Eric Gover
Archive number: 448
Date interviewed: 11 June, 2003

Served with:

451 Squadron
454 Squadron

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Eric Gover 0448

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Transcript

Tape 01

01:00:30:00

Thanks for talking to us this morning. Perhaps we could start just where you were born and when.
Well I was born in Hurstville, Hudson Street, Hurstville and

01:01:00:00

I lived there right till the time I got married, and went to the war and came back and lived there for a short time until we built this house.
How many kids in your family when you were growing up?
Four. There was actually five but we lost one sister

01:01:30:00

when she was round the ten mark, two brothers and one sister.
What did your dad do?
He contracted for the council. He had a truck and he used to work for Hurstville Council.
Where did you go to school?
I went to Hurstville School,

01:02:00:00

the kindergarten, primary and then the trade school.
What trade did you go to?
Well there was various trades in the trade school. They had metal work and woodwork and all those sorts of things, all trades. And I had two brothers

01:02:30:00

that were elec [electrical] fitters and one was in business at Hurstville, and because I used to knock about in that a bit and got to like the type of work - and he closed the business at Hurstville, which was during the Depression,

01:03:00:00

he wasn’t going that well, and he decided to open up in Orange - and I went with him as a, you know, help, with an apprenticeship in mind. Things weren’t too good during the Depression and he found that he wasn’t making

01:03:30:00

any money so he closed the business in Orange and we both came back [to] Hurstville and he got a job as foreman in an electrical and battery shop in Macquarie Street [Sydney] right down near the Quay [Circular Quay]. And of course I went with him and was apprentice there. I used to

01:04:00:00

do all automotive work, electrical work on cars and trucks, et cetera, batteries. We went from there to Kent Street and we were up at Kent Street for a couple of years. And one of the brothers was in the NRMA [National Roads and Motorists' Association] and just to broaden my knowledge in

01:04:30:00

electrical work I transferred from the firm in Kent Street to a firm in Goulburn Street. They did magnetos and a lot more various electrical units like fans and vacuum cleaners, pretty wide variety of different units.

01:05:00:00

From there, when I came out of my time, I went to another electrical firm up in Commonwealth Street, the name Brooklyn’s Accessories, but I wasn’t keen on that very much. And then I went to Boyded, the Holden and Vauxhall agents.

01:05:30:00

I’d be there for about twelve months and then I decided, I had the opportunity to take over a business in Parramatta Road at Lewisham and I went out there and I worked on my own. I just did the electrical work and I leased the shop doing

01:06:00:00

pretty well, but the war came along and I decided I’d join up.
Without going into too many details can you just take, still on the summary, take us through the major places, you and your travel and the places you went to during the war?
Well, when we left here, which was on April the 8th...
Sorry, which service did you join up?
The air force.

01:06:30:00

I originally went down to join aircrew but they wouldn’t accept me for aircrew cause I didn’t qualify, they had pretty rigid qualifications at that time. They said they’d take me as an elec fitter.
When was that, when did you join the air force?
I went in there

01:07:00:00

1940, might have been ’39 or early ’40, and then I was called up. They sent me to a course in Ultimo, that’s when I was accepted into the air force. You know, it’s more or less to familiarise

01:07:30:00

yourself with the regimental procedure et cetera. I did a month there and then we went to Point Cook, the same course, I think it was only a month I was at Point Cook. Similar stuff, it was all mainly on

01:08:00:00

electrical and aircraft electrical systems. From there I was posted to Richmond. I think I was there a week and I was posted overseas.
Where did you go overseas?
Well I went from Richmond to Bankstown, the squadron was formed at Bankstown.

01:08:30:00

We left on April the 8th, 1941 to go overseas on the Queen Mary. We landed at a place called Port Tewfik which is really Suez. Then we went from Suez,

01:09:00:00

after we got off the Queen Mary we went to Cairo and dumped all our winter gear, everything that we wouldn’t need because we were going into the desert, and we went from Cairo to Alexandria. We were equipped at Cairo for all the necessary

01:09:30:00

items. We went to Alexandria where the squadron was formed. And we had a couple of planes, not terribly modern.
What squadron was that?
451. And there was about 250 in the squadron all told.
What sort of aircraft did you get?

01:10:00:00

Well the first aircraft was Lysanders, which are pretty old machines. Then they sent us out to it was Landing Ground 90, I think, from (UNCLEAR) where the squadron, that was our camp,

01:10:30:00

about 13 miles out of Alexandria.
What was the name of the camp?
They were only called LGs, landing grounds. I think from memory it was Landing Ground 90 or something like that.
How long were you there for?
Well,

01:11:00:00

we were there, I suppose it would be, I’d have to refer back.
Well, roughly. Where did you go next after LG?
Well actually it would be between eight and twelve months we were there, and they started to push against Germany and the Italians there and we followed up behind the army.

01:11:30:00

We went up as far as Libya.
What aircraft were you on, the squadron now?
Hurricanes. Of course they got up to Libya and we had to start running back because the lines of communication et cetera was too much, and we finished back at

01:12:00:00

a place called Aboukir in Alexandria. We went from there up to Syria via Gaza and Israel, you know, it was Palestine in those days.

01:12:30:00

We went over into Syria to a place called Baalbek, it was a French air force base. They had barracks et cetera and we stayed there for some probably six months. And we came back

01:13:00:00

to a place called Edq[?], I think it was Edq, it was down on the [Suez] Canal, and I was posted then to 404, that was another Australian squadron they were forming. They had (UNCLEAR)

01:13:30:00

but we were down, it would be around Sallum, yes, down there, we were about 13 mile in from the desert. And they started at El Alamein battle and

01:14:00:00

we were with them, we followed them up right up past, got into Tobruk through the corridor, they’d opened a corridor where the Australians were. We stayed there for a while, not long, only a few days cause the army went right up. And up to Libya.

01:14:30:00

Then we came back and made a camp at another LG, I’d have to look in the book to remember it, and from there - we stayed there for a while. I was unlucky enough to get malaria and spent a few weeks in the English hospital. But when

01:15:00:00

we left there a part of the squadron flew to Italy. They’d invaded the southern part of France and Italy, of course. We went back to Alexandria, got on a boat and went to Bari in Italy.

01:15:30:00

We went up the eastern coast of Italy as far as Ancona and we stopped there and I was posted back from there.
Back to Australia?
Yep. Went to Port Saïd and Bombay and the war was over by the time we got home, just about.
The war in Japan was over too, with Japan?
No.

01:16:00:00

No. I was posted home because of long service. They gave us the option of going home then or continue on, and they hadn’t even invaded Europe at that stage. I’d been there the best part of four years so I decided that I’d

01:16:30:00

had enough and while I had the chance I came home. But if I had stayed, well I’d have stayed until the finish.
And where did you go when you got home?
Well, we had a couple of ships. We went in the Stratheden to Bombay, stayed at Bombay for a few weeks and then we got on an

01:17:00:00

American ship that brought us to Melbourne. We went very far down to the south coming home, it wasn’t a direct route. But we got there, we got home to Melbourne, and I came back up to Sydney on eleven days’ leave

01:17:30:00

and was posted to Wagga [Wagga Wagga], Forest Hills. I spent, I suppose, about eight months or so down there and then they sent me to Bradfield where I was discharged, five years to the day just about.

01:18:00:00

When did you get married?
I got married on the 1st of March 1941, five weeks before I left.
And when were you discharged from the air force?

01:18:30:00

Well, it would be five years from...
Early ’45 was it?
Yeah, it’d be ’45. The Japanese war wasn’t over but the German war was over, or the Axis [Germany and Italy].

01:19:00:00

What was your main job once you got back to civilian life?
Well, the eldest brother was doing work at his home repairing fans for the navy and I said that I was going to open up in Hurstville, you know,

01:19:30:00

the electrical business, and he decided to come with me and we opened up in Hurstville as an auto electrical and general electrical repair shop. Cause there was plenty of work about in those days, straight after the war. And we finished employing

01:20:00:00

at one stage 14 guys, you know, it got up. We had to move a couple of times because of buses came along and no parking and too congested. We finished up at West Street, Hurstville. And he was ten years older than me, he had a massive heart attack and

01:20:30:00

was sort of immobilised, so we decided to sell the business. I didn’t want to go through it again on my own, you know, it was quite a bit of responsibility. I retired in... We sold the business and I stayed on for a while because they

01:21:00:00

were paying it off and just to keep an eye on the joint. I retired in 1970 really, but I kept on for a couple of years working a couple of days a week. Then I got into home life, took on my golf, bowls.

01:21:30:00

How many children did you have?
One.
That’s a very good summary. We might go back to the beginning now and go into a few more details about growing up in Hurstville. Can you tell us about your early memories of growing up here?
Actually,

01:22:00:00

it was a normal boy’s life. I used to ride a few horses, Dad had a couple of horses, and I’d do the messages on the horse, go up to Hurstville and tied the old horse up on the posts. The roads weren’t

01:22:30:00

sealed of course then. I played football, junior football, C grade, then I went into B grade. Broke my shoulder in one of the matches and that finished my football career.
What position did you play?
Well, I played in the centres.

01:23:00:00

And my father-in-law.... That was prior to my marriage, of course, playing the football. We had a very good team, we went through undefeated in the B grade. A lot of them went on and played with St George. I used to go out to

01:23:30:00

do a bit of skating up at Hurstville, they had skating rinks and dances, that’s where I met the wife.
Was your father in the First World War?
No, he wasn’t. Neither were the brothers in the Second, though one did, he did something, I’m not sure of what it was, but

01:24:00:00

they were building aerodromes, landing strips in Caledonia, New Caledonia, Norfolk Island, over that way. But I was the only one of the family in the services.
Were any of your dad’s relatives or your mum’s relatives in the First World War?
Yep. Yes, there was.

01:24:30:00

I’ve got a few medals of her brother. He got killed in France, and I think it was Gallipoli first and then went on to France. Just the one brother, I think.
He was your uncle?
Yep.

01:25:00:00

I didn’t see him.
Why didn’t your dad go to the First World War?
I wouldn’t know. He might have been, I haven’t any idea. See, I was pretty young then, of course.

01:25:30:00

I was born in 1917. First World War was nearly over. But I don’t know why the brothers or the father didn’t go.
Did you have any brothers and sisters?
Yeah, I had two brothers and two sisters.

01:26:00:00

Are they older or younger than you?
I was the baby of the family. They were all over. My sister’s still alive, she’s 88. Just turned in her licence, her car licence.
That’s pretty good.
Yeah. Well, I’ve still got my licence, I still drive but I restrict it to just in this area.

01:26:30:00

Can you tell us about your earliest impressions of the Depression?
Well,

01:27:00:00

we were a bit luckier than a lot people because in 1928 the father got the first truck and being on the council he found that he was much better off

01:27:30:00

in the Depression years than earlier because he was getting more for the truck work than he was for the horse and carts. I’d say we were one of the lucky ones in the Depression. Mother was pretty sensible

01:28:00:00

and she acquired a couple of homes, you know, as she went on, one next door and built another down the area. We lived a pretty good life during the Depression under the circumstances.
Did your dad teach you to drive the truck?
I was driving cars in

01:28:30:00

Orange at 14.
You said you liked horses. Did you go on any recreational rides with your horse?
No, only around Hurstville. Going back to early ’20s, we used to go to Cronulla for holidays

01:29:00:00

and I’d ride a horse around there a bit.
You’d go over to Cronulla for holidays?
Took a while to get over the old punt, there was no bridges in those days. It was quite good. I liked the horses.

01:29:30:00

Were you good at school?
Average. Passed each year so I suppose that was all right. Wasn’t an outstanding student. I was a bit sporting minded and concentrated more on cricket and football

01:30:00:00

and swimming et cetera than the Maths and English et cetera. I got by.
Was it a happy home?
Yep, very happy home. Had a happy life. No problems. Mother was very good. Father died

01:30:30:00

at 61, he had a massive cerebral haemorrhage, but mother lived on, she was 96 and she was pretty active, lived in her own home and looked after herself. But we were handy and

01:31:00:00

saw her very regularly.
What did you do for enjoyment outside cricket and sports and riding when you were young, growing up?
They had a skating rink in Hurstville and I used to like that, do that. It was mainly

01:31:30:00

a lot of paddocks and things around. Nearby we used to play football and cricket, then we took up tennis of course. Played in competitions in St George.
What sort of skating was it?
Roller.

01:32:00:00

I did have a go at the ice at the Glacerium, they called it, in George Street, but it was too far to go and roller skates were in Hurstville.
How often did you go in the city?
Not very often, not very often at all. Only be

01:32:30:00

if I had to go with my mother if she had to do a bit of shopping if she wanted to buy us something, clothes et cetera. Was mainly concentrating around Hurstville.
Be a fair bit of bush around here. Were you a city kid or a bush kid?
I called Hurstville

01:33:00:00

the city really but the wife lived here at Oakley and it was all bush, they even had weekenders down on the river at the time. I used to do a bit of fishing too when I was younger. I got a motorbike

01:33:30:00

as soon as I became of age, bought a little Velo, bought her for three pound ten and pushed it half way home from Sydney. But I kept buying them and doing them up and selling them until I got up the stage where I could afford a car.
Where did you get your interest in mechanical bits from?
Well, I was always mechanically-minded.

01:34:00:00

I had pushbikes but they were handed down and that was the start of my mechanical

01:34:30:00

knowledge. The pushbikes were all made up out of old bits, friction tape around the damn tyres. (UNCLEAR) didn’t have a hell of a lot of money in those days.
You got hand-me-downs from your brothers?
Yes, pushbikes in particular.
How did you feel about that?

01:35:00:00

Like a dog with two tails (UNCLEAR) like that. It was quite good.
Which one of your brothers did you most look up to?
Well, I didn’t favour either one really. They were both the same, both got on

01:35:30:00

well. We all got on well together, really. The eldest one that I was in business with, I had more to do with him of course as the years went on, but earlier the second eldest, he went away to the bush, he was elec fitter too,

01:36:00:00

they both served their time at the same place. He went up here and he got into the NRMA, one of those patrol things (UNCLEAR) outlet. I got on well with all the family. We all got on pretty well, no serious problems.
What sort of bloke was your dad?

01:36:30:00

Very genuine, real Australian type of guy. He was easy to get on with too. Good honest liver, hard worker. Unfortunately he

01:37:00:00

passed on at 61, as I said. Not a long life, but I suppose we thought he was old in those days.
When did he pass away?
It would be either late ’40s or early ’50s.
After the war?
Yes.

01:37:30:00

Where did his side of the family come from?
All from England, mother’s and the father’s parents. I didn’t see any of the grandparents.
Why is that?
Well, they died before I was old enough, I guess.

01:38:00:00

They were all in England, is that right?
No, no, the mother’s parents, she was born down Terry Street in Arncliffe. The father was born in Newton, I think. And they came out to Hurstville to live, they had a wood and coal yard. And my mother’s father was a carpenter, but

01:38:30:00

when they got married, of course, her father built the house, I think, that we lived in.
Interviewee: Eric Gover Archive ID 0448 Tape 02

02:00:30:00

Can you tell me a little about the decision that was made to go into business with your elder brother? What was your situation at the time?
Prior to joining up I was in business over at Parramatta Road on Summer Hill and it was a pretty lucrative business.

02:01:00:00

I mean, I’d made up my mind that when I got out of the air force I’d open up a shop in Hurstville.
So before the war you weren’t in business with your elder brother. What happened in Orange?
He opened a business in Orange and he had to put a boy on, so I went up with him. Of course I started doing electrical work

02:01:30:00

then.
And what was his business in Orange? What was he mainly working on out there?
Anything electrical like motors, electrical motors, cars, any equipment, all electrical, anything electrical.
Was it a big decision for you to make to move out to Orange and start work like that?
Well, I suppose I was only

02:02:00:00

just going on 15. I just wanted to be in that trade because I liked it and had done a bit when he was in Hurstville. I used to go up after school and fiddle around in the shop and pull a few generators off, et cetera.
How much older than you was your brother?
Ten years,

02:02:30:00

nine to ten years.
Did he look after you like a bit of a father figure at the time?
No, just like a brother. She was all right, they hadn’t been married that long and had no children at the time when we were up at Orange.

02:03:00:00

I was just keen on the work.
Were you very independent when you left home at that stage?
Well yes, reasonably. I didn’t get much pay. I can’t remember exactly what I was paid up at Orange

02:03:30:00

but, ’cause I got all my meals and I was living with them. But I was lucky enough to always have a few bob in my pocket.
What would you tend to spend that few bob on when you had the chance?
I’d bank what I didn’t need,

02:04:00:00

if I wanted spare parts for the bike or clothes, things like that. It wasn’t a lot of money in those [days], 13 shillings I think was first year apprenticeship, which didn’t go very far.
Had you travelled around

02:04:30:00

at all before you went to Orange?
No, I suppose Cronulla was the furthest I’d been before I went to Orange.
Did you find being out there a lot different to life in Hurstville?
Yes.
Why?

02:05:00:00

Well, it was such a pretty small community in those days and it was just a different life in the country I found. You could do things up there you couldn’t do down here. See, I used to drive an old Essex and I had to drive his Essex, not through the

02:05:30:00

main town or anything, out a bit. We used to go out to Molong, get called out there on a job, electric pumps and things like that, and I suppose I was a fairly good driver when it came to getting a licence.
Did you do other country things?

