in 1919. And it was a, being a wonderful time to be around there as a child. The harbour was still full of fish, there were turtles in the river, there were aboriginal carvings everywhere you went. Houses were, in the lawns they had aboriginal carvings. And children could wander about in the bush as much as they liked, it was quite safe. Unless you fell over.
And it was a, I had a very happy childhood. And then when I was about six or seven, my father went to live in Albury, he started a business in Albury. And I went to a local school there, and before we’d been there long, the Great Depression of the 1920s, 1930s commenced. And I really look on myself as a child of the Depression.
As I started to get older, I decided my career would be in medicine, I planned to go to Sydney University and study medicine, be a doctor. And the, as the Depression got worse in my father’s clients all disappeared, and his business closed down, I realised I couldn’t go to university, he couldn’t afford it. We came back to Sydney and I was lucky enough, I got into Sydney High School, I
don’t know if you know Sydney very well, it was a hard school to get into. I had wonderful teachers in Albury, incidentally, who really brought the best out in me. And so at the age of 15, I left school and got a job, because I worked out there was something else I could, no doubt other things I could do, but I needed some money. I then decided that the next profession I could take would be engineering. Because at that time,
you could get an engineering diploma from Sydney Technical College, which later became University of New South Wales. It was called a diploma because it wasn’t a full time course. You went part time and you usually worked, you worked for an engineering firm who had you as a sort of engineering cadetship. And it was necessary then, to improve my basic education of English, and Science and Maths,
so I went to night school for two years. And was just about to join the engineering firm, who promised me the job, when they became another victim of the Depression, and they went broke. About the time they went broke, the threat of Nazi Germany became worrying the western world and the air force started to increase. I’d never intended to fly, because everyone expected
me to fly, because my name was Kingsford-Smith. And I thought, “Well, that’s one thing I won’t do.” But the air force made a career in the air force so attractive, an air force cadetship. I’d be taught well, I’d be paid very well, I’d be looked after, so I applied in 1937 to join the air force. And I was accepted as an officer cadet in 1938.
Was interesting, my name is Kingsford-Smith, but until I joined the air force, I thought my family name was Smith. My father called himself Smith, and all my family did. We all had a family given name of Kingsford. That came from my grandmother, a Miss Kingsford, who married my grandfather, a Mr Smith. And when my father
registered my birth, I don’t know why he did it, but he put a hyphen in the name. To join the air force you had to produce a copy of a Birth Certificate. The air force found that in fact, my name was Kingsford hyphen Smith and that’s what I’ve been called ever since. And that’s how it, the name Kingsford-Smith until, as I said I, produced the Birth Certificate. At the time I entered the air force, and I don’t know what
the government had in mind about its defence forces, but we had, at that time, no permanent army. We just had an instructional corps that went round instructing the citizen forces. We had a tiny air force that would get lost if they flew far. And we had a navy, it wasn’t bad, they had some good ships
and they were a full time force. When war, just before war started, the Australian government realised that Australia’s greatest risk was the exposure of its coastal shipping to a German raider in the Pacific or Indian Ocean. This is what happened in World War I But World War, but in World War I it was getting closer.
The intelligence organisation found that the Germans were, in fact, preparing to disguise some merchant ships as raiders and arm them and put them in the Pacific and everywhere. And all Australia’s shipping of goods and people went by sea, we don’t realise it these days. The road, for example, the Hume Highway between
Sydney and Melbourne wasn’t sealed the whole way, I’d driven it and part of it was pot holed and unsealed. So virtually nothing went by road, there were no long distance buses, there were no long distance semi-trailers hauling up and, roaring up and down the highway. The trains were puny little things with puny little steam locos, and they hauled passengers and some freight, but anything important went by
sea. There was even a daily shipping service from Sydney to Newcastle. If you wanted to travel to Newcastle, (UNCLEAR) you often went by sea. If you wanted to ship some goods to Coffs Harbour out of Sydney or Nowra, or further down the coast, they went by little coastal freighter. So they had two squadrons, maritime squadrons, one in Sydney, one in Victoria
of very ancient aeroplanes called Ansons, which later on became a trainer, and those were the squadrons where the air force was really busy. As soon as war was declared we were out, patrolling the coast, up and down the coast, checking with every ship that came in, sending a description of it to a central war room place, so they could
make sure it was where it should be. And as the first AIF [Australian Imperial Force] convoys left to go to Egypt in early 40, we escorted them and did anti-submarine controls beforehand. And that was where I started getting very lucky, and I really was very lucky throughout the war. I learned a bit about all weather flying, and I had as a flight commander, a very wise, one of the wisest men in the air force who
taught me that, you know, it was no good thinking you could go to war unless you could fly in all weather, and really understood the weather and were capable of putting yourself, putting a hell of a load on yourself, and at that time, also, because I was very interested in navigation, I was, after I finished this tour, which was 6 Squadron, I was selected to do a navigation course. Because at that
time, the air force had no navigators. And we had what were called observers, and that went back to World War I and a two seater airplane, you had a bloke in the back seat who had a gun and would fire at an attacking aeroplane and might drop some bombs or pass the pilot a bar of chocolate or something or other. And as they decided they needed properly trained navigators, some
pilots were chosen and I like navigation. And I did two navigation courses, so I really learned a bit about navigation. There was no electronic equipment in those days, you, in fact, navigated by the stars, if you were going a long way over the sea. And I instructed in navigation for a while but I always had an opportunity to fly. So I was a, after I finished my tour of duty in
maritime work, in maritime business, I was an instructor, or a staff officer, but always had the opportunity to fly. I was then in early ’43, posted to England to go to 10 Squadron, the Sunderland squadron, I was doing maritime work over the Atlantic because of my navigation background, and my maritime experience. By that time, I was a squadron leader and fairly experienced pilot,
an experienced aircraft captain. Because if you have a crew, you’re a lot safer if a captain discipline the crew and stop a lot of people chatting and talking about their girlfriends and what, and what they did last night, or tried to do last night. And my instructing experience gave me this experience. When I got to England, I reported to the Australian
administrative headquarters in London, and the air officer commanding said, “Well, welcome to London, Kingsford-Smith, you’re posted, I see you’re posted to bomber command.” And I could see on his desk he had a copy of the same signal I had that said I was going to coastal command. And I could read upside down a bit, and so I queried it, and then he said, “Well we’ve had, we’re temporarily short of flight commanders,” by that
time, I would’ve been a flight commander, “in our bomber squadron, so we’ll send you to bomber squadron. And as soon as a replacement comes, you can go and fly your Sunderlands [flying boats].” Of course, a replacement never came, so from 43, 44 and 45, I was in bomber command. So I arrived in one of the first three Australian Lancaster squadrons called 467. The same wise old bloke who had taught me how to fly in all weathers back in
Sydney, there as squadron commander. And again, his influence was very helpful. So I flew here, for the squadron, 467 Squadron, based in Lincolnshire. A little wartime field called Bottesford, near Grantham, for some months. And then we moved to a permanent RAF [Royal Air Force] base called Waddington with beautiful messes and
close to pubs and all the rest of it. And a new squadron was formed, 463, and I was offered the command. And so I formed 463, sorry.
because the losses were so heavy, the training organisation and the factories were producing a pipeline of trained crews, and new aircraft, as reinforcements to replace those that were shot down. So at this training establishment, it was called a heavy bomber conversion unit,
we worked virtually 24 hours a day. Crews came in, we trained them, they went out to squadrons. And at, in the end of 1944, and I’ll switch a bit here, Qantas turned up. After the Japanese occupied most of the Middle East,
Burma and Malaya and Singapore and the Dutch East Indies, as they were called, the air service from Sydney to Australia, England was cut. Qantas then got some Catalina long range flying boats and they flew them from Western Australia all the way to Ceylon and bypassed the Japanese. In the Catalinas, they were in the air for so long, they were about 30 hours, and
you saw two sunrises, you were given the Order of the Double Sunrise if you were a passenger. They carried about two passengers, that’s all they could carry, a tiny amount of freight. By about the end of ’44, the demand on this service was so high, they realised they had to replace the Catalinas. The Australian government and Qantas did a deal with the British government to get some Lancaster bombers, which were
to be converted to an aeroplane called the Lancastrian. The bomb bay was filled with fuel tanks, the turrets were taken out and the aeroplane made a bit more streamlined and about eight or nine passengers could be seated in it. The aircraft was still uninsulated, but noisy as hell and as cold as hell, but they did the trip. Well, Qantas sent a couple of
crews to pick up the first Lancastrians. They arrived in London, and it was, as I said, a government-to-government deal. They went to the English Ministry of Supply who controlled all production and said, “We’re going to pick up these Lancastrians,” and all that paperwork was dealt with and then said, “We’d like our pilots to be converted to these Lancastrians” because previously they’d flown flying boats. And the Ministry of Supply said, “Well, we don’t do that, go to the Air Ministry.”
So the chap in charge of this Qantas team went to the Air Ministry and told them what was happening, they said, “We’d like our fellows to be given a conversion course at an RAF training school” and the Air Ministry said, “We can’t do that, your pilots are civilians, we can’t let civilians learn to fly on His Majesty’s aircraft.” So one part of government was saying, “Take Lancastrians,” another part of government was saying “We won’t train you.” And this became, went to a bit of a stalemate and a mate of
mine who’d been on course with me before the (UNCLEAR) was then a senior officer in air force headquarters rang me and said, “Look, Rollo, you’re running a Lancaster finishing school, or conversion course, do you think you could train these fellows under the lap.” I said, “Sure,” you know we were fighting one war. And two Qantas pilots and the man in charge came up to
a place called Wigsley, another wartime place where I was based, still in, near the border of Lincolnshire, near Nottingham. And they were nice fellows and I said to, and I got an instructor for them, and I said to the station commander, who was an RAF man, who was a Canadian, I said, “If you see any fellows in the officers mess in strange
uniforms, look the other way, don’t ask me who they are because I don’t want to tell you.” He said, “Okay.” So the Qantas people did this conversion course. The man in charge, a chap called Scotty Allan, very well known in history, and Scotty never acknowledged this, Scotty got talking to me and he said, you know, “Rollo there’s not, if you stay in the air force, what’s the future for you?
You, the air force will be wound up at the end of the war, why don’t you join Qantas? We’d be very pleased to have you. You are an experienced Lancaster operational pilot,” and by this time, I had a Lancaster instructor’s ticket myself, I got one, “You have a Lancasters instructor’s ticket and you also had a civilian first class navigator’s certificate,” which I’d applied for, they don’t
exist now. He said, “We can offer you a captainship straight away,” or captaincy, I suppose, and I, he said, “We have permission to take suitable people from the air force, because this is a national priority.” So Scotty Allan talked me into this, he was quite forcible, and I went down to London and put in
my resignation to the air force. This is authority for the air force letting me go, went down to Qantas, they had an office in London, and confirmed in writing I’d join them. Then there was a strike in the Avro factory, they hadn’t strikes in the war and delivery of Qantas aeroplanes were held up. And Scotty Allan was a true Scotsman, he said, “I don’t want you on our payroll until I can, you can fly and you can
earn you living” and then he started prevaricating and messing around. And while he was still prevaricating, the Royal Air Force contacted me and said, “Rollo, would you like to command 627 Squadron?” Now 627 Squadron was a Mosquito pathfinder squadron. It was the only one of its kind in the air force, it was unique. And it was much more attractive for me, I could join straight away and, pie in the sky with Qantas. I went back to London and tore up my application to leave the air force and tore up my
application to join Qantas and then posted to command this pathfinder squadron, the flying Mosquitos. And about a year before, the war had become a high technology war, it was a war of the electronics and the airwaves and it was just about, to find the target and to defend yourself, you transmitted a signal.
And you, we had all kinds of radar. As soon as you transmitted a signal, the Germans had equally sophisticated equipment, they picked it up and honed in on it and shot you down. And a lot of people were being shot down, I lost a lot of people out of my squadron one night, who they had some new equipment, the Germans knew it was coming, they knew what the frequency would be and they honed in on it. And this particular squadron was only attacking precise targets,
military targets, aircraft factories, essential railway junctions, gun batteries, power stations, you name it. And they had, a lot of them were in occupied territory and they were run by the Germans or the Germans had, if it was in France, the Vichy government, which was pro-German,
was running them. It was important to destroy the target and not kill innocent Frenchmen or Danes, we went to, I mean Norwegians, we went to Norway, Belgians, Poles, everywhere. So we had to bomb very accurately, so the pathfinder had to mark exactly the target, and what we did was, we dive-bombed the target, we used our eyes, which couldn’t,
they couldn’t hone in on the eye, on your eyes, we marked the target using our eyes instead of any electronic equipment, and this was, the target was eliminated by another squadron alongside us who went in very, very briefly using their radar, just so they knew they were in the area. And they dropped hundreds of brilliant flares, so that was in middle of the night, the area around the target was illuminated. The Mosquitos
could see it, we flew round, very low down to 300 metres and dived from 300 metres, which was a quarter of a thousand feet, dived down to about 400 feet and dropped the target indicator. You couldn’t miss, really, and the Mosquitos were so fast, and as they flew to and from the target so high, because they were made of wood, the German radar didn’t pick them up to well, it wasn’t as dangerous as it seemed. It was
a very good way for a married man to be going to war. And I was flying in that squadron when the war finished. So that covers that.
Shortly after the war, in 1946, the British government decided to have a grand celebration, victory celebration, in London. Every crowned head of Europe that’d been released from prison, whatever, came, all the Presidents, the President of America, the President, all the Prime Ministers, except Chifley who’d fallen out,
not, yes, Chifley had taken over from Curtin. The Australian government had fallen out with Churchill, by, because of the way Churchill thought he could tell Australians what to do and the Australian, look, I can’t remember whether the Australian Prime Minister was Chifley or Curtin. Curtin died about that time, anyway. But the top brass there was quite fantastic, the present terrorists would’ve loved it. And each country that had participated in the war,
was invited to send a military contingent to march in a grand march in the middle of London. The air force contacted me and said, “Would you like to go?” and I said, “Yes,” “Well would you like, you’ve got the command, providing you form it. And here are the rules.” So I formed this air force component down in Melbourne, taught them how to march very well,
I had a very good old drill instructor warrant officer that I knew. In fact we marched better than the army, who straggled along. And we were all in the army and the air force and the navy went to England in a navy County class cruiser called the Shropshire, which had been given to the Australians. Now, these County class cruisers were designed and built in the days of Empire and they
were designed to cruise for a long time in the colonies in the tropics, so they had to be reasonably comfortable and carry a lot of crew. (UNCLEAR) You couldn’t fit a whole contingent in a modern day cruiser, full of guns and weapons and ammunition, but this old ship took a couple of hundred of us. Not in great comfort, but, you know, I was reasonably comfortable, I was the CO [Commanding Officer] of the air force contingent. But, and we
set off and we, from Sydney, and we marched through Melbourne, and we marched through Adelaide, and we marched through Perth. And we got to Cape Town and we marched through Cape Town and we got to England and we marched there, and we had the grand march. So I thought, well, the air force had treated me pretty well, it was a wonderful trip. And they, generally, the operational side of the air force treated me well, and the administrative side and the financial side, I
was constantly at war with. So I decided to stay in the air force. And to continue I, by about 1949, I was commanding an air force station in Victoria. The military sort of started to lose control of the air force, and civil bureaucrats took over. Now during the war, and until just after the war,
a man, say, commanding a unit was supposed to use his initiative and his experience to carry out his duties in the way he thought best, to achieve whatever role the unit had. To look after his, the personnel under him, and generally do a good job, well, as the, as it changed, all those became unimportant. What became important was to comply with regulations, even the regulation was so bloody stupid and
you were doing something that you knew was conflict of interest for the air force or the people under you. Well, I fell out with these people about four times when I was commanding air force station at Ballarat, and in the end, I couldn’t take it anymore. I had two children at that time, I married my wife, my present wife in 1940, so, by the time we’d produced two children. It wasn’t fair to them, to have me
grumpy at them every night, so I left the air force and went to a company called De Havilland Aircraft, where I’d done a favour for the Managing Director many years before, not knowing he was the Managing Director. He was a stranded motorist on the road. So he was a good mate of mine. But when I said I was interested, we negotiated a job and I stayed there and finished up becoming Managing Director and
chairman and chairman of a lot of other associated companies. But anyway, that’s the air force, but you’ve really come here to talk about bomber command.
who, at 17, ran away from home, and came from a reasonably well heeled family in Nottinghamshire, and his father was a bit of a tyrant. So he ran away from home, in the words of his relatives “to go to the diggings.” This was in 1840s, to go to the diggings, the diggings were the mining, the gold mining at
Ballarat. He was, I’m not sure what he did after that, but he finished up in Sydney, and it’s interesting, because he was a terribly, terribly strict man. The old devil begat two illegitimate children, which I didn’t know about until I researched the family history,
and he came to live near here and Bundanoon. And he was the store keeper, and he ran the post office. And of course, these country villages were very important and if you lived in Bundanoon, then, you didn’t hop into your car and go shopping at Moss Vale, you shopped in Bundanoon. And if you had a farm round Bundanoon, you supplied, first of all, the local market, so they were quite
important, busy towns. They were on the railway line, the railways sort of helped them set up. And he did very well there, he had a big family, my mother was the youngest, he had about, I don’t know, about eight kids. And he had, as far as I can see in my family photographs, he had a tennis court and lots of tennis parties. He had stables with horses for all his daughters and
vehicles, buggies, or four wheeled ones, I’ve forgotten what they called them, they had two horses on them and they could prance around and go to church. And my mother was born there her relatives stayed there and then he came to Sydney and was in business in North Sydney, built himself a big house at Woolwich Point,
in Sydney, where the Lane Cove River joins the rest of the harbour. Giant house, where he lived when my mother was married, where my father met her. And he used to travel by ferry, everyone travelled by ferry in those days, visit his girlfriend and would purposely miss the last ferry home, so then he
would, wouldn’t dare stay in this great house, but my grandfather had a boatshed, fairly comfortable boat shed down the water, so he’d spend the night down the in boat shed. I don’t know whether he was alone or not, I’ve never found that out. Anyway, my grandfather died, and my mother and father married before World War I.
he had a very good life, he played around a lot. The first I know of him, he was working, he was a mathematician, and he worked quite first for the people who set up totalisator’s company. There was a well known, at that time, Sydney University professor, who did the mathematics of the tote
system, and my father worked at that. I don’t know what job he did. And then he worked in a mapping company, there were a lot of maps made in Australia at that time. And then he decided to go to Albury, and be, what he called a business broker, you know he was a real estate agent but didn’t sell houses, he sold businesses. He had businesses on his books and people wanted to by a business
and that, in the country in those days a business would be a pub, a bakery, a butcher shop, a blacksmith, you know, or a general store. And in Albury, he had people on his books from as far as a hundred miles away. And it was quite a good business.
