Archive number: 762
Preferred name: Skipper
Date interviewed: 21 August, 2003
You are listening to the interview audio
So we’re going to go back to your childhood days. Just start by telling us about your
childhood, where you grew up.
Yes. My father was in the National Bank stationed at Barclay Street, Footscray. And we lived in a house backing on to the Western Oval, where the Western Bulldogs are ensconced. And so I grew up a Western Bulldogs fan, and we lived in that house until I was four. I don’t remember terribly much about Footscray. And then he was moved to an Elsternwick branch in
Victoria, and we lived in Caulfield South. And we lived there for the next seven years, and I began primary school at Caulfield State School. And I was in the fifth grade by the time we left Caulfield. But during that time just did the usual things – building billycarts, having a pigeon loft and a couple of racing pigeons. And reading comics every Tuesday,
and going to the Renown Theatre with ten pence to spend; seven pence to get in and threepence to spend on a Saturday. Kids screaming and yelling and it was all part of life in those days. There were no great traumas in my life. I did cause a bit of excitement because on my seventh birthday I got a two wheeler bike and the family all got up to see me get it at six o'clock in the morning and then
retired back to bed. Well, the house was dead, so I went for a ride on the bike and I finished up at the docks at Port Melbourne and got home for Christmas dinner about half past three, greeted by the family running up and down Sycamore Street wondering where I was. Thought I was in hospital or run over or whatever. But that was about the major thing I think that happened in my early days. But then, when I was 11, in 1935, and my father was made manager
at Willaura – a country branch of the National Bank just up here between Ararat and Hamilton, and life opened up for me then. Instead of the confines of the city, in a small country town of about 400 people, and I was free to roam and the railways were just across the street, seeing gangers build – or wheat lumpers – build wheat stacks, and stock trucks coming through with sheep and cattle,
and helping the men load them and unload them, and it was all part of the excitement, and being loaned a Shetland pony at the school holidays. Going rabbiting and stealing fruit and the sorts of things boys do. And I only completed primary school there, up to sixth grade at Willaura, and the next three years I attended Ararat High School.
Not as a boarder, but our parents drove six boys up on a Monday morning and we boarded privately with an Ararat railway family, a railway ganger – for 11 shillings a week – and Friday night they picked us up after school, and took us back to Willaura for the weekend. So I was sort of broken in a little bit with living away from home.
My last year of schooling was – my mother always wanted me to go to Wesley College in Melbourne for some unknown reason – and I jibbed a bit and suggested Caulfield Grammar, which was probably adjacent to Caulfield State School, and I might know some of the blokes that would be going on. And that was the case, there were three or four. So I had a year as a boarder at Caulfield Grammar. And apart from getting the cuts with a cane
two or three times for very minor misdemeanours, I enjoyed that boarding school, because that far from Melbourne – Willaura was 155 miles from Melbourne – you could only get home for Easter and term holidays. So we certainly looked forward to going home at the time. And towards the end of that of course, in the September of that
year – that was 1939 – we were sitting in the Common Room that Sunday morning when the Prime Minister announced that Britain was at war with Germany, and as a consequence, so was Australia. And that caused a lot of – I wouldn’t say uproar, but there were kids that were depressed, there were kids that were excited, and the older ones were just on the verge of being able to go into the army or whatever.
The younger ones, at 16, had a couple of years to kill and didn’t know how we’d put the time in. We wanted to be in it, so I told my father I wanted to leave school, and I wanted to join the air force. And of course he said, “Well, you can’t join the air force until you’re 18.” So he said, “What about going into the bank for a couple of years, and whatever you do afterwards, the bank training won’t have done you any harm, and probably stand you in quite good stead with another employer.”
So I agreed to that and I started in the National Bank at 17 years of age at Koroit – at 16 years of age I should say. And living away from home, about 90 miles away from home. And being paid on the 15th and the 30th of the month. And washing inkwells and carrying out the ledgers and feeding the manager’s ducks and chooks when he went on holidays and sleeping on the premises
with a .44 revolver beside the bed. But I enjoyed that life. My best friend was in the State Savings Bank directly across the road – Ted Lawson. He subsequently got called up into the army and joined the air force, and I met up with him in England. And thereby hangs a tale later in the war. After I was shot down and interned, a replacement crew came to my squadron to
replace me, and Ted, who’d done 24 trips over Europe, he was sent up for one more practice bombing range and the two aircraft collided and they were all killed. But, you know, I had a very strong friendship with Ted Lawson. His father was the Methodist minister in Koroit. I was an Anglican at the time and I had lots of
Sunday night meals up at the vicarage. And again, we went rabbiting together; we went to the pictures at St. Pat’s hall on a Saturday night for 20 cents. And saved up to go on the bus to Warrnambool, and about every seven weeks it took us to save up. And save enough for upstairs at the pictures, or the Palais de Dance, or – girls were very kind to us, all the blokes were
kind to us. A lot of the blokes were away, so when there was a dance on the girls would ask us to dance. It was better to dance with a bloke than another girl. And so we were taught to dance quite early. Thoroughly enjoyed our life in those early days. And then after that I got moved to Merino, and when I was 17 and a half I went into Hamilton and volunteered to join the air force
when I turned 18. And they provided me with training booklets, 21 booklets in all and we would do a booklet at a time and send our results – just like a school exam. The papers would be set out the same. We’d send them to a school teacher at Casterton, he’d mark them and just like a school teacher would, sent the results off to the air force, sent the results
back to me and say this was right, wrong or whatever, and at the same time I was learning Morse code with the local postmaster. And this was all under what was then known as the Empire Air Training Scheme. So we were being prepared from 17 and a half for the role we would commence when we were 18. So again, life was pretty mundane in those country towns – tennis, golf, dances,
rabbiting and that sort of thing. My next appointment after Merino was at Natimuk, and again, I was promoted to ledger keeper from junior clerk. And when I got there, there were only three on the staff, so I had to admit I was the bottom of the pile still, still setting the fires in the winter time and carting the wood in, and you know, that sort of thing. And eventually
I was given notice to report to the air force soon after my 18th birthday, and went down to Melbourne, did the medical and everything else that goes with it. And was sent back home because we were on the reserve. There were more trainees than there were vacancies for aircrew trainees. And we were placed on what was known as the Aircrew Reserve.
And understood that it’d be about six months before we would actually be brought into camp for training. And during that time, the air force said that instead of waiting for the six months, if you’d like to go in earlier, in any one of the lot of classifications such as carpenter, engine fitter or a guard or a clerk, a driver, any of those, you could go into camp earlier. I
couldn’t wait to go in, so I volunteered for that and was classified as a guard. And after a bit of training at Rocklands Dam site, just out of Hamilton, was posted to Wagga Wagga in New South Wales. Forest Hill aerodrome, as an aircrew guard. And that’s – I’ve rambled on a little bit past the --
my earlier days, but that got me up to that stage.
What an interesting childhood. I mean, you did a lot of things, from the city life to country life, and then so young to be going into the banking world. It sounds like you had a lot of responsibility. I'm curious to know how the Depression years were for you and your family.
Well, my father was working for the National Bank,
as I said, at that time I believed they might have suffered a cut back in salary but he worked full time. I had an uncle in the Melbourne Harbour Trust and they did a four-day week rather than other employees being put off so they staggered the work that way but money was tight, circuses for kids was always six pence
to go in. I always had to argue and carry on a bit, “But this one’s got an elephant Dad!” you know or something. But it seems that I always got there so money wasn’t that desperate or we were spoilt. My mother was a very good manager. She had been apprenticed to a firm called Mofits in Bourke Street in Melbourne and I think her family paid something like 60 pounds a year for her to be taught
millinery so that she could cut out from patterns, make patterns, she made all my sisters’ dresses, she made things like our pyjamas, men’s pyjamas, dressing gowns and so that must have been a great saving financially for my father. In those days he was on about six to seven pounds a week and a man’s bicycle was 6 pounds 5
so everything seemed to be fairly proportionate. It was a weeks wage to buy my first bike, always had money for two comics on a Tuesday, always had 10 pence to go to the Renown Theatre as I said, so it didn’t really – I wasn’t really aware that there was such a thing as the Depression. It was only in my life and my family’s life and at that time, my father would have had
three, four sisters and brothers living in Melbourne in the suburbs, my mother, her parents were alive and she would have had two sisters and a brother also living in the east Melbourne area and none of those were destitute as a result of a depression. We were living in quite nice suburbs you could say, it might have been different if we stayed on living in Footscray but the bank moved us and
that was it, so yes, it didn’t really have any impression on my life. I became aware later that men had to leave and carry their swag and go looking for work in the country and that sort of thing and it must have been shocking for some wives and their children.
So the move from Melbourne to Willaura, was that exciting for you?
Oh, very, we didn’t have a car --
up 'til that time and the bank told Dad they had an agency at Glenthompson which is 11 miles away for Willaura and that would be conducted twice a week and he would have to have a car, so that meant more borrowing money, they always seemed to be borrowing money and one of my jobs on a Saturday morning was to ride my bike down there to the Elsternwick station and hand in an envelope which I gather contained some money, and that was probably reducing whatever debts we had
and in 1935 he bought a 1929 model Flying Ford Dodge, side curtains and that sort of thing, so we drove up to Willaura and saw the place for the first time. My two sisters who’d been working, they’re four and six years older, the younger one would be working in Georges and the older one in Myer and they broke down in
tears when they saw Willaura, a crummy little country town, to make the annual visit back to Melbourne to shop and visit the rellies and all that sought of thing and they had to drag me screaming down to Melbourne, I didn’t want to go back down there.
So what opened up for you in going to Willaura, how did your life change and what was that excited you about being there?
As I’ve said the open life of being loaned a Shetland pony every school holidays, we had stockyards just at the back of the bank, we actually had a stable in the bank, because it was left over from the days when the bank manager had a buggy and a pair of ponies and that sort of thing, so I could stable the pony on the premises and we only had to take it back the last day of the school holidays – called Maryanne and I rode Maryanne all around the town
-- another mate had a pony and a pig, we’d go rabbiting – life was great.
So you learnt to shoot a gun?
Yes, out of rabbit skin money, we use to skin the rabbits in a certain way, like a sleeve, turn them inside out on a piece of bent wire shaped like that and that would stretch them and then you’d hang them up and when they were perfectly dry, you’d sell them to a skin buyer who might buy
wool or sheep skins or rabbit skins, fox skins. In the winter time when they were nice and thick, the pelts, you might get six, seven shillings, a pound for five, six or seven rabbit skins, so I bought a pea rifle, a .22 gauge rifle for twenty nine and six pence, so from then on I could shoot rabbits,
not in any maniacally way but just for the necessity of hunting. Playing tennis in the local competition, being involved in the football club, my father became time keeper of the Willaura football team and I was official scorer, the only one they’d allow up in the score board, that was prestige amongst other kids – “Get down, get down, you’re are not allowed up here!”
Soon my sisters got caught up with local farmers – the first chap my older sister started going with was a Geoff Heard and he joined the air force fairly soon after we got there, and he unfortunately, in the very early part of the war, was killed in one of the first one thousand bomber raids over Europe but that was to come of course years later.
Joan got engaged to a farmer and they used to invite me out on to the farm in the school holidays, and at Christmas I’d be there for perhaps three, four weeks at a time. All the farmers in 1935 had horse teams and you would need seven or eight horses to pull a wagon load of wheat and perhaps five of them pulling a binder [reaper], seven or eight pulling a plough
so they had these horse teams – I was mad keen on horses and I thought that was great. Tractors were just starting to arrive, the farm appliances they converted from horse drawn to tractor pull but in those days there were not hydraulics to lift and raise the combs or older things so you needed somebody to drive the tractor and somebody to sit on the farm appliance
so a twelve year old boy, eleven year old boy could steer the tractor and I used to spend a lot of the holidays driving tractors until they got more modern and hydraulics – so that sort of existence took me virtually up to joining the bank when I was sixteen – it was a very full country life. I experienced shearing, crutching, harvesting, planting and carting wheat
in a horse drawn wagon team into Willaura, seven miles away and all this was enjoyment rather than drudgery – I know I had a friend living in the town - they had a cow and I would beg him to let me milk the cow and of course always a bit of ploy, he’d given in after a while and let me and he’d say, “Well I’ll take your bike for a bit of a ride,” and I’d be plucking away, milking the cow and thoroughly
enjoying it and he’d got out of the chore which he had to do every morning and every night sort of thing – talking about them now they sound pretty simple things – but we’re talking about when you’re eleven, twelve, thirteen years of age.
Sounds like you were given a lot of responsibility and you were eager.
I was allowed to go, I wasn’t kept, they didn’t say , “Don’t go into that paddock, you’ll get bitten by a snake,”
or “You mustn’t do this or you mustn’t do that,” they just seemed to let me go. I was the third child because of two older sisters. The sisters insist that I was spoilt, that I was “diggy boy”, I wasn’t struck too often. I only had a few chores like getting wood chips for the bath heater and going for the milk so I had a good life growing up.
What was the relationship with your parents like, what sort of people were they?
Great, ideal I guess. They didn’t give my any worry and I didn’t give them any. They were very kind. As I said my mother was a very good manager so that had the house pretty well organised. Joan did the cooking and
she did the housework and my mother supervised in a supervisory manner without being authoritarian or anything. This was in the time when with a new bank manager’s wife, people around the town, like the doctor’s wife or the chemist’s wife would call at the front door within a few days and leave their card and they’d be wearing hat and gloves and carrying the handbag on the arm and when my mother had received
seven or eight such cards, then she would ring them all up and ask if they would like to come for afternoon tea at say three o’clock on Thursday 19th or whatever and all these ladies would trip up, eye my mother off and the daughters off and what they had done since the previous manager’s wife had left and all this sort of thing, that was going on in country towns, very different style to today.
It was very friendly, they had numerous competitions, king carnival competitions for the football club, hospital balls, I note at Willaura – the bank was in the main street and the mechanics institute was probably half a mile away, only eight hundred yards or so and when there was a ball on, there’d be six or seven babies left at the house and
toddlers put down to sleep and I’d be custodian and one or more of mothers would come up from the dance at half hourly intervals and change nappies or whatever – but I’d be left in the house with a few babies to look after, not that I didn’t appreciate having to nurse babies, or anything like that – bit of responsibility I suppose
So they must have trusted you to look after them.
Yes and I learnt to drive the car quite early in life and my mother couldn’t drive and the first time my father tried to teach her to drive, the marriage nearly broke up with letting the clutch in, letting the clutch out ,“But it’s out, but it’s in!” it’s all this sort of thing. So often, if my father couldn’t get away from the bank I might have to drive her four miles out of town to a farm for afternoon tea
and one of the sisters might go and collect her later on and I think I might have been fourteen and the car was angle parked in front on the bank and I had to go and pick Mum up and so I just backed out and the policeman, who was a mounted policeman who wore jodhpurs and leggings and that sort of gear always, Mr Tim Healy, was just walking across the street
and I said “Mr Healy, you weren’t supposed to see me,” and he said, “Well young Bruce, I’m like Nelson, I’ve got one blind eye,” and he walked on. But if I had been one of the tear aways, screeching the wheels and all that sort of thing, I suppose he would have said, “I don’t want you driving the car,” or whatever. But even being allowed to drive the car was a thrill.
Those were the days when you set off to Melbourne and you put a rug over your knees and you wore your overcoat and scarf and gloves and all that. And coming back you got within ten miles of Ballarat and it started getting colder and colder – I am rambling.
You mentioned before about your great grandfather or your grandfather and something to do with Ned Kelly?
Yes his name was Bigalo and his father was American who came out to Australia and settled in the gold rush days
and made money and developed two or three country stores, like what they were in those days were grocery shops, they’d sell picks and shovels and spuds and everything in a country store and he developed two or three up round the Wangaratta area and a man of substance was made a JP, I guess. I haven’t researched it myself
but my older sister has been up there and looked up some records and he was Mr Bigalo JP who had occasion to stand over Ned Kelly because his early days -- they were involved in horse stealing and horse stealing in the colonies, it was a little bit past colonies at that stage, but stealing a man’s horse was virtually his
livelihood, a farmer or a drover or a stockman or something and it was viewed a lot more seriously than it would be today. So he sentenced apparently, Ned Kelly to a short jail sentence. As far as I know wasn’t involved in any further misdemeanours of Ned.
So was this story kind of handed down through the family?
We didn’t know too much about it until, it might have only been about twenty years ago that my sister having heard a bit from her grandmother and remembered it and had occasion to go for a drive with her husband up around the Wangaratta area and called in a few places, made a few enquiries and were directed here and there and looked up a few town records and then it became sort of handed down
so there would be people who would think my mob were on the wrong side of the fence and others that say, “Yeah, you should have dealt with him more harshly,” I guess.
Just curious, this is a bit of a side track, but was the Kelly mythology, the myth about Kelly, the stories of Kelly, was that sort of a story that was very common in growing up in a country? The bushranger?
I don’t recall – probably we knew more about Phar Lap, the race horse than we did about Ned Kelly. Interesting to my wife is that she says pure in Irish that her forebears came out in the potato famine and that they had rellies up in that area who have a different slant on things, that they were really good people apart from Ned
who stole a few horses sort of thing and the crux of it might be from their angle – a bad policeman who had designs on Ned’s sister and Ned took umbrage of that apparently so if that policeman hadn’t been corrupt the Ned Kelly saga might not have developed into the way it did, but of course there is no escaping that
he shot three policemen that is eventually, and became a murderer but things tend to snow ball.
Now just going back to your life, you went to Caulfield Grammar boarding when you were how old – fifteen?
Fifteen in January.
So you’re in the country and left this life style and so what was that experience like for you?
Good being in the boarding school, because you lived right on the premises so that soon as school was finished, if it was footy season you ducked up to the dormitory and changed into your footy gear and you were out on the oval for either a match or for a kick the kick, the day boys, “the scabbies” as we called them, they went home and if it was
summer time you changed into your tennis clothes and the courts – we had four tennis courts, so it wasn’t too difficult to get a game of tennis. If you were training for athletics, well the oval was right there and you just ran around and I think if you had been a bit of a – as my grandsons would say “a nerd”, boarding school wouldn’t be as interesting but being – not that I was a great athlete but I was interested in tennis, footy and cricket
and down here – although my wife would come in and say ,“Well he was captain of the under sixteens at Caulfield Grammar in the footy but no star.” Yes I enjoyed that. We had a school diary and at the beginning of the term you always numbered ninety-three back to whatever days there were in the term and ninety-three – there’s only ninety-two to go to the term holidays.
Food was a bit sparse -- spartan I should say it wasn’t sparse; there was plenty to eat – bit spartan. Caulfield Grammar was a bit on the English school boy style, the masters wore caps and gowns, just gowns in the boarding house during the day. Punishment was with a cane and if you were going to get it,
they practised a bit with it – and you’d hear all this noise with a whippy cane - ”Now bend over, elbows on the table, turn your coat up.” and three cuts with the cane and those marks would take up to three days or so to disappear – gets a bit painful but kept you in line – largely.
How many of those did you get?
Twice, but they were both for boarding house misdemeanours really and –
silly, we were having an evening meal and we probably had a piece of meat and lettuce leaf and probably a scoop of mash potatoes and some kid came in and the maid brought in two poached eggs in front of him – he’d been to the dentist so he’d been treated kindly and someone said. “Oh, oh!” This sort of noise – “Oh it’s not fair!” or something or other. “Who made that noise?” the headmaster or the master in charge, and
one of the kids got up. “Get outside!” So I thought I made just as much noise as he did so I stood up, “Why are you standing up for Clifton?” “I made a noise sir.” “gGt outside.” So we had to stand in the corridor and got three cuts for that - nothing very much – awfully painful.
Had to bare your bum?
No but school pants were a bit thin and shiny and stretched when you were leaning over, it hurt – kept us in line.
So what kind of student were you, were you very studious, did you like to study?
I did what was necessary. I didn’t overly – I was only average, I wasn’t brilliant at anything – just run of the mill -- got my intermediate certificate comfortably but there would be some 80’s [per cent] and some 72’s
that sort of thing - not too many 95’s - so armed with that I was ready for the big outside world then, at the end of the year.
Were there particular subjects that you liked more than others, that you were stronger in?
Yes, I liked history and algebra and geometry and that might have stood me in good stead for the air force
because you had to work out interceptions – if your plane was flying at certain speed and a certain – not in a certain direction but there was a steam ship making so many knots an hour in a northerly direction and you took off from here, how would you intercept that vessel when it was doing so many knots an hour – well that’s whata knot is - a nautical mile per hour - so that angle I enjoyed.
And did you had and interest back then in high school, in college?
Yes, not knowing what it would be put to because it was September at the end of that year before war was declared. We read the papers, we knew what was happening in 1938 as far as Hitler and Czechoslovakia and the Sudetenland and that sort of thing. I think a lot of boys were just
hoping that when there was a war, we’d be in it – dreadful thing to say isn’t it – the excitement, the excursion, trip overseas – didn’t think too much about saving our mothers and our sisters from the Hun at that stage. In fact there was a time when you’d probably hope the Hun might get your sisters, when you’re very cross with them
I just remembered what you said earlier about hearing Menzies’ speech when you were in the common room with the boys and the declaration of war and Australia would be going as well. You said some were depressed about it and some were excited. Can you describe a bit more in detail what that – ?
“Yes it’s on.” “We’ll be in it.” That sort of thing and others were a bit studious about it but I can’t remember too many
– I can’t remember who was for it and who was against it - no, the memory doesn’t take me back to the emotions other than what was the obvious ,of the excitement, perhaps that there’s going to be a war. “I’m going to join the navy.” “No I wouldn’t be in there, I’d be in the air aorce.” “No, I want to be in the army.” We didn’t have school cadets at that time so there was no formation of cadets at the school
so I can’t enlighten you there.
So amongst the teachers did they talk to you much about the prospect?
No, a couple I think they might have been on the Army Reserve and they were called up between the September and the school break so there were little bits of send off for Mr so and so has been called up in the army,
and when we were in school assembly we’d all give a clap or three cheers and there’d be a prayer for Mr so and so to return safely after the war and then they’d be Catholics and Jews fall out so that we could have morning prayers that wouldn’t disturb the Catholics and the Jews – this was an Anglican school
and no one took offence and then parents of Caulfield would become a hub for Jewish people and Jewish people would have to live within walking distance of the synagogue otherwise you couldn’t get the tram to travel to the synagogue on a Saturday so a lot of Jews moved into Caulfield in Balaclava Road and that area and that’s where Caulfield Grammar was and so there were
no Jewish schools as such to them so quite a lot of Jewish boys went to Caulfield Grammar and it was just understood that their parents perhaps didn’t want them involved in Christian prayers and they had their own studies. So at assembly after all the school notices were read out the Headmaster or somebody would say, “Catholic and Jews fall out,” and the boys leave formations here and there and go off to whatever they did and all the Proddies [Protestants]
would have to stand there and listen to the prayers which weren’t over the top or anything like that.
