helped when I got back to Britain and got back amongst my wife’s family. They were wonderful.
How were you liberated?
That was the liberation when the tanks came through.
There must have been more.
I can’t remember the airport we flew from but we were flown out in Dakotas, DC3s - Dakotas are the military version of the DC3. And these pilots came in and the pilot that flew me out was Australian and I got talking to him, and somehow I was the only air force prisoner of war in that aircraft, the others were army. How that happened, I’ll never know.
But it did. And so he flew us out and he flew us into England all the way in that part of Germany, in that west part of Germany, and he flew us out and took us back and I think we flew into Oxfordshire. I’ve always thought it was, anyway it was an airfield, it had to be. And we were welcomed there and made very welcome and deloused. Had to be
Can you describe that process?
Just slip off your clothes and I think in those days it was DDT [insecticide/dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane] they sprinkled us with everywhere and killed everyone.
What was your personal hygiene like?
I was just wondering about brushing your teeth and cutting your hair and shaving?
That’s another thing, cutting my hair. That was another thing. I didn’t have a haircut until I got to Brighton.
Had it grown?
Had it ever. I had a lot of hair in those days and it
was a real mess. And I went into a barber in Brighton and he took, as I came in the door he said, “Oh no.” But he cut it for me. That was the 6th of May when I got back. So two days before the end of the war. So we were liberated before the war finished and we got back as I say and about the 7th I think, the next day, I rang the aerodrome, Maisy was still there and she wanted to know what I had been doing. Why hadn’t I rung her the day before.
I didn’t have my bearings. Anyway I said, “I will see you tomorrow.” So I got a leave pass. It was easy because they had experts to give us practically what we wanted, you know. I got a leave pass and arrived in Hull the next morning and she was waiting for me with a couple. He was a sergeant of police in Hull and they were a delightful couple. They were a childless couple and they befriended Australian airmen particularly. But they also befriended
Maisy, and Maisy had got to visit them with one of the airmen who was working in stock, in flying control. He was an Australian. After a while they found that they had a surplus of pilots in Britain and so they started sending them around to various stations to help in flying controls, and he was one of them. He was a really nice chap. I met him after the war. He came on his way home to Queensland, he called here via Fremantle. Maisy was still in
Scotland and he called in and saw me. I had my own little business then in Leederville, taken over my mother’s shop, little corner shop. And he called into see me. He just wanted to make sure I was the right person for this lovely girl that he knew. Well, I must have passed, mustn’t have I. So that was…
Chivalry was alive and well.
Interviewee: Herbert Dawson Archive ID 2015 Tape 07
Did you actually get any mail other than Red Cross parcels?
I got the occasional letter. My wife’s still got the ones that I sent her and I haven’t got hers because I lost everything I ever had. But yes, we were able to send mail and get mail, but it was very infrequent and took an awful long time. I was a prisoner for about three months before I got anything at all. And then I suggested
that Maisy should send me cigarettes because I could use those as currency and I wasn’t a smoker. I tired smoking in prison camp but smoked a few cigarettes and I’m sitting up in a bunk one night and I thought, “This is a damn fool habit.” And I threw it out the window and never took to it again. That was it. It was good because you could trade, I mean there were some fellows there that were desperate for a smoke and you see smoking was a big thing in the air force.
Nearly everybody smoked, so when they got to prison camp, they were hooked, so they were desperate for cigarettes, and the parcels had some cigarettes in them but never enough to last between parcels. So any cigarettes in special parcels from people sending them to you were quite treasured, and of course, the lower the cigarettes before I got in the camp, the more valuable they became.
So that helped me a lot, not being a smoker and having some advantages.
What sort of currency trade, what could you get for one cigarette?
As I say, it depended on that state of the market. It was quite a lesson in economies. Things vary according to demand. I suppose it helps to know these things.
Certainly helps if you go into the retail trade.
Because you weren’t a smoker, did you stash the cigarettes for when the economy went really down?
I don’t remember. I got a few parcels. Not a great deal, but I do remember the ones I got were very, very useful to me. When you arrive in prison camp, you have nothing. Only what you’re standing up in, you haven’t got a toothbrush, and I found that the prisoners already there were
very generous in helping new prisoners of war. Making them fell at home as part of the community.
How would they do that?