And he took me with him when he travelled to places far a field, Griffith and Murrumbidgee area and the Hume Weir as it was being built. And, but when the Depression came, nobody had any money to buy anything, so the poor people who wanted to sell their businesses, couldn’t. So he just ran out of business, about 1930, came to Sydney and started various businesses, but because of the Depression, none of them
were terribly successful. And he retired, because he was a man of his times, he smoked, God knows how many packs of cigarettes a day. He was a, you either drank beer or you drank whisky, well, he was gentry so he drank whiskey, and he drank a hell of a lot of in his day. Despite all his heave consumption, whiskey and cigarettes, he had a very good life to 77
then just suddenly dropped dead.
far away from Albury as we could get, by a river, including fishing, camping, and he would, he always wasn’t a good businessman but he was good fun and he was a good father and he taught me to appreciate the Australian outback. Which is one of the reasons I came to live in Southern Highlands, before that, I lived right on the harbour.
Because he taught me how to row when I was a small boy and he taught me to love the harbour. But the real strength in my family was on my mother’s side but my father, incidentally, came from quite a famous family. His grandfather was a bloke called Richard Ash Kingsford, who came to Australia
way back in the 1840’s, he was a lay preacher and he could speak very well, he’d get up in the pulpit and frighten the pants off you. He became a member of the legislative assembly of the government of Queensland, he became mayor of Brisbane, he was a very good politician, he could really speak. He then became a pioneering sugar miller, he went to Cairns and had
the first sugar mill there, which he later sold to the Australian Sugar Refining Company. And he became mayor of Cairns. He had a, he had daughters, one of whom became my grandmother, he, the local bank manager was, my grandfather, a bloke called Smith who
his father had been a master mariner, but then back to my grandfather, Richard Ash Kingsford. His wife died when he was in his 70’s, and he decided to go to Tasmania, I don’t know why he decided to go to Tasmania, but when he was there, he met a young woman and married her. And in his 70s, begat his first child and then he came back to Cairns which was the place he loved, and built a great mansion with 16
bedrooms on it, he was a very ambitious guy, wanted to fill all the bedrooms. Well, that finished him off. The house, interesting (UNCLEAR) it’s quite a famous house, not of ill repute, but of great repute, during the war, we had a secret army in it, based in Brisbane, sort of behind the scenes terrorist
unit that, and I’ve forgotten what it’s called, and they made his old house, and they had a house on the hill as their headquarters, and raids on Japanese in Singapore and Jakarta and Moresby done by army blokes in little fishing boats which would go up and the headquarters was my grandfather’s house which was, he died before he could sell it.
And then the other great-grandfather, a chap called Smith, left England and became a master mariner in Sydney and a whaler, there were some whalers operating out of Sydney in the 1840s and on, in a bay in Neutral Bay was where they had the whaling station, if I remember correctly. And
he lived in Pyrmont Street, Pyrmont, I found that in the records and he was married with a couple of children and he just disappeared it was never ever found out what happened. And I can’t find any record of,
he just, his ship didn’t turn up. It was rumoured he had American friends and he went off to America to help fight in the American Civil War which was on then. But whether that was true, and people did that, and he and his family travelled across the Pacific, backwards and forwards all the time, there were no passports, you just “We’ll go to America, to California.” He had many friends there, but anyway,
Navy in, younger than my father, before the war, and he was an officer in the Australian cruiser Sydney when it sank the German raider Emden just off Cocos Island. Another brother, wasn’t a terribly wealthy, healthy guy and I don’t know, and he became a, I don’t know whether he had a war record, but he became an
architect, and the youngest son in the family was Charles Kingsford-Smith who way back in 1915, when he was 17, was a motorbike fanatic. He owns, well, he had a motorbike and he tried to join the AIF in, before he was 18 and his parents found out and hauled him out. On his 18th birthday, he enlisted in the AIF, was in February
1915, by September, he was in the trench at Gallipoli, he was at Gallipoli, which was pretty rough. And because his, and then when Gallipoli was evacuated, he went to the Western Front in France. Where because of his motorbike enthusiasm, he became a despatch rider, a sergeant despatch rider, which he liked, it suited him. And then in
1916, the RAF, which was starting to lose people in the Royal Flying Corps, started recruiting some pilots from the AIF and he heard of this and applied to join the Royal Flying Corps. Was accepted late in 1916, and by 1917 he was an officer and a Lieutenant Royal Flying Corps,
flying over the Western Front. And he flew there for a while, then one day when he was pursuing a flight well over the German lines, he was attacked by some Germans and wounded. They, behind him they, they shot over his shoulder down there, and shot off about a third of his foot. He nearly bled to death before he could, he managed to get back and landed. And he was then taken out
of the squadron and hospitalised for a while, because reconstructing a damaged foot is quite a business. And then he was an instructor, and then he decided that he would stay flying. He tried to, the Australian government offered a prize to the first crew to fly an aeroplane from England to Australia, and Ross and Keith Smith did it in a Vickers Vimy [aircraft]. My uncle and a colleague
got another aeroplane, but they used to play up a lot and the, they, and the disapproval of the Australian High Commissioner in London, because they were always in trouble. And so the High Commissioner told them “It’s no good you fellows entering, you won’t get any endorsement from the Australian government.” So he then said well he’s not
going to, returning to Australia until he could fly. And he went to America where he had a sister that he, another one in the family who went to America. He stayed with her for a while and then he went to Hollywood and became stunt pilot, where he got, he frightened himself and, because he was hanging from the undercarriage of an aeroplane while the aeroplane’s flying along,
shooting with a camera, and he couldn’t get up again. Because the force of the wind was stopping him. He thought, when they eventually land, his head will be the first thing that hits the ground. Anyway, he got up, so he did come back to Australia by sea, and joined an early airline, West Australian Airlines, flown by a World War I guy. Which was then the longest airline in the world. He, there were
essential ports and hamlets all up the West Australian coast and it, the only way you could go up, say from Perth to Broome or to Wyndham or to Derby or to, no, I’ve forgotten the various other places anyway, you went by sea. So this little airline ran a service all the way from Perth to Broome, maybe further, he
joined that. And it took some days to get all the way up, he made a lot of friends and he got into a lot of scrapes, and he married. And he, because he, I don’t think he was good husband material at that time, his wife later divorced him, which was a disgrace in those days, to be divorced, and my mother didn’t want to
talk about it, her brother-in-law, because he was a divorced man. People were very strict in the ’20s. He then started a trucking business, and the name of the place, is on the tip of my tongue but I think I might’ve, I might’ve put it in my book, up the West Australian coast, they had, where they had wool industries, and he,
there were no trains so he went out to the farms and trucked the wool bales back into the port, where they were shipped away. And he then came to Sydney and had an air charter service with World War I aeroplanes. Then his ambitions to fly the Pacific, which had been getting stronger and stronger as the years went by, started to get even stronger. And he
talked about it to a bloke called Charles Ulm. Ulm wasn’t a pilot, Ulm was a money man. They decided to raise, to get themselves known, they would fly around Australia. Had been done by the RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force] years before and it had taken about six months. They said, “We’ll go round in a week” or something. So they flew round Australia in about a week and filled the newspapers and got support from of all people, dear
old Jack Lang. He was a patriotic Australian, despite his, you know, funny financial problems, to go to America and buy an aeroplane and fly the Pacific. And the rest of course of course, is
he was a Biggles [famous pilot] fan, and we used to read about the Red Baron. In fact, my interest in aviation is made by a school friend I had when I was 10. And he got all the comics there were about World War I and all the aces, and he followed everything. I wasn’t interested. And,
my father was interested, my mother wasn’t interested in her scallywag brother-in-law who was divorced, so there wasn’t a lot of discussion. And when he did fly around Australia, about that time, I remember friends of my father’s sort of, when we saw them, patting me on the head and saying “Well, sonny, of course, I guess you’ll be a burden like your uncle.” That term burden always sticks in my mind, he was
called a burden in the press. And I was determined I wasn’t going to be a bloody burden. I was going to be a doctor, I used to sort of change the subject. It was very patronising, I didn’t like, and as, when I came back to Sydney and I met him a few times, and found he was such a delightful person. He had a wonderful personality, he, before he was married, you know, he had so many girls in bed with him, you couldn’t
imagine. He didn’t even try very hard, they just. In fact when, I’m jumping about, when he was still in England and an instructor, he and some of his mates would go down to London and he’d be sent out to get the girls and bring them back to where they, their hotel, where they were partying. He could always do it, and so it’s said, when I got to know him, I found out he was a charming man, I
followed all his flights and I started a scrapbook where I had some of the best record of newspaper accounts that I kept and I gave it to the Queensland museum some years ago when they were collecting this sort of stuff. So, I still didn’t intend to follow his career until circumstances forced me into the air force.
be the leading power in civil aviation, they had to, because they had a big country. England didn’t have a big country, there was no, aeroplanes didn’t play an important role in England. And even in the 30’s, flying there was really, they were terribly enthusiastic about their flying clubs everywhere, with Tiger Moths and this and that, and Gipsy Moths and they were flying for fun. But if you wanted to fly from one part of England to another, you didn’t fly, they had these
great bi-planes that used to fly across the Channel to Paris and they, you know, they were all wings and struts in the wire, they said they had a built in head wind. So the Americans really started making aeroplanes that were really useful. They were all metal, English aeroplanes were all wood. They had retractable undercarriage,
they had a variable pitch propeller, which, you know, is like having gears in a car, if you’ve got fixed pitch propeller, it’s like driving a car without any bloody gears. It’s either, the engine speed and the road speed don’t match each other and there’s one speed. So round about middle ’30s, the Brits signed the, talked the Australians into,
talked the Europeans into a civil aviation association, I’ve forgotten the name, which would have to approve different types of aircraft. And the Americans thought it was restrictive and said, “Bugger you, we won’t join, we’ve got to a very healthy industry with Douglas DC2s and DC3s and Boeings.”
And that meant that it was illegal to import an American aeroplane into Australia at that time. That’s what I’m coming to the Brits talked them into, and when Qantas started off flying overseas, all they could buy was an English bi-plane aeroplane, a De Havilland 86 which came from the company I later joined, and I flew the 86’s, it’s a terrible aeroplane. Put together in a hurry to stop
the Australians insisting that they be allowed to use American aeroplanes. Quite a number of them crashed and killed a lot of people. Then I found that when Charles Kingsford-Smith wanted to enter an aircraft in the Mac Robertson Miller 1934 air race, which you may have heard of, the De Havilland Company built a special aeroplane,
the De Havilland Comet which was especially built as a racer. And somehow or other they were able establish that my uncle’s application to buy one was too late. So he went to Lockheed and got an aeroplane, really, of a type they’d been making for some time, a Lockheed Altair and decided that he would fly it. And he was told it was illegal to bring
that aircraft into Australia. Well, he twisted the arms of ministers and got it into Australia, hotly criticised by the British press and British government. And, you know, if you bought an American car, it was the wrong thing to do, you had to buy British.
by the time of the, just before the war, I’d become interested. I also saw that the RAAF was equipped with wood and fabric and wire aircraft, whereas the Americans, because I was really interested in aviation then, the American air force had all metal aeroplanes which would, you know, fly twice the speed. Now, we were a peace loving nation, but we could’ve spent our money, our dollars in better ways then. And
when the war started, because you know, Bob Menzies announced over the radio, and I sat up listening to it, “England is at war with Germany because of what they are doing in Poland, and therefore, Australia is at war,” and within hours or days he said, “We will form a second AIF to come to the aid of the mother country.”
And I was then, just commissioned in the air force, and I thought, “Wow,” you know, “something interesting is going to happen.” He then said, “We Australia will form and expeditionary air force with so many squadrons which will go overseas with the AIF [Australian Imperial Force]. And so there’ll be one Australian military formation, in the Middle East.” They all went off to Egypt first of all,
then to be used as directed by the British. Well, the Brits talked him out of that, because they didn’t want an Australian, large military organisation of Australian senior officers there. They said, “Well, look, we can do that, you don’t need to do that. What you should do, because you’ve got all this wonderful weather in Australia and so many people are good pilots. Be a, the
place where air crew are trained to fight, under the RAF control.” And this thing called the Empire Air Training Scheme was formed, and just about every ex-bomber command man you talk to, joined the RAAF under the Empire Air Scheme, was partly trained in Australia, and he could’ve, he then had two-thirds of his training in Australia one-third, then some more training in Canada then some more training and then they’d go on the squadron.
from Japan, but they were poo-pooed by the government and they were poo-pooed by the British experts who said, “Look, we’ve got Singapore. Those funny little men try and attack you, the fleet from Singapore will fix them in no time.” You know, this is really true, and I had senior officers talk to me about that, when they used to come and lecture us. So I joined the, I had what was known as a short
service commission. The air force and the army and the navy used to get young men in as cadets and train them for a permanent career. The air force didn’t have the money to do that, so they offered you a short service commission. You know, after you were commissioned, you signed up for four years and then if you hadn’t blotted your copy book, you could stay. And of course, as the air force was continually expanding, everybody stayed. Also, the RAF, even then were
short of air crew, and about half the output, for about three or four years from the officer’s training school at Point Cook, about half that output went to join the RAF and had a short service commission in the RAF. And mainly they were, flew in the north west India forces, and they flew over Afghanistan, the, Afghanistan was a hell of a problem in the 20’s and 30’s
and they were mainly kept under control by the RAF. If the Afghanistan, or Afghan tribe would play up and raid the roads, an old RAF bomber squadron would fly over their village and drop a note saying “We’re going to bomb the hell out of you tomorrow, you’d better skedaddle.” The next day, they’d come over and bomb it and wreck all the huts. And that was to punish these fellows
for raiding a convoy of trucks or whatever on the roads going over the Khyber Pass. The only thing was, it was fun, but if you came down because of engine failure, what the Afghans did to you was terrible. And then the other thing that the Australians went to, was to a place called Mesopotamia. It was Mesopotamia
until it became Iraq. And even until in 1948, we were still, 1958, just when Saddam Hussein started to get into power, in 1958, as recent as that, it was still a British military protectorate. Royal Air Force were still in Iraq, a place called Ar Banyan [Habbaniya], not far from that, from Baghdad, I’ve flown past it and talked to people in the tower there,
nice (UNCLEAR) accent. And they patrolled, they patrolled these pipelines, which Iraq would try to blow up as they are doing now. And the RAF ran the whole show they had, their vehicle, they had, mainly had armoured vehicles which, armoured cars, because the desert was so hard and so flat, they could speed these armoured cars across the desert. And had one machine gun in a little turret which they could shoot
after these poor devils. And you can understand why the Iraqis, you know, were keen to get there own country back, the way it, and what the Brits did, I know I’m alluding, after World War I, because the Saudi royal family from Arabia helped them, one of the Saudi family was put into Mesopotamia to become the king.
He was the king of Iraq. And there was a royal family there, and they were, you know, pretty typical sort of, for everybody else, they lived very bloody well, but Baghdad was a delightful place to visit, I visited with my wife, and in 58. And it was two days after we left that the fundamentalists took over, murdered the king and his family,
and murdered a lot of people, and came to the pub where my wife and I had been staying and took out all the white men, hanged them, from the street lamps outside. I got a tip off from the taxi driver that I was there, who wouldn’t take my wife and me to this hotel, he didn’t speak English, but he refused to take us to this hotel. And that gave me a clue and made some enquiries and they said you know, “You shouldn’t be here.”
we were allowed to fly. And then, we were taught to fly. We were taught to fly safely, you were taught to carry out forced landings, because everyone’s made forced landings, engines were very unreliable, but those old aeroplanes could usually land on a very small paddock. If you were flying over paddocks and you had a, engine failure, you made a forced landing, I’ve done it myself, and you practiced forced landings a lot.
