Archive number: 214
Preferred name: Keith
Date interviewed: 26 May, 2003
You are listening to the interview audio
Thank you Keith, nice to see you today.
Thank you, Sue [Interviewer].
Lovely. Keith, could you tell me where you were born?
I was born in a little country town called Leongatha in South Gippsland, that’s seventy-eight miles south east of Melbourne. And
a lovely little dairying country town that was very prosperous. But unfortunately, I came up through the Depression time and it made it quite difficult. But nevertheless we made the most of what we had and we did the best we could.
What did your father do for a living?
My father was a, he was a
man of all trades. He was, the first sense of his capabilities was that he was clearing the land because it was in the early nineteen hundreds. And he met my mother and
he had worked on the farm for oh, clearing it for probably quite some time. And then after getting the farm going, he got a milk round supplying the town with milk. And then he was, he varied his options a little bit. He bought some
real estate and then he gradually matured into the real estate business. And he bought some, a hairdressing saloon and other buildings and so on as an investment. And then his opposition in the real estate passed away and he
was keen, or he insisted that my father run his business too. So he finished up a real estate man. And on retirement he went to Inverloch. And he was a ranger there at Pine Lodge, which was the main retirement
resort or holiday resort. And he looked after the gardens there and he arranged all the caravan parks and so on. They were, you know he had quite a lot of work to do. I did call on him after the war and he seemed to be quite happy and was getting along quite well.
And what about your mother, what can you tell me about your mother?
Well, my mother is one
of a family of thirteen. And she was a very good pianist. And my father was a very good violinist. And they played for all the dances around Leongatha. And she, the thing that put me on the track to war was my father lost his two brothers and my mother was nursing.
This is my first recognition that war was what it was. And he, she nursed my, her two brothers, they were both badly gassed during the war. And my first memory of her is working very hard, bringing them back to reality. So she had her hands full. And there were only,
there were four of us in the family, three boys, ah three girls and a boy. I’m the boy. And
So three sisters you have?
Three sisters, yes. And
Older or younger?
Two are older and one is deceased. She was younger than I.
Can I ask you about your mother’s brothers, did they - did you talk to them much about their experiences?
Only as a child of course, but strangely enough in later life one of her brothers was chief engineer for 3 Squadron in Egypt. And I had the pleasure of, when I left England to come out to Egypt, I met him there and we had a few days together in Egypt. He was the youngest of the family.
But a very fine engineer.
And what sort of experiences had they had in World War I, do you know?
No, not in any detail, only that they were badly gassed, and there were only the two brothers, her two brothers in World War I. But they were very sick men. But they both,
I sort of met them later in life and one is the father of Eric Moore who played with the Horrie Dargie Quintet you might remember. He plays the, he was a guitarist. And they were both PMG [Postmaster General] engineers. One in Bairnsdale and one up in St Arnaud, I think.
seen your uncles suffer from the gas from
Indeed, I did.
World War I as a young boy, how did that make you feel and think about war generally, the effects of war?
Well, it sort of started me off on the train of war. And then as each Anzac Day came along through school, we couldn’t help but become obsessed with what was
going on. And they had this memorial hall with all the battles around. And we used to have a magnificent doctor address us. He was a major and some of the realities of war were bought home to us as youngsters. And it was that starting life that put me thinking,
particularly about aviation which I was to pursue at a later date.
What were your thoughts about war at that stage, did you feel like it was something exciting or something terrible or?
Well, as I matured it sort of came home to me that if ever the occasion arose I would have to do something about it. Because being an only
son, I, you know, our idea was that you had to give your share of responsibility and do something about it. That was always in the back of my mind that if I had to I would.
What did Anzac mean to you at this time?
More than it does today unfortunately. Only
because of my inability to attend most of the Anzac reunions in late, latter years. But we used to sing our Empire songs and attend every Anzac Day from when I was about six onwards I think. We always had Anzac Day in schools particularly.
And then we graduated to the memorial hall in Leongatha, which was a lovely big hall. And built in memory of the battles, had all the battles listed right around the top of the hall. You could see each battle, Lone Pine etc. etc. I’ve forgotten them all now. But it was quite inspiring.
did you feel proud to be Australian?
Always, always - I wouldn’t been anything else.
And could you tell me about the school you went
Keith, as a young boy?
Yes, it’s rather interesting. My father was very Scotch, and my mother, from oh Scotch background, my mother very Irish background. So they, I think it was a wonderful inspiration to me because they came to the conclusions two of the children should go to a state school and two to a convent school, that’s
the Catholic school. So but that arrangement came to fruition when I was about, when I’d reached sixth grade at the state school. And my mother suggested that “I do the last two years of my education in the convent school”. And my young sister who was with me, she was only a couple of years younger than I. And she came with me to and we both finished up in the
convent school. And it was recognised as a very good education. And it was. It proved rather difficult because we had to leave when we got our Merit [Certificiate], which we did. And it proved difficult when we, when I came to join the air force. My sister was very clever and she was in the Taxation Department in Melbourne. And
she was, she got along very well but unfortunately she was taken. But I was very, very
happy with what I had got. And I realised that they had to work hard to keep us at school and so on, and so, no troubles there.
Did you, was there any particular
subject areas you liked at school?
No, I was always good at arithmetic believe it or not. And it proved later on, cause I came to work at Australian National Airways after the war. And it was most important that I could make up the weigh bills very quickly. And my
arithmetic stood me in good stead, if you know what I mean.
Were you a sporty young man?
Very much so. Sport was always a part of the country tradition. It was, you were considered important if you could get into the country football team and play in the local cricket team and so on. And I did both
fortunately. And but I was too small, and I couldn’t run, I always run last in every race, so I said “Well, that’s not for me”. So when I did get going I played squash and tennis and, when I came to Melbourne. And I sort of interested myself in golf when I could I played golf in later years and enjoyed it.
But apart from that I always kept busy.
So you were a fairly active child?
Very, very active, very active, yes. And I think that’s standing me in good stead now.
Definitely, yes. What other activities did you get up to as a child?
The scouts, or
Well, as I say model aeroplane flying was just something that crept in. And
I didn’t think I was born with this instinct but somehow along the line it crept in. And two other boys up at the school had the same ideas as I did. And you know we used to jump off the chook house with my mother’s new umbrella and all this sort of thing. And that’s, we made aeroplane
models and as a matter of fact we got more than interested. We used to you know spend too much time at the expense of other subjects. So that’s
Did you ever go up in a plane as a boy?
Oh well, I’m glad you asked. Because I think the first aeroplane that I can remember, coming to Leongatha was a Captain Frank Roberts. And I think,
I was on my way home from school. And I lived quite a way from the school and I used to ride a bike. And I saw where he landed. And I hopped on my bike and I rode out to him, made myself known to him you know. Only about, oh no about twelve I think, twelve or fourteen. And he must have thought “I was a
pretty bright boy”. But he said well, he was telling me “He wanted to come up and give flights, passenger flights”. So I thought “Oh well, what a great idea”. And my father being in the real estate, he knew the man who owned the paddock where he landed. And he, he gave permission. And
I, he gave me the job of selling tickets for him to take passenger flights. But I was the first one to get a passenger flight. So that was wonderful. But it goes on further than that. Down the track a couple of years, Kingsford Smith arrived in the, oh no wait a minute, I used to come to Melbourne to my grandmother who lived in Melbourne, that’s my mother’s mother. And I used to - I was very keen on
going out to the airport cause they lived close, not far away from the airport, I’d hop on my bike and go out to Essendon and you know sweep the tarmac or do anything I could, make a nuisance of myself. And I got an introduction to Sir Charles Kingsford Smith. He said “Oh, I’d like to come up to Leongatha and give some flights”. So
I said, “Well I’ll arrange that, sir.” By this time I was about fourteen or fifteen or something like that. And I arranged his first flight to Leon, first passenger session in Leongatha.
What was it like to meet him for the first time?
Oh well, oh you can imagine my ego, my, I was out of this world. Because I mean
one of my obsessions was aviation. I used to listen to the air adventures of Jimmy Allen. I’d get home every night from school, all that sort of thing. And then to actually meet a fellow like that was just out of this world. And then he said “Well, the paddock’s not big enough”, I told him where Captain Robertson had landed.
And he said, “It’ll have to be twice that size.” So I said to my father, I said, “Listen, we’ve got to go out and pull a fence down.” To which he objected strongly but nevertheless condescended. So we spent all one Saturday, I’ll never forget it, pulling out posts. And the following weekend went to Melbourne, saw Sir Charles, “Got the,
got the field ready for you, everything’s right”. And he came up, landed and of course I was the first one he took up. And he took me up, showed me the round. I showed him you know what was what and everything. Sat up there with him, felt as though I was you know king of the kids sort of thing.
What sort of plane was it?
It was a Southern Cross. It was still the Southern Cross.
And as I say I had another flight with him later on. But that was
that really set me on
on the course of aviation.
I never looked back.
Did he tell you lots of stories of his travels?
Oh no, no, no. We, he was too busy. He was very hard up against it. He was trying to make money and I was selling tickets for him. And I’d put all his posters around the town and you know did all that sort of work for him. And he was very pleased with me and I did meet him
later on when, I had a friend who used to come to Melbourne he was an insurance agent in Leongatha. And I had a regular, regular position in his motorcar to come to Melbourne every weekend. And I’d go out to the aerodrome as often as I could. I knew quite a few people out there. Roy Yune was another man I met out there that’s, he turned out to be another great
friend of mine after the war which was magnificent.
Did you, do you recall the first time you went up in a plane and the feeling it, the feeling you had?
Oh, it was quite natural. That’s when I knew that you know sort of my experience with the models was paying off. That it was just the natural thing to do you know. I just was maybe
skiting a bit but I felt I was born to fly. From that time on I just had a one-track mind for flying. And as it turned out later on in life I was, came down to Melbourne, and cause there’s was no work in Leongatha at the time. And I used to spend all my weekly earnings going out and having joy rides and trying to get a lesson.
And until I realised that it was quite hopeless. And it went on and on from there.
What was it about the flying that gave you a real buzz?
Well, I don't know, I understand, we’ve gone into this at length on many occasions with my father who detested it by the way. He thought that I,
“There was something was wrong me” because I mean flying in those days was very, very obscure and rare. You know an aeroplane was just virtually unheard of. They were the only aeroplanes for years that I ever saw while I was up there. And he just couldn’t believe that I was going to pursue this. And I think he was glad to get rid of me from home because I was becoming a
nuisance, with my, you know coming up and down to Melbourne to go on flying. So eventually I moved to Melbourne and got a job down here and went on from there.
What did your mother think of your flying?
Well, she didn’t like it either. But strange enough the
feeling came over me. She was sitting, she was operated on and she was discovered to have cancer. And I was sitting there one day after the war and I said to her I said “Is there anything I can do for you?” And she said “Yes. No.”
Okay. I’d like to ask you
how the Depression years affected your family?
Oh well, look it made you independent. My father used to say, “You’ve got to provide for yourself.” We grew every vegetable in our garden. My mother baked her own bread. You know if you wanted meat, you had
a friend who used to live out at the slaughter, work out at the slaughter house. And he’d say “Go out and get some meat for the dog”. And of course he’d had, he’d made an arrangement with the man who does the slaughter. And I would come home with a little bag of brains or bag of lamb’s fry or something. And it was
you know give and take all the way through. And we grew our own fruit trees and as I say our own veg, had our own cow. Made all our milk, butter, cream. Had our own chooks, had our own eggs. As we even had a pet pig that we called Cuthbert. And he’d go out and say, “Cuthy,” you know Cuthy, be down the, we had quite a good property and he’d come running up and lay at the,
at your feet and get you to scratch his tummy. And then Dad said “Well, we’re out of bacon” and course he had to put poor Cuthbert into bacon. So you know it was a cycle that I was bought up with. And then when we were married and had our own block of land, I grew every
vegetable that I could. Even when we came here, I still grew every vegetable. But as I say, I never learned it, only what I picked up from my father. And when we were married I used to say to my wife, you know say “Well, what about this? And you know are you a green finger?” I said “No, I couldn’t grow a telephone pole”. But however, we got by and I think my wife appreciated it.
And you know it sort of helps the living process. Living’s always been hard to me. Not hard in the respect that you know we’re down and out. Because it bought out the influence of working, you’ve got a work for what you get and that’s what I was bought up with.
So you had a strong work ethic?
Well my father was an alco, not an alcoholic, a workaholic. Dear oh dear, oh dear. My mother used to sew, she spent her nights sewing, and my sister, well the eldest sister married very young but the other two girls were both working. My daughters, even my daughters today they’re both, they know nothing but work. They work very hard, they’ve both got on very well
by the way. And we’re very proud of them.
Great, yeah. What, did you have any good mates as a boy, any particular boys that you were (UNCLEAR)?
Yes, I had a mate. Believe it or not he only died a couple of years ago. And we went to school together, we grew up together, we were a long way from the sea, sixteen miles. But we used to
ride our bikes three miles out for a swim after school. And as he said on his, his son said, on the citation or the oratory at his father’s funeral, he said, “Norman”, Norman Marshall his name. He said, “Norman only ever had one real mate and that was Keith Darling.” And I was very proud of that because he was a very,
very nice man. He was a solicitor. Father was a solicitor in the town. And we played tennis and played golf and played football and you know we were really good friends. But he was, he tried desperately to get into the air force and was blind. Otherwise, we’d have been you know probably flying together. But he joined the AIF [Australian Imperial Force] and was, went right through the war.
He was colour-blind, was he?
He was colour-blind, yes.
He couldn’t get into the air force.
Oh okay, yeah. And so you say you went to the beach with him, you used to go to the beach?
Well, that was an occasion because his family, they were one of the more affluent in the town. They had a motorcar, we did too but it was, their’s was a better one than ours. And it was sixteen miles down to the sea that was Inverloch. That was our nearest,
our nearest beach. And every now and again you know particularly in summer, Norm was very, he was a very good swimmer by the way. And that’s you know sort of fell in line with what he wanted to do. ‘Cause he’d swim and swim and swim, he made me look like a lame duck. I couldn’t swim anything like him but he was good.
Did you have any girlfriends as a young,
youngster in those days?
I only ever held hands with one lady up in Leongatha. And I used to work in you know just after I left school, this job. We worked it so that we went home to lunch and we knocked off together. We worked - their shop was pretty close to mine. And
I used to hold her hand and I used to think that was wonderful, but strangely enough no, apart from that.
Do you remember her name?
We used to go to the, I used to go to the, you know Saturday night dances and so on, that was fine. But everybody was a friend. So well, it was only I think the total population was seventeen hundred. So you could imagine you knew everybody.
And everybody sort of we all grew up together, we danced together. It was not the social activities like there are nowadays. And but it was so wonderful when you look back on it. To think they were all so naive and wonderful people, backbone of the earth. I’m proud to be a country man.
Do you have a,
do you think your country upbringing gave you a real love and respect for nature?
Yes, indeed. As a matter of fact it was never bought home to be so much. And my father, I never forget it. He said “I want to take you out and shoot a rabbit”. And I thought “Oh, oh no”, you know. He said “Well they’re beautiful to eat”. And I,
we had eaten them you know but I’d never shot one. Until we went out one day and you know there’s a rabbit you know. “Here’s a gun, shoot it”. And I did and I you know and I felt that for a long, long time. And then the same, I was only growing up. And then the next time “Righto, we’re having fish, we’ve got a go and catch the fish”. And I thought “Oh, how cruel” and to see this thing dangling
on the line. Of course there was tons of fish in those days, the rivers were full of them. And we had a beautiful river going through the town, oh just out of the town. And so but I was very soon graduated into catching fish and shooting rabbits. And gathering mushrooms, that was the other popular sport. So I was supplementing the diet shall we say, and he was doing, growing all the
vegetables and so on. And so, it was good.
Sounds like you were quite self sufficient in some ways?
We were, we were indeed. And I often think of it now. Roma, my wife and I often talk about it, because her mother was very industrious too. And they were self supporting in their, you know in the upkeep of the, Roma only had the one brother. But as I say there were
five, six mouths to feed. And you know made it as light as we could on the purse because money was scarce, there’s no doubt about it.
With the Depression, what other signs of the Depression did you see around your community? Like did you see any people who were on sustenance or any swagmen?
Yes. The councils,
and my mother was one of those people. You never knew how many people were coming to our place for a meal. There were people come, because once one gets known, it’s a funny old, I could tell you a lot of stories about, once you, some home gets known as you know, “You’re always right for a feed at the Darlings”, well I heard that when I was quite big you know. And she loved cooking and she always had plenty to cook.
And my father was when the going got really tough there was a mine, a coalmine at Wonthaggi. And he used to go out and cut the props. You know and he’d have me sawing these great big logs through until I stopped. And he’d say “Saw that through and don’t you stop until you get right through it”.
Well, he was supplementing the food chain that, and so it went on.
So you had a lot of visitors come and they’d get
Oh yes. There was always somebody, there was always somebody home. And I think he used to drop by the local every now and again. And he’d, you know he’d, he was one of those fellows very easy to get on with. And
made friends very easily. And he was always bringing somebody home. But I never to this day, never heard my mother say a cross, word. You know, yes there’s always something to eat. But they were you know all bought up way out on the farm. And they were self supporting before she was married you see. Cause they had thirteen in their family. And they
grew up knowing how to look after themselves.
I was going to ask you about your father’s brothers. I believe his brothers died in World War I?
Yes. Oh look, I’ve got some letters, their final letters I’ve got them somewhere. Oh dear, I’d have to refer to my wife on those, I just don’t know
where they are. One was a stepbrother, his father married again. And but his immediate brother Charles was killed. And Frank I think it was, his stepbrother was killed with him. They enlisted at the same time and they were killed in France, but apart from that, no. But only I’ve got these,
the last letters that they wrote from over there. They’re in, I, you see we’ve been moving from our home where we’ve lived for thirty years into retirement village. And we had to sort a lot of things out you know. And my dear wife had to you know part with a whole lot of furniture and all the you know everything that was, we, and of
course our daughters have still you know got little things. We let them come in and say “Here, take what you want you know”. The less we have to move the better. So that’s how I think we, I may have, Jan our eldest daughter, she’s quite fond of a little bit of this you know nostalgia for want of a better word. And it was, she’s been asking me to do this for
a long time. But then I got very, very sick. And I couldn’t do it and I felt terribly obliged to do it. And then when this opportunity came along I though “Well at least”, and of course my eyesight’s gone. And I thought “Well, perhaps this may be an interim step to what she was asking for”. So that’s
That’s good yeah.
Well, it is good.
A great opportunity.
It is good, it’s a wonderful opportunity and I’m
so pleased that you gave me that opportunity.
Fantastic, yeah. So just going back Keith with those, your two uncles who died in the World War I, do you know the circumstances of their experience at all?
No, I did not know them. They’d gone before I was – came on the scene. And I’ve no idea.
But my father was very upset about it because he wanted to go to the war too and couldn’t. And war was, it was always there but it was never talked about in the home as such. I had to learn it all outside. And it was a dirty word, dirty word. Not like when we got into the air force. It’s amazing how these things follow
you through but we had a wonderful man called, oh you’ll probably want to talk about this at a later date.
I’ve leave it.
When you say war was a dirty word at home,
what do you mean by that?
Well, my mother didn’t like it because she had two very sick men. I can remember them as well as anything. And my father had lost his two brothers. And
they just you know, particularly in front of we four kids, they didn’t like talking about it. It only became as obvious as your own observations coming to maturity sort of thing you suddenly realise, now why didn’t I, why didn’t they say that? You learn about things long after they’ve, you should have sort of thing. But still probably they were right
in the first place.
Do you think their experience tainted your view of the war?
Only gave me an inner ideal that I thought “Gee this”, you know, as you grow up, “What a wonderful country to fight for you know”. When you read all the, you get to gradually understand what the rest of the world is like.
And we had a few people that, oh Roma’s uncle was one of them you know that could fill us in with, he was a worldly man and quite a lot of people were able to tell us what the rest of the world was like. But it came to us through being a big family, we you know sort of and they were all in various... my mother’s, two of my mother’s sisters were
matrons in hospitals. And oh one won the Sonaria [?] and another you know, they moved in circles that they could gather this information. And as we came from the country to Melbourne we gradually grew up with it more and more. We knew then.
Interviewee: Thomas Darling Archive ID 0214 Tape 02
Okay Keith, can I ask you now, once, can you tell me when you moved to Melbourne from Leongatha?
Oh that would be about 1933 or 4.
Okay so it was, at what point, was that after you left school or a bit later than that?