If they had surplus toothbrushes or soap, occasionally something like that, they would make it available to you as a new prisoner. So that was a good thing. There were many examples of helping
one another. And that is why I think there is such a good feeling amongst ex prisoners of the war when they get together. You see we have a, we meet here every three months. We have a lunch and maybe a speaker. But it’s just a get-together and our wives are invited and they come along with us and we just have a natter about old times and what has happened to us since and all that sort of thing.
It just is a great help. It also helps to keep in mind and remember the thing that happened and hear other people’s experiences too. And there have been some books written on it that also help.
Some books that have come out of Western Australia?
Well there’s our book, Silk and Barbed Wire. Twenty-four, I think it’s 24 of us wrote our experiences. Now that’s
a contribution from Brits as well as Australian. Because the ex-POW association, Royal Air Force Ex-Prisoners of War Association, was formed by one man who was an air gunner in Lancaster who came out with a commitment to form a branch of the association here in Perth.
He came to Perth, not as an exporter, you know what I mean, a migrant. And he was a delightful man. Dan London. And so he (UNCLEAR) but we got to be about 60 strong. And of course we’re shrinking now. Whilst I was secretary I recruited quite a few from New South and other states but mainly from New South. And we had one member from Queensland
and he happened to be a squadron leader from the squadron I was on at the time I was there. And (UNCLEAR) permanent air force man in the Royal Australian Air Force. And he has since died. We had some from South Australia, but I think there is one left in South Australia, but I got to know the membership pretty well, being the secretary. I’ve got it all on the computer which is a great help. You don’t have to remember so much, see. So yes, we have
a good spirit and I always think it came from what happened in prison camp. The friendships, the associations we formed in prison camp are much stronger than any formed in the squadron. We still march on Anzac Day, we are down to four. But we’re still there. So many of them have got troubles of some sort. Leg troubles or,
that stops you marching to some degree. Some might just have troubles with getting up and going on a march. But we’ll keep going as long as we can.
Did you see any particular illnesses that are because of the POW times?
Do you mean personal or?
Just generally as a trend, say for instance, atomic war veterans, they’ve got radiation associated…
I may be an example. I have a heart problem. I came out of the air force and I didn’t know but I was discharged by a man with a higher a blood pressure than should have been evident in a man my age. Didn’t really manifest itself until I was in my 40s I think. Then I had my first heart attack.
And I went to hospital and then had what they call Beta Blockers which helped me no end for quite a few years, until about in 1981. I had to have my first lot of heart surgery, but it was all result of having high blood pressure when I came out of the air force. If I had been told that I may have been able to take precautions that would have prevented that happening. But who knows. But some of that
could be considered to be the conditions under which I existed.
Do you see a lot of POWs with heart complaints?
Well, there again, I don’t know. Unless they bared their chest to me I wouldn’t know see.
I was just wondering if there was any illness that matched up? I mean, when you have been under extreme malnutrition, you would think there would be something.
That was, those that were there for four or five years they would be slow, there is a good chance that they could have suffered some of those things. I don’t know how many of those that are still alive. I know that we have had some deaths recently among our group and some of them were long term prisoners. Conditions weren’t…in the early stages, before the camps got crowded, before it became difficult to move on German roads and shift stuff around, it was...
I think the Geneva Convention was more strictly observed. That was only my observation, but I think it was more strictly observed so they didn’t have so much to worry about. They could (UNCLEAR) more prisoners. And of course they were valuable to them. One of things I told you about being run up the road earlier, one of the things that the German said at that stage was that this was in exchange for the way their prisoners had been treated. In other words, somebody
had whispered to them that there prisoners were being mistreated. But I don’t think they ever were as far as I can understand. They were well treated on British and American land. And when you see what is coming out of America at the moment. In Iraq. You wonder.
Were you aware of all the requirements of the Geneva Convention at the time that you were a POW?
How did you find out about it?
There was a fair bit of conversation went on in the camp itself.
We were all broadly aware of what it was all about. The humane way that prisoners should be treated. And I suppose to a large degree Germany did observe. But there was always the one or two guards or one or two officers in charge of camps who would be prepared to disregard these to get the obedience or discipline that they wanted in the camp.
I don’t know whether I struck anyone in particular in that regard, but they just weren’t able to do the thing that they should do on that march. Couldn’t supply the numbers. You think you are marching a group of prisoners through and somebody comes up and wants to give you a piece of paper for a large slice of potatoes or whatever and you have questions as to whether you get paid for that piece of paper. A country that is on the verge of being beaten. So there
were a lot of problems attached to keeping us fed.
Why didn’t you try to escape at that point, on this march?