We were taught to fly at night, but just, but flying at night was dangerous and it wasn’t encouraged. We really weren’t taught any navigation, was sensible to fly along the railway line and the stations in those days, used to have the name of the station in big letters, you just read that. You were taught to map read, but you weren’t taught if there was no map to read off. You never flew over cloud, you were taught some instrument flying, but
not a lot, because it was dangerous. You were taught to fly in formation, which was good fun, and very good for air patterns, and the air force was very good at air patterns. But they had these old bi-planes, our fighter was a thing called a Hawker Demon, it was the most delightful aeroplane to fly. It was, had a, one Rolls Royce engine in front, it was a bi-plane, the fixed undercarriage, it was
the most aerobatic aeroplane I’ve ever flown, it was a beautiful aeroplane to fly. It had one .303 gun [rifle] firing forward, a pop gun. And then we had some flying boats, they were amphibious flying boats with one engine, big old engine, wooden propeller, which, and I flew in those once or twice. Flying back to Melbourne,
we hit a fairly strong cross wind of about 70 knots, we had 45 degrees drift. In other words, to go that way, I flew that way. I was flying, flew at about 80 knots, just a strong wind, yeah.
filled with a lot of, and I sound anti-British, I’m not, because I admired them tremendously when I served them, but we heard a lot of British crap, really, that we had the best aeroplanes in the world, because they were British. The American aeroplanes flew too fast and landed too fast, and it wasn’t safe to fly an aeroplane that landed too fast. And they’d crash and burnt. The British aircraft industry ran a very, very good propaganda campaign,
I admire them tremendously. They sold second-rate aircraft all over the world, convincing people they were first-rate aircraft. But when, see, even the maritime aeroplanes we had, the Anson, BHP [Broken Hill Proprietary] at that time had bought in an aeroplane the same size, to carry VIPs [Very Important Person] around. It was all metal, it had a retractable undercarriage, it had
variable fixed propellers, it could fly 50% faster and three times further, it was a civil aeroplane, our military aeroplane, the Anson, which had one turret at the back with a pop gun sticking up. It was totally inadequate, but as a maritime reconnaissance aeroplane, with long range tanks put in it, we put in long range tanks, and with navigators put in, the pilot became the navigator, he
was taught to navigate, and then we, because we used to fly from Richmond to bases at Coffs Harbour or Evans Head or near Taree or south to Nowra or to Moruya, we had, members of ground staff, who we’d need once we got on the ground there, were taught to fly in a linked plane, hours and hours in the trainer. The captain would take off, level at its height,
hand over to the chap called the driver pilot, who could be an AC [aircraftsman] 1 engine fitter, an AC 1 or an AC or whatever, air frame fitter, he’d steer it beautifully, set a course, more accurate on course than I could, when we got to our destination, we’d take over and land it. And then the captain had been given a navigation course to navigate out over the sea, but in 19, in November or December 1939, the war had been going for
a month, we’d known for two years it was coming. A German armed merchant raider did appear to lay mines along the coast of New Zealand and the mines sunk two ships. And then a ship, about 600 miles out in the Pacific, disappeared and it was assumed he’d come over this way and sunk the ship. And we went out looking for this German ship, or survivors in their, in
their boats. In case we found him, we carried bombs, and the bombs were World War I bombs, weighing a lovely 100 weight each, 112 pounds, why they’d make 112 pounds, but it was 100 weight. And now, that was the state the air force was in, we had, these things had been in the bomb dump over 20 years, because, you know, we were in a peace loving nation until just recently, just before that.
lay out the clothes in the drawer, the underpants there, singlets there, childish as hell, and I was studying till quite late at night, so I was so bloody tired, I thought, “Now if I get into that bed, I’ve got to make it in the morning,” so I slept on the floor. I was simply, I was young, I was tired, but the easiest course was to sleep on the floor. So when I got up in the morning, I had
my clothes out, I don’t know where, in the morning, I packed all the drawers the night before, I only did it once. It didn’t worry very much at all. I got into trouble, I got into trouble once for having a dirty butt on the rifle and I hadn’t used Brasso. We always had tons of Brasso in our quarters, we cleaned everything, everything was brass. And I hadn’t,
I had a record, on my record, that I was hailed up before the commanding officer and fined five schillings, I think. And that was, they were good people, that was how you ran an air force in those days. It was a sort of an airborne army, and they couldn’t really take off from their base,
fly to the extent of their range and at night, find a target, attack it and find a way back to the base. So you had to have an enemy who would only fight you in the daytime, and not too far away. And, well, the RAAF changed very quickly.
time ago, I, was as I expected it. I trained in a very interesting aeroplane, we had two kinds of basic trainers at Point Cook, old Gipsy Moths, they were developed and later became the Tiger Moth. And the Gipsy Moth was a De Havilland aeroplane, a scaled down
version of the De Havilland DH4 World War I bomber, everything was just scaled down. Particularly the engine, the engine, the first Gipsy Moth had an engine of 60 horsepower, and they later came up to 80. We also had a fairly new trainer called an Avro Cadet, which actually had a metal frame, was covered in fabric, and it had brakes, too, there was a, the Moths didn’t.
It actually had a tail wheel. And I was taught to fly on an Avro Cadet, my instructor was a delightful guy who became a good friend over many years. And then once we’d learnt to fly, we six months learning to fly, we then flew on to an advanced type of aeroplane, it was a Westland Wapiti. The Westland Wapiti was a,
wasn’t, had been, until quite recently, in service in the RAAF and in the RAF. And the Westland, the first aeroplane to fly over Mount Everest was a beefed up Westland Wapiti, it had a fairly powerful engine and lots of wings, which meant it would go really high. And it was so high of the ground that to get into the pilot’s seat,
you climbed up through foot holes in the side. And some smart ass said to me, one morning said to me, “Well, now we know why we have parachutes, in case we fall off.” And it was an interesting aeroplane to fly, and it had no brakes, as I said, they didn’t believe in having brakes. A big, big aeroplane, and as you taxied up to the tarmac,
outside the hangar, the end of your session, you had to sort of reasonably not go barging round knocking out other aeroplanes. And as you got near the tarmac, two ground staff would rush out, and underneath each wing, was a hoop, a bit like half a netball hoop, and they grabbed this hoop and guide you in like two tugs on an ocean liner. You couldn’t
guide the aircraft when you were travelling slowly on the ground unless these people were hanging on to you. One would push, go quickly, the one would pull back so you could turn a corner. That was what you got used to.
And of course, whenever you’re through an experience like that, you make friends who’ll be your friends for a lifetime. Just about all dead now, I seem to have survived them. When I got to my first squadron, I had as a flight commander a more senior fellow, a flight Lieutenant who loved the air force and who really believed that the air force should be a fighting service, not just an outfit, you know, go to air pageants and
do aerobatics and formation flying. And he taught me importance of coping no matter what the conditions were. I was even escorting the first or second AIF convoy to leave Sydney and go off to Egypt. Went up the coast, our aeroplanes didn’t have a terribly long range, so we landed at
Coffs Harbour, I think, no, no, Kempsey, Kempsey, as the convoy went north, and we had to land at Kempsey to refuel. And we couldn’t escort at night time, because we couldn’t see, we had no radar. So at first light, we had to be out over the ships and we were taking off, we were due to take off in a fairly heavy fog,
on an airfield with no runways. This man said, “It’s easy to take off in conditions like that. You know the dimensions of the airfield, take off on the longest run, which is diagonally, taxi along one fence and have one of your crew watch your wing tip, making sure you don’t bash into the fence,” because you couldn’t see far “until you get to a corner, then turn and set the
diagonal run on your compass, then head off on that.” Most air force senior officers by that time just said, “We can’t take off.” This man said, “Well, of course, you can take off, you are supposed to be out over the ships by a certain time.” He used to, he liked formation flying because it was fun, and you’d formate on him fairly close and he’d call, and those were the only times we had voice radio.
It was quite complicated, the wireless operator had to be pulling leavers and doing all sorts of things every time you transmitted or received. And he’s call across on the voice radio, he’d say “Smithy, where the hell are you, I can’t see you,” and I’d be, you know, very close to him, he’d say “Oh, now I can see you. So far out, I can hardly see you, come in closer, come in closer.” As my wing tip would get closer and closer to his fuselage of his aircraft, his radio operator could see it,
I could see the fear on his face. But this man, Balmer, believed that you should do anything that you want to do in an aeroplane. And, but he particularly, he made me learn how to fly in all weather, he gave me lesson after lesson after lesson, in other words, you fly in good weather with a hood over you, and you just have to perform. And so, when I went onto operations,
in England where half our flying, more than half our flying was in bad weather, bad weather never licked me and it did, could kill a lot of people.
What did you love about flying? That time on coastal patrol.
It’s hard to say, I suppose what, there were some things that you had to overcome, and they weren’t that hard. It’s really easy to fly an aeroplane than drive a car. It became more complicated as time went on, I don’t think I’d like to fly an aeroplane today, when all you see is a mass of instruments, and nearly all now days, and it’s all bloody well digital stuff, a mass of
cathode ray tubes in front of you. You hardly look out at all, I don’t know whether I would like that, but I was lucky enough I flew when, I think, the time when flying was most interesting. We did, during the war, we did resort to electronics more and more and more and it made quite a difference to the way we fought. It was interesting, in the end, the eyeball’s come back
into being important again. But what I liked about flying, I suppose if you’ve got no one, when I flew, you’ve got no one looking over your shoulder, what the hell you’re doing. You’ve got a job to do, and you’ve got to make decisions, how to carry it out. You’ve got a crew who fly, in all operational flying I had a crew. Who you know very well, but you want to keep them
on the job. A lot of inexperienced captains, who trained with their crew, were the same rank as their crew, thought it was taking too much side to tell them what to do and to discipline them. And you’d have two gunners chatting together over the intercom and they shouldn’t, keep them quiet and the skipper wouldn’t like to say something to them. I didn’t hesitate, I kept my
crew on the job all the time, and they appreciated it. But I think, lots of good captains did that. It was very hard if you were junior in rank, I was much more senior to them, and I’d also had a lot of experience as an instructor. I did an awful lot of training exercises in the aircraft and so although I was a CO [Commanding Officer] of the squadron, my air bomber and I on the bombing range, had the best results of anyone on the
squadron. Because we trained and trained and trained. I trained and trained and trained in fighter cooperation with fighters, because I’d seem the benefits of training. It’s very hard to see all that if you don’t have a lot of experience.
be navigation experts. And some navy people, some merchant marine sea captains and some air force people who’d done navigation courses in England ran it, and we were taught, were given a navigation course, which qualified me at the end of the course. I friend of mine said, “You know there was a civil navigation certificate,” I said, “No,” he said, “Let’s go and get one,” and our
course enabled us to have a first class civil nav certificate. But only one or two people have that. They weren’t terribly important, it was nice to have it. And you really learned navigation so I haven’t done the course, I was a navigation instructor, at Point Cook, back where I learned to fly. Then I went to Sydney to be a station navigation officer and station operations officer and ran the operations room, by
the time I was married. And I went back to an operational training unit and became chief navigation instructor. I was lucky, though, in all these jobs I’d done a lot of instructing in the air and a lot of flying. I, for example, was able to fly my wife and baby from Sydney to Bairnsdale. When the baby was born, there was a time when civilians couldn’t get permission to travel interstate. The limited railway
facilities, so overloaded in the war in 1942 that civilians who wanted to travel interstate just couldn’t by a ticket, you had to have an authority to buy a ticket. Well, I had a wife and baby in Sydney, and I was in Bairnsdale in Victoria, it’s this place. So I got one of our smaller aircraft and flew on a navigation exercise to Moruya,
and she was able to fly in a little tiny airline from Sydney to Moruya, and because Moruya wasn’t going out of New South Wales, I landed at Moruya airstrip, which is an airstrip built for sort of coastal reconnaissance aircraft, and she and the baby got out of this civil aircraft and got into my aircraft, and we flew them from Moruya back to Bairnsdale where I landed on, in one of our satellite fields., I wasn’t silly enough to
land on the main air field, because what I was doing was highly illegal. And I had a crew, a wireless, I think a wireless operator with me, and flying across the mountains from Moruya to Bairnsdale, we flew over some high ground, it was a hot day, and the aircraft was very bumpy, and my wife became a bit airsick. So she handed the baby to the wireless
operator. The baby thoroughly wet by this time, and the wireless operator was, operated by key and while he was nursing my eldest child, now a woman in her 60’s, base called him, so there he was, nursing this baby and tapping away on the key. I wish I’d taken a photo of that, I’m sure it’s the first time ever an operator on one of His Majesty’s aeroplanes has nursed a
wet four weeks old baby, and communicated with base. And anyway, we got to Bairnsdale, and I’d arranged for a fellow in Bairnsdale taxi driver and of course, to even run a taxi in a country town, you couldn’t get enough petrol, he had a charcoal burner, he turned up with his old charcoal burner, picked us up and took us into a grubby little flat we’d rented on top of a shop
and, so, I’ve forgotten what got me talking about that. But various things that I, that you did
Europe was hotting up and the war out here was, had hotted up, and we had no, virtually no operational air force out here at all. Our army was in the Middle East, all our air force operational squad, bar one or two, were in the Middle East or in England, and we, if we had enough air craft here, I would’ve gone to an Australian squadron in the Pacific,
but we didn’t have any, enough air craft here. So I was sent to 10 Squadron, the Sunderland [flying boat] squadron on anti-submarine patrols, which were, you know, absolutely essential for England, the subs were sinking so many ships in the Atlantic. But when I got to England, as I said earlier, I diverted to bomber command temporarily
and I stayed there for three years. But I received a signal that I was to go overseas. I could go home and take leave. Went home and took leave, and I was told to report to such and such a wharf in Sydney and board a ship, which was an American naval troop carrier. Which meant that I new I was going to the west coast of America, that’s all I knew.
A friend of mine came with me, and we travelled across the Pacific and enjoyed it very much. The Americans were wonderful people. It was interesting, the war between the north and the south was still on in those days. The captain of the ship was a southerner, who was a delightful man, and most of his officers were goddamn Yankees [Americans]. This delightful southerner, I think preferred to talk to
these two Australian officers, than the Yankee officers he had. You know, it was a very efficient ship, but it was interesting to see the break between the south and the north. We landed at San Diego, which is a navy port, and the ship being a US navy ship was dry, and I used to want a few beers each day and it took us about
two and a half weeks to get across the Pacific, maybe longer. I hadn’t had a drink and neither had my friend, and he drank more beer than I did. And this dear Captain Powell, the southerner, said, “Well, you boys have got four hours to go ashore, enjoy yourself, then we’re going north.” We were the only people allowed off, the ship’s officers weren’t. Then we got down to the wharf and hailed a cab. And my friend said, “Take us to a pub.” And the driver, who was a Mexican guy,
shrugged his shoulders and “Huh?” and we said again “We want to go to a pub,” and he said, “Huh?” and we said, “We’ve been on that ship for nearly three weeks, we haven’t had a, we’ve been locked up,” and the driver said, “Okay.” And he took us to the closest brothel. We went inside, saw what was offered and said, “We’d rather have a drink.” We then got out, and got into another cab and told us, told him to take us to a tavern.
And when we got to a tavern we then found that there was a city election that day, and all the taverns were shut. It’s something we don’t do in Australia, when there’s an election on, you can’t, you know, taverns and pubs are closed. And we found that Tijuana, then, a little Mexican town was only about half an hour’s drive away, and we got a cab to Tijuana, where we could get a drink. We were this determined to get a drink. Got to Tijuana, where there were a lot of
fellows in hard hats, there was a ship building industry there, drinking hard liquor. So we had a few shots of whatever, of bourbon and realised that we were running late for the ship and just got back to ship in time. And, but, you know, if your young and you go ashore wanting a drink, and you don’t get a drink, well, you travel to another country. Once again, to travel across an international border, we didn’t have to produce any
passports, we were just in uniform.
developed a bubble sextant. Although, early in the piece, you used to use a marine sextant and you sight the horizon and sight the object, you know, a star or the sun or the moon. Had a bubble sextant and taking a shot with the bubble sextant, the bubble moves around a bit all the time, because the aircraft is moving, so the bubble sextant would have a device,
which took an average of the sights. Other words, you’d take, could take as many sights as you like and would average them, and therefore, the average would be more or less where, the mean position of the bubble. And then you got an altitude and you had tables which enabled you to work out a position line, and then if you wanted know where you were you took a, shot something else and you worked out another position line and worked out where you were.
But again, on all my bomber operations, the navigator didn’t use, only once did the navigator take a sight. We had electronics device called Gee, which would give you a position up to about a couple hundred miles from England till the Germans jammed it.
Then you navigated by DR [dead reckoning], and when you got close to the target, the Pathfinders which would use different radar had marked the target and you came in on the, you navigated, came in on the target. But you still needed your navigator also. He didn’t have an easy job, he had a very hard job. He navigated by dead reckoning in bomber operations, and to
navigate by dead reckoning, he had to know the correct wind speed and direction at the height at which you were flying and the pilot had to fly the accurate courses. The pilot’s military flying course was 010 and a flying course is 015, well, you know, poor dead reckoning bloke couldn’t cope. So you had to have a crew that were extremely efficient, extremely well trained and extremely well disciplined, and to stick, to concentrate on what they were doing.
And the challenge to the crews was the first time a lot of these fellows went to operations, they’d never done it before, where if they were in a ship or in the army, the new boy has got more senior non-commissioned officers looking over his shoulder saying “Look son, do this, do that,” or whatever. You get guidance. Sitting in an aircraft, at the end of an intercommunications link, and he had to,
although the captain could guide him and give him instructions over the intercom, the captain, he couldn’t go up and talk to the captain and say “What do I do now?” He had to make his own decisions and he had to discipline himself. And of course, if you came up against a German fighter pilot, who’d already he shot down 16 aeroplanes and knew exactly what to do, and you were on your first mission, it’s no wonder they were shot down.
And this used to upset me. Losing people upset me more than flying myself. I had a new crew come into the squadron, I’d meet them, I’d talk to them and I’d give them some duties, training duties. Before I got to know them, they’d be on a mission and they’d never turn up again. No one knows where they are, even today, they’re still part of the one thousand four hundred who lie in unknown graves, somewhere over Europe.
and that those that were shot down became prisoners, all right, we knew in due course, maybe one or two of the crew were prisoners. Seldom did the whole crew survive and particularly if a fighter got you when you had a full bomb load and the bombs exploded. Well, the bombs would explode and there’d be just one brilliant flash.
But then fuel in the aircraft …
and you formed your crew except for your flight engineer. You, it was interesting how a bomber crew formed. You sort of milled around till you talked to people you thought you could fly with. And I, of course, was a squadron leader and a bit senior officer then, and it was a bit hard for some of the sergeants and pilot officers to talk to me. But some of them were smart, they thought, “If he’s a squadron leader, he might be able to fly
better than some of the others.” Which I could, because, and, not an inherently better pilot, but a more experienced pilot. And I lucky I had a gunner who lived near my wife and because, well I found, he and I knew came from the same area. He joined my crew and we finally formed a crew, and you flew Wellingtons. And training, operational training was very
close to the real thing. There weren’t Germans shooting at you, but you were coping with the same awful weather which killed so many people. Coping with aircraft, which might have an engine failure on take off. And the final exercise, and what interested me, you were told to take leaflets, the propaganda war was very important, you were always dropping leaflets on each other. And we went off to France to drop leaflets in enemy territory.