So how did you all get along with all the Catholics and the Jews?
We didn’t think about it – we didn’t think about it at all. We weren’t in pockets of things. There was even one coloured boy there, I think his father might have been a West Indian cricketer and
when he went home to the West Indies, the girl was pregnant and he was a bit of a hero. His father was an international cricketer sort of thing. There was no – I can’t recall any bullying and I can’t recall any boys being picked on for their religious beliefs. There is one boy that stood out; he was Bruce Small’s
son. Now Bruce Small was the originator of the Malvern Star cycle and that swept the world – Australian, the Malvern Star was the top bike and Small was a champion cycle rider himself but his son must have been about six feet two, he had shoulders about a pick handle and a half wide, blonde curly hair and he was doing his leaving honours or
Matric [Matriculation] for the second year and he came to school in an MG sports car – well, we all hung around to see the boy arrive, “Woh, gee, fancy that,” touching the car but in later years a few of the boys from Caulfield Grammar went on to better things in studies or whatever but I went into the National Bank
Interviewee: Bruce Clifton Archive ID 0762 Tape 02
Circus life in the country, what was that, that must have been exciting for kids?
Well the circus life, it sort of began in the suburbs in Melbourne and they were only small circuses. We knew
that Worth’s had their own big show in the city just near the Princes Bridge, that roving circuses used to come to vacant allotments around the suburbs and they were quite small and they gauged them by whether they had an elephant or not as to whether they were any good but we had to go and see them all and the day before when the circus arrived
there’d be much excitement. We’d go down there if we weren’t at school and see the big top going up and because it was only a little top compared to Worth’s or Bullens or some of those later, but then the cages were in position and the next day after the circus we’d have to be down there and see it all being taken down and sometimes the elephant would be pushing wagons about or pulling things,
“Get out of there you kids,” telling us. But my mother and my Aunty Beth and she had twin boys and myself were taken to Worth’s Circus in the city and that was a very big deal and I must have been very young, I must have been about five and the trapeze artists were swinging away and only had a net,
narrow net, directly beneath them if they fell but this girl came off the trapeze in a swinging motion and she flew across, missed the net and crashed onto some seats. I can remember the ambulance coming in through the opening in the side of the tent where the parade would come in and go out and that sort of thing and a couple of fellows standing on the running board of the ambulance,
I can still see all that and see them bending over this girl and that was much excitement and for some unknown reason Mum and Aunty Beth packed us up and walked us out of the tent and we didn’t see the rest of the show but that happened in the early days. But then when we got to Willaura, the same sort of touring circuses would come. Silver’s was one name that I recall
and they again were very small compared to Ashton’s who only came to the big cities .I’m talking Ararat when I say big city, bigger again in Ballarat. Yes, always had that interest for animals and even since I’ve been married with grandchildren, I usually take my grandchildren to see the circus and I’m having a look for myself.
I have a son Peter, animals have always taken a dislike to Peter, and we took him out to Creswick to see, we were at Smeaton at the time and Creswick’s about five miles away and the circus was setting up beside the railway station and so we took the kids in for my benefit – big deal and somebody had a monkey sitting on their shoulder on a fairly long chain and it just leapt off his shoulder and grabbed Peter by the
nose or by one ear or something for no reason. Peter wasn’t tormenting it, he wasn’t even in the front row but it seemed to happen on more than one occasion. A deer butted him at one time and at the time we had four or five kids there and it seemed to single Peter our for some reason or another. Yes, so circuses were a big deal and I might have mentioned earlier about the Depression days, I still always seemed to get my six pence
to get to the circus. “I’ll be good, I’ll do this.” “Now you should wait 'til your father comes home.” Dad said, “I don’t know, you said the last time would be the last time that you would ask me for money to go to the circus.” “Dad, but this one's got an elephant!” So I’d still get there, I’m just a big kid at heart - that and trains.
So did you ever fantasise about running away to the circus?
Oh no, life was too comfortable at home.
Okay, so joining the bank when you were sixteen, first of all, why did you decide to leave school? That was quite young, wasn’t it?
Intermediate was an acceptable level at that stage, that would be, what form - Year 10. Then there was Leaving and Leaving Honours
but then of course it became the HSC and that sort of thing, but a lot of kids left at the eighth grade. State schools around the suburbs and the country all finished at the eighth grade and with that in mind when we were living at Willaura, the family wanted me to go to high school and go beyond the eighth grade so instead of waiting for the eighth and then only going up for nine and ten, they sent me up for three years
earlier. I know a lot of girls would leave in the eighth grade and get a job dressmaking or working in a factory or a shop, so you’re better educated at intermediate level and only if you’re going on to university would you go on to Honours, Leaving or Leaving Honours so I thought I had my fill by intermediate level and was quite happy,
it wasn’t a case of saying to my father, “I’m leaving and that’s it, you have to lump it or leave it.” In this case I don’t want to go back to school, I want to join the air force and knowing full well you couldn’t do that for another couple of years. So that’s when Dad suggested in going into the bank for a couple of years.
Okay, so a little bit more detail about
your bank experiences.
Oh yes. It was a four man branch at Koroit, manager, accountant, ledger keeper and junior which I was. Because the duties in those days meant changing the nibs once a week, filling up the ink wells, washing them once a week, making the red ink, blue ink came in bottles, stone jars about this size.
But red ink, we always got packets of red ink and you had to mix it with so many pints of water to make it the right colour and change the blotting pads and change the time, we had those wind up date things out the front of the bank, nothing automatic like they do these days. You had to wind it over to Monday 13th July or whatever.
Open the front door at ten o’clock. If there was a country funeral, the manager would yell out, “Clifton, close the doors please!” and I would have to rush out and the funeral would go down the main street and you would close your doors of business until the funeral went past and then open for business again. In some country towns I’d noticed they’d put a black crepe strip diagonally right across the window of the shops or whatever
but it varies from town to town but that’s gone out the window now and I’m talking about a time when if you were walking down the street, a man with a hat on, and a funeral approached, you’d stop, face the hearse and take your hat off, take it off with this hand and put it across your heart perhaps and let the funeral go past and put it on again and walk on. They were just courtesies that were expressed in the country.
Clerical duties obviously in the bank. Once a week we get five hundred pounds in a registered parcel from the post office and the accountant would walk over and I’d have to follow by about fifteen yards behind, just to fool anybody to thinking I wasn’t with him, might just happen to be walking down the street carrying the bank’s revolver and escorting him back to the office, that was a bit of thrill for a sixteen old.
How’d you been taught how
to fire the revolver?
Once a month they took us out and we were rationed to four shots so sometimes they saved it up for three months and you got a dozen shots – big old pistols like a mountie [mounted police officer] used to have with a ring in the handle – a revolver not pistols and they kick like a mule – pull the trigger – your arm would finish – should never have hit anybody except by accident.
Was the bank ever robbed?
It had been in the early days and on the matter of pistols and revolvers, every bank has a story to tell – more than one of bank’s pistols and revolvers being accidentally discharged. I mentioned earlier that I became very friendly with Ted Lawson and in the year before I was there, a fellow whose place I took and he joined the air force became a MBE [Member of the British Empire] and DFC [Distinguished Flying Cross] incidentally
flying Wellingtons. He was demonstrating to girl after hours when nobody else was about – “This is how you fire a revolver, you bring up and you bring it down,” and about the third time he brought it down, the dam thing went off and the States Savings Bank was directly opposite so this bullet went out the National Bank window and flattened itself against the State Bank and Ted Lawson was just coming out the front door of the bank and knocking off and the next year he showed me this
big chip out of the masonry out of the door. As I said nearly every branch can tell you a story about guns going off because we were told how to handle them and that sort of thing, told to be careful but of course that’s a bit of excitement. I remember in Willaura, the junior, long before I ever joined the bank, the gun went off and we rushed into the Bank and
Archie Tonkin was standing there, smoke coming out of the front of the pistol and he said. “It’s alright, it’s alright, I was just cleaning it,” and the bullet went into the stationery cupboard and right up through the middle of the box of 500 envelopes and put a hole right through the middle of the whole 500.
You talked about sleeping with the gun.
In those days when the manager went on holidays somebody had to sleep on the premises, the
leave was only for three weeks, so the junior always got the job, nobody else wanted it. The accountant was married and he didn’t want it, and the ledger keeper had me to kick, so it was my job to do it and you’d hear every noise, all through the first night or two and you were sure that they were breaking in, you could hear that – “I think that’s somebody at the door - I think.” You’re almost tempted to put your head under the blankets and hope that it would all go away
- but that was the rule, doesn’t apply any more of course, they have alarms and systems and that sort of thing but that persisted for well after the war Someone had to sleep on the premises to be covered for insurance purposes otherwise the bank wouldn’t be covered.
So during that time you were at the bank, you still hadn’t set on becoming a pilot – well, entering the air force?
And a pilot because in the boys, magazines of the First World War in those spy planes, they were all fighter pilots and they had white silk scarves flapping in the wind from the propeller and, “Tally ho ,there’s a Hun in the sun ,”and all this sort of thing. The glamour of it – it was the only way to go. Most of us went in the air force wanting to be pilot and
depending on their eyesight or their reflexes or whatever they were, one or the other, which is a blow to a lot and a lot of excitement for the ones that were.
So you started doing some initial training while you were working at the bank?
Yes, I mentioned that I went in as an Aircrew Guard,
that meant we kitted out in all our uniform and what not. I might mention just one little thing with Willaura. I got the call up to go down to No. 1 recruiting centre at Russell Street. That was Holden – GMH car show rooms that had been taken over as this recruiting centre for the air force and so on the day that I had to catch the
9.15 train from Willaura to go to Melbourne, with my little case of shaving gear and whatever toiletries and things, nothing much else. Mum and Dad came over to the station to see me off. The train had come through from Hamilton - had stopped long enough to throw off a mail bag or two and something. Both my sisters came over, they were married by this stage and each with a baby – so they both nursing a baby and so they waved me off on
the train to the war. Get down to No. 1 recruiting centre and I ran into a WAAAF [Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force] there called Nancy Allpress – she used be at Ararat High School with me at the same level and Nancy had gone in at eighteen, she didn’t have to wait for the reserve period of the call up. So she said, “Soon as I find out where you’re going, I’ll ring your dad at Willaura,” and so we got through the day’s
activities and later on she said, “You’ll be going up to Hamilton tonight, so I’ve rung your dad and let him know,” so on the 7.15 train going through Willaura, Mum and Dad are there, both my sisters and their babies. I’m going in the opposite direction this time and cause they saw me off – more tears – don’t know whether they’ll see me again and the course lasted 19 days and I was able to ring them and
say, “I’m coming through tomorrow night on the train,” so this time I was in uniform. So they were all over at the train and they saw me off twice – no, three times in two months. It was just a little country train going through these little country towns.
You talked about learning Morse code from the post master.
He never told me what the deal was but he must have been paid by the government,
by the military because all the telegrams were sent by Morse code in those days. Any time you were in the post office, you’d here the key going, “dedah dedah dedah dah dah,” sort of thing and every post office would have its call sign and if this certain AB3 came over, the post master would walk over to the key and he would acknowledge and then he’d start to take telegrams and he would
just be writing them in long hand and it would be coming over just like a blur, about 30 words, 35 words per minute and so they were very experienced and well-trained so it was his job and it was arranged that I would go there and build me up to about 8 words per minute, which wasn’t very much at all but it was something. A lot of fellows didn’t start until they got into camp, so we had the
run on them there. That meant going to the post office a couple of times a week and just sitting there with him. Morse code’s interesting because the fellows in the post office could tell who was sending by the sound – it had a style about it – just Morse code – dedah dedah dedah dah – that’ll be George up at Birchip and he’s sending a message to
Moissen or somewhere or other, and later on wireless operators in the air force could tell there hand, whose hand it was that was sending Morse code. Wireless operators had to get up to about 30 words per minute whereas pilots only had to get about 8. We didn’t have to send Morse code but you had to read signals from the ground. Every aerodrome for instance in England, I don’t know about out here, had a continuous flashing light and my
squadron base was EK for East Kirkaby and you were looking for a 'drome [aerodrome] and there are dozens of them about and the one that’s flashing EK EK EK sort of thing “that’s our 'drome” and you could join the circuit and land. That’s all you had to read. Or if there was a dinghy in the water and the fellows got an Aldis lamp and he’s trying to flash a message “somebody’s injured” or something and if you were sending it reasonably slowly you could read it.
As I said the wireless operator was the trained man for that. He was the signaller, so thank God if I had been scrubbed as a pilot and scrubbed as a navigator and the wireless air gunners roll was the only one left, I’d never make 30 words a minute. I was bloody hopeless – excuse me – was hopeless at 30 words – at 8 words a minute.
So at that stage there would’ve been telegrams coming through about men in
action, in the war?
Yes, before the war people use to send telegrams and meet me off the 8.30 train but during the war they just stopped sending them because it caused so much angst – a telegram boy at the door – I’ve got three sons or two daughters or whatever away at the war and which one is it sort of thing. I got a couple of telegrams over there that
the air force sent to my people, but fortunately it wasn’t missing, it was the first telegram they got was to say I was safe and then the message – I’ll show you those later.
So this was something you became aware of in that time you were spending with the post master?
Yes, by this stage when – 1942 when the war’s been going for 3 years and the older fellows
that have joined up early on – killed in North Africa and that sort of thing – telegrams were flying thick and fast and sometimes they’d only be – around the suburbs properly - brought by a telegram boy. In my case, it was delivered after hours by the post master himself. If it hadn’t been urgent, it would have been left until the next day but he brought it straight down to the bank but as
I’ve said it’s such a worrying thing that people stopped sending them -- unless they really had to go up and see it in film when a the telegrams comes and the mother knows instinctively without even reading it that something has happened and she doesn’t want to read it – doesn’t want to know.
Enlistment then, can you paint that picture for us when you enlisted – so you - prior to turning 18, you went to Melbourne and registered yourself?
Yes, the first step was in Hamilton, our local solicitor was known as the recruiting centre and he – recruiting officer
I should say - and he had the necessary forms to fill in, he had the Bible handy, had the Australian flag in the corner of his office and he swore you in, you held the Bible and looked towards the flag sort of thing and “I promise to do this that and the other thing”– whatever the oath was and he’d fill in papers and send them off to the air force and then they’d call you down to the recruiting centre where there were medical officers and dental officers and psychologists
I suppose too. On your first visit, you’d have a very thorough medical, chest expansion, blood pressure, sitting, standing, eyesight, teeth and the dental officer would draw little details of fillings or whatever required or had been or whatever, it was very thorough and depending on that, then there was a fair chance that you were either fit
for air crew or unfit and that first medical – I’ve since received my medical papers and the first interview I was fit for all three categories A1B pilot A3B bomb owner, navigator, wireless air gunner, whatever the difference was, I don’t know but colour blindness, they’d’ sort that out. For instance if you were colour blind, of course
you wouldn’t get into air crew. So that was very thorough and you came away from that as a civilian and handed a badge to say that you were on the new crew reserve and we could wear that and that would show perhaps you were awaiting call up cause people use say unkind things to fit looking fellows on trams and buses, especially if they had a son killed earlier in the war
“why aren’t you in uniform” sort of thing, you’d say “I will be one day – next August or whatever but I’m reading a book at the moment by one of our Ballarat boys, Frank Petch. I don’t know whether his name was given to you and Frank received white feathers on several occasions – have you interview Frank at all
No we haven’t. Bill told us about Frank - he had the book as well.
I never received any but – I might be catching that up in my foot -- that was what the reserve was all about. Then it was during that period that you learned to do the Morse code and do those 21 lessons that we talked before and no doubt the air force progressively formed a picture for us to – where you were heading.
At what point did you know that you were accepted as a pilot?
In August of 1942, we called up to Bankstown from Wagga. I went to Wagga Wagga as an air crew guard and in August of 1942 went to Bankstown in Sydney. That was No.1
– I’ve forgotten and all the air crew trainees went there and for three months you worked together doing all the same studies, armaments, aircraft recognition, gunnery, interceptions, electricity magnetism on the third month there was parade and you were told that you were going to be pilot, navigator or wireless air gunner, and the wireless air gunners left immediately and went to wireless schools such as here in Ballarat
or Parkes in New South Wales and the navigators and bomb owners went to a bombing and gunnery school and the pilots stayed on another month and did a bit more study. Before then at the end of four months being posted to elementary flying training skills to fly Tiger Moths, and I went to Narrandera.
So that was bit of lottery, was it, standing there waiting to be told?
Yes, very much so and
as the follow up to it, being classified then, they read out, “The following will go to Canada”. They went over there. “The following will go to Rhodesia” - over there. “The following will go to Narrandera, Clifton, so on so on” and over there. Your destiny – not your destiny exactly but your path. Everybody wanted to go overseas
because first up some did – went to Canada, as I said Rhodesia, South Africa and this was all part of the elementary training scheme, not just Australia but the British Empire and it was then. So at Narrandera we flew Tiger Moths for months, for about 60 flying hours and some boys went solo
earlier than others. That was always a competition “I’m going, my instructor says I can go tomorrow morning. What about you?” “I don’t know, don’t seem to be ready yet,” sort of thing and they’d brag a bit about “I went off in seven and a half hours,” and I think it took me ten and a quarter hours – at Narrandera, I don’t know whether it happened throughout the elementary flying training school but he didn’t – you just practiced landing,
practiced circuits and landing and at the bottom of the joy stock, you could pull the pin out and take the pin right out and he would take it out and throw it over his shoulder and you’re sitting in the back seat and soon as you see the stick going out, you know that you’re going to be on your own; he’s going to climb out and you’re going solo and that was the most exciting moment – your chest is going to burst of excitement of it.
You’d be doing it with him sitting in the front cockpit knowing that he could take over at any minute if something goes wrong, that this is the moment that you’re going to take an aeroplane off and do a circuit of the aerodrome and come in and land and that’s your first solo – joy – what joy.
But how did you go
on your first solo?
It went routinely – quite well and then you continue more serious training after that.
Tell me about the landing, I’m curious.
In Tiger Moths you attempted a three point landing and so you throttle back and you’re coming and you’re holding off and you want to get as close to the ground as you can while you got flying speed and when the flying speed slows – when you get below flying speed it sinks onto the ground. Well if you sink onto the ground from about ten feet up then
it bounds up in the air and you do kangaroo hops all the way down the runway over the grassy field sort of thing. But a tail down or a three point landing in the ultimate, just sink onto the ground tail down, run on a little bit and turn cross wind and then taxi back to your instructor – he says ,“Well done Clifton,” or “Bloody hell,” ‘cause they’d always warn you that ,“Kill yourself if you must but
don’t wreck the aeroplane.” “Aeroplanes are in short supply; we’ve got many of you fellows coming through. Kill yourself but don’t wreck the aeroplane.” Bit hard to separate the two really.
So how many sort of circuits and landing had you done with the instructor to get to that point?
The log book would tell me exactly I suppose. Like first of all you go up for half an hour’s familiarisation and just flies you around he tells you, “I’m pulling back on the stick
now,” and your nose comes up and, ”I’m pushing forward,” and it goes down and, “Now I’m going to push it over to one side and you’ll see that flap come up and that means the aircraft’s going to back and I apply a bit of rudder and round we go that way, ” sort of thing. That’s just familiarisation and you’d start your circuits and bumps
and he’d give you an attempt to recover from a stall, although you’re not likely to stall the aeroplane because your first solo is only a take off and at 1,000 feet and come back – a circuit at 1,000 and come back in so you’re not likely to stall the aeroplane while you’re up there. But later on you’ve got to learn how to recover. If the engine caught fire, what to do. Wear parachutes of course. If a bad fire started well you bail out – how do you bail out. You do it this way sort of thing. All these precautionary things.
If the wind it very strong, how to measure your speed, if it no wind at all, you’re going to take a long time to sink down onto the grass sort of thing so that’s in the subsequent days, that’s in the two months so in the subsequent two months, you’re learning to fly Tiger Moths and at the end of that time you know you’re as good as Kingsford Smith which is dangerous because you’ll never be as good as Kingsford Smith but you think you will be and then you think,
“Oh I can do a bit of low flying, I think I could skin over the top of that haystack,” or something or other and a lot of accidents happened in training command and then of course at the end of 60 hours or 2 months, you get posted to fighter schools or the single engine or to multi engines schools with – heading towards the bomber stream. At the end of two months, I was posted to Narrandera, you’re NSW
Well these names are familiar to you no doubt. Narrandera of course also just out of Wagga – no sorry – Uranquinty – I said Narrandera – posted to Uranquinty ,and great, I’m going to be a fighter pilot, so for ten days we do all sorts of drills. Actions in the event of swing on take-off, the engine catching fire on take-off.
All those sorts of things and other studies. And on the eve of flying, they took us up in to the hanger, a few shorties like myself and there were about ten of us I suppose on the course and they wanted us to sit in Wirraway and apply full rudder with either foot and if you had to lift your buttock to get the full rudder on because the axis of the rudders are
fairly well forward, then you were deemed to short in the legs for that aircraft and that’s what happened to me. But they could have done that at the very first medical that I had, way way back before determining what sort of pilot you were going to be. Because right from the word go, I was condemned because I wouldn’t be able to fly Wirraway aircraft, and the sad thing about the Wirraway was that it was a modified version of the American Harvard (NA-33).
In the process they took the axis of the rudders forward which made it harder for – you had to have reasonably long legs to reach them so I got endorsement in my log book where I could show you insufficient leg length in the aircraft and for two months I washed up dishes in the pupil pilots mess so I’m very good
at washing dishes, my wife will confirm that. At the end of two months I got posted to Mallala in South Australia and they were flying Avro Ansons. They’re twin engine or multi engine and that set the course then for my future, to become a multi engine pilot instead of a single engine.
Did that bother you, were you happy to go to multi engine?
Happy to be still a pilot. It seemed to be the end of the world when I got scrubbed from the Wirraways,didn’t know what was going to happen. Then by the time they told us that, “Yes, you’ll be going to multi engines,” I chirped up and I suppose the way it turned out, I was happy with that. There was a great camaraderie amongst, even more so having a personal crew
than 6 say fighter pilots in the flight – well I couldn’t imagine it because I didn’t get to that but the fact of flying in one aircraft with 6 other fellows who called you skipper and I think looked up to you, respected you for your ability to fly the aeroplane, we had a couple of dicey moments in the early career that worked out satisfactorily
– luckily. They thought ,“Oh God, he’s the best pilot in the air force,” ‘cause they had no experience with any others.
Okay so you went to Mallala South Australia to do training on...?
Ansons, and that was a 4 month course and at the end of that, if I thought that going solo was great, we received our wings.