I worked, I
worked for I think about a couple of years in Leongatha. Only because it was you know easy to do. And I was so young and naive. And I was in the football team and the cricket team and I loved being there and I was a homeboy. As a matter of fact when my father said “It was time to go”, I didn’t want to go, I loved it there. However,
somehow along the line I gathered up enough courage to go, my grandfather, who was one of the chief men in the Board of Work. And I came down and he, I always had his advice too, which was excellent. And anyhow, I
was getting a new suit made. And this tailor you know and I was wearing my first long suit, I think it was, because I’d been in knickerbockers and everything else. And this tailor bloke said “He’s, I overheard him talking to a State Electricity Commission man”. Course he was making him a suit and he was one of the bosses. And you know and we’re in the fitting
rooms and I came out and I said to the fellow whom I knew, only because I was getting a suit. I said, “Gee that sounded good, sounded a good job.” He said, “Oh”, he said “They’re looking for blokes, do you want a job?” I said, “My word I do.” So I applied to the State Electricity Commission. And which my mother was very, she was very pro-government in those days you know. The ideal, the real,
the real ideal was to have a government job. So I applied and I got a job, which suited me wonderfully. So I went in to you know, just said “Well, you’re going into the Public Lighting Department in the State Electricity Commission. And I thought “Oh, that’s beaut”. So it was not far from where I lived. And
we, well cut a long story short we were, they put me with one of, their number one engineering man. And I thought “Oh my goodness, I had something to live up to”. And then when I got busy I realised just what I did have to look up to. So I started night school and I went to night school three nights a week. I went
into Melbourne Technical College. And I was a busy boy. But I liked it. I loved it.
What did your job involve Keith?
Well in public lighting, this is probably another highlight of my life. New public lighting was just coming on. Sodium and, sodium
and oh there were two types. Anyhow they were out, it was out in Burwood Road, Hawthorn. And it was all this brand new, sodium lighting, that was and mercury vapour was the other one. And they were experimenting with them. And then we, you know we got to the installation of these, I was only an assistant mind you, I, you know, just
learning only, oh very basic at that stage. But I was with a very brilliant man, number one. His identity was number one. He was a man by the name of Mr Lund. I’ll never forget him. And he sort of helped me an awful lot. And we put all these beautiful lights in on Burwood Road.
And then we went down to Canterbury Road, Middle Park and we did all that. Well that, over a period of probably a couple of years. And then we did experimental mercury vapour here and there. Which to me was the number because it was number one in the city of Melbourne. And I was very proud of that and I worked very hard to maintain my, their justification
in giving me the job. And then of course the war broke out. I think I was there for seven years or eight years or something. Sorry.
Can I just ask you did it give you a sense of confidence, that job?
Oh yes, yeah, very much so. Oh that was a real character builder, it was a real personality builder. Because I was working with men, you know very good men.
Me with a merit certificate mind you, I had, I was a long way behind. And I had a lot to catch up. But it, I was determined and they were very happy with our work, with my work, anyway, they told me so. As it turned out when I did enlist they said, “You can’t enlist, this is a
reserved occupation. You are here. You cannot go to the war.” And of course that upset me. So I went, I resigned.
Where did you live while you were working there?
Now I’m glad you asked that too, that’s a lovely thing. Sir Norman Brookes had a beautiful home on the corner of Alma Road and Chapel Street, St Kilda.
And it was turned into a guesthouse. Well my sister, who was working at Treadways in Chapel Street, she had found this place and she was living there. And then when I came down, I was, I’m the next one. She’s still alive by the way, she’s having her ninety-first
birthday in about a month’s time. And she was very happy to have me move in with her. You know and my room was the ballroom of the old Sir Norman Brookes’ private home. With chandelier, the works, oh I was very proud of that. All on seven pound ten a week, I might add.
So you were living the
No, I was living nicely. And it would be my first experience because realise that we’d come from the country where you know we weren’t flash. We were very ordinary people, very middle class people I’d say, you know.
How did you spend when you weren’t working, what did you do with your time?
In those days I played
squash. I rowed with Melbourne until the rowing club got burned down. And I didn’t have enough money to buy my oars and my gear back. And tennis, I played tennis. I wasn’t playing golf in those days, that, golf was way above me. But
I’d say tennis, we had a tennis court not far away. And squash, I used to play a lot of squash.
Did you have any lady friends at this stage?
No-one in particular. Just Norman Marshall, my friend was you know. I used to play tennis a lot with him. And we,
oh we were good pals, but never, never, I’ve never been going with one girl in my life until I met my wife, I’m very proud to say.
Did you go to any dances at that time?
Yes, oh yes of course, there was Leggetts in Prahran. We used to go down there, yes, just slipped me for a moment, and the Palais de Dance. ‘Course the tram ran right past. Oh my goodness
gracious, yes. Oh yeah, well Saturday night was the Palais de Dance at Saint Kilda - Jay Widdon and his band. And of course I loved singing. That was, and I, the lad that died the other day, Jeff Brooke, he was singing there. And oh, we had great entertainment. That was our
number one. And of course the coffee lounge in Ackland Street, the famous one, oh I’ve forgotten it now.
Was it Shahirasard, was it?
Oh just for, no it wasn’t that but it was a lovely place. And we used to go there on you know sort of, off nights.
Were you a good dancer?
I thought I was. I never got knocked back anyway
But oh just to meet, nothing flash.
Can I ask you Keith, you referred to your parents, liked the idea of working for the government,
you know for a government organisation? What were their politics, your parents, were they labour people or?
Politics wasn’t a big deal in those days. Not while I was under their influence. I think my father was more liberal but I think my mother was more Labour, if I had to put a tag on in. But politics never played a big part in our life. It was survival. Survival was the main thing and men are there of. And
get on, get on with work, get on life. Work. Work, work, work, that was what I was brought up to do, work.
Did religion play a big role in your family?
No because it was, we had two factions. My mother was bigoted Irish. My father was bigoted Scots. I used to go, I could sing, believe it or not. I could sing, I
would sing in the Catholic choir in the morning and the Presbyterian choir in the afternoon. So I, I’m, I was the middle of the road for years and years. And even with our own family, my wife and I. I went, as I say I didn’t know whether I was a Catholic or a, so what I did I just said “I love all religions and I admire all religions”.
But my wife and I were married in the High Church of England by a canon whom I thought “Was absolutely wonderful”. Our first daughter went to a Presbyterian school and taught at Methodist Sunday School. And our youngest daughter she went to a High Church of England, what was the name of the school.
Oh dear, oh dear that lovely school in,
she can’t tell me.
What suburb was it in?
Melbourne Girls Grammar, was it?
Merton Hall. I told you my memory
wasn’t too good.
My mother went to Merton Hall.
Oh, did she really? How wonderful.
Yeah, there you go. That’s, okay
Yeah, well Suzie is a Merton Hall girl and she loved it. She loved it and she got on very well. And she’s married and living in Queensland now and doing very nicely.
So that’s interesting, so you were brought up with two religions really?
Oh yes, yes.
And were your, so your parents were quite devout either way, sort of thing?
No, my mother never went to church. She was loyal in that respect. My father never went to church. But I was at my mother’s death and the priest, she, my father asked her “Who would, who she would like?” She said “I’d like a priest”. She said and I’ll never forget this. She said, “I was born a Catholic, I will die a Catholic.” So
that sort of sorted out the religious program really. And to this day we’re both, my wife and I are admirable all religions, the applicable ones anyway.
We acknowledge our local church here. We have a little group here.
And they’re very pleasant people, lovely people. We’re not heathens, we’re good Christians. And we live by the book virtually.
So you would say even as a boy, even though your parents didn’t go to church, religion was still important to you?
Oh my god, it’s been important all the, I pray to God every day. He’s got me
here. You know sort of through a war and through twelve major operations. I’m alive and well. So who could it be, who else could it be?
Did you pray during the war?
My word I did. I’m not ashamed of that. Oh well if you, you know, you’re going through the air and there’s nothing but black spots everywhere, and it’s all
anti-aircraft fire you, please God don’t let it hit me. I want to get back. I’m not ashamed of that. That was wonderful. Oh a lot of blokes the same too, perhaps they wont admit it but by golly, everybody I’ve spoken to is, “Somebody’s got a help us out of this, the problems we got, you got into”. But never mind. We’re here now.
So you had quite a strong faith, yeah?
Oh, I’ve a very strong faith.
To me, I love oh the man who’s, oh I listen to him every Sunday morning, oh, oh it doesn’t matter, I can’t, I just can’t think, my memory’s not as good as it should be.
I’ll think of it in a minute though.
Yeah. Okay so you’re, if we go back a bit, we’ll go back to your time in Melbourne working for the SEC [State Electricity Commission].
Oh yes, yes.
tell me what sort of involvement with planes did you have at that point?
Only going out to Essendon. ‘Cause once we moved from, we, I used to stay with, I probably missed this out, I stayed with my grandmother who lived in Coburg.
When I first came down.
You mentioned that, yeah.
I did mention it. Oh well, I used to ride by bike out to the aerodrome every, but when I moved down to
with my sister in St Kilda, or Prahran it was, Chapel Street, it was too far and I was, there was a gap. But every now and again I’d, I would go out to the aero, never lost sight of it. I can always remember going out with, I met another - I was good at meeting people for some reason or other. And I met this Horrie Beaston. And I said “Oh, I’d love to go up”,
and he had a plane in the city of Melbourne, they called this city of Melbourne. The eight-sixty, five-seater behind the other, so there was only about three of us in there. And you know I was looking forward to getting my first fly of a, getting hold of a joy-stick. And we get out in the middle of Essendon aerodrome and the wheel collapsed. And I thought “Oh, my goodness”, so they, that was the end of that. And I never got another one
until I think I was called up.
So that was your first attempt at flying?
A first attempt, yes.
To get off the ground?
I was going to.
You didn’t get off the ground?
Okay, so I’d like to ask you about when war broke out. Do you recall where you were and what went through your mind when war was declared?
Well yes, I immediately
applied for the air force, immediately. And I applied as a cook. Of course I was knocked down. Well I applied to get into air but they wouldn’t take me. And I applied as a cook and they said “No, we don’t need any cooks”. I just wanted to get into the air force. Anyhow I, what got me out of that lot was national service came
along. And I signed up with them and I was sent to Seymour. And I was about a fortnight through a course at Seymour. And a bloke came up from Melbourne and he came over the system that he’s interviewing potential applicants for the air force.
And of course I couldn’t get up there quickly enough. And a fellow who lived next door to me but one, Ern Cappy, he said “I think we’ll join this air force”. I said “I don’t think”, I said “I’m going to join”. I went and put my name in and so did he. And oh I think about, we just went back and cooled our heels and
oh probably two, couple of months and we were both accepted, both of us. And of course I had to resign then from the SEC. And they said “Oh, you lose all your superannuation”, he said “You’re very foolish”. They called me up. They gave me a dressing down. I said, “I’m so sorry, I, my aim is the air force and I’m going in to the air force.” And Cappy, who was a, with Elder Smiths.
He was the same, he gave his job up and went into the air force and he became a navigator. And you know sort of I just kept on working until I was called up. Which was on the, I can tell you that, we went to the air force on the 10th of the 10th, 1941. 10th October.
Yeah. Oh well,
I have another friend who had business, we’ll get onto that later, the business alongside of me. And we, he rings me up every, wherever he is, he rings me up on the 10th. He says “Do you know what today is?” And I always say “Yes I know, 10th of the 10th.”
Just prior to the war did you have much knowledge about the situation in Europe and what was happening and?
Only what you read in the papers and I was an avid reader but mainly aeroplane books and books on aircraft, and a little bit of general knowledge. You know we had a radio, always a radio. And took a, I don't think I was a dull kid, I took an interest in everything that went on, up to a point or as much as I, but I was studying,
I was studying like heck and you know I was fully availed all the time. I had to be, I was one of those sort of people that had to be doing something. And that was, it wasn’t a complete knowledge but it was a working knowledge of what was going on around the world yes, I’d say yes.
So you knew about Hitler?
Oh god yes. Oh yes, oh yeah. And
the war a surprise to you then when it was declared?
No, no, not really, because you could see it coming up. There was an invasion of Poland and all that sort of thing. I flew with a lot of Polish boys but oh that’s a wonderful part of later, latter
Can you tell me a bit about the, okay so you approached
the air force initially and they knocked you back
because you hadn’t had enough education, is that what that was about?
Of course, oh that, that’s, oh have we got round to that.
Can we explore that a bit?
Well, as soon as we were accepted they said, now wait a minute, I’m got ahead of myself. “We will only accept you if you reach this standard”. Now the air force had what they called
“Twenty-one Lessons”. You had to pass that which brings you up to, it was virtually leaving standard. And I went to school every night for twelve months, down at the Prahran Tech to pass those twenty-one Lessons. And I did pass them.
What were they?
And that’s how I got in.
What were they on, those lessons?
On, oh relevant subjects
as required you know sort of maths, English, Morse code, navigation and general knowledge. General knowledge.
Now Keith, this is after the National Service or before?
No this is, I, I’d resigned from the National Service.
I’d told them that “I was accepted from the national service”. And I, their depot was just across, if you know Chapel Street, their depot was only across the road from there. And I went over and I knew the commander. And I just told him I said “Look, I’ve been accepted by the air force”, well that was that. And that’s
That’s when you started,
that’s when I started going to school.
Or had been going to school.
So what was the national
service then, what was that?
Well that was artillery, 2nd Field Regiment Artillery (UNCLEAR).
Okay that was the army?
I can say I was in the army. I didn’t do much though.
So how, okay so you actually initially joined the army?
And you went to Seymour?
Only, no I was called up.
Oh, you were called up.
I was called up.
What year was this?
well I went in on ‘41, be about 1940 sometime.
Okay and you were sent to Seymour?
Yes I was.
Pucka, no, no, no, what was it?
Yeah, the other camp, there’s two camps up there. The other one.
The other one, okay. And you had two weeks of training?
Oh from memory.
From memory, yes.
It wasn’t very long.
And then you approached the air force?
Well they came round, which was ideal, yet I’d applied but they didn’t accept me. But they were looking for potential aircrew. And that’s you know gosh I couldn’t get my name in quickly enough.
Just curiosity-wise, what did you think of the army
from the little time you spent with the army?
It was good but my heart wasn’t in it. It was you know a good learning curve. I was in twenty-five pounders. And I made, what pleased me greatly, I had some very good friends in there. You know I made good friends, I didn’t have them, I met them in there. And
they were in the same boat as I was. And we got along extremely well together. And we all went our different ways after that. And as I say Cootie, Cootie went to, he became a navigator. But he was the only one of the group. The others all went various ways. But Cootie and I joined the air force. At least, Cappy not Cootie. Cootie joined the army.
So you really, literally
studied for a year
My word I did.
to get into the air force?
Oh yeah, a whole year but the bottom line was you had to pass the examination, the Twenty-one Lessons, I’ll never forget ‘em.
Was it hard work?
Yes, definitely. Because I was only merit standard and this was leaving standard. And I had to do algebra and geometry, and
trigonometry and oh goodness knows what. But I had good tutors. They were very good, very good, excellent.
Were you still working at the SEC at the time?
Yes, oh all the time. Oh, that was the income. That was the source of income.
Who were your tutors, were they airmen?
Oh no, no, no, school teachers. You know they were actual teachers. All
knew their subjects very well.
Did you know any of the other students?
From memory, no. Oh Monty Lee, wait a minute, oh I had to think, I probably knew two or three of them. Well Cappy was one who came with me to, although
he was the main bloke who sticks in my mind. I didn’t make friends with the others, put it that way.
And Cappy was a mate that you went on with into the air force?
Yes, okay. So.
He finished up, oh, he was good, and he used to play the guitar. Why we formed up you know in (UNCLEAR), he played the guitar and I played the ukulele and we used to
sing, “Old shep was a pup and da, da, da, da”, you know. We got on well together, we used to, we could while away hours. And he only lived as I said a couple of doors from me remember that.
Ah. In Prahran?
Yeah, okay. Okay, so your life must have been very full during that year cause you’re working and studying?
Yeah, I was very fit too. And I could
cope with it - put it that way. It never at any stage got me down. Because I did like study, I didn’t want to leave school, but they couldn’t afford to keep me at school. And I had to learn, very much so. And I never ever found a problem with studying. Oh, it’s a horrible thing to say but I never failed a
course and I did about a hundred courses in the air force, I have never failed one. There’s a divine.
Did you, okay, so when that finished, what happened after that, once that course finished and you passed the exams?
The course, oh well you just wait until you’re called up then. You see you just, righto you probably get a month’s
notice or whatever it was, “You will be going into Somers on the 10th of the 10th, 1941”. 21 course, I’ll show you in a minute. I nearly got up.
While you were studying, did you keep track of the war and developments in the war?
Oh heck yes, oh yes, oh yes, very much so.
Did you have any sense of where you might be sent?
No, I just had one-track mind, one-track mind, I wanted to fly. And once I had set my sights on it that was the end of the road. I found I couldn’t go on with electricity any more. I dismissed it entirely. I got every book I could on flying, and so on. It was,
I mean I was just, well it was a wonderful day the day I got my, there were, I think it was two policemen came round to my home and they gave me, they were checking up on me. And they saw this lovely home that I lived in and everything else. And they said “Oh well”, you know, they, a character reference. Well I was extremely lucky.
My, the bloke who gave me my character reference was H.J. Highland, Member of the Legislative Assembly and Secretary to State Cabinet. And I’ll never forget it. He said, “I have known Keith Darling all his life. I nursed him when he was a baby.” So I thought “Oh,
how could I miss the air force”. I still reckon that’s what got me in. So I was very lucky, he was MLA [Member of the Legislative Assembly] and he lived in the town of Leongatha. So he did know, he knew my father and mother very well.
Okay, so October ‘41
you were called up
I was in the air force.
for initial training. Tell me about the first
day you arrived at Somers?
Oh my goodness, oh you don’t wanna know that. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. I’ll tell you, cause it’s factual. We marched into Som, marched to the train, and we caught the train down, went to Somers. And when you get in there, there’s the big
auditorium you know the hall, the reception hall. And they sort you all out into flights. You know alphabetically, a, b, c, d and so on. And there’s a big, oh great big warrant officer bloke and he’s there and he’s going out, Abraham’s, you know goes through the a’s.
And then he comes to d’s, he goes oh “Davenport, Darling. Darling, where is she?” You know there’s a hundred men, you know two hundred men in the room. “Stand up”. And I thought “You so and so”. That was my entry into the air force. And I nearly wanted to go home. They made a fuss of me, Darling. Oh anyhow, he
went on but I tell you what, I felt about that big. And of course...
Did you have the uniform at that stage?
Oh no, no, no. Oh no, we were all in civilian clothes.
Civvies yeah. And then what happened?
Oh well, it was just a case of once we sorted ourselves out into flights. I was extremely lucky in that I was in the
first half dozen flights and they put them altogether. And I, as I say, I, look I’ve been lucky with the people that I joined with and that I worked with. My best friend was, he was table tennis champion of Australia, Ken Adamson. The next bloke was Bruce Everett and he was a manager of Woolworths. The
next bloke was oh a wonderful singer, his name evades me but he was manager of Coles. These are guys that, next bloke was, he was one of the managers at the brewery. So I, in other words I had a, another bloke was, he owned half the western district. Oh I’ll never forget he came down, he rolling in money, he came to our home one
night after, during the thing and he says oh what, after we’re married. And he said, he used to come and visit us and “Oh, what lovely kids you’ve got”. You’ve seen our two. And he puts five pounds on the counter, he said, “Just give them a little present after I’ve gone.” Five pounds you know, we thought “Oh, isn’t that wonderful”. But no getting back to the, I,
once again you were in, it’s group therapy I suppose you could call it, everybody wants to get on. And the, you’ve got one ideal and that’s to get through. But of course that’s only the start of it. You’ve gotta do your, if I can tell you, you know how the theme and the trend of war comes on. One of our instructors was
Flight Lieutenant Parry Oakdon. Very well know name in those days, he was shot down, by Richthofen, the Red Baron. And he’s still got the bullet scrapes across his face you know. And he, he’d get in there, he was supposed to teach us the theory of flight or something of that nature. And of course every, all the boys’d say,
“Oh Sir, tell us about your experience with Richthofen.” And he’d say, “Yes, I’ll tell you, you know. He’d say, now boys before we start, the only good German is a dead one, you know.” And ah you know, you’d think “What’s coming next?” So these are things that stick in your mind. But they’re wonderful thoughts. And
we got through with you know flying colours. We sailed through, wonderful.
Interviewee: Thomas Darling Archive ID 0214 Tape 03
Thank you, Keith.
I’d like to ask you about your training at Somers and if you could tell me what sort of training you did there?
Well, you never ever saw an aeroplane and everything was you know sort of very
uninteresting. Because it was all, you were learning Morse code, you know “A” dot-dit, “B” dit-dat-dot, dot-dot-dot, “C” dot-dot-dot, and it was you know all that sort of nonsense. And which we would never use, I never used in the whole of my air force career, never used it once. So I thought, we knew it was unnecessary but we have to go through it. Navigation was another thing.
You see they did not envisage the use of radio. You see when we were over a target we never ever knew where we were. We knew we were over enemy territory but you go up to twenty-five thousand feet and just broadcast, “I want to come home”. You don’t say it like that, you say, “Request homing, number two requests homing,
mission completed”, and they just give you a course to steer. Eliminated all that hours and hours and hours of work of navigation. Mathematics, oh all the other subjects were you know relatively non-equivalent, put it that way. You, there was so
much you had to learn, you did, never ever would need it. Engines, air frames, theory of flight, all those sort of things were good, excellent. They were terrific. But as I say the other subjects were supernumerary to our way of thinking. I mean we were still reasonably bright boys and most of us were fairly well educated.