02:06:00:00

Well, they had a skating rink up there, I used to do a bit of skating. Not much else, not much else. See, I was only 15 or something up there and there wasn’t a great lot of life as far as I was concerned.
What happened

02:06:30:00

to your brother’s business?
He went broke.
What did you know about that at the time when you were working for him?
I didn’t know much about it except at Orange he did quite a bit of work, we were quite busy. But unfortunately the farmers, a lot of work came from the farmers,

02:07:00:00

they just didn’t have the money to pay him. He realised there was no future up there so he decided to come back to the city.
Did you come back to live with your parents again?
Yes. Yes, I lived with my parents

02:07:30:00

until I went away to the war.
What did you know about the outside world at this stage? Did you have any thoughts about what was going on in the other parts of the world as a teenager?
Not a great lot. Used to read a lot and I was well aware of what was happening

02:08:00:00

when Hitler was moving through Europe. I suppose I had pretty good general knowledge of what was happening over there, like we used to follow the football and the cricket, those that came from England, and their particular areas where they came from.

02:08:30:00

How would you get that sort of news?
Radio, on the radio, papers.
Did your family have a wireless set?
Yes.
From a long time back, or do you remember the day that they got it?
No,

02:09:00:00

I don’t remember when they got it so it would be, I think they got a small one first and then they got a console type, you know, quite a good one. But that was in my teens when they got that.
Was it a big focus

02:09:30:00

for family entertainment?
Yeah.
And how would the radio function in the house of an evening? Would you sit around it, what would you do?
Yeah, that’s right. As I say, I did read a lot and liked to listen to it, sit down, so did my father particularly.

02:10:00:00

It was something new.
Were there any programs that stand out in your memory that you remember liking?
Well, the programs I liked most were the quiz shows, the ones for the series of

02:10:30:00

different shows, quiz shows were the main things I was interested in.
What about books? You said you read a lot, what kind of books did you read?
All sorts, westerns, general stories.

02:11:00:00

I used to go up to the library at Hurstville and get them. A lot of general knowledge stuff. Nothing, any different...
Where there any authors or books that you remember liking particularly?
I used to like Zane Grey, he was mainly western stuff.

02:11:30:00

I can’t think of the names of the others.
You mention that your mother’s and father’s families had come out from England, did England play a role in their lives in Australia?
Yeah, well, I suppose you could say

02:12:00:00

that it played a big part because you didn’t know much about, it was mainly England and India and China were the countries, but European countries you didn’t know much about. And the English were coming out with the cricket, coming out with the football, [we] knew more about them than

02:12:30:00

any of the other countries.
Did you feel anything for the British Empire growing up?
I was a bit of a loyalist. I’d have to say I liked the British

02:13:00:00

better than most others.
How would that appreciation come through? What would you do to show your loyalist tendencies? What events or occasions would there be?
Well, as I say, it was mainly in sport. Nothing else. The people that were

02:13:30:00

around the district, they were mainly English, English or Scots, but mainly English. I suppose you could say you got some sort of attraction for the country through them.
When you say the people around were mainly English, when the cricket team toured or when the Australians were in England, did they barrack for the English, or what was the situation?
Underneath they

02:14:00:00

favoured the English, I think. But the younger guys favoured anything the Australians did.
Did you have ambitions to play football or cricket for Australia when you were a young lad?
No, I realised I wasn’t, I’d never be in that category, not good enough.

02:14:30:00

When I got my shoulder busted that finished my career as a footballer or a hopeful.
How did that happen?
Happened, it was called Prince Edward Park, where the St George Leagues Club is built, on there, and

02:15:00:00

it was a “KB Lager Cup”, they called it, and we were playing Sutherland. It was after the competition had finished, it was another comp [competition] that was played throughout the area. I’d been hurt but they were short of players so I ran on a bit later, a bit late after they started, and I played

02:15:30:00

on the wing, but I got tackled and come down on my shoulder and that was it. The wife’s father, he was an ex-international - as a matter of fact, he captained Australia in Rugby League - and he came down to see me, but by the time he got there I was gone into hospital. So he told me to stick to my electrical work.

02:16:00:00

What was your injury?
It was a fractured scapula. In those days I had a wire frame with my, sitting up, coming down here, across there. In the middle of winter it wasn’t too pleasant. So I thought I had better things to do than play football.
Is that the only time that you really had to go to hospital, growing up?

02:16:30:00

It was the only time I was in hospital until I got into the air force. I enjoyed pretty good health.
You mentioned your wife’s father, how old were you when you met her and became friends with her?
I suppose I’d be about 18, 18. We used to go to the dance up at Hurstville.

02:17:00:00

Just got to know [her] every Saturday night, and we used to do a lot together, you know, dancing and going out sometimes on picnics on Sundays, get around. Was a late

02:17:30:00

thought to marry, but between us we decided to take a punt and marry, be better off financially. She was a good style of a girl.
You got married just before you went away?
Five weeks.
Was that a difficult decision?

02:18:00:00

Did you think twice about it?
Yeah it was. Was, but I left it up mainly to her. I was quite happy to do it. I left most of the money at home because I realised I wouldn’t want much over there. And she did the right thing, saved up, gave us a start with

02:18:30:00

maturity payments that we got from the air force and things.
How did you feel about going away, having just got married? Did you have second thoughts about it?
No, I’d have to say I was looking forward to it, really. I don’t whether it was because you’re in your youth, but you don’t realise at that stage how bad it can

02:19:00:00

get and what lies in front of you.
Was that your attitude when war broke out? Did you want to join up immediately? What was your attitude then?
Well, the night that we found out I was with a couple of the boys and

02:19:30:00

there was discussions whether they would or whether they wouldn’t. Well, I thought a little bit of patriotism and things, I thought I should do the right thing and get into [it], which I did.
Who were the boys you discussed it with?
Well there was four of us that used to be in a group

02:20:00:00

that we’d sort of grown up with, played football with, played tennis with. They joined up but much later, when the Japanese come into the war. But one of my best mates, he joined up the same time as me, he was in the army,

02:20:30:00

and went to Singapore with the 8th, didn’t make it. I got a letter from him when I was in the Middle East and he said in the letter that there was nothing to do. By the time I got the letter they’d been overrun, the Japanese. He died over there.

02:21:00:00

Good style of a young bloke, too.
Were you able to learn about what happened to him? How long did it take you before you found out about that?
I can’t remember, but I think the wife in one of her letters told me that Harold had been killed over there.

02:21:30:00

We’ll talk a bit more about that time when Japan came into the war because it would have changed your attitude a bit, but at the start did your friends have that attitude that Australia wasn’t in danger? Why did they not join up?
Well, I don’t know really, because I think it’s your own personal feeling.

02:22:00:00

We didn’t have any lengthy discussions about would we or wouldn’t we, it was just a personal decision. I don’t know why, you didn’t say, “Well, you join up,” and things. I don’t know, they joined up after I was in the Middle East.
What was your job at the time when you joined up, what were you doing?

02:22:30:00

I had an electrical repair place on Parramatta Road, Summer Hill.
Were you enjoying that job?
Oh yes, I was making good money and had a good car. Had the war

02:23:00:00

not intervened I’d probably have had a pretty good future.
Did they need your skills in electrics at home? Was there any talk of it becoming a protected industry?
More so in different terms they were probably

02:23:30:00

protected, but mine wouldn’t have been because I was on my own and it was mainly to do with general cars. Bt the older brother that I was in business with, he had contracts with the navy; he probably wouldn’t have been able to join anyway because he used to repair mainly the fans on the ships.

02:24:00:00

Would you have been happy to play a part in the war in Australia or did you really want to get over somewhere else?
No, the majority of guys in squadrons over there wanted to get home, you know, when Japan came into the war, but we couldn’t, we couldn’t transfer

02:24:30:00

or get home at all. I mean, they had to take the troops home and there was a lot of worry about sub[marine]s and things, there was only ships, you couldn’t fly. No, we were over there and stuck there.

02:25:00:00

In the early year of the war from ’39 to ’40 when you first joined up, what was the attitude about the war in Australia in the general population?
Well, I don’t think there was a hell of a lot of worry generally because we were a long, long away in those days. Blokes like

02:25:30:00

myself hadn’t experienced war and they weren’t terribly worried, I suppose, about it getting there. I wasn’t worried about it ever reaching Australia. But nobody expected the Japanese – well, I didn’t, and probably most of the others would come into the war, and it was

02:26:00:00

a different picture, put a different picture on everything.
Can you tell me a little bit about your decision to join the air force? Why did you want to become aircrew?
I don’t know why I wanted to rather than the others, I just liked it and thought, you know, be interesting and it...

02:26:30:00

I’d been involved with cars and bikes and had a few rides from Mascot, went up in a few planes there, ten bob a go over Sydney (UNCLEAR). I think it’s just natural keenness at that age.

02:27:00:00

What did people know about the air force in those days?
Not much, not much at all. The aircraft we had were old Avro Ansons, they were very old planes. I had a couple, went up a couple of times before I went over

02:27:30:00

and of course I knew they had the Spitfires and Hurricanes overseas. I was, bit of patriotism and you know, guys around you joining up so I thought I’d do it.

02:28:00:00

And a bit of excitement.
What happened when you went to apply to join the air force as aircrew?
I can’t clearly remember, but he said I didn’t qualify because I didn’t have the necessary

02:28:30:00

exam [examination] results, but he said, “We’d take you as elec fitter.” So I went, Oh well, that’ll do.” But I didn’t think I’d be sent away as quickly as I was.

02:29:00:00

Oh, and they said, “Of course, when you get in you can remuster,” see, go from one trade to another or something like that. But there was no chance of us remustering which in hindsight was just as well, because we lost a lot of pilots over there.

02:29:30:00

Probably wouldn’t have made it.
Was that still an ambition that remained with you, to get up in the air?
Yeah. Until I found out overseas there was no possible chance. They had, Australia had

02:30:00:00

the Empire, what did they call it, the Empire Air Training [Scheme, EATS]. They used to send them to Canada from here and course we had them all coming in from Australia, but we went away with a complement of electricians, engine fitters, armourers, et cetera, and there

02:30:30:00

weren’t replacements coming, particularly when Japan came into the war, we had none at all. If anything happened to any of the guys they took RAF [Royal Air Force] chaps. That’s why there was no promotions in rank or anything like that over there because

02:31:00:00

they had no workers to replace anybody that was promoted. See, we went over with a sergeant and so many elec fitters, and engine fitters were the same, and of course we were an Australian squadron so we couldn’t be transferred

02:31:30:00

to an English squadron so we got no promotion until we came home. They backdated it.
How much ambition was there among the ground crew? Did many of them want to go up in the air?
No. More so after we’d had a bit of experience over there.

02:32:00:00

They wouldn’t have been qualified in any case, but we lost a lot of aircrew, everywhere we went. That stopped the enthusiasm.

02:32:30:00

What is that relationship like, between the people looking after the aeroplanes on the ground and the aircrew?
You don’t see a lot of the pilots, like they’re in the Officers’ Mess and they’re all grouped together where they’re in the mess, et cetera. And

02:33:00:00

when you were working on the planes the odd [one] would be, he’d be pretty keen to point something out that he was having problems with and things. But normally working on the planes it was engine fitters, armourers, electricians, that was about the only things that were necessary,

02:33:30:00

aircraft fitters (UNCLEAR) do for the body of the plane, et cetera.
Was there any tension or resentment between the ground crew and the aircrew?
No, only the odd one or two personal things, there wasn’t a lot.

02:34:00:00

You got to know them pretty well, everybody in the squadron, because you were grouped together, moved together. They broke them up when we were on the move sometimes, you know, they’d have an advance party

02:34:30:00

and then the middle ones and then the headquarters.
Was it difficult for you guys when the aircrew didn’t come back?
You see so much of it that, you know, it was something you’d take for granted that you’re gonna be lucky to come back.

02:35:00:00

We lost a few even young guys coming over and doing training on a strip, particularly when I got moved to the Baltimore squadron, they were pretty fast planes coming in and they’d do it at night.

02:35:30:00

We lost them landing and taking off or they didn’t fare too well in the sky until they got onto the Spits [Spitfires] and had equal performing planes to the Germans.

02:36:00:00

We’ll come back to that a bit later. I just want to talk a bit about your training to begin with. When you went in as an elec fitter, how much more training did that involve, to get to know what the electrics were like on an aeroplane?
Actually, you went in as what they called an AC1 [Aircraftman] Electrician.

02:36:30:00

You had to do this course but the first course was more about learning the procedures of the air force, you know, regimentation and things, and a reasonably hard

02:37:00:00

exam, like on electrical basics. And Point Cook was something similar but got harder when we went down there. I managed those courses all right. As a matter of fact, the instructor, when

02:37:30:00

I went in, was one of the electricians that I worked with in Kent Street. So I actually compounded a big motor they wanted doing when I got in, because a lot of the younger guys they were only apprentices see and didn’t have the knowledge. They wanted this motor

02:38:00:00

and I wound that for them during the course, but I still had to do the darn course, go back to elementary electrical, all the basic knowledge of electrical work, theory, which

02:38:30:00

you forget over the years - well you don’t forget, not all of it, but the main stuff you do. But you didn’t have a book to refer to.
How did you feel about being made to go backwards and doing that again?
Well, that was one of the things I didn’t like really. Well, I found it hard because I had to do more study than

02:39:00:00

I did when I was an apprentice. You had a month to do it whereas you had a year to do it in an apprenticeship. I used to go to Harris Street and then to Kogarah at night. Generally it was a bit difficult, as far as I was

02:39:30:00

concerned, anyway. I found I had to work harder there than when I was serving my time.
How did you get on with the other blokes doing this course?
I don’t think I had an enemy or I didn’t have any blues or anything with any of them, that’s in the courses

02:40:00:00

or in the squadron. I mixed with some more than others but I didn’t have any general dislikes, they were a pretty good crowd, good mixture.
Interviewee: Eric Gover Archive ID 0448 Tape 03

03:00:32:00

What was the Harris Street, Ultimo, what was going on there?
Well, it was learning to be an airman, you know, on routine and knowing the theory of

03:01:00:00

basic electrical work. Bit of both, but mainly for routine airman discipline, et cetera.
How did you take to the discipline of the air force after being your own boss

03:01:30:00

or being in your own business?
Well, I didn’t like it but I realised there was nothing you could do about it, I’d gone into this and you had to accept it. But that was the general feeling of most people, like those who had never had army life or anything, and you get in there and it was severe discipline

03:02:00:00

and things. But you get used to it.
How severe was the discipline? Can you give me some examples of what they would do?
Well, if you had leave and you were five minutes late there’d be a penalty of some sort. Dress, they’d have inspections every morning on your dress and general appearance,

03:02:30:00

on your tidiness in the barracks. They were things you eventually accepted, conformed.
What was the worst trouble you got in to yourself?
The worst trouble.

03:03:00:00

Gee, I didn’t get into any trouble at all, I wasn’t sort of penalised during the courses. I suppose I was lucky enough, I went right through without getting any penalties. But I was a pretty well-behaved

03:03:30:00

bloke.
You said it was a good mixture of blokes on this course. What was the mixture like, where were these people from, how old were they, that kind of thing?
They varied from about 35 down to about 18. Some of them were first year apprentices

03:04:00:00

and second, third and fourth year, and a couple like me that were what they called a “journeyman”. But they were a good crowd, a very good crowd I found, and [I] made a couple of good friends there, but of course when we were, it was disbanded

03:04:30:00

down at Point Cook, the course - course twelve I think it was - and you lose track of them.
What kind of blokes would you mix with more?
Middle order.
In age or in experience, what do you mean by that?
Well there wasn’t a lot

03:05:00:00

of difference in ages, particularly over in the Middle East they were all around the 25 mark, I suppose the bulk of them were around 25 to 30. We didn’t have any real young guys in for some reason.

03:05:30:00

Was there any difference of class background?
With some people, some guys, but mostly everybody just accepted you as an airman that like belonged to the squadron. Even what they called

03:06:00:00

the AHGs, Aircraft Hand General, which did everything, all the manual jobs, they fitted in pretty well. There was not a lot of dislike. But, see, see sometimes you’d have four in a tent, other

03:06:30:00

times there was only a bivouac covering. I couldn’t say there was any dissension that was really noticeable in the squadron.
How were you living when you were at Harris Street, Ultimo? Were they putting you up in barracks or were you still at home?
Yep, barracks. Double

03:07:00:00

deckers, (UNCLEAR) something new and interesting. Lot of interesting guys you mixed with, country boys. Yes, it was quite an education really on some of them.

03:07:30:00

Was it an education for you?
In a lot of ways, yes, a lot of ways. They came from everywhere, all standards of living and types, you know. But, as I say, I was pretty conservative guy, didn’t get into any trouble.

03:08:00:00

Were there any blokes that did, was there some that had trouble with the discipline?
Oh yes.
What happened to them?
Well, they were confined to camp, confined to barracks, doing jobs which didn’t look too attractive to me so I thought better to behave and

03:08:30:00

get your leave when it was granted, not that we had much leave here.
Could you leave the barracks of a night-time?
Only if you got a pass. You couldn’t just walk in and out as you liked, you had to have a pass to get out. It was pretty

03:09:00:00

strict rules and regulations regarding the initiation stages. [Of] course, there was a few reprobates that wouldn’t conform, they got their penalties.
What sort of things would these reprobates get up to?
Well you might have a

03:09:30:00

pass till eight o’clock at night and they’d get in at three o’clock in the morning and things like that. They’d have to do guard duties and all sorts of things. Course, you get some guys that do a lot of silly things, young blokes.

03:10:00:00

I was a bit lucky, I didn’t drink at those stages. It was the guys that got into the grog that got into trouble.
Was there a lot of grog available at the time?
Not in the barracks but Harris Street’s not far from all the pubs around the area.