We had a passing out parade and station commander pinned our wing on so that was another big moment. And the sad moment about it even though my parents were only at Willaura, which is well into the Western Victoria, they couldn’t get permission to travel interstate during the war and there was restrictions on travel because the trains were needed for supplies and trip trains and that sort of thing so
you couldn’t just decide to go to Adelaide for a holiday, that was out – travel interstate. So they, not understanding that fact, they approached the station master and said they wanted to go over for their sons’ passing out parade and just wasn’t permitted so in the meantime another chap and I befriended or being befriended by an Adelaide family – Glen Osmond family in South Australia and every fortnight when we got leave we went into
Adelaide and stayed with them so this way a Mrs Veal and her husband was a brigadier and he was away in the army up in Timor and he had been the city engineer in Adelaide and had a lovely two storey home in Glen Osmond and two lovely girls and two horses and a tennis court and every fortnight for 4 months was very pleasurable
and Mrs Veal and the two girls came out to the passing out parade at Mallala which is 40 miles out of Adelaide. So they were there for our big day which it was – it would be a big day – bit like University students getting their degree and throwing their hat in the air and all that work that you’ve been doing is being rewarded with the wings.
Did you feel ready by then to
pilot one of the planes?
Well that was called service training flying school and the next step was to go to operational training unit and that would prepare you for operations and had we stayed in Australia, we would’ve been sent down to East Sale and would’ve flown either Hudsons - twin engine Hudsons or twin engine Beauforts. Some of the fellows, well they had the passing out parade.“These names will
go to East Sale”, and deedah deedhah. “The others will go to the United Kingdom,” and I was amongst those, so at last we were going off to the UK. So we didn’t get into operational training as quickly as the fellows who were sent straight to say East Sale because after probably a week’s leave they would have started their flying training
and probably two months later they might have been in action up in New Guinea or some other like that instead. We had embarkation leave and sent to embarkation depot and then caught an American transport out of Sydney to take us to San Francisco.
‘Cause that was Bradfield Park embarkation depot – was Bradfield Park ?
Bradfield Park, yes.
I’d been there earlier for our initial training school [ITS]. That’s what it was called, No.2 ITS and it’s also No. 2 embarkation depot. So we were only there briefly for a few days and then we caught this American transport, the USS West Point and there was a draft of about 220 Australian airmen, a lot of Americans going back injured,
some had gone off their heads, they were in confined quarters, they’d been in the Philippines, Corregidor and these places. Others had misdemeanours and were going back in chains because they had played up in Australia but – we went straight to – well when I say straight to San Francisco, we went virtually due east of South America and then up to avoid any
Japanese submarines that might be roaming around the Pacific and then we got to San Francisco
Interviewee: Bruce Clifton Archive ID 0762 Tape 03
You got on; I forget the name of the ship which takes you to America...
Yes, USS West Point.
Before we go on that journey to America, at this point I guess the war has been going for a couple of years. The Japanese have become involved. How does your impression of the war change and how is it affecting your morale, I guess, knowing that you’re going to be in the thick of it?
Yes, as far as morale was concerned, I don’t think we had any worries. It was right on our doorstep
of course, the war at this stage with the Japanese coming south and dominating everything round the islands and I didn’t really feel that I should be staying home to defend Australia. At this time having been in the air force for a year, you just shunted around, do this, do that, collect a rail warrant, go here, go there, we were doing what we were told and if the authorities wanted us go on a transport and go to UK
and fight over there, well that was it, because again I was single and I’d have been 19 only and had no ties. I didn’t have a wife and a child or anything like that, that I felt that I had to stay home and protect so the morale was quite high. It was quite obvious that the war wasn’t going to finish in a fortnight so we looked as if we’d get there.
So you weren’t travelling, I
assume, with married men as well?
Yes, actually Whitters was a fellow that married a Sunday school teacher from my home town of Willaura. He was a really old fellow, 28, and we didn’t think he’d last the war, we kids. The pressure would be too great for him at 28. The age limit for aircrew was
18 to 32 ‘cause he was inside that but anyway he had his own experience later on in the war in that the he had aircraft trouble and bailed his crew out and jumped himself so I didn’t feel that we were letting the side down or anything like that.
So when you embarked from Sydney,
had you formed a group of friends there or when you came to Bradfield Park was it a new group of people?
Yes, this happens in the air force, in an army outfit, he could be in a battalion of 800 men and even that sounds a lot. You’re in companies and that sort of thing and you stick together on a warship. The ships company might only be 60, 70 - you sail together. In the air force you keep getting broken up into – even mechanics and
photographers and that sort of thing just seemed to get postings out of the blue for whatever reason and the first instance just going back to initial training school, we were drafted where we were eventually broken up into pilots, navigators and wireless air gunners and the pilots out at that section went to 2 different Tiger Moths schools, Temora and Narrandera, the break up.
At Narrandera there were the fighter pilots – the twins and the singles and I started off singles and then I found myself with six short leg fellows to go across to Mallala. So this was going on all the time. At the end of each section of your training, some went overseas and some went to other training establishments. So by the time we were
part of 220 leaving Sydney on the West Point, we were drawn from single engine and twin engine pilots and other mustering from various stations around, well all over. They could’ve come from Western Australia. So you keep forming a new friend from amongst the people you’re with sort of thing.
Because that journey obviously visited
your first time away from Australia?
First time at sea other than years before. My mother had taken me on the Weeroona, a paddle steamer from St Kilda down to Williamstown and that was out on the water, so this was the first time – people at that time just didn’t go overseas very much, you had to be wealthy. Young ones didn’t go off overseas after school like they do, so that was a huge experience
and it wasn’t without its dangers. There was the chance it could get torpedoed or hit a mine or whatever but that didn’t prey on our mind. We were left in no doubt that if we fell overboard, the ship wouldn’t stop because that would endanger everybody else on the ship while it hoved to and picked up this person in the water as sitting duck for a submarine. Whether they would have on our trip in the
South Pacific, I don’t know but they said they wouldn’t and sometimes we were given chores just to keep us working like chipping rust and scraping and chipping and that sort of thing. Not doing terribly much but hanging on with one hand while we were in life boats swung out over side, chipping and scrapping. You weren’t going to fall overboard and risk it
To get us to work, the American boson was American transport- he would bribe us, “Now if you do a good job, I’ll get you” -- what looked like – which he often did it – like Kentucky Fried Chicken -- “a pot of ice cream,” or something, it was quite... from the canteen and we’d all share that but we didn’t work too hard. We weren’t given any chores on the boat such as look out or look outs or anything.
This Frank Petch who was a wireless air gunner was given binoculars and things to do both on the Pacific and Atlantic so I don’t know why some did and some didn’t. But it was just a pleasant, relatively pleasant sea journey, 10 days, ultimately boredom, you didn’t sleep in state rooms and the
facilities for arm chairs and stuff were very soon taken. The meals were rostered; there was first sitting, second sitting, third sitting sort of thing. Two meals a day. It would be at 8 in the morning and 4 in the afternoon and the early birds from the first meal got the best places in the dining – not in the dining, the lounges or wherever but they were very rudimentary because they were use for transporting troops and weren’t plush carpets and plush arm chairs and that sort of thing.
And so after breakfast you queued in the canteen queue then for biscuits and chocolates, being an American ship, they would sell cartons of Hershey – we had Cadburys, they had Hershey chocolate bars and packets of biscuits and then you’d sit on the deck and you’d play cards and pontoon or 500 or these sorts of things and
the last person to put a card out to put their fingers on the card to stop it blowing away and the next person would play and he’d put his hand down – just to fill in the days. And we slept in hammocks in a rather crowded quarters which I never experienced before and you can’t lie on your side on a hammock. You don’t have them like that but even like that you can’t – this part of you body doesn’t bend, so you mostly slept on your back.
And there was always bugle calls and boson’s whistles – the smoking lamp is now out which meant that there’d be no smoking on the open decks after a certain period of dusk. The Americans would blow a bugle and say, “The smoking lamp is now out.” Another one would be, “Sweepers, manual brooms, empty all trash cans, sweep fore and aft.” This would be coming over regularly and then
bloody Yanks, the flag was coming down and was going up and then we’d eventually arrived in San Francisco Harbour – chock a block full of shipping, under the Golden Gate Bridge, past Alcatraz and all the things you dream of or hear of in the movies. And the flags everywhere – American flags naturally, flying everywhere and we had 4 days leave,
3 days initially, had to be back on the boat every night at six o’clock so we couldn’t stay in town and then you can go ashore the next day and that sort of thing.
What was that like, I mean first of all your impressions of the Americans on the boat and also San Francisco?
Well, I wasn’t one to go ashore and get stuck into the grog
because if I have 7 or 8 beers before lunch, by five o’clock I’d be feeling queasy and I wouldn’t feeling like going to a dance that night or anything like that. So, we asked what the sight seeing tour, naturally while you’re there you’d like to see things. They told us that the Red Cross Ladies or similar organisation at the railway station and they would arrange things for you that you could either
pay for or free trips or home hosting or parties at night. They wanted half a dozen Australians to go 21st birthday party or something. People were very generous wherever we went. And anyway, we were in a strange town and you don’t know whether to catch the 64 bus or 19 cable tram to get to the railway station so where is it – over there so you’d
start off walking and 5 of us were walking along the footpath and we cleared the obvious dock area into a suburban area and a big yank tank, big Pontiac, all edges, Studebaker type or one of these backing out of the driveway and we stood back because this came in front of us and he sort of looked and said, “Say what are you guys?” and we said “We’re Australian airmen,”
and he said, “What are you doing here?” We said, “We’re all on the way to a railway station, we believe. We’ve been told that the Red Cross will tell us what we can do for the day or arrange trips and that,” and he said, “Yeah, I’ve heard of that.” He said, “Hop in I’ll drive you there,” so we hopped in and he backed out and started off and eventually he pulled into the curb beside a telephone box and he said,
“I just got to make a call, just a minute.” He came back to the car and said ,“I’m with Colgate Palmolive and I just told them, “I won’t be in today.”” He said, “I’d be pleased if you’d let me show you around San Francisco,” which he proceeded to do and took us up the top of – you’ve seen pictures – if you haven’t been to San Francisco how high it gets up and all the streets come down and the cross streets flatten out and cars go boompitty boompitty all this sort of thing.
He showed us the windiest street in San Francisco, he took us to Fisherman’s wharf and shouted us drinks, and he wouldn’t let us put our hands in our pockets. He took us to lunch, in the middle of the day in the city area and a strange thing happened, we were stepping over the gutter to cross the street were he was leading us and I picked up a
silver coin in the gutter and it was an Australian threepence. Now there was only from the time we left the dock area until we arrived back at six o’clock, we never saw another Australian all day and yet I picked up an Australian threepence which could only have been dropped by one of that 220 draft – I thought that was a good omen really. And he took us to the San Francisco zoo. So we had a very nice day, we saw the sort of places that
most people would go to see and the next day we could do the railway station. We only got the 1 day off; I think I said 3 days. We had 3 days in New York. We had one day sight seeing in San Francisco and then we were packed into trucks and taken to the railway station and there was a train waiting for us and it was an old Pullman sleeper carriages that had been
retired and into -- and only brought out for the war and they were the style of thing that again you might have seen in the movies, the seats come forward, the backs go down to make a double bed and they open up – a thing drops down from the ceiling and that’s another bed up there and then they can run curtains along and have ladder that you can climb up and there was a Negro porter to each carriage for us.
So where he got to during the day, I don’t know but he made up the beds in the later part of the day for the beds and he put them away in the morning and as I remember it there were about 8 carriages and there had a sort of a guards fan in the middle part and that’s where we fold up the back half would go up to this and that’s where the food was prepared and we’d fold up the back half first and then
fold back and we’d eat our food off disposable plates and in – sitting compartment and we had always on issue whether a knife, fork and spoon and we had our mug. That stayed with us that was ours; even on the ship we had knife, fork, spoon and plate. And a knife, fork, spoon and cup and paper plates.
The drill was when you finish your meal, chuck everything out the window which I thought was strange because they could’ve had a wool pack or something and if you were told, you would put them in there but no, no, out the window. And troop trains must have set off from San Francisco regularly so that you would come to a cutting or and area and there would be stacks of paper plates and then there would be nothing for the next 3 hours
of travel or something or other. So this repetition of chucking things out the window which I thought was pretty untidy but every little town had its flags, houses, schools, railway stations always American flag, American flag day after day and after about three and half days we’d rumble to a halt and ease down the blind and lifted it, stood in the bunk and looked out and there was a Union Jack flying
– Union Jack not Australian flag and we thought oh where are we, we must be in Canada and we had just gone into Canada around the Great Lakes area and just above Chicago and at Chicago we pulled in below the multi story buildings. They must have been newspaper offices because they kept throwing, while we were stationery below them, they kept throwing bundles
of magazines and things, Silver Screen I think was one, out the window – the boys on the troop train. And that was the first time that looked like getting killed because you’d been running backwards and forwards trying to pick up bundles and there would be bundles being dropped – 20 magazines tied with string, they’d hit you like a shell and this was in Chicago and then of course it was
a run down to New York and that took us 5 days - the whole journey, San Francisco to New York and in New York we were taken by - from the boat by ferry to -- there’s lots of islands in San Francisco Harbour, not just Alcatraz and also in New York and we were
transferred to and island called –American’s call them forts. Fort something and Camp something and I think that was Fort McDowell and it was a permanent sort of camp, bit 2 storey buildings that had bedrooms and toilets and everything. The surrounds were like the botanic gardens, squirrels playing, coming down out of trees
and they’d sit on your shoulder and you could feed them crumbs and biscuits. This was all pretty good stuff – we tourist would be. And then we’d go into town on leave and you’d do the usual -- stage door canteen, I saw Lena Horne performing there on one occasion. She was the only one I really knew but there’d be chorus girls coming and dancing
and fellows singing and their name might be biggish over there but it wasn’t world wide.
So this was set up for the servicemen?
Stage door canteen, yes, everybody, not just for us. The American servicemen, anybody in uniform and organised by what they called the United Services Organisation, the USO.
Sounds like you were struck by the patriotism of the Yanks everywhere.
Oh, very much so, yes.
What was one of the things that stuck to you about the Yanks, how were there different from you guys?
Well I didn’t notice any other differences at that stage. The Americans over there weren’t as brash in uniform as they were out here because their rate of pay was quite ordinary, but overseas rate of pay was substantial and whereas they could buy flowers for the girls and chocolates
and silk stockings which worked wonders for them apparently. At home they couldn’t afford those and they stayed at hostels, whereas overseas they smoked cigars and stayed at hotels. Their overseas pay was big and so over there they were like ordinary blokes sort of thing, then if we got into conversation with them, they wanted to know about Australia and again even today apparently
they seem to think there’s kangaroos running down the street and koalas up every tree and that’s about all they know about Australia. We didn’t get into too close contact, just occasional conversation with them. We did all the sight seeing, the Empire State Building, Staten Island and Coney Island rather, and
Radio city. Did I mention Jack Dempsey’s night club, and one occasion, we were crossing the street one evening and there’s a big blue van most like a furniture van size, navy blue and it had Tommy Dorsey and his orchestra on the side of it – at ground floor it said that Tommy Dorsey – there’s a sticker
on something saying Hotel Pennsylvania. So we took the lift up to the ninth floor or whatever it was and there were 5 or 6 of us I suppose and the usual thing that you see on the films, the concierge or the whatever standing there – silk tassel cord hooked up over here and, “Passes, gentlemen?” “No passes.”
“Oh well, you cant come in, I’m sorry.” “Oh but look we’re from Australia and we just love Tommy Dorsey and his orchestra,” and that sort of thing. “Look,” he said, “I’m sorry, all the tables are booked tonight,” and “I’d love to let you in,” – words to that effect, “But look,” he said, “If you can just stay over there out of the way and still see what’s going on, I might get shot for it but you’re welcome for a little while.” So we stood there for a few brackets of Tommy Dorsey orchestra.
On the ship going over, there was an American officer that came to us and told us about things that you can say in the States but they’ve got different meanings. For instance, this part of the anatomy over there is your fanny and a very well respected person might say, “You play up and I’ll
dust your fanny,” meaning, “I’ll slap you on the backside.” ‘Cause there’s no no’s, and to be “knocked up” was to be pregnant and there were quite a few expressions that have different connotations over here and over there and I know we were invited to a party at Catchley
overhead what do they call it - not the overhead, the elevated to a certain station, might have been out of Brunswick or further out and get off and they’d meet us there and these very nice girls, very respectable nice girls and we caught the wrong train, we’d gone the wrong way or something a bit like the London underground and we were probably about half an hour late and they’d been standing there wondering whether we were coming. So they say,
“Hurry, hurry, hurry!” So we started running and I can remember running down thought the subway and coming up the other side. And I said, “Steady down, I’m knocked up,” and the startled look on these girls’ faces! “Sorry that’s something we’re not supposed to say, but over where we come from, it just means out of breath or a bit weary in the legs or something or other.” “Oh that’s alright,” sort of thing. So they were
innocent sort of days but after 4 days of that sort of thing we went aboard the Andes in New York and the Andes was a big liner not as big as the Queen Mary and Elizabeth but 40 odd thousand tons and it was very big and this trip it carried a division of soldiers, 15,000 and our draft round about the 220
still 2 meals a day and you were for ever queuing and you were lucky to get a patch on the deck to sit on, a sheltered deck, a sheltered piece of deck and the ship started to roll when we got out into the North Sea and it just didn’t pitch like this but just rolled all the way for 5 days across to Liverpool and the weather was pretty stormy
and these big ships; they didn’t travel in convoy like the merchant vessels did. They were fast enough to generally outrun subs and they had a zig zag pattern which whether they form of computer in those days or whether they just did it 45 degrees for three and a half minutes, 117 degrees for eleven minutes
and that sort of thing, changing backwards and forwards, reducing it to a couple of knots of speed, increasing speed. This was all to put any lurking submarine off that might be ahead of you and waiting to get a clear shot and one minute you’re coming at it beam on and the next minute you’re going away from him and that sort of thing. But we were fortunate, we had a cabin, and it would’ve been a twin birth cabin but extra bunks had been put in and it
had 6 bunks in it so it was pretty crammed but it was better than sleeping out and all there was always fellows rolled in blankets along all the corridors anywhere, wherever you went, there seem to be people in rolled up blankets and what would’ve happened if we’d been torpedoed I don’t know because they might have had life boats for 400 or 600 or something but not for 15,000 plus
but we had no duties; it was just entertaining yourself as far as playing cards was concerned. And then we pulled into Liverpool and no ceremony about that -- there was nothing in the paper to say a ship load of Americans and Australians were going to arrive on Thursday and they all get out and wave their flag. There’s only dock workers evident
and from the dock there was a train of carriages pulled up and that was to take us down to Brighton. And from Liverpool we just stayed on the same train through London and down to Brighton and at that time Brighton was known as No.11 Personnel Despatch and Reception Centre, 11PRDRC, and that’s where troops
come – Australians come into England, arrived and were dealt with and if they were finishing and going home, they left via Brighton and in the early year it was Bournemouth. I remember Keith Miller, he was – became not only a cricketer but a fighter pilot and he was in a hotel in Bournemouth which was
taken over by the air force and there was an air raid on and he got out of the bath when the siren sounded and a bomb landed close by and whole section of ceiling dropped into the bath which would’ve knocked him off most certainly. That’s the celebrity Keith Miller.
That was before he was playing test cricket?
Ah no, he must have been established then because he played in
- when I say established, he certainly played – there was a series of services test cricket games in England during the war and I went to see the last half of the last afternoon of the fourth services test at Lords – the things you do. I’ve been to Lords cricket ground but again we had a lot of time on our hands. We had some lectures
and things. We were waiting to be fed into the systems into elementary training, the next step of training and working our way back up to operational training and ultimately to be posted to a squadron
So did you at that point know where you were heading?
No, no idea at all. Again, the whistle blows. “Form up! Right, the names read out here will be going to Field tomorrow, get your gear organised,
be downstairs at 0800 hours.” So at Field it was a Tiger Moth aerodrome just west of Reading and we flew Tigers again, principally to get our hand in because we hadn’t flown for a couple of months and also to learn to map read over England which is a very different proposition to reading over Australia. If you were in an aerodrome in
Mildura and you wanted to go to Warrnambool, if you crossed 2 railway lines, the first one had to be something and the second one had to be the Adelaide line sort of thing. Over there you’re looking down there’s railway lines and main roads and aerodromes and if you took your mind off the job just looking over the side as to where you are and no time you could get lost and Tiger Moths didn’t have any radio.
So how did you cope with that?
Alright, yes – well you kept you mind on the job I suppose. I remember from that aerodrome doing a triangular cross country to the west and on the way back it started to snow and if you’re ever in that sort of circumstance or fog and you follow a road or a railway line, you fly with it on your left,
so if your going that way, you’re on that side and if you’re coming this way, there on the other side so you don’t collide head on – you’re separated so that’s part of training. So I follow the railway line to Reading, stick close, fly on the right hand side. In the snow if there’s an open cockpit flying solo and the visibility is getting worse and the snow’s coming in on and the goggles are getting
snowed up, this sort of thing, I’ll never know where the aerodrome is, I’ll just have to find a paddock eventually but I hang onto about the lapse of time that I should be there and what I haven’t really taken in at the aerodrome and at Reading was that there was quarry and it was shaped like a leg of mutton – leg of lamb and it was bulky here and
pointy bit running off the end of it and the point as it happened pointed straight to the aerodrome and the aerodrome was only a few hundred yards away from where the end of that quarry started and, “God that’s the quarry!” Do the circuit around the quarry once and then flew down the leg and landed at the aerodrome and I was so pleased to see the boundary of the aerodrome that as soon as the boundary fence appeared,
popped it down and landed. And in training aerodromes, you’re not allowed to taxi without somebody on the wing tip, so you turn the aircraft cross wind and wait and some of the other students have to run all the way across the far side of the 'drome in the snow and with me taxiing in, hanging on or running each wing tip. Partly they’re there for vision for you and if a gust of wind happened, they can grab the wing and stabilise it
so I wasn’t very popular. They reckon I should have landed a lot closer to the buildings and they wouldn’t have to run so far.
Was that because the Tiger Moths were particularly light?
Yes, single engine biplane and they were almost World War I appearance – great aeroplane to fly but just a trainer, so that was the experience there.
Up until – how long had it been that you’d had your wings.? Was it a bit over a
year that you had been...?
Yes, it would be 6 months I suppose.
In that time obviously you’d received a lot of training, had there been any mishaps, times where some things weren’t quite right, were there times when there were accidents?