And we knew what was coming, it was just part of the, that’s the course and had to be done.
What about aircraft identification, did you do that?
Aircraft identification, I’m just trying to think whether it came on at that stage or not because we, it was a little bit early in the piece if you might remember for us. Particularly, not when you get over to England, aircraft identification was very important. But not
so much here. But nevertheless it was part and parcel of the course, yes.
What sort of living facilities, living quarters, were you in at Somers?
Somers was pretty good. It was you know, sort of wasn’t flash, not like you get when you’re commissioned. I mean we were only LA, what you called LACs [Leading Aircraftsmen], that’s the lowest
standard. But dining and all that sort of thing it was, you know you were marched there and there was lots of formality. And you know you had to be on the ball sort of thing. But good food and you couldn’t complain, couldn’t complain.
Where did you sleep?
We slept in billets, you know long,
long huts with beds, you know about twenty or thirty to a billet sort of thing. I think they might have been straw mattresses. Nevertheless, I mean who worries at that time of thing. Of course there again it’s work, work, work. You had to study to keep up to it.
Did you do PT [physical training], much PT?
Oh yes, oh a very important part of the curriculum.
We had a lot of swimming too, because just at the back of Somers, you know there was a good swimming area, in the sea. No very good, excellent. Good gym, all that sort of thing, yeah.
Did you enjoy rookies training?
I did because I was enthusiastic about what was ahead of us.
And it was a means to an end sort of thing. And the more you do there and then, the less you do later on. But no, that was excellent, fine.
So there was no contact with planes at this stage?
Not a single sign of one, plenty of mention of them. As I said there, Parry Oakdon and things like that we’d, only what you could derive
from the people who had been through it. There were a few ex, I think our commanding officer was a, he was a fighter pilot. Can’t think of his name at the moment - never mind.
What were your instructors like?
Oh very good, very good. Yes, as I say it’s, most of it
was pretty elementary and sort of uninteresting in that it was dragged out. Because you could tell there was something, it wasn’t the full bottle. You, they, you were teaching, they were teaching you something that they knew that you would never use.
But it was part, the official line
Part of the curriculum.
and you just had to do, yeah? Did you
start to learn about sort of military discipline and all that sort of thing?
Oh discipline’s a very important part of all this. I mean we took pride in - we used to have marching demonstrations. As a flight you see, as I mentioned earlier, they put you into a flight of about I think it was about thirty blokes. And you know you’d have your drill programs
and procedures. And we’d have competitions amongst the various flights. And they would create, they were very clever, they would create that contentious attitude, so that you’d be having a go. You know we’d like to be the best flight at marching for arguments sake. And then do the fancy marches and all this sort of thing. You know make it interesting.
were in each flight, how many men?
From memory I think about thirty. I wouldn’t be sure on that.
And who were your best mates at the time?
Well I had, well number one, the bloke who had the MG, so we’d get home every weekend.
The table tennis bloke, Ken Adamson, Bruce Everett, Keith Darling and oh the policeman, oh God his name evades me. Harris, Bill Harris, they were the four. We could only get four into the MG you see, two in the front and two in the back. ‘Cause a,
a car was a bit of a luxury in those days, and this was the manager of Woolworths, he had a lovely MG.
Did you get, what did you do in your time off when you had time off?
Oh we mainly came up to, when we had weekends off, we’d only get one weekend in about three or four. You know to come home. But they had,
they had a dance in Frankston every Saturday night that we were allowed you know, allowed to go in just for the night. And we had, they had very good organisations there for us to - that organised these dances and so on. It was very good, excellent. We made some wonderful friends whom Roma
and I visited well and truly after the war until they both passed away.
Did alcohol play much of a part in your activities?
I hate to say it but it was always available. And it depended a lot on the individual. It found quite a few out. On the other hand if you knew how to use it correctly,
I think I did, in fact I’m sure I did, I thought I, because drinking and flying don’t mix, afraid of that, all the way through. And yet in their spare time, particularly when you get on operations and you got sixteen very fit fighter blokes with nothing on their mind but killing somebody you’re intent to
dull your senses now and again. But you wake up, we had, always had, that was the beaut, the thing about aircraft and flying, and you always had a good remedy. And one of the best remedial things was for the, if you had a hangover, the, you would
ask the man who delivers you to your aircraft to put you in, strap you in, put your oxygen mask on, turn it on full and then start your engine. By the time your engine warmed up, they were Packard Merlins don’t forget, it took about five to seven minutes to warm up. And by
the time you were given take off, turn your radio on, so you just turn your oxygen down and I tell you what you’d fight anybody. Oh wonderful, wonderful hangover cure.
Really, the oxygen?
I’m giving things away here.
Really, just a big burst of oxygen.
Oh yes, yeah, yeah, pure oxygen. Wonderful help. There was nothing that you were likely
to encounter would dull your senses or upset you in any way. Fortitude personified.
Okay, so at Somers, did you really get a sense that you were well and truly on your way at that stage or it was still a bit of an introduction?
Well, there was an introduction into
it. But there was always apprehension there because you see once you go through that course you don’t know whether you’re going to be a pilot, a navigator, wireless air gunner, an operator. You don’t know your category until you come before the Category Selection Board. Then they don’t tell you, it’s a
very interesting thing. After your examinations, you go there for three months, you work very hard and then you do your examination. And then after your examinations, they interview you, every one goes up before, and there are about five very highly, or the most highly credentialed person for
your particular subject, you go up for category selection. And that’s a long and they’re all sitting about fifty yards up and you’ve got a march up and salute. At attention you know and sit there. And you know, “Why do you want to be a pilot?” Depending on your answer, “Who’s the Prime Minister of South Africa?”
In other words, you get these you know, “What’s the state of the game in, or state of the war in so and so? Who’s Prime Minister of this country?” You never know what you’re going to get. And they come from every angle across the Category Selection Board. And then you, you know, before you get the answer out, they’re right on to you. They’re, you know, you’re like that going through.
And then they’ll, you’ll say, “Alright mission completed or interview completed”, about turn, quick march and you’re out the door. And then you, you’re on hot, tender hooks now, you don’t know how you went, no idea. You’ve got an idea in your mind that you gave them some reasonable answers but it doesn’t matter you see how they select you. And that’s, and you never know, where you’re going to
until you, you know, at the end of the selection period they all put it up on a board. “LAC so and so, you go to Mallala, South Australia”. And you think “Oh God, what’s Mallala?” “Well Mallala happens to be a navigator station, I think”. And then come to me, “Darling, you go to Essendon.” And I think, “That’s a pilot, you beauty.”
That’s what everybody aspires - everybody wants to be a pilot, as you well know. And so it goes on and then the next bloke, is LAC somebody or other, “You go to Ballarat”. He’s an air gunner. Gerry Gerarda [?], poor old Gerry, I’ll never forget him – “Oh, I did so want to be a pilot.” And he’s, he was made an air gunner. And oh, I could go on and on and take too much
In that interview process Keith did you get to say what you would like to be or?
Oh yes, oh they say, “What do you want to be?” Oh yeah that’s the first, I’m sorry, I left that out. “Why do you want to be a pilot? What would you do if you were over Berlin and your engine cut out?” You know that sort of thing, right from the word go. There’s no let up, very intense.
Oh no, I’m sorry, I didn’t make that clear.
What did you say to them when they asked you?
Oh I’ve forgotten now, I thought of something that must have been reasonably intelligent. “I’d glide to the nearest field and hope for a rescue and not imprisonment”. Something like that, I honestly can’t remember.
remember what you said when they asked you why you wanted to be a pilot?
Oh I think I just said “It has always been an ambition of mine to fly” and to, I might have bought up some relevant things along the line. I, once again it’s sixty years ago dear, I’m sorry I can’t remember what I said.
Would you have mentioned Kingsford-Smith do you think?
Oh, I don’t think that
would have had an influence, not with those men. They’re all fighting men they’re all you know, although Kingsford-Smith was too, up to a point. But I think that was a, just an ego thing really, probably on my part. I mean who wouldn’t be pride, proud to fly that, with that bloke. I admired the ground he walked on.
As a matter of fact I must tell you, the day he - I was marshalling, selling his tickets out there, the crowd were there, and my mother bought me a beautiful new jumper. And I walking under the engine and the engine oil dropped right down there and I wouldn’t let her wash it, I kept it for twelve months. I mean that’s,
that’s the effect it had on me, but then a lot of other blokes too, just quietly.
So once you were made a pilot, where did you go after that?
Oh well, then you wait for your posting, you - they send you on leave and after leave you will attend number 3 EFTS. That’s Elementary Flying Training School
and in, at Essendon.
And how long was your leave in between?
Oh probably only a few days I think. The, this was, this is in the Empire Air Training Scheme. It runs to a schedule all the way through, you know from top to bottom. You, everything’s done to a certain, to a certain time
and organisation and you know it’s all laid out for you in other words. The only thing is you don’t know what you’re going to - once you are a pilot all right you take the train of the pilot. You go from element, initial training to elementary train, flying, then to intermediate flying and then to advanced flying, you
see. That’s the way it goes.
And then when you get to England you got a go through it all again. They don’t accept that you’re, you’ve got your wings but then they say “Oh well, you go to, advanced flying”. And then after advanced flying, you go to operational flying, training. And then
they say “Righto, you’re ready to go now, there’s the enemy, go to it”.
So there’s a lot of training involved?
Well, look there is a lot of training involved but the, that’s why it’s gotta, be done in a certain time strain. You see if you don’t manage to go solo in a certain time, if you don’t manage to absorb what they’ve taught you, you just fall by the wayside.
There were guys falling by the wayside all the way through. Of that list I showed you, there’d be probably, ten of those guys wouldn’t make the first school. It’s you know it’s wastage all the way through. But that’s, they can’t help that. You’ve got a schedule to adhere to and you must be able to, if you
can’t absorb, well you’re out.
They need good people.
Well, you’ve gotta, well they only need the best. I can tell you a terrific story about my grandson, who’s been all the way through. And he gets, after he done advance and he, the doctor came up and he said “We haven’t got enough room for you”. Said, he didn’t say that but he said, “There’s something wrong with your eye”, that’s my grandson, that’s now-
days. So that’s how ruthless they are. You gotta do what they want or you no good to them. See they’ve got a tradition to uphold too don’t forget. They’ve gotta be the best in the world and they want to be. And we want to be. That’s why we
The Royal Australian Air Force?
Oh well, the Australian Air Force, yes. You’ve only got a look at guys like Truscott whom, I
know the guy who sent him, Roy Goon one of my, probably one of my best friends, sent him solo. He said “I should never have sent him solo” but he said “He was such a good bloke behind the guns”. He said “He’d do us proud” and he did. So that’s the way they work.
So you must have been very excited just about to go off to Essendon and do elementary flying?
Tell us about the first day in Essendon?
Oh well before I went, oh no, no, no, I did a high altitude course. That was another thing I don't know how I got selected. But I had to go to university to do a decompression - that was another thing I knew that I was going to be a, you know a pilot, you know. And
I just couldn’t believe, you know I was here at Essendon. And I used to sit there, I used to sweep the tarmacs there and get to know, the crown solicitor was, his wife knew my mother. And you know sort of, I used every string I could - let’s face it. You do that if
you want something bad enough you go after it. And I worked very hard to get where I was. And I wasn’t going to let it go, I made the most of it.
So what did you learn at Essendon?
Oh, oh you, it’s very interesting. We get half way through our course and I’m going along very nicely with Flight Lieutenant Forster. And all of a sudden we go, and I’ve got
my parachute on, I’m about to get into the aeroplane to go solo. And the bloke “Come out, halt, halt, halt. Aerodrome closed. The Yanks had come into the war. They’d bombed Pearl Harbour the night before. And our government had declared Essendon is taken over by the Yanks. They want to bring their aeroplanes in here tomorrow.” And they did.
We were still there. And do you know what? They took over there, and we were digging trenches. I'll never forget that either.
So you didn’t get up to fly on that first time?
No, I did not. I think I got to about ten or twelve hours, I can’t remember off hand. But I was ready to go solo. And the war stopped me. And we were transferred
then holus-bolus to Benalla. After you know they’d sorted things out. We were digging trenches for maybe a couple of weeks or something, I don't know.
So what did you learn at Essendon much at all or?
Oh, only the very elementary stages of flying. Taking off and landing.
And then you went to Benalla?
Went to Benalla then, yes.
And what happened at Benalla?
Well at Benalla we, oh it
was rather cruel actually, we weren’t very well accepted by the Benalla people.
Oh well, they were like us, they were half way through their course you see. Which is the next, that was an Elementary Flying Training School too. We had two, and then the two suddenly became one. And they said, oh you know
they didn’t like us and we didn’t like them very much. But we re-trained, I’ll tell you how it was. I had Milton Forster as my instructor and anyhow he, very unfortunately, an aeroplane landed on top of his and killed him, not with me in it, thank God. But, and then
During training you mean?
During training, yes. And
then I was transferred to a fella called Mc, should I give names?
If you want.
McFetridge. And oh he said, “Oh how did you get this far you know?” - there was that feeling you know. Anyhow, I’ll make it very brief, I was, I don’t know whether I complained or he complained, but I had, my next instructor was a man called Ian
Johnson, who was turned out to be Australia’s test captain, and a very, very nice bloke. And he sent me solo after about three or four trips. And he said “Very good” - I got a good report from him so.
What planes were you flying at this stage?
We were flying Wacketts, Wackett trainers then.
What sort of planes are they?
Very underpowered, not easy to fly, but
once you got used to them you could handle them all right.
Single engine, oh yes.
How many men?
Whereas single engine, two.
Two, two people.
One behind the other, but quite a good aeroplane. Locally designed and built by the way, which was a feather in our cap. We’d passed the Tiger Moth stage.
What sort of range do they have?
Oh, I’d say a couple of hours, two and a half hours. We never did cross country flying, it was always, you know sort of take offs, landings, aerobatics, side slipping, steep turns, all that sort of thing, elementary stuff.
Were there many accidents in training?
let me see. One accident, Gary Bloomer, whom we, his name was “Knickers”. He turned one over. Oh another fellow bailed out, I’ve forgotten their name though.
It’s a bit hard too, you know there were quite a few in,
you know little – no-one killed - only Forster, up at Benalla.
No-one killed when I went through.
Were you aware that there had been, or accidents in training, was common with the air force?
Oh it was always on. You were aware that you know everything had to go right for you to maintain
a clean record. Because aeroplanes are very delicate and in the, you know particularly at that early stages and such little knowledge of the things and what can happen. That’s what you’re there for - to learn what can happen and you do expect some sort of oh little events now and again. But you accept them as part and parcel
of the event.
The whole thing?
The whole thing.
How did you feel flying solo for the first time?
Oh you, look you can’t explain it. You’re looking around, you’re wondering what’s going on. Here I am up here, on my own. Look it is, I don’t think there’s a person alive could explain how he feels when he takes off solo. Having his
ideals come to fruition. His, well it wouldn’t only apply to aviation, it’d apply to anything no doubt. Well that’s it, you’re ten stories high.
What goes through your mind when you’re up in the air, flying through the clouds?
That you don’t do anything wrong - well I used to have some
very good little addendums. And one I always remember was, and I took it right through the air force with me. I’d read it somewhere, “Flying in itself is not inherently dangerous, but like the sea, is terribly unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity or neglect”. And that goes through your mind all the time. And that’s
the way to go down the middle of the road.
It’s almost like a mantra.
Yes. Yes it is.
Yeah. So you were very proud of yourself after your first solo flight?
Oh I, you are proud but you don’t let on that you’re proud. I mean you don’t go around with your silk scarf and your MG and all those sort of things at that stage of
proceedings. You’re just darn lucky to get that far and the hard part’s in front of you. That’s the only way to look at it, well that’s the way I looked at it. I’m so grateful for where I am. And once you start you know doing cross-country flights and all that things, and not getting lost and running into rainstorms. And not knowing the wind directions and all those sort of
things, they start to play on your mind a little bit. And that’s when you assert yourself whether you’re gonna make it or you’re not. If you don’t take those sort of things into account then you’ll finish up in a heap, as quite a lot of people did.
So really the test of a good pilot is flying through difficult conditions?
Oh, well anybody can
do, all you do is just sit there if everything’s going all right, that’s nice and easy. The tough time, well it’s the old story, when the going get tough the tough get going. But it’s, usually you’re under supervision. So that you don’t, they don’t allow you to get into anything that you can’t handle. And I think that’s the wonderful thing about our instructional period.
I mean those boys are good and they’re picked for that reason, they’re only picked because they are good and they know how to teach. Except when there’s a bit of ego as I explained earlier, comes on and a bit of jealousy or something. I don't know how you explain but it’s there.
Did, was there much, well first of all I’d like to ask you with the instructors, were they all very much seasoned, experienced pilots?
Not to the extent of operational work but they were experienced as you would expect in their own field, they’ve done a lot of flying. And you know they were probably chosen for their expertise in conveying it to the people underneath them.
So they hadn’t necessarily seen
I can’t remember any fellow wearing operational medals. But undoubtedly there were a few.
Was there much competitiveness between the
the student pilots?
Oh my goodness, it was all, competitive - whose gotta be best. Oh you know from, right from taking off and landing. You know if you do a bad landing,
there’s always someone, “Gee that was a terrible landing”, you know, you couldn’t get to him quickly enough to tell him. ‘Cause everybody used to watch everybody else you see. And if you’re doing a cross country and you’d planned your, you’d put your flight plan in and didn’t get there on time and all that sort of thing, you had all those problems to contend with.
Do you recall any of the fellow students being particularly sort of cocky
Yes, I can. I won’t name them though. But I can and I never saw much of them after I left. No, no, there was, that element was there. There’s no doubt about that. Oh mind you, it takes all sorts. You got them from all different professions and trades and
areas and characteristics and temperaments and you - everything in a bowl there. And all it does is the cream rises to the top see, for the people who can absorb what they’re taught.
Would you say that most of the air, most of the pilots were of a certain class?
I think you’d have to say yes, because you see the people who choose these men are, they’re qualified men, they know what they’re looking for. The reason I say that is there are so many good men who don’t make it.
For whatever reason, not for me to query the reasons why they don’t make it. But they are really good, educated men. Now how they picked them I don't know. But you’ll say like this guy, he’ll go in to be a pilot, why isn’t he a pilot? How would five men, six men sitting there know what’s good about him or what’s bad about him. Why can’t he
be a pilot? So I, it’s very difficult and you can only sort of say it as you see it. But I wouldn’t put any great credence in that.
Interviewee: Thomas Darling Archive ID 0214 Tape 04
And yeah, I guess the other question I wanted to ask about the students, the pilots, was were they of a, did they, as far as background goes, did most of them come from sort of middle class backgrounds, upper to middle class or?
I would have to say, yes.
I mean you don’t go into detail, don’t forget you just happen to meet up with them. You don’t know very much about their detail but their original selection suggests that they meet all requirements. There is a requirement, there’s no doubt about that, from educational, character etc. I don't know
what that is, so I can’t relate it. But I would say middle class. The, if you haven’t got all the necessary ingredients well then it, they won’t go on with you.
What sort of personality traits do you think makes a good pilot?
Well, there’s so
much competition, that any adverse personality doesn’t meet with very much success or response or call it what you like, because you’ve got a, get on with everybody. If you, I can remember one fellow who started a fight in the mess hall. And they just got him, the rest of the blokes just got him and threw him out, and they didn’t care where he landed, because he started a fight. And
there’s no room for it. And I think the necessity of the occasion determines the ability of the individual to meet requirements, in that category.
So you really need to have an even temper?
An even temper, yes, very much so.
And a confidence?
And a confidence, yes. Yes. Good ingredients.
Aggression is probably, is gotta be used very carefully. Except when you get onto operations, then they don’t care how aggressive you are.
Well, that’s interesting you mention that because at that point, what sort of pilot did you want to be, what sort of plane did you want to?
Did I want to be?
I had one thing in mind, a Spitfire.
Don’t forget the Spitfire was the tops, and once again divine influence here, when I got to Spitfire I came out with an above average recommendation from a Battle of Britain pilot. Now I had achieved what I set out to achieve. And that was probably the day I started to get, you know I say, well I’ve got there. And that was to me
life’s achievement. Apart from getting married of course.
Okay, so Benalla you flew your first solo
Yes I did.
flight? What happened after Benalla?
Well we, you do your, it’s pretty fact finding at Benalla. They’re starting to bring out what you’ve learned.
And you do your, starting to do your first cross-country flight, your first aerobatic, you come under the eyes first, your first blind take off. You know all the determining things that are going to ultimately decide how good you are or how bad you are. So you do three months there. Then you go to, we went to Deniliquin. And
you change from a Wackett to a higher powered aeroplane, to a Wirraway. Now Wirraways are very different kettle of fish. Believe you me, you’ve got to, you’ve really got to start. Once again I was extremely lucky, I had a Flight Lieutenant Nash. And Flight Lieutenant
Nash was married to the Governor General of New South Wales’ daughter. Or he wasn’t married to her then, he was going with her. But I was very annoyed with him because he always used to invite her down. For argument’s sake when I was, he’d show me one precautionary landing and he’d say, “Righto, you go up, you go on your own”, and he would sit under the shade of the trees with a picnic with his girlfriends. And
that was his instruction, I wasn’t getting it. I had to teach myself. So I was annoyed with that but that’s only an aside, so it wasn’t a generality at all. But it was a different aeroplane. Once you get used to it, a very good aeroplane - excellent training aeroplane. We later converted them to series to carry out agricultural work. And I did a lot of flying in series
which I liked very much.
