strong woman, a very strong woman, she knew exactly what she wanted and she made certain she got it. I can remember as kids hearing her turn around and say, “Bert!” and Bert I think probably did what he was asked. But she passed away oh gee about 1968 around about that time she was killed in a car accident in
Fiji. She was taking her elder granddaughter on a school holiday. And they’d no sooner got there she walked out of the motel and she got cleaned up by a taxi, was killed. Father died in 1950, I can’t tell you the exact month but it was after I was back in the air force and
he had a stroke and subsequently he went up to see his brother in law on ‘phosphate island’ up at Nauru, his brother in law was the administrator I think at stage at Nauru and Dad dropped dead in the street coming home, he was in Christchurch in New Zealand.
Tell the story about how you came to join the air force?
Oh that’s easy. My eighteenth birthday father took me into our main lounge room at home. And presented me with a set of papers which was an application to join air crew and turned around and said, “Here you are, you’ve always talked about it, sign them and I’ll take them into the office tomorrow.” And it was as good as that. All I had to do was sign where the pencil crosses were and he took them away.
I was then called up, I think it was about the 17th of January ’42, for a medical examination and I passed that. And then went on what was called in those days the air crew reserve and I stayed on the air crew reserve until the 17th of July 1942, when I in fact entered the air force.
Can I just backtrack then and ask you where you were when war broke out?
Yes, I was with the Brighton Grammar Cadets at Queenscliff Army Unit, we were in camp at the Queenscliff Barracks and when war broke out, all hell broke lose and about 10 days later us cadet kids were sent back home
and the Militia moved in to take our places, it was under canvas of course, that was a big thrill, big thrill, you know being stupid young fellows, we thought this was wonderful. I might add one of the humorous things coming home on the train, we got out of the train at Spencer Street Railway station and we were in cadet uniform with our 303 rifles, which were probably darn near as big as ourselves
and some civilian bloke there turned around to us and said, “Oh we’re safe now with you fellows in uniform.” Oh dear oh dear, I might add my head sort of went so big, you know to think we were that important, humorous.
most of the boys of course were involved in doing drill, rifle drill and that sort of thing. I was excused that because the fact that I’d been doing that sort of thing in the school cadets so it was obvious to them that I knew it. And in fact the warrant officer gave me a student to teach. He turned round and said you know, “Take him over to the side and teach him how to do it,” sort of thing. But most of the time it was taken up in studies
in learning aerodynamics, Morse, bit of navigation, you know bit of the general subjects which you need to learn as a member of the air crew. I don’t think I had any great trouble with any of them, mathematics was one of the subjects and I had done that at school you know there was any real difficulties as far as I could see.
Everybody of course wanted to be a pilot, I did too. And in fact that I subsequently learnt that father was to say the least very disappointed when I wasn’t a pilot. I gather from what my mother told me subsequently, “Your father had it worked out as to who your instructor was going to be at Benalla at FTS [Flight Training School] and who your instructor was going to be when you got to Uranquinty flying Wirraways,” and all this sort of thing.
Well then when I failed the co-ordination test and I was scrubbed from being a pilot, I rang Dad and told him what had happened and Dad, in his usual way, turned around and said, “Uh you know why’d you get scrubbed?” and to be honest with you I really didn’t have the courage to tell him that I failed the co-ordination test
and I led him to believe that I really didn’t know and he said ring me back in 45 minutes. So I rang him back in 45 minutes and his comment was, “Anyone who puts up a co-ordination test as bad as you did doesn’t deserve to be an air crew much less a pilot; what do you want to be?” During that time, from the time I joined in January to the time I got called up in July
I had studied Morse and had learnt Morse code and by the time I went into the service in July ’42 I was reasonably good at it. So I thought the only thing I could do was become a wireless operator because obviously I’m going to get through, I was scared stiff I was going to get scrubbed out of air crew the way the old man had said. So I
elected to be a wireless operator and that’s what I became. I didn’t regret it really, certainly not at that stage, I enjoyed the course very much, and I went to a place called Parkes, in New South Wales, which was WAG [Wireless Air Gunner] school. I think the old man could probably have arranged for me to go to Ballarat, looking back on it now again of course, but he didn’t, I ended up at Parkes.
And we studied at Parkes, and I went through and graduated as a wireless air gunner.
back to London, catching up with some of the kids I’d been at school with and getting into Bomber Command or some such thing over there. I didn’t really mind what I went onto when I got there, I was hoping for Bomber Command. But where I wanted to be was over in UK And as it turned out, that’s where I ended up. Again I don’t think
father left me alone, he took me for a walk one Sunday and said to me, “Where do you want to go?” and I said I wanted to go to the UK and he turned round and he said to me, “This is one thing I won’t put my finger in.” He said, “If anything happens to you and your mother’s aware that I helped you get to the UK,” he said, “I’d be in a lot of trouble.”
He said, “I’d have to live with it.” Anyway it was only a matter of weeks later when my posting to the UK came out. So I’ve got an idea that father may well have had a finger in it, then again he may not of, I don’t know for certain.
apparently that I was going to go to navigational school after finishing gunnery school but it didn’t eventuate. And really I made no fuss about it, I didn’t want to go there. But when I ended at embarkation depot father turned round and said to me, “I hear you’re going to Mount Gambier to do a nav course.” And I was able to look him straight between the eyes and say, “No, I know nothing about that.
I’m going overseas I hope.” You know the thing is that in those days, some guys at embarkation depot would be posted to an Australian squadron up in the Pacific, and some guys would be posted to Canada, some guys would be posted to UK and so on. Now it was sort of a…what should I say … a lottery as to where you went. And I wanted to go to UK I didn’t want to go on Beauforts or something
like this in Australia and I got my wish as it turned out but whether father had a finger in the pie I don’t know, I really can’t accuse him of it but I suspect he probably did.
and we stayed for only, for only a matter of a couple of days at the initial training school up at Bradfield Park and then from there by train to Brisbane and directly onto a ship in Brisbane. It was an American troopship, it had brought 6000 Americans out to Australia I believe and we went straight onto it. Conditions
were not the best, you slept in hammocks and various other things and we went from there across to San Francisco. From San Francisco we went by train across to a place called Camp Miles Standish not far from Boston, Massachusetts we stayed there for some months and then in April,
it would be about April ’43, it would be yes. We sailed from there to the UK
it was a case of filling in time until we could get on a troopship to take us across to the UK, so yeah mostly on leave. I went to New York, spent some time in New York, spent some time in Boston. I think we all had girlfriends over there after a short length of time. And that was that sort of thing you know but again it was a case of, “For heaven’s sake, let’s get going. We want to get to the war!” So we
went across by, I think it was Queen Elizabeth. An enormous number of American soldiers on their way over to Europe. Landed in Scotland, trained down to a place called Brighton, South coast of the UK And stayed there until such time as I got posted on from there.
London he had two children and Danny Major, incidentally he was a pilot officer and the bomb aimer was a most delightful bloke also came from London with an infectious smile and just a beautiful, beaut personality. I think Kevin McSweeney might have done his homework in so far as he’d put his ear to the ground to find out how these guys were
as far as their job in the aircraft was concerned. Because he really did the picking more so than me, I was sort of with him saying do you want to fly with a couple of diggers and that was that. We picked a rear gunner; he virtually picked himself, our rear gunner turned out to be an Englishman, came from Drillingham in Kent, his background was he’d been a leading seaman in the Royal Navy
and had taken his discharge in March of 1939, he was 35 years of age and was a widower, his wife had been killed during the Battle of Britain. She was apparently at work in Drillingham in Kent and a bomb exploded near her and she was killed and the
RAF took this guy on even though he was 35 years of age. The RAF took this guy on on the proviso that he would never be anything else than a straight air gunner, they wouldn’t waste any time training him to be anything else and he was a delight to say the least.
so he was way above age really. And he and I became very very firm friends, he used to turn round to people and say, “Oh yeah, young Rex here, I was out in Melbourne in 1924 and I saw his mother pushing him in a pram,” this sort of thing. But he was a top fellow in every sense of the word, there was never any panic or anything like that with Reg. He was
one of these quietly spoken guys. Extremely good drinker, he used to turn round and tell me that he was going to make me into an eight-pint man, he never succeeded.
it remained the same, it was just a case of learning more skills. I think you can appreciate that operating a transmitter receiver from the air in UK required a lot of practice, in so far that you’re using Morse Code of course and to distinguish messages which were for you and not for every other
aircraft in the air, requires a certain amount of experience and that’s what you’re getting during that period. You’re just get more and more experience and not only that but aircraft systems, you’ve got to learn the aircraft system of each aircraft too so that if anything happens you know what to do. So it it’s a challenge and you know you get a heck of a lot of satisfaction
out of it, the better you become, the more self satisfied you become.
stationed at this stage at a place called Spilsbury, which is near Skegness on the wash on the East Coast and there you know you become an operational person on an operational squadron with all that that conveyed at the time. My skipper Kevin McSweeney and Fred Homewood the navigator they did a trip
with another crew to a German target, I forget which one now, but then we became operational, in other words your pilot has one, and the navigator have one more trip up their sleeves than you have but I can’t recall now quite how long it took us from when we got to the squadron to the time we first became operational. I can tell you the date that we first became operational
25th of March 1944 which was my first trip and it was to Berlin so I will never ever forget that. And my first three trips were Berlin, Essen and Nuremberg, and Berlin they lost, if my memory serves me right, something like 76 aircraft, Essen was down it was only about 40 odd and then the Nuremberg trip
of course was the one where the RAF lost the greatest number of aircraft up to that time and that was in the order of 100, 104 or something of that order.
probably a little scared, I don’t think that I was scared but I certainly was excited. It was a long trip and we got over the top of the target in due time without any fuss or bother. Our bomb aimer and the pilot lined the aircraft up and then the next thing I heard over the intercom was
that we’d have to go round again to do to go right through the target again because the bomb aimer had made an error of judgement on his bombing. So we then flew back against the stream of aircraft, turned round, came back again and bombed. Now as you can well imagine that, that was exciting to think we were flying against the steam of aircraft at night time and remember
you can’t see them, you can’t see them, then turned round and bombed. When we got back on the ground at Spilsbury the navigator, the rear gunner and myself went very crook about it, we said you know, lets not get killed by hitting somebody else driving the wrong way. The bomb aimer should have dropped his bombs whether he was
on the target or not and let’s get out of there and live to fight another day and I’ll say this for Kevin McSweeney he took that to heart and sort of said yes, “Well okay I take your point.” But we got coned on the way back by searchlights and that’s a scary experience when the aircraft is completely coned.
I think it’s fair to say that I was at that stage of the game very scared, very scared and I don’t think the rest of the crew were any different. Because normally once you get coned you stayed coned and the anti aircraft will get you. We were fortunate enough that we didn’t, we managed to escape it, so on we went. I ended up by doing
….well I claim thirteen trips, I completed 12 and we got shot down on the 22nd, the night of the 22nd, 23rd of May, ’44 on my thirteenth trip.
the petrol tanks of course are in the wings of these aircrafts and the wing was just completely on fire. The noise if you can remember the old blow torches that builders used to have, you know that enormous sound they used to make, well it’s exactly the same sort of sound with the wing on fire with an aircraft travelling along at 100 odd miles an hour and the flames coming out the back.