At Mallala on the wings thing early in the training with an instructor on board,
one engine played up, you couldn’t feather the propellers – what’s the term? – the variable pitch on the Tiger Moth is just a carved wooden blade, you can’t do anything about it. With a variable pitch propeller
you can turn it so the blades are slicing at the wind, whereas when they’re like that, then even with the motor switched off they’re windmilling and worse than that, they’re a dead loss to flying. They’re like a big disc so you feather them and then you increase the revs on the other engine but you couldn’t do that on an Anson so we didn’t ruin the engine by ceasing because of
bad oil pressure so we had to fly home on one engine and I thought all the time, that was a bit dicey but that was in the training days. Attended a couple of funerals over at Mallala, this was before we got our wings, of fellows who crashed and killed themselves. Didn’t actually see the accidents or know all the details but it was happening and there out at the cemetery there were other graves from
fellows killed in the year before and that sort of thing but you just go on with it. After this Tiger Moth training at a field out of Reading, we were posted at Connah’s Quay up near Chester and the aerodrome itself might have been just into Wales, lovely country, lots of castles on all the high points around the area and the
The Airspeed Oxford was a twin engine aircraft, much about the same dimensions as the Avro Anson and we flew those for a couple of months and nothing very exciting happened there, got a bit leave in between times. I should say when we started on the Tiger Moths at Field, the first weekend’s leave went into the Reading railway station, the same thing – there’s some ladies there that will help you to
find entertainment for the weekend or billet or whatever and this other fellow and myself wanted a private billet, stay with the family and whatever and there was this very nice lady there – Mrs Steel. The lady in Adelaide would be Veale, and this Mrs Steel, and we’d chat to her and after we got going for a while she said, “Well look, I’d like to have you for the weekend but our weekend is pretty well taken up,
but if you say you get leave in a fortnight, would you like to come to me?” and,”We have a farm at Burfield.” So yes, we like that, so the next fortnight we went to stay with Mrs Steel and she had a boy who was in the army with the Gurkhas out in Burma and we took over his bedroom. And she had 4 daughters and one was in the WRAF,
and they had this farm and it was really a home away from home very early on. She got my parents address and wrote to my mother and said, “We have Bruce here for the weekend with a friend and he was looking very well,” and those sort of things that mothers like to hear. Throughout my 2 years in England, the Steel’s was my home away from home
and apart from my father being named as next of kin, Mr Andrew Steel, I got named locally should anything happen to me to be advised. So when we got leave we’d go down and the arrangement was if it happens quickly and you can’t write a letter to us, ring us up before you leave camp, ring us up at the station, hitchhike out and
there’s rooms here. And it was lovely and made life great but in between times instead of going there we’d go up to London and stay at one of the servicemen’s clubs and do the sights, go and have a look at Buckingham Palace or go to Fleet Street because we know what Fleet Street was and Harley Street, we knew about the doctors in Harley Street so you had to go and have a look at that.
And Australia House of course and the Strand and Nelson’s Monument and all these sorts of things that you had to see for yourself and you could always leave messages at Australia House on a board. They had huge boards around the ground floor, at the – they’d call it Boomerang Club. That’s where you could go and have lunch and get drinks and leave messages. You would head it up,
“Ted Lawson, I’ll be in leave and I’ll be in London on 14th May, hope to see you there,” or something and Ted would go and have a look to see if any notices on the board and the servicemen would do that.
The Blitz, what was your experience of that?
It was still on; I can remember staying at the King George Club out at Paddington Railway Station on one occasion
and the air raid sirens went and this was later in the war and looked out the window and 5 of the V-1s [missiles] were coned by search lights and once they came over the city, they didn’t attempt to shoot them down because if they did, they’d crash and blow up anyway and there’s always a chance if they might overfly or whatever, the big effort to get them was out before London and out over the channel
if they could. But a hell of a lot got through to London.
Interviewee: Bruce Clifton Archive ID 0762 Tape 04
On the last tape you were telling us about the air raid.
Can you just describe to us what that experience was like?
Yes. The air raid sirens went and I thought, “Oh, God. I suppose we’ll all dash down madly to the cellars.” – to the air raid shelters and of course the place was full of servicemen mainly British whatever, army, navy, air force and whatever and some Australians and they were all going around their business as though nothing much was happening. They were unpacking their clobber or whatever or shaving or
what not. I can’t dash off to the shelters and be the only one. And then a fellow came -- a bomb landed fairly close that made the bed “Boom!” like that. “Boom!” The bed sort of shook and, “That’s getting a bit close.” I was supposed to be up there dropping them, down here being bombed. And then a fellow came off the roof with a piece of an incendiary bomb and they
always had look outs up there with buckets of sand and what not and tip sand over the phosphorous bombs because incendiaries were always phosphorus and the tail part was a bit of souvenir. So all this – the war’s getting quite close sort of thing. Then of course there was the black out and headlights on cars were just masked and there was just a brief
glimmer of light down onto the roadway. You all need a torch with you at night to find your way about. Quite a lot for the London people to put up with. One other occasion looking up window and seeing the V-1s coned. Five of them all at one time and of course
their range was governed by their fuel and when their fuel cut out, they went into a dive because they had wings like a little aeroplane but they were sort of a jet engine and of course they caused a lot of havoc as well. But when they were out there coming towards you, by the time you think – but when they get up there, you think that’s alright because their dive will take them 45 degrees out the back but the Londoners just lived with that.
The big red double decker red buses would be – stacks of them coming on the bus. The air raid siren would go, the bus would pull into the curb, if you heard a doodle bug [V-1 missile]engine then the driver would look at the window, “Oh it’s crashed somewhere else,” pull out from the curb and drive on. So the spirit was very good. I was never in the underground at night.
I never saw the people down there - they’d take their blankets down and go to the nearest underground station to where they lived and that’s what they did for probably 4 years night after night. And there’d be romances, friendships established from families adjacent -- all had their own spots. After a while, “Tis is my spot, you’ll have to move up a bit.”
I didn’t experience that because once we sort of saw the sights of London or gone up to a specific show, then more often than not we went to the Steel’s down on the farm – would’ve been good, useful to them because manpower was short and I might have mentioned earlier but I had a bit of experience driving tractors and the farm equipment. And my particular friend at the time,
Vern Opey, they were a very well-known firm of bakers in South Australia in Adelaide and Vern and I, we cut out an entire paddock with the tractor and binder – they were only small fields but they got us started in the morning and went away and we cut the field out with the tractor and binder throughout the day and refuelled it when necessary,
nothing brilliant but enjoyed it too because we were paying then back. The farm was in between an ammunition factory and a WRENS camp, the WRENS being the Women’s Royal Naval Service, WRENS. And in between was the farm and a pub called the Hatchgate and at night,
we’d go over to the Hatchgate, just Vern and myself and there would be stacks of WRENS from the WRENS camp and they never had any money so they were earning only four shillings a day or something or other. So they were quite happy if we offered to buy them a gin and tonic or whatever. And we met some very nice girls. And Mr Steel had pigs and he had the contract to pick up the
swill from the ammunitions factory and from the WRENS camp. So we always volunteered to drive the truck over to the WRENS camp and pick up the swills and these big buckets behind the cook house sort of thing. And girls in camp are much the same as fellows in camp because the fellows would call out to the chickies, “Hey, what about a date!” and “I’d like to see you at the pub after!” and all that and the girls would say the same sort of thing.
Were there any romances?
Yes, I very nearly formed a lasting one there and we thought that it might come to something, which it – bank’s regulation said that “Bank officer will not marry under the age of 24 as prior to that he wouldn’t be earning sufficient remuneration to keep a wife in the fitting manner,”
-- well to that effect. So with that in mind and leaving over there at 21 it was a case of, “We’ll keep writing and you’ll come out one day,” but absence didn’t make the heart grow fonder. She was a WRENS and her job subsequently on the western approaches plotting the convoys coming into
Liverpool and that sort of thing. And it was actually up there when I left England and I don’t know if this is an appropriate moment to bring that story into the situation, but we came up from Brighton to leave to come home on the Stirling Cassel and even though this was October 1945 and the Japanese war had finished
in August and the European war in May, we stilled travelled up just as though it was a secret journey during war time. Nobody allowed in the dock area, two policemen on the gate and RAF Wing Commander and the foot of the gangway an Australian Squadron Leader. This girl’s name was Daphne and Daphne had heard about a convoy
leaving – not a convoy, a troop ship leaving and she’d turn up at the gate and her mother had died in the early years of the war and had left her her engagement ring so she twisted the ring around 'til only the gold band was showing and said to the policeman, “My husband -- we’ve had practically no leave together for so long and he’s leaving on this ship and it may be a year or more before I can follow him out to Australia,” and he said something,
“You’ll get me shot but alright, I’ll let you in.” So she was the only non travelling person on the dock and the RAF Wing Commander said, “No sorry, you cannot go aboard and he can’t come off,” and the Australian Squadron Leader said, “Sir, if I guarantee, if I take her on board and I see that she comes off, will you permit?” He said, “Alright, it’s on your head.” So he escorted her onto the boat.
And I was in a cabin – put my gear on C deck and had gone back up to the rail with a few mates and was looking over the side, didn’t know all this was going on and a message came over the loud speaker, “Will Flying Officer Clifton proceed on to his cabin on C deck immediately please.” I went down to my cabin and there was the light of my life.
But she’s guaranteed to be off the deck in 20 minutes – off the boat. So I can remember when the time came walking arm and arm up the gang way – up a stair way and other Australians were saying, “God you didn’t waste any time, is there any more like her on board?”. Anyway, saw her off at the head of the gang way and that was that.
What was said, what plans were made?
“You would come out in due course and we’ll get married in Australia.” Instead I married a wild Irish woman.
Earlier you were saying that Mrs Steel – when you had first billed with her, she wrote to your mother saying...
Yes, and would do that periodically throughout the subsequent times.
What about you, were you personally corresponding at home with your family?
Yes, you numbered all your letters, either the envelope or the air letter because it was sporadic the mail going out and four letters might turn up all at once and then I’d do the same, my mother would number her letters or the family and you would shuffle them into order before you opened them and read them sort of thing.
But that happened to all the servicemen.
And how were they back home while you were over there heading toward some personal danger perhaps. How were parents?
Well they weren’t conveying any of that. ”We worried about you and weren’t the sort that were saying, “You must come home safely to us,” and all that”. Actually when I did eventually get to a squadron, I done four trips before I wrote home and said, “I am now on an operational squadron
and I’ve done four trips and it’s a piece of cake.” That’s what we say in the RAF, “It’s a breeze, you mustn’t worry or anything like that.” But my mother did worry. My father moved from Willaura to Alexandra in the bank and there were just the two of them there – my sisters were back at Willaura and Dad would say she’d often get up from the fire at night and go out and if she wasn’t back within a few minutes
with a cup of tea, he’d go out and she might be standing on the back lawn, looking up to see whether Diggy Boy was flying overhead or whatever, which was a bit silly. She had a couple of strokes that took her away when she was only 59 so my sisters were convinced that the war shortened her life and while my father was in the pub bragging,
“My boy’s now flying Wellington – Wellington’s or Stirling’s,” or, “He’s now on a squadron - my son is a pilot”. Mum would say, “God, bring him home.”
Where you homesick?
No, too exciting. There’s too much to see. This sea journey and Liverpool and New York and all the things that were going on. We knew we’d go home eventually, we hoped to. I think for most of us
we had the belief that whatever nasties happened, would happen to somebody else and not to us and so we’d be right. We’ll go home but Tom, Dick or Harry, some of them might get the chop. We were aware that the death rate in the bomber command, particularly through training command and bomber command was 50-50 and one out of every two would become a casualty
but still -- stay in the air force, press on regardless.
And you were aware of that even during the training period?
Yes, and it became more evident when you came to a squadron of course because then names became real things. There’s the 14 names from the squadron gone up on the board and landed safely, landed safely
– rub that name off the board sort of thing or -- the fellow -- two crews might share a hut and the 14 fellows – when you’ve had your post meal breakfast, you got on the bus and truck and gone up to the hut dispersal side and gone to be and they hadn’t turned up and you keep wondering and keep wondering 'til eventually – well there’s always the hope that they might have landed somewhere else and that happens because if an aircraft got shot up in its hydraulics
were as such, they had no brakes and flaps, there were about 3 aerodromes up the east coast of England with long overshoe run ways and you knew that you could put down there because you didn’t need brakes to pull you up. You could run 10,000 yards instead of the usual 1400 yards. So people use to think, “They’ll turn up.” Next day they hadn’t turned up and you’d go to the flight office,
”Anyone heard about Victor’s crew?” Victor being the Victor, the aircraft or Charlie’s, “Seen Charlie?” “No no, heard nothing.” Then a replacement crew would come to the squadron and take their place and the number would keep up.
When that happened, did that affect your feeling that you were lucky, that you were fortunate?
No, I think it just fortified the fact that
it was happening to somebody else and you got through it. So that was mainly it I think. I’ve read books where fellows in the services would say I had a premonition, I knew that I wouldn’t be going home and I wrote the sort of letter to convey everything. I leave my car to my cousin,
this, that and the other thing. Before they even got into action and got killed, they had this premonition and ‘cause it’s like people saying, “I dreamt the winning number for Tatts.” You don’t hear about the ones that dreamt numbers that didn’t win or the race -- “Phar Lap’s going to win the Melbourne Cup.” A lot of people dream about horses and they don’t win. I read books about this fellow, he had a premonition and he got the chop.
The chop was the end.
Did you know of guys who did have sort of premonition or superstition?
No. At Forest Hill, when I was an air crew guard up there, there was a fellow who committed suicide and I don’t even know that he was air
crew or ground staff to be or what but he cut his wrist and the blood welled out under the door into the passage way and it stained the floor for some time to come -- he did himself in. But you didn’t think, “Oh well, it’s going to happen to servicemen.”
There was that thing called LOMF. What was your take on that?
What did that mean?
Lack of moral fibre. It was a case of fellow trained for aircrew who said, “I refuse to fly any more.” It may be after 2 ops or it might be after 25 ops. The 2 had been 30 and they just say, “I can’t stand it,” or whatever, “I refuse to fly.” Then they would ceremoniously strip his rank but you couldn’t take his wing or wings. If he was pilot, he’d be left with his wings,
if he was an air gunner, he’d be left with his half wing. And they’d be given jobs at other aerodromes and the only way you’d know they’d be LOMF would be that they were wearing a wing or a half wing and no rank. So in normal circumstances you had to be a least at sergeant once you got your half or wing, you were a sergeant and 6 months later a flight sergeant so if you saw a bod wandering around, well
you didn’t think discouragingly about him. In fact I thought, “I don’t think I’d ever have the courage to say that. I think I’d press on and finish up getting the chop,” or something or other, rather than be game to say, “I refuse to fly any more”. Must’ve taken a hell of lot of courage. He didn’t have the courage to fly but he had the courage to say, “I refuse to fly,” and be the figure of whatever in front of
air force fellow members. The numbers might’ve been in there thousands. I don’t know. Over a period of the war but I think I probably saw 3 such fellow on such aerodromes only into my vision. But it wouldn’t be surprising because some had some very gruelling experiences. When up until the time
we got shot down, we hadn’t been hit by fighter pilot fire or anti aircraft fire; nothing had come too dangerously close to us. We felt the thump of the wash of other aircraft in the dark and know that we’re very close to another aircraft. But others had their elevator shot away, couple of the crew members
are dead, the aircraft struggling to get home and that might happen a couple of times in ten trips so you started to think.
We’ll just go back into Reading and there was the camp outside of Reading. Were you training there – Field. How long were you based there?
I guess it would’ve only have been 6 weeks
and we did mostly navigation exercise, not teaching us to fly but a lot of it was solo work and Link Trainer. Link Trainer is a little model aeroplane that is controlled if you put the stick forward and your little aeroplane put the nose down, and you pull the stick back and it does this, and if you put the wing over the rudder it turns a complete circuit
and you learnt to instrument fly in it. It’s got a hood over the top over you and you can’t see anything but your instrument panel, your air speed, your compass and whatever, and it can be hooked up. That sort of map I showed you can be spread out on the table and the Link Trainer itself can be set up so that a stylus or whatever they might call it, an ink pen, will start when you start, and you fly
a course to there, to there and back here. And if you fly perfectly it cuts that piece there, cuts that one and cuts this. But on the other hand if you don’t, it might fly over here off course and it can all be recorded so you do a lot of instrument flying training in a Link Trainer. So we were doing quite a lot of that and that stands you in good stead because when you’re flying in a bomber stream and your 220
aircraft in an 11 minutes long stream of – you can’t see any of them. No navigation lights. They’d have a fit if 2 aircraft flew within a thousand yards of one other at Tullamarine aerodrome but here you are in 220 four engine aircraft in a stream 11 minutes long heading towards the one target and going to aim to fly exactly over the top of it and there were collisions
naturally, and often when an aircraft got off course a bit and he came back onto course, you’d cross his slip stream and your aircraft would buckle with the turbulence of his 4 propellers, you’d know that somebody was just out there in front of you which was always comforting to know that there was somebody out the front there.
How were you able to co-ordinate, just seems obvious thing, you just get up there and your in formation but what did it take to be able to co-ordinate those...?
Americans flew in formation in daylight and the formation was such they were stepped up and stepped down so that the guns protected the force. But we flew at night and they called it a ‘gaggle’ – bit like geese, they don’t form in a strict arrow head formation but in a conglomeration of birds sort of thing so it was a gaggle. And you just
aimed to be -- to reach the same point and they gave you 12 minutes usually, in which to get over the target, the 220, and a quarter of you would be in the first 3 minutes and the next in the next 3 minutes. So after flying a zig zag course over Europe 1400 kilometres or something, you were expected to arrive at 2.00am in the morning and no later than 3 minutes past.
And the next were supposed to get there between 3 and 6 minutes because you didn’t want everybody arriving there at the one minute all stacked up over the target, all wanting to drop their bombs simultaneously. So the navigation had to be a bit precise but it didn’t mean that it happened that way. There were those that got there early and those who got there late and that sort of thing.
I guess we can -- working towards that phase.
From Field, what planes were...?
Field, that was Tiger Moths, then we went up to Connah’s Quay and flew Airspeed Oxfords – that twin engine aircraft and nothing much eventuated there and then we converted to Wellington Bombers which at the outbreak of the war were Britain’s heavy bomber. Wellingtons and Stirlings
and they were a fairly big aircraft and that was at the start of that course that we were crewed up. That we formed a crew and this was a unique experience. If they sent 12 pilots to the course, they’d send 12 navigators, 12 bomb owners and 24 gunners
and you were all told to report to the hangar. And you’d be looking around and you would see all these bods milling around and you’d think, “Well, how the hell am I supposed to crew up?” I don’t whether - you’ve got to expect that they’ve all passed their courses to this point. They’re eligible, they’re capable. Some will be better than others and I’m not as good as some -- might be a bit better than some but they don’t know that. And you’d mill around and ‘cause
I was in an Australian Air Force uniform with Australia on the shoulder – blue uniform. And an Australian wireless operator sidled up to me and he said, “Good day – have you got a WOP [wireless operator] yet?” “No.” “What about it?” And I said, “Yep, righto, if you’re happy with me.” And so we had two, and two gunners sidled up and their names were
Davey and Dunston and with all their training, they were in the queue, D letters, alphabetical order and they got to know each other. And lining up at the hospital for medical injections for courses and this sort of thing. And they said, “Good day digger, have you got gunners yet?” And I said, “No, there’s just Peter and myself,” and they said, “Well, we’d like to fly together, we
don’t want to be split up, so if you haven’t got any gunners, what about it?” So I said, “Well, okay.” So we were now four, and this was happening in the hangar and some were crewing up quicker than others and for the life of me, to this day, I can’t remember what happened with the bomber and the navigator, but somehow or other they must’ve looked around and thought, “We’re running out of numbers, if we don’t get a crew soon, we’ll be last,” or something
and they just said, “Can we fly with you?” “Yeah, it will be right. So, what’s your name?” So we formed a crew of six and the engineer didn’t come until later and he was just given to use. We didn’t have any choice of the engineer but we were a crew of six and the Wellington only had one turret. So whenever we flew, the two gunners had to take it
in turns to fly the rear turret and one gunner was quite big, Dunston compared to Ken Davey who was shorter. So when we did get into bigger aircraft, it was logical that Ken would fly the rear turret and Dunston.
Why did they give you the two gunners for the Wellingtons? Was that in preparation --
Yes, because we were only a training aircraft and we were going to move onto Stirlings – four engine, and
then to Lancasters or Halifaxs, one or the other. So from then on we were a crew and it was beaut. When you did get stand down and went into town to the pictures, we went together and went into a pub and I might shout the first drink – in Lincoln and Nottingham, in that area, you’d see these bomber crews and they wouldn’t all be rookies like us, they’d be
experienced crews that were coming in and they were knocking around together. It was a bond, it was beaut. And they’d call me skipper and we might play darts and we’d have the navigation team, the bomb owner, the navigator, and the pilot against the wireless operator and the two gunners and then we’d have the gunnery team versus the pilot and the two gunners against the other three
so it worked out nicely that way.
When you had to crew up that day and there was the 12 pilots etc, were they all rookies?
Yes, as it happened. I’m not sure but I don’t think there were any experienced -- no, they wouldn’t come back to that training course. They would go back to a squadron directly if they were doing a second tour. So they’d all be rookies.
With your crew, can you just tell us who they were, what are their names, what each person did?
Yes, you’d never believe it but the bomb owner name was Slaughter, Ted Slaughter and he was a Geordie from Newcastle and the wireless operator, Peter Kirkpatrick was an Australian, the only Australian, so there were two of us and the others were RAF types.
His father was an Anglican Minister from somewhere in NSW – I’ve forgotten which now and the two gunners were Frank Dunston and Ken Davey. Frank came from Reading and Ken Davey came from Cornwall and I mentioned about the Reading particularly because after I got back to England from Sweden,
Mrs Steel asked Frank’s mother and sisters to come out to the farm for afternoon tea and to meet me. So that was my first meeting them and saying how sorry I was and the boys didn’t feel anything, I’m sure and it was all over so quickly and I hope it doesn’t upset you that I’m alive and they’re not and that sort of thing. But Mrs Steel asked
– and years later I received a letter from one of the sisters who was living in Adelaide and her husband – had been in the RAF and the next door neighbour had been in an army unit and they were having a reunion for the Anzac Day march and they said, “Why don’t you come over to Melbourne with us for the weekend and we’ll do the March,” and from Melbourne they rang to say
“We’ll be going through Ballarat on the Overland on such and such a night, tomorrow night,” so I went down to the station here at Ballarat and met her again, I hadn’t met her before because she was also in the Land Army over there and she didn’t come out with her mother and sisters to the Steel’s farm that afternoon. And she said I always wanted to meet Boy’s – he was known in the family – the only boy amongst four girls
and they called him “Boy” – Boy Dunston. “Always wanted to meet Boy’s pilots,” so we met briefly at the Ballarat railway station. Sorry I’ve digressed again.
Was that the whole crew?