Was it bigger than the Wackett?
Yes, much bigger, much bigger. And longer range, higher versatility and power and you know quite a good aeroplane. Once again an Australian production you know. We were terribly proud of them.
Were they used?
Were they used in operation?
In the very early stages that’s all we had when the Japanese came in. You may not remember it but there’s a very famous line about the first squadron of what are talking about, Wirraways went into action. The leader of the formation said, “We who
are about to die salute you”. That’s a wonder you haven’t heard that one. That’s pretty famous in air force company.
Wow. And they were used in what part of the world?
Oh, they were essentially a training aeroplane but they were put into combat use in Darwin. Or may have, I don’t know much about the Darwin, because I was away,
I went to England in ’41, in ‘42, ‘43. And I just don’t know the disposition of them.
Sure, yeah. Okay, so who were you at Deniliquin with as far as the friends, the circle of friends around you? Other blokes?
Oh well, my best cobber was a fella called L.J. Masters. “Butch”
known for short. He turned out, oh I had a lot of friends at Deniliquin because you do two courses there. You do what they call an intermediate and advanced. So you’re there for nearly six months you see. So you’re there a long time. And you have time to, I did, I made quite a lot of friends in Deniliquin.
So what do you do in the intermediate course, what did you learn?
Oh well that’s, it’s only a sort of a carry on from your elementary flying, you still doing the same things - only harder, bigger and better. You know longer cross-country flights, night flying, steep turns, blind flying. You know all
the extra operational, or operational type flying.
Did they put you out in different weather conditions, like?
Oh never severe. I mean you’re not, very much not up to that stage. And I still wasn’t, I was lucky enough to do what they called a “Beam Approach School” in England. And
it was only then that I felt confident you know about going into cloud and coming out of it, unless you were a good instrument flyer. Instrument flying was very difficult. Very, oh it’s not difficult but it’s demanding.
Okay. Now Deniliquin is in New South Wales,
what sort of time off did you have and how did you spend that time off?
that’s a very good question. Probably at the local pub but there was a good, not that much because you always paid for it in inability if you overdid it. It was a long way from anywhere but we, it was pretty much, I think they realised that and made you work the extra. There was a lot of work to be
done because that’s the critical stage of flying, as you probably realise. And time off was never a problem to me. You know there was always so much study to be done. And well, I can’t remember, we might have played our own sport, probably kicked a footy amongst ourselves, and things like that. But nothing orchestrated or organised
you know to, but there were always you know lots of reading to do and all that sort of thing. Oh and of course there’s the local dances. Everybody, they were always packed out. As a matter of fact I can tell you a wonderful story about a dance at Deniliquin one night. And he was a local,
a local instructor. And of course grog was not allowed at the dances. Anyhow, this Sergeant - Whisker is his name. And he invited me and another fellow, Butch, out for a drink. And said “Where, what’s this drink business?” He said, “Come out and I’ll show you.” And he had half a dozen bottles of beer
tied together on a string dangling in the river at the back of the dance hall. And the police came and of course what he did, he had to throw them in when the police came, you see. And after the police left you know it was, we were all just drinking lemonade or something, I don't know what we were doing. Anyhow, next thing is, he off with his, after the police had
gone, he off with his coat, dived into the river and came out with two bottles under each arm. And Butch said to him “What the heck, are you doing there?” He said, “Don’t think I’m a pearl diver for nothing, do ya?” I mean that was the spirit you know. Those sort of things took your mind off other things. You made your own spare time. That’s
the way it goes.
Was there a good sense of camaraderie amongst you all?
Yes, very much so. As a matter of fact I went to a 3 Squadron reunion up at Nelson Bay. And I, a fellow I hadn’t seen since that course, Bruce, oh I’ll think of it in a minute. And I said, “Bruce,
you probably won’t remember me.” He said, “No, I don’t.” I said, “Well, you sat up until three o'clock one morning before my navigation examination showing me the finer points that I”, Bruce was a very clever man, and I just couldn’t click on one or two aspects of plots that you have to do, very complicated ones at that stage. And
Bruce sat up and you know helped me with them. Which, that’s the sort of camaraderie, that’s an, you know an idea of them.
So did you pretty much socialise with other pilots, did you socialise with other people from the flight that you were?
Only local socialisation, nothing
organised or, although, oh wait a moment, I did go out to a couple of farms, yes. Invited, you know you go to these things and they say “Oh come out for the weekend”. Now I did, I went out to oh golly, once again their names evade, I should have had a recording on this. I’ve forgotten their names but they
were wonderful, wonderful people. And they took me out to, or took us out to their farm out at
north of Deniliquin for the weekend.
Okay Keith, we left off at basically your training in Deniliquin.
You were talking about some of the procedures you went through before you actually went to the UK. Can you walk me through that please?
Through the procedures?
Yeah, the training, operational training you did?
Mainly, it was a culmination of our previous training. Just sort of finishing us off for the advance flying manoeuvres, advanced aerobatics, advanced instrument
flying, advanced bombing, dive bombing etc. And oh long country, long country, cross country navigational exercises, steep turns, all the efforts appertaining to you know getting good, keeping good control of the aeroplane.
So, nothing about enemy aircraft, and what to expect?
Not to this stage, no, no.
No, okay. So you’d reached an intermediate stage in your training?
Intermediate would be a good version of it, yes.
Okay, how long did this go on for approximately?
Well, that would have taken me three months in Somers, three months at Benalla, and
Essendon and then six months, nearly twelve months.
Okay. And when, what year was this at?
Let’s see, that would be the end of 1942. And we were in Christmas, we were, when I left Deniliquin, I came down here at the end of ‘42 and just, I did what they call a high altitude course, that’s being tested in the decompression chambers. And
with a doctor and so on to see if I was suitable for high altitude flying. And that was the final of it and then the next step was to catch the boat for England. Or America, well we went to New Zealand actually and then to America. We went to England via America, that way.
Now, you would have been part of the Empire Air Training Scheme?
Yes, we were.
So can you tell us how you came to England, Peterborough. I understand that was where you?
Ah well, we went to, we went from here to New Zealand, picked up a contingent, more contingents of not air men, they were mainly soldiers, and then across the Atlantic to America.
Across America by train, from Halif, no from San Francisco to oh almost to New York but not quite, ah Boston, Massachusetts. We were in camp there in Boston for oh I’d say about four or five weeks before we
went from Boston to England. But we, there was some very interesting things because we went over with the crew of the [HMAS] Sydney that was sunk or [HMAS] Canberra that was sunk. They were going to England to bring back the [HMAS] Shropshire. And I palled up with some sailors and we had quite a good time in Boston. We didn’t get to New York although we tried pretty hard. But
restrictions were agin us. So we went, we were in Boston as I say for five, six weeks and then we went up to Halifax and then we caught the Louis Pasteur to Liverpool, England.
I see, Liverpool. So there must have been a considerable build up
in your mind that you were coming towards the operational theatre?
Yeah. Well, there was rather a drastic conception of that lot because as we were sailing across the North Atlantic, it seemed to be absolutely awash with boxes of butter and cheese and bits of timber. As a result of
ships that had been sunk by the U-boat. That’s where they were about in prowling the seas between Halifax and Liverpool. And on arrival in Liverpool our, the captain said he was, he apologised for having to turn back one night for about two hours because he said
“There was a, there was a, they detected a fleet of U-boats”, that’s submarines, “Directly in our path from Halifax”. And he said “We had to go round the U-boats”. And they estimated there were fifty submarines, German submarines in between us, and England. And so we all said another little prayer when we got to England.
And how big was this convoy you were on?
no convoy, just one ship.
Yeah. The New Amsterdam to America. Louis Pasteur from Boston to Liverpool.
Were these all air force pilots on board?
No, no, no. We picked up, oh I think about a couple of thousand American troops on the final leg of the trip. Oh yeah, oh yes. No,
there was very mixed, very mixed cargo.
Was there much tension on board the ship in anticipation of?
A lot of seasickness, I don't know whether you’d call it tension or not. But we were sort of acclimatised I’d say you’d call it. But the Americans were, they were very prone to seasickness between Halifax and Liverpool.
I see. Did you encounter
any rough weather?
Not enough to concern us.
So you got to Liverpool, what took place after that?
Liverpool, we went to Bournemouth. Bournemouth was more or less a staging post for incoming air crew from overseas. And we
were greeted by some pretty drastic message that Bournemouth, the week before or just before us had been strafed by hit and run German Messerschmitts. And we were all a bit panicky there. We knew we were getting very close to the action.
And in terms of training, what took place?
Oh well, no you,
you get a, what they call disembarkation leave at Bournemouth. And they put us in touch with an organisation called Lady Ryder. And she distributes us to people, you know local residents who like to entertain us and
look after us after our voyage before we do anything. And we went to a place at Epsom Downs. And oh, it’s a beautiful place and he was a racehorse owner and he told us “To back the winner of the Epsom Cup”, however. And we said, oh a horse called Straight Deal. And we said “Oh, we weren’t backing. But
we’ll have something on this.” But anyhow the thing won and we didn’t have any money on it, usual. But from there we went on to, oh I think we went back to London for a couple of weeks. And my friend and I had a most unusual experience in that we were cloaking our coats. And a gentleman tapped me on the shoulder and said “Would I join, would we, my friend and
I”, fellow by the name of Cliff Jones, “Would we join him for dinner?” And we said “Oh, we’d be delighted”. And he said, “Oh I’m, oh dear, oh dear, isn’t that funny?” The famous baritone, “Oh great Scot, look oh you’ll have to
cut there I’m sorry. God, oh what’s, oh Richard, oh I’m sorry I’ve got it, is it all right.” Oh it turned out he said “Oh, I’m Richard Tauber. And this is my wife, Lady Diane Napier.” So we had the most unusual and unexpected company of Tauber and
Diane Napier for dinner. And we enjoyed that immensely. So that was the highlight of that trip. And oh I forgot to tell you that the hotel at Hamil, at Epsom Downs before, we went into the hotel and they said, “Oh this is where Lord Nelson kissed Lady Hamilton goodbye before he went to the Battle of Trafalgar.” So a little touch of history creeping
in all the way along.
How did you feel in England, did you feel at home?
Ah yes, they did make us feel at home. There’s no doubt about that, we were very, very welcome.
What was the atmosphere like in London?
London was pretty hectic because on two occasions we had bomb raids. I had my first taste of
underground with all the people sleeping there. That was a bit you know, a bit hard to take so to speak.
Why do you say that?
You see all, these well it’s most unusual to see all these poor people put out of their routine and so uncomfortable. And trying to get a sleep and they were all working people. ‘Cause London was working very hard, and it you know sort of
raises your ire a little bit when you hear these things up there and you’re looking for a place to find. And it was just, we got there just when the V2s, that’s the flying bombs, are, were coming into vogue. They were, and nobody knew where they were going to land. The poor old air gunners, the anti-aircraft fire, they were going hammer and tongs. And nobody knew where the next explosion was going
to be. So it was a little bit difficult and we were quite frankly glad to get out of London at the time.
Were these big bombing raids?
Pretty big bombing raids, yes. I wouldn’t have an idea how the Germans were. There’d be, oh I’d say probably eighty, a hundred aeroplanes bombing.
Must have been a bit terrifying?
It was terrifying and well not being used to it, our first, well
our first experience of you know sort of, that sort of problem. But gave us an idea of what to expect, that’s about the size of it.
What took place after that?
Well, then I think we waited for our posting then. The old story came into it and once again, oh when we arrived
in England the group captain, oh Bottomly I think his name, no it wasn’t Bottomly. However, it doesn’t matter, I’ve just, his name eludes me at the moment. But he said, particularly to our little flight that we were in, we were all single-engine trained. And he said to us, he said “Any of you people who are, who have ideas
of flying Spitfires”, he said “I’d get rid of them now”, he said, “Because we’re just starting to get our bomber crews ready for the thousand bomber raids”. And we knew that was going to happen. And we were a bit, we were a bit you know concerned about this. And anyhow to cut a long story short, we, this Leslie
James the fellow that I told you about, was, he was a pretty good thinker, a pretty quick thinker, and we came to the conclusion that we should have a talk to the man in charge of postings. Because that’s our next step before we go on to operations, you see. So having had the blast that we would be put onto bombers, we didn’t like that idea. We went up to these guys and we said
“Now look, we’ve been posted or we’ve been told that we’ll be flying bombers. And neither of us are particularly inclined towards bombers. Not that you know, it’s just that we’ve had our training on single-engine and we’ve both acquitted ourselves pretty well, we want, we would like fighters.” So we made sure that he went home pretty happy. And when the postings
came through, it, as I said earlier you know, you were always knowing where you were going by the station to which you were posted. And we were posted to 7(P)FU [(Pilot)-Advanced Flying Unit] in Peterborough, Northants. That’s where you do advanced flying. That’s the stage before you go to operational training, that’s the second last stage in your training in other words.
And we went there and we, I think it was only about a, oh two months course or three months course something like that. And you know sort of they put a polish on us and bought us up to virtual operational standard. Or nearly, we still had operational training, final operational training to come.
I understand the posting
aspect was quite controversial? A lot of people of course were disappointed because they didn’t get posted to their respective roles. They may have wanted to get into (UNCLEAR).
I came across an instance where one person, one of the officers who was in charge of that was actually bribing, he was bribed sorry, by other people to get into their roles they wanted to? Have you ever heard of anything like that?
No. No because I don’t think he’d,
whoever was trying to be bribed, if he did take a bribe, he wouldn’t last five minutes because there’s too many people against it. There’s a war on, you’re playing for keeps, none of this bribe. As I say we made the guy happy. But we also, that’s not a bribe, there was no suggestion of a bribe, it’s just that we had a, maybe had a couple of drinks I’ve just forgotten the real detail. But we had a long talk to him you know and virtually convinced him that said well all right
we’ve both got good records on fighters and if there is, we left it this way, I can remember that distinct. We left it, “That if there is a possible posting on fighters, we would like it”. And as I say when they said that “We have four fully trained air men for every Spitfire in Great Britain”, it sort of put a bit of a damper on it. But we
didn’t know that our next posting would be overseas or awaiting overseas, because the Middle East were crying out for fighters, and we didn’t know that at the time. That’s why we said “Well, you know if there is an opportunity”, we didn’t know that. But if there is an opportunity, we would like to be put on the waiting fighter’s list. So
he came up with the fighter affiliation. Or having before that we went to, we did our three months at 7(P)AFU.
That’s at Peterborough?
Tell us what happened there?
Ah well, that was quite good because we had some you know, we had to put in to operation all the things that we had learned.
You know, fighter attack, we had some pretty bright boys. I think there were even Battle of Britain boys there too. Instructors and they would take you up and dog fight you and you know tell you “Where you went wrong” and oh you know general fighting, fighter tactics put it that way.
So what sort, how would you conduct a mock dogfight?
Well first of all, you never,
say I’m here and you’re there, you’ve gotta find him and he’s gotta find you. But when you do find each other you’ve gotta employ all the tactics that they have tried to teach you. You’ve gotta come from out of the sun. You’ve gotta make sure your wind direction’s alright, your line of attack, your curve of pursuit, your every aspect of air fighting comes in to attack, it’s too big to, I can’t
memorise it all.
So it’s quite complicated?
Oh yes, there’s so many things, there’s deflection and, you know you gotta get ‘em from underneath. You gotta come down on top of them. You gotta go across ‘em, you gotta get inside them, there’s a hundred things to be learned. And it, the thing about air fighting is that the good one survives, the bad one doesn’t survive. That’s it.
It really is survival of the fittest.
‘Course it is, ‘course it is.
Basic as that.
What did you mean by deflection?
Oh well, I mean if you fight an aeroplane, by the time you’re here and the aeroplane’s there, by the time the bullet gets there the aeroplanes over there. So you gotta fire in front of him, so that he runs into it. That’s why they got so many of us are dive-bombing. When we’re dive-bombing they don’t fire at you, if they fire at you, we’d be gone before the bullets got up there. Anti-
aircraft gun. They fired through there and they put up what they call a “Box barrage”, make you fly through it. And that’s how they got you.
That’s how anti-aircraft works?
Anti-aircraft, oh course. I was transferring that from air fighting, to ground work. So they got you both ways or there, but you got a, you, if you understand deflections you’ve got a ring sighting on you know on your mirror, on your inside
mirror. There’s a, it’s lit up with areas of the appropriate, you know fifty yards, hundred yards, two hundred yards, graduations on your mirror. So that’s how, that’s what they call “Deflection shields”.
Now what about wind, how did wind affect flying, as far as fighter tactics were concerned?
Yes, it always has to be
taken into account but it’s never serious. Usually air battles are fought or the ones we expected to be fought you know sort of in rarefied atmosphere. That’s another thing you know you get up to ten thousand feet or twelve thousand feet as you, the higher you go the thinner the air becomes. And you’ve got to take all that into account because you stall quicker, you haven’t got the lift on your wings. And
you know power comes into play. There’s quite a lot of extravagances there that are, you’ve gotta use everything you can, you gotta use your throttles. And you know because if he’s coming at you like that all you gotta do is pull your throttle off and wheels shoot past, you know all that sort of thing.
So it’s like air brakes, is it, in a way?
Well, in a sense, in a sense, yes it is. It’s tactics, tactics all the way.
So it sounds like a lot of deception and manoeuvre, very highly
manoeuvrable tactics, is there a lot of deception involved?
Oh positively. Look you use any motive that you can, look there are things that they don’t teach you about that you can work out for yourself. And performance is the other thing. Don’t forget the other bloke’s engine is probably as good as yours or might be better. The Germans had very good engines by the way. And you
have to take that into account. You have to use your engine accordingly, and your mixture controls, and all that sort of thing. You see you can’t be going like billyo all the time and then your lever in the cockpit’s up like that. So, and your engine’s over heating. And you get a, even an abrasive bullet past you and then up goes your engine.
So what sort of?
But we haven’t, we’re not on operations yet, don’t forget.
What sort of instruments did a Spitfire have that allowed you to gauge your, say for instance, did you have radar, any sort of primitive sort of radar system to the Spitfires?
No. No, we didn’t have radar. We had what we call “Enemy, friend or foe”. It’s a form of radar but it’s not what you’d call radar. We hadn’t,
we’re still on training don’t forget, we’re not operational.
No, we didn’t have it. But what we did have one night, was a V2 skip bombed over the top of our camp where we were training.
Are you mistaking a V1 or a V2, I’m not sure what you mean? V2 was the rocket,
Yeah the rocket.
without the wings.
Right. So they had V2s by 1942, ’43? I thought they were the V1s, the silver ones.
Well, they might have been
I’m not up with it, I don’t, I’m not quite sure, but I thought they were V2s but they could have been V1s. As a matter of fact I, there’s a friend of mine who was on course with me. He went over on the same boat and he went on to Typhoons. And I believe he was on the course where you, he’s a doctor, just down Beaumaris here. He used to tip them over like that
on the V2s but you, it’s all daylight, that’s not for night flying. And our fighters only fly at night unless they’re, oh they had them flying at night in the finish of course. Cats Eyes Cunningham, as a matter of fact he came out and addressed us one night and they were magnificent, those boys were good. But you gotta be, it’s a specialist job that. You were way up amongst the, amongst it
Interviewee: Thomas Darling Archive ID 0214 Tape 05
Okay, we’re still at Peterborough, haven’t forgotten that. All right, you were taught fighter tactics?
Are there any other aspects of fighter tactics you would like to illustrate?
Ooh gee it’s a bit, I think I covered most aspects of it.
What was the most interesting
aspect of your training in Peterborough?
Oh good question. Oh yes a break in, they said “All right you have to be available for air sea rescue”. That is, they have the Spitfire and what they call the Walrus.
The Duck. The Duck was a pusher aeroplane and was a seaplane. And anyhow an Australian believe it or not, don’t forget that we’re very few Australians, we’re mainly dealing with Englishmen all the time. And this fellow was a fellow called Toddy Hilton who flew this Duck, this Walrus. And I had to do my training on this,
on this Walrus with him. I hadn’t got to the Spitfire yet either. But this was the Duck part of it. Because you, the Spitfire, when another bloke gets shot down in the ocean, he, the Duck lands alongside him or tries to, then the Spitfire covers him you see. ‘Cause they had a habit of shooting him up. You had to have that knowledge, this was all part of your training.
And that’s why I said, that was as interesting, oh we had assault courses. You know climbing over fences and all that sort of thing.
Assault courses you said?
Assault. Not, that’s on the ground, not in the air.
Oh I see.