Our pilot turned round, Kev McSweeney turned round and said, “Get out of here!” Not quite in those words, but that’s what he meant and away we went. My job was to run down the back, put my parachute on, run down the back, open the back door and lock it open so then the gunners could follow me out and that’s exactly what took place. At the time I got there the rear gunner was
Carl Reg he was coming out of his turret and sliding forward, mid upper gunner was moving out of his turret and I went down and I lock the door, I don’t remember doing it but Reg, twice our rear gunner tells me, “Yes you locked the door, it was right,” and I sat on the step with the flames going past underneath me and to the side of me and Reg’s comment was, “You’re a bit slow chum so I kicked you out,” so he obviously gave
me a hand to get out with the aid of his boot. And I don’t remember pulling the ripcord, but no doubt I did, well obviously I did. And then I floated from 22,000 feet. Unfortunately the wing came off after I got out and after the two gunners got out. The wing came off and the fellows down the front
were trapped in the front of the aircraft through not being able to get out through the forward escape hatch. The skipper, and I’m on hearsay here of course, the skipper turned round to John Lowry the engineer and said, “Go down and see why Danny Major, the bomb aimer hasn’t got out, I’d like to get out too.” Apparently Lowry went down the front and he
was trapped down the front too. So the aircraft then subsequently blew up and again I reiterate I’m on hearsay because McSweeney and these other blokes told me about it. The aircraft blew up in midair and McSweeney, the pilot survived virtually unhurt. Fred the navigator survived, but he was knocked around a bit and
Danny Major the bomb aimer and John Lowry were killed. It’s just one of those things, we’ll never know why the bomb aimer didn’t get out. We suspect that perhaps in the attack on the aircraft he may well have been killed, whilst he was in the front, since he lays on the front on the escape hatch when he’s in his normal bomb aiming position. He may well have been dead in the aircraft,
but we’ll never know. I identified his body, the day after and I wasn’t looking for wounds, I was purely and simply looking to see who it was, it was very difficult to tell who it was and I identified him by his brevet and his rank and said that that was who it was. But I didn’t, I wasn’t looking
to see whether he’d been shot or not. And the same with Lowry, I identified him too and you know all I could tell was that they’d hit the ground going very fast and in any case I think my mental state was such that I didn’t want to look too hard.
half past twelve at night so it’s as black as the inside of a cow, there are no lights on on the ground you have no points of reference to see where you’re going to land and I hit the ground obviously pretty hard, my flying boots had come off obviously when I pulled the ripcord because of the sudden jerk, so I came down without flying boots on
and I didn’t realise I’d been hurt until I went to stand up and then I realised that I had a broken ankle. I tried to move and frankly I couldn’t. I won’t say that I was petrified or anything like that, but I was cold, wet, miserable and when I went to stand
I realised all I could do was hop not walk. So I sat myself back down on the ground again and pulled the parachute over the top of my head and said, “That’s it, that’s it.” so I tried to light myself a cigarette, there was a wind blowing but I couldn’t light the cigarette, whether it was the wind or my hands shaking so much I don’t know and I wouldn’t like to admit that my hand was shaking too much but I guess it probably was.
what should I say. Satisfied that there wasn’t anything really that I could do. And there isn’t really, if you can’t walk then what are you going to do, it was raining gently, as I say I was cold, wet and miserable and very lonely and thinking to myself, “What the heck am I doing here?”
you know you tend to think to yourself, you know, what’s Mum and Dad going to say about this. I had a girlfriend in England, what’s she going to say about this. It’s those sort of those that go through your mind, I was more concerned about Mum and Dad, thinking that they were going to get a message that says that ‘We regret to announce that your son has been posted missing’, but at least I
knew where I was, but you can’t tell them that, you can’t communicate, so you know you feel pretty miserable about the whole deal. I crawled away a little distance from where I’d hit and I pulled out my so called escape kit and as I say it was a ploughed field and I sort of dug into a bit of a plough, one of the plough marks and put my
escape kit in there, we had always been told get rid of your escape kit. So I did that.
who escaped after being shot down was one percent, one percent of guys that got away and obviously they would be guys who were unhurt when they hit the ground, so your chances weren’t very big. So I got rid of that, as I say pulled the parachute over my head and said right come and get me. The following morning at dawn or shortly after, two or three guys, I can’t remember
whether it was two or three men, farmers obviously they had Wellington boots on and that type of thing, they arrived, they had shotguns and with them was a younger fellow, I’d guessed he would have been 13 or 14 and he had a rifle and he insisted on pointing the rifle at me, the adults were yakking at him, but it didn’t matter he had that look in his eye, he looked as though,
“I’m going to shoot this bastard,” sort of thing you know, and that worried me a bit. But knowing that I was with the adults, I sort of thought to myself well I’m pretty safe really. These guys helped me across the field to a path alongside and there was a bicycle there and they gave me this bike and escorted me, me holding the handlebars and hopping to a farmhouse
and I gather that it must have been the senior man in the little gathering. Took me inside there, the woman of the house could not have been nicer. She was a typical German farm lady you know, fairly wide not terribly tall and she tut tutted, put me on a chair in front of the wood fire, put a chair
for my leg and was as nice as could be. She gave me a slice of bread, brown bread, German bread which I’ve never tasted before and some butter on it I guess, which tasted foul to my palate it was, the whole thing wasn’t very acceptable but I did my absolute utmost to make certain
that I smiled and thanked her for it. Shortly afterwards her son and daughter arrived and they were kids of about 12 and 14 and they came down and they stood alongside of me and tried to talk to me. I might add that I did German for the last year at school, so I had a little smattering of German but their German was way about my head, I couldn’t converse with them. Stayed there for some day (UNCLEAR)
and became the subject of interest of everybody around the place, everybody was coming to the kitchen door and looking me up and down and “gul, gul, gul” at me to which I couldn’t reply and then they’d disappear and somebody else would come. In due time I heard a lot of commotion outside and a little guy who was about five foot four and about
15 feet across the shoulders arrived in an impeccable uniform and with a revolver nearly as big as himself, he screamed into the house, jabbed me in the ribs with this gun and again oh boy was he performing, I think he was probably abusing the farmer for being kind to me, I heard the word Terror Flieger a couple of times, so I guess he was.
this guy finally decided that it was time we went and his offsider who had not said a word the whole time, he just stood alongside him, also in the same uniform and didn’t say anything, he just stood there. Anyway they took me out to the car, I hopped out to the car, which was very similar to a V.W. I’m not certain that it was. I was bundled in the back
seat of this car and the two of them took off. And the intriguing part about it was and I couldn’t help but have a …nearly have a grin to myself about it was that the guy who had been saying nothing was in the right hand seat, remember they’re left hand cars and he had his gun pointed at me straight between the eyes, I’d been searched, I’d been put into
a vehicle by this little so and so and here was a guy not even looking where the car was going with a gun at me, so I sort of moved the barrel over a bit that way for the first time, and back it came again, so I moved it over the other way and tried to look as though, “Look, what the hell this all about?” finally he gave it away. They took me back to where the aircraft had crashed. On
the way back we picked up the navigator Fred Homewood and then we went back to the crash site and it was there where he made me get out of the car and identify the bodies of Danny Major and John Lowry and I did that.
the nose of the aircraft. The aircraft when it blew up obviously, a Lancaster breaks forward of the pilot’s seat, it breaks off there and it breaks off behind the mid upper turret. So what I saw was purely and simply the front nose of the aircraft and it was smashed
to bits with the bodies alongside. They also took us past where there were a couple of engines in a field and we went past reasonably close to them and other parts of the aircraft. And Fred and I stayed in that car until they took us to a place called Meppen which was a Luftwaffe [German air force] Base,
night fighter aerodrome and they took us back to there and put us in cells. Now Fred and I were there together to start with for some time. I can’t remember now whether it was that afternoon or that night I should say we were joined by the mid upper gunner who had been injured, he joined us originally
and then the rear gunner Reg Tyce arrived and that’s all. So there were in fact 4 of us, four of us there and we stayed there for some time and they gave us something to eat, but we were locked in individual cells. In due time we were put into a vehicle and taken to
a place called Munster put on a train at Munster, under guard of course and taken down to the air crew interrogation centre at Frankfurt. Now when Reg Tyce arrived he who was uninjured, this is the rear gunner guy, he was uninjured but had been captured shortly after we’d been shot down,
in fact he was caught the following day and he said that he’d, the vehicle that took him to the night fighter drome had a couple of coffins in the back and he said he didn’t realise of course that he was sitting on either John or Danny Major, but he would have been. The trip to Frankfurt was relatively
all right except that we had to change trains at Cologne and at Cologne the local population on the Railway Station abused hell out of us, they spat on us, they attempted to punch at us all this sort of thing and I’ll say this for the German guards that were looking after us they turned their backs on us and put us into a little group,
there was about half a dozen of us because there had been other people picked up in the local area, other air crew picked up in the local area and there was about half a dozen of us and the German guards who were guarding us push us all together and turned their backs on us and went so far as to make it look like they would shoot any of the civilians who wanted to lynch us or push us in front of a train or whatever they
wanted to do. But it’s not pleasant to stand there and have people spit in your face, that gets up you know but there was nothing you could do about it.
you know it’s one of those things I guess it’s part and parcel of being in Bomber Command, that that sort of thing happens, what do you do? Nothing you can do, if you want the honest answer, there’s nothing you can do. We went by train through to Frankfurt, went by vehicle from Frankfurt
up to the camp, to the prison at Frankfurt for interrogation centre. Put into a cell, individual cells again up there and at this stage remember I hadn’t had any treatment for my ankle at all, none at all and that starts to worry you just a bit you think gangrene and all these sorts of things. Anyway into a
cell there, very small cell, full of fleas, a palliasse on the floor, you know a thing full of straw, lots of fleas and you were there and it’s soundproof pretty well, so you stay there. I was taken out twice for interrogation, the first time the guy, superbly dressed in a superb
uniform, a rotund man I would guess in his fifties, who sat me down in front of him and offered me a cigarette, “Do you smoke?” “Yes I do.” “Have a cigarette but don’t smoke it now,” you know that sort of attitude. He then interrogated me, and when I say interrogate me it was more a case of me being somewhat surprised
at seeing in his office, schematic diagrams of some of our radar equipment which we weren’t allowed to discuss in the bar, you know supposedly secret equipment and here he’s got schematic diagrams of it in his office and that was no doubt done to shock you. I look
back on it now and say and it did, it did shock me. He was quite pleasant there was no threatening or anything like this at that first interview. He asked me where I came from and we were allowed in those days to give name, rank and number and home address and that’s exactly what I did, and when he turned around and said, “Oh, you come from Brighton,” and I said, “Yes,” and he said, “I used to live
near there.” “Yes, I know.” “131 New Street Brighton.” “Yes, oh yes. I know that. That’s near the Dendy Street gates,” and you think, “Jesus!” you know and this guy claimed to have been a wool buyer before the war and he claimed that he was with a company with an office in the Rialto building in Melbourne.
Now the Rialto building in Melbourne had a school called the Austral Coaching College and when I was in the bank before I got into the air force I was studying for my Banker’s Certificate and Austral Coaching College was where I went so when he said he was in Rialto buildings I knew exactly where he was talking about. Anyway he was relatively pleasant, he just asked questions about the squadron, about the aircraft,
what bomb load it carried, what the target was and all this sort of thing and I just kept saying, “I’m sorry Sir I’m not permitted to say. I’m sorry Sir I’m not permitted to say. I’m sorry Sir I don’t know,” this type of thing and he turned round to me in the end and said, “For a member of an air crew you’re not very bright Austin are you?” and I’d just about reiterated again, “I’m sorry Sir I’m not permitted to say,” you know, it was like a repetitive watch.