A lot of us thought about it, I think. But the Germans had orders that if we tried to escape, we would be shot. And there were a lot of troops, you would never know when you were going to run into troops. Armed troops, who would
naturally I think, I say this naturally, I think the tendency would be to shoot them rather than having them as useless skip wandering around the country. And rather than go to the problem of taking prisoners. It was pretty brutal near the end of the war. And we had been warned to stay put. Stay put in our camps. Because they had a better chance of getting us all out if we were all in one group, when we were liberated.
So the tendency was to do as you were told. You were trained to do that. That was part of your original air force training. Do as you were told or be in training. So there was that tendency or desire to, say, put and be liberated together and get home together. And I think it was sensible that it happened that way. Who knows how many more deaths there might have been. There were enough deaths of prisoners of
war getting shot while attempting to escape. Because it did happen.
How many death were there in the camps that you were part of?
Don’t know. It was mainly when they were outside the camps, I think, that the shooting took place. Because we, strictly, I think escaping did stop once Churchill broadcast that…
and that was the time when I became prisoner. So it was pretty well at an end then.
Were there any successful escapes from any of the camps that you were part of?
Prior to me getting there, yes. I have read of some. I didn’t know any of the people that were involved. But I think it was in the other lager [barracks]. A lager. There was an A and a K lager. And I was in K, and A had more long term
prisoners in it than our lager.
Was this a tunnel situation?
Mainly tunnels. There were one or two others that fooled the Germans, they got dressed up in German uniform. They got, one of the things you needed to learn if you were attempting to escape or contemplating an escape in Germany, you needed to know the language. You couldn’t move through Germany without speaking so you needed to know the language.
If you didn’t know the language there was very little hope for you. So I’ve got one friend and he was a Scot and he was in the Royal Air Force and he was in a camp, but he wasn’t in an air force camp strangely enough, he was in an army camp because he had managed to change places with an army man. He took his identity and so he got out of work camps and got onto a sugar beet
farm, I think, and he also, no, a sugar refinery where they were making sugar. He was working at camps on farms and things. Some of these army camps were formed into smaller camps where they camped out, outside the prison walls and worked on the farms. Germans were allowed to do that but they were not allowed to do it with people above the rank of sergeant and above.
We stayed inside and we didn’t get to work. We didn’t get a chance to. Think about any escape was difficult. As I said earlier, most of the camps were built inside sandy area. It was pretty, it meant that if you wanted to escape or you wanted to organise an escape committee, before you were allowed to think a bout escaping you had to put this plan to the escape committee and they had to approve it. If they thought it had a chance of being realised they would permit it to go ahead. Otherwise they’d say no.
There were some people that got so desperate to escape they virtually committed suicide. You hear about that, it happened.
Is that because they got slightly loopy because of the experience?
Yes, as I said earlier, we all have a certain amount of creepy madness.
With the mail,
did it all arrive in a big pile?
Can’t remember that - there used to be a fair bit when it did arrive, but I can’t remember how it arrived.
Would that effect morale in a really positive way?
How long would the high last?
I couldn’t tell you that I just don’t know. I suppose it depends on the individual really.
Would you swap stories?
It depends on how personal it was. But the things that did happen,
great jokes were made about it. The people that got ‘Dear John’ letters [letters informing of the end of a relationship]. “Dear John, I’ve met another airman. He’s a bright man, he’s flying, you got shot down before flying got dangerous.” That sort of thing. Crazy, but it happened. I didn’t get one of those. Well, you can see, I didn’t get one of those. I’m eternally grateful.
So they’d get letters from girls that were trying to find a braver one than the previous one.
No, who didn’t have the brains to know that flying at any time was dangerous and that they’d met up with another man who they preferred to the one in prison camp. Couldn’t wait for him. So they gave this as a, this was a bit of a joke in the prison that somebody had received this type of letter. ‘Dear John’ letters were not infrequent in prison camps. The girls got tired of waiting.
That would have been heart breaking.
And you would create a joke out of it?
You had to. It was that or go crazy yourself.
And that is the way you would deal with it?
Cope with it. Luckily, not luckily, fortunately for me it never happened.
This book that you have written, was that done by a whole lot of people?
It was done by the association of the Royal Air Force of Ex-Prisoner Association. It was the committee for that
organised it. Got us all to write our stories. The first books were printed up in Singapore. Because one of our members, he’s got two sons and the secretary, I told you about, he was responsible for the radio in our first camp in Heydekrug. He has two sons, both pilots. And
one was flying in and out of Singapore and he was able to get the, he’s an associate member of our organization and he was able to get them printed up there for quite a cheap price. This was actually one book. it was only up to the stage where people were being shot down, there experience in being shot down. And when we wrote the second one we added something to it and made it a second book. Book two. And that was the story of our exploits in prison camp and what had happened to them overseas.