And you were given an area where there wasn’t supposed to be much opposition, and if you didn’t survive, if you didn’t come back from that leaflet exercise, of course, you were failed. If you got back, you were passed. And then, but what impressed me, though, was the high standards of efficiency of training. The RAF was really an efficient wartime machine by 1943, it was the best air
force in the world, because they’d been fighting for their life since 39, and also since 1940, they’d been the only force that could attack Germany, after the British forces were kicked out of France and Dunkirk, the only way you could take the war to the Germans was by bomber force. You could attack the German submarines with the, in the Atlantic, but the Germans were attacking England, they were bombing England, they were sinking English ships. The only way you could get at their
factories and their communications links was the bomber force. So the bomber force had got rid of all the senior officers who weren’t any good, and learned tactics and they were a highly efficient force, and they impressed my tremendously, and I enjoyed being with them. I didn’t think much of the Wellington, it was an old aeroplane. And then I went onto another aeroplane and finally flew a Lancaster, and it was such a delight to fly. I went, there was a
training unit called a Lancaster finishing school, were you flew the Lancaster and the flight engineer joined the crew. And then I was then posted to 467 Squadron. But by the time I went onto operations, I was completely confident in the aircraft, but I had no idea what to expect, attacking a German target. And it was usual, and I insisted on it, I did two trips as a
sort of a passenger, or second pilot, with an experienced operational pilot and it was quite interesting. It was fine weather, we attacked the German city of Aachen where there were industries we wanted to attack, and we could see the, as we approached it, the first wave had gone in, and from the long distance, I was standing up beside the pilot with nowhere for me to sit in the aircraft, I could see from a
long distance away, the anti-aircraft fire, the tracer fire, shells exploding, aircraft being hit and going down. It was horrifying. The first time since I’d been a boy at Sunday school I started to pray. And, you know, knowing he had to fly into this cauldron of fire and hopefully survive. And so we flew into it, and all the firing got closer and closer and we
dropped our bombs and came back. Then I did another one, this time, I knew what to expect. And I found I could look around and see more what was going on. So by the time I did my first trip, and took my crew, because I didn’t want to take my crew unless I knew what to expect. It was the drill, anyway. I knew what to expect, and I was able to guide them, and after a while, once you got used to it,
I stopped praying because I realised there were more people on the ground praying to the same God, that I be shot down, and I was praying. So by sheer weight of numbers if prayer counts for anything, that it was no good me praying. In the end, I learned that the power of prayer doesn’t count for a damn thing. But, and, after a while, I was, usually when you’re in a flight you make adrenalin
if your flight, you make a adrenalin, which is God’s gift to primitive people. Once your adrenalin is flowing you can, it’s a fight or flee drug, you can run faster, and you can fight better. Well, sitting strapped in an aeroplane, you can neither run or fight with your fists and the adrenalin used to, first of all, pour through my body, and I could feel my body, which was cold, and my feet were freezing
always. Feet get very cold, sitting in minus 20 degrees or so temperature, I’d feel this warmth going down to my feet. Then and I was very lucky, the adrenalin affected me more than other people. It speeded up my brain functions because I couldn’t speed up my leg muscles. If your brain functions, if your brain goes, operates quicker, you don’t know it’s operating quicker, everything else slows down. And three or four things that might happen just at once,
you think, “Now,” with a fast brain, it happens in sequence, one, and two, and you can think of what to do with each one. The other thing, the adrenalin did, was it improved your night vision, again, it couldn’t go to my other muscles, it went to my eyes. And you could see further at night time, which was a fantastic asset. So what with the adrenalin, I actually started to enjoy it in the end. With, you know, I,
and a lot of people had adrenalin, but I talked to my pilots, I seemed to benefit more from it than others did. Maybe because it flowed to my brain easier than anybody else, I don’t know. But after the first terrible fear, “God please save me from this,” stuff, you got used to it. And then of course what happened of course was that the adrenalin effect would wear out after you’d been subjected
yourself to it, say, 20 to 25 times. And even those people who did benefit from adrenalin, the last four or five operations, were taking a bit casually, and that’s when they were shot down quite often. But the first, the casualty rate was awful. I formed a squadron in November 43, and I had about
25 crews come in. Within six months, I’d had 25 crews shot down. Not the same crews, but I’d lost the equivalent of the whole complement of my squadron in six months. And then towards D Day, June , ’44, when the Allies landed on,
at Normandy, in the three months before that, our operations were intensified, we weren’t really bombing German targets, we were bombing the communications, particularly communication and transportation system, which the Germans would need if they were fighting off invaders. And that, particularly the railway system. Everything moved by railway in Europe as it did here. The roads weren’t crash hot, there were no
autobahns or fast roads. The armies and civilians moved by rail, which was very efficient, but it was also very easy to attack. If there was a rail junction, you destroyed it so the Germans would protect it very well. And we suffered terrific losses attacking rail junctions. Also because they were in France or Belgium, we went very low in to bomb them, and so we had more loss, I had more losses
in some of those targets than I did over Germany. But, now I’ve lost my thread.
in the right direction. Your fuel tanks were full, everything was right. Oh, you would just check your crew were okay and you’d run through that with the flight engineer. On a big aircraft, it was quite a drill, quite often it was written down, so you would miss nothing. It’s hard to remember everything. You then, if you weren’t on an operational flight, you’d tell the tower when you wanted to line up on the runway, and they’d give you permission to line up on the runway and permission to take off. When operations were on, there was radio silence,
and you lined up on the runway when the fellow in front of you had gone, and you waited till you got a green light from the little caravan by the edge of the runway. Once you got the green light, off you went. As you took off, the navigator would be reading the air speeds and telling you what speed you were going at, because you would be watching where you were running down the runway was pitch dark and hardly any, a blackout everywhere and only tiny little lights down the runway.
Watching that, and watching the, and the aircraft always flew overloaded, so the run was longer than it should be. The navigator told you when you reached sort of unstick speed, he told you the speed and you would unstick it, and you would lift the aeroplane of the runway, the moment you got off the runway, you were onto instruments. You were flying by the instruments. As soon as the speed had built up enough, or, as soon as you were off the ground, you retracted the undercarriage,
the flight engineer would retract the undercarriage. Then the navigator would be giving you the speeds and as soon as we were fast enough, you would retract the flaps because you needed some flap, take off flap to get off the ground. But once the aeroplane was clean, with wheels tucked in and the flaps pulled in, you knew then, that you could cope with an engine failure. If you had an engine failure while the wheels were down and the flaps were down, well, you went straight into the ground. And
killed a lot of people on the ground as well, there were usually houses everywhere. Once the aeroplane was clean, you could relax and then you started to climb to altitude. And when you climbed to, you climbed fairly slowly, but you aimed to be at altitude as you hit the Channel, and you crossed the enemy coastline as high as you could. And then you knew that as you were getting close to the enemy
coast, they had you on their radar. The German radar was very good, they had long range radar and gun control radar. But the long range would pick you up and that’s when we started using our own counter-radar devices.
the wave, if you dropped a hell of a lot of this aluminium foil, they couldn’t see through it. So every aircraft in a certain position was shown to drop this window, this foil called window. I had a, it was in a roll with, beautiful aluminium foil. And that confused them, the Germans, for a while. The first time it was used, it confused the Germans completely, but in the end, they got the
hang of it. And we still dropped a hell of a lot, but the air bomber would be busy chucking this stuff out when I tell him to. And as you got over, within range of the German guns, the battery of guns, the big heavy anti-craft guns would fire at you. And they would fire the battery of fire at once, about three or four or five aircraft, and the guns would fire at once. Now as they fire, there’s
a little bit of muzzle flash, which you wouldn’t see, but the muzzle flash would reflect on the ground. And just around the ground around these guns, going out not very far, there would be a little bit of twinkling of light, and I found that if I looked very carefully, I could see it. A lot of people couldn’t see it. You knew, you then could assume that about six, five or six shells were on their way to you set to burst at your height,
right where you were. Now, they that predicted your direction and your speed, because they didn’t shoot you, they shot at you where you would be by the time the shells got up there. So that if you stayed along the same course and same speed, and they were accurate, the shells would burst around you and bring you down. So the first thing you did, once I saw those flashes, I altered course or speed so that I wouldn’t be where I, they thought I’d be.
And the shells would, sometimes, they’d be shooting at someone else, but if they were shooting at me, the shells would burst to one side, or behind, and your air gunner saw some or in front. If they burst in front, you’d fly through the cloud of smoke, and you’d smell the cordite immediately, sometimes very close, you’d see it and then smell the cordite, but you’d never hear it above the noise of your engines.
But once you smelt the cordite, you knew they were getting close. And once you were over the enemy occupied territory, you concentrated on navigation, you concentrated on watching out for enemy fighters.
flat out, because I believed in height. The higher you were, the longer it took the fighters to get up to you. In fact, I gradually developed, over the time I was flying, a different, my own procedure, which I would’ve had I stayed and done another tour of operation in Lancasters, told all other pilots to fly. Most pilots were taught to weave a bit
so that your gunner could see down if you went from one side to the other, the gunner could see down. Or if you were under attack, to do a thing called a corkscrew, go like this and this and this. And I found that that lost you height and confused the navigators like anything, and the navigator was terribly important. Unless he guided you to the target, you wasted your whole effort. And so I concentrated on flying dead straight and level, telling the navigator if he went to sleep, I’d kill him.
And the navigator by, was a little bloke, by standing up in his turret, the poor bugger, the whole time over Germany, he’d stand up and crouch. Couldn’t stand up high, he’d stand up sort of crouched. He could look down and swing his turret from side to side and look down. And by concentrating and flying very, very, very, accurately, I could get higher than nearly all the other aircraft. And higher than some of the German fighters, some of German fighters had an operational
ceiling of about 20 thousand feet. Others had an operational ceiling well above mine. And I had less air combat than other crews, other crews flying lower and weaving about, had double the number of air contests I did, had. The other thing is, when my gunner told me an enemy fighter was approaching, instead of weaving around, I would pull the engines back on one side of the aeroplane,
the same time, roll the thing onto one side and the same time push, the rudder would roll to one side, I’d push the rudder that way, full the amount it would go and the aeroplane would just, it would turn over and just drop out of the sky, it wouldn’t fly, it would drop. So you can imagine your poor German fighter, he’s lining up someone and the aeroplane just drops out of the sky, disappeared.
altitude, whatever, it’s going along like that, there’s an awful lot of drag, and not much lift. If you fly just like that, you go, you might have no drag and not much lift, but there’s a position, which I used to call getting on step like you do in a speed boat, it’s by, by holding it level, I could get an altitude, because, you could fly an aeroplane at a number of altitudes on long flights. I’d get an altitude where the speed would
pick up by a couple of knots. Once the speed picked up by a couple of knots, I pulled the nose up a little bit, turned that speed into altitude. And I’d get to a height where the speed would drop off, and I’d level out again, wait till the speed picked up a bit, and I’d change that speed into altitude, and you gradually, slowly, and also as the fuel load went down, you were lighter, a lighter aircraft flies higher.
And you, I gradually got to the greater height. Now, of course, it varied with each aircraft, I, as squadron commander, I felt it was wrong to have my own aircraft. You usually had your own aircraft and I noticed the difference. The ground staff really concentrated on making sure the squadron commander had the best serviced aircraft. Remember, I was to be flying on the same target as members of my squadron,
my aircraft would be in better condition than theirs, so I didn’t have one. I’d ring the flight commander and I’d say “Give me an aeroplane.” And usually he might have a crew who weren’t flying or on leave or air (UNCLEAR) or service. He usually gave me the duff aircraft no one else wanted to fly. And I flew a wide variety of Lancasters, and I found they were all different. The techniques I’d use on one, mightn’t work on another. One I could get up to 24 thousand feet,
and another one the highest I could get would be, maybe 22 and a half. But it was very interesting, of course, to see the difference in all these aeroplanes. They might be made in different factories, nothing was exactly the same (UNCLEAR). But my technique was to get high, and I couldn’t have done unless I had such a competent gunner and competent navigator. But then when we reached
the target, particularly if it was a target in, tactical target, a target in occupied country, because then you came down to a height at which you were told to bomb, which sometimes it was very, very low, extremely low, we also went up again, but over a German city, I didn’t fly that much. You see, by that time, well, before that time,
being in the air force and interested in Germany and what was happening, knowing I was going to go to war with Germany, I noticed that as the, as Hitler and his military forces overran all the weaker countries of Europe. France, and first of all, with Austria and Czechoslovakia and then France and then Holland and Belgium and Poland, and these places
they had no hesitation, try to wipe out Warsaw and Rotterdam by bombing, it was total war. As this went on, the masses of German people seemed to get hysterical in their adoration for the Fuhrer. He was really showing them that the Germans were a master race, “Look how they wiped out all these lower breeds around them.” They had no hesitation in seeing their neighbours who were Jews degraded and carted
off to be exterminated and moving into their house. Or accepting from their cousins and brothers who were in the army, they’d captured in France or Belgium, whatever, I reckon, and I realised it was total war, so I didn’t really mind if, and I don’t mind admitting it, that if my bombs strayed off a little bit. But the things that I’ve read and it’s been said that the bomber command went to war against
defenceless German civilians, well, I didn’t attack one German city unless we were after a legitimate target. So defence factory, munitions factory or something, or a railway junction. I also knew that all the people, civilians were working in that factory and were participants as much as I was, it was total war.
And a good example of that is, the city of Dresden. Now, Bomber Command have been vilified for cruelly and wantonly attacking Dresden. Now, Dresden was not a legitimate target for year after year after year, so it was never attacked, there was no point attacking it. But towards the end of the war, and in 1945, two things happened. Because Dresden had never been attacked, the Germans started putting some of their
essential industries, particularly electronic industries in Dresden. And also, by the time it was attacked, the Russian forces were only about 300 miles away. And all the German reinforcements, the Russians were gradually advancing, all the reinforcements to the German lines, were going through, well most of them, through Dresden. The Russians said, “Look, you’ve got to wipe out that railway junction there,” that Dresden was attacked as a
legitimate target. And there had never been, bomber command weren’t interested in it when it wasn’t a legitimate target.
really, and I hate saying it, rather the pick of the air crews, Australians sent overseas and because we were sent overseas early. We were motivated, we wanted an end to the war and get back home. But towards the end of the war, the Lancaster was the most efficient bomber, so was used on the hardest targets, so we had the heaviest losses. The Australians had, I gather from a book written by an Englishman, had less people
doing early returns, failing to attack the target, they pressed on better. See, quite a lot of crews would drop their bombs over France or the, or short of the target because they looked at the opposition and they’d drop their bombs and say fail to attack the target and come back. It’s very hard if, you’re on your own and there’s no one there watching you, and you’re inexperienced and scared and you’re crew are scared too.
And that’s why, every time you bombed the enemy, you had a photograph which showed, which showed, which exposed the plate on the camera, the time the bomb hit the ground. We even then had early versions of tape recorders, they were called wire recorders. Everything that was said in the aircraft was put on a spool of wire. They disappeared, people, a lot of people think it’s weird but what, there were no tape
recorders, it was put on a spool of wire. That could be played so you could, you know exactly what went on in an aircraft. It wasn’t so much to catch the defaulters, but was to improve your techniques, improve the bombing. See it was noticed that, from the photographs, that a lot of bombs went to one side of the target. That was analysed, well, why did that happen? How can we stop it happening again?
they, this Empire Air Scheme was conceived. And they came to Australia and said, “Well, you know, as far as, you know, the AIF and things, this is great, but we really need air crew. We’re making the aircraft, but we’re not making any air crew, you’ll have the air crew. And you don’t have to worry about defending Australia, the Royal Navy and the massive defences of Singapore will protect you.” And so
set Australia up as an air crew training organisation, in that we trained pilots, we trained navigators, we trained wireless operators and gunners. And an agreement was signed that these people would be sent to England for two years. This is before Japan came into the war. Now, but, there was an agreement signed between Churchill and Menzies. Then, as the war progressed
and particularly in the three months before D Day, in about April, March or April 1944, when we were attacking these highly defended tactical targets, the railway junctions and coastal gun batteries and coastal German radar stations, our losses started to go up tremendously. Now, at the same time, the RAAF
started to get, at last, some heavy bombers from the Americans, the Liberators. And Curtin said to Churchill, “We would like some of our experienced bomber pilots back those who have done a tour of duty. They’ve done a tour of duty for England, but we want them back here.” And Churchill said, “You signed an agreement, so they’ll be, stay under our control for two years. If we want them to do a second tour, we will.” Well, you know, as that agreement had been signed before Australia was fighting for its life against Japan and,
it was, that was the attitude of Churchill. And what happened, Curtin then started just to bring people back, without any further ado, some crews were just, after they’d finished their tour of duty, were just sent back to Australia. And the English government, I can’t remember who the letter was, I saw a letter,
but I can’t remember who it was signed by said to five group headquarters that this group, the 463 and 467 Squadron, “This Australian policy, this administrative decision to return crews to Australia to repatriate them, were contrary to the agreement made by the Australian government that they’ll stay here for two years, may cause some shortages in RAF squadrons” because half the crews that went over there, the Australian crews, served in RAF squadrons,
they didn’t serve in RAAF squadrons. “May cause some shortages and this is not to be allowed to happen. These crews, these shortages are to be replaced by reinforcements going to the Australian squadrons.” Which meant once that my licence started and 467 got started and built up, in about April, we found we were getting no reinforcements. The reinforcements that we thought we would get, were going to nearby RAF squadrons. It meant
that I was flying people who I would normally have rested, they might have a new gunner or they might’ve, one of them might’ve been ill or one of them might’ve been, had a nasty experience and they were new and I thought I’d give him a rest. I found I was flying people I shouldn’t have flown, so my losses went up. And meanwhile on side of me, there were RAF squadrons at full strength, a lot of Australians in. Which wasn’t good enough, and I went,
took my aeroplane, my little Oxford, and flew down to, close to London where I had a friend I used to stay with and got on a train and went to London. And went to RAAF headquarters and got nowhere about this. And I put it in my diary that I did this point but then I complained again, and finally they got the message in RAAF headquarters and the Senior Australian air force officer, Air Vice Marshall
Wrigley and his senior staff officer, came to Waddington and visited us, and saw actually what was happening. And they were aghast. I showed them the figures. The next thing I heard was that Stanley Bruce, the Australian High Commissioner, ex-Australian Prime Minister, was coming up to see for himself. I got a message from his office he was coming up. He’d come without any staff, he wanted to find out for himself, just a car and a driver.