Anyway he turned around to me and said he would get my leg treated; he never ever did. I got sent for again a few days later. On the night we were shot down we had a young Canadian navigator with us, he was doing his first operation, remember I mentioned earlier about doing a trip. This guy Flight Sergeant Stacey, I have no idea what his name was, he
came out to the aircraft to do his trip and we took him to Germany and left him there and he survived and this interrogator guy turned round to me and said, “There is another man in your crew. There was another man on the aircraft and if you don’t tell me who he is and what he is and everything else we will of course have to have him shot.” And again it was a case of, I’m sorry sir I’m not permitted to say.’ That worried me a bit having to
deny the fact that Stacey had been with us but orders are orders and we had been told not to. Anyway Stacey survived the war I know that for sure. But he sort of used that as a lever to try and get me to talk, I didn’t, sorry sir I’m not permitted to say. In due time I was taken from solitary, I can’t
…… .yes I did, I did have a wash whilst I was there, yes I did, I managed to get a wash. And met up with Reg Tyce and Fred Homewood when we were marched out of there.
the doctor there was a proper doctor, British Army major who had been captured at Dunkirk and he took me in hand, they put me into the hospital, small hospital they had there, they set my ankle, put me in a plaster up to the knee and I stayed there for some time. The two guys who were off-siding to the doctor,
one of them is an Australian who is now a doctor up on the Gold Coast, he came back to Australia and did medicine and the other one, a bloke by the name of Eric Stevenson was an RAF officer, he was an RAF navigator flying officer, he also did medicine after the war and finally retired out would you believe, an Air Vice Marshal Director General for Medical Services for the RAAF.
He lives in Canberra and I was down not so long ago to his party they threw for him for his eightieth birthday. But after that into a room in the Stalag with another bunch of senior NCOs [Non Commissioned Officers] and that’s where we stayed till end of January
1944, we marched out from Stalag Luft 3, marched for a few days staying in farmers’ barns overnight to a place called Springburg. At Springburg we got into cattle trucks and from cattle trucks up to a place called Lückenwalde which was another very
large prison camps which had all sorts of nationalities in it and we stayed there until we were released by the Russians.
and we were able to have a shower and get cleaned up and they gave us a meal. Interesting from the point of view of I can distinctly remember having a slice of white bread and thinking it was a cake, you know it’s extraordinary how the old memory plays tricks on you on things like that.
The train trip for Springburg to Lückenwalde was interesting in so far as an enormous number of guys were pushed into these cattle trucks and locked in of course. There was insufficient room for everybody to lie down; there was insufficient room to do anything, so some sit up, while some stand up, some lie down while the others were sitting down and standing up and this sort of thing.
Toilet facilities were not there; in fact we bored a hole through a nail hole in the side of the cattle truck. One guy had a knife and we manage to make the hole a bit larger, a bit larger and I was the only guy who had a Red Cross suitcase which was made out of fibre
and out of the suitcase we cut a funnel and that was our urinal, the funnel out through the side. And unfortunately I was the guy paying the provided the fibre and I was the guy who happened to be near the hole, so I was the guy who held the funnel whilst the boys were using the funnel and believe you me I had it everywhere.
I was wet, I was wet right up to the shoulder, trying to hold this funnel while the guys in a moving cattle truck and the guys are trying to fire through this hole. Boy you can imagine, did I smell!
and the Russians would meet up the other side. We walked across a pontoon bridge into the hands of the Americans, the Americans in turn took us to an airbase called Halle and fed us up. They gave us a meal and we managed to get a shower and so on and so forth. We then flew by American Dakotas to Brussels
and we stayed in Brussels at St Anne’s Barracks which is in the centre of Brussels. We stayed overnight there, I have an idea we might have stayed two nights. We were then taken back to the airfield and we were flown home in the back of Lancaster’s by the RAF, we landed at a place called Horsham and from there we went down back to Brighton
where I started off in England in the first place. And I stayed at Brighton for some months, weeks. Anyway Brighton was a wonderful reception centre, we were pretty thin and worn as you can well imagine, but whilst we were at Brighton the POWs [Prisoners of War] were put on special rations. We had nice looking waitresses who used to insist that we took our pills
at the right time and so on and so forth. I was fortunate enough that I had had friends in England as you well know from my schoolboy days and I stayed with them outside London, mostly more time there then anywhere else. There was also a POW club up in Sloane Square where one could stay at no cost and again food was put into us pretty rapidly.
So we were given plenty of time to rehabilitate. Reissued with uniforms and our personal effects which had been in storage from the time we got shot down were returned to us. So by in large the stay in London after the war was a very happy one. I was able to stay with Mr and Mrs Savage who had been our next door neighbours pre-war days when I was in UK
and I was able to help them out of course by getting tinned food for them and that type of thing. In due time we were taken by train up to Scotland to Greenock and we went on board a ship called the Orion which was an ex P & O liner, pretty well all of the people on board were ex
air crew POWs out of Germany, there was a small element of Royal Naval officers coming out to Australia but by in large it was all POWs. We went across the Atlantic to Panama and on the way across the Atlantic the war ended in the Pacific, so the whole total war was over. From there Panama, we went through Panama Canal to New Zealand
and landed at Wellington and stayed overnight at Wellington and then onto Sydney. We landed at Sydney, the Victorians such as myself were put on trains and sent down to Melbourne and the Sydney fellows dispersed around New South Wales and of course the Queenslanders were put on trains up to Brisbane. We were given a very warm reception in Sydney. Two-decker buses drove through the main streets and there was plenty
of waving and cheering and what have you. And the same thing happened to a large extent in Melbourne except in Melbourne we were put into cars and we had a car cavalcade through Melbourne out to the Melbourne Cricket Ground where we all dispersed to our various homes. And the Tasmanians were kept overnight and then put on a ship and taken back down to Tassie. So that’s it in a nutshell.
I together with a lot of my friends I found out since, most of my friends. When we landed in Melbourne and started talking to our next of kin. The first thing that hit us was the Australian accent, it is a harsh accent whether we like to admit it or not and it was very different. And I know that when I met my father and he said, “G’day son how are you?” I sort of went, “Oh,”
you know, it was unexpected but it was I guess a natural reaction, but believe you me you get used to it very quickly. Whilst I was at Melbourne Cricket Ground and remember I was in fact on strength there, my father asked me if I would help out with meeting some of the air force POWs who at this stage just coming out of Japan,
out of Asia anyway and I of course volunteered to do so. I had the privilege of meeting 2 RAAF ex POWs from the Pacific War and I found I couldn’t help them at all, these guy were so traumatized by what was happening to them, what had happened to them and what was happening
to them that they really didn’t need any assistance from me. It was an extraordinary experience, one that I value very much, but I had to turn round to my father after only a couple of days and say, “Look Dad I’m sorry I’m wasting my time, I’m wasting their time, they can’t be helped.” And he took the point and said, “OK if you fell you’re not
achieving something, if there’s no sort of relationship between you just because you’re POWs, then give it away,” and that’s what I did.
living in a bit of a world of their own, if I can put it that way. You know we came home perhaps because we had time to recover in England and the boat trip etcetera, I think we came home excited to be home, looking forward to being home and we’d had the opportunity rehabilitating our mental thoughts
whereas these guys hadn’t had that, I think they both been flown home, in fact I’m pretty certain they had, so they hadn’t had that experience. No doubt in time they’d have come completely good the same as we were, it was too early. I think that’s the result in a nutshell.
Tell me then how you adjusted to post war life?
With difficulty, I look back on it now and say I think I was probably a little wild, I certainly had some mannerisms which rubbed people, my family anyway my Mum and Dad up the wrong way, I tended to be a loner
and I think I probably went overboard with the taste of freedom. I was no longer subject to out of bed at this hour, into bed at that hour, meals would be at this hour and so on. That’s one of the things as a prisoner you develop fairly firm habits in terms of what you do with your time, you know the Germans had us
on roll call at say 9 o’clock, every morning you were there at 9 o’clock, every morning you stood there till the Germans finished counting you all and that could take an hour or more, a couple of hours at times, more than that at others. In the afternoon you had exactly the same thing, lights went out at a given time so you knew what you could do from
one time to the next and that’s what prison camp is really about it’s very, very monotonous. There’s nothing that really excites you, I attempted to do some studies whilst I was behind the wire and you could not have had a better opportunity to study than whilst you’re behind
the wire. There were guys there RAF officer, RCA [Royal Canadian Army] officers, Australian officers and so on who are highly qualified in every conceivable profession that you can think of, apart from medicine and there was one guy there who wasn’t even the doctor as far as the camp was concerned, he was a squadron leader, RAF or Rhodesian one or the other squadron leader ex fighter pilot but he was in fact his profession was medical,
solicitors holy we had plenty of solicitors there, we had engineers there, we had one guy Canadian who had been a lecturer in economics at a University in Canada now if you wanted to study economics what better than to have a guy like that who would take all the time in the world because you’ve got it, you’ve got a full daytime to study and these guys could help you out.
It’s extraordinary from the viewpoint of professions or professional people who can take you for these subjects. There were guys there who studying law under very highly qualified law people and doing university examinations from UK and you could do this through the Red Cross. There were other guys doing all sorts of subjects, you name it and you could do it
whilst you were in prison camp. But that only, really that only lasted till January of ’45, once we marched out of the permanent prison camp of course as you would expect everything went by the board. Apart from any other problem instead of having as had been at Stalag Luft 3, eight or ten guys to a room, we ended up in dormitories of 200, 250
that sort of thing and under those circumstances you could hardly expect people to study, particularly when you’ve got three tiered beds and nothing else, so you know studies went by the board at that stage and I might add that food became so very short that you couldn’t have expected people to study anyway. So that’s you know to fill in your time behind the wire is very monotonous.
You’ve got to think of something to do and try and follow it through and I decided that I’d improve my standards of knowledge of radio and my instructor and there was three of us, three guys studying radio with this fellow and this fellow was a graduate engineer in electrical engineering from UK and was a radio specialist in the RAF so what better man.
known he’d invite you along and along you went and invariable there would be textbooks there which were required, they came through the Red Cross. The Red Cross provided those so everything was there but it was loose, you know there wasn’t any business of mark the roll or anything like that, there was none of that as you would …you wouldn’t expect it to be otherwise. There was an extraordinary
people, one of the guys a bloke by the name of Percy Northropp who was a RAF flight sergeant, Percy Northropp was the middle weight amateur champion in boxing for the Northern Counties in UK, he took boxing lessons. Wing Commander Stanford Tuck who was an RAF fighter pilot of great note during early stages of World War II
he had a qualification in fencing, so he taught fencing and I think he had been an Olympic representative, I could be wrong there but I think so, now these were the sort of people which you had. There was even a professional golfer there who took golf lessons, now you didn’t have a golf ball or anything like this but you had golf sticks and you had woollen balls and
he could teach you how to swing a golf club properly. If I had only been that interested in golf at the time, I regret now that I didn’t go to his lessons. But you know these are the sorts of people that were there. You name it, you name the profession and you would find somebody in that camp who was an expert at it.