You know building you up, making you, bathing in the North Sea when it’s about two below zero. Oh they were cruel but,
nevertheless it was still, it was getting nearer and nearer if you know what I mean. But then of course the problem of posting came. Where do you go, you can’t, the Spitfires are all taken up, all the fighter squadrons are full. And that was one of the beauties of it you know. We, by this time we were, they had, they were getting on top of the fight, the German
fighters. But their bombers were you know sort of, they were still bombing very assiduously, they were getting stuck into us. We, where was I getting to, we were, oh so they said “Well righto now, the next thing is we’ve got a find a suitable occupation for you to keep you on hold”.
You see it’s a very simple way but the, you can just imagine a thousand men there, and a thousand men there, and a thousand men there. Well as those thousand, they either get shot down or they finish their tour of operations or they go on leave, well this mob move up. And then this mob moves up to where they were. And they put us in here we’re in training.
We’re waiting for this crowd to do something and then that crowd and then we move up one. So there’s, be a, oh I wouldn’t know how many out of our crowd that went over, they come from all over the, like all the allies. And we got sent to No 1 AGS [Air Gunnery School] Pembrey, which was air gunnery. And that is teaching air gunners
how to defend their own aircraft and shoot other aircraft down, all camera work of course. Except where we got to a, we had a towing flight, what they call a towing flight, you tow a drogue, and that’s good fun. Oh not good fun, it’s a lot of hard work in it but they colour the bullets and you tow a drogue with the
size of the fuselage of a bomber. Which is a heck of a strain on the aeroplane. And that’s about a hundred yards behind you. They’ve got the, every bullet is marked, paint you know. And they can tell if they go through. So that after you’ve done a flight with that aeroplane, with that bomber that’s carrying the gunners, you have to go back to the aerodrome and drop your drogue.
And then you know tell them that “It’s from flight so and so on...” they had all the areas numbered off the coast of Wales. And like it was a “CD” they called it, I dunno why CD. 8 CD, 7 CD, 6 CD, and we would come off that particular sphere of operations and come in to our aerodrome way back here
and drop our drogue and wind up our cable. And then we’d go out and say “Well, all right”. If we’re told, it’s all done by radio, don’t forget we’re in charge of, they tell us “Righto you, attack expected on such and such a bomber, such and such a place and so on”. And then those people would be
you know sort of training in, the gunners, these are the gunners. Those, the blokes I showed you there, they’re, that’s very hard but very terrible work, they used to have to hose them out, it was shocking. That’s why they had to be trained properly. The better fighter tactics you could apply to that aeroplane or the opposition, the gunner, for the gunner, and they’d take them back and show them
where their, show them films of where they made the mistakes or if they made mistakes, show them where - the photographs on the screen of the, of where the bullets have gone and all that sort of thing.
Well sounds pretty thorough, doesn’t it?
Oh yeah, it’s most interesting.
Now where did the Battle of Britain veterans, you said that there was some veterans training you at Peterborough for instance,
what influence did they have at both Peterborough and?
They were fighter, yeah. There weren’t many of them because they, Battle of Britain was fighters, not bombers I think there might have, you know, usually there was a Battle of Britain bloke in somewhere because he was a guy who was feeding the other instructors who weren’t Battle of Britain boys. He was giving them the good gen [?]. you know. Say well “Righto, this, that and the other” and they’d have little school inside,
inside there. It’s advanced stuff and you’ve gotta have advanced tutors for it, and they were the top.
So what did they tell you about the German pilots and what sort of tactics to employ against the Germans? Did they say anything about that?
Well, that doesn’t come on until, because the tactics vary and the aeroplane vary. That comes on at, where we’re teaching our bombers now.
Oh, they would teach us you know sort what I told you earlier, curve of pursuit and all that sort of thing. And out of the sun, up underneath and you know from any direction you know head on. Anyway, they weren’t expecting an air gunner, a fighter rather to attack them, well that’s what you had to employ. And that’s the way we were told to give these boys the
Yeah. So what took place thereon?
Let’s see after we finished Pembrey, oh well we caught the boat to, we caught the boat to, oh we go down to Blackpool. And then we caught the boat to Seven, no wait a minute, that’s Seven
P, why was the Palestine, we leave England here at this stage. Have you finished with England, is there anything you want more?
You were in South Wales?
In South Wales. We, this is, all that I’ve just told you is all in South Wales. That’s No 1 Air Gunnery School at Pembrey in South Wales. And that covered, we had
Sunderlands. Sunderlands were based just up here at Pembroke Docks. And they used to come down and they’d tell us. Say “Righto there’s a bomber, an enemy bomber”, ‘course not enemy but they used to put these you know sort of assimilations on you so that you’re conducting it to teach the boys that Sunderland you know that there’s,
there are enemy aircraft about and we’re the enemy aircraft, you see. Righto and then it’s up to you to surprise them. You come out, out of the sun, always out of the sun. And, or depending, if there’s no sun, well you come from underneath or somewhere else you know, anywhere that you can confuse the gunner in that aeroplane.
When you say out of the sun, I understand this is a common tactic used by fighters?
Oh very, very positive
one, used a lot. Because, well put yourself in the place of the air gunner, you’re looking up there and you’re looking into the sun and I’m coming down the sun straight at you. I mean you can’t use your deflection tactics, you can’t use your evasion tactics, you dunno which way to go or anything like that. It’s a very close ally - the sun.
So what would happen if you were flying into the sun, if it’s in your horizon there?
How would you, what sort of tactics would you use there?
Well, you wouldn’t fly into the sun for a start. You’d probably use some other tactics. As I say, you can come from any direction, to attack that aeroplane to, but try and avoid the gunner. That’s the thing, you can come from anywhere. You know you see the gun,
oh you know what do they call them, the gun pod you know that houses the guns. There’s usually a mid upper or there’s a mid lower, one in the tail and there’s one in the nose. So it depends which one you know you want to have a go at you see. They’ll be having a go at wherever you come from and if you’re coming from over there that bloke’s gonna have a go at you. If you come from over here, this bloke down here’s gonna
have a go at you. Or if you’re coming from anywhere out there the nose gunners have a go at you. So you’ve got a work out your attack mode or motive. When you can fix him, when you can get him in your sights. And say oh well he’s you know and judge your distance, that’s another other thing of course. You, I mean your
guns have got a limitation, you’ve got a be able to estimate your, it’s no good firing at a, well a, doesn’t matter what it is, a Sunderland or a Lancaster or anything. If he’s half a mile away, you’re not gonna get anywhere near him. You gotta get in, within his, within in your range of your guns?
So what’s the range of a Spitfire in terms of miles?
Oh well, we’re using point fives and in, on
MkXIIs I think we had twenty millimetre canon. They were quite good.
Yeah but I didn’t fly those on operations. I did on training in our next segment is on what they call OTU [Operational Training Unit], that’s the one before you go into battle. This is, we’re training air gunners now, and doing our best for air gunners to get them. And as soon as
the opportunity comes up, we get a posting, “Righto, Admiral Cunningham’s calling for fighter pilots. Wanted fighter pilots badly because the whole of North Africa is disintegrated and they’ve got our boys.” And this is what worried me, more than anything else I think was the fact that our Australian boys were on Greece and Crete as prisoners. And of course it was going
so bad for the Germans back home, that they had to, they were calling them home. They were getting home as best they could. And that’s when we got the call to go from there, from Liverpool to, where did we go to, oh well we had to do OTU first, of course. But it was a very, pretty brief OTU. And then I
always had the attitude, I never volunteer, I like to go where I’m sent. And that was another thing that goes right back to where we started, you don’t volunteer for anything in the air force, or I don’t, it was only my thing. Some blokes’d volunteer for anything but if you’re sent, that’s your job. And I liked to concentrate on that. That’s what I say - I didn’t volunteer for any operation
during my thirty-odd trips. I, they asked us to volunteer for certain jobs that were maybe a bit nasty or there was some reason for it. I said “No, I will, I volunteer, if I’m sent, I go and that’s it”. So.
So what did they teach you at OTU, in the final stages?
Well in operational training you go into the real thing. And the, there you do your air
fighting and so on. And there’s Battle of Britain boys there I tell you. And that’s where I came out best, thank God, I got, I’ll show you after, I’ve got an above average rating at OUT, which is damned hard to get. I’m patting myself on the back now, which I shouldn’t, I know. But it’s wartime and it’s what I set out to do when I started. And it’s
almost within a few weeks of the war finishing and I get top, you know I hit the top. I’d have liked to have, headed back but it’s not my making. I knew, as I say, you or anybody, you’re only a number. They don’t know who I am, they have a look at my records and they say “Oh your records look all right”. You know righto he goes there, he goes there. You go where you’re sent. And that’s, whether it’s a
station or a flight or a mission or whatever it is, you do what you’re told. And that’s the best way to get on in the Royal Air Force. Not the RAAF, [Royal Australian Air Force] I don't know about the RAAF. I’ve never, as I say, I joined in Australia but I, I didn’t, my whole squadron was Royal Air Force with the exception of one bloke. Whom I do hope you get to interview him because he,
he has done, oh he’s a wonderful man. And I’ve seen, I flew, flown with him on lots of operations and he’s brilliant.
He’s a fighter pilot, is he?
He’s a fighter pilot and he’s got over two hundred thing. I’ve got thirty, thirty-four or something.
Two hundred sorties?
Two hundred sorties, yes. But he was with one squadron, did his tour there and then he came back to our squadron. And
did another tour and I shared a tent with him. That’s why I know how good he is. So I’ll fill you in on that. But I hope you get to interview him because he can tell you a lot more than I can. Particularly about the Middle East, see I lost, I didn’t lose that time, I put it to good use, training. But I did what I was
told to do. Whereas he was lucky he was out there in the Middle East and he went through with his squadrons out there.
So with your OTU, how long do they go for approximately?
I think only a couple of months. They were, desperately needing fighter pilots then. And they I, look I
could probably tell you by looking it up but I can’t tell you off the top of my head. But I don’t think it was as long as the, you had to also, as well as doing, it was an all embracing type of thing, anything you were likely to mention were, they’d, directing artillery fire. You see if you came across a range of guns, you see you had good radio in those days. And you’d say you know,
you’d be in touch with the ground and they’d say “Oh there’s something we want put out”. And you had to learn how to do it. I’m going to be a bit naughty here. I, where, see it’s out in the desert. Well where do you find desert except old blokes on camels going across? And that’s the only damn thing you can find as a target. Well, I’m afraid there’s a lot of blokes on camels didn’t get to where
they belonged but they were on the other side anyway so.
What do you mean, a lot of other blokes, you’re saying that these were Berbers?
No, they were targets for our artillery.
Oh sorry, right you’re talking about wild camels.
Yeah, Arabs on wild camels they go across, you see them everywhere, oh not everywhere, there’s the odd one. And if he happens to get in range
of our artillery, that’s practising or training out in the desert or waiting for oncoming enemy or something like that. Well you say, oh you estimate the range, enemy, five hundred and fifty yards, due east or give him the number of degrees,
o-nine-o you see. And then you’d have a look and one round. You’d sing out, one round, fire, So the next thing is you’ll see a, you look where it is, see how, what proximity the twenty-five pounder landed you see. And if it’s too far you’d say drop twenty or drop thirty depending. Or if it’s add, if it’s too low, you add fifty or add a hundred.
So you can knock him out you see. It’s a wonderful way of firing artillery I tell you.
This is in Palestine?
This is in Palestine yes. 7(P)AFU yeah. Yeah. ‘Course it is.
So why would they shoot at tribesmen in Palestine, because that was already occupied territory by the allies?
Well, you don’t have to ask me that, I wouldn’t know. I only shoot at what I’m given.
So, this was done quite often, by pilots - artillery
Look, I wouldn’t put anybody else in but I did it. I’m not proud of it, that’s what I said. I don’t know whether he’s enemy or not because he’s unarmed. But then I was unarmed a lot of times too and I got a bullet through the, almost through the petrol tanks, so I don't know whether it was retribution or not.
So did this also encompass strafing?
Oh no, we hadn’t reached the strafing business yet. We’ll get to strafing in a minute if you don’t mind. Strafing is a thing altogether. That’s a, oh you wouldn’t strafe anything like that. I mean when you get to the troop trains and the target and the trains that are carrying war material and
petrol and water and cargo of any sort that’s, but that’s when I get to operations. That’s when we did all that. That’s, we were training to do that and there was, we’d have targets, we’d have fixed targets. For learning to fire you know, get our trajectories and all that sort of thing right, on particular targets. And that was all done where we were in
Pedaticfa in Palestine. I’ll tell you who did that course, not with me, Bud Tingwell, you know the actor.
No, I can’t say I do.
Oh doesn’t matter. He’s a well-known bloke, well he did the same course as I did. I met him long after the war. And he said “I did my OTU at Pedaticfa in Palestine”. I said “Oh, you did eh”. I said “I did
too”. But it was a very good school, very efficient and they really knew what they were doing. Good, well-organised and tough school, tough, that’s the only way you can put it.
Okay, so you did your OTU in Palestine, what took place after that?
Oh, well you go into operations then you just wait until they say, we had no idea what squadron
we were going to be posted to.
Okay, so there was no idea still?
No, they never tell you and then when your posting comes through, once you’ve done your, or you’ve finished your course. “Righto, you’re on the market”. So they say “You, you, you and you, are going to 213 Squadron” and I was one of the one, one, one. I was the, you, you, you. I went to 213 Squadron. And loved it, terrific Squad, it’s called the “Hornet Squadron”. And its
motto is, “Irritatus et Laseset Crabro”, he who irritates the hornet will be stung. And you can imagine almost the whole of North Africa, I think it’s fifteen divisions or something, are just going up through both Italy and Yugoslavia. There was 3 Squadron and all that - they were handling all the Italian side. And then
we were on the east coast on Biferno, and now we’re getting into it, getting into the real McCoy now.
You said fifteen infantry divisions were marching up?
Well, there’s the estimate was fifteen German, the occupational German divisions.
Oh German divisions.
The Germans, yeah, they’re all coming, they’ve been called back to Germany, to help with the war back there. Or so the story goes, I’m only
telling you what I’ve been told, I don't know what the things are, what the orders are. But and Cunningham was told “To just harass them and not let them get back”. And that’s what we were doing there. So we worked on troop train after troop train. I can show you, I’ll show you those ‘cause I’ve got a thing there. I think we got about twenty-three trains, troop trains and,
in two days. But that’s when, you know, the real business. Because they told us at the start, they say “Now, they don’t take prisoners, we’re retreating, so don’t get shot down”. But how do you stop them, they’ve all got guns and everybody has a go at ‘em. And you know that bit of lead I showed you, that hit me right in the engine. And that was, but
that was on about my thirtieth trip or something. So it was getting close to daylight in anyway. But we, it was open sesame on, oh that’s another thing, we dropped a spy, Randolph Churchill, a brother of the big
Winston yeah, a relative or something, and he radioed back to us or to our headquarters that you know “We were out there, we were doing the right thing, we’d blow up the engines, but we’d never touch the, because they were Red Cross, he radioed that they were Red Cross trains”. So he said, “Look don’t take any notice of Red Cross, they’re
full of German soldiers”. And so they just said “Open season”. So, I hate showing you but I’ll show you where we strafed train, after trainload of German soldiers. That’s fair dinkum.
Right, now by this stage the invasion of Italy had well taken place?
Oh yes they’d gone on. Yes, yeah, they were up north of Rome, you know where Rome is? Yeah, that battle had
been fought and we were, that’s why all this is so new. We were on an airstrip at, I’m glad you mentioned that. They have what they call PSP, pierced steel planking. For an aerodrome they run a grader along the beach, they run this thing out, like a, unroll it on the, and that’s our air strip, it’s only as wide as this room you know. You can’t take, you take off
fully bomb loaded and everything else. The Italians used to use it and they’d say “Keep to the right of the crashed Italian aeroplanes”. It was very dicey but we never lost any.
Where was this beach, where?
Biferno, this was near Rome, on the other side, the eastern part of Italy?
Eastern part of Italy. You know where Naples is, directly across
on the opposite side.
Okay, right, right, got it. At that stage was the Gustav Line still there? I understand Monte Cassino, the Battle of Monte Cassino?
No because I’d landed at, on, oh that was another thing. I get cross, I had landed at, I was in an escort, I was escorting, I was picked to fly in the escort
of Admiral Cunningham from Rome to Belgrade. And the, we ran into shocking weather and I was forced back and I had engine trouble, my plugs oiled up or something. And I had to land north and it was only just south of where they were fighting. And it was up you know, I wish I could think of the name,
look I might be able to tell you where I, where it was, it was north of where, Biferno by about two hundred miles or something like that.
That’s where the fighting was?
You get the picture?
Yeah I can picture it. Yeah, so hang on, has Anzio taken place yet, the Anzio assault? You know how the Americans bypassed the Gustav Line by launching an amphibious assault at Anzio?
You can’t remember that?
No, no, I cannot. I was too busy doing what I was doing
in Yugoslavia I think.
Okay, so did you do any operations around that area in northern Italy towards the mountainous
No, every flight I did was over Yugoslavia. And it was from the south to right up there, we even sunk a ship in Fume Harbour, right up there.
In the Adriatic?
In the Adriatic. Yeah, we got direct hits and they sent us the, they sent us the,
oh the reconnaissance photograph sometime later. The ship wasn’t there, it was sunk. Now we, you gotta get the hell out of it as soon as you get stuck into ‘em. I mean there’s guns come from everywhere. You know the anti-aircraft, their ant, anti-aircraft fire was just terrific, there’s no doubt about it. Everybody had a gun. And
it’s just amazing, so what you do you get in, drop your bombs or strafe, or do what you do, get the hell out of it. And you don’t know how much damage you done as I can show you. We, the CO and I sank five submarines, they’re only midgets, little ones, but we had no idea until we read it in the Air Ministry official thing.
Oh I see, right.
We, there was a hell of a
blow up but we didn’t know what we, you don’t know what you do, you see because you, if you hang around you’ll get knocked off.
Before we proceed onto the details of operations, I’m interested in why you actually conducted sorties over Yugoslavia. As I understand it the Soviet army was proceeding along that front towards Yugoslavia and I mean, most of the fighting that was going on at
that stage was mostly with the Soviet Army. So were you conducting support operations?
No, no. We had partisans, look we had Croats, we had Serbs, we had Ustasha, we had Ursulas [?], we had Yugoslavians, there were about six or seven different nations the
Germans were controlling, they had armed them all, all those people they were armed and fed. And the only people over there against them were the Red Star [Partisans], oh Tito’s mob. Oh, what do they call them, that’s how lucky I was.
Chetniks, are they?
No, no, Tito, oh
dear, oh dear.
That’s okay, it doesn’t matter.
Yeah, well they were the only loyal crowd because we had a, this bloke I’m, another fellow I’ll tell you about who was shot down with. He was working with the Yugoslavs and we got some information back to our squadron from him.
Now, as I understand it,
I don’t believe there were any major assaults on Greece by the allies
because they were going through Italy? Right, the major land invasion was taking place through Italy, the allies.
Most of it was, but there was a big, all their equipment, I think I can show you in the book I’ve got is, we got something like thirty troop trains and you know that’s all their equipment.
Now sorry, I’m getting confused, are you talking about the Germans or the allies?
Germans coming back up, through Yugoslavia.
No, sorry, what I’m referring to is the allied advance - the centre of the allied advance in southern Europe was through Italy, I understand?
The centre of the allied advance.
Yeah, the main thrust.
They were advancing, they were chasing the Germans back through Italy. We were stopping them from getting back on this side. ‘Cause they were going back to help
the Germans. Their cry was for help. They were trying to join up with the Russians. North of Yugoslavia in Austria and in there somewhere. Because when we, I understand that was the, when we escorted Alexander over to Belgrade, that was some of the problems that they were going over to try and work out. How they were going to
deal with the Russians you know sort of and the Germans tying up, but I don't know.
Right, now in Belgrade, you said you escorted the?
I didn’t get there, bad weather. Wish I could have. No, I got oh within an hours flying of it I suppose, oh probably less.
Okay, we might stop there and change the tape Sue yeah?
What are allies,
what’s Tito’s mob?
Interviewee: Thomas Darling Archive ID 0214 Tape 06
Okay, now we’re getting closer to the operational details.
We’re in it. We’re in it now.
Before we go into the actual specific operations, I’d like to ask you if you could describe to me more about 213 Squadron. I understand it was a unique squadron, as far as fighter units were concerned
with the RAF, can you give me more of an outline of its role?
Why was it unique, in what terms was it unique?
Well, I think it was the only squadron in that area doing dive-bombing for a start. I mean most of the, even 3 Squadron, I’ll, we’re not broadcasting, are we?
No, we’re rolling at the moment.
Oh are we?
Well, I sat next to Bobby Gibbs of 3 Squadron at a reunion. And he said “Who were you with?” I said “I was with 213”. He said, “Gee pal, you did it hard, didn’t you?” And I said, “Yes, I did, we did do it hard.” And I gather from that, that we had the reputation of whatever it was, I’m not sure but we were the
the strafing that we did. I mean to give you an idea, when we were strafing these trains, the Germans would have, this bloke I told you about, or did I tell you, he radioed back, Churchill. He said - you’ll see it in the book that I’ve got that he, all I had about twenty trains
done, we only blew up the locos and we strafed the trucks and all that sort of thing. But then the Red Crosses were all troop trains. They were all troops and we weren’t supposed to touch ‘em. But then when you get over them, all the signs suddenly fall down. And you’re looking down the barrel of about twenty anti-aircraft guns. So I think that may have been a reference that they were referring to.