03:10:30:00

What happened at the end of that course? Did people get split up and posted all over the country?
Yep.
What was your orders at the end of that course?
I was posted to Richmond. I don’t know whether anyone else went to Richmond,

03:11:00:00

I can’t remember, but if there was it would only be one or two. And where they went I wouldn’t remember know. But of course when we got the postings we were all dispersed Richmond was a big unit so I was quite happy there. I was only there a few nights.

03:11:30:00

Were you in Point Cook before that?
Yes.
Was that part of the basic course as well?
Mm.
How long were you at Point Cook for before you were posted to Richmond?
About three weeks.
Was that your first time down south?
Yeah.
Was there any incidents that you remember from that time?
Not really, there wasn’t.

03:12:00:00

It was same life everywhere once you were in the air force, same rules, regulations. I got into Melbourne a couple of times, a few times, you got your leave and had a bus to get in but you had to find your own way.

03:12:30:00

Wasn’t bad, you could swim down there, though I wouldn’t go in there now, I think there’s a few sharks hanging around the joint that we didn’t know about off the wharf at Point Cook.
Was it freezing in the water at Point Cook?
Pretty cold, pretty cold, but when you’re young you can stand these things.

03:13:00:00

It wasn’t interesting, you know, because it was work. You had to pass each section or each course and just happen to do a bit of study, that was all. I think they were a little more rigid in early stages than they were later on.

03:13:30:00

I didn’t want to get knocked back out of it for some reason, I had to do my amount of study.
Was it all indoor book study or were you working on aeroplanes as well?
All indoor, no work on aircraft.
When was the first time that you actually got to get out and work on an aircraft?
When I got overseas.

03:14:00:00

Was that a big jump?
Not on the aircraft I worked, there weren’t a hell of a lot of difference between the units on the aircraft and units on cars, they were all much the same, and wiring.

03:14:30:00

The only difference was if you got a unit that was faulty such as a generator, alternator or starter; unless it was a very minor repair you had to send it back to headquarters and get another one. They wouldn’t let you do repairs out.

03:15:00:00

When we first went over, of course, when we got up in the desert a couple of times we did a few repairs that were not in the book, but we couldn’t afford to have planes not in the air. You don’t carry a lot of exchange units, you don’t any actually in the squadron, they’d all go back to Cairo or

03:15:30:00

get others.
When you say repairs that weren’t “in the book”, was there a set of rules you had to play by as far as what you could do and what you couldn’t do?
Well, no. The sergeant - a couple of times on my own personal experience that I could have done the repair, which would have been quite satisfactory and

03:16:00:00

would pass any test - but he was a permanent (UNCLEAR) and been brought up on rules and regulations, and what the rule was had to go and he wouldn’t let you do it. As I say, a couple of times I did it without getting permission.
What kind of repairs would that involve, ones that weren’t by the book? What do you mean

03:16:30:00

when you say that?
Well it could be a starter, a generator, alternator or regulator on the planes. Like field coils on generators, bit of insulation might break down whereas you could re-insulate it quite easily.
And the officer wanted you to get a new coil?
No, he was

03:17:00:00

only a sergeant, we only had a sergeant.
What would he be asking you to do that was different to that?
Send it back to headquarters and get a replacement unit, complete generator.
So when you were posted to Richmond did you know which squadron or what planes you’d be working on?
No.
Did you have a particular something, somewhere you wanted to go, something you wanted to do? What were your views?
Oh, no.

03:17:30:00

I realised I’d be doing electrical work on planes. I didn’t think I’d be doing it on things, but when we got into the squadron - I mean the lighting, any lighting, we had a lighting unit there, if anything went wrong with that we had a look at it, any of the trucks we had to look at it, planes, the whole damn

03:18:00:00

lot.
What education did the air force give you about the various different aeroplanes and what squadrons and things they had?
Nothing, really. Most of the equipment we were familiar with, they weren’t terribly different, the

03:18:30:00

electrical units on all the planes, whether they were American or English.
Had you heard much news about how the war in Europe was going before you left from Australia?
Not a lot because we were confined. I spent two and a half years really in the

03:19:00:00

desert and we didn’t know much. Most of the planes were reconnaissance planes and used to go up the Adriatic and Aegean Seas, and not a lot of activity where we were camped. Only a couple of times we got into bother

03:19:30:00

with planes coming over and strafing the squadron.
When you left Australia in 1941 did you know you were going to the desert?
Didn’t know where we were going.
What was that trip like? You embarked on the Queen Mary?
Mm. Well, as I say, we were reasonably early.

03:20:00:00

Well, we were the first squadron to go over, Australian squadron, except 3 Squadron, they were over before us. And we had good porters on the Mary, we were on the A deck and had cabins. It was quite a good trip, the food was good and everything.
Can you describe the quarters and conditions on the Queen

03:20:30:00

Mary?
There were bunks but we had a cabin as big as this and there would only be about eight or ten blokes in it, which is pretty good. And A deck as well, well up on top of the ship. You had some of the guys down in the

03:21:00:00

pits, no good. But it was quite good, the food was good. They had a ration of beer and cigarettes if you wanted it,

03:21:30:00

had to drink it out of a dixie [pot], of course, an old, tin, all-round utensil.
How did they issue you beer into a dixie?
Well, I forget. I didn’t have a lot but I did see the blokes with it. I don’t know whether they poured it out of a keg; must have, because there weren’t any bottles floating around.
You were still a non-drinker

03:22:00:00

at this stage?
Yeah.
Did you smoke?
Yes, yes, I smoked. They started to, we’d get an issue of beer in the Middle East so I started to drink that, and when I went into town or something I’d have a beer with the blokes. Wasn’t a heavy drinker, but.

03:22:30:00

Did the crew on the Queen Mary treat you still like passengers or were you treated like troops?
I’d say they treated us like troops. There wasn’t a hell of a lot of crew that you’d see, you know, it was nearly all army or air force guys. We weren’t real popular really,

03:23:00:00

the air force, because we got on last and they took some of the poor cows out of A deck and put them down the bottom and we went into A deck. That caused a little bit of dissension.
How much did you mix with people from other services when you were on board the ship?
Well, I knew a couple of the army guys

03:23:30:00

personally. One had an electrical shop in Canterbury Road, I used to do a little bit of winding for him and I knew him, and soon made friends with the blokes. But we’d done a bit of time at Bankstown, that’s where the squadron was formed, and we got

03:24:00:00

to know a few guys there. But I didn’t see any fights between the army and air force although I don’t think the army appreciated the air force to a great degree.
Did they have any names that they called you or any kind of words were said?
Nope, not that I remember.

03:24:30:00

No. They criticised the air force generally because in the early stages we didn’t have planes and they felt they didn’t get support, whereas the Italians and Germans used to have plenty of planes and they used to get knocked around a bit.

03:25:00:00

That’s the only criticism they had really, they used to call us the “Blue Orchids”.
What was that all about?
Well that was just the name that went through the army for the air force, that they just called us “Blue Orchids”, I don’t know why.
Was there any name that you called them?

03:25:30:00

No, only the “footsloggers” and, you know, the infantry. We didn’t see much of them, we were well behind them.
How did you feel, when you embarked, about being in the air force? Did you feel it was a proud place to be? What was your views on that?
Well I did early, I really liked it.

03:26:00:00

I enjoyed being in it and you do feel proud, but after being over there three, four years you begin to think that you’re never going to get home. There was a lot of disappointment in the squadron around that time.

03:26:30:00

I don’t know how they went after I went, but I was with the one of the first, whether it was because I was married or that I don’t know, whether they pick them out of a hat. There was about 15 of us I suppose went down to Rome and left at Taranto, I think.
Did your entire squadron that had just been formed at Bankstown embark

03:27:00:00

on the same ship?
Yes.
And what did you number at that stage, roughly?
Two hundred and fifty.
And how many troops would have been on board the ship?
Well, I wouldn’t know.
Thousands?
Oh yeah, at least. But I believe in later trips where we’d have eight or ten to a cabin they’d have 20 or something,

03:27:30:00

there was thousands of them later on, if we talked to any of the army guys, you know, that came over later.
Luxury compared to some of the American ships at the end of the war?
Oh yes. I came home on an American ship from India to Australia, had to

03:28:00:00

work on that if you wanted three meals. I was a pretty good sailor and there was a lot of guys coming over in the Mary that got crook and they couldn’t have their meals. So I decided to work and there was plenty of food around (UNCLEAR) was sick.
Can you describe steaming out of Sydney Harbour on the Queen Mary?

03:28:30:00

I can’t think there was anything really exciting about it, it was just said, “Well, we’re on our way.”

03:29:00:00

The realisation of going was just a matter of fact, as far as I was concerned, and most of them I think. We went, from here we went to Jervis Bay and spent the night at Jervis Bay.
Had your wife come to see you off at Sydney?
Yes, she and my mother.

03:29:30:00

They knew what time the train was going from Bankstown and you wouldn’t know Bankstown but the train line runs along a, I don’t even know the name of the street, but it follows it for at least a kilometre, and

03:30:00:00

they drove alongside.
Was that an emotional farewell?
Yes, it was at the time.

03:30:30:00

And then we just got down to, I forget where it was now, whether it was... We didn’t go to Central, we went to another part where we disembarked and got on the train,

03:31:00:00

got on the punts that took us out to the Queen Mary.
How many blokes were in your situation leaving behind new wives or strong girlfriends?
I suppose there’d be 75 per cent of the squadron would be.

03:31:30:00

Did you give each other some support in that kind of...?
Once we got over into the squadron and our landing ground there was a lot of discussion then when you got letters and thing. But

03:32:00:00

yes, there was a lot of discussion really.
Did you feel better to be a married man and going away, or did it make it a lot harder?
Well, I hadn’t been married a long time and

03:32:30:00

it didn’t make any difference really, I didn’t feel any different.
Where were you when you got married? Did you have leave?
Yeah.
What stage in your training? In Richmond at that stage?
When the squadron was being formed. Yes, after I was posted from Richmond, after I was posted overseas,

03:33:00:00

’cause I didn’t know when we’d be going. But I was posted to Bankstown, the 451 Squadron.
How much leave did you get on the occasion you decided to get married?
I can’t remember now, but pretty liberal with the leave from Bankstown.

03:33:30:00

See, there wasn’t much to do there, was only being equipped with this and that. Nothing, there wasn’t much to do at all, just come and go from there.
Where was your wife living?
She was living

03:34:00:00

at her place, her original home down Oatley here. That’s where she was.

03:34:30:00

The trip across to Fremantle on the Queen Mary was a rough one, I gather, by what you say about seasickness?
It was, very rough. We had the Queen Elizabeth behind us and it was the first trip, actually, the Queen Elizabeth made. It wasn’t fitted out as well as the Mary I don’t think.

03:35:00:00

It was rough, but anybody that wasn’t a good sailor suffered pretty badly.
How was it that you were a good sailor? Had you been on a ship before?
I’d been outside fishing, you know. But I think I just got a bit lucky, some people

03:35:30:00

can and some people can’t. You can be seasick sometimes and not at others, feel a bit squeamish. Sometimes you’d feel a bit squeamish because a big ship is better than a little one.

03:36:00:00

When I came back I had a place at Calbura [?] and I used to do a lot of fishing in a little 14-footer. I never got crook in that, yet my father-in-law had sailed the 18-footers and was a real seaman, he got crook once, the only time he’s been sick I think, for some reason.

03:36:30:00

A lot of them just didn’t get out of their bunks on the Mary going over.
Did you ever get seasick on any ship during the war?
No. The Mediterranean was pretty flat. The Red Sea was very flat. It wasn’t until you got into the Indian Ocean and down around south that you got in the rough

03:37:00:00

stuff. As a matter of fact, coming home on the American ship it was very calm, fortunately.
What was the situation in Fremantle, did you get any leave there?
No, they just took on supplies or loaded a lot of crates on.

03:37:30:00

I don’t know what was in them. We were there for I suppose two days. Might have been waiting for other ships. See, there was five I think in the convoy going over. The Nieuw Amsterdam was a Dutch ship, the Mauritania

03:38:00:00

and the Lizzie [Queen Elizabeth] and ourselves, and there was one other, I think. We left them after, oh we went to Ceylon which is Sri Lanka now, and that’s when we left that convoy and the Mary and the Lizzie went off on their own,

03:38:30:00

we didn’t have any escort. We had an escort, destroyer or battleship or something, getting there, but after that we went on our own ’cause they go pretty fast.
Did they go through the Suez [Canal]?
Yep, we went up the Red Sea into Suez.

03:39:00:00

One question about leaving before we get onto arriving in the Middle East, what did you pack to go away to war?
All the equipment that they give you like the blue suits, the khaki shorts, socks and shoes and hats,

03:39:30:00

dixies and water bottles. All the necessary items you’d need, you know, in the desert.
What personal effects were you carrying with you?
Not much. Only writing materials, and I had,

03:40:00:00

you know, the old toothbrush and comb and things like that, that’s all. Wasn’t necessary for any other things really.
Did you have a big air force duffle bag? How did you carry this stuff?
Oh yeah. We had one big one, I’ve still got it downstairs,

03:40:30:00

that we used to leave at Cairo or wherever the base was and we just had the blue one, small blue one, when we were in action or being active. You just carried that and the blue one.
So one was a trunk and one was a blue one?
No,

03:41:00:00

they were both kitbags, only kitbags.
Interviewee: Eric Gover Archive ID 0448 Tape 04

04:00:30:00

What’s your favourite story from travelling over there on the boat on the Queen Mary boat over to the Middle East?
Favourite story’s not a good one because they had poker and two-up [game of chance in which bets are made on the fall of two tossed pennies] and the whole lot over there, and I got involved in two-up and

04:01:00:00

I went broke, that’s me favourite story but it wasn’t too good. I didn’t have a bank or anything to draw on, I had to wait till I got paid. Bit difficult for a while.
What happened in that two-up game, can you tell us about it?
I just followed heads, which I usually do in two-up,

04:01:30:00

haven’t played for a while, and had a bad run. Always think they’ll come up and keep doubling up. Taught me a bit of a lesson, really. But it was a pretty uneventful trip, really, no

04:02:00:00

subs or anything about. The convoy moved over nice and quietly. When we went from Trincomalee to Suez doing at least 30 knots, really going, I don’t think a sub could have kept up with them.

04:02:30:00

What did you do during the daytime on the boat?
Played cards or read, nothing much, there wasn’t much to do, talking, bit of gasbagging [inconsequential conversation]. Once we got over the equator, even though we were in A deck, I spent a few nights

04:03:00:00

sleeping up on the deck, it was too hot downstairs. See, there was no lights to be shown and the ship was really closed up. So as many as it could take we’d go and sleep up there on the deck.
How did you celebrate crossing the equator?
Going over nothing, but coming back the American ship -

04:03:30:00

I think it’s in that book they gave you - card signed, “crossing the equator” or something, I forget what’s on it, but it’s relating to the crossing of the equator. They have a bit of a celebration, the guys on the thing, ’cause it was only a number of us came back from India

04:04:00:00

to Australia, was mainly crew.
Had you got to know any pilots on the way over?
No.
Was there a real division between pilots and ground crew in your training and while you were travelling over?
Amongst some of them you could feel there was a bit of a class distinction, but on the whole they were all right.

04:04:30:00

The CO [commanding officer] we had first, Dixie Chapman, he was a bit of lad. They were all pretty good, really.
Can you tell us about going through Suez?
No, we didn’t go through Suez. Suez was right on the eastern end of the Canal and course Alexandria’s

04:05:00:00

at the other end, and we never went by ship through the Canal itself. But the Red Sea goes right up to they call it Port Tewfik, and that’s the port and Suez is just behind it.
How long did you spend at Port Tewfik?
Only be a few hours.

04:05:30:00

See, they took us off by barges to shore and then we got in a train and went to Cairo. Nice hot day, 120 degrees or something.
Can you tell us about that day coming into Cairo?
I can’t really remember, I

04:06:00:00

remember going over on the train and it’s just desert. We went to Cairo and we stayed at (UNCLEAR) Cairo now, or Alex [Alexandria]? Anyway we stayed at some barracks there and left, they equipped us with clothes suitable for

04:06:30:00

the summer over there. And all the winter clothes and things that we didn’t need we left at headquarters in Cairo. And then we went from Cairo by train to Alexandria where we were equipped with vehicles and, you know, trucks and

04:07:00:00

a couple of planes that weren’t suitable for any action.
What were you going to use those for?
I think they used them – well, they did, they used [them] for reconnaissance, that’s all because they didn’t get any real planes like Hurricanes and Spits [Spitfire – fighter aircraft].

04:07:30:00

They had a Tempest, until just before I got posted to 454.
What were these planes, what sort of planes were they?
Were, at 454?
451, when you got to Alexandria.
Well they were only Lysanders.
This was the first aircraft that you’d had anything to do with, is that correct?
Over there, yes.
Did you go up

04:08:00:00

in the Lysander at all?
No. The only planes we went up in over there was when we moved, can’t think where it, it was quite a distance, but we went up in DC3s [transport aircraft], very low-level flying. It was a transport plane,

04:08:30:00

no seats, nothing, you just sat in it, it was crowded. And we went, don’t know where, suppose we went up round Benghazi way somewhere, landed on a landing ground. And that was called the advance party.
This is after Alexandria?
After we were equipped at Alexandria.

04:09:00:00

How long did you spend in Alexandria before you went up to LG90, very long?
No, not long, not long.
What was the rush to get up to LG90?
Well, I suppose we were part of the Desert Air Force then. Like if they wanted to call on them for anything, planes or

04:09:30:00

things, we were about 30 mile into the desert so I mean if there was any action to be taken they’d operate. But I’m not sure whether we had the Hurricanes there, I can’t, I’d have to refer to the log book.
Had you had any leave at this stage or...?