I guess if the numbers were such, they would have been able to use the theatre, there was a theatre at Sagan and it could have sat people down there, probably take twenty, so you know the opportunity was there but I don’t think a great number of people availed themselves of it. Outdoor sports
there was volleyball, in winter we even constructed an ice rink which was about the size of a hockey pitch and poured some water onto it and we had our ice rink, since pre-war days one of my hobbies had been ice skating, it was a delight to borrow some skates and get out on the ice rink. They weren’t proper
skates in so far as they weren’t firmly attached to boots but they were clip on ones that you could hand around. There was that sort of thing. At one stage we had an oval which was big enough to play cricket and there was a cricket match the Aussies versus the Poms of course as you would expect and the captain of the Australian team
returned to Australia and played with New South Wales for a while…Keith Carmody was his name and he was captain of Western Australia, now these guys were first class operators, there was a soccer pitch and some of the guys played soccer. I tried it once and got sacked, they invited me to be goalkeeper and I let too many balls in and they sacked
me pretty quick and lively.
hospital where the doctor and his fellows operated from and then there was a series of huts divided into rooms, honestly I can’t remember how many rooms, but there was about 8 guys to a room and I would think we probably have 12 rooms. Now each room
had a fireplace for heating in winter and believe you me you need it. There was a toilet at one end, which was a thunderbox, it had to be emptied everyday so nobody ever used it, urinal in the same area, a small kitchen where each room would have a time for cooking and one or more members from each room
would be (UNCLEAR) or weekly to do the cooking for the room and they would look after their own room in terms of food.
You basically lived on Red Cross parcels, these Red Cross parcels contained tinned cheese, a bar of chocolate and when I say that I’m talking about what we called a D Bar, good solid chocolate, cigarettes, tinned milk, tinned meat and those type of things which
could be you know tinned up and we got those, when I first went down it was one parcel a week, it then subsequently became one parcel between two men and then towards the end of the war of course it disappeared altogether.
the camp and we got the news for instance. There was a secret radio in the camp and it was manned by some of the RAF officers, I don’t know where it was, all I know is that of a night time
one or more officers would come round and they would read to you very quickly the latest BBC News. We knew for instance of the invasion before the Germans had, it was announced to the Germans and that was the sort of thing that kept your morale up. Each of the sleeping blocks had a map of Europe pinned up on the wall and they were pretty big ones and you
could go along there when the BBC News said something about the Russian Front, you could go along there and just casually have a look and see where the town was that they were talking about. And it provided a lot of information to you. There was also of course blokes there that spoke and wrote perfect German and the Germans provided
us with German newspapers, so the joke would be of course that one of these guys would turn round and tell us what the German news was and then you’d hear the BBC News and then you’d go ‘haw haw’, you know, we know more than they do. I might add that the Germans also broadcast every afternoon a news report and we had a guy there who was an ex-Scotland Yard
Special Division detective who could interpret, listen to the German news as it was said and write it down in English shorthand, now that’s not a bad sort of facility to have and he would then tell other people, read it from his own shorthand as to what the German news had been all about. A most extraordinary bloke, he’d had been down behind the wire for a long time too.
number now but there was a printed form that you were allowed write in terms of a letter it was about so long and about so wide and you wrote to your family and that in due time went home through the Red Cross and similarly your family could write to you and you got letters. They were unrestricted in terms of numbers coming from one way; we were restricted in how we could send going the other way. Similarly
with personal parcels, Christmas 1944 I received my one and only clothing parcel from my mother which contained khaki shorts, open neck khaki shirts and some underwear and this sort of thing, now the only trouble was when it arrived there was a foot or more of snow on the ground, so having shorts and things like that didn’t help but no doubt they were
sent with good intentions and they thought, ‘Christmas oh yeah, well he’ll need summer clothing’, he didn’t need summer clothing at all. What he would have liked is some thick woollies.
over the Christmas time and so on it was you know it gets fairly cold, I had my 21st birthday there of course in January ’45 and the boys in my room grabbed me, stripped me naked, took me outside in the snow and they gave me 21 bumps in the snow, they threw me up and caught me twenty times,
on the twenty first occasion those so and sos didn’t catch me with the result I ended up naked in the snow, then they wouldn’t let me get back in the room and believe you me I had fears at that stage of the game of my future, I was a little concerned about frostbite. There was a German guard standing there with his Alsatian and that
Alsatian had eyes on me and I had eyes on him. They finally let me back in the room and then they turned round and decided that I was wet and cold and that I needed drying. So the buggers put me onto the table and they dried me and you can imagine how they dried me, with towels as hard as they could go, oh dear oh dear, they livened me up no end and I thought that was the end of it till later
on in the afternoon, and remember winter it gets dark about fourish. I was taken for a walk by Reg Tyce, this rear gunner of mine and Reg turned round to me and said, “Come on chum we’ll go a walk,” so we went for a walk around the perimeter of the camp and when he got back here was these guys from my hut, from my room, lined up each side and down the end of
it was a bloke by the name of George Lloyd who was the senior NCO in our room and George is standing down there with a tray and it was an absolutely magnificent chocolate cake, the blokes had saved up their semolina and everything else over a period of time and they made a chocolate cake which would have been 12 to 15 inches square and on it was Happy Birthday to Rex.
And with it they handed me a key, which was also so big with 21 on it, and it was in fact made out of cardboard with silver paper over it taken from cigarette packets. Now you know those sort of experiences, gee you know you really, you really feel it and they’d alerted other
people in the hut as to what was going on that it was my 21st and the number of other members from that hut and other huts who came over and shook me by the hand and said Happy 21st I hope you’re not here for your 22nd. It’s quite extraordinary, and they’re memories, which will never leave you, never leave you. No my 21st was something, Jesus when I was getting thrown up in that snow I can tell you I was a little concerned.
of what should I say, given a bit more respect, than the guy who were new treegies. It was a case of, ‘When did you get shot down?’ ‘I haven’t been here long.’ You talk to someone and he said, “Oh of course I captured on Crete in ’41.” and you go ….there was that to it. The camp I was in was an officers’ camp; they were except for say 20
perhaps 30 NCOs, all the rest were RAF, RAAF, RNZAF, Canadians you name it in terms of dominions, colonies whatever you like and they were all officers and they varied in rank from Group Captain McDonald who was a senior British officer down to us senior NCOs, in fact the room that I was first in Sagan had an LAC [Leading Aircraftsman] in it, he had been
captured at Crete and he in fact was the Group Captains batman, a most delightful bloke but he was still a leading aircraftsman and that’s pretty extraordinary in that sort of camp. With the junior officers and senior NCOs there was no problem, there probably wasn’t any problem across the board really as far as ranks were concerned except that but you treated officers
as officers. If it was a squadron leader you were talking to you called him, ‘Sir’, unless he said otherwise, if he turned round and said, “Call me Bill.” you called him Bill. Group Captain McDonald, our senior British officer, was only late twenties, early thirties and he in his welcome speech turned round and said, “In this camp discipline is going to be stronger, you will experience more than you probably will on a RAF base back home,
but when we’re playing sport or anything like that I’m McDonald not Sir, you don’t turn round and say, ‘Excuse me Sir would you pass the ball,’ you say, ‘Pass the bloody ball McDonald!’ and that’s exactly what we did when the senior officers played the junior officers or the senior NCOs at soccer they’d be a bunch of blokes standing alongside the field and every time the poor old group captain got near the ball you’d hear the bunch of voices
Go, “Pass the F…ing ball McDonald!” and he’d grin like mad, he reckoned that was great.
there may have been some minor diet type problem but nothing that I was aware of. As you would appreciate the food is not terribly good and for instance the leg that I had in plaster for so long, the muscle has never recovered completely, you know one leg is thinner than the other and that’s purely and simply because of the diet but
when we got to Lückenwalde and there, there were no Red Cross parcels and the German rations were very inadequate at that stage where things like dysentery and those sort of problems came in. And we all suffered from starvation to either a large or a lesser extent. I can remember lying there in
bed in the days when food was short and someone would yell your name and you went to sit up suddenly in bed and you would black out, you know you’d shake your head and then have a look to see who was talking to you, that sort of thing came in but I don’t think there was any really bad problems, I don’t think so. When the Russians first came through I happened to up on the third tier bed
under the control of the doctor because I had yellow jaundice, but I recovered from that and I don’t think there has ever been any major fallout from it. Some of the guys suffered from psychological problems, ‘barbed wire fever’ as they used to call it. Blokes just didn’t behave the way you would expect them to behave
but you’d become very tolerant behind the wire and that was one thing that Group Captain McDonald in his welcome speech at Sagan said to us, “Whilst you’re behind the wire you will be required to rub shoulders with guys who under normal circumstances you wouldn’t be bothered with.” And that is very true
you learn to swallow the words if you were going to go crook about something, you learn to turn around and shrug your shoulders and sort of say so what. And he at the time said I’m certain it’s an attribute, which you really should have, is this sense of tolerance, which you’ve just got to have. If you’re going to punch up every bloke who disagrees with
you, you’re going to be in trouble. So you learn to roll with the punches if I can put it that way.
out of his room and climbed up on the roof and attempted to jump over the wire from the roof, he was shot in so doing and everybody sort of said Dickie did it deliberately. I understand he had a major domestic problem back home and
that’s the worst manifestation of it; the other is just the fact that guys tend to forget what they’re doing, it was often a joke in permanent stalag that Doctor Montwieg who was the army major that I mentioned before who’d been captured at Dunkirk, that he would start playing a game of Bridge in this hut and then excuse himself because he wanted to go to the toilet and he would be found somewhere else later playing Bridge in another hut, he’d forgotten to come back you know
that sort thing. If you’re not careful people tend to become lax in personal hygiene, they allowed beards to grow, you’re not allowed to have a beard of course in the air forces, they would grow beards, they wouldn’t change their clothes often enough and so on. They would normally be spoken
to about it. Group Captain McDonald brought out a ruling that RAF officers, well officers and senior NCOs would not grow beards, the problem of course is because in winter it was so damn cold and it’s pretty hard to keep up with shaving, it’s pretty hard to keep up with keeping your clothes clean, but you’ve got to do it, you’ve got to do it.
there was any cases that I heard of where people did things which would justify a court martial. The sort of thing that happened to us, when we were at Lückenwalde and remember I’m talking about after the invasion probably mid September, round about that sort of time of
’45. I gave up smoking, saved my cigarettes and bought a loaf of bread. A loaf of bread was seventy cigarettes and Reg and I decided that I would give up smoking, he wasn’t very keen on his idea and we bought a loaf of bread. Black bread, bought it from the senior NCOs’ camp which was opposite us
and we had it by the side of our bed, our beds and it was stolen and we reported the stealing of it. Group Captain McDonald threw a complete parade of all the people in that compound, announced that Tyce and Austin had a loaf of bread stolen and turned round and gave them a hour or two hours, I forget which now for the loaf of bread to get returned and
if it wasn’t returned then if the culprit was found he would be court martialled, if that couldn’t be found within the next ration period, when the next lot of bread came up, the first loaf of bread would go to Austin and Tyce and then the remainder would be cut up on behalf of everybody else, and that’s exactly what happened. No culprit was ever found and the next time bread was issued and it wasn’t issued you every day, it was issued every
few days, Reg and I were given a loaf of bread, then they calculated what the ration would be for everybody else. And that’s the way it went. But that’s an extraordinary thing to happen I think and remember the compound at Lückenwalde had a bunch of Polish officers in it, there were Russian soldiers going around the place, cleaning out
rubbish bins and all that sort of work so we have no idea where that bread went to. Except that but there shouldn’t have been so many people would know where the bread was because it was hidden, it was near our bed sure but it was hidden and that makes you think well it must have been someone in the hut. But there are 250 blokes in the hut and how would the guy use it anyway, you know
how does he explain to his friends that he’s got a loaf of bread.