And the third one if we put the two books together and sort of edited it and rewrote it a little bit and polished it up really. Tried not to add to it but tidied it up, we published one book, one soft covered book. It’s got 24 stories in it and it’s in the order that we were shot down, so the longest term prisoner starts the book and then it goes right through the book until it gets to the (UNCLEAR). Like me, I was 14 months. It’s
very interesting stories.
It’s quite an interesting idea.
Yes, we sold quite a few of them. The last one was published commercially by a little company here in Perth called Sage Pages. We sell quite a few of them. The association gets five dollars for every book that is sold. The best source of sales at the moment is the museum at Krieg. It’s (UNCLEAR).
Why did you decide to take on such a big project?
Just interest, I think. They all felt that they would like to have their stories recorded for prosperity. It just happened. A lot of them didn’t write any stories, but those that did certainly enjoyed doing it. And it’s certainly helped our association. And we’ve,
the association over the years has given quite a bit to charity and they’re particularly happy to give to the Red Cross because without the Red Cross parcels, we wouldn’t be here. And another association that has helped many of our members when they’ve been sick is the silverchain and occasionally we give generously to them, and occasionally we give to another worthwhile cause to consider, and that’s the flying doctor service. They’re all considered and passed by a general meeting
of the association. These are the things that happen at our quarterly meetings or general meetings In February. We have our election of office every February, and as I say, I was secretary for five years. I would have gone longer except - oh well. Alan Kerr is now the secretary who took on from me.
Sounds like a pretty big job, do you have to do the newsletter as well?
The newsletter once a quarter.
Take care of any correspondence that comes in of course. Any new members. Up until recently we were getting on a regular basis, but…yes, so that’s it for me.
When you got back to England, did you have any consideration that you might like to stay there for a while and have a look around?
I was keen to get back to Australia and resume normal life again. We had decided that that was where we would live. I was back on the 6th and we got married on the 16th.
Our 58th or 59th wedding anniversary is coming up in a few days time. Anyway we got married on the 16th, as I say, in the Church of England in Scotland. Because I was a, well I had been fairly active in my church having been an alter boy. But I had
become a little bit disenchanted with the church. Meanwhile Maisy had joined the Anglican church and she was quite active at the St Georges Cathedral in Perth.
Was your disenchantment directly connected to your experience of being a POW?
Can you extrapolate on that?
I guess I was having thoughts along the lines of, “How could this happen in the Christian world,” type of
thing. The simple fact that not everybody thought the right way and it wasn’t the fault of a god, it was the fault of men. But very jumbled thoughts at that stage. And I also became involved in Freemasonry and that didn’t effect the fact that, I mean Freemasonry
is a good organization. It’s supposed to make good men better. It doesn’t profess to make bad men good. But good men better. And I was very involved in that and I was enjoying it, but after I had, I’d been the master of the lodge, I just realised that there was very little in this for my wife and family. Once a
year we would have a ladies’ night and we’d have the ladies along to entertain them but the rest of the time we were just going out, several nights a week to a lodge meeting. And so I just became an inactive member.
How many meetings can you have in a week?
Well, you visit other lodges. And that goes on. I had the experience of being in a Scottish lodge and having several pipers arrive and drummers. And I’d go out, when I was a master I’d go out
with a couple of pipers and a drummer and I’d be, I’d come in as a master of my own lodge and I’d be marched in with a couple of pipers and a drummer, marching to the tune of pipers. It all looked very good until I opened my mouth and I definitely wasn’t a Scot. But it was fun. And I think I benefited from being a Freemason. I learnt to be more tolerant of others.
It’s all very helpful in that respect.
I’m sure being a POW makes you more tolerant of others.
How does Freemasonry actually…
The teachings are very good, they based on the bible and the teachings in the bible. Particular parts of the bible. They definitely have teachings in that direction.
Did that kind of help get you less mixed
up about the whole concept of religious beliefs?
My wife joined our present church first. And she worked really hard to get me more acquainted with it, more knowledgeable about it and I eventually joined too. And that has really straightened me out. I’ve been a member now for 36 years.
She has been for 50.
That’s quite a stretch.
It is - it’s more than half my years.