04:10:00:00

Not much ’cause we’d only been in Alexandria. I can’t think of any at this stage, not in the first few months we didn’t get any.
So how far behind the front lines were you at your first LG?

04:10:30:00

When, I don’t know whether it was the first push or at Alamein, but we were that close that we had artillery on our strip next to us, it went day and night. I think it was around Derna, or I’d have to have [a look]

04:11:00:00

in the book for that. We were far enough behind the action, the army, because we had a strip somewhere and they weren’t everywhere. Sometimes we went up, followed them

04:11:30:00

up, but we were well down in the desert. We got to one there, a strip, one time and first thing you do is dig a slit trench or hole big enough to get into with a bivouac over the top, and we got there in the afternoon and the Jerries [Germans] came over

04:12:00:00

strafing hell out of us, and we’d gone too far, the navigator didn’t do his job too well. And we had to pack up and go at night, go back.
Can you tell us about getting strafed?
Well there’s a hell of a lot of movement when it starts. I mean, you don’t really know, it happened so quickly.

04:12:30:00

You know, the average bloke doesn’t know whether it’s one of ours or one of theirs until the firing goes on, the gunfire. They mainly went for the planes, see, but as a last goodbye they gave the camp a go-over. It’s a bit frightening

04:13:00:00

although you’re in a hole in the ground, bit of a lottery if you miss out altogether. Was cannon shells they were firing, they weren’t firing bullets. Still, just part of the show.
How were you made aware that the airfield was under attack?
Because of the firing,

04:13:30:00

the gunfire. See, the planes are equipped with two cannons on either side.
What sort of aircraft were they?
They were 109s, Me [Messerschmitt – German fighter aircraft].
How many of them?
I don’t know, I was down in the hole. I actually saw a couple out, of people, when they were going in,

04:14:00:00

but you didn’t get up and walk around, that was for sure. I don’t know how many planes there were, a few of them.
Were there any casualties in the squadron?
Not at that thing. Most of the trouble was what was caused to the planes.
What happened to the planes?
Well, they were shot

04:14:30:00

(UNCLEAR) in parts, they weren’t airworthy. Had to be repaired to take back. But there were a lot of air raids although they weren’t directed at us, you know, because they only came over at night

04:15:00:00

and they went on to Alex. We could see it all from Alex but it was, we were reasonably safe in the desert until they had the two pushes only, and that’s when we had to get up a bit close to the

04:15:30:00

army, and we were a bit bolder by that time. And when we went into Tobruk, it was only the advance party, we got in there but we couldn’t get out for a few days.
What happened there then?
What happened there?
When you went into Tobruk in the advance party?

04:16:00:00

Well, as soon as we got in there was a plane shot down, it was about a kilometre away from us, and I don’t know whether it was one of ours or one of theirs but he went right into the deck and that was the last of any action we saw.

04:16:30:00

But it was like walking on shrapnel in Tobruk, it was everywhere. Then we went up, right up to Libya, Cyrenaica or something I think they called it.
What sort of aircraft were you working on at that time?

04:17:00:00

Hurricanes at that time. In Alamein it was Baltimores.
Can you tell us what you did on the Hurricane?
Well, what happens mainly, you get an aircraft fitter to run the engine up and you test the charging circuit

04:17:30:00

and make sure the batteries are being charged and test all the lights and wiring. That’s all it was. The makar [?] looked after the instruments. The aircraft fitters looked after the engine and the,

04:18:00:00

I forget what they called them, aircraft maintenance, they looked after the fuselage and stuff, you know, rudders and ailerons, movements. But we just stuck strictly to the electrical parts.
What were those on the Hurricane?
Well, they were generators, never ever had any trouble with the

04:18:30:00

magnetos, and the regulators and starters. Mainly, the main problems was due to vibration, et cetera, with the wiring, you’d get your port or starboard lights go out and you’d get a bit of fractured wiring or something like that.

04:19:00:00

But they were pretty easy to fix usually, we had to repair anything.
What sort of engine was it?
Rolls Royce.
What was the current produced by the generator on the Hurricane?

04:19:30:00

DC [direct current], DC current.
Could they start by themselves or did they need a battery cart?
Most of them were started with what they called a trolley acc, like a trolley accumulator, it was just batteries on a little trolley. Yeah, they could start with a battery but not for very long, the

04:20:00:00

battery’s only reasonably small, low capacity.
Did you have much to do with the pilots at that stage?
No. No, well, the pilots would either be sleeping or lounging around. Of course most of their flying

04:20:30:00

was done at night and at dusk.
What was your job when you were starting the plane up, for instance?
I didn’t have anything to do with it. The aircraft fitters connected the batteries and started the engine in

04:21:00:00

the cockpit, and they used to have the regulators in the fuselage and I’d just test it with instruments to make sure the settings were right and it was operating normally. The 2E fitters, they called them, they started up the engines.
What was the most difficult

04:21:30:00

thing about your job?
Well, the heat was the most difficult part in the fuselage, got pretty hot, you know, stationary and pretty trying, particularly on the Baltimores.
What about the Hurricane? If it’s only a single-engine fighter, how do you get inside the fuselage?
You don’t.

04:22:00:00

But the Baltimore you could get into the fuselage, but they were the hottest.
Can you tell us a bit about the advance through the Libyan desert, when you were advancing up towards the Italians and Germans when you first got there?
When we first started to move

04:22:30:00

the first one we didn’t, although we went right up to Benghazi behind the army, there wasn’t a lot we had and we didn’t have too many planes. That’s where the air force didn’t have a good name. But El Alamein was different, see, they had bombers. There was that many bombers going over the sky was black with them. And

04:23:00:00

we had the Baltimores and we had artillery around us bombing all night and we just moved every day up with the army, up Tobruk, Benghazi.
This is in 454 now.

04:23:30:00

Mm.
Can you tell us a bit more about that advance? What you were doing, specifically?
We were mainly just servicing. While it was on we had to work a bit harder on the planes because they were doing more air miles, see more operation. But

04:24:00:00

it wasn’t much different to when we were just servicing them when they were, when there was no action going on. But they were doing something, reconnaissance or something, and we’d, we went up

04:24:30:00

to, just done 30 mile or so down from Benghazi and we had a landing strip there with the Baltimores. There was more servicing done because they were putting in more hours, see, and you were working a lot longer hours.
How long were the hours you were working?

04:25:00:00

Sometimes they’d been from daylight, and as an electrician, if you were on the flare path, if they were operating or coming in late at night, you’d have to have an electrician to make sure the flare path worked properly, and you could have a long day. But normally it would be morning till dusk.
How did the flare path work?

04:25:30:00

Off a light unit. They’d have a charging trailer, lighting unit on a trailer, supplied 240 volts. That would be hooked onto the back of trucks, taken with us.
Did you operate that?
No, I had to look after the flare path

04:26:00:00

if it was, to make sure they were all working, the lights, if I was drawn or committed to the flare path. But I did trucks, I might have trouble on trucks and I couldn’t do that, and someone else or aircraft. I mainly

04:26:30:00

worked on the trucks and the aircraft. And I suppose I put more hours in trucks because they gave more trouble. See, they had normal electrical troubles on the trucks, was all generators, no alternators in those days, generators, regulators, starters, ignition systems.

04:27:00:00

And we had quite a few trucks, I’m not quite sure of the number, be at least 20.
What was the scariest moment you had when you were with 451 Squadron?

04:27:30:00

I didn’t have actually in the squadron; the scariest moment I had was when I was caught in an air raid in Alex.
What happened then?
Well, there was nowhere to go, you know, we were in Alex and there was a few bombs dropping around the area and I wasn’t the driver at the

04:28:00:00

time of the trucks. We had to wait for all the blokes to get out so we could get out. But the squadron itself, we didn’t have many problems at all. The one near Alex, they all went for Alex.
And you were on leave from 451 at the time?
Mm.
What were you doing on leave? How did you fill in your time?
Well, you’d go

04:28:30:00

to the Fleet Club, we’d go out to a place called Sandy Beach swimming, have a few grogs. Wasn’t a hell of a lot to do, just walk around and have a look at the bazaars and things. But I mainly went to the beach,

04:29:00:00

took my swimmers and went out there. There was a couple of guys would go.
Who were you with at the time?
There was another electrician, his name was Rufus, and he was the main bloke, he came from Queensland, that I used to go swimming with. But it was

04:29:30:00

quite a good beach.
Did he have a nickname, this bloke?
No, only Ruf.
What was your nickname in the squadron?
I didn’t have one. They called you “Sparks” or called your right name,

04:30:00:00

but that would be the only thing I had.
What other things did you do when you were in Alex on leave in the 451?
Well, the Fleet Club was the popular place for all servicemen. I mean, you’d get decent food. It was quite interesting

04:30:30:00

in the club there. But one time I struck a guy that I’d played football with, he was a junior off the Perth and they were in Alex, and he took me on board to lunch. And they’d just come from Crete and they’d got a bomb down the galley, so it was knocked about a bit.

04:31:00:00

There wasn’t a hell of a lot to do on leave, really. I mean, there weren’t picture theatres as far as I know; I never, ever went to a picture theatre. Anything we had like that came to the squadron. There was a group and they were entertaining troops and we only had that at Syria.

04:31:30:00

We were in barracks and we were being refitted. But not a lot of leave, it just seemed to be... We had a bit of leave at Palestine, and Tel Aviv was a good beach and good cafes and things like that, and you could slip over to

04:32:00:00

Jerusalem, Haifa, it was quite good there.
How did the air force blokes, you blokes, get on with the navy blokes?
Well, after the Japanese come into the war there was very few navy blokes there, but navy guys were all right. There,

04:32:30:00

when we first got over there, was quite a few Australian ships and any Australian, whether it be air force, army or navy, would, you know, make friends or get together pretty easily. If you’d get someone to take you back on a ship they really lived well

04:33:00:00

in food and stuff like that. It was a good feeling, any Australian over there, army, air force or navy.
Can you tell us a story about the times you went from the Fleet Club?
Well, while we were down near Alex we went there a lot, I forget whether

04:33:30:00

they had snooker tables there or not, I can’t remember, but all I can remember now is sitting out under the umbrellas like a big garden or yard and having a few drinks, yakking, meeting some other 450s guys, things like that. There wasn’t

04:34:00:00

a lot to do on leave unless you wanted to look at the bazaars which were interesting the first time but that was it, you know, seen them once you’ve seen them all.
Did time weigh heavily on you?
Yes. Yes, it did a lot, on occasions. See, if you were off you might be the only bloke left in the tent

04:34:30:00

while the other blokes are working. But we struck a lot of that time. We did have a bit of a stint there with a cricket team, we played the Poms [British] which was interesting, and also a football team, we played the Poms. That was in between the first push and before they went to El Alamein.

04:35:00:00

Can you tell us about who organised the cricket competition and what you did?
It was one of the NCOs [non commissioned officers], I don’t know who organised it now, but we trained and everything for it, football. On the football, the football boots I had were a bit small and I done both my big toenails

04:35:30:00

in. My God, did I go through some hurry-up with them for a few weeks after. The cricket was a rough old pitch but it was all right, we beat the Poms at that.
Can you remember the score?
No, I can’t. I know I opened and I got 50, which is the highest score I ever had.

04:36:00:00

Where was that match played?
It was when I was with 454, played at another ground, wasn’t at our landing ground, was one of the others. I think it might have been closer to the coast, can’t remember. Got a photo of that football team in that album

04:36:30:00

somewhere.
Who was your best mate at the time there?
Well, I had about three or four that I considered really good mates. I think they’re all dead now, they were three transport drivers.

04:37:00:00

And I had another good mate, he was a Spitfire pilot, but I don’t know the full story. He was in England and for some reason he lost his nerve and he just didn’t want to fly any more, and they sent him out to the Middle East on the lowest rank.

04:37:30:00

But he was a good bloke, Queenslander.
What was his name?
Ken Kennedy, I’ll never forget it.
What did you and Ken get up to?
Nothing, but he was good company, you know, like conversation. He was one of those guys that could talk and talk and talk and keep you interested. And

04:38:00:00

he came in our tent, he finished up coming in there and kept everyone busy listening to his tales. He didn’t talk much about him, though, mainly home and things like that.
What was his job?
Well he finished up an AGH, that’s an aircraft hand general,

04:38:30:00

just had to do any job that was going around the squadron. See, he wasn’t a tradesman, that was his mustering after they dropped him down.
What happened to him, do you know? Why did they drop him down?
’Cause he wouldn’t fly. He was a Spitfire pilot in England.

04:39:00:00

Lost his nerve. I suppose there were a few of them like that.
Yeah.
He was the only one I knew.
Yeah, there was quite a few, I think. It’s a hard game.
It is, bad business in England. As I say, he was quite a nice bloke, nice bloke. He didn’t talk about it, naturally,

04:39:30:00

and I didn’t press him for any answers. He just joined the squadron, he was posted and being an Australian, but why they posted him out to the desert I don’t know. Might be a little bit of payback or something.
Did all you blokes stay together right through your time over there?
Yeah.

04:40:00:00

Even if we’re on landing ground you were running into the guys all the time at mess or walking round the strip, going to planes or trucks.
Did you get to know any pilots at all?
Not really well, no. Knew their names

04:40:30:00

and everything over there but didn’t get into much conversation with them.
Did you have specific aircraft assigned to you or did you just work on whatever aircraft?
No, the sergeant delegated tradesmen or aircraftsmen to a job that day or that hour. He was in charge. You just didn’t float

04:41:00:00

around checking aircraft, you know, he’d give you an aircraft number to either just do a general check or, if there were any complaints about some part of it, to repair it.
Interviewee: Eric Gover Archive ID 0448 Tape 05

05:00:30:00

Did you have specific leave where you’d all go off together with your mates?
Not the whole squadron.
No, just your close friends.
Oh yeah, yes. Usually you tried to organise it with one of your closer mates or

05:01:00:00

that. As I say, we didn’t get a hell of a lot of leave. We did in Syria because we weren’t in action, there was little flying done. But any of the others,

05:01:30:00

I personally, and a lot of others, didn’t want to go to Alex or Cairo or any of those places ’cause there wasn’t much to do when you got there.
What was the most difficult thing living in the desert there?
Well, it was pretty harsh conditions,

05:02:00:00

the heat, a lot of dust storms, flies and rodents running around, they’d run into your tent and everything. But the heat and the flies I suppose were the worst. Dust storms, camp scenes, as they called them.
Can you tell us about one of those?

05:02:30:00

You wouldn’t go out in one or get away from the landing strip because you couldn’t find your way back again. And they were terrible, very, very. Worse than a fog, really. Everything

05:03:00:00

you have, you eat, on your things, your cups, your plates, all get sand on it whether they’re in the marquee or not. It was all in the outside, the airstrip or the landing ground, the cookhouse, everything, ended up with...

05:03:30:00

Just ate outside, no tables or chairs. Nearly all bully beef prepared in a dozen different ways.
How many different ways can you prepare bully beef?
Well, those cooks find it out, curried,

05:04:00:00

boiled, most of it was just curried bully beef. Got a few eggs occasionally, they were all hard-boiled, whether you liked them or not. Tea or (UNCLEAR) as it’s called. No desserts. All pretty plain,

05:04:30:00

biscuits and bully beef mainly. Only had one lot of bread when we were in the desert and it was when we got into Tobruk, actually, at night, and we got it in the morning. There was more weevils in it than you’ve seen anywhere. Terrible. We thought it was beautiful.

05:05:00:00

That’s the only bread we got while we were in the desert. It was all biscuits.
Can you describe seeing the first dust storm coming toward you?
Well,

05:05:30:00

sometimes we were warned, you know, that there’d be one coming up, but after a while - they’d come at different times, any time - and you wouldn’t take much notice, but the first time was a real experience. You know, they go all day and all night. You’d think whether the damn thing would ever stop.

05:06:00:00

But they were very unpleasant. Everywhere you felt dirty, food was always dirty, everything, because you were limited in your washing facilities in the desert unless you were close to the coast where you’d have a swim in the Med [Mediterranean Sea].
What did the dust storms sound like?

05:06:30:00

Just like an ordinary wind here, not like a strong wind. I suppose you could liken it to a southerly. Didn’t need a real strong wind to whip up a bit of dust. I mean, parts of the desert it’s not sand, it’s barren

05:07:00:00

soil, rocks and stuff.
Can you tell us why you moved from 451 to 454 Squadron?
I can’t tell you why. I can tell you why I moved but I can’t tell you for what reason. The only reason, they don’t tell you anything,

05:07:30:00

I just got a posting which they gave me that I was to go to 454. But it was a new squadron being formed and a lot of transport drivers went, I think my sergeant went and myself

05:08:00:00

and Rufus, three electricians went. And I don’t know, but I suppose 451 was reinforced with RAF [Royal Air Force], the odd South African went in there. That’s the only reason, I’d say, ’4 being a new squadron.

05:08:30:00

They had to take them from 450, 451, ’3 Squadron, mainly but from 451 they took them.
How did you find 454 when you first went there?
Like going to any new unit,

05:09:00:00

a lot of [blokes] you’ve got to make friends with again and you miss the old blokes. But turned out very good because over the few weeks when we were posted I suppose a good 30 per cent came from 451, a lot of the transport drivers

05:09:30:00

came from 451, the sergeant in charge of the transport was 451 and his corporal. If I had had a preference I would rather have stayed at 451, but settled into 454

05:10:00:00

all right. They were further up into the desert than 451. Different aircraft. I didn’t mind the aircraft, one’s the same as the other to work on, really.
What sort of aircraft were they?
They were Baltimores, 454.
Would have been quite a bit more work, they’re a twin-engine plane. Can you tell us a bit about the Baltimore?