there was no harsh feeling between them. Whilst we were at permanent camp at Sagan we had a fellow shot through the hand. Within a prison camp they always have barbed wire, you’ve seen the things and then about 10 yards inside that would be a warning wire as it was called and it’s only hand high as you walk along and you can run your hand along it as your walk. The pathway’s there, there’s the barbed wire,
there’s the warning wire and then about 10 yards further in is the barbed wire and they have these guard boxes. One of our guys at Sagan was running his hand along the wire and one of the guards in one of the boxes shot him and hit him in the hand. Now whether it was deliberately at his hand or whether it was at him and hit him in the hand, you will never know. I
understand that that guard was immediately relieved of duty and posted elsewhere. The story behind it being that he’d been fighting the Russians and he was a bit around the twist, and hated everybody. I can’t honestly speak as to how the escape/exercise people got on with guards, cause I didn’t have anything to do with them. The only time I had
anything to do with them was one occasion when I ran out of our block and there were two steps down and the commandant was coming the other way, the commandant of the camp was coming the other way and I didn’t know that, I opened the door early in the morning, very early in the morning and I jumped those two steps and low and behold I ended up in the arms of the commandant and I just about knocked him over. In fact I thought he and I were both going to be on our backs and he pulled himself
up sort of thing, looked at me and said, “Ah and who are you?” and I said, “Austin Sir.” “Ah you’re Australian!” and I said ,“Yes.” “Ah, you colonials. You are bad fellows.” We parted; he went his way I went mine. Funny days, funny days.
probably, well two steps off the ground, three steps one, two, three yeah three steps off the ground so the floors could be easily seen underneath. The only thing that went down through them was the fireplaces because they were of brick and tile construction, they went onto the ground. Everything else was wide open. Now this meant that the German,
ferrets, guards, daytime guards who wander around the place with their Alsatians would just send an Alsatians in underneath the hut and that Alsatians would smell out anything that was going on. So there were no escapes from Bularia whilst I was there. The big escape from Sagan, from Stalag Luft 3 went out from East camp I think, the night of my first
trip, 25th of March ’44 and that was when 50 officers got shot. But that was before my time. I met a couple of guys that had been involved in escapes, Geoffrey Cornish, this doctor from the Gold Coast was one of them but had nothing to do with it myself whatsoever.
Lückenwalde – and remember, we got there in February and we weren’t really released till well till the Russians came. Food was so short in terms of Germans supplies and there were no other supplies coming through that if you went to move suddenly,
you temporarily blacked out. When I say that I mean you, your eyes sort of didn’t focus properly. At that time I used to think to myself, ‘Gee how long is this going to go on for?’ and because whilst we were hearing how the Allies were coming forward and so on. There was the Battle of the Bulge took place and that was a setback to the Allied forces and you wondered how
long it would really take to get as far us and you wondered to yourself, ‘If this goes on too much longer I’m going to be a real cot case. Perhaps Mrs Austin’s boy is not going to make it after all.’ but that’s all. And I don’t suppose you really take it seriously but you think to yourself, there’s a thought in the back of your mind, thought in the back of your mind.
plaster came off I was onto rapel. Now that is the thing that gets you out of bed because you’ve got to have breakfast before you go, so guys of course, don’t they work on the assumption that I go to rapel and come back and have breakfast. Now breakfast remember was two slices of bread and a bit of butter and a bit of jam. So it didn’t take too long to prepare, or too long to eat if it comes to that. So you know there was no great problem there.
You got out onto rapel and you stood there until such time as the Germans allowed you to give up and we used to line up in fives and the old Germans would go along and believe you me they were pretty crummy counters. It didn’t happen everyday but it happened very often, that they got the count wrong and then they’d start all over again, line up, line up, line up, and then they’d start their count all over
again and then they’d do their sums and then finally the commandant would be able to say right the right numbers are here. Now then you had nothing to do until lunchtime and of course that was your time, whatever time you had decided lunch would be or your room or whatever it was. After lunch the same thing again until the afternoon rapel and at afternoon
rapel you went through the same jolly thing that you went through at morning. Line up, by huts, and of course they would send a German guard through the hut looking for people who were still in bed and making certain they were legitimately still in bed and that’s it. And then lights out would be, when it got dark I guess is the best way of saying that.
And it didn’t matter what you were doing all of a sudden the lights went out. And from the guard towers of course, they had searchlights and they play them all round the compound looking for people who were trying to escape or trying to go from one block to another and that used to be a bit of a joke some blokes would get caught in a particular block when the lights went out, so they’d wait for an appropriate moment and they’d dive out a window of one block and run like mad to the next one and dive through the window
probably with an Alsatian hot on their heels.
No., no. I don’t think there was ever any danger of that. When we were at the transit camp between Frankfurt and the permanent camp up at Sagan, we were in this transit camp and some B-17s – the Yanks came over and bombed the local town and
a couple of bombs were about a mile from us. That livens up your thinking because you’re in canvas tents and you think, ‘Christ if they come too close the tent’s not going to give you too much shelter.’ Similarly when we were at Lückenwalde there was a move afoot to evacuate us from Lückenwalde and they took us down to the local railway station supposedly to evacuate us
to somewhere and the Yanks came along in their Thunderbolts and fired, beat up the trains and that didn’t thrill us too much either. Cause here we are in a goods yard and these Thunderbolts are diving down and shooting hell out of trains, we thought we hoped they stayed away from us a bit and don’t come to this marshalling yard, and they didn’t.
you could hear them, so yes we knew the Russians were very close. And there was a bit of a saying there, you know ‘Joe [Stalin] for King’, roll on the Ruskies, Joe for King. And of course they did in fact arrive. There’s a few aspects of that which were interesting in so far as the Russians released the camp by
just driving a tank through down the main gate and just went straight through, took all the power with them and everything else, they didn’t worry about electricity they just drove straight through. And the Germans subsequently a couple days later tried to fight through us to get to the Elbe. They wanted all …all the Germans wanted to do is give themselves up to the Americans they didn’t want to be captured by the Russians and when these days of course we know why
So at one stage we were with the Russians then probably 24, 48 hours later, we were just about with the Germans again and then we were with the Russians and stayed with the Russians.
as well as Dad. Dad was very pleased I know when he got the posting I can recall that even as young as I was, the excitement in the house and of course as you can well imagine in those days people didn’t travel very far, you know to go to England it was 6 weeks in a boat. And air force officers in those days travelled first class so we as kids were first class passengers on a thing called
Moultan going over and the Narkunda coming back so yeah it was something special and of course to come back here as a school boy having been to school in England was even more important, although it had disadvantages. And the disadvantage of course was pre-war days I came back here with the BBC accent and that was not good at school.
I was known as the boy with the BBC voice and that was fighting words. Blokes who came up with that sort of comment you wanted to thump them.
I can probably quote you quite a number of fighter aces from there, which stick with me even now. Cobber Khan, Paddy Finucane, our own Bluey Truscott but there were a lot of others that got publicity out here. And the Battle of Britain was something of tremendous important to me at that time. I might add that even now in the air force association
we have a celebration of the Battle of Britain on the 15th of September every year here in Sydney at the Cenotaph and we follow it up by a formal luncheon at Parliament House so we still celebrate and commemorate the Battle of Britain. Now there were also other things like the Fall of Singapore of course that worried the living daylights out of most people. The
battles in the desert, the Fall of France you know these sort of things, yes, yes they certainly had an effect on it and I think they probably generated a lot of interest in me joining the service, the quicker the better. It’s probably you know I don’t know whether the word romantic is the right word but certainly there was a strong desire
to go and have a fight for the not only just for Australia but for Great Britain and the Empire.
training, I was a warrant officer at this stage, and when I went to Archerfield the flight commander there insisted I do what they call flight grading, in other words I did 10 hours flying in a Tiger moth at the end of 10 hours flying in a Tigermoth the wing commander who I knew and he knew me turned round to me and said, “Do you want to go solo Rex?” and I said, “Not particularly,” and he said, “I’m delighted to hear that, your coordination is dreadful!”
So there you are. No it didn’t worry me at all. I did the nav course; I passed the nav course and became a navigator, which gave me all the satisfaction I wanted.
Now Dad did at one stage turn round to me and say, “If you get on in the air force you will get on in spite of me not because of me.” and I think that was very true, unfortunately I had to let some of my colleagues know that I had a father in the air force because on one occasion when we were up from Somers to Melbourne,
I took a bunch of my friends ice-skating at St Moritz Ice Skating Rink in Melbourne; it’s since closed up and a bloke by the name of Bell commonly known as Dinger of course, fell over and broke his arm and our instructions at Somers were always very clear, if anything goes wrong you are to report back to Somers and we will look after you. Now the guy with the broken arm at what
9 o’clock in the evening, I didn’t see us going back to Somers, so I rang home. Got hold of Dad and said, “I’ve got a bloke by the name of Bell here who’s one of my friends from Somers and he’s broken his arm what do we do?” and he said, “Stay where you are, I’ll ring Ascot Vale and I’ll tell them to send an ambulance to pick him up.” So I said, “Thanks very much.” So I then had to turn round to the others and say, “We are not going back to Somers. We are staying right here.
There is an air force ambulance going to come and pick us up, pick him up, and that’s it.” And they said, “Oh you can’t do that, you’ve got to go back to Somers.” “No, no, no we don’t have to go back to Somers.” And in the end I had to turn round and say, “Listen, me old man’s a group captain and he can fix these things and I’ve spoken to him and that’s the way it’ll be.” And the blokes sort of went, “Gee, he’s got a father that’s a group captain.” Oh, you know, this sort of attitude. And of course, needless to say the word went round like wild fire. “Austin’s father’s a group captain.” you know
and you can imagine the reaction, “The fellow oh he’ll get on, he’ll get on.” and he didn’t.
and you’ve got to send messages. You might get a message saying, ‘what’s the weather like’ or ‘where are you’ and you’ve got to send a message back by Morse to the guy on the ground and he might try and confuse you by sending something stupid and what I’ve written down can’t be right so you go back to him and ask him to repeat it and this sort of thing and when you get down the instructors assess you.
Now apart from that there was also a lot of classroom Morse where you just sit in a classroom of 20 blokes all with Morse keys and the instructor up the front sending Morse and they increase the speed, you know they might start off at 5 words a minutes. I might add you start learning Morse by singing it for heavens sake – “A da. da. B da. do. da. C…” this sort of thing, you learn it by singing it and then you have an instructor
who’s send it to you and he increases the speed as he thinks fit. So today you might do ten words a minute and he makes certain that all his students can do 10 words a minute, tomorrow he takes us up to twelve words and minute and that sort of thing. Then again exactly the same in the reverse when you’re sending to him.
in the earlier days. It was more roomier than anything else I had even been in and it also had greater speed than anything I had ever been in so from that view point I was absolutely thrilled to bits that here I was on Wellingtons, an aircraft that had such a wonderful reputation and of course at OTU is where your pilot starts to get checked out on more modern aircraft.