No that was the six of us. So for 4 months we flew the Wellingtons and that was fairly intensive. We were doing a lot of bombing, gunnery from the air and
at the end of that time we went to fly Stirlings at Wigsley in England, they’re four engine and very big, bigger than the Lancaster. Bigger by perhaps 10 feet in the wing span. And on arrival we were given an engineer who was a Don Aplin from London
and years later when we saw the graves in England, in Sweden and when a person dies, a servicemen, their family are contacted and say what would you like to put on the headstone and you can say a brief something from the Bible or, “We loved him,” or something
– sorry. It broke me up because there was nothing on his headstone, the others had, “He died that we might live,” ‘”He was taken too young,” or something but his parents felt for some reason, didn’t see fit to put something on his headstone.
It upset Marie. Her faith is very strong. So that can happen.
Are you okay to go on? So the crew’s now training on the Stirling, and how did the training differ? Was it more of the same or is it just getting acquainted with different technology?
Well it was more for me.
It handled four engines and of course when your hammering down the runway, you’ve got full throttles to push up and that sort of thing and you’ve got to learn to – with the instructor, to perhaps land on or to cope of three engines or even on two engines if need be. If one caught fire you’d have to feather it, manage on what was left and then you had to taxi on the remaining engines –
the handling became different with the four engines. And we had an anxious moment on the Stirlings. We had to do what was called evasive action. We had to climb to as to high as we could and we were up about 21,000 feet and
And then I said, “I’ll do some anti-fighter corkscrews,” and the air is very rare and the controls don’t act very hard. You can roll the stick over and nothing happens and the wings start to come sort of thing. So you haven’t got very strong control so the same thing would apply to a fighter pilot in that rarefied air. And with that the
starboard engine, this huge flame from the plane came back like a Bunsen burner, straight out the engine, back pass the tail plane and of course there were a few comments like, “Jesus we’re on fire,” or something or other and your training takes over and so you cut the fuel and the engine then, you push the throttle up and increase the revs and standby the gravenor switch fire extinguisher
‘cause they don’t like…the ground staff didn’t like you to set off the fire extinguisher in an engine, they’re all round the engine, the extinguisher stuff – it’s a hell of job to get it off the engine again, all this clinging stuff. So if the fire goes out, you don’t use the fire extinguisher so standby the gravenor switch so the engineer would have his thumb ready for that, you’d have the four
fire extinguishers and the flames went out so we got the engine feathered and we’ve only got three so I said, “We’ll continue with the evasive actions and see how we go on three,” and with that Frank Dunston starts to scream, “We’ve been shot at! We’ve been shot at!” And Ken Davies said, “Where? Where?” We can’t see any trace and with traces, there’s one traceable at every tenth, so you’ve got nine that you can’t see and you have a
red tracer and that’s for gunners to be able to sight their guns, if you’re missing, you can see it with the tracers and he said, “We cant see any tracers,” and Frank said, “Me turret’s smashed, I’m getting out of here,” and before I could say, “Stay where you are on the oxygen,” he disconnected all his heated flying boots and suits and oxygen and intercom and dropped out of his turret.
So I said to the bomb owner, “Put yourself on an oxygen bottle.” They have just like a fire extinguisher, full of oxygen. “Clip on and go back and see if he’s okay and getting to plug him on the rest bed.” He got back and Frank Dunston’s lying unconscious on the floor of the aircraft. At 20,000 feet you only last seconds without oxygen so he thinks he might die before I get him to the rest bed
so he plugged him onto the oxygen bottle, got him under the arms to drag him to the rest bed which is only feet away (like that telly), gets unconscious with the exertion and he fell across Dunston. Dunston woke up on the bottle, “What’s he doing lying on top of me?” This could have gone on all night and in the meantime we can’t hear what’s going on. Nobody’s telling us anything so Frank stayed on the oxygen bottle, dragged Ted Slaughter over to the rest bed and there was another connection for oxygen
there and he plugged in and they both plugged into intercom and called out, “Everything’s okay there.” But what transpired was one of filler caps, where the petrol goes in on the wing, there’s a hinged cap over the top of it and there’s a couple of press in turn things that you lift, take off the cap, fill the petrol, press it down and a couple of turn, it had wrenched away
and it had hit the mid upper turret and smashed the Perspex so we hadn’t been shot at, at all. ‘Cause we’re only up in northern England, somewhere or other. So when we got back to base, we found out and had to land on three engines on the Stirling and found out that’s what happened, so that was a bit of baptism to what can happen but nobody was hurt and we got through and they thought I was ‘cracker jack pilot’ because we landed on three engines,
which you should be able to on two.
Interviewee: Bruce Clifton Archive ID 0762 Tape 05
Yes you mentioned traces and you mentioned about the every tenth bullet was coated so you could see it. Luminous at night and when we were flying the Wellingtons, the gunners had never had the experience of firing from the turrets at night, bearing in mind that there was only one turret and the exercise this night was to fly south down Cardigan Bay
which is off Wales. Every aircraft was to fly 10,000 feet and all training aircraft in the area and the gunners were to press their guns at 45 degrees into the water and there’d be no shipping. First gunner would have a go and they’d swap over and the second gunner could have a go and they’d see the effect – feel the vibration in the aircraft, feel the flashes of the guns firing, so they wouldn’t be startled the first time that this had to happen.
And we’re tootling our way down there and suddenly the aircraft ahead of us, traces started appearing above and below the aircraft and obviously they had to press the guns they fired dead a stern, we couldn’t credit - we weren’t hit though above and below. In the services, there are colours of the day which are identification colours. We have vary cartridges and they have three colours, they could be all reds,
they could be two reds and an orange, two greens and an orange and they’d changed every eight hours and soon as you get into the aircraft, you screwed the vary pistol into the roof, into its aperture just above the wireless operator and you put the cartridge in for the day. And then at four o’clock in the morning, you would change the next cartridge and it’s always there – well it should be and soon as the trace appeared I’d say, “Fire the colours!” He didn’t say, “Whatever for?” He just reached and, “Boom!”
And out went the cartridge and the firing stopped. But we couldn’t get over when we got home that there wasn’t a bullet mark on the plane yet these traces, bearing in mind, we only saw the tenth, we didn’t see the nine in between. So we came under fire in training command – our own fire.
Would you say that you were well trained? By the time you completed your training
and you were ready to go into operations. How did you feel about your training?
I thought it was excellent – very expensive of course, particularly for pilots but yes, and some of it was very short lived of course. They reckon that a lot of crews went lost on their first mission or first operation. Whether it was through inexperience or bad luck but there’s no control over that of course.
So after Stirlings, we were sent to a ‘Lanc’ finishing school, to fly Lancasters for the first time and that was just out of Nottingham and that was only familiarisation and just to learn the instruments of the different aircraft and after a few hours flying we were posted to a squadron and in our case we were posted to 57RAF Squadron.
You will encounter perhaps that there are Australians who flew in the Australian Squadron 467, 463 and others. But in this case, we were fed into bomber five group and 57RAF Squadron and that was at East Kirby and between Boston and Lincoln and Lincolnshire. And Lincolnshire was known as fen country.
It was always flat and uninteresting and naturally enough when war came along – that’s where all the wartime aerodromes were built. It was nice and flat for landing grounds. And initially we just flew as a crew on the squadron for more training. They gave us more – sent us up with the Spitfire for fighter affiliation. He would make dummy runs at us and
he’d dive away and do evasive tricks with his cine camera and his gun and we’d have – gunners would have a camera on their guns and it would record if they got a hit or if he shot us down for instance but he played it correctly, coming in out of the sun and diving past, swerving away and that sort of thing but that was all part of the training. We did a lot of training right through the cities, at local baths
inflating the dinghy or getting into the dinghy, that’s in the water, a seven man dinghy is quite big. And the diameter of the sides of it would probably be that. To get from water into them and if they’re upside down, there’s a correct way how to turn them up, the correct way sort of thing. And to manage it in the cold English Channel in the middle of
winter of course is another thing. And all these drills are happening through part of our training.
Can I ask you about the dinghies, what situations would the dinghy be...?
Yes, if you were damaged over in Europe for instance, in losing height, and losing height and you couldn’t make it to Britain, you had to ditch into the English Channel
or the North Sea or depending where. And the dinghy was in a stowage that was automatically released when it hit the water, hopefully not head on sort of thing but just like you’re trying to do a perfect landing. On the land you try to ditch proportionately into water and the dinghy would pop out of its cowling and it was attached by a rope and
near where it was attached there was a little pocket in the side of the dinghy with a knife so that eventually you could cut it adrift, so you could go away on it sort of thing. And there was a canopy that could be raised and there was a battery radio in it and you could hold it between your knees, it was shaped like Mae West so you could hold it firmly in between the knees rather than squeezing out
of whatever. And you could crank a handle and that would send an SOS message and then the stations in England – Air Sea Rescue stations would pick up the signal and they- two station get a fix. “Let’s get a beam on it from two different directions and plot it there – that’s about the position.” and then they’d send an Air Sea Rescue launch out to bring you in hopefully. And of course if you were shot down by a fighter, and the fighter saw you go into the water,
he would tell his people and they would send out an Air Sea Rescue launch from their side and you would become a prisoner of war.
Now this is assuming that you’re parachuting out of the plane?
Well if you parachuted you’d probably – you only had your Mae West which is your inflatable vest because a fighter pilot would have a dinghy strapped to him and if he landed in the water, he would inflate it and he would have a little one man dinghy but bomber crew
only had the one – the big dinghy and if you parachuted you probably wouldn’t be in the proximity of the – where the aircraft went down, so you just had to bob about in the water in your Mae West, freezing about 20 minutes in the winter time and that was about it.
So it also assuming that you get out of the plane when it ditches.
Yes, depends on how choppy the sea was and the type of aeroplane
and of course you practiced these things on land. You practised abandoning the aircraft into the water. You practised going out of an aircraft frame on land and crossing your arms and sitting on the edge and just rolling out into a net sort of thing, you practised those things. We never practised jumping. Your first parachute jumping in the air force was your first. First emergency was your first jump.
Which you experienced, but more of that later.
Yes, so we’re now at – we’ve just arrived at the squadron and that was in the middle of December of 1944. The December 1945
Christmas in England was one of the coldest for a long long time. It was at the time of the Battle of the Bulge when Von Runsted broke through to try to recapture Antwerp and the weather was so bad we couldn’t get aircraft off. There was no running water to our sleeping sites. We had to warm snow on the hot belly stove in the middle of the hut and have a
bath one foot at time. One leg with your pants out and one leg you had to wash it and put your pants back on and take the other one out and leg in. So the water wasn’t flowing to the showers or the ablution huts and there was so much snow about, you went to the side of the hut where the late arrivals home from the pub
so we always had clean snow on that side and scoop it up and put it on top of the pot belly stove and they would be red hot. They stayed going constantly, day in, day out, even when you weren’t in the hut so they were always nice and warm.
So this is at the Bomber Squadron No. 57. So this is after you’re finished at the Lancaster finishing school?
Yes, we’re now doing more Lancaster training
really, cross countries and that sort of thing. And eventually, I’m instructed to do what we called a ‘second diggy flight’. An experienced crew - I would go with them as second pilot and that’s to give me the experience of what happens before taking my own crew. So that’s always called second diggy or second pilot. And that was a bit of an experience, I suppose I was a bit nervous
about it all happening so I didn’t eat my pre-take off meal and by the time I got out to the aircraft, I was ravenous and we had been supplied with a couple of chockie bars and some boiled lollies for our rations. And I ate those fairly smartly and shortly after take off I became air sick so there whining their way across the channel and I’m calling for Doctor Burke,
down at the back of the Lanc and feeling wretched and eventually the pilot said, “Well, if you don’t come up front soon, you’ll have to do this another time.” So I said, “Fair enough,” so I came up and stood behind him and we’re sort of heading toward the target and things are starting to happen and I’m going – dribbles, icicles because 10,000 feet in the winter time they’re starting to dribble out and freeze.
Then he’d say, “Look, there’s fighter attack over there, you can see the tracer and nobody got hit that time and there’s a ‘Lanc’ blowing up over there and going down. There’s an aircraft that’s obviously crashed on the ground. There’s a spoof,” the Germans used to fire a shell up into the air that when it burst, it all burst into fragments of silvery flashing sort of stuff and you’d think, “My God,
that’s a direct hit on another aeroplane,” and if you saw three or four of those when you were going into the target, just enough to test your nerve you might say, “They’re a bit on the target tonight, I think I’ll turn round and go home,” but you wouldn’t of course, that was meant to discourage you. So he could point out a couple of spoofs and he’d say, “Well, now you can hear the master bomber directing his wind finding aircraft over the target. The first target indicators
are going down, the red target indicators you can see those.” Instead of me thinking, ”What’s happening?” They’d explain to you. And then we went to Munich that night, which was nine hour trip and so not long away from the target he said, “Well you better take it now,” and I felt like saying, “Oh, but I’m too crook,” and he’d unplugged his intercom
so I said, “Oh well,” and I got in and in no time you felt perfectly alright apart from this horrible taste from the oxygen mask. Back to home, near home and he took over and landed and so that was my first trip and my second diggy. And then the next time we’d go is when I take my crew for their first time.
So just on that – the flight over Munich,
so you actually had a target and you carried out the whole operation as a real operation. Were you dropping a bomb on Munich – what were you doing?
Yes, Munich - every operation – they told you what was there, whether it was rail yards or whether it was concentration of army tanks on the outskirts or whatever. We were never told
to just bomb a city because it was a city. It did happen with Hamburg but by the time I got going they seem to be all legitimate targets - marshalling yard, enemy troops, no orphanages, thank goodness. So that was uneventful and we landed quite safely and the next time we flew was my crew’s
first trip so it was an experience for them and it was to – I won’t go through all of them but it was to Rhone on the French coast and they were submarine pens and they wanted us to be very accurate because Rhone was a French town and the underground had been alerted for the people to get out of the road if they possibly could and we were told to bomb as accurately as possible. And when we were
approaching Rhone, the master bomber who got there early and organising the flair dropping said, “We can’t do it accurately enough, you’ll have to go round again,” all but five minutes to port. Which means you go straight through the target and of course they’re shooting all the time so you round in an orbit, waste five minutes and then come in over the target again and that rattled the crew a bit because I’d been once before and knew the drill.
They said, “Ah, lets get out of here and let’s go home.” So I had to adopt to the skipper’s voice, “Settle down chaps, we’re going to do this properly.” Which we did and everything seemed to go off alright and we got home and they were happy – they’d done one trip so they were old hands at it.
You said it was a submarine pen.
Pens, yes - German submarines pens.
At this stage, the D-Day landings had occurred some six months earlier – five months earlier. But pockets of German resistance held out all down the coast and Rhone was one such, where the German troops were beleaguered, they couldn’t get out and the French underground held them in but there were also German submarine pens operating from there – they were under massive concrete
– they could go in underneath the concrete pens as they were called, the submarines. After they had been out in the Atlantic and they came in to be rearmed with torpedos and fellows to be given a rest and that sort of thing. New crews perhaps to stop over and then they’d go out into the English Channel and then out into the North Sea –again – the submarines - German submarines. So the job that night was to try and batter the submarines pen if possible.
But of course very difficult because they were very, very, strong reinforced concrete pens to protect their submarines.
So how did you know if you hit the target and you could’ve been successful?
Well we had cameras in the bomb bays, synchronised to our bomb site. And then you flew over the target, from the minute you released the bombs you were instructed to fly straight and level for 30 seconds,
it’s a fairly long time. Not to take any evasive action whatsoever and then breakaway after 30 seconds and all that time your camera was opened and it would record an aiming point and with their knowledge of the target and the height and measurements and things, they could create back home, whether you got fairly close, within 50 yards or
200 yards or whatever. So we had cameras all the time. I have to say in the early part of bomber command, they didn’t have the cameras and some of fellows and things were a lot stickier early in the war. Heavy bomber losses and that. Some of the fellows instead of going east went west out into the Atlantic for a prescribed number of nine hours and flew home –jetters and their bombs
and flew home and said “it’s a bit tricky tonight”.
So how did you go with the crew? How did the crew manage on their first trip?
Well, they were a little bit panicky over Rhone happened to go round again. To go round again, if you were going to bomb in Melbourne say Flinders Street Railway Station, you came straight down Swanston Street, instead of bombing
they said all but five minutes, you’d have to go down, down to St Kilda, then go round the back of the Exhibition Buildings and back up by the City Baths again and then come down. All the time you were over Melbourne, well you’re over the city - all that time they were shooting at us and the night fighters were hovering around a bit – so just dangerous.
The communication between all the crew...?
Well that’s a crew thing and we had the arrangements, you don’t talk unless you need to and keep it brief. It’s not good saying, “Look at all those lights out there.” “Oh yeah, I can’t see those.” And they’d point them out to me and in the meantime somebody else might want to be getting onto the intercom for some important reason, so we kept it to rear gunner to pilot, nav to pilot, bomb owner to pilot
and that sort of thing.
In that order?
Ferrying it back through the pilot all the time to decide what course of action.
So you returned?
Yes and you’d celebrate. So you’d go to the pub the next night or go to the dance in Nottingham or somewhere – Lincoln, Boston – Boston wasn’t much of a town
and you’d always know at five o’clock at night if you were going to be stood down and they had what they called the ‘battle order’. And the crews that were flying that night on operations were on the battle order. And you wouldn’t know the target. You’d go to -- if necessary -- pilots would go their flight commander and he’d say,
“The mechanics told us that your starboard engine is playing up a bit, I think you better air test that this morning and see if it’s ok.” And if that was the case, then you’d go down to the flight and take it up for 25 minutes or so and test various things and come back and report that it was ok or unserviceable. If everything was alright, then you would go to – flight commander might be talking about incidentals
rather – perhaps he wouldn’t know the target at this stage and then you’d go and have you pre take off meal. Then you’d go to briefing. The briefing hut would be a whole series of tables that would accommodate seven of the crew at each table and the big map at the end of the wall would be covered with a dust cloth and once we were all in – they’d be two service person – airman police
standing at the door and the station commander would say, “Right, lock the doors,” and they’d go outside and they’d patrol the building just to make sure nobody was listening or poking around the place and the briefing would commence and they’d pull the dust cloth away and the experienced crew’s would go, “Ooh,” or, “Aah,” or, ”Not again!” Or whatever, depending on what was coming up – what they thought was an easy target
or a not so easy, not Berlin again and sort of thing. Then the armaments officer would tell you what your bomb load was, they’d tell you what the target indicators, colours and that sort of thing were going to be used at night. The weather man would tell you about the wind, somebody else would tell you about an anti-aircraft dispositions and night fighter fields to steer clear of and all that sort of thing
and then it would come to take off time and you’d go to the hut and draw your parachute and there was always a sign over the hut, “If doesn’t work, bring it back and will give you a new one” – while you’re buried about six feet in the ground without a parachute you’re not likely to take it back. But the RAFs were always very pleasant about it and wish you well and all that sort of thing. You’d go outside and get into what we called tenders
trucks that would accommodate a couple of crews and bearing in mind this was probably in the black out and the RAF drivers always seem to know where the aircraft were and they’d drive you and they’d say, “G George,” and G George’s crew would hop out of the back and then they’d drive onto I item or whatever. Then you’d hop in and start one engine and test gun turrets and test radar equipments, test bomb site
and things. And then switch them off and then you’d all get outside for the period of the – dare I mention it – period of the nervous bees and
What was the moods - as you go and get you parachutes from the hut?
Business like, I can’t say that people were terror struck or, “I don’t want to go” – it was just going about the job,
that’s what you were there for. If you didn’t want to do it, then you wouldn’t have signed up for it. And you wanted to complete the tour, you want to complete this trip and the next and the next, chalk them up toward the end of the tour. Then a flare would go up, no radio, we didn’t have any radio to tell us to get into the air, because the Germans could pick it up
and know that something was beginning and a flare would go up from the control tower and you’d hop in, start up and taxi to the end or the runway and then just take off, one after another and head towards the east.
So how many would fly out in a formation like that?
Depending on availability of aircraft, the damaged aircraft and crews on leave and that sort of thing. Probably 12 or 14 from a squadron and on each aerodrome there would be two squadrons. So 35 or 36 Lancs would take off from that aerodrome and the bomber force –when we flew as bomber command – five groups of bomber command, it would be about 220.
When it was bomber command at large, it was probably up around 700 – four engine aircraft. All going towards the one target.
Taking off from different...?
From different – and I mentioned the city of Reading, you might come from several directions, meet over Reading and turn at a certain time so that then you would be in this 12 minute gaggle
heading toward the French coast and the bomb owner would be lying down in his turret on his belly looking through his bomb sight and he would say, “Enemy coast ahead.” Just like that famous book and he would identify or try to identify features on the coast line, just to make sure that we were spot on our crossing and then from then on you were
enemy territory and every man for himself so to speak.
And did they take off quickly, one on top of the other?
As close as you could get – yes. Not like fighters – who might – three might go down the airfield together. You might have seen in Battle of Britain films. No – all on one. One after the other on the one runway from the aerodrome.
Quite exciting. Get the throttles wide and there was always a group of station people, WRAFs and ground staff coming to the end of the runway on their bikes and give us a wave. Some of the WRAFs might be girlfriends and they might give a particular wave to U Uncle or G George. But it was nice seeing a few of the civvies waving us off.
These operations, do you want to go into some description or particular operations you did? There was the Czechoslovakian one, the oil refinery?
Yes, at this stage a lot of the concentration was oil refineries to try and get rid of their life blood so to speak, their aeroplanes, their tanks, their submarines, their battle ships all required oil
for their engines and if you could choke that off that was part of the business. A lot of the targets at this time of the war were oil refineries and Brucks, this was the night of my 21st birthday, 16 January, would’ve taken off on the 16th, come home on the 17th and we would hope that we wouldn’t have to
fly because earlier in the day, the weather didn’t look too good and so we were all going to town, and kick up our heels and probably be little devils and have four pints and play darts or something or other and then of course we were on the battle order – well we’ll have the celebration tomorrow night. And about this time I got a letter from my mother’s sister, Aunty Jen to say how sad it is for you to be
having to celebrate your birthday in war torn England, no bright lights, no excitement and a few other adjectives and I wrote home to Mum and said, “Well we are now on ops, this is our fourth,” - it might have been - I got a letter from Aunty Jen saying to say how sad it was – well we had lots of bright lights and lots of excitement.
Actually Brucks was a little bit further east than Berlin but certainly not the target that Berlin was. But that was a long way, I think about nine hours. I was very fortunate that if I get onto the odd semiaridity, I had a good bladder and I was able to withstand that because you just couldn’t leave the front of the aircraft as pilot and head to the olsen pan [toilet] at the very tail end
of the aircraft. In winter flying suit, clambering over spas and squeezing past things. Some fellows that couldn’t go because of the nature of their job – well they had to take a chutney jar – so it wasn’t easy.