The other one was the dive-bombing. But apart from that I think they were equipped for anything because you see we were, once again we were the only squadron there in Mustangs. And that was dive-bombing you carried two five hundred pounder bombs. We could sink a ship, which we did. I’ll show you that too. And you got six point five machine guns, each firing five fifty rounds a minute. Now that takes care of tanks and
guns and motor transport, anything at all, there’s nothing against it.
So a point five machine gun, is that a fifty, known as a fifty calibre?
Point five’s half inch you know. Half inch, yeah.
So with this sort of armament, when did you, you knew the moment you came to Italy, were you transferred from Spitfires straight into Mustangs?
Yes, yes, yes.
So how did you learn to fly
Go out and the bloke calls up, “Righto, two circuits”. I got out of a Spitfire into a Mustang. And I tried to land it the same as a Spitfire, he said, “You better go round again, you better go round again.” ‘Cause a Spitfire could land inside a Mustang, and I had two or three turns, two or three or two circuits anyway before I landed. Because they’re, they can’t turn so quickly.
And I was overshooting.
So what was it like to fly a Mustang after being trained to fly a Spitfire?
Well it was marvellous, that’s why I bought those papers for you to read. You know the difference between a Mustang and a Spitfire is quite remarkable. Because they’re for two different roles, you stay and fight. If a Mustang pilot and a Spitfire pilot stayed to fight, the Mustang pilot would get shot down every time. But if the Mustang wanted to get away
from him, he’d just go like that and he’d, he was faster, carried more load, see Spitfire couldn’t carry anything really. I think a Spitfire was an hour and a half or something. We could go for nearly four hours. See we had what was it a ninety gallon tank of petrol behind the pilot and I think we had a
forty gallon in each wing.
Drop tanks, was it?
And we could carry drop tanks but we were, we didn’t carry drop tanks except to supply, I’m glad you bought that up too, we supplied Churchill with drop tanks full of pigeons and food and radios and whatever, you know, to keep him going. And I wasn’t on the
raid though. I didn’t do that raid. I’d like to have done it. But I wasn’t on it. But no the, you were so much more volatile with a load full of bombs and ammo. And don’t forget, and another thing, your ammunition was tracer, armour piercing,
This is all in one gun?
Yes, all in, and they were all mixed so that, so that.
Oh different types.
Yeah, as you fired ‘em, you always had a tracer - tracer was the other thing. You’d see a tracer go down and could, that could guide you. Your tracer’d go to your target and could follow your tracer through. And then you’d know that there’s about four or five other different types,
armour piercing, whatever you were firing at was all doing damage. I mean a tank or a motor transport or a gun. Oh that’s another thing we did too was, they, we were having terrible trouble with long-range guns. And we bombed them, and we knocked, our section, we knocked them out of action. Never heard of them again.
So when you pressed the trigger, you were firing three,
three different guns at the same time on each wing?
So six guns you were firing with one trigger?
Six guns each firing five fifty a minute.
And each gun, like you had three guns on each wing?
So each gun on the wing on each respective wing was a different gun?
No, no, no. Same gun firing different ammunition, the ammunition was mixed.
Oh sorry, I get you now. Okay you could actually cater for different ammunition. Oh I see.
Yeah, yeah. It was all hand loaded. They’d put a belt in,
and don’t forget we, you’d have a photograph in each wing. On each gun projection there was a photograph. I couldn’t go back to my officer, my intelligence officer. Incidentally, you’re briefed after every flight you do, you’re briefed. And they say righto, you’re, you know what’d
you do. He’ll write down what you do and he’ll say “Well righto, here’s the film out of your gun.” And it’s got your name on it, flying officer so and so. You know such and such a raid, raid thirteen or whatever it was. “And now what was your story sir?” “Oh we blew up this or we blew up that”. And then he’d roll the film. And I’ll tell you I beat him. Oh, I’m
proud of this. So it come to my turn and we attacked, now you probably know this, Zagreb aerodrome.
Zagreb yes, Croatia.
Right, Zagreb, it was lined with German aircraft. Focke 190s, and one, one - two five, no, no 252, they were the jet. Messerschmitt 109, no Focke 109.
Oh what was the Messerschmitt?
109. There, I knew I got it all mixed up. They were all spread round the perimeter. So four of us got round and we, we went line abreast like that. Now we’d worked all this out because they wouldn’t come up and fight. And we knew that there must have been a petrol shortage, cause that’s another thing, the CO and I bombed a big petrol dump
a couple of days before and oh made a hell of a fire. Anyhow they, we get back, we got back about oh five miles. And we were all you know just above the deck. And you had to go straight across, you can imagine how these things were. In dispersal, you know how they, have you seen an aerodrome?
Right. Well all you do is fire, you couldn’t move. But there was one aeroplane there, one here one there
and one there. And he goes straight over, say to cover the whole aeroplane. Fire whatever you, as soon as you get within about you know, oh half a mile from the aerodrome you open up. Because by the time you open up your bullets’d start to get in there. And you go across that aerodrome at less than ten feet high. You know right on the deck and all you do is fire at what you do. ‘Cause you’re gonna get something somewhere, they’re either down there or they’re this end.
They mightn’t be on the runway there. You’re gonna lose that ammunition but you’re gonna get ‘em, and the blokes coming down this side. And me being number two I had a beautiful line. I went in and of course the first thing I do is, I go back and I tell him, this spy his name, he’s a South African. I said, “Spy”, I said, “I’ll have the best one in the world for you.” And I’m sitting there and I’m looking and all of a sudden it’s a blank, it’s a blank. Both
guns, blank. And the debris from the explosion had blanketed right up and all I did was flew through it. And they went down and had a look at the aeroplane and I got scratches and bits, you know bits of aeroplane, you know I’d flown right through it, frightened the hell out of me I might say but, but at least we put the aerodrome out of action.
When you say it’s a blank, you were referring to you running out of?
The film. The film was a blank, the mess. The explosion of the thing was just it didn’t take a picture ‘cause it, because the mess it blanked out the film.
Oh I see, right. So why not, why wouldn’t you attack in a select way? Why not pick out a plane straight away?
Anti-aircraft guns all around the place, anti-aircraft guns everywhere.
But wouldn’t it be dangerous to be less than, I mean you were saying that you were literally something like ten feet or,
off the ground, wouldn’t you be vulnerable that high?
No, no, the barrel of an aircraft gun is from here to there, ten, the barrels about that long. And if you find, all he’s got to do to get at us, I mean we found us going away and there were shells bursting in front of us out here. They were firing at us from behind. You can imagine how hard it is to operate an aircraft,
anti-aircraft gun which is designed for pointing upwards anyway, but to get it down level ‘cause it was a shock raid. You know we sprung it on them, it was very early morning I think I put in the book. And they probably, all half asleep and by the time we got over there, we were through and the damage had been done.
What about small arms fire?
Well that’s always a possibility but nobody got hit. So we
got away with it. And yet I, as I say, I was I think testing an aeroplane one day and a bullet came up through the tank. God knows who it was.
Were you ever, how could you say it, nervous about meeting Adolf Galland’s Squadron? The Germans had a (UNCLEAR)?
Oh, he was way ahead of us. Oh, he was way ahead of us.
What do you mean?
He, before our time.
Yeah, oh yeah.
The Messerschmitt-262 jet?
Oh no, glad you bought it, oh God I’d forgotten about that. We were out there one day and thank God I was with the CO. And we were right, we were pretty high too. And we were going to a particular target. And all of a sudden the boss, we call him the boss, the Chief, Peter Bourne Fowler, DSO [Distinguished Service Order], DFC [Distinguished Flying Cross] and Barr. He knew his business. And he
was up, he said, oh I’ve forgotten just how he put the order now but down to the ground. We all turned over on our backs and went straight down to the ground. There was a [Messerschmitt] 262 went straight across the top of us. Straight across, he didn’t see we were camouflaged.
What do you mean you were camouflaged?
Well, all our aeroplanes were you know sort of, to blend in with the ground, and that’s why he ordered us down to the ground. But
PRU that’s Photograph Reconnaissance Unit, they were unarmed, they’d lost aeroplanes. And two or three of the other squadrons had lost aeroplanes to this ME [Messerschmitt], one, ME-262. He’s got a twin jet, he could out fly any of us. He’d have knocked us all out if Fowler hadn’t have seen that aeroplane we’d have been gone.
So an ME-262 could knock out four Mustangs easily?
No trouble at all.
thought they had problems?
No ‘cause they’re so fast, they’re so fast.
I thought they had problems with Mustangs, taking on Mustangs?
‘Cause some of the accounts I’ve read, but I mean you’d?
So long as the ME two bloke knew what he, ME-262 bloke knew what he was doing. He’d knocked out a Spitfire MkXXII, which is unarmed,
MkXXI or XXII and PAU [?] was using them. And they
knocked about five of them out before they you know woke up to him. And that was positive too.
So an ME-262 pilot would have to be a rather experienced pilot?
Well, he’d have to be because they never had many of them, but what they did have were very effective.
Was there much?
But that was all from Germany.
Was there much talk about the German, how did you view the German air force or what was the talk about the German air force?
Oh one of the, our blooming airstrip. Not an ME-262 but a 109 landed on our strip. And the group captain rang me up, I was the only bloke in the mess. This is one thing I am ashamed of. And he said “I want you to go and fly that thing that they landed on the, the bloke, they’ve got the German. But I want you to bring it
back so that it’s not, we’ve got aeroplanes coming back from raids over the, over the, over Yugoslavia.” And I said, “I can’t read German sir.” “No excuse” he says, “You should be able to fly that”. And I said, “I probably should but I don’t want to do it because I knew damn well I’d get shot down or shot up or you know be curtains.” I think he got some of the ground
staff to remove it actually, finish. But I had to refuse him. I squibbed it in other words. But that’s the only think I did squib. I wasn’t ashamed of it.
But I understand the German air force had quite a lot of fighter aces, like exceptionally good fighter aces?
Well, they seemed to, some of them were well trained and some of them were poorly
trained, and we knew that. And word got around you know because our CO as I say, he was only, he was twenty-two and a squadron leader. DSO, DFC and Barr. I don't know what his, but he had two brothers killed in the Battle of Britain, and his father was air officer commanding India. And he knew his caper.
And I know he was in France, I know he was based in France before he came to us. But I don't know how many he had shot down or anything.
I understand there were cases of lack of moral fibre, LMF? Air force of course...
Oh what’s a name asked me that, what’s the girl’s
name? Annie [Researcher], she said, “Had I heard of LMF?” I said “My God I was that close to it, it didn’t matter”. And oh do you think I should? I mean you hate talking about those things. No, they were all South Africans, there were only four of them.
In your squadron?
Yes. And this, we had a South African
mind you before we had Peter Fowler. And the first thing Fowler did was address, he’d heard about this. He addressed the squadron and he said, “While I am in charge of this squadron every bomb that we’ve got on dispersal goes where it belongs, and that’s on top of the Germans you know.” He laid down the law, he was a real, he was about six foot two or three and a real Brit. Knew what he
was talking about too. And when he spoke you listened. And somebody, see when you’re in a dive bomb, say that’s a target. You come up here, you find the sun wherever it is, because there’s, don’t forget there’s anti-aircraft guns, it’ll be something that we’ve got a put out of action, whatever. Whether it be a marshalling yard or a factory or a
fuel dump or another train or, it’s gonna be a target worth defending. You go down. Well num, num, and you fly through the target and you’ve got a bead sight as I told you, you go through there. And as you’re going through it you just count, one press, and your bombs just go like that. See that might be, you come down about do it, so by the time I go over it the bombs just land there. You can, you can
be terribly accurate, it amazes everybody how accurate dive bombing can be. And we go through one and number two - the CO always goes first by the way. I’ll give him that. Number two has got to see where his bomb goes. He pulls up out of the anti-aircraft way. And you’ll call up and you’ll say you know “Fifty yards short
or a hundred yards overshot or fifty yards left, thirty yards left”. To give him an idea of his bombs where he. And number three, that’s, he’s gone, this blokes there and number three is here. And he, by the time he gets there, he sees his bombs are hitting, you see. So he says to number two, “Number three calling number two, your
bombs were direct hit or whatever”. And number four says of number three, “Number three your bombs went where they did you know”, you tell him. But they flew these South Africans as number three. See they put him in the middle. So that we were, they had to find out where his bombs were. Well he would, you’d go into your
dive at eleven thousand feet, twelve thousand feet. And you’d pull out at about oh four. But, he pulled out about half way down the dive. And he’d pull up and he’d go out there. And his bombs would drop away to billyo out there. And of course number three had to report him. And I had to report him. Only one, the other three took on his own, but I had to report him. Oh it’s a girl’s name, he had.
Oh God it evades me, I can tell you the bloke’s name, poor bloke he’d shoot me if he knew. They, he just, he didn’t say “You LMF [Lack of Moral Fibre], you this”. They all did the same, all did the, exactly the same thing.
What do you mean, all did the same?
Well they pulled out half way through the dive, instead of going right down. You see you don’t pull out of your dive until you’re at about four thousand. Don’t forget you’re doing about four hundred and fifty miles
an hour in a dive. One bloke is suffering now and his doctor told him he’s, the bloke I was telling you got two hundred. He reckons his dive-bombing has caused him one hell of a problem, it’s upset his blood system and...
Oh really, I don't know that.
Yeah, yeah, that’s just recent too. And he said “Righto you report”, he didn’t do it all at once too, he was smart this CO.
“You report to the doctor”. Course he’d had a word with the doctor, lack of moral fibre. Next day he’s, after he’d flown with them, “Report to the doctor”. Doctor says “No more work”. No more work. No more. Four, one after the other.
From your squadron?
From the squadron?
And which nationalities were they?
All of them.
All South African. Now that’s why I hate telling the story. Because
look there’s some lovely South African blokes. Even our intelligence officer was a South African. A fella by the name of Spy or Vere, V-E-R-E Stok, he was a lovely man. Matter of fact he got me a watch. And it was pinched in your place, in Colombo.
Oh we’ll get to that, definitely.
No, was taken from under my pillow at what was that beautiful hotel
where I stayed.
Mount Lavinia, before we went up to Dehiwala. Yeah, he pinched from under my pillow, by golly I was crooked on that. Yeah, old spy, there’s a story for you.
So lack of moral fibre, is that cowardice?
Was it what?
Is that considered to be cowardice?
Oh yes, oh yeah, oh that’s a disgrace.
Why lack of moral fibre, why does morality have to be in the word? Isn’t
morality something different?
Now I didn’t formulate that, and I would not have a reason in the world. Because that is the only case that I’ve ever heard of. That I’ve ever known about, I never heard of it anywhere else.
Why would they have reason to pull out of a dive, presumably, were you under anti-aircraft fire?
Because of anti-aircraft fire, anti-aircraft fire is the most frightening thing. ‘Cause the Germans gave themselves away, they always
used tracer in their anti-aircraft. It’s just like us using tracer. I remember earlier on I told you about how you use tracer to give you an idea of where your bullets are going. ‘Cause you can’t, otherwise if you just fire, you just see a heap of dust or a heap of where ever, in the water or a splash about five seconds later. Well that’s too late ‘cause you can’t correct you see. If you use tracer, you know exactly, ‘cause you can see them hitting your target.
And they always fired the target. And the stuff’s coming up like that and you think “How the hell you don’t get hit, don’t ask me?” The, course you do, you get hit all right. But they come up and, when you see them, it puts you off and you pull off.
So the tracer is essentially a psychological weapon, is it?
I would say it’s as much psychological as anything.
To put you off, yeah.
So it’ll give away their positions, the anti-aircraft guns?
Oh yeah. Oh well, that was another one of our functions is what we call the South Africans. I’ve got it all written down, it’s was written down fifty years ago, I’ll show it to you in a minute. When they attacked a target, they would never attack without, they had
an anti-flak tabose. I’ve got it down. And we condoned it. In other words, if they’re attacking a target or they, ‘cause they were flying oh Whispering Deaths, oh what do they call them, ah on the two radial engines. However, different aeroplane to us but they were flying rockets, but they’re slower, oh excuse me, they’re much slower.
The South African’s your saying?
Yes. Their squadron was a, Beaufighter. And their target, we would have to supply our Mustangs to quell the fire coming up at the Beaufighters. Now each operation they did, we used to dread it. They used to say, “Anti-flak
tabose”, telling us the night before about what the squadrons are doing, or who was flying who. “Righto, A, B, C and D, you’re anti-flak tabose”. And then we’d go to the Beaufighter briefing on what targets they were going, supposed to hit. And then you’d have to go in first. You’d tell them to hang around somewhere out of range while we go in. We go in and number
one attacks the fire, number two puts, fires at the gun. I did it for my own CO. It’s not an adverse tactic, it’s quite a good one. If you’ve got a nasty little gun somewhere and you want to, we had a headquarters. I did one of them, so I know what I’m talking about. The CO said “We’ve got a get that blooming headquarters out of there because that’s what directing the fire all around”. And he said, “I’ll go in”, he
said, “You cover me.” And sure enough as he’s going in this bloomin’ red tracer come up. And I spot it and just, he didn’t see me coming, he was firing at the boss. And I just went across like, like that and put him out of action.
That, yeah, strafing. See, well you got six, as I said six, five hundred and fifty rounds a minute. And there’s two of them that’s a, eleven hundred rounds a minute going in.
So what sort of
anti-aircraft guns were you up against, 88 millimetres?
Oh there was 88 millimetres, webbing going over. And I, one of the blokes came out one day, he said “There was that many bursts”, he said, “I think we’d better get out and walk”. It was all black, it was black smoke, anti aircraft fire. But usually twenty mill [millimetre], is you know goes on all the transports. They got them on all the trucks and the trains. 3.7,
4.5 and 8 and then you go up to the heavy stuff, up to 80 mill.
So what sort of altitude would a Mustang generally fly at, on your operations?
Depends on a lot of things, where you’re going, what your terrain is like, what your target is, what the armament of the area over which you’re flying is, or you know the density. Is it a troop
concentrated area, you know? I mean if you go over a troop [concentration] its only 303s you see. But they’re lethal, believe you me.
Three-o, oh yeah well that’s what the Germans, like the soldiers. They, I’ll tell you another thing. A fella called George Elliott. Four of us going along one day, and I think it was number four, I didn’t see him, I was number two. And this bloke, somebody here,
he just out of my, there’s a bloke riding a bike, a German obviously or a Pardo, or a Croat or somebody. And he went like this, going like that. And firing at the, at our section, doesn’t, didn’t matter who it was. George Elliott spotted him and he just went, he did a, from four of us going along, he did a thing like that, came back and just knocked him off. No more.
Just for one man.
One man. Another, oh another one was, I didn’t do this one either, so don’t give me. Another bloke was, we were coming around a valley. And there was a car you know obviously a German troop car. This is probably why we get the name of doing some stupid things. But, not stupid but the car was just about to turn the corner.
And this Mustang came down and just went ppppppp. He didn’t take the corner, he just went head over heals into the ravine.
So he got the car?
And that was another, oh yeah. We hit a German troop car ‘cause partisans didn’t use ‘em very much. At least the, you know, other people you know. Another one was when they were fishing they used to fire at us going across.
See Italy were against us a lot too. Don’t forget that, they were still very nasty towards us in a lot of areas. And they used to fire at us from these fishing trawlers, in the Adriatic. So if you go, fly very low over the top of them and just pull back over, pull back and the slipstream just goes down and they all trawl with their sails up. And
it just blows them over very gently and you just look back behind it and you see about half a dozen blokes paddling around in the water.
So would you machine gun a ship or bomb it?
No, no, no. That was our, they were trying to machine gun us. But we didn’t do it, we liked the sight of seeing them go over and tip themselves into the water. That was another one. We,
we didn’t boast about it, put it that way.
Did you ever come up against Italian Air Force?
Yes, I did. Now good thing you asked. They took over our Blenheims. Blenheim bombers. When the RAF got, or the Yanks came in, the RAF had Blenheims. And they gave them to the
Italian air force, and what they’d do, it was just when blanket bombing came in, you might, or you probably wouldn’t, you may have heard of it. But the Italians used to go in what they called “Box formation”. There’d be twelve bombers lined up like that. And they’d go out all with their bombs, they’d fly over this target, we watched or some of our blokes - it wasn’t me - they watched them. They dropped their bombs and sure enough, they knocked the target out.
But one of their blokes got shot down. So what do they do, they came back and there’s a hole where he got shot out. That’s how the Italians worked. They left a hole, you know, they didn’t close their formation. One of their number was shot down. And we all thought “That was very funny”. An aside.
And they were operating from Germany or outside Italy at the time?
No, they were operating from
us. They were, had sort of changed us over. They changed over to us.
Oh right, I was getting confused.