So what was it an Anglican church that you got married in England?
Probably called the church of England then. It was in Scotland.
And what was the ceremony like?
Just a normal ceremony. The one I became accustomed to, having been a choir boy and sung (UNCLEAR). I was used to it, so it wasn’t at all
staged to me.
Because you got the wedding together in pretty quick amount of time.
Yes, well, we had to have the bands in on the steps somewhere, it must have been in Paisley itself. And that was done and we had a special license to get married under those conditions.
Why did you have to have a special license?
Because otherwise it would have taken three weeks to have the bans read and we didn’t want to have to wait that long. We’d been apart for 14 months and
we thought it was time we got married and about getting back to Australia. But I think, maybe I can tell you, the doctor said, “With what he’s been through, you don’t need to worry about babies. There won’t be any babies for a while.” But he was wrong, there was a baby on the way straight away. And then she, Maisy went to see a doctor and he said, “As long as you can travel to Australia before you are three months pregnant, you can, but otherwise I won’t.”
So I rushed back to Australia and got her, a berth for her in the Stirling Castle it was, no she came on a boat anyway, to sail from Britain before she was three months pregnant. But then the dockers went on strike and by the time they came back from strike she was more than three months pregnant. So we had to wait until the baby was born before she could come. So it was…
So were you still in Australia?
I was in Australia, I couldn’t get a berth for my wife until
I got back to Australia. So I had to come back and that’s when I took over my mother’s shop. She was ready to retire and so I bought the business from her and we had a place to live and we had a business.
So did she have the baby in the UK?
Yes, in Scotland. That’s our eldest daughter, Leslie. An
interesting thing happened there too, the first time she went back to England, she went with her husband, with her husband she went back to Scotland and they got past Carlisle and she said, “Geoff, stop when we get to Scotland.” So Geoff being a good husband, he stopped when they got to Scotland and she got out and she kissed the ground. And said, “Oh, this is lovely.” She felt her Scottish extraction, she felt it very strongly.
you can’t do otherwise when you’ve been told all the time, can you?
So was it difficult settling back in Australia after being what you went through?
I don’t recall that it was. We were sort of lead to believe that our treatment as prisoners of war had been very mild compared to the chaps in Japanese hands
and I think we got to believe this. Well, it wasn’t the same but it didn’t make it any better. I’ve said this before I know. I seemed to settle in quite quickly. I went back to my work at Boan’s, where I had been a clerk. And I was there for a short while and my mother decided she wanted to sell up. So I bought the business from her
and we settled down because that gave us a place to live of course. Before Maisy came I bought the business so that she had a house to come to. That was the main reason for buying it. We just settled down and started life from there.
How difficult was it to get the shop up and running?
I was running it for my mother so it was an up and running business.
And as I said earlier, she knew how to run a small shop. I changed things a bit because I thought I knew better. I bought bigger and stored, there was a cellar under the shop. So I started using that as a store room. It was going quite well but there was no future in it and I felt it was a dead end thing. The area we were was Leederville. Do you know where the water supply department is now?
Loftus Street, Loftus Street Newcastle. Well that was, the water supply was always there, a depot, and there was a flour mill behind us, but the houses were being rapidly knocked down and becoming a factory area. And of course it very much is now. And I thought we’re going to finish up with no customers. Because most of the customers come from just around you. So I didn’t fancy the idea of staying there for the
rest of my life and I thought it was a little, it was a fairly small house behind the shop. But it was a house and there was no building taking place at that stage. So we decided to sell out which we did and we bought a house in Inglewood, Central Avenue there. And the man that had been very kind to us when Maisy arrived, he had taken me down to Fremantle to meet her at the ship, and he’d driven
her back, he was the man that introduced me to Freemasonry, and a very old family friend. And he was a builder. He was building string of houses in Shaftbury Avenue in Bedford. And he said to Maisy, “Would you like a corner house, a corner block, a triple-fronted house?” And it all sounded very attractive - and it was, for those times. And she said, “I’d love it.” A new home and everything.
So we talked about it and decided that was what we would do. So we sold out house in Inglewood and went to live up at Bedford. And we added to that house there. We added to every house we were ever in. We enjoyed living there and we raised our family there. Maisy had always liked the idea of living on the coast, and I thought that was a good idea too. And our youngest was about 14 or 15 then, our son, and he was a mad keen surfer
so he would love to be out there. So I was working at Woolworth’s at this time and I joined Woolworth’s in ’58. And one of the fellows there, an Englishman, he had bought a house through the housing commission, but it wasn’t, it was sort of a separate, it was sort of an upgrade from the housing commission, and they’d built these houses. And one of the places they’d built these houses was in Karrinyup, which was a reasonable
sort of a suburb to live in and it was close to the coast. And I said, “How did you do it?” And he told me and I thought I could be eligible for that. So I went in and made enquires and found out that I was.