So you start off by doing some hours of him doing circuits and bumps with a flying instructor and then he graduates to flying it on his own. And I might add that on his first solo with my skipper which was in the afternoon, nice day, he came in too fast too steep, we hit the runway with a what sounding ‘thulnk’ we bounced up in the air,
he pulled the wheels up and attempted to overshoot, the aircraft sank back onto the runway, bounced back into the air and we got about a mile off the airfield before he had to crash it into a field and he did that and we all walked away from it, well there was only three of us onboard, the rear gunner, skipper and myself and we walked away from it but having written off an aeroplane. So he was not the most popular
pilot at the OTU that afternoon. The amusing part about it was it was a turnip field and with the canvas construction as you can well imagine the turnips came through the side of the aeroplane, it sounded like a machine gun going off and the aircraft filled with dust. I went from the wireless seat up to see if he was all right, I knew that I was and here he was trying to get out through the pilot’s escape hatch and as
he went out through the pilot’s escape hatch, he kicked backwards and he kicked me right in the mouth with one of his flying boots, so I had a split lip with blood coming down but that’s all, and loose teeth. When the ambulance arrived they chased us of course, when the ambulance arrived the doctor looked at me and I could see the look on his face, ‘Oh my God, you know what have we got here?’ when he found out that all I had was a badly split lip and
a few loose teeth, he looked quite upset he was very disappointed, but he insisted that I get in the ambulance, oh in fact he insisted the three of us get in the ambulance and took us off to sick quarters and cleaned us up or he didn’t but one of the people cleaned us up and said, “Right that’s it, off to the mess you go and have a beer mate.” so we did but McSweeney was in a bit of trouble over it. The following day
the flight commander called both Reg Tyce and I in and individually not collectively, but individually and said, “Look do you want to keep flying with this bloke?” and both of us said, “Yes, yes we do.” and he said, “OK fair enough but if you don’t we’ll find you another crew.” “No thanks. I’m quite happy with…” you know it was one of those inexperienced accidents that happens, sheer inexperience;
I was detailed to go to a Battle of Britain march at a place called Kettering and I came back from that march and in the middle of the airfield at Meekatharra was a large burnt area, you know something had burnt, when I got out of the truck at the sergeants’ mess turned round to someone and said, “You know what happened?” and they said, “Fatal accident this afternoon.”
“Oh yeah, who was it?” And this bloke turned round and said, “Your good friend Jimmy Fraser.” Jim and I had been in the same form at school at Brighton Grammar and we’d train together and everything else and his family were friends of my family. And it turned out so they told me that his pilot and remember these blokes are terribly inexperienced, his pilot lost an engine on the port side and was turning port at the time and she just went straight in so
this was not long after our own prang, in fact it was exactly 10 days. So I lost Jim there and that rocked me up a bit you know I’ve know Jim since we were kids. And all of a sudden he’s no longer with you. And of course needless to say he slept in the bed next to me; we had to pack his stuff up and so on and so forth. Then write to his family and that’s a difficult letter to write when you’re twenty
Anyway life went on and then would you believe 10 days after that our other good friend, we’d been to OTU and everything else, AFU and everything else together a bloke by the name of Ted Newton he went in and was killed so at that stage of the game, Rex was getting a little concerned about this, you know you think to yourself, ‘Gee whiz hey, hey who’s next?’ as long as it’s not me it what’s it matter.
But Jim went in, Ted pardon me went in at night and I didn’t see anything of it all. He was apparently on a night cross country, the aircraft iced up and in a shallow dive went in, hit the ground about 50 yards from the control tower at another airfield, I forget the name
of the airfield and it burst in flames on impact, Jim was killed there was one survivor, the rear gunner survived but everybody else was killed. So the accident rate at OTU was very high.
again I had to write a letter to Newton’s people he had an aunt down in London and she wrote and told me could she please have his personal effects and she would send them home. And I did that, I took his effects down
to London and got into a lot of trouble, a lot of trouble, the RAF did not like that one bit and in fact they sent me down to bring them back again, they had to go through the all the bull’s wool that goes on you know, it gets posted to Uxbridge for storage and all this sort of thing, and then they sort everything out, what they didn’t know was that I’d been through his personal effects anyway and
any letters or anything like this that I saw that I felt were not to be seen by (UNCLEAR) or his parents I burnt those anyway, but anyway I went down and got stuff and took it back, but they rapped me over the knuckles solidly over that, “You can’t do that area.”
that’s about all you’d see it now. But it was one of those things, OTU was interesting except for the fact that as I say I lost two of my best friends. That tends to make you look in the mirror a bit but I don’t think it lasted very long. I had to go and break the word to Teddy Newton’s girlfriend; he and I were
both taking out girls from the local land army hostel and the night that I heard about Ted I had to go down there, because the four of us were going out together and turn round and see the matron there tell her the bad news and get her to bring Ted’s girlfriend to the door so that I could break the news and of course the usual old story, hysterics and all this sort of thing,
and all the girls all gathering around her trying to console her for what happened and that upsets you a bit but anyway all I did was go over to the pub and get tanked and that’s all you can do under those conditions.
raided yak yak,” and, “45 aircraft are missing,” you know this sort of thing. I think probably the attitude of the English people is probably expressed by a lady in the train when I was going from Spilsbury, my squadron up to Sheffield where I had another girlfriend, pardon me same girlfriend but she’d moved to Sheffield
when this woman sitting in the train and she was an elderly lady turned round to me and she said, “Are you from the base?” because the train went right past the base and I said, “Yes I am.” and she turned round to me and she said you know, “There is not enough money in the mint to pay you young fellows.” now that’s exactly what she said, ‘there’s not enough money made in the mint to pay you young fellows’, and that I think was the attitude.
After the Nuremberg raid which received tremendous about of publicity over there because of very heavy losses, I was up at Betty’s place in Sheffield and went to the local pub and I did not buy a beer, Betty’s father turned round and announced to his mates that Rex was on the raid last night, which had received all this publicity and I joke you not, I was the toast of the
pub and that gives you a big head if nothing else you know you sort of think, ‘God Blimey, you know we are doing something worthwhile.’ and honestly there has been a lot of contention about Bomber Command killing women and children and all this attitude but at the time and what we were fed in the way of news and everything else you really felt that you were doing something worthwhile.
And whilst there was no doubt a little thought in the back of your mind well maybe it might be the wrong night for me it was only a tiny thought and away you went. Certainly after I’d done those first three trips Berlin, Essen and Nuremberg I thought we were fireproof you know. McSweeney and I had worked out what we were going to do when we finished our tour, the tour was 30 trips, and we’d worked out what we were going to do at the end of our tour and all sorts of things.
There used to be a saying over there that we fought our war between sheets. Meaning that you’d go out on a trip, you came back, normally early in the morning, very early in the morning, well certainly very late at night in winter, it would be one or two in the morning but in summer of course where you had to take off very late you’d probably get back in daylight. And you’d be debriefed by the intelligence officer for an hour or so or perhaps less
go up to the mess, have a quick bite to eat and to bed. So you know there was, there was a complete split. On the night that you weren’t flying you could either go to the cinema or go to the pub and there were plenty of occasions where you’d just go to the pub.
One of the dangers of flying in Bomber Command was that they used to give you what we called wakey tablets, I don’t know what you would call them these days but they stopped you from going to sleep. Now if for some reason or another and this did happen a number of times you’d take your wakey tablet at 8 o’clock, you were taking off 8.30, 9 o’clock and you had a long trip in front of you and you were feeling
a bit tired, you’d take a wakey tablet, get out to the aircraft and they’d scrubbed the trip, so you had a wakey tablet inside you which said you couldn’t go to sleep, what do you do? Go up the pub, yeah that’s right. They also of course had WAAF [Women’s Auxiliary Air Force] dances and that sort of thing too, dances on base. So there was always something there and I don’t think you really gave a thought, well tomorrow night I could be knocked off, I don’t think you gave a thought
it’s not just you. No the gunners are exactly the same they’ve got eyeballs sticking on their nose just about by the time they get back and of course they also suffer much more with the cold. The front end crew the office crew, the pilot, the navigator and the wireless operator in a Lancaster anyway were invariably warm because the hot air system came in just by the wireless operator
but the gunners, crikey no they have heated suits, their suits were electrically heated but even so I can remember old Reggie coming up front to you know rest for a while after we get back and we’re over England and everything’s all O.K. and he’s got icicles all over his face, because his face is not electrically heated. So yeah there’s a lot of strain on
and of course the poor old skipper up the front he’s worse than anybody probably, probably worse than anybody.
my wife won’t let me.” He slept in a room, same room as me but a few beds down, we did our utmost to talk this guy into flying, into continuing. Because he really had no, he didn’t have any reason to stop, it wasn’t as though he was a bad navigator and got lost or anything like that. He, I understand, was a very good one, but he wouldn’t listen to us, he wouldn’t listen
to us. Our own mid upper gunner came back just before we got shot down and said that Daisy his wife had said he wasn’t to fly any more, she reckoned it was dangerous yak, yak, yak, yak but we talked him into changing his mind. And I understand that he wrote to his wife and said he was staying on the station to do gardening. My only comment is I’ll bet Daisy got one hell of a shock when she found out he was posted missing,
missing as a gardener. I never saw Wally Chinery[?] from the night we got shot down till now, I never ever put eyes on him. He went to a different prison camp to the one I did and when he came home after the war, I was down south, he was up in Yorkshire somewhere and I never went and saw him. He and I were never that good friends anyway and neither with his wife, I wasn’t that friendly with Daisy either.
But yeah they’re the only ones I ever encountered; now the flight sergeant navigator bloke was posted out within a matter of days and we understood he was posted to Uxbridge for discharge or for disciplinary reasons anyway. But you know you hear stories of guys forming a hollow square and blokes having their wings taken off and their rank and all this sort of thing, no I saw no sign of that at all.
I won’t say he was reluctant to fly that would be silly, doing him a disservice, but he indicated what he thought of 30 trips and that was that he wasn’t going to do any more than that. He would do his tour full stop. Now Fred the navigator was exactly the same mind, he remember was married with two children and our crew were invited to join Pathfinders and that normally came after you’d done about
7 trips, the Pathfinder people would be looking for recruits and they picked experienced crew of the better sort and our crew were invited and both Fred and Danny and our mid upper gunner old Wal all turned round and said, ‘No, we’ll do 30 trips full stop. If the war’s still on after we’ve finished our 30 trips then we might think about it. But
not Pathfinders.’ Pathfinders had to do 45 trips without a rest, but that was their complete responsibility, that constituted two tours, where Manforce people did 30 trips, 6 months rest back for another 20 so they did 50 trips. These other blokes turned round and said, “No way, no way, no way, no way.” and that’s my experience of it. McSweeney and I both single,
both Australians, both said, “Oh yeah we’ll do that, we’ll go to Pathfinders no trouble.” but these other blokes pulled the rug immediately and said, “No way and as you go as a crew not as individuals.” we never went to Pathfinders.
and Major hadn’t been married very long, he had no kids, no real domestic responsibility, his wife was a sergeant in the army, ATS, what was that, Army Territorial Service but yeah O.K, I certainly accepted Fred, I said yeah no worries.