And could I fix accommodation on the station for a couple of nights. And this was also passed, I passed this to the group headquarters. And about three days before Bruce was due to arrive, the station commander, was an RAF station, there were two Australian squadrons, the station commander was a very pleasant Englishman, a group captain (UNCLEAR) came to me and said, “Rollo, your High Commissioner is coming up.” I said, “Yes sir,” he said, “Well, do you think you could
put him off?” so I asked why, he said, “Well,” he said, “It’s difficult having him up here, it’s inconvenient really.” I said, “Why is it inconvenient?” he said, “Well, for a start, we have no accommodation for him.” Well, that time I was the president of the officer’s mess, and I knew there was accommodation. And this bloke knew I knew, and he was so embarrassed, because he completely disagreed with what I was told to do.
Anyway, I’ll, and I’ll just go back a bit. Just before this happened, my concern was so apparent that the flying group headquarters operations officer, staff officer, officer operations asked me to come and see him. And he showed me a letter which, where his group was instructed to take my crews and put them in an RAF squadron. And he was appalled, and I was appalled.
And anyway, we’d been told that Bruce wasn’t to come. He was an anglophile, I think was the right word, he was an ex-Australian Prime Minister, he was our High Commission, to be told he couldn’t visit two Australian squadrons. Anyway, I sent this message to Bruce, he came anyway. And
he came, and that’s the time I became a republican. I know it’s that exact date in May when I became a republican. The word republican didn’t come into my mind, but Australia should leave this British Commonwealth and have our forces under control of a man like Churchill, who was great for them. But you know, Churchill’s misdeeds are well known, when he diverted
the 7th Division, on it’s way back from the, Egypt to the defence of Australia, diverted it to Burma, to try to protect Burma. Curtin heard about it, he didn’t even tell Curtin, Curtin heard about it and had the Division diverted back to Australia again, and it was, you know, on a convoy of ships. And I think if he’d spoken to Churchill, and said, “Show me on the map where Australia is,” he wouldn’t have known. Anyway,
an Australian, it was, Curtin said, “an Australian government first responsibility is to defend Australia,” now the UK government couldn’t accept that, our first responsibility was to rush to the defence of England. I was told “Look, don’t worry what happens, once we’ve licked Germany, we’ll come back. We’ll come back and kick the Japanese out of Australia.” Now I had a wife and child here, you know, and this is how I felt. If we were under Japanese military
occupation, so you know, if you elect a government, you elect a government to defend your country before anything else. Now, in the beginning, we had no enemy in Japan, our country was defended by getting rid of the Nazis, the Nazi government of Germany. How, we, I was going to say, shortly after
Stanley Bruce visited, Curtin came to England. Not because of the fuss I’d been kicking up, but because he was disgusted with various things that were happening. Because of the fuss I’d been kicking up, and also the other station, the other squadron commander there, a friend of mine, he came to Waddington. And the RAF turned it on beautifully for him. The RAF didn’t do what Churchill
did, there was an official dinner turned on. Now I’d met presidents so I was host that dinner. I had Curtin on my right and senior RAF officer on my left and a senior Australian officer, Wrigley sitting opposite me, but I had none of my squadron there, because we were operating that night, well, I just couldn’t go. So, and then Curtin came down to see the fellows off, came down onto the airfield to see our blokes off.
He was going to wait till they came back, well, fog descended and bad weather so they were diverted to another field so they never came back. Churchill, I got access to Churchill’s papers down the archive some years ago and Churchill was disgusted with the way he was treated. I’ve forgotten his exact words, he didn’t come all the way down to sit down and be lectured by a pompous old fart or something. Churchill,
Curtin, did I say, Curtin, anyway Curtin’s papers, Curtin got an invitation when he got over there and Churchill well, Curtin, he must like, he made it was like a quiet weekend “Come down to Checkers my family will be there and have a quiet weekend with my family and myself,” and Curtin thought that would be great. Well, he went down to Chequers and there was the whole of the British war cabinet there. Churchill’s family weren’t about, and that’s in his papers in the archives.
And he was disgusted, because he was told, you know, he couldn’t have his crews back, he couldn’t do this, he couldn’t do that. Anyway, he, what happened after his visit, I started getting my crews. I would doubt if I would’ve got my crews to replace the losses I was having if it hadn’t been for Curtin’s visit. And that’s that story, but the British military
forces were quite fantastic people, they were real experts at the art of fighting war. And of course, in bomber command, we were fighting total war, which the Germans had invented, was necessary, particularly, and I realised how important this was when I saw these V2s. I was drinking in a pub in London in early ’45, and I heard this bloody great explosion. Terrific explosion, said, “What’s that?”
it was an exploding gas main, the official word for it. But it’s a V2 bomb. And they also had
he really wants to press on and attack the target, but something or other happens and something goes wrong and we come back. And we support him, he’s a good captain,” this is, you know, the obvious thing to do. And if this man had turned back once more, he would’ve been declared LMF, which is most degrading. You were taken off in disgrace and you finished up in some disgusting army job that cleaned latrines.
And so I said to him, an English navigator, a very experienced navigator, a delightful fellow, a Flight Lieutenant, came to the squadron for his second tour, he was on his own. And I thought, “Now, he’s a strong man. If I put him in this aircraft, replace the navigator with him, and made him captain, he’d no doubt be the strength they need.” So I talked to the
pilot, and I talked to his crew, and I said, “If I put a, if I change your navigator, not that there’s anything wrong with the existing one, with this experienced bloke, who’s done a couple of tours, and make him captain, how would you feel?” And the pilot said, I keep, I asked him if, the pilot, his name was Shomburg, said yes, he’d go along with it, the crew said they’d go along with it, they were, and the Flight
Lieutenant said he was happy, he’d be captain, and I told him what the problem was. Off they went, and because they never came back again, and that’s quite a (UNCLEAR). And it really, really makes me ashamed, I should never have done that. I was trying to save Shomburg’s dignity and
I killed this poor bloody flight Lieutenant and the whole crew and I never thought that would do that to me, and I’ve never talked about it before. But anyway, that was the only case of lack of moral fibre, apparent lack of moral fibre we ever had. Now, you can turn this thing off, will you? You couldn’t do much, you see, one thing I haven’t explained was that you were not only an operational pilot,
but commanding a lot of flying people, but you were running a thing like an airline. Now imagine an airline, imagine like Qantas that today, you wouldn’t know where you were flying tonight, but you had to send 20 aircraft to a location you didn’t know where, carrying a load you didn’t know what it would be, and whether in fact you would have
20 aircraft. Because eight, three of them were shot up the night before and so the administrative work was a full time job, and that’s why some squadron commanders didn’t fly very much, because they were running the squadron. And the management training I received there was fantastic, you learned to do what would take a week, you know, previously in a day,
because you had to get aircraft crewed, crews had to be
usually by midday, that operations were on. The moment operations were on, the first thing that happened, all telephone links from the station to outside world were cut. You couldn’t ring your girlfriend and say, “Look darling, I can’t take you out tonight, I’m flying,” you couldn’t even tell your wife, this, some poor bloody wives, the Englishmen had their wives, living in the village next door, these poor girls were, would know and that’d upset too.
And I used to know that they would wait around camp counting aircraft as they were coming back. Anyway, once operations were on, the first thing you did was, you had a meeting of squadron commanders, be a telephone hook up. Each squadron commander in the group, plus the squadron, plus the group
commander and the various intelligence officers and meteorological officers would have a conference, telephone conference. At Waddington, there’d be the two squadron commanders, our met officer, the station commander and base commander. So (UNCLEAR) some would be only two, and you’d discuss the target and the route and the Pathfinder techniques, how the, there was a wide variety of techniques, and I won’t go through it now,
mark the target for you. And the time, the, particularly the weather report, and the time on target, and when everything else was relevant, and these things would be kicked around, the decisions would, decisions might be made by group headquarters, they might be made after the discussion. Anyway a, there would be a decision. Well then what happened after that, was you, you didn’t tell anybody where the
target was, didn’t tell a word. And first of all, checked up on your aircraft, now, there was a separate maintenance group that, whose job was provide me with my aircraft, it wasn’t, with a senior officer running it, but he looked after 463 Squadron aircraft. You get onto him and he’d tell you what aircraft you would have. Definitely or maybe, he might, two nights ago, two of them might
have landed at a field close to the coast coming back from Germany with one engine out and it hadn’t yet been fully repaired and delivered back to the squadron. So, or one aircraft would come back shot up, and you know that you might have so many aircraft. Or you might be told you only had to put on a part of your squadron. Usually it was maximum effort, if it wasn’t maximum effort, you didn’t worry so much. Then you checked the flight commanders, they owned the crews, what crews would they have.
And then the next thing is that, every pilot with me would do a night flying check. Everything in the aircraft have to work properly, so the pilot would get his full crew, and they’d take off and test everything. They’d test the guns, they’d test the navigation equipment, they’d test the bomb sights, the whole bloody lot. So they’d come back and they know, well, I want an aeroplane that’s mechanically
sound to fly tonight or “I’ve got some defects,” and they’d tell the engineering people and the defects would be, they’d get a promise to be fixed or maybe it’d be fixed or can’t be fixed. Then knowing the time over target, you work off it, back from that. Time over target is whatever, say, one in the morning. You work back from that, the time of take off, from that the time of briefing, from that the time you’ve fed the buggers, because they mightn’t have another meal for
12 or 15 hours, they had to be very efficient, or if they bailed out or tried to avoid being captured, they mightn’t have a meal for another two days. So you’d get onto the messes and tell the messes. And then a hell of a lot of organisation. Then, now I seldom did a night flying test, because I was busy doing all this, but my crew would go out to the aircraft and check everything. There, for each distinct crew member,
there would be, the gunners would have a gunnery leader, the navigators would have navigation leader, the engineers would have an engineer leader, now the various leaders would call meetings, and they would decide well, the opposition, or the gunnery leader would decide the opposition are likely to have, requires this time of ammunition in the aeroplanes. So the gunner himself would ensure that it was the right ammunition, it was his, he was the man who was going to fire that gun, he’d check
that the gun trains had the right ammunition loaded in. The bomb aimer, now would check that all his equipment’s working properly. Then depending on the target, the bomb load at the last minute would be decided and then the bomb dump would have to load the aircraft. Then, depending on the target and the weather, the fuel load would be decided. Now if a full fuel load was essential, because of the weather,
drained some full, you changed all the maps issued to the navigators, it was bloody hell, and the people because, I didn’t have to do that, I just had to make sure it was done. Then the next thing was that the crews had a meal, and they did fairly well for eating seeing England was so short of food. You know England, that I
remember is Spam and brussels sprouts and potatoes and potatoes and potatoes. But they had a meal and then they went to a number of briefings, the, as I think I mentioned before, each trade had their own briefing, particularly the navigators, they had to be very well briefed, because they had to get us there, and they drew out the appropriate maps. And then we went to a briefing room where
the whole squadron sat down in the briefing room, everyone who was flying that night. And they got a weather report, a report from the intelligence officer, I got up and said something, once in a blue moon the station master might say something. Then we joined together as crews, and I’ve got a photo that I can show you on that too. And each pilot briefed his own crew.
And then you went and got into your flying gear. And you’d get into a bus, a WAAF [Women’s Auxiliary Air Force] driver would drive you out to your aircraft, the crews would start taking their gear into the aircraft, the navigator had to take along a lot of maps and the bomb aimer had to take maps that he needed. The other gunner, you know, might me taking something. I’d go and see the ground crew chief and talk to him.
Then you had a, I always had a nervous piss on the tail wheel for luck. Made sure I had my lucky charm. You’d climb in, you’d know the time you were due to start the engines, and when you were ready, you started the engines, you checked the crew and you’d taxi onto a taxi track. And you could see other aircraft on the taxi track. There were no lights, but they had their nav lights on and you could see them anyway, no matter how dark the night was. And then you got
to the runway and you waited your turn, you got onto the runway. Once you were ready to go, you got a green light and off you went. By this time, turning off your nav lights. Then your heart was in your mouth for the next 30 seconds until you had your wheels and flaps up and you could cope with an engine failure and then off you went.
just staggered into the air. It needed maximum power from all four engines to stay airborne. If one of those four engines failed, you could, you’d crash straight ahead, because you had a lot of drag, and you had these flaps out which were the take off position. They were giving you lift, but they were giving you drag, and you needed the power of the four engines to be able to fly. As you gradually picked up
speed, with all this apparatus hanging out, you gradually withdrew the flaps little bit by little bit. You got your wheels up as soon as you could, because they weren’t doing anything for you at all, but the flaps were. So not until the aeroplane was completely clean, and you could accelerate, then you could fly on three engines. In fact, something I, particular about the Lancaster I liked, the Lancaster could fly with a full load on three engines,
providing the engines failed at the right time, one engine failed at the right time. It could fly fairly well on two engines, although you’d dump your bomb load. On just one engine, you could keep it in the air on a slight downward path, it wouldn’t fall out of the sky. I, at the end of the war, when I was flying Mosquitos, I heard that my brother and some friends of mine had been in a prison camp,
and I heard through sources where there were a lot of air crew ex-POWs [Prisoner of War] milling around an airfield in Germany. I wanted to bring them back and so I borrowed a Lancaster, which again shows what you can do, if you’re running a good squadron, you only run a good squadron because you manage it properly and you fly yourself, you can, you had a lot of freedom. I went and, to another squadron, I borrowed a Lancaster, crewed it with Mosquito people, who’d never flown in a four
engine bomber, which they despised immensely. I flew to this particular airfield named Rhein, in Western Germany, and on the way there, one engine started to overheat, so I shut it down. I landed on, I wanted to pick up my brother, I landed on three and taxied up, it was interesting landing, the runway was, had
bomb holes, bomb craters in it. It had been bombed but you could do this between the bomb craters, it wasn’t that bad. And I went to one hard standing, with a couple of other Lancasters there, and a lot of air crew milling around, but I couldn’t see my brother, he’d been seen earlier in the day. But I was taking up precious parking space, there wasn’t much, and I had a lot of really ill men who had every disease you could think of.
Stomach diseases, lung diseases, broken limbs, some of them were lousy, you know, had lice in them, because they’d been sleeping in fields and been pushed across Germany sleeping in cattle trucks for some months. So I took off. Now the Lancaster, as I said, only had three engines, I started on four, and got the crook one running long enough until I had rudder control, and before it overheated and seized up,
I stopped it. But because I was, only had enough fuel to get back to England and no bomb load, I had 24 bods [bodies] in it, but they weren’t as heavy as the bombs, it took off on three, I went back to England, landed these guys at this place specially set up for them, on three, taxied in, then did the same thing to get off again. Started running on four, stopped the fourth, and on three with
none of the passengers, and no bombs and hardly any fuel left, it took off like a rocket. Before that on one occasion, when I was chief instructor of the heavy bomber conversion unit, when I first went there, it had a bomber called a Sterling. Sterlings had been phased out, they were the first heavy bomber and they were bastards to fly. And we lost a lot of our trainees because of engine failure and all sorts of failures.
And you were talking about the smell of aircraft, they stunk, they had hydraulic oil leaks everywhere, and hydraulic oil stinks like hell. And I became allergic to it, gave me all sorts of lung problems, very strong smell, hydraulic oil. Anyway, the Sterling pilots, the Sterling instructors were dead scared if an engine failed. They, their morale wasn’t terribly high, and when the Lancasters came they said, “Is this like a Sterling?” I
said, “No way is it like a Sterling.” I took them up, about five or six of my Sterling instructors, they’d never flown a Lancaster, and we were flying along at about 4000 feet, I said, “Look,” and I stopped one engine, I pressed a feathering button. They all went like this and they got used to it, and I said, “Look,” and I feathered another one on the same side, they didn’t believe what happened. By that time, I got carried away, I got stupid, I said, “We’ll even fly on one,” they said, “It won’t,” I said, “Yes it will.”
I’d never flown on one before, I feathered the third and it flew along nicely, except in about 20 miles we would’ve come down to the ground. Then I said, “We’ll start them up again,” well, the trouble was, two of the engines I’d stopped had the generators running. And I, generating no power and the batteries, it was a brand new aeroplane, the batteries had come from the factory, not fully charged. You need a lot of power to start them up again. But
I thought we were going to have to bail these fellows out and I was going to have a very, very red face. And anyway, we turned off every circuit in the aircraft, the radio and other stuff, we flew along, seeing if the batteries would recover. And finally, I was able to start one engine. It nearly didn’t, then I had a generator going and then I thought it shows the Lancaster would fly quite safely on two and
gently lose height on one.
And the captain then said to the navigator, “Give me a course for back home.” Now, a course back home wasn’t always straight back home. We don’t made it too easy for the Germans, so you did a dog leg back home, you’d go this way and that way and this way. And I had an occasion once when I was attacked just after leaving the target and I was flying, throwing the aircraft around
a lot, and the navigator’s oxygen tube became disconnected in the manoeuvres. He didn’t know he wasn’t breathing oxygen, he just couldn’t tell it was cold air coming in. And it was time to go to do, start a dogleg, instead of going straight home you go the long way. And he gave me a course I thought was wrong, I said, being an ex-navigator, I always kept a bit of a mental plot.
I queried his course, and he said, “No, that’s it,” and I queried again, and he said, “If you don’t like my courses, I’ll come up on the flight deck and fight you.” Now this man, never in (UNCLEAR) history he’d say he’d come and fight anybody, he was the most placid chap, he’d never say that to his captain, and then I spoke to him, I heard nothing. And I said to the flight engineer, “Go back and see what’s happened.” Well, to move around in the aeroplane, you unplugged
this thing, the intercom, you unplugged your oxygen, and you put on a portable oxygen bottle, because you couldn’t be without oxygen for a second. He put on his portable oxygen bottle, and went back to see what happened. He found that the navigator was lying across his desk with his oxygen disconnected. So he reconnected the oxygen, the first thing he did, then he plugged into a telecom, intercom jack,
said where he was, what had happened, and I said, “Well, come back to the front.” Then he went back every now and then to check on the navigator. By the time I got back over England, now I had to then navigate the rest of the way, back to the English coast, because I’d remembered the flight plan, it wasn’t that hard. The wings behaved as they should. When we got down to 10 thousand feet, and we were still on oxygen, the navigator came good, he didn’t remember a thing about it.