Was this some sort of repatriation?
No, it was a state housing concept, but it was not state housing. They had selected builders and they supervised them very thoroughly and
made them available to people who were eligible. And being eligible we took one and we got the one in Clevedon Road.
So what sort of a job did you take on at Woolworth’s?
That’s a strange story.
Woolworth’s had an idea of advertising for trainee managers, people they could train to manage their stores. ‘Executive trainees’ they were called. It sounded very grand. And I applied for this and was accepted. I don’t know - willingly or unwillingly - but I was accepted anyway and I joined Woolworth’s as an executive trainee, intending to become a store manager. And I thought this would be pretty easy, I run my own store. But it was completely different. It was
a different concept altogether. Whereas in the small shop you’re responsible for everything. you’re responsible for the buying and the selling, the store hours, everything is done by one. It’s all strictly in little segments when you get into a chain like Woolworth’s. And I couldn’t get used to this concept at all. I wasn’t doing too well as a trainee, I felt I was going inside out but I wasn’t getting anywhere, but I wasn’t getting anywhere, I was just going up and down on the step.
Was this the beginning of Woolworth’s becoming
a chain in Australia?
They were a chain, they were a chain of variety stores. They didn’t have any supermarkets, they just had these variety stores and there was one in Perth, one in Fremantle, one in Bunbury, one in Munglinup and one in Midland. Only the five of them. There were five. Fremantle and Hay Street were the biggest.
So there were only a handful?
That’s all, and we always were the smallest part of the chain. It actually started back in 1930 something in Sydney in the Imperial Arcade in Sydney. And I didn’t seem to be getting anywhere, but one night or evening we had a, we were trainees, several of us, about five of us, and we had a debate. ‘Chain stores, boon or bane?’
Is it a good or bad thing for the community. I was given the part of the boon. And I found a book on this, that really put supermarkets up to the (UNCLEAR), they sounded wonderful things for everybody. So I stole the ideas out of there and I was the captain for the side of the boon and we won the argument. We won the debate. And so I was about to be told to find another job than Woolworth’s, but then the store manager
for the Hay Street store, who was our trainer, spoke to the state manager and said , “This bloke is worth keeping. He did a good job of this and this and this, but he wasn’t any good as a store manager.” So they kept me on and they put me into stock control and I was there for a while and then the young fella that was doing the advertising for them, the advertising at that stage was about half a page in the Daily News. You probably don’t know the Daily News, but that was the afternoon newspaper
in Perth. We didn’t actually do the advertising, it was provided for us from a matt in Sydney. A matt being a papier-mâché thing, the imprint of the advert, and they put their typesetting from that. This is before the next metal typesetting.
Before it was all done with metal with a lino-type machine, that sort of thing. So we used to just get our ad, our half page in the Daily News every week from Sydney. And this is what started it. But then Woolworth’s decided to get into groceries, to become a supermarket chain. So in Perth, they started by buying out the John Walls chain, which was a chain of supermarkets, chain of not supermarkets, choose your own
groceries from the shelves, just like supermarkets do now, but it was very primitive. That’s how we started and then they started opening stores and then bought another chain. And it was getting bigger and the advertising was being done for us by a local branch of an advertising company they had picked up in Sydney.
Did you actually get to be responsible for the advertising?
Eventually. But obviously
I was sort of responsible without any staff. I was it. And then they got bigger and we decided we needed a little more staff, so I think I had a girl to do the clerical work and another young chap to do help on my side of it. And it got bigger and it got bigger, because we had this agency working for us. And it was costing us a mint because we couldn’t take advantage of everything
that The West and the Daily News had to offer, the discounts and things, because it was all going through there and they were getting the benefit of the advertising we were doing. It was costing us more. So one day I said to the state manager, “We can handle this without the agency, we don’t need the agency.” “Oh,” he said, “Do you think you can do it? Alright have a go.” And that was it. We had to do our own advertising from then on. But all the donkey work was done for us at
The West, because all we had to do was supply them with a layout and put products that we wanted advertised and get the necessary illustrations for it and they did it. And so that’s how it all started and it went on for years and years. It just got bigger and bigger and one day we had a visit from one of the so-called big-wigs in Sydney and he said, “You can find yourself another job. We’re going to do this through an advertising agency again.”