So a nine hour operation was considered quite long?
Yes, well we went to Politz. I got shot down in February
and we went there in January and that was eleven and a quarter hours and roughly the same route that I pointed out on the map, avoiding the direct route and skirting around and coming back the same way so that on that trip I did see Helsingborg in Sweden all brightly lit and just like any other city
so when I did subsequently get shot down in that vicinity, I knew I was safe and it wasn’t Denmark. And on the way to Munich we flew over Switzerland and you could see all the lakes and the towns followed the valleys instead of Melbourne – like that [a grid] – they were snaky, lit up places, following the valleys along the river banks and the highways and not going up the mountain sides
because Switzerland is very mountainous.
So this was useful information for you in the event of you landing in those countries?
Yes, well skirting the other bits and pieces like the Dortmund-Ems Canal
– so then we went off to Politz and that was the one where we went out to check the aircraft. Had flew it in the morning, perfectly alright, went out before take off time and the starboard engine wouldn’t start. That was the one you start up for starters and from that you generate the power that makes the other three start easily.
So the mechanics had to get scaffolding out and they took cowlings off the sides of the engines and we’re just sitting there. Other aircrafts are all taking off all this time and we’re still on our own home yard stand and eventually they cleared everything away and thumbs up to start it and it started perfectly and that was 28 minutes after the gazetted time to take off and had it been 30 minutes, nobody would of blamed us, we would’ve been told,
”You don’t go. We don’t want you chasing that lot all the way over there and bombing late all on your own and being a sitting duck so you don’t go.” Two more minutes and we wouldn’t have gone but because we got off inside the 30 minutes then we had to cut inside that track that I showed you of that course and pick up that time. And everything went alright, no troubles with the engines and
crossing Denmark – they didn’t shoot at us at all – which is occupied by the Germans, and which didn’t shoot at us in the month before in January I have to say and the navigator said, ”We’re almost flying due east,” and he said, “I’ll give you a course on about 165 in a minute,” so I would then say to my gunners, “I’ll be turning to starboard.”
So they would scan the starboard quarter back there for other aircraft and then in turn say, “All clear to turn starboard, skip,” and the navigator said, “I’ll give you that change shortly.” And with that up came a string of eight anti-aircraft shells and lots of fellows describe anti-aircraft fire as
lazy coming up at you and then it speeds up and it seems to rush at you towards the end and that’s what it did. It appeared to pick up speed so I banked away to port away from it - if only I banked away to starboard now, it would have gone flashing past here and nothing would have happened but it banked away to port and four shells either hit the belly of the aircraft
or very, very close because I could immediately smell cordite from their shells and we went into a dive and I pulled the stick back and it just flopped back, it had no pull and nothing happened, we’re still in the dive so we’re out of control so I yelled out, “Jump! Jump! Jump!” If in an emergency if your running out of petrol and you want to
abandon aircraft, the drill is you say, ”Righto fellows, well, we’ve got to get out, so put on parachutes and prepare to jump,” and then when it’s ready you say, “Right, jump, jump, jump.” But in an emergency you just give that order straight away, there is no point in hanging around because you’re heading for ground from 10,000 feet, heading rather quickly and the engineer was standing that close to me, I thumped him like that
and pointed to his parachute and he turned to put it on -- his pack – I was wearing a pilot type chute and he’s wearing an observer type chute with a harness and a couple of clips and his pack has a couple of clips and he would just jam them on and it would be here instead of under his backside like a pilot type and unplugged into intercom and oxygen and harness and just swung
around ready to drop down when he went out under the dashboard to open the front hatch and there’s an awful band and it just blew up and very bright light and blinded me, I couldn’t see anything and funnily enough - calm, just thinking at least it doesn’t hurt and I thought to myself, ”Mum’s going to be upset,” and
all this time it’s just no seat, no aircraft, no wall just bright vivid orange dazzle and as that cleared I saw a shape, a long shape and I thought, “Oh, one of the fellows has got out,” and I’m peering at it and when it turned, it was flat and I immediately thought, “That’s an engine cowling,” because I had seen them taking the engine long side
panels off the side of the engine back at base. “That’s a bloody engine cowling – oh, I better pull this,” and gave it a heave and it was dense cloud below, so I had no idea whether I was going into the sea, into water, into Denmark or fully expecting to be Denmark because we still hadn’t just turned and that narrow waterway is only four kilometres wide so it’s very narrow just
drifting down and broke through the cloud and can’t see any lights on the ground, it’s just very low dense cloud and just plonked into a ploughed field – just mud really – this was February and their winter of course, Christmas time – December, January. And the snow had largely thawed and it was just in clumps against fence post and I just landed in about that much
of mud. My boots stuck in the mud and I fell over on my face and I had mud down my face and the parachute carried over with the wind and I unclipped that and was looking around – there’s not a damn light anywhere to be seen and I thought, “Any minute I’m going to be arrested by German guards in Denmark,” and then I could see a
big pipe line on concrete piles – “God it’s got to be an oil pipe line, they’ll be patrolling that for sure.” So I crouched down low and went up a rise and soon as I got up to the rise, on the other side is this city of Helsingborg. Brightly lit, neon signs, headlights of cars driving around, I think I’m in Sweden – beauty.
Interviewee: Bruce Clifton Archive ID 0762 Tape 06
far away as the slide door, which by this time was opened and get himself out and all the time the aircraft’s heading for ground. Well he had to jump; he had to physically leave the aircraft. I didn’t have to make up my mind but I was going to do it, that’s for sure.
So the plane literally exploded around you.
Did you say that the – who was the guy next to -who was sitting next to you?
The engineer, and the bomb owner and the navigator were at the navigator’s table, just about here behind the blackout curtain. They had to have a light over their maps and everything and they had a blackout curtain drawn the width of the aircraft and those two were there. If the bomb owner had been down in the
front, he might’ve got the hatch open and might’ve got out. But they had to come away from there and go after the engineer and then captain, I would be the fourth to go out the front and the other fellows at the back, the two gunners and the wireless operator would have to look after themselves and go out the hatch of rear. At this stage
I’m on the ground and my aircraft is blowing up four or five hundred yards away or probably a mile I suppose. And the unexploded bombs are blowing up and the petrol tanks and that sort of thing. A wave of smoke – flames would go up into the air and – so this is when I thought, well when that subsided, “I’d
better see where I am,” and found that I was in Sweden.
What did you do with your parachute?
Left it there in the mud together with my Mae West - just took it off and dropped everything there. And I could see the shape – on the skyline of some buildings and thought this has got to be a farm house and as I got closer, dogs started to bark like hell. I couldn’t have been too shaken up because I thought, “God I hope I don’t get torn apart with dogs,”
I’ve just had a bit of an experience instead of being savaged by damn dogs but anyway they must have been on chains and I walked around this house. I reckon I covered three sides before I found a door and in the meantime, the people inside their house has been blacked out because my plane had cut the power to the district where it crashed and that’s why there was no lights. I’d have seen lights in farms, might have seen cars on roads in distances
and it’s blacked out the entire area. And the woman in the house had seen my aeroplane as she was standing at the sink – flashing across the sky and flames coming out the back of it and crashed, “Bang.” And so they were all terrified and they could hear somebody crashing around outside and they didn’t know what to expect and there was me with mud that I had
wiped out of my face sort of thing like that, and muddy flying boots and standing at their door and none of them can speak a word of English and I’m saying, “I’m an Australian, I’m RAF. RAF Australia.” “Ja, ja,” they started — there seem to be seven people standing around this doorway just inside the front door
and eventually they made gestures to come in and they sat me down at a bigger kitchen table than that and they rushed off somewhere, I suppose to the bedroom. You’ve seen these traditional bedroom wash bowls with a big white jug or pink jug standing up in the middle of it and they brought that and they brought this jug, filled it with warm water and poured it and
she brought in about three percale white towels and remember thinking, “I don’t want to dirty those.” And they’re fussing around and talking to themselves and they’re asking things and I’m saying, “Parachute,” making silly signs and there were two families there. The husband of the house had gone into Helsingborg into to a concert
and he wasn’t there at the time and the lady of the house, she was an old bird. I thought she must’ve been 35 or 40. Which seemed to me terribly old at 20…21. And they started putting food on the table and you would have thought it was for all of us instead of just for me. There was scones and bread, there’s butter and there’s joints of meat
and stuff and the table was loaded with food. And still all the time nobody could talk English and then a home guard fellow appeared, a young fellow and he had a belt with a torch on it and that’s about the only military thing about him. And I don’t think he quite knew whether to arrest me or what but he just stood there and looked a bit vacant. And then I washed up a bit and then
I was feeling a bit tired and I rubbed my hand across my face and as my hand came away, it was covered in blood – “oh my god – lost my ears or something a rather and there was the slightest, slightest little cut on the bridge of my nose that had apparently wept a little bit down there and when I smeared it on my hand, it looked quite a lot of blood so that was my war wound. That’s all.
I have to ask, how did you get out of the plane, an exploding plane?
Well they worked out from the explosions, the holes in the ground of the bomb site – at the crash site that four of the bombs were unaccounted and they think that when the aircraft was hit and it started to burn and as confirmed by mate from Leeton, he said, “We saw you going down,” and it burned and we could see it burning and the flames must’ve set off four of the five, nine 1000 tonne bombs
and they blew up and blew the left wing off the aircraft and that piece landed along way away from the rest of the wreckage which spiralled in without one wing, so I didn’t jump, I was blown out with the explosion.
But you must have been clear of metal?
Yes, all the side of the aircraft must of gone and bearing in mind, the engineer – when I thumped him like that and pointed down,
that’s how close he was and he couldn’t get any further because the Lancaster’s only a little bit wider of arms stretched and he stayed in the aircraft and I blew out. And then three police came in a police car eventually - they must of rang them, somehow or other. They were a bit officious, they frisked me
as they slapped me up and down for hidden weapons and took me into Helsingborg to their police station which was in the basement of the town hall in Helsingborg. And we came in the back door and up through a row of cells and there were fellows in the cells, hanging on the bars, peering at all this action that’s going on.
Did you know where you were by that stage?
Helsingborg - which meant that we were right on course actually. Because that’s where we really should’ve cut the coast. And then at the police station, they wanted to know my name, rank and number and, “Sit there.” They were a bit officious. Doors kept opening and peoples’ heads kept popping out and detectives and staff and what not.
“They’ve got a POW up the front,” or something or other and they all wanted to have a bit of a look I suppose. And then an army officer turned up and he signed for me. They handed him over a clip board and he was very friendly and we walked to an army set of offices in the city and an army girl, who uniform serviced us more sandwiches and more coffee and we just generalised talk but it was
debriefing apparently because he didn’t write anything down but he must have had a tape recorder of some sort because they had a recording of virtually what I said. Then he said – his English was perfect – he said, “I’ll take you to some barracks where you’ll sleep tonight,” and we walked through the street to this place. The boys are coming back and this time we were at 10,000 feet,
we were to come back at 4,000 feet and there was these 200-odd Lancs overhead and all the guns started firing again and he said, “We better duck into the doorway.” You could hear bits of shrapnel landing in the street and so we didn’t want to get hit in the head with a piece of hot anti-aircraft shell. And when they’d gone, I had this sinking feeling, they’re going home and I’m not.
What about you thoughts about your crew?
I had no idea. At the police station, they couldn’t tell me anything or wouldn’t and then as I said we walked on and got to this army barracks and they took me up a couple of flights of stairs. Most of the buildings in Sweden seem to be four and five stories high, not multi storey beyond that. And they were typical troop’s barracks,
there were part undress and fellows going hither and yon and everybody was interested. They took me to a room with a single bed in it and a soldier bought me a mantle radio which he didn’t have much English but he gave me a radio to listen and another one gave me two or three English magazines which I thought was a nice touch but there was a guard
posted outside the door and I wasn’t going to run away. So by now my neck is starting to stiffen up and I couldn’t turn my head, I had to turn with my shoulders all the time. I suppose I had whiplash from – because when I was on my side and the ’chute opened, it flicked up like that and in the clock tower – no, no we’re not at the police station, we’re at the army barracks, I could hear this clock tower
and on the quarter hour it goes, “Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom,” and then it would be a beat more at three quarter then there would be four segments at the hour then “BOOM, BOOM,” the hour. I reckon I heard them all night except a quarter past seven in the morning
and I couldn’t turn over in bed without keeping the neck terribly straight, it was very painful. I tried to get out of bed in the morning and had to lie on my face and drop out onto my knees instead of just sitting up like you do normally and an army doctor came and he got me to lie down
on the bed and that wasn’t too good, just even getting back to lying down on the bed again and he tapped me up and down with a little surgical mallet or whatever and he said there’s nothing broken and you’ll be right in three or four days.
What were you expecting would happen to you?
Well, they’re neutral country, I knew I wasn’t going to get shot and I wasn’t going to get handed over to the Germans because under the Geneva Convention that can’t do that. And you can only be returned to
your side, you can’t be given to the opposite. And Sweden was likely to do that. Hungary might’ve or Austria might’ve but we didn’t expect Sweden to do anything like that. So I just thought, “Well, I’m here for a while,” and not knowing what. And we – later in the day an Army officer came and gave me a grey coat to put over my air force clothing and we walked around Helsingborg
and he showed me some of the sights and then we caught a sleeper train that night to go to Stockholm and Stockholm is about as far away and the journey’s about similar to Melbourne to Adelaide. So pretty well a 12 hour journey and he was wearing a sand brown belt with a revolver or pistol in it and when we got into the sleeping compartment for two, he just slung it up and said, “I don’t suppose I’ll be needing this”.
The Russians are over there and the Germans down there and Germans there and the Icebergs are up there and there wasn’t anyway where you could go and so we talked quite a bit and eventually the conductor came along and tapped on the door and said, “Would you please stop talking, the people on either side want to get some sleep,” and he was wanting to talk about England and talk about Australia and I was talking about Sweden – what’s likely to happen, it was all very pleasant.
When we got to Stockholm, he and I had to catch another train and we had to run from the country platform to another country platform and we were met by embassy staff. British Embassy staff who gave me some money and shaving equipment and my first take away meal I’d ever had. It was in foil – pressed foil, cutlets
in one section and mash potatoes in another and a dessert in another area in a plate about that size. I’d never seen anything like that before. Plastic knife and fork and then we got on a day train and that was just suburban carriages with members of the public and it was then I noticed that some of the older women were giving me very sympathetic, very sympathetic
glances. I’d found out by this stage that my crew were dead and they’d asked me – then I’d asked, “Could I go out to the wreckage?” They said,”No,” and then they came back and said, ”The 4,000 pound bomb – it didn’t blow up and some of the thousand pounders did. But the cookie rolled away into an orchard and it hasn’t exploded.”
“You could come out with us and diffuse it.” I said, “I’m not an armaments expert but I can tell you that there’s not anti-tampering devices and they’re just like the fuses in the nose just like spark plugs in a car.” No reverse threads or anything, no tampering because on delayed action bombs they use to fit anti-tampering devices so if a German tried to screw them out, they’d explode and in any
case the Germans did it in the bombing of Britain too. So I lost my chance to be given the order of Sweden by not going out and diffusing their bomb for them. So I wasn’t allowed to go out to the site but the looks on these ladies, they obviously knew from the paper reports that I was the only survivor and I could tell that they were being very sympathetic looking. There was about a four and half hour
journey up to a place call Falun and Falun was where the interment camp was and it was hardly a camp, it was sort of a guest house sort of thing and there were 20 other British airmen there and I made 21. So that began amongst interment in Sweden. After about a week, I was given a leave pass to go back to Helsingborg and that journey repeated itself,
I was picked up in Stockholm by Embassy staff and was taken down to Helsingborg and attended the funeral of my crew and in the intervening week, they picked up three more bodies, not mine but they were Canadians that had been picked up in the water by Canadian trawler, whether they were lost on that raid or not, I don’t know.
And so they buried nine that day and it was just one long open grave and the coffins were supported above by rails and every coffin had a sentry and there was a military band, it was all very not symbolic but very well done really,
the Swedes were very – a lot of agro over there about them shooting down an allied plane and at this stage the Germans were well on the way to being beaten so the Swedes had nothing to fear from Hitler. I’ve got some photos over there of the ceremony. After that it was back to Falun back to the interment
That would’ve been pretty moving and emotional experience after all that you’d been through, not knowing what had happened to...?
The people, whose house I went to, went to the cemetery and they were at the gate when I was sort of led away afterward, but I didn’t recognise them and they said they were very upset. Then it was back to Falun. It was a
terrible war because we had three meals a day and we had Swedish army officer appointed to teach us to ski. And we could go into town to the hot baths every second day and then to the café for coffee and cakes, while our other brave lads were risking their lives and then on the 9th March
– in the meantime, on the very next day, my first day in Falun one of the senior British officers, he was a flight lieutenant pilot, he took me into town and we went to a menswear store and I was kitted out in civilian clothing, best suit, shirts, underwear, tie, greycoat,
casual trousers, casual jumpers, socks, shoes, all at the British Government’s expense and it wasn’t taken out of my pay book. So, we weren’t allowed to go out in our uniform in Sweden after that, we had to go out in civilian clothing.
Why was that?
it might have been that some members of the public that resented us being British, we were very close to Germany – I don’t know, it was just what they decreed but we had complete freedom as long as we answered the roll call at nine o’clock every morning so we could stay up at night or go sight seeing as long as it was within a perimeter of the town, a ten mile radius
around say Ballarat or something a rather like that. We went to dances, we went to the pictures. All the pictures were American pictures but they had Swedish subtitles at the bottom but they still had the English sound track, so the month passed fairly quickly. And at the end of the month we were to be flown back to Britain and we got ourselves down to Stockholm again
and out to Stockholm airport and there was a DC3, a Douglas DC3 there for us, with a BOAC stuck on the side of it but inside it was obviously a military aircraft, rows of seats but no padding around or anything, just aluminium bucket type seats down both sides of the centre isle. And before we got in, just a couple of hundred yards up the tarmac, there was a German
with Lufthansa on the side of it with its motors running. It was heading to Germany and we were heading to Scotland which I thought was a bit of a twist. They were the days when you walked out to the tarmac and up the steps into the aircraft and not like you do at Sydney or Melbourne airport these days. Then the 21 of us
are huddled up in the back of this aircraft going over Norway and suddenly the aircraft started to do an anti-fighter cork screw which gave us that itchy feeling again and when we landed at Lucas Air Force Base in Scotland, the pilot who was typical RAF type with a moustache, he opened the cockpit door, he said, “Sorry fellows if
I upset you a bit but I went a bit close to night fighter field and they fired at us, so I thought I better take some action”. Anyway, we went on and as I said landed at Lucas and next day, down to London by train and the 21 of us just went our ways. I never saw the other 20 again. I was medically boarded in London at the RAF,
deemed to be jumpy and in an anxiety state they said. I couldn’t understand it myself. I didn’t feel any different to any other time.
How did they determine it? What tests did...?
Various tests and looking into your eyes and I’ve got a very detailed sheet there on what they’ve tested me, and given me heart beat reading and all that sort of thing.
And then they declared that I was unfit for flying duties and they gave me a fortnight’s leave. So I went down to Mrs Steel and she looked after me and I went back a fortnight later to Berkeley Square. Have you heard of Berkeley Square, the nightingale sang in Berkeley Square- famous song, well before your time. It was just one of these London squares with gardens in the middle.
I thought it was a bit romantic being in Berkeley square. And they declared me then that I was fully fit for all duties ground and air, but then having been shot down, I was then entitled to survivor’s leave and so that was a nominal 6 weeks leave. So back to the farm to the Steel’s, a bit more recuperation and then I was posted back to my squadron and I was given a pilot-less
crew and we crewed up again and then the war finished. May 8th came around, we flew again – continued flying together as a crew and the story was that we would convert to Lincoln Bombers and we would fly them out to the Far East and we would help in the war against Japan but then that didn’t happen. And the word
went around that Australians were going to be pulled off the squadrons, which we were and we were just sent on indefinite leave and we’d get a telegram every two weeks, stay on leave, which wasn’t hard to take and eventually we got called back to – report to Brighton and within a few days we left on troop ship.
Okay, we just need to go back a bit. Did you do any operations at all
with this new crew?
No, my log book would show that I got back there, about the 3rd March, the war finished on May 3rd and the war finished on May 8th in Europe and so whatever flying we did after that was just normally squadron training, fighter affiliation, eye level bombing on practice ranges and all that sort of thing. Apparently, to keep us in touch
for converting onto Lincolns which were slightly bigger bombers but then there was a change of heart and they decided it wasn’t necessary.
How did you feel about that, going to the Pacific?
Well, I thought it was good; at last we could probably help out, out there. So I didn’t consider it was going to be as risky as the European war, but could well have been, I don’t know.
And your recuperation in the country, the countryside with Mrs Steel, what did you do?
Well I helped about on the farm, and of course it was during this period that I met this girl Daphne and so some times if she had leave, we’d go up to London and stay at her place. She had an older sister who was a bank manager and
her father was a widower, I might have mentioned, her mother had died in the early years of the war and we could stay there a day or two while Daphne had leave and then she’d go off to Liverpool and I’d go back to the farm at Burfield.
So you went back to Brighton did you say?
After the leave was over, we were recalled and from Brighton
again we went to Liverpool - it was still war time and by this time it’s October, I mentioned that earlier and that’s when we went aboard the Stirling Castle, one of the Union-Castle Line ships and that’s when Daphne made her appearance with her engagement ring come wedding ring trick and we came home via the Mediterranean
and the Suez Canal and the Indian Ocean and pulled into Fremantle and back in Australia after two years. And I spent quite a while on the Fremantle steps ringing home and spoke to them for the first time in two years which was nice.
What was the atmosphere like on the ship coming back?
Very relaxed, no suggestion of submarines or anything like that, no chores to be done,
just filling in time actually. Boredom again, you get a bit sick of long stretches at sea. We pulled in to Algiers, and that created a bit of excitement or not excitement really. One of our fellows had appendicitis and they decided to put him ashore and so he had to be lowered over the side on some sort of platform into a small boat
and taken ashore in Algiers. And we pulled into Port Said and told nobody as to go ashore and of course Australians being rebellious, they started going over the side into native boats that were always clustered around down the boat’s side and about half the ship’s compliment went ashore, “Well,” I thought, “They can’t shoot us, so we’ll give it a go.” So we wandered around Port Said, went to a club,
bought a pint of Guinness which was warm and we were hot and eventually decided to go back to the ship – there’s nothing here for us. And then we pulled into Suez and picked up some other Australians that had been in the Middle East and then home across the Indian of course.
So was there much other naval activity
along the way?