Although we’d have nothing to do with them and they weren’t under our control.
I see. Did you come up against Vichy French air force?
Okay, just German?
German, Germans mainly in Yugoslavia.
Was their air force presence in
southern Europe, was it strong in any way, in terms of numbers?
They, it had been but it had weakened off. You see they had Stuka after Stuka, they had thousands of dive-bombers, but they were pushed back. When the Yanks come in, you see the Yanks - remember the thousand bombers that the Yanks sent up, they sent them all up north of Rome. Up
there because that’s the way the Germans were retreating. And they left all this, that’s why we had such an open go over in Yugoslavia. They left it go for some reason or other. I don't know why.
So they withdrew most of their air strength, what they had left?
Oh well, it was either like what we did with their trains, see they had no trains left. I’ll show you in a minute how many trains we got. In five days we got
oh I think it’s eleven, eleven on one. I think it was thirteen, on one operation. Eleven trains,
Eleven trains. Thirteen on another, nine on another.
When you talk about trains, are you talking about actually destroying the locomotive itself or the entire carriage?
The locomotive and what went with it.
The carriages as well?
It, well depending on what it was. It was usually,
well look we had a system. The, as I told you, number four, you get over the target, righto there’s the train, you’re well out of shooting range. Number one goes over and he goes at right angles, the train’s going that way. Number one comes over, he blows up the train. Number two comes round here and he gets people getting off that side, number three goes over
and hits that side, number four is waiting for any anti-aircraft fire, he gets anti-aircraft fire. There’s a tac, it’s a tactic that’s used, it’s gotta be used, so that we can all escape. So that was one of the things about that squadron. They were top liners.
So you’d hit the train from the side?
Why not hit it from straight down and strafe the entire carriage?
usually if the engine blew out, that’s what I just said, we go, the train’s still going that way, one aeroplane’s, there’s the train, we’re going like that and this bloke’s up here waiting. That’s what I just said.
Oh right, sorry.
We’re all going the same way as the train.
Okay. You’d get the entire train that way?
Oh yeah, oh they was just sitting there. We had, what did we have, somebody, I think I remember it that we had forty-odd
miles of transport all you know sort of knocked out, that was no good. And we had practically every train and practically every bridge blown up in Yugoslavia. And that’s why I left and that’s why you know I was happy to, they moved over somewhere just before I left and I was, you know I was, we’d done enough, we were glad to come home.
Interviewee: Thomas Darling Archive ID 0214 Tape 07
Okay thanks. Right, we were still on the topic of operations. I mean you’ve had a lot of operational experience. Can you walk us through your first operational experience based in Italy? That would be your first one anyway, wouldn’t it?
Oh yes, oh yeah.
What was your first mission?
First mission was with Roy Garwood, who was the Flight Commander. And he took me more or less
on a, on a shipping thing. And we didn’t attack anything because the flak was a little bit you know too strong. And then we went on a reconnaissance flight, down south. So that was way up north, he took us up there.
And we didn’t do very much at all. It was more or less an experience one on the very first one. But after that it, well as I showed you, it, we got stuck into it pretty, pretty. We flew missions nearly every day it was flyable. Mind you the weather is very variable over there. And we did fly missions on you know as many days as we could. And
depending on the target availability too which was, because they moved, the Germans moved a lot overnight. Overnight was their main thing. So we’d have to go and perhaps bomb or you know see where they were, or try and find out, and bomb railway tracks and bridges. As I think I pointed out to you, well this day we bombed a bridge and that day you know something else. So that was,
it was a theory or a system of planning, that’s all.
So they moved most, so the movement was conducted, all the major movements were conducted at night, because of their
I would say, yes.
of their lack of strength, yeah.
You know but not being in the know of course. We had to, we had to seek and destroy was our motto, or our plan really.
So when was your first encounter with the enemy in terms, you said you never came across an enemy aeroplane in combat?
No, I did not.
Except that ME-262, that went past.
That’s the closest I got to ‘em.
An enemy aeroplane?
Yes, in flight
And it happened to be an ME-262, out of all planes?
Oh no, on the way out a JU-88 [Junker] came within here to the back door of the boat that I was on board on the way out
in the Mediterranean.
That was the closest.
This is when you actually left your squadron?
Yeah, we were going out from England, we’re on our way out to
Oh to Italy.
Yeah. I just fitted, I know it doesn’t fit in with the theory of thing, but that’s the closest. I saw a JU-88 there, almost
Was it trying to strafe your ship?
Was it trying to attack your ship?
No, no, no. We thought he was. We said “Oh, no”, the captain said
we were in a convoy by the way and we were the last ship in the convoy. And he said “We can except at dusk”, between dusk and seven o'clock whatever it was, whatever it was over there. I can remember it as well as anything. He said “We can expect an attack from German dive-bombers you know probably within the, within that period”. So that’s the closest I
But it never happened?
It never happened, thank God. Everybody was on tenterhooks though.
But oh gee, they were dropping depth charges all around us it was pretty torrid. As I say they were doing everything in their power to get back and we had to stop them.
With the Mustangs, now you never came up against Stuka dive-bombers, did you?
No, no. But it would never trouble us because we would be much faster. And I think
they realised and see we were getting supplies. They were made in America by the way not in England.
Mustangs. But they had English Packard, what they call a Packard Merlin. A Merlin engine was the engine built in England, built in America to Packard specifications, by Packard to Merlin specifications sorry - the other way around.
And all our aeroplanes, I can remember you know this aeroplane was supplied by the school kids of oh somebody in Ohio. You know, and I thought “Gee, hell”, and I wrote to them. And I said “Well, your aeroplane has done everything I asked of it”. So that was wonderful, wasn’t it?
So with now, you said that there were a few encounters you had with,
it was basically enemy ground units that you were, most of your encounters you had engaged with. Your first encounter with, major encounter was with troop trains, I understand?
No, my first encounter was with those long-range guns.
Okay, can you walk us through that mission?
Well, it was only that they were causing a lot of trouble to our - see the British supply
ships were supplying the troops up into north, you know on the army, cause there were New Zealanders and British and Australian troops pushing them back up through Italy. And they were coming up there and these guns were away up here. And they were firing twenty-two miles, I think it was they were firing they were terrible things. And there were two of them and they were only just
sticking out of a dirty big hornet’s nest. And I think Roy Garwood was with me on that flight too when we busted them. But that would be the first and closest encounter. But after that it was all you know almost up the barrels of the darn things from that thirty-four on you know on.
So were these guns defended heavily with anti-aircraft weapons?
yes, they were, they were indeed.
And how close would you have to get to these guns to actually dive-bomb them?
Well, we came in off the sea and we dropped our bombs as we pulled up. So we were lucky. I think we caught them unawares really because we weren’t attacked. But they were definitely defended. They had the anti, the gun in place you can see them, see you’re only a few feet up, so you can go over the gun
en-placements, so you can see them no trouble.
Was there heavy opposition in that raid?
In terms of anti-aircraft fire?
No, no. Not on that trip, no. I don't know what we did after that. I’d have to look at the book to see what we did after we - that was only part of the mission. To knock those guns out and we did it first go which was lucky. But what, where we went after that without looking it up I wouldn’t know.
Now you said there was
another mission where you actually knocked out about eleven trains?
Was that eleven?
Yeah, oh thirteen on one day.
On separate missions you got. This is your four?
No, no, on one mission,
You knocked out thirteen.
Yeah I think I said thirteen, I’m pretty sure I did. Yeah, oh that’s, best day yet you remember. Lot of them were troop trains. That’s when, was when half way through
the mission they said “Red Cross trains are a target. You can have, you know let ‘em have it”, ‘cause we wouldn’t have done it otherwise.
So how would you, how did they, how did the Red Cross trains look like, what did they look like essentially?
Oh they just looked like an ordinary train with a Red Cross painted on the side. Oh
they were sneaky. Yeah, no, no, there was no give away, it was just that they were trying to sort of fool us.
Before this actually happened, this order was given to attack Red Cross trains?
No it wasn’t, we were only to blow up the engines and if it was a, you know an equipment train, you know guns or transport, they carted everything in the trains, a lot of
things. We were to give them everything we had. But troop trains, at least, yeah troop trains we weren’t allowed to strafe. And then all of a sudden we could strafe them. That’s why I think we took them by surprise, that’s why we got so many.
Right. Can you walk us through that actual mission where you got thirteen?
No more than when I, it was just a question of
as I say seek and destroy. You have to go, I mean you can follow the railway lines. You get over the country. We fly from pretty high for a start. See the Mustang is a beautifully versatile, you could fly over at twenty thousand feet, or ten thousand feet and you can see the railway lines. And then all you’ve got a do is go over on your back and go down and just come round the corner and
there’s the train, bang, knock it off. You know sort of, get him in, put the train in the right position for you. It’s all a question of, you know up here. Watch what you’re doing and apply a certain amount of intelligence and get him unnerved, I mean they’re trying to get home and they don’t take prisoners.
“So that’s, that was only another mouth to feed”, that was our instruction. “Don’t get shot down” and that’s why we did everything on a secretive basis you know.
Now when you actually strafed troop trains, in your experience, what was the general reaction of the actual troops, once their train had?
Everything that could fire at you would fire at you.
I mean they were all carrying guns, they were all armed of course, they’re all army personnel. And you could expect, I think I mentioned to Sue a while ago we had blokes with bullets through their mouth and bullets through their back of the neck and bullets, well I had one actually through my wing. And you know there were bullets everywhere.
‘Cause they’re coming, those 303s are dangerous.
So you’ve really got a wonder why you were never shot down in such, such?
Well I was, I got down with the partisans you see, with the 20 mill. That’s all, yeah. Oh no, see that’s the game, but you expect it, you’d, I think it’s only fair at this stage, and it wasn’t
an adverse comment, but our CO considered it wasn’t a mission unless you had some bullet holes. You know, he said it, he always, he would say it jokingly, “Didn’t you get near ‘em today, didn’t you draw a shot or something”. You know he’d have a go at you when they were looking at your aeroplane. And the other blokes’d say to you, “You know what happened today Shorty, you didn’t,
you know you never copped a hole or something.” So but that’s the banter that goes on amongst the blokes. Oh look, they’re the salt of the earth these guys. As I say this fellow that had his mouth shot off, he, he still went back all the way to base with his microphone and his gas mask
on, he didn’t take it off and the bullet went through there. And it was full of blood and blood down here. And he was, the leader of the formation put him up for a gong but they said “Oh no self, you know looking after himself”. So it’s pretty hard. But still
that’s the game, you don’t think about those things. See after the war, see we’ve had sixty years to think about all these things. And it’s, how the heck we got through them, I don't know, I really don't know. But at the time see, we’re not heroes, don’t think that I’m, look there’s blokes out there have done, you know I’m telling you what I did, there’s fellas out there,
leave me for dead. I’m just a rookie, particularly my tent mate, I tell you what. He was in a dive, he got hit somewhere along the line. And you know the top wing of a Mustang, that’s a fuel, it’s all one piece and it covers the fuel
tank you see. Now he got hit there, it flew off. Well now, he immediately loses lift, once that flies off, that upsets the, and he’s in, on a target and he goes over. ‘Course first thing that happens when he’s like that, he’s like that. Now he’s almost on his back. And he’s going down at four hundred and fifty miles an hour. You can imagine from eleven thousand feet. And he came home and he was
white. I wasn’t with him but he said to me I said, “Max, you’re in trouble.” And he said, “Brother, have I had a beauty today.” And he reckons that he went through with his foot on his rudder pedal. And he went through between two trees like that, with the thing off his bottom wing. And I believe him. I’ve never heard it. And he
said “That’s the worst thing that’s happened to me in two hundred trips”. He told me after. Now that’s flying, that’s brilliant flying. You wouldn’t get that anywhere, you might get it in the Battle of Britain you know, somebody who gets it. But nothing like this fellow, that was fantastic, wonderful bit of flying. Those are the things that impress you. You say “Gee whiz” you know.
If it’s good enough for him, I can do it. He’s only been through the same school as I have.
Did your squadron have a lot of casualties?
Yes, they did, the casualties were fairly, reasonably high.
What about on the missions you took part?
I beg your pardon?
On the missions you were involved in, did your unit have a lot of casualties?
I think there were about four to five whilst
I was on it.
Your four plane, you had four planes in one team didn’t you?
Oh yes. Oh, not all at once, crikey no.
No, no of course, throughout.
Yeah, we got shot down one at a time sort of thing. But since I have left, you see there were sixteen pilots. And any four could fly together. And I asked my friend
over in west, went over to see him last year. And about four of the blokes that were good, I was good cobbers with, George Elliott went missing. Bill Straker’s missing, Peter Donnelley’s missing, Robby Robinson’s missing, somebody else is missing. I think he reeled off about half a dozen or seven or eight there, right there and then on the spot. So they, they take toll on them.
Who was Pilot Robinson?
He was the bloke that got mouth or one of them got his mouth.
Oh I see, right, yeah. So on a mission, you’d have a team of four planes and you knocked out thirteen trains that day just the four planes?
That’s extraordinary, isn’t it?
Well, we thought so. But you know sort of we didn’t brag about it, it was just a day’s work as far as we were concerned.
how many of these trains were troop trains?
Oh, I’d say there’d be an average of two or three troop trains in every dozen. Because they had so much armament, mind you. Armament came first but then a lot of, they had as I told you, forty-five miles of transport. Well that’s, there’s a lot of trucks and things like that full of troops too. And you, I showed you
how many trucks and that, I don't know how many of those we shot up.
When you say forty-five miles of transport, are you talking about, like a whole division of troops literally on the move?
On the road?
Oh no, no, over a period, not in one hit. Not in one hit. That might be you know sort of, they might have come to a bridge, for argument sake. And there’s no bridge, so they gotta leave their transport there, unless they
build a bridge or something. And it just mounts up. But then they’ll try and build a, go round it or in trucks and things like that. It sort of works itself out ‘cause you can see the tracks and you analyse a situation. That’s where the beauty of this, your leader. Your leader is made a leader because he has the capability of assessing the
situation as it is. Now we know they want to get from there to there. But there’s a bloomin’ river there with a bridge knocked out. Now how do we get it? We gotta find out, we don’t know how their getting it. So we, all we do is knock their transport out. So then they’ll find that somehow they get across the river and then we take the trains from then on or whatever, or transport or troops or whatever. It’s a lot of men,
and a lot of material. And Admiral Cunningham thought so too. So that’s what he said, “Don’t let it get back to”. They don’t, they reckon that less than one division got back to Germany. Out of fifteen.
And that’s because of air assaults?
Mainly because of the air assaults because we had no army there.
What sort of, when you,
the, for instance there’s two troop trains you had strafed, your unit had strafed, how many troops are we talking, like for each train roughly?
I mean if you could estimate?
I’d only be guessing see but I’d say there’d be probably a couple of hundred.
Couple of hundred.
And how long are we talking a train, like full carriages?
Oh probably four, five, six carriages.
when you would go down to strafe the troops as you were indicating before, you’d actually see them, you’d have to go very low,, wouldn’t you?
Very low. And so they’re coming out of the carriage and what do they do, their immediate reaction is to fire at you and run?
Exactly. Don’t forget, it’s better to explain it this way. Once the train will be going, nine out of ten trains are
going, you’d never get a train to stop, when they’re moving, they’re moving. So you blow up the engine. And a split second after that engine is blown up, these three, remember I told you how you get ‘em. They come from out here, they know the thing’s going to be blown up, the engine driver doesn’t. They just come down and right, everybody’s trying to get out, everybody on top of him. And there’d be and don’t forget
it’s like that. We’re doing three hundred mile an hour don’t forget, and with six guns blazing, brrrrr. And you’re over and it’s done with, that’s how quick it is.
So in each raid, can you walk us through a strafe, when you did it yourself?
Oh I did that a dozen times. More. Oh twenty times, I reckon.
Yeah. No, I’m talking about the actual troop train, when the troops jump out.
Well you don’t know, you get the hell out of it.
We only, we’d kill what’s there or we shoot up what’s there. I hate that word. And then, you keep going, you don’t hang around. Cause you never know, they might, see they’re smart too, they might have a truck sitting up there say, oh you know he’ll turn out that way. They might have a truck up there with an anti-aircraft gun on it. There was thousands of anti-aircraft guns wherever you look. The Germans were the best anti-aircraft people in the world.
They were better than our blokes.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, anybody’ll tell you that. They were good.
So when you’d do a mission, you’d come back to the Biferno Air Base?
Yes, we did.
What sort of an impression would you have in your mind after being involved in so much strafing?
Thank God that’s over.
Absolutely. I mean there’s no secret about that you know.
Let’s have a drink. No, I don’t think there’s any doubt about that one.
Did you ever think about the missions again and again?
Oh night-time we did, although we always did our best to, I sort of had a theory of my own that the more we could interest ourselves, I used to
play ukulele. And we’d have a few drinks and get around and sing a song. You know take our mind off. But generally speaking we knew you know what time we were taking off tomorrow morning. Usually day, daylight take offs were very important to us. And if you were on tomorrow’s mission,
oh, excuse me, you would act accordingly. You would have your dinner and perhaps have a couple of drinks and go to bed. And do your best to sleep or you know whatever. And then you’d just wait your call at four o'clock in the morning, so, you, it’s common sense. Don’t forget these boys are all smart, if you
were amongst them you, you know, well you wouldn’t mind having them as a brother. The RAF boys, I say it myself, but they are an elite group of fellas. And, or so are our own boys don’t forget. We’re up there with them. But they’re all very intelligent people. And they’re picked because of that. And
that’s why I say you know, you’ll hear people, oh Pommies, bastard and all this sort of thing. I say “Look, have you ever worked with ‘em? Have you ever been? If I ever got into difficulties, the first bloke to get me out would be a bloke, he’d be on my tail or on German’s tail or anybody - if you got caught, now thank God I didn’t get caught but I would do the same for them.” That’s
part of your training though, you learn that as you go up through the ranks. If he gets caught, right we help him out. Or we give him as much help as we can. Do everything we can, radio his base or you know do something for him.
I understand that you also did operations over southern Germany?
Only very, not very far in. There was a,
a, we’re not sure whether it was a, what do you call it, oh the CO was with me too, not a prison but a you know sort of a Stalag thing, type of thing.
POW [Prisoner of War] camp.
Yeah, POW yeah. We thought it was that but it was only, he said “He didn’t like the look of it” and we were going
to do it and we did it. I think I showed you that, showed you, we thought “It could be a factory”. I think we put it down as a factory or something. I thought I showed it to you.
Yes that’s right, the factory.
Well, I think that was in southern Germany.
Right. But you thought it might be POWs?
Well it could be, I, I you know, I can’t say with any degree of certainty. There’s so much of that goes on, all you know is
it’s in Germany, it’s enemy territory and it’s gotta be dealt with. That was the theory and the basis of the operation.
By that time I suppose now the war was trying to wind up?
Yes it was, it was, yes indeed, you’re quite right.
So this would have been about ’44, I take it?
It would be yes, I’d say getting on the end of ‘44.
Yeah, okay. Now,
I think it was fairly clear that Germany was losing the war?
Oh yes, oh no doubt about that.
Were there any instances of actual co-operation between the British Air Force, your unit for instance and the Russian Air Force?
Never came up against them, never, but, and we never came up against the Yanks. That’s strange. We operated as a separate entity all the way through. The only,
the only exchange, we used to get a bottle of whisky a month. And we’d get, I think it was a dozen cans of beer for a bottle of whisky, if you had any change. If you had any, knew where the Yanks were or something. But the Yanks were heavy bombers don’t forget, and we’re fighters. They’re way back to billyo, so we’re miles and miles apart. So there’s not much chance of that.
With the Russians, were you ever briefed on the Russian Air Force?
No, no. I’ve never met a Russian. No, I think we’re a bit lucky in that respect too from what I heard.
Oh I don't know, I don’t think I’ll go into it unless I, because I don't know enough about it. But you do hear these things and actually in a war situation,
or a troop situation. But I was quite happy with the blokes that I flew with, they were good. We didn’t like the Yankees performance because they, well I’ll tell you straight. When I came, when I said I had engine trouble, I landed at a place, Falconara I think it was. Do you
know, you know Italy. Right up on the north coast, Falcon, think it was Falconara. And I just landed there and with engine trouble. And they, I went in and had my meal. And I came out and one of the boys said to me, he said, “‘Oi, you got a mate there?” I said, “Yeah.” I see another Mustang there. And anyhow and I go up and the Yank’s sitting on the wing. And I said, “Oh g’day pal,
how are you going?” He said, “Oh no good, no good.” “Why?” He said, “I’m having a lot of trouble.” I said, “What’s your trouble?” “Can’t start my engines”. I thought “Oh my goodness, gracious me”. So I said, “Well, you know, no bullet holes, you’re not hit anywhere, what’s up?” And I said, “Get out, let me in.” Got in, I pressed where I should have, pulled where I should have,
pressed the button where I should have and the engine starts up. And I said, “Is it full of gas?” He said, “Yes.” I said “Go on go back to base”. And he said, “Well fancy that.” I said “How the heck do you get into your aeroplane, who starts it?” I said, “Can’t you start your own aeroplane?” He said, “Oh hell no boy, my crew chief does that.” And he’d been there four days.