And I said, “No way, I wasn’t employed here as an advertising manager, I was employed here as a trainee, so I think you should just find something else for me to do in the company.” Well they decided a bloke with this sort of cheek, they better put him somewhere, so they put me back in stock control and I was responsible for ordering any standard lines. Sometimes in advertising you get a lot of
lines that you advertise, you buy them once only lines, the specials and then they’ve got the standard lines which are re-orderable through the stock door. So I was put back into stock control responsible for the re-ordering of the standard line to go into adverts. I always thought this was a ridiculous waste of time because if I made a decision to buy a certain quantity and the girl that usually ordered it thought it was too much, she could change it.
So you know I wasn’t very impressed. But then they found out that working through this agency was…
Interviewee: Herbert Dawson Archive ID 2015 Tape 08
You were just explaining how you were transferred to stock control?
And then somebody in Sydney who was a pretty bright bloke, he did the right thing by me, he reminded them, they were having trouble dealing with their advertising agency here and he said, “What’s wrong with you blokes over there. You’ve got this, you’ve got Dawson over there and he’s been in this business for years now, why don’t you use him as your advertising manager?” And that’s what they did.
I always thought of myself not as the advertising manager, but as the advertising contact between the two companies. Anyway that is what happened and I spent the next 14 years there until I was ready for retirement, doing just that job. At that time, anyway something happened, they’d gone out it again and back into, I’ve got my times a little confused again. But anyway they were ready to go back into having it done by an advertising agency.
And so I was going to be out of a job then, anyway. I might have been the contact again. Things are a bit hazy there. Anyway I left the company in 1982. I should have retired on my birthday in February but I retired mid-year in 1982.
The company has done even better since I left than it ever did before.
How do you think being in the air force changed you as a person, during your World War II service?
I definitely gained a different outlook on the world. I mean it became a much bigger place than I’d ever realised.
Yes, I got a different outlook on the world. I needed to be broadened. I think if you grow up in the one place, I think you can’t, you can’t unless you’ve got an extensive education and education needs to be enhanced with a little bit of travel. See what other people do in the world and of course, when you get to see what other people are doing in the world. I, then I brought home a great asset to the country and to me and that was my wife. And joining the church helped us
to get a different outlook on the world. Because the standards of the church are very high, and even if you don’t completely achieve them, you are striving towards them and that helps you. So yes, a lot of things in my life and I without question give credit to my wife for the things that have happened in my life. She has helped me no end.
How about being a prisoner of war. Did that change you as a person?
Well, I believe it did. I came back, I think, I was more cynical. I wasn’t interested in
the church at all, in the church I’d been in all my life, but I think I said earlier that I don’t think I was a very spiritual person in my youth. A choir boy is a thing to belong to, a thing to do, I enjoyed the singing. I still do, even though I said my voice shattered or crashed, I still do sing occasionally. At our church,
when we sing a hymn, the whole congregation sings. If you’ve got a bass voice you sing the bass part and if you’ve got a tenor voice you sing the tenor part. My wife sings the alto part, so you can always hear reasonable singing in a Mormon congregation. So yes I think I needed to be changed and I think I have been. My family still say they think highly of me so that is a good indication.
Did you have any difficulties when you returned home from service?
I wasn’t, as I said earlier, I was particularly troubled. I think any thoughts we had about feeling sorry for ourselves were quickly overridden by what had happened in the Japanese prisoner-of-war camps. So those of us that recognised this just settled down and got on with living.
We never know how deep these things are. Maybe it’s, I think another thing that has helped me is being able to talk about these things. Being a member of the Ex-Prisoner of War Association, where you have all got a common background in that area and you can talk about these things. I think this helps to alleviate any problems that you may have. I know it has helped me. I have been very appreciative of this organization.
What about the RSL?
I never became a member. I sometimes regretted that.
Maybe I should have been. I always thought the RSL was more for military men. I know it’s a Returned Service’s League now but it used to be Returned Soldiers and then it became the term Soldier’s, Sailor’s and Airmen’s League. But now it’s services - Returned Services League. But I’ve just never become a member of it. I know some of our ex-POW men are but they don’t often speak of it. But I now it can be a great help with,
well, I’ve put them in the picture now with helping with compensation with the prisoners of war, because I know there were army men there in Germany and possibly some navy men there in Germany. And I know that there were eight hundred and fifty RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force] men there in Germany as prisoners of war. So I now the figures for the air force, but I don’t know the figures for anyone else, so you can see where my interest lies.