Not happened to him, complete blackout the moment he blacked out. And he was then able to navigate us back to Waddington, which would’ve been beyond my capabilities, because he was on the electronic navigation equipment. So, and I’ve, just go on a bit, we all went, well, at least all the pilots did, tried out, were tried in a decompression chamber. You get into a decompression chamber and they pump it up to
20 thousand feet or whatever, and, to see what happens. One of the people and there’d be, say, there were five or six of us, one would have no oxygen. And you’d be asked to do things, and if you’ve got oxygen, you could do everything, write things and tap your nose and this, didn’t have, you had no oxygen, you got as silly as could be, and you could see what it’d do to someone. And the same thing
happened when I was, early in the war, when I was a navigation instructor, I used to do, sometimes, a daily met flight. So that the air force would know what the weather was like, we’d send an aircraft up to about 18, 20 thousand feet, one of these Hawker Demons. The bloke would, and we’d have a hygrometer, which measure the humidity, strapped onto a wing strut, you look out and see the humidity and write it down, read the
temperature and right it down, read the weather conditions and write it down, you’d come down and give all this information to the met officer. Now, I just used an ordinary Demon, I had no oxygen. When I came down, I used to say to myself “God, my hands must’ve been cold, I couldn’t write sensibly.” It took me years to realise I couldn’t write sensibly because I was running short of oxygen. But if you climb up Everest and take months
to get up there, you’re going to acclimatise. If you go up in 10 or 15 minutes, you’re not.
you had some concentrated energy drink, concentrated chocolate, malted milk tablets, you could chew that, if you had, if you were drinking out of a pond and you had time, you had some stuff to purify the water, disgusting chemicals you threw in it. Or you drink from the pond and get some bacterial disease, but if, you were pretty much on your own if you bailed out over Germany.
But if you bailed out over enemy occupied territory, particularly France and Holland until the Germans wiped out all the underground, but France, when you weren’t in a town, you could go to a country farmhouse, 90% chance you were looked after. And they were incredibly brave, the people who did this because if they were caught doing it, the whole family would be shot straight away by the Germans.
And they would, depending on the situation they were in, if they were regularly visited by the Germans or they had neighbours they didn’t trust, they would feed you and possibly hide you and give you something to eat and send you off then next night. If they were in a town, they’d find it even more difficult. But if they felt reasonably secure, they would know who the underground people were, they never ever
told, and next thing, you’d meet a member of the underground. The first thing he would do was make sure that you weren’t a plant, because Germans would to that to find out who they were. You’d be asked questions which only a genuine Australian in bomber command would know, and you’d be asked, you know, silly questions about, which were quite wrong about Melbourne or Geelong or Sydney or wherever, and if you “Oh, yes, I remember that,” well if you remembered that
you were a fake. And then they would arrange for you, usually if you were shot down in France and the underground movement line hadn’t been compromised, they’d get you to the Spanish border. And then you’d be handed over to a guide that’d take you across Spain. Well, to do that, you needed false papers, to give you false papers, they needed money,
so you gave them the money. They needed a photograph,
I’ll just mention this, it illustrates it, was flying a very ancient Whitley bomber, he went to England very early in the piece, it was a twin engine bomber, coming back over Germany. And somewhere over Germany, they were shot and had an engine shot out, and they couldn’t get back to England, they were losing height all the time. So he ditched in the, just about where the North Sea comes into the Channel.
And one of the crew members was killed, didn’t get out of the aircraft, and they were picked up by air sea rescue crowd, he was then posted to a squadron, there were two squadrons in bomber command whose sole role was to help the resistance forces. The resistance forces played a very major part in that war. And these two squadrons dropped them food, ammunition, radio sets, messages, and even took people in
and out of the occupied countries. One night my brother went and dropped food and guns to the, to Warsaw, to the beleaguered Jews in Warsaw. He did lots of things, I don’t know all of them because, even in his logbook, he wouldn’t put where he’d been, he’d just give it a number, because security was so tight. One night, he was taking a Frenchman to drop him down near Lyon,
and what you did, the people on the ground, they were organised, and they would be waiting for the passenger you were bringing in, they called him a pod, P O D, and you’d go to the right place and you’d get a torch shone at you, and then you’d fly very slow and very low over this place and the chap would jump out by parachute If you were to pick him up, you went over in a plane,
a plane called a Lysander which was short take off and land, and you’d land at the prepared place and picked him up. Well, the Germans knew my brother was coming, so they shot him up. He was flying a Halifax, two engines shot up, with the wheels and, flaps down, maybe not wheels, he couldn’t gain height and couldn’t start the engines, he knew he’d have to crash. So he crashed it about
three or four miles away, far enough away that the Germans on the ground couldn’t get to him straight away. And as the aircraft was full of secret equipment, he decided I remember him telling me “We must set fire to it.” He said petrol is very hard to ignite, he didn’t believe it was hard to ignite, usually it ignites easily. So in the end they got out a Veri pistol and shot a Veri cartridge into this mass of petrol flowing out, and the aeroplane when up like a bomb. Then,
because of this one bloke from the resistance he had with him, this man organised some contacts and my brother and his co-pilot, always had two pilots on these flights, got in with the resistance and they moved from house to house to house until they got to the Spanish border. And they were waiting for a guide who would guide them over the border, over the mountains and they were betrayed to the Vichy French Police. And the house they were in was raided and the guys were
captured. And the Vichy French put him in solitary confinement, all this time, he’s in civilian clothes, they didn’t torture him or anything, but they beat him up just for good measure. And he was in this ghastly cell where it was too low to stand up and the only bunk, that there was a wooden slat, a bunk, and on a slope like that, and when he lay on it, he rolled off. So he slept on the stone floor. He had no way to wash, no way to wash his clothes, he stayed unwashed,
and on a starvation diet and solitary confinement, every day for a bit of over a month. And they handed him over to the Gestapo because he was fair prize for the Gestapo interrogated him everyday, and strangely enough, never physically tortured him, because they wanted to know where he’d been. Well, the system was so good, my brother didn’t know where he’d been, he didn’t know the names of the people he went to, you were taken there in the dark, and my brother was a man capably stubborn, and didn’t have a lot of
imagination, every time a question, the interrogator, very good English, a lot of them had been to an English school usually, asked him a question, he’d say “I am A 4 5 6 7 8 9 10, P Kingsford-Smith, flight officer,” that’s the answer he gave every time. He said, “I’ve got to say something, I said that.” So what they did, they decided to soften him up, this was a terrible Gestapo prison in the middle of Paris called Fresnes, F R E N S E S, I think and they were always
killing off poor Poles they had or others who weren’t so low, they needed to be sent to an extermination camp, they just shot them against the wall, they took him out and lined him up against the wall and shot the Pole, but not my poor bloody brother. This is what, you know, that demoralises you no end. Anyway, you never talked, I know he didn’t and they, just one day, they handed him over to the Luftwaffe [German Air Force], who
had their own Luftwaffe prison camps and he went to a prison camp, just on the Polish border which were all, nearly all bomber command people, he met a lot of my friends. And when he came home after the war, he had a letter from nearly every French family he stayed with. They knew him, but he didn’t know them. So he couldn’t know anything. We didn’t.
And anyway, and when he was with the underground, an English intelligence system told me where he was, because they got messages, they knew what was happening. When he was captured by the Vichy French, he disappeared from the face of the Earth, there was no, they didn’t tell anybody, didn’t tell the Red Cross, the Gestapo didn’t tell anybody. Months and months went by and finally he was handed over to the normal prisoner of war camp and
they told the Red Cross they had him. It was quite amazing, I’d go to London and be told “Rollo, your brother Peter was last with some people at such and such village.” But another friend of mine, a fellow who replaced me, took over the squadron, he was a second tour man, he was shot down on his very first trip, this is after D Day, in Belgium. And he knew what to do. And he took some clothes off a
scarecrow or something, but he mainly had his uniform, and he wanted to get to a town and he hitch hiked a ride from a truck and they dropped the tailboard and clambered in, and it was full of German troops. Any they grunted at him, and he grunted at them. He got out at the next village. Just grunted. They were pretty demoralised. But he finished up in the middle of town in the basement
of a wealthy Belgian woman, who had about 10 evading Allied POWs in her basement and she was on a street corner, and on the opposite corner was the German, local German army headquarters. And she said, “I’ll look after you guys. There’s no way you can get out, you’re going to stay here until the Allied, ground forces overrun the town,” which they did.
The ones that had been with you and flown with you on a number of trips you knew quite well, the new ones you didn’t know. You were responsible for their training and their general well being. And if you knew they’d been killed there was a lot of grief for just a short time, too many people had been killed, but if you never saw them again, if they went out and you’d briefed them to go on the raid, and you’d gone on the raid too, or you waited behind. When they were due to call up Waddington tower,
whenever I got back, I’d go straight into the tower. Even before I got back, if I was in the queue, I was listening out to see who was calling who was calling, who was coming back. I’d go into the tower and I’d wait. And some stragglers would turn up and then I’d wait until I knew they’d run out of petrol. Then I’d start ringing the airfields around where they might’ve landed, because there were airfields set up for people with damaged aeroplanes, particularly a damaged undercarriage or damaged flaps, where they might have to land too quickly.
So these fields and a row of bulldozers down the runway and as soon as you landed they got a bulldozer and they bulldozed you off the airfields, then the next aircraft could come in. You’d ring them and he wasn’t there, and you’d ring around and then you never knew what happened, and that was the most distressful part I ever had. You might find within two or three weeks they were prisoners, usually you never heard. You might be,
it might be like my brother, took three months and found he was a prisoner, but most of them were just missing and missing forever. Now and then a body is found, you read about it in the paper these days that the bones are identified or the IDs, identification disks are identified. But they could be in the sea, they could be in a deep hole, they could be buried under a hedge, they, and that was the most distressing thing, never knowing what happened to them. What could you say to their next
of kin, you wrote, I made a point of writing a letter to every next of kin, it wasn’t that hard for me. I had a WAAF orderly woman, who would start a letter with their address and have my name on the end and I’d just have to know what to dictate to put in the middle. If I was flying, the adjutant would put in what was in the middle. But if they were missing,
you didn’t know what the hell to say. And usually, if you’re on the ground, you do know what’s happened, you’ve seen the fellow die. But this uncertainty was awful. That was about, all I wanted to comment on that, really the thing that, you know, still gets at me.
In fact, he was very lucky, his girlfriend was young, and the girlfriend had a mother, he used to look after both of them, which was just, you know, quite a lot of stamina, both the same night. But about three of us would go away together, and one, the gunner had a car, and, I didn’t, I had a staff car, but I didn’t, I’d take that away on holiday with
my crew. We went to places we could go to. I’d go to London quite often, where I met old RAAF friends, but not friends I’d made in the squadron, friends I’d made at Point Cook before I, or in my squadrons in Australia or in London. Or English friends I had. I liked to
have something to do with them. And so I suppose about every two out of three times I had some leave, I might go to London. Now the trouble is, being a squadron commander, you could only go when you could get time off. The other crew members were entitled to a break at a regular interval, because they worked seven days a week, four weeks a month, and might get a 24 hour leave pass, and then they might get a
seven day leave pass. Now, when they were absolutely due for it, but the squadron commander could only go when things were a bit slack. So I never could really plan anything and I suppose one of the reasons I never had a close relationship, you can plan to go away with a girl for a week, you might, you might be tempted, but you can’t plan it till the last minute, and she’d say “It’s not a convenient time to go away,” or something, so you didn’t do it.
So I could turn up on various English friend’s households and ring them from London and say “Can I come?” And they’d say “Yes.” They were real friends. Or you’d stay at a pub in London and meet people you knew and really get drunk most nights. I found that alcohol relieved the tensions immensely. I used to worry about kids who didn’t drink because they used to get
terribly, terribly tense and they, not all of them, but they suffered and some of them couldn’t cope. But if you could relieve the tension, and I was under a lot of pressure, and I was very tense. And I drank more than I should’ve. Fortunately I was able to get rid of drinking more than I should’ve once I came back. My wife saw to that. But, you know, I’ve got plenty of wine in that refrigerator
there behind me but I don’t drink the way I did when I was in England. When I had the opportunity, you didn’t drink, obviously you didn’t take it up in the aircraft with you, you didn’t fly on ops when you were drunk. But if you knew you weren’t going to fly for a while, you drank, well I did.
I can understand that, you, I mean the, your squadron suffered some terrible casualties. What was the highest loss of any one operation?
One operation, we were attacking, well, the highest loss, I had twice in 463. And one night in Berlin, we weren’t supposed to send many, we sent 14 aircraft and I didn’t have to fly, and four were shot down. That, so while I was, and they were all killed, it was all over Berlin, and so I lost 28 of my squadron, only had a squadron of 158. And if you lost, say, on the three or four previous
operations, seven or eight in each operation, you see, it was not the one loss that got you down, it was consistent losses. And for the youngsters flying, they know that last night they’d survived and the night before they’d survived and would they survive again, if they’re going back to the same target, and you know, one example I mentioned they never let me down. But the,
you were so busy, you didn’t, I didn’t have time to feel lonely or isolated. The RAF were very good, there was an RAF station commander who watched me as I was watching the people under me. And we would meet up now and then, I’d go to his house, he had his, because he wasn’t flying, he had his wife and kids living with him, and
I’d eat and drink with them. And he was a, from a very well established aristocratic English political family. And he was most unEnglish, he was a most delightful person, and he used to explain to me the funny habits of the English. He’d spent a lot of time in America, he’d been a test pilot. He said how the English
aristocracy, who drove around in their Rolls Royces, had to have a chauffer tuck a rug round them when it was cold. In America, they put a heater in the car. Even to the war, the best English cars didn’t have heaters in them, you had a rug wrapped around your feet. He told me how to, if I wanted to buy a Rolls Royce, there was a way to go about it. Now, the Rolls Royce sales rooms were in, car sales rooms in
one of the best known squares, Nightingale sang in one square, anyway, if you go into this
Lancaster, when I was flying back and I was always dog tired, I’d been up all day and been flying for hours at night I might’ve been up for 24 hours. On a Lancaster, if you just dozed off for a second, the aeroplane would keep droning along. If you dozed off a bit too much, the flight engineer would nudge you. We had an automatic pilot, it wasn’t very good, but the Mosquito was very sensitive. If your eyes left the instrument panel for a second, it would drop a wing and pick up speed, it frightened the daylights
out of the navigator. So I had to stay wide awake. It’s awfully hard when your eyes are going out of focus. At great height, there’s no horizon, see, so you’re watching the instruments all the time. The instruments on the panel would go double and fade, and I’d really have to correct my, focus my eyes and they’d go single again, stop fading, it was really hard work. But it was, on the other hand, we were 28 or 29 thousand feet, it was
quite a safe height to be flying, I didn’t worry too much about the enemy. But, anyway, I take one, the first one was to eastern Czechoslovakia. Now, it’s a long way from England to Czechoslovakia and back. And it was close to the Russian line, the Russians wanted a railway junction destroyed. And instead of marking, I went out first and found the wind
over the target. Now, to bomb accurately, the bomb aimer has to know exactly the track the aeroplane’s making over the ground, the instruments in the aeroplane tell you what track it’s making through the air. So he really has to know what wind there is at the height he’s, what height, the wind speed and direction, at the height he’s flying at. Which he sets on his bomb sight, so it makes a correction to the aeroplane’s movement through the air.
Now, many of the raids we’d give them a forecast wind, and a forecast wind can be really wrong, terribly wrong. So on a, towards the end of the war on a target where we didn’t want to kill any Czechs, we only wanted to wreck the railway line, a plane would go out and find the wind. Now there’s a procedure to do that, it meant for precise flying, an accurate height, accurate speed, which made it easier for the people on the ground predicting you, but on a Mosquito wasn’t bad. You found the wind as accurate as you
could, and quite accurately. You then radioed that by voice radio to a bloke called a master bomber who then had a Lancaster with a radio operator with a key, who keyed it out to the rest of the force, and they set that accurate wind on the bomb sight. Then the last one I did was, included on, was to Norway. Submarines were one of England’s greatest threats, and the submarine bases, German
U-boat bases had been on the coast of Belgium, very largely so with France. Well, towards the end of the war, we were bombing them out of existence, we bombed them and bombed them and bombed them, we laid mines on the approaches to them and things, and you think some poor submarine crew and commander coming back, they’ve had a very tiring, hazardous mission, in the Atlantic where they’d been depth charged and survived, and they’re just getting close to their base and they hit a mine, sown by a
Lancaster. They were blown up. So in the end, they moved this submarine base to Oslo, near Oslo, in Norway. And they reckoned it would be safe there, well we knew it was being set up, as soon as it was ready to go, we went in and destroyed the fuel tanks. And that was a very interesting raid, too,
there was a US, German navy base, and the marking point was right between about five giant fuel tanks, really, you know like huge gasometers, and I was dropping a target indicator right in the middle. And I was diving on it and there was a gunner there, who was really game as anything. All the time I was diving, he was shooting at me, it was a rapid fire,
20 millimetre gun, I could see the tracer bullets. And this gun, he must’ve fired it a lot, it had a bit of, it wandered around, and the bullets, instead of coming straight at me, wandered a bit all round me. And they didn’t hit me, and he kept firing until I dropped the target indicator, a thousand pound, a thousand pounds of bright red incendiaries, it would’ve covered him, it would’ve burnt him to death in seconds if it didn’t blow him to bits, he kept firing. But firing, it’s interesting,
flying into tracer fire, when it first leaves the gun, because the angle of movement slow it, it seems to come out very slowly, and in a fraction of a second it gets faster and as it gets close to you it goes like that. But the German gunners were, got very good by the end of the war, and they were very brave.
Commonwealth countries, all worked together in the same unit. You might get attached, one unit attached works alongside another unit, like the Australians might’ve worked alongside the, the Australian army works alongside the British army, we were the one squadron in my squadron. Nearly all the ground staff, all the, nearly all the mechanics were Brits, because they had plenty, we didn’t have plenty here. About two in every,
really, in the beginning, when the squadron first started, about four in every crew were Brits. By the time the war finished, about two in every crew. And an awful lot of other people, my brother, for example, served in three squadrons, he served in RAF squadrons, where there were one or two Australians or some Canadians in the squadron, made no difference. In fact I, it enhanced morale, you were meeting
people and you judge them not on what colour uniform they had, on what sort of people they were. It gave the pay department a bit of a problem because different rates of pay. But I found it was, if anything, it enhanced morale in the squadron. I had Poms [English] working for me, I worked for a Pom, and I said, they were great people. People in the Royal Air Force where, when I served, were fantastic people.