No, never sighted any ships. One of the lurks for having been in the air force was in England they decided that they would import duty free to England a lot of Swiss watches, Omegas and Jaeger-LeCoultres and that sort of thing which were very valuable and that we could have them for five English pound if we wanted one and
so, earlier drafts than myself had done this and signed up and been given their watch in England and for the money and promptly hocked it in the shops for 30 or 40 quid, no duty on it or anything like that. So the British said this is no good, the customs people don’t like this. So next lot, they gave them a chit for five pounds money paid and when they got out to sea, they
swapped the chit for the money and then that ship propeller shaft and turned back to England for repairs, all the fellows went ashore and hocked their watches. By the time my boat came, we paid our money in England, we got chit and they wouldn’t give it to us until we got past Gibraltar and safely into the Mediterranean and no chance of going back to England so that was just a bit of byplay.
Then you arrived back in Fremantle and you had to contact people?
The only phone call was to my people, Dad was in the bank at Alexandra. This time north east, up past Healesville and it got through eventually, it took a long time and the phone line was as clear as a bell, I thought it would be. “Hello, is that you?” It was very clear and sharp.
And then did a little bit of sightseeing in Perth and back on the boat again, and then we headed for Melbourne and incidentally the South Australians got off with the Western Australians in Perth, so we thought, “We’re not going into Adelaide, beauty, we’ll go into Melbourne, that will be beaut. We’ll have streamers and all this sort of thing.” and somebody woke up to the fact that we could see Wilsons Promontory going past on the side of the boat. So we bypassed Port Philip Bay
and round past Watsons Bay and we’re heading towards Sydney, so that’s what happened. We came into Sydney Harbour and then of course we Melbournites or Victorians had to catch a train, back from Sydney, back down to Melbourne and in the meantime, our parents had been alerted that we’d be arriving at Exhibition Buildings at a certain time on a certain day. From Spencer Street railway station we were trucked up to the Exhibition Buildings and we came in the back and the
visitors came in the front and then they opened dividing doors and we went through and met up with our dearly beloved and we were home – it was all behind us.
So when did they – you would’ve been able to contact them or write to them when you were in Sweden?
Yes, just to clear the air so they wouldn’t worry. I sent them a telegram – “Am safe and well in Sweden love Bruce.”
That didn’t convey much did it. “What the hell is he doing in Sweden?” I have a copy of that telegram and the official ones that the air force sent. Like they would start off, “Your son is safe,” if that’s the wording of it, then, “A418693 Flying Officer Bruce A Clifton was engaged on enemy operations against Politz
is now safe – injuries unknown.” Then the next telegram, “Your son is safe,” then all that rigmarole, “Injuries confirmed are nil but intern in Sweden.” So my father – I saw a letter that he’d written to them, congratulating them on saying that the first line of the telegram, “Your son is safe,” – not just in my case, but if that was the case,
instead of having to wade through, how is he, has lost a leg or whatever. I don’t know whether they were always like that or whether they learned but as we were talking earlier, people didn’t like telegrams in war time.
No, for good reasons. So coming home, and I guess settling back, you would’ve been in Alexandra?
Well that was where my father was stationed and because he had been in the Dad’s Association and Mum in the Red Cross and the Comfort Fund and all that, I was deemed to be an Alexandrite, so that when a group of them –to the district would come home, they had welcome home parties and dances and socials and all that sort of thing and we returned fellows would get up on the stage and clap for George and that sort of thing.
The Vietnam Vets didn’t have that and that soured them. They didn’t like that. And having been privy to that, then I went to visit my sister up at Willaura and I got another welcome home at Willaura so up on the stage again, because I really left there so my name is on the board on Willaura Mechanics Institute for having left and gone to the war. It’s over in the Church of England for having left and gone to the war,
thankfully without a beside it to say he didn’t come home and it’s also on the Shire board in Alexandra, not that that matters much. But it just so happens, not too many had a -- probably came back to the place they left. Where as I came back to a place my people had left.
So did you stay in Alexandra?
No. My father was there for a couple of more years
but I would’ve liked to have gone back into the air force – no sorry, I would’ve liked to have continued flying but the airline jobs were few and far between and there were tens of thousands of trained pilots and many with a hell of a lot more experience than I’d had. The most experienced got snapped up first, so with no prospects of getting a job in flying,
I went back to the bank for the time being and retired after forty three and a half years service. But the bank was very good, they told each of us, any returned fellows, whatever the service, “Start when you feel like it, come to work when you feel like it, go home when you feel like it and just settle in,” because some fellows were – had shell shock and war wounds and things to get over
but in my case they said I could start at my father’s branch at Alexandra, which usually they didn’t like, father and son in the one branch because you didn’t have keys to the safe and do all sorts of silly things but in this case it was alright so I started there. And I no sooner started work that the teller accountant took crook with eye infections
and he couldn’t go to work at all so I had to go on the counter and be as full time as any other bank clerk because there was nobody else to do the work. So, I didn’t mind it, I didn’t find it hard to go back and then after a few weeks, -- about a month of settling in, they reappointed me back Koroit again where started in the bank in 1940 and funnily enough,
back that time, when I went back, I was – I was going to say welcomed home but I was treated as a returning whereas the first time I was blow in. I was just a bank clerk, a school teacher, a nurse going through. But somehow or other it seemed different. “Oh, you’re back again”. “Oh ,nice to see you”. So I had another year there in the bank and a year at Werribee then a year at Sale – so the procession of jobs went on.
So where did you meet Marie?
In 1953, I was an Inspectors Assistant touring Victoria, doing audits and I have to have digs in Melbourne because we had to go out to the bush and do a couple of jobs, inspections or audits and come back to the city for one and after a couple of places that I didn’t like, we settled in Dandenong Road
directly opposite St Kilda the cemetery just up from Williams Road if you know that area. Closeburn Lodge it was called, there is a Closeburn Place [actually Avenue] leading off Dandenong Road just there but it was an old mansion house that’s been pulled down and it had been subdivided into – the ballroom was divided up into about six bedrooms and there were about
35, 40 single people there, and they would provide you with breakfast but if you chose to eat in, you had your own locker and you could use one of five or six stoves and cook your evening meal or in my case I didn’t want to cook, I ate out mostly and it was a place where I had a car.
Interviewee: Bruce Clifton Archive ID 0762 Tape 07
Bruce, if you don’t mind, we're going to go back and talk about a few things about some of your war time experience. This week we’ve spoken to a couple of gentlemen who were with the air force and it struck me that for you guys, it was quite, strange, almost surreal. You’d go off from these treacherous operations where there was a very high chance that you might not come back.
You come back, and it would be down at the pub for pints and darts and dance parties. It just strikes me that it is a very odd war.
Yes, well you wanted to go on the trips to get them done but when Ops were cancelled and so we were stood down and as we said there were always buses
– crew buses, you’d go into the nearest town or so or there was a pub nearby that you could walk to. Lots of fellows had bikes and so you might ride your bike to the pub and ride home on somebody else’s. Which ever one was handiest. Yes, you wouldn’t be worrying what might happen the next Op or anything – it’s just
well, you’ve got the night off and let’s go. And we were all keen on ballroom dancing. Some of the big dance halls were fantastic and far cry from the dancing of today, where you don’t need a partner but this was all fox trots and quick steps and barn farm dances and things sort of thing.
Or we’d go into a pub and the pubs then aren’t like pubs here, little English pubs on the assumption if you haven’t travelled to Britain, but if you have you’d know. And they’re small and compact and there was always somebody that could play the piano. So he never brought the drink, or she. You’ll look across when you were buying a shout and if the pianist’s pot was empty, “What’s yours?” “I’ll have a gin and squash ,”or, “I’ll have a pint of bitters,” or something or other.
So the pianist would play without having to buy and as the evening wore on, you would start singing the rollicking old songs - the White Troops of Dover – musical things – a few ditties about the discrepancies between the Avro Lancaster and the Flying Fortress with lots of rude words used to be bellowed out at times.
Can you remember any of the lyrics
from any of those, or can you remember a verse or two?
They used to talk about the flying fortress of 40,000 feet, bags of ammunition and a teeny little bomb, we’d come out with flying Avro Lancaster’s at 40,000 feet, FA ammunition and a dirty big bomb and of course the bomb got dirty bigger as the night wore on as the grog was getting consumed and there might be a bit of friendly rivalry with the Americans if they were in the
pub but never involved in any – up in Midlands – you might of seen some fights in London but up in the bomber country, you never saw any trouble. The Americans were mostly down south. And I’m not saying they should be divided or anything like that but it just happened. They seem to take over a lot of the permanent ‘dromes, base camps and we took over the war time established ones. Nissan huts, diversified sleeping quarters
and all that sort of thing. So the Americans looked after themselves.
You said bomber country.
Lincolnshire and surrounding country was just dotted with aerodromes and surrounding each bomber 'drome - it was light poles, I don’t know how far apart they’d be but on the top was a light shining up
and that perimeter was out where you did a circuit. You did round these poles and depending on the runway that you were using, there was a funnel light switched on to link you onto the runway that you were using. Up this end there was one wing of lights, when you took off, you followed them and all the circuits were left hand circuits sort of thing. In one area adjacent to when we were flying at one time, two of the circuits overlapped
and of course you could say, ”Well, both doing 1,000 foot circuits there’d be trouble,” but one 'drome stuck to the 1,000 and the other 1,500 and so they passed under one another but there were aerodromes all over the place. And you could easily mistake yours and as I’ve said every aerodrome had a beacon and it used to belt out Morse code letters,
“dit dit dit dah dah dah dit dit dit,” meaning SO or whatever for identification. The temporary ‘dromes were built to fulfil the war time needs.
Did your plane have a nickname or was the name for the actual plane?
No. I can’t recall that there were any things painted on the noses.
Given the code was A-Able, B-Baker, C-Charlie, D-Dog, E-Easy, and F-Fox sort of thing. Very different to what they use now, so you flew D-Dog and once a crew got a bit established, they were given their own aircraft, it didn’t mean it was yours only because when you went on leave, somebody else would fly it just to keep the strength up.
But my log book would show that our last half a dozen we flew I-Item. Which was the one we crashed in and there was a system for when we were all approaching the aerodrome -- you were called up before you got to the ‘drome and you were given a number and if you were given 13, then you heard that nine was just turning off the runway, you knew that you could join the circuit fairly soon because
10 would be turning in, 11 would be down wind, 12 would be cross wind and you’d join the circuit upward here and you’d call to flying control, “Item upwind,” and get no reply, “Item cross wind,” and they could get a bird’s eye view of where the aircraft is spaced and when you got the funnels and landed and taxied down the end and turn off, you’d say, “Item clear”
and they’d allow the next aircraft to land. If you didn’t answer, say you were clear, you could have been stuck on the runway and they’d make the next one over shoot. It’s probably not the question you asked.
It okay, it’s all good information. We’ll just talk about the planes for a little while. I was just wondering, obviously you become very attached as a crew, you become very close. Was there also an attachment to the plane?
Like cars can be lemons, while I was away from the aerodrome, I don’t know whether you’ve seen pictures of these long trolleys behind a tractor with bombs loaded on them and might have 14 or 15 little carts with a bomb lying on it and the tractor pulls them up near the aircraft and backs them in and puts them on. One of the 1,000 pounder delayed action bombs, which meant that if the fuse in the nose,
the two explosives were separated by some mica or something or other and when there’s a jolt, one tends to eat into the other, an acid or something or other and when they meet, that’s the detonator which sets off the bomb. And this bomb rolled off the trolley, I suppose the fellow looked around, rolled her back onto the thing, hooked onto the aircraft and while the crew were up
having pre take off breakfast, the first aircraft blew up. And over a period of three days, they lost about five aircraft and a lot of others were damaged with the fragments and that sort of thing. So rather than have a squadron stood down and be right out of action, they sent a message out to the aircraft in the group, send one aircraft to East Kirkby. Ideally they all got rid of their worst aircraft and one of the aircraft that was sent,
had on an earlier trip to one of the Norwegian fields, to bomb the Turfords . To avoid the radar they flew very low and it was a tedious journey, it was just maximum – nearly 12 hours. And the pilot went to sleep and woke up just as it was about to hit the waves – rrrrrrrr - with the stick and whacked his tail into the waves and it twisted the fuse wires and just as a car can be out of order -- so that the front wheels don’t track correctly
if they’d been in a bingle. So the aircraft -- well you couldn’t trim it. You’d have trims on all the controls so that it will fly ‘hands off’ so to speak, it’s not automatic pilot but it’s just comfortably flying itself you could say. But you couldn’t trim this damn thing, it wanted to skid one way and slip another and you were constantly working on it. So that was a lemon and nobody wanted that aircraft.
But that was still in circulation then?
it was not badly damaged enough to take it out of production and out of action. Other aircraft had similar characteristics, not as bad, that’s the worst I encountered but -- lucky aircraft and there were aircraft that had done 90 trips and it was unheard of for a crew member to do that many, so you’d say, “It’s got to be lucky,” but you might think, ”Well, the 91st lot might be the unlucky one.”
And different fellows favoured different aircraft. The flight commander usually got the new one when it came to the squadron – “That’ll be mine,” so he’d hand his over to somebody else which he may have down two tours and a bit, so he deserved it.
And did the crews work with one mind when it came to that sort of thing but would there be differences of opinion when it came to taking this plane?
Well that was it, you didn’t have any arguments, you might gripe about it,
“Bloody stuck with that sugar again,” or something or other” but you weren’t going to change anybody’s mind. That’s the way the powers would be. They said, “That’s what you’ll fly,” and that was it. As far as the ground staff are concerned, every Lanc on its hard stand -- a Lanc only went undercover to have an engine changed, everything else was done out in the open and that must have been terrible for the ground crew to work in, in the winter time. These sorts of mornings -- yesterday morning,
– they’d be out there fixing things up and that sort of thing and you can’t work terribly well with gloves and they didn’t have it easy either over there in England. And every aircraft would have a fitter of E – that’s engines and fitter A – airframes. He’d be a rigger that would
patch any holes and things and E would work on the engines and you’d share an instrument repairer so that if the altimeter, you didn’t have your own, you got to know your man that’s in charge of our aircraft I Items sort of thing. And you might cycle out there in the morning and have a chat to chiefy and, ”How’s it going,” and I tried to mark it that they were part of our team,
we couldn’t do without them. They could certainly do without us. But their aim was to get us up into the air, that was their job but we couldn’t do it without them. And we never got the opportunity to take them into town and buy them a beer because their leave never seemed to coincide.
How do you think the air crew was perceived by the ground crew?
Well it depended on how they behaved.
Perhaps I could’ve given Bill Cook’s name. Bill Cook was in the RAAF and went to England and he was ground staff and he was an electrical mechanic and worked mainly on Lancs throughout the war, married an English WRAF and she came out on a bride ship and they’re living up Wendouree. And he’s also in our Legacy Club. Bill probably would have his favoured crew – the ones that didn’t treat them like
whatever but treated them with respect. So there’d be reactions like that. I don’t know whether you saw the American film “Memphis Bell”. I can’t understand how those two pilots could hate the guts of each other for the entire tour until they got respect for each other on the final tour. Or how the two waste gunners could roll around fighting in the bottom
of the aircraft. RAAF fellows, we just can’t imagine it. You sort of welled together as a crew. But over there they had a different arrangement. The front half were commissioned and they were officers and the rest were non-commissioned fellows and so when they came home from flying, one lot got into one bus and the others got in the other bus and they went to the airmen’s mess and the officers went off to their quarters. And I think they treated their men rather
shabbily whilst we had – I only got a commission because as a crew, we were posted to five group and Air Vice Marshall Cockrin who was in charge of five group wouldn’t have a non-commissioned pilot in his group, in his command. And so I had to be given a commission but up 'til that time we were all sergeants.
A couple of us flight sergeant. Just six months after being sergeant you got promoted to flight sergeant. And the Australians got a better rate of pay than them Poms. But we all shared the same hut. And I was disappointed in a way to be commissioned. It was nice to jump up to 21 and 7 [shillings and pence] a day English money but going into the officer’s mess, while my six crew were in the sergeant’s mess
and they were in a different hut and I was in the office quarters, it meant that you gravitated towards other pilots at that time instead of all being together. But that didn’t stop us going out at night and going to the pictures and dances as a crew. Rank didn’t mean anything in aircrew; you didn’t salute NCO - commissioned officers in air crew. Ground staff officers like to be saluted but air crew didn’t expect it
and didn’t want it and didn’t get it because that was the understanding. As distinct from an army operation where you have three corporals, two sergeants, one top sergeant and one lieutenant - you had a whole stack of sergeants who didn’t have anybody under their command at all. The sergeant navigator didn’t have anybody under him, he couldn’t order anybody about because the ground staff weren’t belonging to him
but that’s getting off the subject again. But the officer-NCO relations were very good but just the same as there’d be personalities in men, so I suppose they might treat their ground staff differently and would be respected. But under that strange bonding of crewing up of where it just happened sort of thing. The crews will tell you that somehow it worked – it was good.
I’m glad I didn’t have to say, “I’ll have you, you, you.” Later on you might say, “I wish I didn’t pick him,” or ”Gee, wasn’t I lucky to get him,” or something or other – it happened and I suppose I was flattered a bit that two or three of them said, “Could I fly with you?” Whether the Poms thought an Australian might be better to fly with than one of their own, I don’t know but it happened.
Talking to some of the army guys,
you get a sense that there is a real difference in the culture between – military culture -- Poms and the Aussies. It sounds like with the air force because you weren’t part of Empire Air Training Scheme it was very much the one culture, would that be --
Yes. If you finished a tour and then you were transferred to another station and it certainly didn’t happen to me. Then you might be put in charge as a flight lieutenant pilot. You might be put in charge of something. An orderly room or some thing or other,
then you might have to order clerks about or take them to task or something or other but we really, apart from our own flying crew, nobody had to answer to us. Even though the ground staff – if I had a gripe with one of the ground staff fellows - there was a flight sergeant known as a chiefy and you’d go to him and say, “This bloke is sloppy as hell.” or something or other, ”Can you do something about him, smarten him up?”
It wouldn’t be for me, a flying officer or pilot officer to dress him down and tell him he didn’t know his job.
Were there times that you would need to do a bit of dressing down within your crew itself?
No. But the flight commander might see fit to dress me down and a captain of an aircraft, if certain circumstances arose and the navigation leader who would’ve done it earlier and it’s now on the
squadron in charge of other navigators, he would be examining the navigational plots that the navigators kept and say, “This is out of order, you didn’t report something here, now I want to see vast improvement and I’ll be looking closely at your next lot of plots just to keep them up to mark.” But we just blended, moulded together something or other – we were happy –
happy together or satisfied. On one trip the navigator said, “Skip, we’re lost,” and I think we might have been going to Munich and of course he was pulling my leg – you don’t get lost. I said, “What do you mean, we’re lost?” And he said, “I don’t know where we are,” and he said, “the winds are all round the clock and every time I get fresh wind
to say it’s there, it’s there and it’s there and it’s stronger than the last one was and I just don’t know where I am.” I said “Where are the winds predominantly from?” He thought for a moment and said, “From the south,” and we were flying due east 093 which is just off east and I said, “Look, we’ve been throwing window out regularly
which means you can’t use your training aerial to get a fix.” We stopped windowing because if we’re all out here on our own, we’re only advertising our presence. “We’ll stop windowing, we’ll put the trailing aerial out, the bomb owner can come up and sit with you and the pair of you can see if you can get a fix. In the mean time I’ll turn on to due south and head down this way.” And we’re going due south for a while and a Lanc nearly took our nose off and I rolled around to chase that other Lanc but lost
it in the dark almost immediately. He could have been lost too and I said, “Well look, I’ve just gone back on 093, another Lanc is heading that way, at least there is two of us,” and the Jordie, the bomb owner said, “Oh I think we’ve got a fix, I think we’re pretty close to trek,” and then I heard the master bomber’s voice come up, just as clear as a telephone conversation in the room here with you and
it had a range of 400 miles so he could have been anywhere, but it was comforting to hear that voice come in and then they got another fix and said, “I think we ride as we are, let’s stay, let’s stay on 093,” and sure enough in no time the early flares started to go down and we didn’t have to alter course again but if he’d said that from the north, I would’ve said, “Right, well, I’m going to turn north sea view,” and then we would’ve brought ourselves back from over here something or other but that was just one of those
You were saying earlier how there were flights where you might lose one or two of the crew. Is that from anti-aircraft artillery fire -- seem to me you were saying maybe a gunner might be taken out?
Yes. If you were attacked by a fighter, well he tried to get rid of the danger and the danger was the rear gunner so that was the death seat you could say. If it was a flack burst from underneath, shrapnel might take out the navigator
inadvertedly. So you’ve got somebody bleeding to death and you’ve got to get one of these shock bandages on it and lie him down on the rest bed and now you haven’t got a navigator and that can happen. Before I started flying and I was still down in Brighton, I was posted up to nine squadron at Bardney in Lincolnshire
and attached to flying control and this was to get us out of Brighton and give us a job and let us see what life on a bomber squadron is. We would have to be out there when the bombers were taking off, these Lanc boys, these trained fellows and they got us up at one in the morning to be up when they came in and we’d up in flying control and over the radio, I heard a fellow say -- he had his mike switched on,
“Hhhhhhhhhh,” and he’s coming in for the landing – heavy breathing – got her down. And somebody said, “Oh that wasn’t too bad, skip,” and he said, “Ah, dropped her in like a bag of shit.” And I thought, “There’s RAFs here, hearing all this sort of thing,” but he didn’t have his mike switched on. Two or three aircraft later V Victor request emergency landing, two crew
members seriously injured, damage to rudder, have fire tender standing by – ooh this is real war. So that happens.
If you had a navigator killed or put out of action at least. How did you get back especially if you’re well into enemy territory and you can’t use dead reckoning. How do you--
Yes. Well we used to have an
overall sort of map that we could strap to our leg and we’d have the course pencilled in on it and we’d have a pretty good idea which way where going, so we’d know when we should be going north or 165 roughly in that direction that sort of thing, so if we were hit over the target and had to limp home, we’d have where the hot spots of night fighter fields or anti-aircraft guns in particular were
-- there were protected areas. In our case, the bomber, he would’ve stepped in and done his best and taken over the plot. So we tried to make them as interchangeable as possible. He and the navigator had both gone to Canada to train as pilots under the Empire Training Scheme. Both got scrubbed as pilots for whatever reason I don’t know. And so they were remastered and one is navigator and one is a bomb owner.
So both had had a little bit of flying experience and encouraged the bomb owner to have a go now and again on training trips so if that if we got hit on operational flying at least he could fly back towards Britain and they could all jump out at the appropriate time. So you tried to cover it as best you could. But you didn’t have a trained second pilot, you didn’t have a trained second navigator,
you just worked with what you got. And the bomb owner after, on the way home with the rear gunner got hit and his turret was still reasonably serviceable, well then he might have to go into one of the two turrets and that way.