So I thought “Oh well you know, you live and learn”. But that was my American friend, he had a, I said, “How many missions have you done?” “Oh”, he said, “I think I’ve done about a hundred and fifty missions.” And I said, “Oh you know what are you, top cover?” You know what top cover is?
No, I don’t actually.
Top cover was the last word in, the thousand bombers are here, and the top cover is about a thousand feet above them. And all you do is look down on ‘em
because the Germans can’t get up that high anyway. But they fly with ‘em just to look at ‘em. They all get over and they do what they call this pattern bombing. Drop the bombs, all in one go. And the leader, the leader, this mob, I came home with a boat load of
Maoris. And they said “Don’t talk to me about Yanks”. They said “Why, why, what’s happening?” They said “We were destroyed. The leader gets over, they even put up a line of eighty-eight millimetre cloud, bomb, gun bursts, anti-aircraft bursts.” And they say to the blokes, “Look, go north of that bomb burst right across Italy, you know when they were there.” And they
said “The leader opens his doors, bomb on your leader”. So the leader gets over but he only gets over about oh four or five hundred yards. And there’s about a hundred bombers behind him, down here over the line. So they put their bombs, and it was them that dropped their bombs on the poor old Maoris. And the Maoris were livid. They said “Don’t you talk to us about the bloomin’ Yanks. We’ll deal with them.”
I shouldn’t say this I suppose but it’s truthful. I came home with ‘em. So that was their style of bombing. That’s what I say, I wasn’t at all amazed at this Yankee bloke, sitting on his wing, waiting for somebody to come and start his aeroplane for him.
So they were very reckless were they, the Americans? American pilots were very reckless, you were saying generally?
Yes, another instance we had of a Mustang
firing on a Mustang, that was in our squadron. It wasn’t me thank God but that did happen.
And it was a Yank?
A Yank fired on us. Because he thought “We were enemy”. Now, how weak can you get, oh. And of course they wouldn’t let ‘em fly at night. They wouldn’t, they just couldn’t. Even the RAF, all the RAF bombing was done at night. Not the Yanks, they wouldn’t let ‘em
They didn’t know where they were going.
Oh right. So they did the daylight raids?
They did the daylight raids, you’re right. And that’s a known fact.
Interviewee: Thomas Darling Archive ID 0214 Tape 08
The, we were talking about daylight raids just before, we’re recording now, with the daylight raids, now when you were operating, you actually did most of your sorties in daytime right?
All, no night flying at all.
Why is that, why no night flying?
Ah well, I can’t answer it because we had all
done, night flying was part of our training. We had done night flying. But you see the type of operation, we did is, you see they bombed from twenty thousand feet and it’s all pattern bombing, there’s no - we individualise, we bomb a target. We can see our target. We’ve gotta bomb that target. Whereas both the RAF and the Yanks, it’s all pattern bombing. So
that’s why night time it’s, they’ve just gotta say, well all I’ve gotta do is get over a certain town or a certain manufacturing area or you know a certain target and they even dropped markers on the corner of them, pathfinders, you heard of pathfinders?
Well pathfinders, a lot of Australians on that. As a matter of fact an Australian led it.
And they go over and they drop a flare, it’s in the form of a flare, and you can’t shoot a flare out. It’s only something that’s you know sort of, only the size of a bloomin’ broom handle. And it goes down like that very slowly. And the bombers coming behind, they can see it. So they just go over and you know the outside bomber and the other bomber, they line up the
outside markers. And once they get over they say you know “Call up”, you see you could talk to everybody, don’t forget that. And they call up and they say “Right, bombs away”. And boom. Oh, it’s a wonderful system of elimination I can tell you.
When you say pattern bombing, you’re talking about area bombing?
Area, yeah, yeah.
Is that the same thing?
Same thing exactly.
What did you think about Bomber Harris, Sir Arthur Harris?
Ah, he had a job to do,
he had a cruel name. They reckon he was just, oh you know they reckon he wasted a lot of manpower. But he got the job done. As I showed you there on that thing, that war was nearly lost, now that is not generally known. Had Bomber Harris not been there I think they’d have been in a lot of trouble. Because they bombed the, see the B2s [V2s] and all that sort of thing,
were taking over. And Bomber Harris bombed them out of existence. And whilst he never had a lot of friends, he still, everybody was prepared to concede that he did a wonderful job for the war. Now I’m not a bomber man, so I didn’t follow his exploits very well.
But when you say that he didn’t have a lot of friends, so you’re saying in the air force at the time
he was unpopular, amongst aircrew?
Well, who wouldn’t be if you say “Well, we’re going to bomb, oh we’re going to bomb, what’s a you know a highly industrialised German town that’s defended with every bloomin’ gun. We’re gonna send two to three hundred bombers over that tonight.” And they’d say “Oh no, Bomber Harris again you know”. Cause he is
the one like a football umpire. He gets the blame. But I think it was only sort of personal, symptomatic of the problem.
Did you think that, being a pilot, did you think that local bombing of Dresden was something that shouldn’t have taken place?
Yeah, the city of Dresden.
Don’t know enough about it. No.
I would not know, no. No, bombing was not my forte, I’ve been up in them but I’ve felt uncomfortable in them. And that’s why I was determined not to fly them. Because I was never, I never had command of them for some reason. They’re too lumber some. I like something, that’s why I went into agricultural flying instead of airline flying when I got out. I can fly a single engine aeroplane
and a twin or anything with two or three or four engines, didn’t even come into my - I flew in a DC3 [Douglas] but I didn’t like it. And yet Roma has done thousands of miles, she’s been round the world about ten times in DC4s. So it’s just a difference.
With a, what was your actual
you know with the end of the war coming up, what was your actual last mission?
Last mission I think, oh we bombed a place, oh it was, oh I’d have to look up the book but it was an island from memory. With sort of how can I put it, they
they, it was, oh just a spot where you could take refuge. A refuge island, you know for boats and that coming up. And it wasn’t very important, I think they were looking for, they’d run out of targets. I’m not too, I can’t remember quite.
There’s a few, just a few more things I want to talk to you about and then we’ll move on past the war.
We’ll have to go back to some of them.
One of them was that you told me you bombed a submarine base?
Oh yes, oh dear, oh dear, yeah. That was by accident. The CO once again, commanding officer, he was, we were going up on reconnaissance more than anything else. And he thought “He saw this camouflage,
right on the edge of the water”. And he called up to me and he said “There’s something going on down there”. He said, “Would you circle above me, and if there’s any anti-aircraft fire, you know, take care?” And I, he went in, and the first thing went up was a bloomin’ explosion. He said, yeah he said, “They’re subs, they’re miniature subs.” And he went in and I went in after him and I think we,
I said, “I only got one, he got two. And the paper said “We, the RAAF Headquarters and they’re in touch with RAF of course, they reckon we got four so, we blew up their little submarine base”.
Was that a heavily defended locality?
Oh yeah, there was plenty of guns there.
Okay, now another thing also was, this has got more to do with just flying the Mustangs.
In regard to turbulence, did you ever encounter air pockets with Mustangs?
You won’t believe this, nor does any other bloke except the guys that were in there. I was flying across one day and we came across one of those big storms. And they were turbulo, ah, nimbus clouds. And we
had to go right down to the base of the cloud to get underneath it. And when I was coming up the other side I didn’t see a turbo nimbus and it tipped me almost on my back. And I had four bombs and I had full fuel, full ammunition and it scared the hell out of me. Turbulence across that Adriatic, oh across that, yeah it is the Adriatic,
it can be very, very nasty. That’s why we never relied on any artificial weather reports. That’s one thing our squadron did, and was relied upon to send two aeroplanes. If there was an organised general mission from you know sort of maybe four or five different squadrons over
Yugoslavia, we’d have to go over, reconnoitre the whole area, go up to twenty-five thousand feet and send back, oranges sweet or oranges sour. Oranges sour meant the whole of the bombing would be off for the day, if it was sweet, it goes ahead. Now I did one with Elliott and I did one with Peter Donnelley. I did two weather missions and then we were permitted to do targets
of opportunity. In other words, after we’d completed our recon, reconnaissance, we were allowed to attack anything that was blatantly obvious or causing us trouble. And we did, old Peter and I shot up something or other, I’ve forgotten what it was now.
When, just one more thing about your squadron with Mustangs, was it the only RAF squadron with Mustangs in?
It was the only squadron in the area with Mustangs. 3 Squadron got them later, much later.
So you were the first?
They were all on Kittyhawks. And the Hornet squadron was the only RAF squadron, it was the only squadron with Mustangs.
With, now you said that you were actually were, in one of your last missions you were actually
shot at and your plane was hit pretty badly and you had to crash land?
It sure was.
Can you tell us about that mission?
Ah he leaves the best ‘til last. Well it was only good in that, that bit of lead that I showed you, that made a hole about that big in my engine. And we were doing marshalling yards I think it was, at Banja Luka. And
it was, there was flak everywhere, it was very nasty. And we were hurtling along, four of us. That’s another thing I probably didn’t point out to you. When you’re doing those attacks, you go line astern, that’s one behind the other. And then all of a sudden number one realised he didn’t have number two. And he said “Number two keep up”. That might have been the boss, I’m not sure, no he
wasn’t with me on that one. I can't think who it was now. Anyhow, I said, “I can’t, I’ve been clobbered.” Well, all the thing was a terrific, blinding flash in front of me, that far, just outside, I’m - the cockpit’s here and the engine starts there. Only the, it’s an ammunition proof thing between us, otherwise I’d have been gone a million. And of course there was a bloomin’ great hole.
And he said “Keep up” and I said, “I can’t.” And I said, “I’m going down.” And there was a bloke called Dick Wheeler, I’m glad you asked it, I forgot about it. Dick Wheeler was, he was in another squadron, not in our squadron, and he saw the smoke or flames or whatever it was coming from the engine. ‘Cause I had no idea where I was. You
never are, the leader does all your, all your navigation. And I said “Oh I’ve gotta go down”. And Dick Wheeler he says, I’ve got you number two he said, “Follow me.” So I followed him down and I landed on this, the Germans had vacated it on this strip at Zara. And a bloke, a bloke
came over from the other end of the aerodrome. And he looked at me and I was in a, we wore a blue uniform. And the RAF wore a khaki uniform, battle dress. And he said, “I saw this strange aeroplane”. And I didn’t know him from a bar of soap. But he said, “By Jesus I was glad when I saw those Australia’s on your shoulder.”
He, and we, I’ll cut it very short, it’s as long as can be. But he had been shot down over, he landed, force landed on the other end, I told you, I thought I told you about this, about the bloke landed with a rocket, a rocket firing Hurricane with the explosion that blew the tail back up and it went through his wing. Well, he was landed over there and I was landed over here and he came over to see me. He said,
“It’s all right pal you’re with the Partisans.” And course we’re buddies, to this day we’re buddies. And I said, “Holy smoke, you know what have we done?” Anyway, he arranged everything cause he was working for Tito, believe it or not. And about thirty years later we were at the 3 Squadron reunion and this bloke, this Dick Wheeler, remember, he was telling the boys, he didn’t know me from a bar
of soap. He’d never seen him. I’d never seen him to that day. He starts telling the boys, he said “I often wondered about the bloke that copped it over Zag, not Zagreb, Zara”. And you know “Did you see something there, Dick?” He said “I saw this bloomin’ bloke” and I said, “I called out to him where to land and I showed him.” He said, “I don't know if he got down all right.”
Here he is here. Well that fellow, he put his arms around me. And I tell you what I was really pleased to see him. He was a - and it turns out he worked for a relation of my wife’s cousin. And we were always going to celebrate together. And what happened, oh he died anyway.
Now I understand in that air crash you were injured, in your crash landing?
Yeah I was, I was injured but not badly injured. I was, I wasn’t as bad as I thought I was. Put it that way.
So you did a few more operations after that?
I did, I don't know but I did them in trouble, I did maybe one or two, I think after that. I was in trouble but it was worse than they thought.
Worse than I thought.
Which part of your body did you injure?
Just my, only a knee. Well I’ll tell you what it was, it’s the knee cap had a crack in it. And I fell down some stairs, which aggravated the crack. And they said “Well, you’ve got a go and have the knee out”, which I did. And I thought “Oh God, I’ve got a stiff leg you know, I’m gone for the rest of my life”. And this
doctor come up to me he said, “I’m amazed at you Aussies.” He said, “There’s no doubt about you.” He said, “Don’t you know that kangaroos haven’t got patellas?” I said “Oh thanks doc”, so he said “It’s all right”, he said “It’s over now” and then he said, “We’ll get you on your way home.” I said, “Good on you pal.” So it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was, sure. But unfortunately it’s having its
effect now and it’s that leg, that’s it, oh I’m weak in the hip, which I didn’t know about. And I, when I was playing golf later on in life it come back to haunt me a bit. But oh well, I mean, I got out of it lightly. I mean if that, as I said, if that bullet had been that much further on, it’d be straight through me.
And that’s getting awfully close for comfort.
That was the end of your war basically, after that?
Well, it was from point of view of shooting people it was yeah. But I, as I say, I got a lovely story from them. I joined, came back and joined Australian National Airways where I met my wife. And I joined up and was accepted there.
Yeah, actually just before you get onto the post-war aspect of your commercial airline.
Oh well, I was just fitting in with the tail end of what I was going, what it was saying. Never mind. Go on.
There’s just a couple more questions. I know you came across, just your impressions of the Germans in general, you said something about POWs being treated badly by the Germans, allied POW airmen?
Oh yes, oh Farley, Sid Farley, one of our boys was shot down, yes. I’m glad you reminded me. They undressed him, we saw him, and they took every bit of clothes off him and said, and he ran like hell and the next thing we know is, he fell over. Shot.
He was shot.
Mmm. You see they took everything.
They were retreating. I think I’ve told you this. They don’t take, they don’t take prisoners and they take everything you got on you. Clothes, anything that’s wearable or eatable or any armaments, see we all carried revolvers too don’t forget. And but you’re no good up against those, yeah Sid Farley did, that was the only case I saw personally. There were others
I believe. Somebody told me that they found a convent. I think it might have been Olrich told me this, ‘cause he was based over there and he was doing a lot of good work. They found a convent with the nuns with their breasts cut and their hands in there, in the Nazi salute sort of thing. And I believe them too.
What did you think about the Germans, fighting against the Germans?
Oh well they were cruel, they just, well they killed so many. And all the fellas I went to school with, you may not believe this, but they weren’t with me but they went up north, they were all killed. All my classmates were killed. And in Japan, this is Japan war and don’t, don’t,
yeah Pacific war, and you know and
I thought well crikey, I got letters from home saying that they were you know Cliff Catells [?] and Freddie Broadbent and Jack Howard. You know all guys that were in my school. And they were all, a Leongatha section. You know they form up into their own, in various areas. You know they say, so that they’re all together.
And the same as my, that’s what prompted this whole thing is my sister’s boyfriend, and he was in Greece and Crete. And she’s never had a boy since. She’s ninety-one next month, she’s never been the same girl you know. She was a bright girl, only had one bloke and he enlisted. It’s the same as everybody, in the country did in those days, you enlisted in the war. There was a war to be fought. And
he was taken prisoner and he was on Greece and Crete. And that was about the first real story I knew or heard of anybody who was close to me being taken prisoner.
So your impression of the Germans essentially at the time of war, you weren’t sympathetic to them at all, when you were involved in
To the Germans?
Oh never, never.
Never, never, oh no.
Did you feel like you had a score to settle with them?
Yes, you could say that. You could say that, yes. I mean I, you go through the war with words like that Parry Oakdon told me when we first joined about the first day I was in the air force. “The only good German is a dead one”. Now you have that from a man who had been through it all. And then my fathers, brothers, and my mother’s
brothers. Oh and there’s so many people I knew, you know mates of mine. That fella that was with me on my first night in London, sort of thing, he went out he got killed on his first raid. Ken Adamson, my other good mate, he got killed on his first raid. I mean how could you have any, you know all the good blokes that I knew were killed.
So to this day now, do you feel any sort of?
Not at all?
I did what I had to do. If there’s remorse, I still haven’t met a German to this day, so I don’t know whether I like ‘em or don’t. Oh yes I did, I tell you what. I had one working for me. And I, oh look I must tell you this. We’d just bought a home. We’d struggled
and struggled and we got enough to put a deposit on a house. And I’d worked like billyo and I’d got a beautiful lawn, oh I had it you know sort of absolutely perfect. And he arrives down. He was married with two kiddies I think. I was being kind to him, he was sent down to me from Sydney, our headquarters was in Sydney, to help me out with some work I was
busy with. Anyhow, I don't think he was even invited, that hurt too. He came down and he, his wife and two kids had walked in and have a look at the television, our brand new television that we’d had. Wouldn’t go home, stayed for dinner and tea and everything else and these kids. And he walked right across my garden I’d just, I’d spent all the weekend, you know. I had it all,
I’d sewn it with beautiful grass. And he, there were foot holes that deep right across my garden. I said, “What the bloody hell do they give you for brains in Germany?” I was so upset. So that’s the only bloke and the poor fellow he dropped dead or he got killed or something or, later on. And I wasn’t terribly upset, I must admit. I know I’m cruel.
But that’s the way it is, that’s the truth. My wife’ll tell you.
Who do you dislike more, the Japanese or the Germans from your experiences?
Well, I don’t think I’ve ever met a Japanese person, so I don't know. I don’t recall every meeting. We’re very, you know we’re very refined people. We’re not refined, that’s not the word. We’re very you know introverts. We don’t,
we’ve never been so, when we go on holidays, we go on our own, we go to our kids, you know sort of, we don’t socialise I think that’s, we never have or we never will. It’s getting a bit late. But we’re very happy and we’re very content. And Roma’s got a wonderful brother who’s just a magnificent business man and
he’s having a very hard time. And we go out to see him quite a bit. You know when he’s well, he has a barramundi farm and he you know, he’s a very good businessman. Had a very successful business. And she of course has all her background. I think you should be interviewing her rather than me. Because her life is just as exciting as mine.
She’s helped save forty lives and did very well in her profession. And was also a double certificate at nursing to the bargain. So she’s done her share too. So between us we’ve got no regrets and we got nothing to be ashamed of and we’re very contented here.
And I’m pretty sure we’ve been here twenty-three years, right in this little place.
Can I ask you with sort of like the last set of questions I want to ask before we finish up?
That’s all right.
Your impression of war, I mean you’ve lived through Vietnam and Korea, Malayan insurgency and the Gulf Wars as well recently. What do you think about the following wars after World War II? Do you agree with them in general?
No, I don’t
no. Look I think the best expression that I have heard has been in the last few weeks, I read it in the paper one day, in Fifty Fifty column. A lad of about twenty wrote in and he said, you know “The war’s over, we’ve won, we’ve killed thousands upon thousands of people”.
He said “If they’d have given me one bullet, and I’d have dressed up as a”, he said, “I could have worked my way through” and he said “I could have killed that Saddam Hussein with one bullet” and he said “It’s taken a hundred million”. And I think that’s, that facsimile is, well I think it portrays what I think about war. Because it’s
most unnecessary. They can debate it. All right I think Hitler was a different thing, he was fair dinkum. We would have been and the Japs too. I think they would have run us under, there’s no doubt about that, we would have been under their supervision. As we would have been under the Germans, they were determined to rule the world. There’s no doubt about that. And the Japs were too. But apart from that I
think there’s so much that they can do by negotiation, at the table.
Did you enjoy the war? Your experience?
Parts of it I did, parts of it I didn’t. I’m impartial about that. I won’t say I enjoyed it. I sort of tried to make the most of what I had to do and see some pluses, but there were tons of minuses.
And lastly, is there anything you would like to tell us for the record, that you haven’t told anyone else?
Oh, my golly. I mean this, there is one problem with that, when you’re an honest bloke, you tell the truth. And there’s nothing you keep as a secret. I wear my heart on my,
not on the inside, on the outside. And I, no look I tell you, I’m honest, I can’t think of anything. It’s a pretty deep question.
Anything about your war, wartime experience you’d like to put out for the record? That you haven’t told me already?
No, I’ve told it as it is I’m afraid.
What I’ve told you. There’s a hell of a lot more I could tell you but there’s nothing that is outstanding. Oh, I’d have to give that a lot of thought, have to give it a lot of thought, but there’s nothing that comes to mind, not a thing. I’m quite happy with what I’ve told you. And I’m, well I’m very happy
with what I’ve done for the country since the war, and been able to do for the country since I’ve left. I have, that’s why I wish I could show you that thing. I think we, my company has done more to feed this country than any other single entity that I know of. And I’m not boasting. And that’s made me very proud, so when I go out I don’t leave anything behind.
And there’s, that’s a pretty hard profession, I worked very hard in it for many, many years. And I don’t think I got out of it what I put into it but that doesn’t worry me. I’m quite happy. I got a lovely family, lovely wife, lovely home, lovely atmosphere. We’re warm, upright and breathing. Well what the hell more do you want?
I’d like to thank you very much for your time today.
It’s a great experience to interview you. Thank you.