McSweeney and I spoke about it and he said you know the other blokes won’t be in it will we do our best to get them and I said, “No, don’t worry, don’t worry.”
no, when you went out you normally went out as a crew, every once in a while you went out as a complete team, ground crew and air crew. Lancaster’s on operational squadron had a ground crew of about the same number 7 or 8 guys and they looked after the aircraft of the ground they did all the repair work and did all the servicing and everything else. And these guys would be there when you took off and they’d be there when you came home
and they used to take tremendous pride in their aeroplanes, they made certain they were clean and everything under the sun. When you’d go out down to the pub the rest of the crew, all of them would probably come with you if it wasn’t all of them, there would be Reg and I and probably McSweeney, the skipper. If you went out as 16 then it was all crew,
everybody. In our crew Wally Chinery and John Lowry were the two blokes who invariably when you saw one you saw the other. I think Reg Tyce and I were another two. Major and Homewood were originally that way because both of them were officers from the very early stage and they were in the officers mess, when McSweeney was commissioned he moved in with those three, so you had a pilot, navigator, bomb aimer used to knock
around together see one, see three and with the others the same. But if you went down to the pub it would be a case if you done a night flying test or done a cross country something right back and someone would turn round and say, “I think we’ll go to the pub tonight what do you think?” More often than not there would be the whole 7 of you.
and close you know Bill, Jack, Tom and Harry except for the officers, RAF airmen don’t call their officer by their Christian name but they certainly did with us Australians but it was very good, it was very good. The ground crew would wish you all the very best before take off as I say they’d see you off and they’d be there when you came home. And the sort of comment was, “Don’t you bastards get
our aeroplane knocked around tonight,” you know that sort of attitude. And it was very very good, very good I used to think there could be nothing better they’d be a wireless bloke there and I’d turn around and say, “How’s the wireless going?” “Oh I’ve ground tested it Rexy and she’s right you know there’s no problems with it, there’s no this that and the other or I’ve changed this I thought so and so could be better,” and you know wonderful, absolutely wonderful.
on Wellingtons, then it went onto Manchesters and it was the first squadron on Manchesters in the RAF and then onto Lancs. It had moved around from 3 or 4 different RAF bases of course as squadrons tend to do but it was a squadron of valuable tradition and was very ably led by,
well when I got there a Wing Commander Wheeler who was one of the what shall I say most highly decorated fellows at that time in the RAF a man in his forties who had flown in World War I, who had then flown with Imperial Airways between the wars and was back flying with the RAF at the time I met him. He unfortunately got shot down and killed on about his fourth or fifth mission.
And he was replaced by a Wing Commander Gray who was a pre-war RAF officer who had up till this time of the war been over in Canada running a training base over there and he had been pulled back from there to be the C.O of 207, he was a much younger man and he won himself a DFC [Distinguished Flying Cross] I think on about his third trip or something like that
but they were a wonderful bunch of blokes, wonderful bunch of blokes. My flight commander was a squadron leader A.N. Jones who got shot down a week or ten days before me and was in the same camp but in the adjoining hut. He was a squadron leader and I met him again after the war in Tengah up in Singapore by that time he was wing commander and was O.C. Flying I think something like that.
But he was a RAF bloke too most delightful bloke, I could tell you some stories about him, I better not, not for the tape anyway. But no, he was a good guy and in fact it was through Jones that my skipper survived. Normally we flew with what were called chest high parachutes, you had a parachute harness on and you had a parachute that clipped
on in front of you. The night that we got shot down McSweeney had what was called a pilot type chute on in other words one you sat on, the harness was already done up and everything else and you sat on it. Wing Commander then Squadron Leader Jones had ordered this pilot type chute for himself got himself shot down before it was delivered and the girl in parachute section handed it over to McSweeney.
And now if McSweeney had had a chest high parachute on the night we were shot down he may not have had time to put it on. So you know Jonesy did us a good favour and when I saw him up in Tengah I congratulated him on his chute and told him what had happened. And he said, “Oh Austin you know some good things come out, don’t they,” you know, but a most delightful bloke, he used to
drop down and see me at stalag every once and a while just to say G’day. Look I enjoyed serving with the RAF, I found very few guys who I couldn’t take to, very few. There were a few Poms who are absolute snobs, you know if you weren’t an officer then you weren’t worth knowing but very, very few of those.
The rest of them were good guys.
war time construction Nissen huts and that type of thing. The officers had also Nissen Huts, you know what a Nissen is? Oh sorry Nissen hut is like half an orange turned upside down, in other words a curved top not terribly long normally had about 6 to 8 people in it and that the sort of general construction it was.
It was some distance; the sergeants mess would have been probably nearly a mile from where we flew. I used to have a bicycle which I rode up and down, and which someone used to share with me, I used to ride it down for flights of a morning and then when I wanted to go back for lunch I very often walked and found it parked outside the sergeants mess and I would watch it very carefully to see who was doing this to me, never ever did find out.
I would ride it back down to the flights and whoever was kind enough to look after it for me would leave it so I could ride it back of a night time but lunch time used to be a walk for me. But it was a very much dispersed place, some bellman hangars and that’s about it, very difficult to say anything special about it. Lorraine and I have been back since in the nineties and all that is left now
is a ploughed, a wheat field which the runways have been ploughed up and there’s one hangar left and that’s it, it’s very dismal looking place now.
Coming up to the target, yep I’d be listening out as carefully as I could, because Group Headquarters at times would change the winds that the Met people had given, by virtually using these winds that we found, you know many other aircraft don’t take it just us, many other aircraft found and transmitted back and than Group would average those winds out or come to a conclusion that the wind
which we had been told to use to navigate on was incorrect use the following wind and I would get these down and give them to Fred, give them to the navigator and what he did with them was entirely up to him. It was not my responsibility once I handed him the details. But that’s the only time where you would do anything really constructive towards the trip other than as I say watching out on your radar for fighters and that’s about
all. I used to help Fred on his radar plotting when we were within range of the G as it was called from UK It was a device that enabled him to plot his position very accurately, but it needed a bit of manipulation on the set and the set was in his compartment and I would stand there
and do it for him, but that was purely a crew arrangement it wasn’t something that all wireless operators were required to do or anything else, in fact they weren’t required to do it at all. But Fred and I had this system and it was purely a crew arrangement. And I liked doing it for him; I used to love doing it for him.
Were you required to be present at the Intelligence Debriefings?
No, the whole crew would be debriefed as a crew by an Intelligence officer after you landed. Nothing, the Signals Leader wouldn’t even be there, wasn’t necessarily there. Perhaps the wing commander might be wandering round, having a look, having a talk this sort of thing but generally not. I should say generally not as far as Signal Leaders are concerned, more often than not the wing commander would be.
But the following day you’d have an appointment with the sigs leader, “See you at 10 o’clock, OK mate,” and you’d see him at 10 o’clock and he’d say, “Yeah OK. I got your log from last night I don’t see any problems. How’d the trip go? Yak, yak, yak, thanks very much, by the way you’re on again tonight,” you know that sort of thing.
as I say he was only a kid when I left, he was twelve when I got back so he wasn’t too old when I left and he gave me a little koala bear about that big, say about what 5,6 centimetres, 10 centimetres at the most, oh half that isn’t it, he gave me that and said, “Here all the best mate,” and I used to fly with that, it did not survive while getting shot down.
But I used to put it in my pocket, the crew knew I had it but I think they were the only ones that did and I used to put it on the wireless table, jam it between two things on the table and it sat there.
out the front, Fred Homewood told me he was standing alongside to McSweeney and McSweeney turned round to the engineer who normally stands alongside the pilot’s right seat, turned round to John and said, “Go down the front and see what’s wrong with Danny,” and Lowry went down to see what was wrong with Danny and his further comment was, “I’d like to get out of here too.” But he, it was
conversational tone. Fred was so impressed that he wrote a recommendation for McSweeney to be awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross after Fred got home after the war and the RAF said no. And I’m rather inclined to think that it would have to be that way. How else could you do it? McSweeney evaded,
he wasn’t hurt when we got shot down, he was going out of the aircraft and everything else and was partly deaf because of the explosion and the speed of which he went down, but he evaded and ended up with the Dutch underground. The Dutch underground handed him onto the Belgian underground, he was captured by the Gestapo in Brussels
and put into prison, he was threatened that he was going to be shot a few times by the Gestapo [German Secret Police] but nothing happened, he was then put, subsequently put on a train to be taken back to Germany, he escaped from that train and hid up in the woods until the Allies came forward and by the end of the war
McSweeney was back flying Lancasters with another squadron and another crew. And that guy got nothing out of the war, no DFCs no nothing. And in fact the worse part about it is because he was never registered as a POW he didn’t get any of those niceties that POWs got at the end of the war like 30 days medical rehabilitation leave and that sort of thing, he didn’t get any of those things, he was an evaded he wasn’t a
POW. So he was a first class operator believe you me. When I knew him, when we got shot down McSweeney did not smoke, he certainly he drank but he didn’t smoke. When I met him after the war I met him, when he came home I was in Melbourne and his ship, the name escapes me, docked in Melbourne so I went to see him and he produced
a cigarette case about the size of cabin trunk and said, “Here, have a fag.” He’d obviously taken up smoking and moreover when he got back to England, he went to see Danny Major the bomb aimer who was killed, went to see his wife and tell her what happened and he also went to see John Lowry’s parents, he ended up by marrying
Danny Major’s widow and they came back to Australia.
it.” and he said, “Just a minute.” put his hand in his pocket and said, “Here’s another one.” and he gave me a very, very nice watch. He was like that, he had a cabin trunk and it didn’t matter what you wanted, if you wanted a clean collar, McSweeney would produce you with a clean collar, if you wanted a clean shirt, he had a clean shirt, if you want a pair of shoes McSweeney’s got 2 or 3 pairs, you know he was the sort of guy who just was a superb man in every sense of the word.
He and I kept in contact for a few years but I lost sight of him after the war after a few years, after 10 or 12 years, I don’t know where he is now.
to happen in terms of interrogation, you know there are people who had escaped from POW camps who could, air crew people who could come home and brief the RAF as to what the score was. And we had briefings from those sort of people that if and when you get captured this is what’s going to happen to you. You’re going to end up at a Dulag Luft [Durchgangslager Luftwaffe – POW transit camp guarded by the German air force], they’ll put you into solitary, they’ll brief you, they’ll threaten you,
they’ll do this, they’ll do that but then again they may not they might, there would be a nice interrogator who tries to get under your belt by being very nice that sort of thing, yes you got a briefing on that. But what you haven’t…..you don’t get a briefing on what actually happens in a prison camp as such. The
emphasis is on escaping, evading and if you do get captured on what’s going to happen when you get interrogated and how to battle against that or defend against that. So you are warned that some of the interrogators might be very, very nice, offer you cigarettes, chocolates, “We’ll do this for you. We’ll do that for you,” but it won’t happen fellows you know they’ll tell you that but it just doesn’t come to pass,” so that sort of….that’s
where the emphasis is not on what’s going to happen actually inside a prison camp.
and I thought of that long before those guys ever arrived. But they were dressed as farmers, they acted like farmers and as far as I was concerned they didn’t look as though they were about to do anything to bad with me otherwise they would have done it in the first few seconds. You know they had me sitting up in a ploughed field they could have shot me
right then and there on the spot; they didn’t, the only guy as I mentioned gave me any concern was the young fellow and I thought, gee with those adults there that young fellow can’t do much and if he does too bad. So I don’t think there was any fear there of what they were going to do after the first few moments. Sure when I was lying there in the field I thought, what’s my reception
going to be like tomorrow?
and I don’t think, whether you call that torture or not I don’t know, I don’t know, but I didn’t hear of anyone being belted up if that’s what you mean, I didn’t hear of anyone doing that. It’s not a pleasant experience being in solitary under those conditions when you want to go to the toilet there’s a button you press and it drops an arm out outside, now the only person who
is going to answer that is the guard who’s patrolling up and down, and if he chooses not to take any notice of it and ignore you then you know you can get pretty uncomfortable and that happens a couple of times. In terms of knowing how long you’re there, the walls are fibre as you would expect not brick and you can put your fingernail into them and count the days doing that way
and there were plenty of signs of people in front of me who’d done that. And I just picked a spot by the side of the door and said right day one and on you go and remember there’s a light on in the room the whole time so you’re not quite certain whether it’s day or night you’re not quite certain.