05:10:30:00

Well, they weren’t a plane that a lot of the pilots liked. It had a very fast landing speed, two point landing, radial engine, and they had a bit of trouble with some of them, probably

05:11:00:00

electrically (UNCLEAR) for us, but lighting, like all the junction boxes and stuff were in the fuselage, they were easier to work on in that regard. More lights on them.

05:11:30:00

But they were American.
Did you ever go up in a Baltimore?
No. I wasn’t real keen to go up in any one of them.
Why’s that?
They were terribly unreliable, in my view. Or the pilots were. We had a lot of

05:12:00:00

apprentice pilots taking them over. I didn’t like them as a plane, really, a real mass-produced job. They did their job, I suppose. They were mainly for reconnaissance.

05:12:30:00

I didn’t see any bombs fitted to them. But they were quick, you know, they’d go out in the morning, go up over the Med up the Aegean Sea, Adriatic Sea and around Greece and those places.
Many losses in the squadron when you were there?
Yeah.

05:13:00:00

I wouldn’t know how many now, but we had a few losses. You don’t know whether they got shot down or whether they failed, engine failed coming home. One of them failed, he got to the coast, but... More losses there

05:13:30:00

than the Hurricanes.
Who was that one that failed to get in to the coast?
I’m not sure now, I’d have to, I think it’s written up in one of those books who it was, but I can’t remember.
Did you know any of the aircrew?
Not really personal, you know.

05:14:00:00

How did those losses affect your morale?
Not terribly. I mean, not having a really close friend in them I suppose I wasn’t terribly upset about it if they

05:14:30:00

didn’t, but it was just bad luck, you know. You’d see a lot of death over there, different ways.
What did you see of death?
When we were following the army up to El Alamein a lot of casualties. I don’t think they dug down

05:15:00:00

very far, but they had them covered up with hands sticking up, you know. It was a bit of an unsettling sight to see those guys. I only saw the one aircraft

05:15:30:00

close up that was shot down, that was in Tobruk. That was close to us, you know.
What happened there?
Well, it went straight into the ground and burst into flames. They didn’t get out, the crew.
What sort of aircraft was it?

05:16:00:00

I’m not sure whether it was one of ours or one of theirs. I was about a kilometre from them, came in, makes a hell of a noise coming down.
Can you describe that noise?
Well, I mean you hear it on the TV [television], you know, when they have pictures of planes spiralling down.

05:16:30:00

Same noise as that, a high-pitched noise. Some of them parachuted I suppose, but we didn’t see a lot come down. They’d come down where the action was.
How did these things affect you personally?

05:17:00:00

All right, I was all right. I didn’t get affected by them, I just accepted it as part of the likely events, or likely happenings. As I say, I think when you’re in a war zone

05:17:30:00

you live day by day and hope like hell. But you do get, like anything, you get used to it. What would probably be a terrifying experience to most people, when you’re amongst it all, at the time you accept it and

05:18:00:00

don’t worry as much.
What images or what events still stay with you now, 60 years later?
El Alamein, going up in that push was the most exciting of the lot of them, you know, we were more involved,

05:18:30:00

whereas the first push, I forget now the name of the commanders, but El Alamein was the main one, it was more eventful and more exciting.
Can you tell me an image of El Alamein that still stays with you

05:19:00:00

now?
All those graves, those covered graves, and the continual shelling, you know, the artillery going all day and all night. You felt you were really in it.
What were you doing at this stage when

05:19:30:00

that shelling was taking place?
Normal duties. We didn’t get any strafing or anything then, very prepared for it but we didn’t get it. We just went around our normal

05:20:00:00

jobs to do. But it was mainly at night when they did it, artillery. They did it during the day too but went all night where I was.
You were with 454 then, is that right?
Yeah, 454.
What was 454 doing?
A bit of reconnaissance and

05:20:30:00

I’m not sure whether they were doing any bombing, I can’t recall whether I saw any bombs fitted to them or not. At 454 going up we seemed to be moving more than working on the planes, rather than

05:21:00:00

that, until we got up to Benghazi, up past Benghazi, and then we had another camp. We stayed there until they invaded south of Italy and France. Not a lot happened for us either

05:21:30:00

(UNCLEAR), they didn’t have the planes and equipment, that’s why they got off Africa. And so we had a very quiet time for a month or two there till we went down to Alex and went to Italy.
Can you tell us

05:22:00:00

what it was like in a front line camp during that campaign?
Well, we weren’t actually at the front lines, see. We didn’t hear any small air fire or rifles or guns, it was only artillery that we heard or involved with. But it’s

05:22:30:00

just that no light’s to be shown or anything at night anywhere because they had squads out, the Germans, and they could come into the squadron and knock half of you off, you know, during the night. So it was just normal,

05:23:00:00

go about work with the planes, and if you were working at night you worked and if you didn’t you slept.
What were your conditions like? After you finished work what do you come back to in an evening?
Well, sometimes you could have a wash, some sort of a shower, and

05:23:30:00

have your meal and go and lay down. Nothing else to do, just talk to the blokes in the tent.
What made you happy?
When I got my posting home.
Were you happy at all when you were out there in the desert?
Not very.
What made you sad?

05:24:00:00

It was the lack of information, what was going on, you know, as far as the invasion in England was concerned, because we knew we’d be there until they invaded and I couldn’t see any hope in the future of us going home for years. And

05:24:30:00

that’s the only thing, if you sat there and thought about it you’d think, “What a hell of a place to be caught at.” And at the end, once they got Africa, we weren’t doing a hell of a lot, we were just sitting out there in the blasted desert.
What’s the desert like?
It’s all rocks and barren,

05:25:00:00

just no trees or grass or anything like that, it’s exactly a desert.
How does that affect you, if you’re out there without much to do?
We didn’t do much, I suppose, except... As I say,

05:25:30:00

we didn’t have anything to do, there wasn’t much to do. You went back to your tent because the other blokes would be working, weren’t all off together. Very uninteresting and frustrating.
Did you write many letters home, or how did you get news from home?

05:26:00:00

I wrote a lot of letters home. “I’d do so much one day and whatever happened the next day,” sort of thing. But wife says most of them were cut to pieces. I wasn’t terribly careful in what I was saying, apparently. You didn’t get letters regularly

05:26:30:00

because we were moving about and they might be a month old when you got them, you know, the mail. But I got a couple of good parcels, fruitcakes and things that you never see over there.
What were in the parcels?
Fruitcakes and biscuits and

05:27:00:00

things, all edible stuff.
Did you share those with your mates?
Oh yeah, you’d have to. They’d take it anyway when you weren’t there. Everybody shared in that tent.
How many people were in your tent?
Well, the biggest was four, most. Usually

05:27:30:00

it was a bivouac with one or two. When you’re on the move you just take a trench big enough for you to get down below the surface and just put the bivouac over, which is pretty confined quarters.

05:28:00:00

How were you showering?
If we’re near the coast we go into the Mediterranean, into the sea. One time up in 454 we were pretty close to where the water tankers

05:28:30:00

could go and get the water, I don’t know where they got it from but they got it and come back, and they filled up a 44-gallon drum and I rigged up a pump out of the workshop and took a battery down and pump and made a shower head and had a shower that way. That was one of the interesting

05:29:00:00

things we had, but we weren’t there long enough to enjoy it. You could get enough water sometimes to have a bucketful for a stand-up shower or a wash. Not a lot to waste.
How much did you have?
Terrible water, worst

05:29:30:00

water I’ve had in my life.
What was bad about the water?
Well, it was full of chemicals, I suppose. It had, it was always a dirty colour, nothing crystal clear or anything like that. Mainly just water

05:30:00:00

bag, water bottle full.
What did it taste like?
Oh terrible, terrible. I can’t describe the taste but it was just awful. It wasn’t bad in the tea if you made a cup of tea. But the tea they made, it was a big boiler and it had milk and sugar

05:30:30:00

in it whether you wanted it or not. It wasn’t a nice-tasting tea, but you drank it to get the liquid.
It wasn’t your cup of billy tea that you would have at home?
You can rest assured. We didn’t get that until we got home.
Did that water affect your health in any way?
There were a lot of stomach upsets and things all the time.

05:31:00:00

I put it down to flies, millions of flies there. And of course the cooks probably got terribly careless over the time and they didn’t worry about it. Their hardest job was opening the tins of bully beef, I suppose, and throwing them in with the bag of curry. But I tell you what, it tasted all right.

05:31:30:00

If you’re hungry enough, I suppose.
When you’re young.
Did you ever get sick at all?
Yes, I had, I was in AGH hospital twice with what they called “sandfly fever” over there but they’d never heard of it here, it’s a sort of rheumatic fever.

05:32:00:00

I had malaria bad, I didn’t think I was going to get out of it, actually. I couldn’t take the quinine, all I did was vomit. And I had another bad thing, they call it

05:32:30:00

renal colic. Some fragments in the kidneys and the things, oh geez. I came from Benghazi down in the back of a truck and went to the Greek hospital in Alexandria. But I got over them all, fortunately. Plenty of

05:33:00:00

stomach upsets, diarrhoea and stuff.
Which was the one that affected you the most?
Oh, the malaria. Course we didn’t have a genuine doctor with us in the squadron and, when I got it, the medico, the medical orderly or something, I was in the tent, I forget what they were giving me,

05:33:30:00

but I got that sick and such a temperature that they had to bung me in, there was a British hospital in Benghazi. I went to there and they treated me with this thing, but as soon as I took it I’d bring it all up again. Oh geez, terrible.
How did you get malaria in the desert? It’s normally associated with tropical.

05:34:00:00

Well, I got it at Syria, they said, and by the time I got up to thing it came out. Course, Syria was renowned for, we had mosquito nets and mosquito gear, everything to try and avoid it. That’s what they reckon, anyway, that’s where I got it.

05:34:30:00

What about your state of mental health at this stage out in the desert?
Well, under the circumstances, I enjoyed pretty good health, really. I wasn’t sick until I got up into Syria and Palestine, those places, that’s where I got the fevers. And we had one

05:35:00:00

guy died with meningitis. Quite a few got a lot of sickness up there. In the desert it was mainly stomach upsets. Might have been the water.
How were you coping with your absences from your loved ones, especially your wife?

05:35:30:00

Something you just had to put with, I suppose, there was nothing... A few guys used to, when they got any leave. they’d run into the brothel, but not for me. They were, what you’d hear about them, no good. I just put up with it, I suppose,

05:36:00:00

just accepted it.
How was your wife coping?
Well, she didn’t, when she used to write to me she was always unhappy, you know, ’cause she didn’t know where we were, what we were doing or anything, didn’t even know if I was in Syria or Libya or where.

05:36:30:00

And letters, they probably cut it all out if I told them, but she worked, she was pretty good, I think.
Interviewee: Eric Gover Archive ID 0448 Tape 06

06:00:30:00

Can you just go through for me in a quick sort of timeline your experiences with these squadrons in the Middle East? When you arrived you were with 451.
Yes.
Can you tell me the places you served with 451?
I would have to look at it in that book.
We can look it up later, if you like.
Yeah, in the front of that

06:01:00:00

book it’s got the squadron and the different landing grounds. I was just reading, that landing ground when we went from Aboukir out, I think it was 01. I was LG90 but it wasn’t...
So you were in Egypt, though.
Yes, Egypt.
And then in Palestine?
Went from Egypt to

06:01:30:00

Syria.
Syria, okay. Egypt and Syria.
Egypt to Syria, from Syria to Palestine.
And then after that, just before Alamein, you were posted to 454 and you were off in the desert?
Mm.
How long after you started with 451 did they become equipped with the Hurricane?

06:02:00:00

Well they had Hurricanes when I left, I think. Yes, they had Hurricanes when I left. They weren’t operational but they flew a Tempest or a Typhoon out, which was like a larger, bigger, faster Hurricane to see if they were suitable for the

06:02:30:00

desert, I think. But that’s just about when I left so I don’t know whether they, 451 used them or were equipped with them at all.
So during your time with 451 you were mainly working with Lysanders?
Oh Lysanders and Hurricane.
And what was the role that those aeroplanes were playing in supporting the army?
Well, they were doing fighter action,

06:03:00:00

like just supporting the army, just a bit of air cover.
Did they have the ability to drop bombs or just strafe?
No, not while I was there. It was strictly reconnaissance really while I was with them. They got into an operational fighter squadron after I left. That was when, before

06:03:30:00

El Alamein.
So during your year, about a year, with 451 before you moved to 454, is that roughly….?
I think it’d be longer than that.
18 months maybe, two years? During that time you would be working on various Lysanders and Hurricanes.
Lysanders and Hurricanes and the mode of transport,

06:04:00:00

the trucks.
Can you tell me about the trucks? We haven’t talked about them, what did you do on the trucks?
I did a lot of electrical units maintenance on them. As far as I was concerned they had more problems than the aircraft.
And what sort of problems would they have?
Well, you know, with charging systems, starting, lighting.

06:04:30:00

They were all very restricted lighting, they had to operate according to rules.
How much lighting would they have to work with?
Well< they didn’t do a lot of night work but with vibration et cetera it just damaged the filaments, and cracked

06:05:00:00

wire stress, break a few wires, and there were repairs like that. Nothing major because they were new trucks when we got them.
Can you describe the trucks you were using and what they were used for?
Fords.
Ford? What sort of Fords were they?
I’d say they’d be one ton Fords. Little.

06:05:30:00

I had a little Ford ute [utility] but it was V8 engine et cetera, it was one I reclaimed myself, an abandoned Ford. During the push someone, one army unit, left it there. I got it going and the transport

06:06:00:00

CO [Commanding Officer] allowed me to keep it. And I used to follow the squadron up last in case any of them broke down.
So you had your own transport, just for yourself?
Yeah, with 454.
So you kept this truck when you moved squadrons as well? How did you get it from one squadron to another? It was a fair distance away, was it? Did you drive?
No, it was left

06:06:30:00

in the desert by an army unit, couldn’t get it going or something, but I got it mobile and repaired what had to be repaired and used it for going from hangar to the DMT [Driver Motor Transport] units until

06:07:00:00

we went to Italy, then I left it.
Were you particularly attached to this truck that you worked so hard on?
Yeah, terrific little runabout. Like it’s a pretty powerful V8 with good desert tyres on it et cetera. It was very good, as far was I was concerned, anyway.
Did you

06:07:30:00

get to take the truck when you went away from the squadron on leave or on personal...?
No, I didn’t take it away from the desert actually, I just drove around the different units or where I had to go in the squadron. And if we moved I drove her then, like when we went from

06:08:00:00

LG90 or whatever it was up to LG1 to 31, well, I’d drive it and throw my gear on. I’d have one or two blokes with me.
Did you give that truck a name?
Yeah, it was a “short-arsed Ford”.
Why was it “short-arsed”?
Because it was only a little short back, you know, it was the only one like it. I didn’t see any one like it anywhere else.

06:08:30:00

But it was a short tray and I don’t know what it was originally used for.
Were the other Fords you were using similar but with larger trays?
Larger bodies and they had panelling on the side, because when we moved or if they went

06:09:00:00

to a town there’d be quite a lot of guys in the back, nobody fell out.
Can you describe what happened when the whole squadron was asked to move from one field to another?
Yeah. Well, you’d pack up, take everything up, throw it in whatever truck you were assigned to or wanted to go and then the

06:09:30:00

convoy would move off. You’d go off in a convoy, in line the whole lot of them unless they broke it up, the squadron, which they did once we went in the El Alamein push, we were broken up into three detachments.

06:10:00:00

Like that was the only time, but then we all came together again up near Benghazi.
Why did they break you up into three detachments then?
Well, the army was moving so fast and they take up some landing ground that was available.

06:10:30:00

Course they’d be used by both countries, the old Rommel and Montgomery. They’d abandon them, you see, go. Cause was the army moved pretty fast once they got them on the run.
How fast did your squadron move during that push? Were you a fair way behind the army, did you move with them? Can you explain

06:11:00:00

to me exactly how that worked?
The actual infantry we never really knew how far ahead they were, we’d just get the orders to say we’re departing so-and-so at 0800 hours and our destination is so-and-so. But we’d always remain a fair way behind the army.

06:11:30:00

Or the infantry, anyway. Some of the heavier stuff we’d move up with.
About how long would you stay in one place for?
When we first got over there, or the first push as they call it, and we went up to Libya we were on the move all the time.

06:12:00:00

And we came back because, as I said, lines of communication, Montgomery had to come back to Alexandria or around Tobruk or Derna or somewhere like that, and we went to landing ground, we were there until the next push. But we could be there for months.

06:12:30:00

And when I first went to 454, well, we were there for quite a few months before we went up with the El Alamein show.
During that El Alamein show were you on the move all the time?
Yep, just about.

06:13:00:00

How did rendezvousing the aeroplanes, because obviously the planes had to fly on before you, how did that work?
They’d give them “Use landing strip so-and-so,” but Rommel had abandoned it and we’d follow up. They’d use it because there was usually plenty of fuel

06:13:30:00

around on all the strips, and even I don’t know how they got fuel before we got there, but they could have got it off the army or anywhere.
How much equipment did you have to carry with you and how much was at these strips?
Not much. Only enough.