Because if they weren’t fantastic, they were kicked out, the war was too serious over there.
did a lot of training. That squadron was earmarked to be a Pathfinder squadron when the RAF sent a force to the Pacific. It was given a name, Tiger Force. The, by the last few months of the war, it was obvious Germany was going to be licked unless they got that nuclear bomb ready to drop on us. And it was going to be, take a while for Japan to be licked and Britain wanted to be at the
peace table when the Japanese were defeated. They wanted to have a British presence there, well anyway, the best way to do that was to have some English bomber forces attacking Japan, alongside the Americans. And they formed this force. Well I’d flown in the Pacific and I knew you didn’t have a lot of equipment that you had in England. And where, if they were attacking other targets,
say, in the islands, there’d be no roads or railways, there’s just jungle and coastline. So I gave them practice, a lot of pretend missions, down around Wales, where there’s bloody rough country and mountains and coastline, and then out over the Atlantic and back, making a landfall in Wales. There weren’t a lot to do in the last few weeks. And I was kept very busy.
And then I found that this type of force, when the war was over, and I bought a good few of them up, bomb command people back to England in my Byron [?] Lancaster, I found that the Tiger Force was not in fact going. I heard that there was, I heard from very good sources that there was about to be a nuclear weapon dropped on the Japanese, I knew that would finish
the war, and I started making plans to come back to Australia. I wanted to get back here and be in the war, back here while it was still on. We, it enhanced my future chances in the air force but, to have someone who hadn’t flown against the Japanese, maybe diminished your chances. I was a career air force man at that time and I was thinking of my career. I was doing the job as well as I could but
also if I could and in addition to that, help my future career, and I thought, “If I can get into a squadron before the war is over, a squadron up in the islands somewhere, that, I’ll have that on my record.” But I tried to get home, but in the end I sneaked away, the Australian Air Force headquarters in England had me down to command a personnel holding base where
as air, Australian air crew were taken out of the squadron, the war was over, and they couldn’t ship them all home at once, there weren’t that many ships, they put them in this holding base and feed them and look after them until they could slowly put them on ships. Well I thought looking after all those fellows who, you couldn’t, who I would never be able to discipline, was not for me, so I thought, my brother and other friends of mine who’d been prisoners
had priority to get home. I went down to the, to Brighton where the sea movement people were and saw them and I said, “I really need to keep an eye on my brother, he’s distressed from the treatment the Gestapo gave him.” So they put me on a ship coming home with him. And the air force headquarters in London didn’t know I’d left the country until I’d left. If they’d known I wanted to leave
the country, they would’ve given me this job running this bloody holding base. So I came home, but by the time I came home, had my disembarkation leave and it was not a fast trip home by sea, the Americans had dropped the bomb and the war was over.
ready to start the engines, and the mission was cancelled. And I’ve forgotten why, I think it was just going to be terribly bad weather when we got back, anyway, the mission was cancelled. And we couldn’t have been closer. I can tell you what it was like in the mess that night, everyone went mad with excitement. And it all put on, they really would rather have gone to bed, but they had to pretend they’d been dead scared, that was, the Australians behaved that
way, the English couldn’t understand it, they’d keep a stiff upper lip, we would say “Jesus, we were frightened” and, “Thank Christ it was cancelled.” And just to liven the place up some Veri cartridges were put in the fire, we always had a fire in the winter and they went off and then some things called thunder flashes were thrown in. Now a thunder flash filled a big room full of dense, dense
acrid smoke. Fortunately the guys had enough alcohol in them not to hurt them. It was the only time the station commander, he was quite a decent guy and a senior administrative officer on the station, came into the mess to tell me, “For Christ’s sakes, quieten these fellows down.” I was the mess president and I was just as excited as they were. But it was an excuse to let off steam. But I think, there where some things we hated doing. If you’d have attacked
Berlin say four or five times and you hated it, going back again, you knew what it was going to be like. It was the most beautifully defended city in the world. The German defences were out of this world. They had a million active men, not reservists defending Germany, almost 100% of all their gun ammunition, not small arms fire, gun ammunition, went to
the defence of Germany. Most of their air force was devoted to defending Germany, they had excellent radar, it was a bloody hard target to attack and that’s why we had such losses. And so, you know, one that was very prickly, you would be dishonest with yourself if you didn’t hate going there again and again.
in the whole of the Battle of Britain. It was a long, straight flight and there was moonlight, and I could see aircraft round me. And the German fighters, it was a long straight trip, and maybe the Germans knew something, the German fighters got amongst us very early, very, very early, and aircraft were being shot down all around us. And if they were shot down with a full bomb load, I mentioned earlier, the bombs go up first, it’s a flash, and then the fuel
goes up and you see this great tremendous gout of red flame. That’s another Lancaster, I didn’t know it was a Lancaster at first and I thought, “What’s that exploding?” and I realised it was a Lancaster. And an ill disciplined and inexperienced crew will be looking at it and feeling sorry for it, whereas they should be not looking at it, but looking at any, the next German fighters who are going to come up to them. And I remember several times on that trip I said, “For Christ’s sake,
don’t look at those exploding aeroplanes. Your job is to watch any aeroplane at all, friendly or foe, and gets close enough to us to harm us” and we weren’t attacked once, because we saw them first. So you heard the answer, what are my feeling, my feeling was for Christ’s sake, don’t waste my time looking at it. I knew what it was, once I realised after the first second. When I saw the second one, I knew exactly what it was. I didn’t waste my time looking at it.
I saw about 50 that night, I didn’t see them all, but I, there were over 100, but I saw about 50. It made me very, very careful that I wasn’t one.
we lost over four thousand people in bomber command, more than were lost in the whole of the North African campaign, by all the Australian divisions. I lost more people in my squadron than we lost in the whole Korean campaign, and the present government refuses to recognise or remember the people who, the people that, the campaign of bomb command. They’ve put up a memorial to the air force,
and they’re showing this “G for George” in the [Australian] War Memorial, opening up towards the end of this year, but they’ve got guns there and everything else. They recognise the air force, not often, there’s only one memorial to the air force. We can put up a bomber, a memorial to bomber command in Canberra, we’ve been given the place, providing a few survivors find most of the money. Now it’s the only force,
now, the citizen military force guys who flew on the Kokoda Track did a fantastic job. But they didn’t, it only lasted a short time, we were at that war for years. It never finished, it went on for four years that bomber command war. Most of the land battles went on were pretty brief and they didn’t lose many people. They had these disgusting conditions of mud and everything else.
There are memorials for them paid by the taxpayer, and I’m still having a go at the government because so many of my men are upset and their kids and grandkids are upset that father or grandfather isn’t recognised. I don’t know why the Australian government is doing that. I know that there are some feelings in the Department of Veteran’s Affairs that we were terrorists and killing
poor innocent German civilians. Well, German civilians were not innocent, weren’t poor, and we were fighting a total war. If you play by the rules, you lose in total war and you become occupied. If you went to a French town well after the Germans occupied France, you’d have a couple of German troops, ordinary troops walking down the street and they’d see a French male, they’d say “Here man, drop your
trousers,” and he’d drop his trousers, and if he had a circumcised dick he was a Jew. And they’d laugh like mad. I had friends that had to put up with that. You know, it’s unbelievable. Not only were they carted off, but they were degraded, before they were murdered. And it was a joke. So it’s little things like that that
got under my skin. It was hard to believe that these things happened. Today you wouldn’t think it was true, but I’m telling you, it’s true. So, and I’ve got a, are we under five minutes?
gave them a terrible time. I think, you know, people who are returning from the bloody war, these days, get, need counselling on how to behave as civilians. I didn’t know how to behave as a civilian, I, fortunately, I had a wonderful wife who gradually, gradually, gradually, changed my direction. I wasn’t even used to coming home, I was still in the air force, and I was based
in the headquarters in Sydney, but when we knocked off, I’d go round to the mess and meet with my mates and drink, and I had a wife and child at home who hadn’t seen me for three years during the war, and they were expecting to see me home at a reasonable time. She gradually altered my mindset, but adjusting to civil life is a challenge for some people. And a lot have never adjusted to it. The main
way to adjust to it, this is why I find it hard to answer your questions, is not to live in the past. I’ve been digging into the past all day today for you, but I’ve fortunately, it’s never ever worried me, the past, I don’t think of it. I’ve only been embarrassed by my friends to become the patron of this old air force association, I left them for dead for 40 years because I wouldn’t want to live in the past.
I was never active in the RSL [Returned and Services League]. A lot of people think of it a lot, they can possibly remember much more than I can. But, you know, as an old fellow, let me tell you, living the, be more concerned about today and tomorrow than what happened 10 years ago.
you've seen them. The Hawker Demon was the most beautiful aeroplane in the world to fly; it was one of my favourite aeroplanes to fly. It would have done well over the trenches in World War I. It was ideal for English use until about the middle thirties. But when we had the Hawker Demon, which was a bi-plane covered in fabric and a fixed undercarriage, the Germans and the Americans had all metal monoplanes with retractable undercarriages.
We also had a maritime aircraft, the air force and the government realised that in the event of war, the protection of our sea lanes was essential. Everything came and went by sea. And the maritime aircraft were things called Avro Anson , which was the first aeroplane we had in the air force with retractable undercarriage. You wound it up with about a hundred turns with a handle, with your right hand.
And so we had Avro Anson maritime aeroplanes. Our main bases were at Laverton out of Melbourne and Richmond out of Sydney. We had a training establishment at Point Cook, which was the home of the air force. The air force was founded there in 1913. We had plans to establish, when it was obvious there was going to be a war in 1937 or '38, maybe '38,
we had plans to establish an air base in Western Australia and one in Queensland. And I think the one in Western Australia was just about going by the time the war started. I wasn't there, I can't remember the date. But we were, we were great at air pageants. We could show that we, every year an air force station was open for an air pageant and we did very clever formation flying. We could burst
balloons that were full of hydrogen, rising up in the air, with a hook underneath the aircraft we could pick up messages from the army, because we didn't use radio. But if we were asked, the squadron commander was asked to take his squadron at night time some distance, find a target, attack it and find his way back to base, he couldn't. He lacked the equipment, he lacked the training and he didn't consider it was, it was something he should do.
And this gradually developed, I know by the time the war started I had flown at night time for three hours. Six months after the war had been going, and I'd been flying on maritime work and convoy patrol, I had accumulated another six hours flying at night time. Now war just doesn't stop when it gets dark.
Why did we get ourselves into that situation so close to the outbreak of hostilities and war? Why was it that Australia was so relatively unprepared?
Well it takes a time to change. We became aware I would say in about 1937, give or take twelve months, that we were exposed to risk from the north, that our air force was ill equipped. We set out to build a new, build a new aircraft factory in Australia because we realised, we were told by a wonderful guy called Essington Lewis, the
general manager of BHP [Broken Hill Proprietary Limited – mining company] who went overseas and visited Japan and Germany and England. And he said, "There's going to be a war. The English aircraft industry won't be able to cope, they'll be overloaded, if we want to have an air force we have to build our own." BHP and a number of other companies put up the money and we started building modern, all metal aeroplanes at Fisherman's Bend in Melbourne. The first one was a plane called the Wirraway.
We were aware of the threat from the north, and we did intend to arm, to equip Darwin and our advisors from the UK [United Kingdom] advised the government that wasn't necessary. That the fleet in Singapore would be strengthened in the event of, in the event of hostilities and of course the fleet was strengthened and as soon as the battleships arrived, in
early '42, they were sunk straight away by the Japanese Air Force. So we were aware, our military chiefs were aware, our government was aware but we were a tiny country, really, you know. Population of whatever it was, about six million people. We were desperately short of cash. We had few industries. We were building aeroplanes here before we built motor cars. We didn't have an automobile industry. We didn't have an electronics industry, not that electronics played a
big part. We didn't have an aero engine industry; we created all these during the war. In fact we got the message, we got off our tails very quickly.
had the first AIF, the second AIF to the northern hemisphere, to the Middle East, to be under English command. The Menzies Government decided that it would be a balanced force and we'd send six RAAF squadrons. It was called the Expeditionary Air Force. And I volunteered for that, they were calling for volunteers. Well you didn't have to; I was permanent here so I had to go where I was sent.
And that didn't get far when the UK Government sent representatives to Australia and persuaded us not to do that. Instead that we should turn Australia into a vast training establishment, training pilots, navigators, gunners, wireless operators, air bombers and equip ourselves with training aircraft. And we did that very quickly. In no time we were churning out vast numbers of people to be
sent overseas to serve in squadrons under English control. We kept our maritime squadrons because that was very important, the protection of our sea routes. But it really meant that when the Japanese came in, we were pretty well into the war. We were fairly defenceless. When, as everybody knows they quickly, when they came into the war in our part of the world,
they quickly raced down Malaya, conquered Singapore and captured the 8th Division, raced across Indonesia destroying the few RAAF squadrons we had up there and started bombing Darwin. And Darwin, I think, was bombed as many times or more times than London. Not quite certain, a big place though. And we were, at one stage, expecting a Japanese task force to
come down the east coast of Australia, we had no fighter squadrons. We camouflaged Richmond Air Base. We laid explosive mines under the runways of our advance bases so that they could be destroyed, so that the Japanese couldn't occupy them. And fortunately the Japanese ran out of steam. But at that time we were completely defenceless, absolutely one hundred percent defenceless. Our air force was in, operational air force
was, had either been destroyed in Malaya, was in the Mediterranean or in London. Our army was in the Middle East and our navy was stretched out between the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean and some of them had been sunk up in the Dutch East Indies. So, we were very lucky that the Japs ran out of steam.
or New Zealander or Pom [English], made no difference. It was an amazing experience actually. We, I had an Englishman and New Zealanders and Canadians serving under me. I answered to Englishmen. And dependent on the calibre and the competence of the people, not their race, it, I know there were disagreements
between the Churchill [Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom] Government, many disagreements between the Churchill Government and the Curtin [John Curtin, Prime Minister of Australia] Government. The Churchill Government really wanted the Australians completely integrated with the RAF. The Australians, for political reasons, said "We must have Australian squadrons." and Churchill feared that if that happened that he wouldn't, he would lose some of his control of them. But as an operating officer, it didn't matter much to me at all. I must admit that I,
no, I enjoyed flying in an Australian squadron, commanding an Australian squadron. I enjoyed commanding an RAF squadron and being chief instructor of a large RAF training establishment. Really it was the calibre of the officers, and one thing about England, by the time I got there in '43, they had been at war, and serious war, they thought they were going to be invaded.
Their senior officers in the RAF consisted of some good people and a fair number of duds, like we had. They had the motivation to get rid of their duds. All the senior officers I struck in the RAF were excellent men. And we weren't quite so highly motivated, here, to get rid of some of our donkeys. I'm not saying the air force had more idiots than the civil service or industry, but in war you notice if a senior person
isn't of the highest calibre, as I've said England got rid of theirs, and by the time they re-armed and sorted out what they were doing, by '43 or '44, they had an excellent air force.
protected from this. There was a boom across the entrance to the Harbour just south of when you came in from the Heads. And ships had to be identified before the boom was opened and ships could come in. Now the first midget submarines, or the first two midget submarines, followed a merchant ship coming in and got into this area. No one knew that they were there until they fired a torpedo, a couple of torpedoes, and they sank an old ferry boat,
a very large ferry boat, which was used as a dormitory. And I received a message at Richmond from the Navy Operations Office, Navy Operations Room in Garden Island that this had happened. Then I received an order. The admiral ordered us to send out aircraft to look for another submarine. Well at that time we had the new Hudson aircraft,
but they had no, but as yet they had no surface to, they had no air to surface radar, later on they did. So looking for a submarine at night without radar was useless. So, we weren't terribly happy to receive that order from the navy, telling us what to do. So I, my job was to, to lay out the tracks for the ships to fly, for the aircraft to fly.
And I laid something on and advised the squadron to take off in the dark over the search area where another submarine might be at first light. Well, we'd also been told by Air Force Headquarters that we had to protect the airfield from a landing of enemy aircraft, or enemy troops, when we weren't using it.
And we were originally told, do what they did in England, when they thought England was going to be invaded. Every night, when flying had finished, we'd put all our motor vehicles out on Richmond Airfield, now there were no runways, it was a big grass field, and I remember the first night we put about sixty or seventy vehicles all over the field, so you couldn't land, or you'd run into these vehicles. And then it was obvious, someone said, "Well if you leave all the keys in them someone could steal them." So
the drivers got all the keys and put them on the desk in the duty pilot's office. And there were about sixty or seventy vehicles and there were sixty or seventy keys. The next morning when we had to clear the airfield, it took us about four hours to find the right key. So we, still being told we had to do this, we sunk some earthenware pipes into the ground and got some light railway line lengths from a
quarry nearby, stuck these lengths of railway line in, at night time and took them out in the morning. On this night the submarines came into the Harbour. We were taking off at night time, so we sent out a tractor trailer, low vehicle, to go up and down these lines of pipes and take them all out. Well they missed a couple in the dark, and of course
a couple of our Hudsons taxiing to takeoff ran into them. Fortunately they weren't going very fast, but they damaged them. So I had to keep well away from the Op [operations] of the Hudson squadron for about a week, otherwise they would have shot me. But that's my recollection of the night the submarines attacked us.
rather pleased in a way, just before I left I'd been in a Hudson taking some VIPs [Very Important People] on a tour of the North. And we'd been to Port Moresby, then to Milne Bay, and the conditions under which the air force lived, at Milne Bay, were no doubt much better than the army, but to me they weren't appropriate for air force. Living in tents and showering under a bucket,
walking in mud all the time, you know. And then bad food, getting dysentery and flying when you've got dysentery's a nasty, smelly, messy business. And I was told I was to be posted to the squadron at Milne Bay. And when I got back, there was a posting signal but it was to England to fly Sunderland flying boats, which was operations I was familiar with and knew.