Have you discussed your experiences with your family over the years?
Somewhat. They are still getting surprises with things that are coming out. So maybe I wasn’t as forthright as I could have been. But I have to a degree, they know a bit, every now and then I will say something and they’ll say, “That happened to you?” That sort of thing. There must be things that you bury and they just come to the fore now and again.
Judging by some of the pictures on the walls, you
have quite a large family.
Yes, we have. We’ve got quite a family. We’ve got three children and only two of those had children . So we have 10 grandchildren from there and from 10 grandchildren we’ve now got 19 great grandchildren and another one on the way. So we feel that we are very blessed. They are all good kids, They are all very appreciative of us and we invited, we’re not barred from anything they do. They invite us along
to all their events and occasions. We feel very blessed indeed.
What would you like to pass on to them about your experiences of war?
I’d like to think that they were opposed to war and would do everything in their power to prevent it happening. But I would also impress upon them that to protect your county is a thing that needs to be done and
that we can’t bury our heads in the sand and say, “This is not happening,” if something is happening that is going to take away their freedom. I’d also like to say to them - be careful who you elect to government. Because there is no good committing to war and then losing it because you’ve got bad government. Stay faithful to each other and the beliefs you have.
That’s it. You know. Sets it up, how I’d like them to feel. What I’d like them to do.
Do you attend Anzac Day marches?
I march. As I say on last Anzac Day we only had four of us marching, but I was one of the four. I try and encourage the young ones to go, but I know they all have their problems. Unfortunately, although I have had these heart problems over the years I can still march. I carry my little squirter bottle with me and when I feel that there is
a need for that I just take it before I need it. And that protects me, You know, under the tongue. They just, people used to put a tablet under their tongue. Now you have this spray and it’s much quicker acting and I’ve had all the heart surgery I want to have, thank you. So quite happy just to continue with extra medication.
What does Anzac Day mean to you?
It’s remembering the Gallipoli landing and the effect it had on Australia, sort of put Australia to the fore, I mean, you weren’t all of those that were fighting at Anzac but certainly they played a big part, although it wasn’t a very successful battle, it certainly dignified the efforts of Australian troops and New Zealand, and their participation.
And I think enough of it on Anzac Day. I wear my own medals on one side and my Dad’s on the other.
What do you reflect upon on Anzac Day?
Well, mainly our experiences. They are more meaningful. You are not imagining those, we know they happened. We know they things that happened to us. And I reflect too on the mates, the very good friends that I lost,
because a lot of the course that I went away with, I don’t think many are around today. Probably lost a lot of them in that war, in that ’39 to ’45 war. It’s a good time to think of them.
What do you think of the growing popularity of Anzac Day?
It rather amazes me, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing.
I don’t think it’s intended to glorify war. I think it’s a thing to remember the sacrifices that were made for us. Particularly, as it’s mainly the younger generation that are making it more popular, I think it’s a good thing that they’re thinking about these things, therefore their appreciation of them must be increasing. Well I don’t think that is a bad thing at all.
Do you think they are less ignorant of the fact that the freedom they enjoy was fought for by their forefathers?
Well I hope so. I hope that is the reason that they are doing it. I like to think that that is the reason they are doing it. I have much faith in youth. I mean some of the things they do they do unintentionally and you probably got to the stage, too, that on the whole, that like everything, the youth are our future leaders and if they can’t be relied on to come to their senses when they need to,
well then we are in a bad way and I don’t think we are in a bad way. I think we can overcome anything that comes to us if our youth respond to the challenges that come to them in life.
Any final advice for the youth of Australia?
I wouldn’t want to try and do that. I think they are doing fine. I think they will just go on and they’ll measure up. There is no doubt about that. it is a wonderful country and that is what we need to remember. It is a wonderful country and we have
freedom, everything that we want to do as long as we don’t interfere with the freedoms of others and I think that is important, well I know that is important. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else but in Australia at this point in the world’s history. I’ve seen a few other places and I enjoyed going to them. I’m a bit old to keep going to places now. Airlines don’t take people in
their 80s, I don’t think, that have medical problems. But I think this is a wonderful country and we need to keep it that way. We need to be kind of other nations and other peoples and their thoughts and beliefs. But I think we need to keep our standards, or our levels of living to the fore in all we do and all we think.
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