06:14:00:00

The equipment I carried, apart from the .303 [rifle] and the helmet, I could fit in my blue bag.
Did you have to carry any specialised equipment for you job as an electrician?
No. If I wanted any I got it off the transport

06:14:30:00

depot where they, the sergeant’s tent, they carried it all there.
You were working fairly closely with the transport?
I did eventually. The sergeant, I knew him pretty well because he came from

06:15:00:00

451 to 454, he and the corporal, and I did a few jobs for them in 451 of course. And I got a feeling it was his request that I got to 454 because, well, I was an auto electrician originally and probably helped him a lot more than the average blokes, the average electricians.

06:15:30:00

There wasn’t many of them had served their time; what they learned about electrical work was when they joined the air force.
How did the chain of command work, then? Was this sergeant your commanding officer or did you have a different commanding officer (UNCLEAR)?
Didn’t have a commanding officer, only had a sergeant.
Sorry, when I say “officer”, I mean person in charge.

06:16:00:00

Of that section, of electricians, a bloke by the name of Unsworth. He was with the permanent air force. He came over with us and he was still a sergeant when we left. I think there was a corporal but I wouldn’t know. A lot of times they didn’t have a shirt on, you know, and there was no stripes or

06:16:30:00

things. But that’s, in different sections there was instrument makers and things, they’d have sergeants. There was only the CO of the squadron, he was CO of the aircraft and the squadron, and then there was an adjutant

06:17:00:00

and warrant officer, they were the chiefs of the squadron, but all the other departments or units had sergeants, not officers.
How many departments were there? There was the transport section...
Well, there was,

06:17:30:00

in the squadron there’d be about ten or 15 if I could think of them, like aircraft fitters, instrument makers, armourers, photographers, elec fitters, lots of AHG, that’s the aircraft hand generals,

06:18:00:00

transport drivers. It was broken into quite a few various sections, but they had enough to keep a squadron mobile.
Where did you fit into those sections? Did you work with all of them?
No, only the

06:18:30:00

aircraft and the transport. I did do a stint with the lighting. We were, I forget where we were, we got a lighting outfit and the tents went, the cookhouse and the Cos, and that 240-volt, well, I helped them with the wiring

06:19:00:00

of that. That’s the only time I got away from the aircraft and mode of transport, it was just to help them. A couple of the other electricians did it as well.
How many electricians were there in each squadron?
We went away with, counting the sergeant and corporal, there was only about seven in the

06:19:30:00

squadron.
And in a day or night when the squadron was in action, how many aircraft would you personally have to service?
Well, that depended on the amount of service they needed. We’d only service them generally,

06:20:00:00

like the same as you do with your car, you send in for a 10,000 [-mile or -kilometre service] or so. Well it was all hours with aircraft. We’d do them, but if someone came in with a faulty light or faulty starter, alternator, generator, well, we’d have to do that straight away.
In 451 squadron, what common problems did the Lysanders and Hurricanes come in with electrically?

06:20:30:00

To be honest they didn’t have a lot of problems but, mind you, they weren’t doing a lot of hours when we were first there. 451 squadron was a, what do they call it,

06:21:00:00

I don’t know whether they called it a reconnaissance squadron or…. That’s what they did anyway, reconnaissance all the time, but I think there was another name for it but I can’t think of it offhand.
Army support or something?
Well, that’s what it was doing, supporting the army or giving general information

06:21:30:00

to the commanders of the army. You know, they’d get up ahead and see only troops and things and where they were, army co-operations was what I was thinking of.
What role did the photographers play in that reconnaissance work?
I suppose the camera’s on the aircraft, I really don’t know except Lorrie Legahy

06:22:00:00

who used to come around and take photos of the blokes on the planes and things, he was the only official photographer I saw. But I think they had to maintain any cameras that were on the aircraft.
Did you have anything to do with Lorrie Legahy?
Yeah, he took me working on a

06:22:30:00

Hurricane in, I forget which station, but it was in a hangar. I just happened to be there and he asked me to take it, it was an official photo. What happened to it, I think I’ve got a copy of it, he gave me a copy of it.
You had your own camera at this time. Can you tell us a bit about that?
It was a box camera, you mightn’t know

06:23:00:00

them, I don’t think they’ve been around for 50 years. But it took photos all right, there were a hell of a lot of better cameras around than that but I decided to take that. I don’t know whether I decided to take it or whether I bought it over there. But that’s the only camera I had.
Did you take many photographs

06:23:30:00

in the squadron?
Yes, but not as many as a couple of guys in there. They gave me some and I gave them some of mine and we’d swap them, but they had better cameras. A lot of guys were really keen photographers and I couldn’t claim that I was.
What were the rules governing

06:24:00:00

photography or diaries?
It was mainly left to your own discretion. I don’t recall any restraints on what you took, but there was no point putting them in an envelope and posting

06:24:30:00

them because they were all censored. If it was in any way giving information out they’d be cut up. If you sent a photo of yourself, even with a desert background, it’d be all right, but anything pertaining to the war or likely to give information of position

06:25:00:00

et cetera, they’d be confiscated.
Did all your photographs like that get confiscated?
Well, at this stage and when I came home I don’t know whether the wife received all of them or not, but I didn’t send any that would be incriminating.

06:25:30:00

I carried them with me mainly, and I wasn’t asked to disclose any of them at any stage.
When you travelled on troop ship or troop train were there officers that looked out for this kind of thing?
No, nobody. I was never, even when we came home (UNCLEAR), there was no customs officers

06:26:00:00

that searched our kit bags or anything like that.
You mentioned the Lysanders and Hurricanes weren’t in overuse and didn’t have too many electrical problems; what about the Baltimores when you moved to 454 squadron? What sort of common problems would they come in with?
They were new planes when we got them and the main trouble

06:26:30:00

was with the charging equipment like the alternator, generator and voltage regulator which had to be looked after and set correctly or otherwise it would overcharge or undercharge. Apart from the odd few lights to need replacing,

06:27:00:00

they were only globes. And of course any motors that was fitted on, little motors, they had to be maintained.
If, for example, your alternator in your car blows. your electrics just die, if that happened in an aeroplane would that...?
They don’t actually die if it goes because

06:27:30:00

you’ve got a battery pack which is an auxiliary power source. When your engine’s going your alternator’s carrying the whole load, whether it’s lights, gun motors or what, and there’s a limited time of course that they can be used by the battery because they’re not a huge battery in an aircraft, and they were nickel lined compared -

06:28:00:00

a very good battery, but not as much capacity as the lead acid that are in automotive stuff. They’d carry it, they’d do all the necessaries to get them back.
Was there anything on board in relation to the electrics that could send the plane down if it failed?
Not really.

06:28:30:00

See, I think in those days, I’m trying to think, I can’t recall, ailerons and tails were all worked by cable, but it was mainly starting lighting and

06:29:00:00

ignition. Then they had a dual ignition, it was a magneto but it could be switched over to battery.
What was the emergency lighting set-up if your lighting went?
I’ve got to be honest, I forget whether it was

06:29:30:00

circuit breaker or fuses, I think it was fuses.
And how did that work?
Well, if anything shorted out to the fuselage or within it (UNCLEAR), it would blow a fuse, same as a home fuse or your car fuse. But a circuit breaker would ope and close all the time.

06:30:00:00

When you were dealing with the Baltimores you mentioned you had to get inside the fuselage?
Inside.
Yeah. Can you describe the plane for us a little bit and how you accessed the parts you were dealing with?
I forget how we got in, whether we got in behind the

06:30:30:00

pilot’s seat or whether we got in through a little door, but it was just an empty fuselage, there was the struts and whatnots and the regulator and junction boxes et cetera on the left hand side of the plane.
To someone who’s never seen a Baltimore, it’s a little bit of a strange looking aircraft, isn’t it? Can you describe what a Baltimore looks like from tail to nose?

06:31:00:00

Mm. There’s not too many planes like it really, maybe a Lincoln job. I’m trying to think whether it was a two point landing, no front nose wheel, two point landing which made them more difficult to land.

06:31:30:00

They had to come in at a fair pace, see, with landing like that. Maybe a Lincoln job, I can’t compare them with anything really. Of course we didn’t, see, it wasn’t as if we had different planes in our squadron and other squadrons, that’s all we had.

06:32:00:00

I was only familiar with Baltimores, Lysanders and Hurricanes. Even Spits, I didn’t get to work on Spits, Typhoons. Saw them but I didn’t get to work on them because we didn’t have them in the squadron, only being in the two squadrons that was restricted to Baltimores, Lysanders and Hurricanes.
If you’d been working

06:32:30:00

on one plane for a while, Lysander or a Hurricane, and you were suddenly moved to another squadron with a different aeroplane, how long did it take you to get used to the differences?
Not long at all. See, the equipment is all manufactured by very few manufacturers and they’re all reasonably

06:33:00:00

similar, like whether it be ignition, lighting, starting. Not long at all.
The Hurricane was a British, English aircraft and the Baltimore was an American: can you comment on any of the differences between the British and the American equipment?
Well,

06:33:30:00

apart from, it’s pretty similar actually. The starters, generators or alternators, lighting, all pretty similar. One was CAV [brand] or Lucas, English; the

06:34:00:00

American was Delco or Portalight and little bit different in the designs but internally much the same design.
Much the same quality of workmanship?
They are really, but

06:34:30:00

if I had to have a preference I would have gone for the English stuff at the time.
What was your chain of supply? If you needed a spare part for one of these aeroplanes how would you get it and where would it come from?
While we were in the desert I’d just tell the sergeant I needed so-and-so and if he didn’t have it

06:35:00:00

he’d have to bring it from Cairo which meant a day or two.
Were there occasions where that part never turned up, where you were looking for something you needed and you couldn’t get hold of it?
No, I didn’t have any hold-ups for any length of time, they were always readily available at Cairo, had a good stock of parts,

06:35:30:00

spare parts.
You mentioned earlier that there was a textbook attitude that maybe your sergeant had towards replacing and fixing parts; did you have that written down, or how was that communicated to you?
I mean by his

06:36:00:00

decisions and method of repair and work and approach to these things, I mean entirely different, and in my view you couldn’t compare them, like a permanent air force man to a

06:36:30:00

like a fitter with some firm. They’d take twice as long to do the job and slow workers and things like that. See, they’re not working to a timetable normally or costing out things. There’s no comparison, in my view.
How then did you see yourself?

06:37:00:00

Were you a tradesman first or an aircraftsman or an air force man first?
Was tradesman first.
Did that affect you relationship with people from the air force?
It did affect me a little bit with the sergeant. I found him not terribly friendly, probably because

06:37:30:00

I went about doing jobs on aircraft probably a little quicker or a little different than he did. If you don’t adhere to their methods and things they get a little bit offside.
Did you have any recourse for complaint if you were having trouble with the sergeant?

06:38:00:00

Not that I know of, no. No, I don’t think so.
Did you ever get given orders that you didn’t follow?
I mightn’t have been given orders I didn’t follow, but sometimes I wouldn’t report what I’d done

06:38:30:00

because I knew that they’d severely object to it. But I was quite happy to know that whatever I did would be reliable.
Is there any difference in the way in which you’d work as a civilian auto electrician and one in the air force?
Lots. Lots.

06:39:00:00

Lots of difference. As I say, if there’s two ways of doing it, a long way and a short way, they’d take the long way and it’s like repairing something out of a book all the time the way they do it. Whereas ordinary tradesmen

06:39:30:00

would knock it to pieces and fix it up in a fraction of the time.
The scale of consequence, though, if you get the job wrong is a lot greater in the air force, is it not? Should you not be more careful with your work?
Well a lot of stuff, you know, you don’t have to be careful with it; it’s just knowledge, what part that plays in the operation of the unit.

06:40:00:00

I mean, some units you can do anything to them and they’d be 100 per cent reliable, but other parts are terribly important and they demand a little extra care. But that’s where they weren’t flexible enough, just in my view, that’s what I found

06:40:30:00

out. But I only had the one disagreement on a repair and I didn’t try it any more, I could see that I wouldn’t win.
Interviewee: Eric Gover Archive ID 0448 Tape 07

07:00:31:00

Do you remember where you were when you got the news that Japan had entered the war?
I think we were at that first landing ground after Aboukir.
What was the reaction in an Australian air force squadron to hearing this news?
There was a lot of general discussion about it and

07:01:00:00

I felt a bit sad about it because I wrote to my mate who was in Singapore and his reply was, and I didn’t get that until it was just about over in that area, you know, that he said there was nothing to do and he wished he was in the Middle East where there was plenty of action. Of course, they got the action.

07:01:30:00

You mentioned before that it changed people’s attitudes, they wanted to go home.
They wanted to come home. Well, a lot of them were really determined to try and get home but there were probably a lot of requests made to the CO et cetera, but

07:02:00:00

it was never granted or possible. There was a lot of unhappiness caused because of that, particularly when there wasn’t any action in the desert. See, we only had the two actions in the desert, the two pushes, and the last one, El Alamein, finished it. But definitely caused a

07:02:30:00

little bit of distress to a lot of them, they wanted to get back home.
Did it change your view of the war, personally?
Not really. I think I understood that there was no point in sending one guy back or half a dozen;

07:03:00:00

you’d have to send the whole squadron and that was going to probably, face the facts, was going to upset their procedure in the desert. And by the time we’d got home, see, it took us six weeks to get home, when there were no subs or that in the Indian Ocean.

07:03:30:00

Although they put on a few complaints and acts about it they just accepted it, eventually, realised it was impossible.
What fears did you have, if any, for the people at home?
Well I personally felt that

07:04:00:00

there was cause for a lot of alarm, the Japanese had moved down so quickly and I just thought, well, I knew Australia couldn’t defend itself, not against the hordes of Japanese, but we weren’t aware of the American aid that came in. And it did worry me a lot, and a lot of others of course.

07:04:30:00

How did you deal with that worry, being so far from home?
You just had to worry on your own, sort of thing. Discuss it, a lot of discussions went on in the tents after we’d finished work.

07:05:00:00

Of course, we didn’t get any information either. There wasn’t much contained in the letters we got.
What did you know about the Japanese?
Nothing much, really. All I knew is they had numbers, and we heard about

07:05:30:00

Pearl Harbour, of course. In my own view I thought, “There’s going to be a lot of trouble,” and I couldn’t see them stopping the Japanese before they got onto Australia. But I wasn’t aware the Americans would have such strength to

07:06:00:00

send over there. I mean, Australia’s a long, way away from them but apparently they moved quickly and they improved their planes, of course. Americans improved the Kittyhawk and their big bombers. They had a number of different planes for different jobs.

07:06:30:00

They had their quantities and they turned them out like snags [sausages], I think.
Apart from using American planes in 454 Squadron, did you have any contact with the Americans?
No, they landed on the western coast of Africa and we never got past Libya.
Same question about the Japanese about your own

07:07:00:00

opponents, the Germans: what did you know about the Germans?
Not much. Not much. The first contact with them, the “Axis”, as we called them, were the Italians because a lot of them were taken prisoner and things. (UNCLEAR) Italians

07:07:30:00

or Germans would reach our squadrons. Any of the prisoners would be whisked away without our knowledge.
Did you know much about their hardware, about the planes they were flying and the equipment they had?
Well, we knew that it was superior to ours in the Desert Air Force, but when they

07:08:00:00

put them off Africa, of course, the air force improved in the Desert Air Force. Prior to three months before we got out, it would be three months before El Alamein, you started to see a lot of bombers

07:08:30:00

go up from Egypt, like from Cairo rather or Heliopolis or Aboukir or somewhere like that. There’d be big formations going up which we hadn’t seen until that time.
Was there ever a real possibility in your minds that you might not prevail, you might not

07:09:00:00

win those battles?
No. I felt very confident because I felt there was too much support for the British Army or the Australia, New Zealand and South Africa and Indian Sikhs, and Germany

07:09:30:00

to get to Cairo or Alex their lines of communication were a long way, and of course you start having planes interfering with the supplies and petrol and other, all general supplies, they were broken up. Because that’s what defeated both the English when they got up

07:10:00:00

around there, same thing happened to them. That’s why we kept having to go up and come back.
What was the darkest hour? If you felt confident the whole time, when was the time that you were pushed to feeling a little bit doubtful?
Well, I suppose when the

07:10:30:00

first push, when we got up around Libya and we were told to pack up and go for our lives back. I thought there’d been a big failure somewhere along the line, anything could happen. But luckily they stopped them short of Alexandria.
How did you get that order?

07:11:00:00

How did you get this order to pack up and go for your lives?
Just through the sergeants.
Was it “every man for himself”? What was the order?
No, no. It was a pretty orderly evacuation. They stayed as a convoy. Wasn’t much good if you got off the road or the convoy. We had a navigator, but if in the dark

07:11:30:00

you wandered out in the desert, there was never telling when you’d get back.
Did you see any men that were particularly frightened, or possibly cowardly, at this time?
No, can’t say I did. Can’t say I saw, only that one

07:12:00:00

guy that turned it up with the Spitfires.
Which had happened before you reached your...
Yes, it did. He was in England, see. He got a few nasty remarks, mainly when they found out why he was posted to our squadron.
Was there ever any discussion in either of the squadrons you served in about LMF [Lack of Moral Fibre]?

07:12:30:00

About what?
About LMF, or lack of moral fibre?
No, everybody seemed, if we had to move up and go quickly, they all seemed keen. A few of them were a worry. There was one particular guy, he was a worrier,

07:13:00:00

he suffered with insomnia and was walking around half the time. He was the only one that I’d say was really frightened.
What would he do while walking around with insomnia?
Just around the camp. But that was dangerous too if you wandered around at night, ’cause you’d get over the hill and don’t know where you are.