And I wandered off to England to fly Sunderlands in the, in Coastal Command in the Battle of the Atlantic. And when I got there I was told no, I wasn't to fly Sunderlands, I'd be flying bombers because, quote, "There was a temporary shortage of flight commanders." by that time I was a squadron leader, "There's a temporary shortage of flight commanders and bomber commanders." of course there never was a temporary shortage, they were permanently short. So I went to a Lancaster squadron and
stayed there and then a new Lancaster Squadron was formed and I was given the command of it and formed it. And when I'd done my tour of duty, I went to a training unit and then I was offered the command of an RAF Mosquito Pathfinder Squadron. I think the reason why they gave that to me, the war was drawing to an end. The British government had plans to send a,
a task force to the Pacific. The air force was to be called Tiger Force. I think as much as anything else they needed to have a force in the final stages of the war, so they'd have some presence around the negotiating table when it was all over. Because of my experience in the Pacific, and also because I was a navigator as well as a pilot, I had this most exciting position.
It was in the, it was the most beautiful aeroplane to fly over Germany. You could fly at twenty eight thousand feet, whereas the Lancasters were pushed to get to twenty four thousand feet. You were a small aircraft; you were made of wood so that the radar didn't pick you up. Anyway then it became apparent for this Tiger Force wouldn't go and I came home. But my, most of my operational
experience was in Lancasters.
a little bit wary of my posting to Bomber Command when I was told that, by our senior air vice marshall in England, a chap called Air Vice Marshall Rigley. When I asked him what I'd be flying, he said "Lancasters." I was quite happy. I'd never seen a Lancaster. I'd never seen a picture of a Lancaster. I'd heard about the Lancaster, which was the newest, fastest aircraft, most manoeuvrable,
fly the highest. It had the reputation as being a wonderful large aircraft, indeed it was, although it was very poorly defended with its defensive armament. And I thought, 'Well, this'll be quite good.' You know the government and the air force didn't put headlines in the paper about our losses. I wasn't aware of it at the time.
I became well aware of it when I was, when I was flying and I had men under my command lost. And when you're flying yourself, it didn't concern me too much, but I was an experienced pilot. But what was terrible, because of the pressure on us to produce crews, young men with less than four hundred hours flying, which today in civil flying meant they were
still beginners, were setting off in command on aircraft to fly in all weather, sometimes the most shocking weather, to find a well defended target deep in Germany. Fend off attacks all the way. Make decisions. Come back to England, possibly short of fuel. Find his air field, where the weather might be bad, and be diverted to another air field.
And they were coming up against German fighter pilots, who had no casualties, who were highly experienced, may or may have shot down five, ten, twenty bombers already. They knew their job. And these youngsters really didn't, didn't have a chance. Now I felt I did, because over the target, I faced the same risk as everybody else, but en route to the target I felt that in my greater all weather flying experience,
and I had made a point of getting all weather flying experience, and the fact that I knew I had a very, very well disciplined crew who understood from me that every second in the air they had to be vigilant. Inexperienced people thought you could relax for a while. But of course, eighty to ninety percent of our flying time was in German air space. In fact
my own squadron, 463 Squadron, flew over four, four million kilometres on operations in a period of about less than two years, of which eighty percent was over German air space. All that time you had to be vigilant. Well experience helped you there. Many young, many crews went together as friends. You'd have seven
sergeants, they were all mates. The captain found it rather hard to discipline his drinking mates if they were slacking a bit. I never found it hard to discipline. I used my rank. And this was no, due to no weakness of theirs, and they were often highly educated, capable men. The sort of men I would have said would have been doctors and scientists or professional people
of distinction. But they were terribly inexperienced, both as pilots and as commanders of aircraft. And Germany was defended with the most capable air defence system you could possibly imagine. About twenty percent of all the ammunition
Germany produced while they were having land war, twenty percent of all the ammunition they produced, was shot at us. About more than half their heavy guns and light guns were kept in Germany to shoot at the bombers. They had over a million men in uniform manning their anti aircraft defences. They had superb radar, before we even crossed the coast they knew how
we were on our way. As soon as they picked the force coming in, they would alert the entire defence system, which was very, very practiced and very, very competent. And if they, would try to get some inkling of what our target would be, and if they did have some inkling they were ready for us. Well, we were wiped out. Also the Germans
and the British had spies in each camp, there were German spies in England. A lot of English spies and American spies on the continent. For example, if our, if we knew we were operate, we'd operate on Germany if the weather permitted, usually no more than two nights running. Usually by the second, end of the second night, we had so many, so much
damage to our aircraft and lost so many crews, we'd need a break but we night run three nights running. So you might, operations might be laid on. My procedure was, first thing in the morning, was check the weather and hope that it'd be lousy. If the weather was acceptable to fly, particularly the weather had to be good, good enough to permit you to land and then [(UNCLEAR)] operating was mainly in the winter of '43 and '44.
We had very bad weather. And you couldn't get back to your air field if you were running short of fuel and possibly injured crew members. And it was very difficult, so we had to have good weather when we got back. We still came back in terrible weather, but if the weather looked as though operations were on, I would expect that as squadron commander I would be told that it would be operating that night. You then
checked out what aircraft you had serviceable. If some of them had only returned at say four am or five am in the morning and they were damaged, you know you didn't know how many aircraft you'd have. You might have lost some crews. Then once the target was decided, all communications in and out of the air force base stopped. All telephone lines were cut.
All movements by vehicles were stopped. We knew where we were going. No one else outside the station could find out.
Within seven months of forming my squadron, I'd lost the numbers equivalent of a full complement. In other words I had an average of between twenty and twenty five crews, depending on how many had been shot down, I lost those. That's about a hundred and seventy men in seven months. In one month I lost a third of the squadron. In one night when we sent just fourteen aircraft to
Berlin, I lost four. That night we, were the first squadron to be equipped with a new air to air radar to enable us to detect enemy fighters. Well the Germans obviously were aware of the frequency, and they homed in, their radar picked up our transmissions and they homed in on us. And this was a most appalling night for the war for me, when I was waiting for the, I wasn't flying; I'd been flying the night before. I couldn't believe it when
out of the fourteen that went out only ten returned. And I remember, I was just checking up some notes I made at the time, only today, It was so obvious that I was so badly affected that the station commander came and counselled me. And his senior, senior air commodore, a man of great age and wisdom, he must have been in his fifties, came and counselled me. The next day
the air marshall commanding the group, because you know to lose people was hard to take. I could take everything but that. Particularly losing, put it this way, I made a point of writing a letter to the next of kin of every man who'd lost his life in my squadron. If I knew them, I could say something about them. Sometimes they'd arrive, but they'd report to me,
I'd check their training, their training records, if they were ready for operations, I'd put on ops. If they'd need a bit more training I'd give it to them. But they'd report to me. You'd see them in the mess, the next night they'd be killed. Writing about, to the next of kin, of a man you don't even know was very hard. But it was, you know people have likened it to the Charge of the Light Brigade, except with
the Charge of the Light Brigade only had to do it once. We had to do it thirty times in our first tour of operations. In the worst part of the war, when I was, and there may have been worse times, but in my experience the air crew had an average life of thirteen trips. Well if you have to do thirty to get an average of thirteen, for those that do the thirty, a lot were killed in their first, second, third or fourth.
And I've lost my thread on that one. You'd better cut that out.
near Lincoln. If Wadding was open for them, now if Wadding was going to be closed, they'd be sent a radio message, they'd be diverted somewhere else, where the weather was good. You knew what time they were due back. You knew what time at which they would have to have landed because they would be run out of fuel. And as they came back they'd call up. It was always the most wonderful thing in the world for me, when I'd call up and you'd hear an English girl's voice, the first thing that I,
you know, I heard was a woman's voice, you usually knew her on, in the control tower, who'd acknowledge your call. Well, some would drag, some would drag in late in dribs and drabs and when you realised that some were very late, you would get on the phone to emergency air fields near the coast, where sometimes some aircraft would land there if they were badly shot up. And you'd find that one of your aircraft was there.
Otherwise they just disappeared and in many cases they're still disappeared. Some of them were, blew up in the air. Quite a lot did. And the bombs and the fuel and everything went up in the most God-awful terrific explosion, great gout of red flame. There was really nothing much left to identify. Sometimes they crashed into the ground, diving vertically, and those made a hole in the ground.
Sometimes they crashed into the sea. And my brother, who was finally shot down over France, was also shot down over the North Sea. He was lucky, his aeroplane went in the sea and he got picked up by a British, British patrol boat. Sometimes the aircraft was shot down and you parachuted down. Now
to land in the German city that you'd been bombing was a very dangerous thing. Civilians did what any civilians would do. The air crew were usually strung up on their own parachute shrouds or whatever and quietly buried. If you could find a policeman or a man in uniform you rushed up to him and put your arms around him. He protected you. On the other hand, if you were shot down over, if you parachuted down over
one of the occupied countries, France, Holland, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, you usually tried to find the resistance forces in that country. And in France they were very strong and very, very brave. Many, many Frenchmen lost their lives under interrogation by the Gestapo [German secret police] because they, it was known they'd been helping air
crew escape. And some of us did evade, it was called evading, we were practiced at it. I could cross miles and miles of Lincolnshire country without anyone seeing me. Because you could expect to be shot down, because there was a chance if you got to the ground alive, we all carried what was called an escape kit.
And I suppose the most important item in it was money in the denominations of the country over which you were flying, in used notes, not forged. Because if you met up with the underground, they needed money, they might have to bribe someone or buy you some clothing. I carried a passport photograph of myself as a railway worker because the underground had lots of good forgers. They could forge you
false identity papers but they couldn't get a photograph because the Germans controlled all the photographic paper. So you took your passport photo. I took, we took forged food coupons. All food was rationed. You had to be fed. So, I've still got some outside, I'll show them to you later. You took some benzidine tablets so when you got to the ground a bit tired and shaken you'd,
you'd swallowed some of these and you went up and 'went'. A compass. You took maps, silk maps which could pack in. So one always had a chance of, if you were shot down, of not being captured and, or being taken a prisoner of war.
electronic war even then, it was a high technology war, the radar was pretty, was fairly basic compared with what we have now. But we knew as we were approaching the enemy coast, and it was all enemy coast whether it was Denmark or Holland or Belgium or France, we knew that the enemy radar would have picked us up and would be alerting the system. Now you made sure that everything in the
air craft worked properly. The gunners would check their guns. The navigator made certain that he had all the equipment that he wanted. The air bomber, at the right time, would start to chuck out an anti radar device we had, which was called 'window', which were strips of aluminium foil which would make it difficult for the enemy radar to actually decide, to decide on the exact size of the force.
But they'd pick up this 'window' and they'd know there was something coming. And you were busy climbing for height. I liked to be as high as I could because as you crossed the enemy coast, the first batteries, which were heavy batteries, would fire at you. They would be four or five guns would fire at once. They were heavy anti air craft guns and so their shells would explode at your height, which might be twenty thousand feet, give or take some thousand
feet. And by the time you were close to them they had a different radar onto you which would [(UNCLEAR)] picking you out as an individual, predicting where you would be when the shells would burst. And their aim was to burst four or five shells right around you. Well, when a gun fires at night time, muzzle flash is reflected
on the ground, and you just see out of the corner of my eye I'd see a little, little, quickest lightning, lightning flash. Four or five little flashes on the ground. And I'd know they had fired. And on the assumption they were firing at me, and they may not have been, I would alter course or height or speed, so by the time the shells had burst, I wouldn't be were they'd predicted I'd be. Now sometimes they hit you, sometimes mainly they missed you.
And it was interesting, the first time that, shells burst just in front of me, I learned what cordite smelled like, which is a very distinctive smell, a cloud of cordite smoke. Once you'd crossed that, and providing you avoided German defend, defended German areas, the threat was from the German
night fighters and they were the biggest threat of the lot. And you'd come across the first lot of night fighters and of course you couldn't see them until they became very close. They could see you because you had four engines with hot exhaust. And it was essential that you saw them before they started shooting at you. And you might
encounter a number and you may not encounter any. You could be shot down. And when you reached the target area, of course, there were barrages of fire. You wouldn't, and also it was necessary to do a straight run. We didn't drop guided bombs, so you had to be pointing the aircraft in the right direction and drop the bomb in exactly the right place so that forward
movement of the aircraft would guide the bomb. And if you did it properly, the bomb would hit the target. So you'd make a very long, straight run at a constant speed through an area that was alive with bursting flack and with searchlights and it was sheer luck whether you survived or not. The first couple of times I did it, I, I surprised myself. I actually found myself praying. I never thought
I'd do that. But after about three times I realised the people on the ground would be praying to the same deity as I was and they might be praying harder. So I gave up. And once you had dropped your bombs, you then kept flying the same straight and level course. We took a photograph of every target we dropped our bombs on. As you dropped the bombs, you dropped
a photoflash at, oh about, I don't know the height now, some height above the ground, it went off and it was brilliant. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant magnesium flare and it would illuminate the area that your bombs were going to hit and at the same time a, a lens on a camera opened, some film was
exposed. So if at the moment you dropped the bombs you went screaming off in all directions, you wouldn't have photograph where you'd bombed. This meant that the, when the bombing raid was over and the photographs were examined, the intelligence staff back at base would know fairly quickly whether the target was attacked properly. See we all said we hit the target. We all felt we had, but we hadn't all hit
it. And getting this information quickly was fairly important. It was usually confirmed the next day. Weather permitting, the day after a raid, a high flying Spitfire aeroplane, which would go to about forty thousand feet, would fly over and photograph it. You know, there were no secrets and no privacy in war at all.
How vulnerable did you feel, personally, through all of this?
Over the target I felt vulnerable. On the way to and from the target, I had absolute confidence in the rear gunner I had, who never, never relaxed. He had taken the Perspex out of his turret so he was, 'cause your night vision can be impaired by looking through plastic
material, and he constantly rotated his target from side to side and he looked up and down. He saw everything there was to see. He never let me be surprised by a fighter that, see most people were shot down by, the first time they knew there was a fighter there, there were cannon shells pouring into the aircraft and a Lancaster would burst into flames and explode very quickly.
Only one night I was concerned, when his, his heating didn't work. He, because he was exposed, as I've said, for hour after hour in temperatures of minus thirty to minus forty five Celsius, in wind, he had electrically heated boots and suit and gloves. And if it didn't work, particularly your extremities, your fingers and your toes would get, be frostbitten and if they were badly
frostbitten you'd lose them. And also if you're freezing cold after a couple of hours you didn't work very well, you were inefficient. One night his heating failed and we had the option of continuing with an inefficient gunner who was going to be frostbitten, and he planned to be a dentist after the war, well a dentist without any fingers wouldn't be any good, or we would have pulled him
out of the turret and he would have been okay but then we would have had no one watching our rear. So I, it was the one night that I cancelled the, cancelled the operation at about twenty thousand feet over France and returned. It wasn't the, it wasn't the thing to do, but, and I did it very reluctantly, but that's what I did.
material from my brother's prisoner of war camp later. As the Russian forces advanced into the Polish areas in the east of Germany, these prison camps were closed down and the prisoners were moved, to the west. Now as Germany was progressively destroyed in the last few months of the war, the organisation of moving these prisoners broke up. You know,
they were surviving the best way they could. They were sleeping in barns. They were picking up every kind of infection from typhus to tuberculosis to malnutrition. And we learnt on, and some of them got to areas, locations where the Allied armies were, had command, and they were picked up by their own Forces. But I learnt on the day before VE Day that there were a lot of
ex POWs, including my brother and one of my oldest friends, were at a German airfield on the western side of Germany, just near Holland, called Rhein. And I, although I was head of the Mosquito Squadron, I borrowed a Lancaster. You could get away with that in those days. And filled it full of Mosquito pilots and navigators as a crew and I went to this place, Rhein, where there some other Lancasters,
to look for my brother and my friends. Well I didn't find them. There was a bit of a shambles, you can imagine. And I found a lot of desperately ill and, ex POWs, or POWs in a poor state, including one poor guy who'd been shot down in September 1939. And we had a place to take them to in the south of England, where there were medical facilities, a whole lot. So I loaded the aeroplane with them and took them
to this place. By this time the aeroplane wasn't performing well, it was only flying on three engines, so I couldn't go back again. I went back to the Mosquito base. Then I learnt that my brother had turned up and my friend had turned up, on different aircraft. It was a shambles. They got back to England. Air force people find ways of moving around. And I was then in hospital for about four or five days with some bug I'd picked up from these POWs I'd
had in the aircraft. I had them sitting on top of each other on the floor. And when I got out of hospital I managed to get my brother and my friend to come and stay with me because I heard what they were doing in London. They were drinking and eating too much and they'd been, had empty bellies for some years, and it wasn't good for them. So I controlled their intake of food and alcohol while they stayed with me in my mess.
the people in Bomber Command who lost their lives. Without seeking to belittle anyone, where what went on in Korea for example, they had awful conditions before there, in our whole Korean conflict; we lost about the same number of people as I lost in one squadron. Now there's a great memorial to the Korean veterans. There's none to Bomber Command dead. We're honouring
the people who fought in Vietnam, and that was a terrible war. They had, the casualties, were about the same as we had in our two squadrons, just two squadrons, a couple of hundred men. Our casualty rate and our kill rate and our death rate was far, far higher than the Anzacs suffered at Gallipoli but the average person doesn't know, doesn't know that over four thousand
of a small force of air crew lost their lives. Now there were very few wounded in air war, you mainly, you get killed in action or you disappear, which means you've been killed in action but no one knows where the hell you are. Or you're a prisoner of war. We had a few wounded, I recollect. One died in, a gunner, when his oxygen supply was cut off at twenty two thousand feet and you don't know
your oxygen's cut off, you go a bit gaga and then you go unconscious and then you die. So the only feeling I've had has been in more recent years is that this is a campaign that's forgotten. It, I feel for a while it was politically unacceptable to talk about bombing the Germans, well we did. But the thing is, whether it was
right or wrong, young Australians were killed. And we, as a nation, don't want to honour them. And that does, mind you, I am working on getting a memorial, but at the rate it's going I'll be dead before it ever appears. But the people in Bomber Command suffered the highest casualty rates of any Australians in the last war.
And they did a good job. But, you know you're about the first person I've talked to about it.