Where did you take your mind, how did you mentally or emotionally escape that space?
I’m not certain that I made any conscious effort, no, no I’m pretty certain I did not make any conscious effort to remove myself from that space. I think I was more annoyed with anything else with the thought of lying down on this palliasse with all these mongrel fleas and when I say mongrel fleas. I stripped off at one stage, stood on the palliasse and watched the fleas jumping
onto me and then killing them and counting them as I went. And you know that makes you a bit annoyed because there is no need for it you sort of feel crikey there’s no need for this all they’re trying to do is humiliate me, now you get fleas in your clothes and you try and sleep of a night time and you can feel fleas, well you think you can feel fleas still
so that gets up your nose, but I think that’s about all and worrying about family, thinking you know crikey this is going to upset a few people. But I know where I am it’s just that nobody else does at this stage.
Convention. Now that had happened by the time I got there and that sort of puts a kibosh on the fun of escaping, in fact I think it’s fair to say that after that the Brits discouraged escapes particularly after the Germans brought out a (UNCLEAR) that escaping POWs
found in prohibited area will be shot and when asked to define the prohibited areas they refused to do so. So that means you could be outside your own wire, 10 yards outside your own wire and get shot and the Germans could turn round and say, “Oh he is in a prohibited area.” So that also takes the shine off it not please that I had any opportunity as I saw it of escaping, I didn’t. So I make
no apologies on that. But yeah basically apart from those sort of problems I think the Germans did abide by the Geneva Convention.
when I say that I think of Reg Tyce my rear gunner was probably my mentor. He was the guy who when food got short he became what he called the ‘Food Führer’ and he was the guy who said you can have two slices of bread this morning and nothing this afternoon. He was the guy who did everything like that. So yeah from that viewpoint yes I did.
And a very close one for which I’m everlastingly grateful to but he was the level-headed guy. When we went out on the march, Reg and I marched together, he got hold of a bench type stool, turned it upside down, broke off some legs and we used some of my shirts which we tied up,
tore up I should say and we tied them into a rope and he and I pulled our sledge with our belongings on it. When the snow disappeared and it became impossible to use that, then we packed things up and we put them on our back but he was the guy who sort of was the leader of the two of us during that time
but I will say this, I’d always admired Reg’s staying power and everything else but age caught up with him on the march, I found that he was the one who was just getting a little bit behind, you know he was 15 years older than me and that 15 years counted a bit under those conditions but once we were back into prison camp again, once we were at Lückenwalde Reg took over again
and was the ‘Food Führer’ and everything else but I was the one who stopped smoking when he couldn’t, I was the one who brought the loaf of bread, when he couldn’t stop smoking but by in large you know look he was a very very sensible, very big bloke in terms of his outlook on life and physically he was a very strong bloke.
so yes, look I think Lückenwalde opened my eyes to the fact that you don’t have to have three meals a day, eating onion weed doesn’t kill you. You know food can be terribly important but it’s also possible to do without it for quite some length of time. And that I think was the lesson I learnt, certainly at Lückenwalde where I saw some
people who were whinging their heads off all the time. Reg was not a whinger, under any circumstances and I think that was probably the biggest lesson I learnt. We go back to the other word we spoke of earlier, to about tolerance. Where you’ve got 250 blokes in one big dormitory there are going to be characters there who get up your nose
if it’s only the sound of their voice and Tycie on a couple of occasions had cause to turn round to me and say you know back off son, back off when he saw that I was starting to get upset with somebody. So yes he was my mentor if you’d call it that.
In hindsight well I guess, when I say hindsight I say at the end of the war, once you’d been released, were you happy or pleased or proud with the way you had approached you incarceration?
I don’t think I gave it any thought, I don’t think I gave it any…..I think I was so damn glad to be away from there that I didn’t really give any great thought to any of it. No Simon [interviewer], no, no, no I think I was too shallow in those days and I really mean that I
was too self interested in those days to give any thought in what I could have done, may have done, should have done or anything else I think it was a case of you know, here we go, you’re home mate, you’re away from all that forget it. And I will willingly admit when I came home I was fairly wild in some ways.
I found I couldn’t sleep, was one problem I used to… I don’t know whether you know where Brighton is but it’s about 10 miles from Melbourne and quite often I would get out of bed at 2 in the morning and I’d walk into Melbourne, then I’d catch a tram back to Elsternwick which would be about 4 to 6 miles from our place and then walk home and go to bed and Mum would come in and say, “C’mon it’s time you went to work yah yah yah,” and I’d, “No, no, no
I’ll get up later,” and sometimes I didn’t and sometimes I did. And that worried my family I know that, but I didn’t know at the time, the old man used to try and have a few words with me, I couldn’t hear him or he couldn’t hear me I’m not certain which. And that was a bit of a problem, I went along to Department of Veterans’ Affairs at Dad’s insistence and spoke to them, and the Doc
did me over there and they came up with a diagnosis that I was suffering from Nervous Dyspepsia and the doctor had very good advice which I took many years later when he said, “Are you married, son?” and I said, “No sir,” and he said, “Good, good, good.” He said, “When you get married wait for a few years and marry someone very young and they’ll look after you.” He said, “I did. It’s working well.” So thirty years later I took his advice.
and he got married and other blokes were in the same boat. See I was bit younger than the …only 18 months to 2 years but that is a difference in terms of settling down and these other guys all came home, some of them had girlfriends before they went, some of them didn’t but they all seemed to get married and disappear around the place. And there was Rex
the bachelor. I spent a lot of money, I had a lot of money saved up so I bought myself a motor car, not long after I got home, that cost me a lot, there were all sorts of things like this that crept into it. And I look back on it now and I realise that my father was fairly concerned about what was going on but he,
if he had have been able to communicate I’m not certain I would have been able to hear anyway.
Cricket Ground and that was the end of it. You know your medals are given to you here are have this sort of thing and I got nine medals. You go to Medical Rehabilitation Centre up there at Healesville and a guy turns round to you after thirty days and says, “Righto, righto Austin, you’re right, any questions, no questions right ,
you are Austin, you’re all right there’s nothing wrong with you, off you go.” In due time I was up at Lake Boga with my elder brother who was in an LOC up there and a telegram arrived saying, “Warrant Officer Austin posted for discharge with effect the date whatever it was, please report immediately.” that’s it full stop
no one shakes you by the hand and says thank you, you know you’re on your way, you’re one of thousands and I think what you’ve got to recognise is that you’re one of thousands, nothing special, you’ve been in, you’ve done your job now go back and do something else.
How do you feel about that?
Lets put it this way. One of the things that does get up my nose somewhat is the fuss that the Vietnam War veterans get, we lost I think, if I remember my figures are right something like 650 Australians killed in action in Vietnam [actually 505], we lost nearly that same number on the Nuremberg raid,
one night, now putting it in perspective, now they weren’t all Australians of course but putting it in perspective I find there’s something wrong. Why do we make such a big fuss about that sort of thing and ignore something like the Nuremberg raid. I know the tremendous controversy there has been about the activities of Bomber Command during World War II
and you know there’s a lot of things been written about it. Some good, some pretty crook. We went there to do our job, we trained to do the job, by and large the guys who were in air crew were your slightly higher educated people than the average guy of the time because air crew required a
leaving certificate or equivalent, and back pre-war days not everybody did that they couldn’t afford to do it you know. We were just coming out of a Depression. So the average Joe who went into air crew was slightly better educated than his army colleagues. So what we lost in Bomber Command was 4,000 well-educated young men, we haven’t done that in any previous war
the losses in Bomber Command were greater than World War I on a percentage basis. But no one says a word about that. I’ve just written a letter on behalf of the National President and he’s going to sign it subject to his agreeing to what I’ve written to go out to Dick Smith and all these other people seeking donations towards a Bomber Command Memorial
which is the design has been agreed, the sculpture’s been agreed which is going to be built down in Canberra in the sculpture garden at the Australian War Memorial in which I point out some of the losses that we had in Bomber Command and saying you know, let’s give some recognition to it whether it achieves anything I don’t know. But let’s hope it does because I think it’s deserving of it, very much so. The losses in Fighter Command
were nothing compared with those in Bomber Command. We lost more in one raid, in a minor raid in Bomber Command than Fighter Command did in the whole of Battle of Britain. But we commemorate the Battle of Britain, we don’t commemorate any of these other, any of these other raids and I don’t think we every will, certainly not in this country because they don’t realise how important it was, or was it important I don’t know.
and various things like that, yes I think that’s probably true, I think that’s probably true. But I certainly don’t hide the fact that I was with Bomber Command. I wear a Bomber Command tie every once and a while and I wear a squadron tie every once in a while when I’m going to formal functions and I don’t hide that. I know of some guys who are reluctant to say that they were in Bomber Command because of the controversy over it
but everybody points to Dresden you know. 300,000 people the estimate was 300,000 people killed in one raid, ridiculous, the guys did their job, they were there and that’s what they were paid to do and that’s the way I saw it. And I make no apologies. I did my job to the best of my ability and
one can’t do more than that. And as for turning round and sort of saying you know we shouldn’t have done it, we shouldn’t have bombed those poor people. Just cast the mind back at the time when we started, when Bomber Command started to have some teeth it was the only part of the war where we could hit Germany. We were losing in the Atlantic, we were losing in the desert but we had a Bomber Command who was hitting
Germany and making them stop and think, well we hope that they were stopping and thinking perhaps they weren’t. Have a read of Max, I can’t think of his surname, book called Bomber Command and it says that all the losses and everything else in Bomber Command were a waste of time. It really blasts Bomber Command and their leaders, I don’t
take it that way, I say for the time in which it was done it was the right thing to do.
gathered from Lorraine, the guys who were POWs in Japan, both civilians and service people were given a gratuity of $25,000 per head and also of course widows of them, last budget but one. I have always said that as far as I’m concerned having met those guys straight out of Japan
having read since what went on there, having spoken to other guys who were there, I think that the guys who were in Germany had it much, much easier and therefore if you’re going to judge the Japanese on $25,000 I say the blokes in Germany are doing very well to still be alive and lets face up to it you’re only there doing you duty anyway. You can say that
of the bloke in Japan too I know, but the blokes by and large in Germany were air crew and they were there because they were doing their job, they got paid to do their job the same as I did. So what are we arguing about? Now I know there are a lot of people saying, “No, no, no, you’re all POWs, you all lost your freedom.” this that and the other it you have a look at the statistics I
think if I remember rightly there was something like 194 Australians died whilst prisoner of war in Europe, how many thousands died whilst POWs of Japan and that surely puts it in its right context.
How did your war experience change you?
Oh good question. It certainly matured me after some time. I don’t think it matured me immediately I came home but it certainly did after a time and the more I thought about it the more I realised that I was a very lucky fellow to still be alive and I certainly think that it’s made me more tolerant, I certainly think so.
There was still an element of intolerance straight after the war I think, but maybe it’s age I don’t know but certainly now I don’t let things worry me anywhere near that I used to. I count myself so fortunate to be 79 years of age and to still be kicking vertical instead
of horizontal or in a wooden box or in a tiny box. No I think I’m a lucky guy in every sense of the word, I’ve got a lovely wife, I’ve got 2 nice kids and Lorraine’s got 3 nice kids, what more do you want, bunch of grandkids yeah got good’uns, what more can a man want? Just to keep living till I turn eighty so that I can get my O.B.E.
Over Bloody Eighty and that’s a good gong to have. And it’s certainly one that casts my mind back to about 1944 that I didn’t think that I’d ever get.