07:13:30:00

How far would this bloke wander?
He wouldn’t wander far away from the camp, he never got lost. His name’s on the tip of my tongue but I can’t think of it.
Was he ground crew or aircrew?
Ground crew. Well, I know we went

07:14:00:00

down, I don’t know if you got the story but there was a big tree so many miles down and a bit of an oasis, and a few of us decided to go down and have a look at it. Well, we got there and found it, but coming back there was half a dozen guys that said to go different ways to get back.

07:14:30:00

We finally decided that we’d just travel north and we must run into something.
And what happened?
Well, we did, we run into one of the roads. Kept on it and we came to some of the units. But we were way off course.
Where were you at this stage?

07:15:00:00

It would be around the Benghazi mark, you know, we were on a strip somewhere there. We were always 20 or 30 miles down, we were never on the coast, not unless we were on the move, which we’d go up to the

07:15:30:00

coast road. That was the main road, of course.
How did you feel, lost in the desert?
I mean, it’s forwards, backwards, left or right and everything’s the same. And we didn’t have a navigator

07:16:00:00

so we just didn’t know whether our landing ground was up here or down there. And when you’re down 50 miles, say, you can be a long way out of going into unit. But, as I say, we just decided to head north before it got dark.
It was light at the time?

07:16:30:00

What does the desert look like? When you say every way’s the same, what’s in each direction?
There’s hills and what they call wadis, you know, they’re depressions, it all looks the same really. There was just one tree we saw

07:17:00:00

out of all the miles we travelled. I don’t know what sort it was, it was just an odd thing.
How does that landscape affect you, spending time in this kind of monotonous wasteland?
Well, all I can say it was very frustrating

07:17:30:00

and boring, you know. There’s no activity, no strangers or different people, it’s the same old routine all day and every day. We did have one night

07:18:00:00

where a real horde of kangaroo rats came through the squadron. They came through the tents and everything. Where the hell they came from you wouldn’t know, up there, what they’d feed on.
What’s a kangaroo rat? Is it a rat the size of a kangaroo? Can you describe it?
No, no, no. They hopped along like a kangaroo. We called them kangaroo rats, they might be called something else in the desert.

07:18:30:00

There’s plenty of mice and rats in the desert all the same.
Were there other animals that you saw?
No, only the donkeys of the Bedouins, might go past a few Bedouins, but they had donkeys, not camels, donkeys.
What was the Bedouins’ reaction to the war? Were they on anyone’s

07:19:00:00

side?
They didn’t appear to worry too much about it. And of course being so far down in the desert they wouldn’t. We always had one or two that they’d hire to do some odd jobs around the joint. But we had a tribe,

07:19:30:00

I suppose you’d call it, they’d be travelling, where I wouldn’t know. But they’d just come and go out of sight with their donkeys and them walking. A few camps we’d come to, like they’re very patched, covers on the top, that’s all.

07:20:00:00

It got very cold on the nights over there, particularly in the winter.
What kind of dealings would you have with these Bedouins? You’d hire them, who would deal with them?
I suppose the adjutant or the CO, but some of them you could buy things off them. I bought

07:20:30:00

a few eggs off them just to supplement the diet. A lot of the blokes bought eggs off them.
How did you find them when you talked to them to buy eggs?
All right. I used to know a bit of Arabic, I’ve forgotten a lot of it, not much.
Is that the only language that you’d be able to communicate

07:21:00:00

with the Bedouins with?
(UNCLEAR)

07:21:30:00

I knew quite a bit but it’s gradually going. Sometimes I get in the cabs here and I hear them on their radio and I pick up a word or two.
Sends you back to the war.
Yeah. Mm.
What other situations would you need to speak Arabic in? With the Bedouins driving by, what else?

07:22:00:00

Only the Bedouins, or if you did go to town they got a lot of blokes on trays selling trinkets and things. (UNCLEAR) which means “No, don’t worry.” Most blokes, some learned it a little more

07:22:30:00

than I did, but you couldn’t help but pick up some because the guys they hired to work, they had broken English, pretty good, I understood it.
Was it they who taught you Arabic words? How did you pick up the Arabic?
Just by asking if we were in town or

07:23:00:00

the guys around the camp, “What does that mean?” or “How do you say so-and-so?” That’s the only way.
You mentioned shopping for trinkets on leave, did you enjoy doing that?
No, in my eyes it was rubbish. I bought those photo albums, I

07:23:30:00

bought some elephants and a few things like pen and pencil and things. Not much. I felt it was wasting money. And then, the post was unreliable.

07:24:00:00

Didn’t know whether they got home or not.
Was there anything that you sent home that your wife did receive?
Well, she received those albums but I cut tin and soldered them and then put the paper around them so that they wouldn’t get damaged. They got home.

07:24:30:00

The odd photo or two, that’s all.
Was that a way of beating your censors, to solder your mail into tin?
No, it was only to stop them from being damaged.
When you went on leave, apart from shopping for trinkets and stuff, you spent a lot of time that you mentioned was very boring

07:25:00:00

in the desert. What did you seek to do when you finally got out of this boring environment?
We didn’t get much leave, really. I suppose just to get into town and have a look around, walk around again and have a look in the shops and the people. As I say, I mainly went to the Fleet Club because

07:25:30:00

the food was better. We wouldn’t go into the top hotels, I mean, I didn’t have the money at the time and the Fleet Club had food that was closer to our normal food than any Arab

07:26:00:00

restaurant. As I say, I didn’t worry about going on leave much because after you’d been there once that was it. We were only in Cairo once, twice, for a short time. We were mainly near Alexandria.

07:26:30:00

You just went in and, as I say, spent your time talking to some of the Aussie soldiers and sailors, other air force guys.
What about Palestine? You mentioned going to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv?
Yeah, well, we went to,

07:27:00:00

first thing to Gaza, used to be called Jaffa in those days. They had all the oranges (UNCLEAR). We hadn’t had an orange all the time we were over there so we all grabbed a lot of oranges. And it was more a western country, like, in Gaza, Tel Aviv and Haifa.

07:27:30:00

They were more modern towns or cities, they weren’t cities, they were towns. And then we went through there through Lebanon, Beirut mainly and across the mountains to Syria. We got in that

07:28:00:00

but that was pretty boring because we were in barracks. But we got a bit more leave if we wanted it, but there was nowhere to go but a good swimming pool in the warmer months, a place called Ablar[?]. Good pool, nobody seemed to use it, only us.
What kind of a pool was it?
There was a diving board

07:28:30:00

thing, I have a photo of it in the album. Quite a good thing. And we had the Duke of Gloucester come out and inspect the squadron at Baalbek. They were barracks (UNCLEAR) not in a very good state of repair but I think we were sleeping on the floor, straw mattresses.

07:29:00:00

But at least we were in out of the weather.
What was the weather like?
Snows pretty severely there, a bit cold.
What work was the squadron involved in, the six months you were in Baalbek?
Not much really because

07:29:30:00

we didn’t have many planes, working planes, it was just a rest, I suppose, from the desert. We’d been up there 18 months so they sent us up for a bit of a refit and a rest. And as we were going in the Australians were coming out, I think it was the

07:30:00:00

7th Divvy [Division], one of the divvies, 7th or 9th. They were going home which made a lot of blokes cranky, the army going home and we couldn’t. And they knew they were going home, too.
Did you have any chance to mix with the army blokes that were

07:30:30:00

leaving Baalbek?
No, not even in El Alamein. See, we were too far away from... Only time we saw any Australians was if we went to Alexandria and they had a camp nearby. But not

07:31:00:00

too many Australians were around at the time. See, they were up in Syria when we were in the desert and we were going to Syria as they were coming down, but they were going home. But one lot was there during El Alamein but we didn’t see much of them. They

07:31:30:00

finished and went home, they went to Java, I think.
Could you hear the artillery barrages at El Alamein?
Could we hear?
The enormous artillery barrage?
Oh yeah. As I say, on our strip we had the, we were pretty close to the coast on this occasion, and we had an artillery crowd

07:32:00:00

on the edge of our landing strip, and they went full day and night, never let up, pounding away. Don’t know whether that was (UNCLEAR); got it in the book to remember.
Was that part of the El Alamein action?
Yeah, that’s right.

07:32:30:00

I asked you a moment ago what you thought the darkest hour was. I’m just now thinking about the opposite of that. What was the, I mean, apart from getting told you were going home, what was the greatest moment or sense of victory, was there any moment you felt like...?
Once we got onto Italy and we were up northern Italy, I mean we weren’t far from the German border,

07:33:00:00

I felt the war was over regardless of whether or not invading from England. I thought, “They’ll all go through Africa,” because they held Corsica, Italy, parts of France and that was an opening. But they didn’t. I think it was when I’d got home they invaded

07:33:30:00

then, just invaded. But I felt as if it was over in Europe or it would be in a very short time.
Were there many rumours about that forthcoming invasion?
No, well, that was on all the time. It never ever materialised. I mean, it went on a long time between

07:34:00:00

the evacuation at Dunkirk and then eventually going back. It was a few years, wasn’t it?
During those years, though, was there constant talk that it was about to happen?
Oh yes, they were all of the opinion that it would be happening next month or another month. Got that way I thought it would never happen. “Can’t see them...” Well, it didn’t, either,

07:34:30:00

until the Americans come into West Africa and Montgomery went up from the east, got them out of Africa and they got onto Italy and Corsica and those places. It was pretty imminent, the landing

07:35:00:00

on France somewhere. As I say, when I left I thought, “It won’t be long.”
Can you tell me a little bit about the time you spent in north Italy? Was that a completely different experience to having been in the desert?
Oh yes. We landed at Bari full of ships half submerged and

07:35:30:00

things. Bought a, you could buy a few things like marsala and stuff off the Italians. But they told us, “Don’t eat the food and don’t drink the water, still stick to the squadron supplies,” which you did, really.

07:36:00:00

The water in Italy at the time, like on the bubblers, the taps, was icy cold but you weren’t game to drink it.
What were the Italians doing, the local population?
Nothing much, didn’t see many people at all, even in Rome. I think they kept at home.

07:36:30:00

Course they’d had a bit of experience of Montgomery going through Italy. But saw a few once when we were coming back, stopped at Rome and Taranto down the

07:37:00:00

bottom. But all the army was up north, see, they were still pressing through to Germany.
At what time did you go into Rome?
What time of the day?
What period, why were you in Rome? Was this during the time you were stationed in north Italy?
No,

07:37:30:00

it was on the way home, on the way home, because I can’t recall why, but I went in to have a look at the Vatican and everything. I’m not a Catholic but I just wanted to see, big item of interest. And all the other blokes

07:38:00:00

wanted to stop so we, the driver of the truck gave us a couple of trucks to go down to Taranto and they stopped there and we went into the Vatican to have a look.
Were you impressed?
Michelangelo’s [artist] work, yes.

07:38:30:00

Course, they’re very devout, the Italians, and there was a hell of a lot of Italians there then. They weren’t a bit worried about the troops or our air force blokes. I think they were happier with them there than when the Germans were there.

07:39:00:00

But Italy itself I was a bit disappointed in it really, like the homes and everything, you wouldn’t live in them, half of them, not on the road going up, like mud huts, you know, painted white on the side of the country. But of course Rome and everything, that’s different.

07:39:30:00

You’d seen a lot of things during your time in Middle East and Europe, Jerusalem, Italy.
Damascus.
Damascus. Was there one area that amazed you more than any other?
Well, the place that I liked best, I felt was the best, was

07:40:00:00

Tel Aviv and Haifa because they were more like shops and the people were more like ourselves. Jerusalem was a different place altogether. Damascus was terribly Arabian, you know.

07:40:30:00

No, I’d say Palestine was the best place, even better than Beirut to my view, but a lot of people said Beirut was a terrific place in peacetime.
Interviewee: Eric Gover Archive ID 0448 Tape 08

08:00:30:00

Can you tell us your most vivid impression of Tel Aviv, Eric?
Well, it was a good beach and four guys and I went on there, we got leave. When we went there we got a fortnight’s leave and that’s when we went to Tel Aviv and Haifa up to Mount Carmel, where all the Ten Commandments [laws providing the foundation for Christianity] are and things. And we went over to

08:01:00:00

Jerusalem from there. It was a country more like ours until you got towards Jerusalem, and a bit of desert around. But I personally liked it better than others, other places.

08:01:30:00

Were you homesick?
I was probably homesick most of the time, but no more than other times.
Can you tell us about the blokes you went on leave with on that trip through Tel Aviv and Haifa?
Yeah, I know the four of them and I remember it clearly because I got sore lips

08:02:00:00

from being in the water and the sun, burnt lips badly, blistered right through. But it was a good beach, you could go half a mile out and you could stand up still. We did a lot of swimming, that was all, and we went to Jerusalem, went over and saw

08:02:30:00

all the things worth seeing over, you know, Church of Nativity. I’m not a religious guy but I just do these things. We had one that was a bit religious and he explained it all to us. Even Haifa was a good place in my view.
What was good about Haifa?

08:03:00:00

The weather’s good, the people are western, not Arabic.
Were the Arabs giving you trouble in (UNCLEAR)?
No. The general opinion was you couldn’t trust, you know, you couldn’t sort of put something down and think that it would stay there, because it wouldn’t.

08:03:30:00

I suppose we got the feeling from when we were in Egypt about them. The Jewish community were pretty quiet, pretty quiet and kept to themselves.

08:04:00:00

But it just was the closest thing to home that I’d seen, you know, the shape of the shops and everything like that, and the people. A lot of them spoke English rather than Hebrew. And I think they were

08:04:30:00

a lot of, what do you call em, they came from the other countries early in the piece, just prior to the war, refugees. But that was the pick of my countries overseas

08:05:00:00

that I saw.
At this stage did you really care where you were?
Not much. It didn’t matter much if I went into new places. I mean, I just felt I wasn’t on a trip of sightseeing all the time, I was with the squad and that was it.

08:05:30:00

Although I saw all these places I didn’t register much on them because we’re moving about all the time.
Back in Italy, how did you find the Italians treated you?
Very good.

08:06:00:00

No problems with the Italians. They were quite friendly and we didn’t worry about them, they didn’t worry us. No, they were quite all right, the Italians.
Did you visit the Sistine Chapel?

08:06:30:00

Don’t know, where’s that?
In Rome, at St Peter’s.
Probably. Probably, but we had a good walk around the place, you know. But I can, now I only just remember the painted ceilings

08:07:00:00

and things. I’d have to look at my book to see where they are, the same as some of the things in Jerusalem.
Well that’s probably it, I guess you didn’t have a guide to tell you where you were in the place. What’s it like, travelling around St Peter’s with a bunch of Australian soldiers?
Oh well, there was a lot of people walking around in front, you know. Probably all Italians but they

08:07:30:00

didn’t seem to take any notice of us and we didn’t take any notice of them, we were just... I was looking because it was a place that you read about all the time and I was just interested to see what it was like. I don’t know, there was a fountain or something out the front

08:08:00:00

of the thing. It was, I didn’t regret going there, I was pleased that I went and had a look at the joint.
Where did you feel at home at any stage at this time?

08:08:30:00

Did you feel at home anywhere, back in your bunk, at the squadron?
While you were working you felt better because you didn’t have time to stop and think about

08:09:00:00

things. While I had plenty of work, whether it be trucks or aircraft, it was, I felt better. Or even on the beach. We used to take a few hand grenades out and catch a few fish.
Can you tell us about hand grenade fishing?

08:09:30:00

Well, you just take the hand grenades out and pull the pin out and throw them away from you. You got to hurry and get there and if there’s any fish around they come up, bottom first.
Where were you doing that?
We were doing that in the,

08:10:00:00

it was either around Benghazi or in between. Was up in the desert, there was no people about.
I guess a diet of bully beef will drive you to do anything. Whose idea was the hand grenades?
I don’t know, somebody introduced it and we followed on, it was a good idea.

08:10:30:00

It was a good idea too because we got some good fish, which was a hell of a change of diet. They were my best moments, occasions like that, swimming or fishing. But back in the tent, if you were

08:11:00:00

there on your own it was a bit boring, and you were likely to get a bit downcast. You had to be on the move or working to forget your worries.
Did you make anything? Hobbies?
I made a cigarette lighter out of a cannon shell.

08:11:30:00

It worked, but I’ve still got it downstairs. Quite a good little job. I made a soldering iron but I made that when I came back to Wagga, I didn’t have much to do at Wagga. Made a soldering iron there.

08:12:00:00

Anything else I got over there I bought, I didn’t make it. The conditions, and there weren’t the tools and the sort of things to do things, not that I was interested in making much at the time.
Right.

08:12:30:00

Where were we? What other hobbies did your friends have?
Not much. Most of them would be photography, guys were interested in taking everything, photos.

08:13:00:00

One bloke had a bugle with him, he used to create a hell of a lot of noise for a long time. It was difficult to make anything over there because we didn’t have any workshops, like as a hobby, to do anything in that line.

08:13:30:00

Not many had the ideas about making things or...
Who was the, was there any particular jokers in your crowd?
Oh yeah. There was always a couple of

08:14:00:00

clowns, or comedians as you called them.
Tell us any good practical jokes you did on the sergeant?
I didn’t do any. There was only one, that somebody had a donkey and printed the name of one of the guys on it which he didn’t appreciate.

08:14:30:00

He (UNCLEAR) little bit backward in learning and everything. A couple of comedians, they were real funny guys. One was nicknamed “Popeye” and the other bloke “Poopdeck”.

08:15:00:00

I can’t say that there was any real comedians.
What about the entertainment that you got up in Syria, can you tell us about evenings?
Yeah, well, that’s the only time we did and of course that was in the hangar, under cover.

08:15:30:00

If I didn’t look at the thing I forget who was there, whether they were Australian, I think they were English, some concert party that went around the troops entertaining. But that’s the only time we got one. There was food and drink and a few cigarettes around

08:16:00:00

and things. It was quite a good time, something that we weren’t used to.
Now, you said it was snowing up in Syria. Was that the first time you’d seen snow?
No, I saw it at Orange first.
Could you ski at all?
I tried it, what they called (UNCLEAR) in Lebanon. It was all right, but the trouble is you had to walk back.

08:16:30:00

There was no cable cars or anything to take you up and down. You skied down but it was one big walk back.
Who had the skis? How did you organise that?
I forget now, we must have hired them from somewhere up the top. But that’s where it was, it was on the

08:17:00:00

Lebanese side of the range, very thick snow, about six foot deep at the time. That’s the only time I’ve ever skied. Can’t say I liked it.
Where were you when you got the order to come back to Australia?
At a place called Ancona,

08:17:30:00

northern Italy. It’s well up north. In a way I’m sorry I didn’t go on because they went through to Germany and came home via America and things, the squadron.

08:18:00:00

When we got back, going down to get the boat at Taranto and then the time we spent there, time we spent at Port Said and then the time at Bombay. We were about six weeks at Bombay.
It was a slow trip?
The war was nearly over by the time I got home,

08:18:30:00

in Europe of course.
Did you volunteer to go home? Did you put your name forward or did somebody just say...?
Didn’t know a word about it. They just come on and said, “You’ve been posted, posted home.” I thought, “You beaut.” He said, “We’ve got an alternative, you can either go home or if you want to stay you can stay. But if you stay you’re going to the end.” And I mean the end could have been any

08:19:00:00

time, so it didn’t take me long to make a decision. I said, “No thanks, I’ll go.” There was about 15 of us, I think, we come home.
How did you feel when you got that news?
Oh, terrific. Brightest we’ve all ever felt, I’d say.

08:19:30:00

Everybody was very pleased.
What was morale like just before that news came through?
Well, you’d been away that long that, you know, getting on to four years, you feel you’ve left that side of your life and this is your life now. But of course, once you go the

08:20:00:00

posting to go home you looked forward to it. I’ve got to be honest, I felt that we’d be there for another few years. I got a hell of a shock when I got the posting, ’cause I don’t even know how I was one of the first.

08:20:30:00

I might have been in the air force a bit longer than some of the other guys, it wouldn’t be much longer.
What was the most memorable thing of that trip home?
I suppose Bombay. When we got to Bombay we were terribly close

08:21:00:00

to Australia, or a lot closer than I was in the Middle East. Not that it was a great place to stay, it was very depressing as a matter of fact, but I knew we were on the way and the next stop would be Australia. I didn’t think we’d be there six weeks,

08:21:30:00

but we were. Got on an American ship.
What did you for six weeks in Bombay?
Nothing, got sick. Got diarrhoea a lot.
So what did you make of India?
I thought I’d die before I got home. Well, I didn’t like it really, Bombay, but it was better than

08:22:00:00

Aden and Port Suez and all those, in my view, only because it was closer.
Were you able to tell the family at home that you were coming home?
Hmm?
Did your wife know you were coming home?
That’s a good question. I can’t remember. I don’t think so. I don’t think.

08:22:30:00

They’d censor the letter on a movement like that in case it got in the wrong hands.
So after...
I think I rang her from Melbourne.
So what happened? You went from Bombay to, where did you land in Australia?
Melbourne. I went from Bombay to Melbourne.
Was that a long trip?
Yeah, it was a

08:23:00:00

couple of weeks, I think. I can’t remember.
Were you still playing two-up at this stage?
No, no. I was full of thoughts of getting home, going home and seeing the wife and the family.
What was the atmosphere on the boat compared to the one, the atmosphere going out on that same journey?
Well, everybody was quite happy, and

08:23:30:00

it was an American boat, like all the crew was American. We’d sort of left the Arabs behind and the Indians and we were back in civilisation, so to speak. They gave us a card when we crossed the equator,

08:24:00:00

et cetera, they had a bit of a celebration on the boat for the guys. But we had to go way down south, we just didn’t go down around Fremantle and across the [Great Australian] Bight. I think that was just for safety reasons.
Did you see any icebergs that far south?
No, didn’t see them. We must have been

08:24:30:00

close to them because the seas, they closed the decks and everything. She was a pretty rough old trip.
What was it like being beneath decks in the southern oceans?
I didn’t mind a bit, really, because we were going home and I wasn’t a bad seaman, I didn’t get crook. Some of the poor cows,

08:25:00:00

they nearly died. It was terribly exciting for me.
Can you remember seeing Australian land for the first time after four years?
Yeah, well, we were coming through Port Phillip Bay and

08:25:30:00

I don’t remember whether we came through at night or day now. I can’t even remember the wharf we got off. All I remember was getting on the train. They tested us medically, you know, when we got home. One thing I can remember was having a shave in cold water at Goulburn, God,

08:26:00:00

it was cold, I’ve never been as cold. (UNCLEAR) Goulburn. I felt very subdued and happy, you know, a long time.
Can you tell us about arriving back in Sydney and stepping off the

08:26:30:00

platform?
Well, I don’t remember really, until I got home. I remember home and my family and friends all come round. My mother had a big spread on.
Where did you meet your wife?
When I came home?
Yeah.
I’m not sure. I’m not sure whether

08:27:00:00

it was in Sydney, I think, when the trained arrived, or when I got home.
You must have been dreaming about this moment for a long time.
Oh yeah, for sure. Had to pinch myself to feel that it was real, make sure it was real. Yeah. Like coming back to start a new life

08:27:30:00

after that. And then I was very disappointed, they gave me eleven days’ leave.
On that moment, what’s the one thing that stands out most in your mind, the image you can most see?
When I actually got home to my home, you know, to my mother’s.
Did you knock on the door or were they waiting in the street?
I can’t remember

08:28:00:00

whether they picked me up at Central or whether they picked me up at Hurstville, I can’t remember.
Did you feel like you were the same person?
No, I was a lot thinner, probably in better [shape] than I am know. It was just strange, you know, strange having all the family

08:28:30:00

around.
What did you find most strange?
Family and friends and in my old home. I got a great relief really, great relief. To come back, although the war wasn’t finished then, Japan,

08:29:00:00

they were well on the way to finishing it by the time I got home, of course. It was just the “Thank God I’m back again, that’s the last time I’ll go.”
Is that what you said to yourself?
Yep. “That’s the last time I’ll move out,” like that’s the last time I’ll get out of Australia.

08:29:30:00

Why is that? Why did you feel that?
I’d been frustrated for years why I couldn’t get home. And I mean Australia’s such a better country than all these others. You don’t appreciate it properly until you have to go over to the other side. Probably a lot better now, but

08:30:00:00

the conditions we were under...
Yeah, you didn’t exactly see it at its best.
No, that’s right.
Were you able to get back into the regular Australian way of life very easily?
Yes, reasonably quickly. Course I was posted then down to Forest Hills and

08:30:30:00

back into the air force which was entirely different to what I was used to. Over there there wasn’t the regimentation and free and easy life, you didn’t worry about passing officers and things like that, there was none of the saluting and other extreme rules.

08:31:00:00

Got a place for the wife, brought her down and then settled into a good married life.
Did it take you long to re-establish your relationship with your wife?
No, no. We settled into each other pretty quickly when I got home.

08:31:30:00

How do you explain that? You’ve been away for four years, you’ve been apart for four years, yet...
Well, I mean, she hadn’t changed much and I hadn’t. It’s very hard to explain. I find it hard.

08:32:00:00

I think we settled in pretty well, we’re very compatible. The time, got rid of a lot of frustration.

08:32:30:00

How did you find life down in Wagga after all those far away places?
We had to rent, of course, a room, that’s what nearly all the guys down there were doing. We finished up going to three places before we got in with a woman when her husband was away

08:33:00:00

in the thing, and that was the best place that we actually - Mrs Walsh, her name was. She had about six or seven kids but it didn’t matter, she was really homely.
You were catching up on news of the war, of course: did you hear news of any of your friends who were still overseas or...?
No.

08:33:30:00

I didn’t write to them and they didn’t write to me. I didn’t have time, nor the inclination. I mean, they were in another world then. I was enjoying myself too much over here to worry about how they were going. Of course the war finished over there pretty soon after and

08:34:00:00

I think it was, I suppose it would be a few months it took me to come home from the squadron and to here, and they’d invaded Europe and I said, “Well, the war’s over there, the squadron will be all right.” Of course then they got posted to Bradfield

08:34:30:00

to be discharged, which was to the day I think, one day off the five years.
Must have been a happy day.
Can say that again, back into civilian life.
No desire to go on in the air force?
No way, no way.

08:35:00:00

I mean regiment [regimentation] for five years is pretty difficult. Rules and regulations were dispensed with.
How did you find settling back into civilian life?
Well,

08:35:30:00

I knew what I wanted to do when I got out of the air force, that I was going to open a business. When I joined up originally I had a good business out at Summer Hill and I knew that if I opened up in Hurstville there wasn’t auto electricians around I couldn’t help but do well, which

08:36:00:00

it was. We had that much work and couldn’t get enough tradesmen, really. But that’s what I did. I saw the brother and said did he want to go in partnership, which he said he would. So we opened up in Hurstville and we carried on, he had contracts with fans, but we carried on, had a couple of blokes doing

08:36:30:00

just fans. We branched into automotive and general electrical repairs. Covered a lot of ground. I mean, people couldn’t get things done right after the war and there were a lot of cars, older cars,

08:37:00:00

around, they weren’t making new cars, so there was lots of demand for repairs.
Interviewee: Eric Gover Archive ID 0448 Tape 09

09:00:36:00

You obviously remember that war is not just about the front line, it’s also a lot of tedium and heartache.
I was thinking there [was] one occasion when we went on leave to Alexandria. I went with two guys in the truck, he was from Mortdale,

09:01:00:00

this chap, and we had the day there at the Fleet Club and the other guy came from Sans Souci, they were both transport drivers and they drove it in, or the chap from Mortdale drove it in. But they really got on the grog and couldn’t drive home, I had to drive home, and they were arguing

09:01:30:00

and fighting and he put his fist through the windscreen, one guy. They were really at each others’ throat. And then when we got to the camp they flattened each other out and I let them go. But that’s about the only fight I ever saw, I forgot about that.
Was that pent-up frustration? I guess people would express that in many different ways.
Yeah, well,

09:02:00:00

they were certainly two personalities and they certainly clashed in the car. I was in the truck but I was a bit worried that they’d do a bit more damage. Apart from the broken windscreen we got home all right. And then they had all the explaining to do the next day.
Surprised he didn’t have a few stitches in his hand from cut glass.
Yeah, they weren’t easy to smash,

09:02:30:00

either.
When you got back, did you find it easy to sleep?
That’s a bit difficult. I think so. I don’t think I had any problems. I was really contented and happy in myself.
How important was having your wife here to help you when [you got]

09:03:00:00

back into your old life?
I mean, it was tremendous to live a normal married life. Which I hadn’t done, of course. There were no women in my life over there.
Were there any effects you felt after leaving the army?
Any what?

09:03:30:00

Any effects on your physical or mental health?
No, I can’t say there was. I was perfectly all right. I think my health improved, you know, without the frustration and worry of being away

09:04:00:00

for so long. It felt I’d been away a lifetime, really, under terrible conditions.
Well, you certainly had been under terrible conditions.
Yeah, that’s right.
What was the main thing that got you through those four years?
Well, I don’t know. I must have been naturally able to cope with the conditions

09:04:30:00

because I didn’t have any breakdowns or anything like that. I mean, the longer it went the more frustrated you became, but you accepted things, you know, “This is it, we’re going to Italy and we’re going up to Libya.” That’s just part of the

09:05:00:00

life you were leading at the time.
Did you miss the aeroplanes?
No, not a bit, no. No. I didn’t do a lot of flying over there. It was when we did it was a bit lucky, I think, to get out of it because we were very low-flying and

09:05:30:00

in DC3s, not big Liberators or anything like that.
Did you miss working on the aeroplanes?
No, no. Well, I was making money when I came home working on the cars and I didn’t want to get into [it] if I couldn’t

09:06:00:00

be my own boss, working on aeroplanes.
What did you miss of your military life?
When I got out?
Yes.
I missed being regimented. I didn’t miss it, I was pleased that I wasn’t, I was a free agent and

09:06:30:00

I didn’t have to worry, I made all the decisions the way I wanted things. Whereas if I kept with aircraft I’d have been under the control of someone all the time.
Was there anything you missed of your military life?
No. No, nothing. I was pleased to be

09:07:00:00

rid of it.
What about the relationships with the other men?
Well, of course they came from all states, you see, and I opened up in Hurstville and see some of them around the district. One guy was a farmer up at thing. I went with him and his wife. I was his best man;

09:07:30:00

he got married as soon as he got home. And they had a farm up at Norfolk. Well, the wife and I went up there when I got out of the air force for a couple of weeks and had a good time with him. He came down here. But you gradually drift away, you get involved in your work or sport that you played, I got involved in golf

09:08:00:00

and bowls. And a couple of them died, you know, when they came home, soon after they came home.
What happened to them?
I don’t really know. Bradley, the guy who was in the fight, he died soon after he got home. I don’t know what, where he was. He moved away from me and went

09:08:30:00

to Thirlmere and I just happened to see it in the back of the [Sydney Morning] Herald [newspaper]. I saw another guy, only one, from that first course I did, Course 12. I was playing in a tournament at City Bowling and he knew I was playing. Terrific guy, he was.

09:09:00:00

I didn’t get his address or phone number, and his name was Reid, Hughie Reid, and there was a lot of Reids in... And I didn’t know where he lived. So I really lost contact with a lot of them. I was in.... And then this, they

09:09:30:00

started this association, 451 Association, and it revived a few memories and names and things. I had a game of bowls with one of them. But as I got older I was a bit reluctant to drive too far and I just restrict my driving around here now.

09:10:00:00

I consider myself lucky to get my licence each time because I’ve got to go for a driving test each year, and I’ve just got it again, had a medical and a driving test.
Looking back on your war experience from this time, from this distance, if you like, this 60 years or so, would you do it all again?
Not

09:10:30:00

at this stage, I wouldn’t do it. I’d say “You’re a silly cow, a damned fool to do it,” but under the circumstances I probably would if I was that age.
But knowing what you know now, if you could tell somebody, would you go again knowing you were going to face

09:11:00:00

these difficulties?
If the circumstances were such that Australia was in trouble I’d say, “Yes, do it, get into it.” I’d do it again or I’d advise the grandkids to

09:11:30:00

do it if the country was in trouble. Because if you see the devastation and problems people had in countries that had been taken over, you certainly wouldn’t want it to happen here.
After the war was there a sense that there would be no more wars now, the Second World War had

09:12:00:00

finished them?
Exactly. I thought it would be the finish of all wars once they took out Germany and Japan, and Russia was really on their side and I thought, “Well, the three great powers, there wouldn’t be any countries big enough to start on their own,” but you didn’t reckon on nuclear bombs, see, nuclear devices.

09:12:30:00

That brings everybody down to the same level, really.
Given those things happened after the war and there’s been a lot of trouble and strife since, how do you feel about the Second World War? Was it necessary, how do you feel?
Well, I feel it was necessary but I feel, now, I feel they haven’t gained a lot.

09:13:00:00

See, because they thought they’d straightened out the troubles in Palestine but they’ve increased them. I mean, all these smaller countries, they could possibly get a nuclear bomb or devise some of the modern weapons of terrible destruction.

09:13:30:00

It’s getting back to 1939 in my view at the moment.
How does that make you feel, having gone through all that trouble?
I feel that we acquired or accomplished something that settled the world down for a while.

09:14:00:00

But it’s only lately, since Iran and Iraq problems, that it’s all beginning again. That’s the way I see it. I mean, Japan and Germany, the problem over

09:14:30:00

them has been settled but now it’s countries like Korea and Iraq that have the money and know how to build nuclear devices. But at the moment they’ll overcome the difficulty of obtaining the parts, I think. But the next one, if it’s nuclear,

09:15:00:00

with some of these countries, it will be one big hell of a mess.
It’s a real worry, yeah, I agree.
Won’t be my worries, I won’t be here.
Yeah, still, it’s... Just one question I sort of skipped over, when you got back how did you feel Sydney had changed after being away for four years?
Well, I didn’t feel,

09:15:30:00

I felt that there wasn’t any change at all, really. The people, I settled back into normal Australian life pretty quickly. I didn’t, after a week or so, even when I was posted and went down to Wagga - I went down on my own -

09:16:00:00

I still felt pretty grateful that I was back. And the normal people around all the time. Not hearing Arabic and Italian and Jewish and whatnot languages, and backward (UNCLEAR)

09:16:30:00

Nope, I settled in all right, pretty quickly.
We’re nearly finished, Eric, just one last thing before we go. This record will be kept for posterity into the future. Are there any things you’d like to sum up about your experience for people who might be looking at this in 50 or 100 years’ time, a

09:17:00:00

message for the future, if you like, that you’d like to say?
Well, all I can say is that under similar circumstances I’d do it again at that age, I’d say. I’ve been frustrated.

09:17:30:00

I was frustrated in the later stages after being there so long, and if it can be avoided, don’t do it unless it’s absolutely necessary, because it’s no picnic, or it wasn’t any picnic. And we were

09:18:00:00

not really involved in action. The old ‘footsloggers’ [infantry] had it a lot worse than we did. They and the pilots. The numbers that were killed confirms that. But it’s a terrible business, war.
INTERVIEW ENDS

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