Prompted a few of my questions then. Now yesterday Bill was saying that there were given instructions for if you had to bail out or landed in
enemy territory. They were supposed to – it was their duty to escape or not to escape, they were given these little buttons which pushed together became compasses.
Yes. In one case, two of our flight buttons, the dome bit there had a little tiny hole in the bottom of it.
And the bottom bit that it sat on, it had a little spike and this top button sat on that it had on its rim, it had a luminous spot that points north, and it had nothing else. But the one button as its base, the other would swivel on it and settle down, that’s north. Well it wasn’t the best but it was something. And one of our shoulder buttons, you could screw it apart and it was a compass
and then you could screw it back on again and stick it in your pocket or something. But the Germans became aware of some of those things. And you had escape maps. If each Op, if you were going into southern France towards Munich, you’d have maps of that area. If you’re going in towards the midlands, if you’re going in Scandinavian area you had different and there was some money, some notes in them
appropriate to the area and you drew then and signed for these packets and at the end of the trip well you handed them in unopened and they just went on the shelf again for somebody else another time. Yes, it was supposedly your duty to escape. Not only to get back and be a fighting man but while they were hunting for you, you took -- up some of their resources too.
But I didn’t exercise the option from Sweden. If I got to the coast and found a fishing boat that was heading out into the North Sea or something or other but we knew that we weren’t going to be there very long nor did a lot of fellows.
Just before, off camera, we were talking, you were showing us those photographs of the markers, the master bombers, the pathfinders – target indicators.
Could you just tell us a little bit about that, the overall scheme there?
Well the path finder aircraft carried the target indicators and probably some bombs as well and the master bomber would get there early and the wind finding aircraft would get there and then the message would be spread back to the other aircraft of what the philosophy of the wind to strengthen direction was over the target as ascertained by these better navigators
and then the flare carrying aircraft or target indicator would arrive and he might tell some of them to start marking the target and perhaps use the side of the little gulf or the river or the something or other as you run in and then he’d witness how they went down and if they were using all red target indicators, then they were in the wrong spot, then he’d asked
some other aircraft carrying yellows and greens or something or other to drop them short of those red target indicators they appeared to over shot. And then he’d be broadcasting to the main stream, ignore the red targets to the north east, concentrate on the greens and yellows which are more accurately marked so all this chatter was coming over the air all the time.
So when you were above a target or closer target, there’d be radio?
Yes. You’d hear all this, there’s no radio silence at this stage because the target has been reached, they know it’s going to be the target so there’s no sense. But it’s been radioed quite silent all the way from the take off ‘til the master bomber breaks the radio silence. If you were shot down or disabled and the aircraft is going to prang but it’s not widely out of control,
you could get your wireless operator to send an emergency message and he’d send a mayday message and just say that, “Air sugar is going down. Roughly such and such a position,” but otherwise no, no use of radio at all.
Back at ‘dromes-did you – was there much contact with those -- with path finder crews, were they operating from the same location?
They would come from another squadron
usually. Yes, they weren’t scattered around the squadron, so a particular squadron would be path finder squadron. Quite early while we were still on Stirlings, we were asked – apparently our bombing results must have been quite accurate, meaning our navigator got us to the right spot. Our bomb aimer sighting was alright and my flying
was accurate enough and our bombing results must have been acceptable and they asked us if we like to join the pathfinder force. And being democratic, I said to the crew, “Well, what do you think about it” and they said “Oh, we don’t know if we should rush straight into this, what say we review the situation after we’ve done five. We don’t know what we’re heading for.” And so after five the subject never came up
and they didn’t say, “What about going for flight commander,” and say, ”Can we switch to Path Finder Force .” but had we done so, then we would’ve had a gold wings blow. Our wing’s just a little wing about that size and that would of denoted pathfinder force.
Was there a picking order at all with the path finder guys?
Yes. In the sense that I’m proud to be wearing it,
that I wouldn’t be at all in awe of the bloke that had one sort of thing. I might say it if we were in the Boomerang Club of Australia House, “I see you with the PFF [Path Finder Force], how are you enjoying it?” “Oh, it’s been alright, been a bit dicey,” time to time or something but you wouldn’t say, “Oh gosh, you must be a Kingsford Smith” or whatever – interesting.
Definitely. Can you tell us a little bit about, you described in some detail a lot of what you’re doing but can you describe that space that you were in -- the cockpit, the place where you worked?
Yes. Well the Lancaster was very narrow; it’d nearly touch both walls, another half arm I suppose.
By raising my elbow, I would touch the side window that I could open and the standard cockpit controls, throttles and pitch controls are in the front here and adjustment for ailerons and rudders down here. Nothing like the cockpit of the jumbos that you might see. It does seem to be a lot of instruments. Over there
would be all the fuel gauges and that’s the engineer’s job, to keep his eye on these gauges and if he noticed one drifting more than the others, there may be a reason for it. It may be be on hold, it may be losing petrol. Well then it’s up to him to tell me and what he was going to do then, “I’m going to pump the fuel from the outer tank of the starboard wing across to fill up the inner board and across to here to save wasting it. We don’t want that running away.”
So the fuel usage was his. I meant there was an occasion when we were to fly at 2,000 feet across France under 2,000 feet of icing cloud and we were to go into it into a fast climb at a certain distance out in France, break out at 4,000 feet, settle back and then climb towards 17,000 or thereabouts to bomb.
Well we went into the icing cloud at the appropriate time and immediately the navigator said, “Shit, we’ve lost our airspeed,” and the airspeed indicator went off the dial, mine too. The pito head juts out the front of the aircraft -- so it couldn’t record air speed. And a couple of other flying panel had gone as well. So here we are in solid cloud,
doing a fast climb, 28-50 plus seven a boost and chunks of ice start to break off and crash back against the tail plane at the back and at 3,000 feet, we’re still in it and at 4,000 feet we’re still in it – 4,000 instead of 2,000 and so the navigator engineer reminded me if we keep this up, we’re going to use too much petrol, so I think, “Skip, better come back to plus 26-50 and 4.”
Which we did and eventually – cause aware that we’re in a stream of 200 aircraft, all heading in the same direction in this completely cloud position - icing – the ice was affecting the carburettors of the engines. Our engines were changing from a bluey red to a yellowy red, which was a bit ominous. And then we broke out, we broke out just like that,
clear, beautiful clear sky and behind us is this wall of cloud stretching – could’ve gone up to 30,000 feet, well we knew we’d gone down to 2,000. And shortly after that we’d reached 17,000, levelled out, the air speed indicator climbed back again and we bombed, turned round, here’s this bloody wall of icing cloud, we can’t go round it, we’ve got to into it, poke the nose in, the air speed comes off the dial. We’re letting down on
a rate of climb and descent, trying to keep it at about 500 feet a minute, letting down all the time. And trying to keep straight and level on the artificial horizon at the same time. And we eventually squashed down and just eased out under the 2,000 and hoped that we weren’t then going into mountains. And back where we’d come from and flew home under 2,000 feet of cloud and landed.
And next morning found out that the pitot head heater had two heaters in it and only one was working and it could clear itself out of the condition but it couldn’t clear the ice in the icing conditions. There was a certain amount of ring twitter while we were in those conditions. But these things happen.
Were there other treacherous conditions? You talk about the fear of rambling into a mountain. How often did that sort of thing happen?
Well, I’m reading some aeroplanes magazines at the moment and there have been quite a few accidents around England and in Scotland in particular where aircraft flew into mountains. On my wings cross country trip from Mallala to Pinnaroo in South Australia. Straight out and straight back over the Mount Lofty Ranges and no sooner got on the journey and it was cloudy and I flew above the cloud.
It broke out a cloud, saw Pinnaroo, identified it comfortably, headed back and I thought just sitting above that cloud, I’ll have a look on the map and there was the only high bit was a 670 or the highest bit, a bit off track. Well the drill was you go to the next 1,000 and then add 1,000 so 670, 1,000. I’ll fly home at 2,000
whether I’m in cloud or not. I was comfortable about instrument flying. So flew in cloud and let down over St. Vincent’s Gulf and came in under it and landed and I thought, “Good job Bruce, you did well,” and then I was walking to the pictures about three nights later and I don’t know what brought it into my mind -- that bloody map was an international map and was in metres, and 670 multiplied by three and a third or so stuck up over 2,000 feet.
Three sevens are 21 and three sixes are 18 – there was a little bit of mountain above the 2,000 feet that I was flying at and if I had flown into the top of that, they’d say, “Why the hell did he do that?” Pilot error. So quite a few mistakes made like that but you only do that once and they were called ICAN maps International something or other and navigational something or other. To suit all countries, they were in metres
--spot height but there we are back on wing cross country.
Interviewee: Bruce Clifton Archive ID 0762 Tape 08
Rather than talk about a hazardous flight, what would you typically be doing on an easy Op if there was such a thing?
Yes. And would be for lots of fellows and it gets down to boredom to the point where you go to sleep and you’re flying the plane and the engineer give you a nudge in the ribs, “Ah, skip.”
Or I might catch him having a doze. There’s nothing, it’s dark, you don’t see other aeroplanes, you’re not flashing pass telephone poles or paddocks or – there’s nothing to measure it by and it’s just, ”Zzzzzzzzz,” and broken only perhaps by somebody saying something about, “That would be Lucerne in Switzerland,
just over there to the starboard bow,” or the navigator saying ,“I’m getting pretty good winds tonight,” just like conversation in the lounge room. There weren’t fighters darting at you all the time. There weren’t guns blazing at you all the time and a lot of that perhaps was due to the planning of the trip so that the tape took you here and down there and up to there and then dart up to Frankfurt and hopefully
the fighters would’ve got up in the way of this run over and fighters usually only had a duration of an hour and 10 minutes. And they burn a hell of a lot of fuel to scorch up to 17,000; they can only cruise for around for 20 minutes or so. So they can’t come up to Frankfurt and stooge around for another, they’ve got to go down. And you might catch the fighters up in that area on the ground, so they don’t get up. That’s talking about a perfect world I suppose.
But it was the Americans, who flying in daylight were sort of picked up by the fighters early on and hammered most of the way and that was pretty damn brutal. But the Americans couldn’t navigate properly, so they had to fly by day to see where they were going and that’s a fact.
Why couldn’t they navigate properly?
Well in America even pre-war there were beams criss crossing the country in all direction.
If they wanted to fly from San Francisco to New York they’d pick up the beam 38 or the beam 74 to go down to San Anton. And all you had to do was sit there with the earphones on and if you got off the beam it went, “Beep, beep, beep,” and if you got over this side it went, “Beep, beep, beep.” So you stooge back a bit got the constant beam and didn’t have to learn to navigate. When they came out here into the Pacific and were trying to find islands out in the Pacific, they couldn’t pin point them.
So they had to put Australian navigators into a lot of Liberators and Fortresses to navigate from using sextons on the sun and that sort of thing. It was just a fact; they didn’t train them to be as good a navigator as the RAAF. As Americans they could have been trained but it wasn’t in there training.
Some of those hours you said
there was boredom creeping in. You said also that there was tension. Was there tension plus boredom?
No, you’d be completely relaxed while all you were doing was just the same as a cross country across England because nothing would happen. The tension would come in if flack started to go up fairly close to track
and then of course you’d be alert more than anything else. I’m supposed to be responsible for the port side of my aircraft and the engineer predominately the starboard side. So even though while you’re just flying quietly along, you get use to the instrument panel so that when all the instruments are in the right position, everything looks okay but if one of them has dropped, you pick it up,
so all you do is look at the instruments and look out and look down, look up, look forward and look down and look back over your shoulder and your head’s sort of going like that but it’s just - and that’s in the day time but at night time, well there’s nothing to look at so there’s no – it’s only the gunners can pick up whether a night fighter is coming in at you. He’d have to be coming in at you head on and then if he’s doing 200 miles an hour and you’re doing 200 miles an hour,
the relative speed is 400 and he comes at you very quickly, probably too quick for him to shoot. But it can be boring, with nothing to look at or relaxing or whatever the term might be but monotonous to the point of because you’ve flown two nights out of three and it’s difficult to make up your sleep because the aerodrome comes to life again every day just the same. It doesn’t say,
“Clifton and his crew are wanting to get some sleep so no engines, no trucks, no nothing.” A cook in a hut nearly is going on leave, so they’re banging around and heading off and engines are being tested down on the aerodrome and it’s hard to make up your sleep so my log book will show that on two occasions we flew three nights out of four so you get a bit drained towards the
fourth night because – I just couldn’t lie down anywhere and sleep. Some fellows in a train going from Melbourne to Sydney could sleep all the way, in the corridor or under the seat or any old where. I needed a sleeping berth to be able to sleep on the train.
So you talked early about your first flight on the Lancs and you couldn’t have any breakfast and you ended up taking the chocolate bar and candy.
Is that all you would have on a flight?
Yes, and yet I’ve read other books where they drew their rations, their sandwiches and their thermos. Unless you arranged it, it was never offered on our squadron. As I said, I’ve read other books where they’ve got their thermos. Sometimes they didn’t pour the coffee until they crossed the Dutch Coast and then you might get too comfortably safe
and there use to be what they called intruder aircraft. They use to intrude into stream of aircraft and sometimes they would wait until you were landing on the aerodromes which got there flare paths lit back in England and then they’d come in underneath an unsuspecting bomber and shoot him down while his got his flaps down and his throttling back and he’s, “Ah. we’re nearly home fellows,” and, “Bang, bang, bang, and crash!” within half mile of your aerodrome. Well they were called intruder aircraft and they use to do that.
So you were never really safe until you’d switched off at the end of the runway – not completely safe.
Did your plane ever come under attack?
No. We saw instances where a stream of trace and at the end of it there’s a four engine aircraft start to burn and go down - low down, it silhouetted against the fires
– single engine fighters which could only have been German aircraft and none ever attacked us. I was only on my eleventh trip so ten and a half so to speak so that cut down the opportunities.
Earlier you talked about the coning that you saw during the Blitz in London. Was that happening in Germany as well, when you were flying across?
Yes. They had master search lights which were always
blue and they were radar controlled. And often when they flicked on, they had an aircraft. Just like that, they weren’t waiting around like white, yellow ones looking. They picked him up on the thingo. And then it come and then instantly all the orangey ones, yellowy ones that were just searching the sky would all cone him and that’s what it was called. It was called, “I was coned”. And then you can’t see a damn thing. In fact then you would lower your seat right down,
so that the beams weren’t coming into the cockpit so that you could concentrate on the instruments and do your anti search light cork screw or fighter corkscrew or whatever. But it was called coning and the master search lights were blue, but we weren’t coned either so we were lucky after that point. But it was a bit dicey because it was very hard to get rid of them. Once they visually had you in the cone,
then the anti aircraft becomes concentrated on you because they can see you instead of just firing barrage and hoping you would run into it. Then they started shooting at you because the search light had you and held you. But no, no we didn’t have that experience either. But some were unlucky. Some nearly got holes in them and that sort of thing every time they flew. They were unlucky crew but they still might have got through a tour or they might have got the chop further down the track a bit.
Can we talk a bit more about Sweden? You sort of mentioned your experiences. You went skiing in the middle of the war.
Yes, not a lot because the area wasn’t very hilly and we didn’t have the means of transport to go to the hills or the slopes. But we use to slosh around with ski poles and that sort of thing. But also in those Scandinavian countries they have what they called sparks,
and housewives even have a sort of a wooden chair on two steel runners and they stand on one runner and push with the other, it’s a bit like skating They can skate into town on fairly level country and it’s a lot easier than slushing through the snow because the snow ploughs are going up and down all the time and keeping the roadways, major and minor, fairly clear. And this is actually snowing and so we’d have a bit of fun with sparking
but because 20 of us were crammed into a guest house that probably in peace time would’ve let out four bedrooms for four couples. We were asked not to use the bathrooms for bathing. But in the town, they had city baths for men say Monday, Wednesday and Friday and the
women, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. And when you went to the public baths – they like you to have a shower first and then if you wanted to, you could get up onto a marble slab and they belt the bejesus out of you with a hand full of birds twigs or something which was suppose to invigorate the blood stream or something, I never had that happen. Or you could fool around in the 12 metre by 12 metre
square swimming pool. But the first day going into the pool, they didn’t tell us – they didn’t tell me. They had 20 fellows there collectively and they’d all experienced this. They didn’t say that there were female attendants there. So they were all waiting to see my reaction. You’d walk into the area around the swimming pool area and get rid of your clobber and pick up your tail and wander starkers sort of thing towards the showers
-- open door and some 45 year old women would step -- ducking for cover and they all thought it was funny, they had all experienced it themselves sort of thing. But that use to fill in our day. We’d go to the baths and opening off were steam baths - the Swedish would call whatever -- they’d chuck water on hot coals that sort of thing,
you’d sweat like hell and then you’d have a shower and then you’d jump into the swimming pool. And then we’d go down the street to the pastry cook’s place and they’d bring out on a tray great stacks of cream sponges and three of four loaves of cream, we’d take four pounds off in the steam bath and put six on in the coffee shop. And you could sort of fill in a morning or an afternoon doing that. There’d be matinee shows at the pictures. You might go and see Red Skelton in something or other
in a movie, as I said earlier with Swedish subtitles but still an English soundtrack and of course in that one month, we’d do those sorts of things but for about three days out of it, I went back to – for my crew’s funeral. So that took about three days out of it so didn’t have a hell of lot of time on my hands.
And at night sometimes we’d go to dances and I know one night an Australian pilot and myself who went in for a restaurant dinner. We wanted to have a steak and because it was venison, it wasn’t beef steak -- steak and onions and we said, “We’d like something to drink,” to the waiter and we thought we’d try the schnapps. Schnapps and a beer chaser. And that went down well and then we had schnapps and a beer
chaser and that went down well. And we said, “Can we have another?” He said, “No, you’ve had two.” So we said, “Yes, we know we’ve had two but we would like a third,” and, “No, I can’t serve you,” ‘cause he knew the strength of the Swedish schnapps and we said, “Oh well, what else can we have?” “Have a cognac,” so we had a cognac. Then we stepped outside into the snow and the snow ploughs had pushed the snow up into the gutters, the footpaths had been shovelled into the gutters.
There was snow as probably as high as the ceiling here and every now and again there was a cutting through it so you walk across the street instead of going down to the next intersection. But virtually, you were walking – like in an ice box, there’s this mountain of snow and you only had to go small distance to get to the taxi and by the time we got there, we could barely stand. We were as drunk as skunks, just on those few drinks relatively.
Probably the other fellow was a bit more effective than myself and I was trying to get him up the stair case, it was a two storey place and I was trying to push him up the stairs and got him onto the his bed eventually and we were sharing the room with three other fellows and they didn’t wake up to what was – they were awake but they didn’t let me know and I’m trying to say, “Now come on, get out of your coat, buttons one, buttons two,” and that sort of thing and falling over in the process. And then very
shortly after that I made my trip to the toilet and I think for the rest of the night I was crouched beside it and going, “Blurp!” Sick as a dog, terribly sick. I though I’d die – that was Swedish schnapps. I suppose it happens with Polish schnapps and any others as well.
You must have mad a bit of an impression on the Swedish ladies though?
No. Actually, they would ask us to dance with them
and the Swedish blokes would be standing down with their arms folded and glowering like this sort of thing. All they want to do, we found out, was practice their English on us. When the time came for the end of the dance and you’d say, “Can I take you home?” “No, my friend down here will take me home, thank you very much.”
So they weren’t interested in more intensive language?
In my experience, not. Although I believe there
were relationships and then three of four Americans married Swedish girls and took them back to America. And a couple of British or allied married Swedish girls and did likewise but. Yes, there was a bit of fraternisation.
Can you tell us the story about the timber cutter?
Well he had religion and because of this miracle - being saved, he believed that I was sent from Jesus to save the world or something or other. It was embarrassing for an old gentlemen to want to go down on his knees in front of me. I didn’t want to be rude to him and I certainly didn’t treat him as though, “You silly old thing, get out of my way,” or anything. But I made sure then next Sunday, they said, “Look out
Cliffo, here he comes again!” And I shot out the back door or shot out something or other and they said, “Oh, he’s not here, I don’t think he’ll be back today,” or something. But he turned up every Sunday in the four weeks that I was there. Yes, it was written up fairly extensively in the papers. The Swedish paper weren’t like the French papers where atrocities were going on and the aircraft were being shot down.
It was a big event over there. So, it hit the headlines and everybody read about it. An army fellow was in camp, just near where the aircraft crashed and a fellow named Multipulsen, he ran across to see what they could do for the fellows in the aircraft
and he said he was one of the first over there and when 50 years later back in ‘95, he went around various business houses and got four banks to promise to contribute 10,000 krona which is two and a half thousand dollars also for me to go over to attend their peace ceremonies.
And it was all teed up very quickly and at the last minute I flew over with KLM and met by the press, photographers and reporters and taken out to the cemetery -- all those photos are there. And a couple of nights later they had their big – on May 8th, 50 years later they had their big peace concert. Everywhere in Europe - they were victory concerts but in Sweden, not having been at war,
there was a feast concert. And appropriately half way through, this person Multipulsen was called up on the stage from where we were sitting and he described this big event and this bomber and we all rushed over and we tried to do this and very sadly, six of the crew were killed but there was a survivor and Flying Office B.A. Clifton is with us tonight. “Clifton, would you come up?” So I had to totter up
onto the stage and he said a few words and my mouth went a lot dryer than it’s been today and I found I could hardly talk. But I stayed over there for about a week with my son and then of course came home again. But it was still remembered as the big thing that happened in Helsingborg – this plane crashing just on the outskirts, a little bit closer and it could have been the outer lying areas
– when we went back about 15 years ago, we stayed at the Hotel Morberg and when we were booking in I said “Look, I want a bit of help, I want to get to a newspaper office, I want to look up some records – my plane crashed here.” “Your plane, was it you?” And she looked over my shoulder at my wife and said. “Oooh!” My wife didn’t even know me in those days, I think she was thinking
how my wife must’ve felt, going through so much danger. Sorry, I’m getting away from your questions again. So, I was back there about 15 years ago and back in ‘95 which was 50 years after ‘45 – May 8th for the Swedish. So back in the visit that Marie and I went back for,
we worked it around the reunion at my old aerodrome and so we went up there and went to the Air Crew Dinner that night at Petwood Grange and out to the aerodrome the next day and they’ve got a restored Lancaster in a hangar and a lot of artefacts scattered around and that sort of thing. Then we went onto Denmark and stayed with our son John and our daughter- in- law. So I’ve been back twice
but won’t be going again, I’m too old to travel economy class for 24 hours.
Were you able to visit the place where you actually...?
Yes. Met the lady whose house I went up in and that was all arranged. Got a big reception there, it was lovely to see her and she then told me, “We saw the aeroplane go across the kitchen windows and crash and all the lights
went out and we didn’t know what to expect. Then we heard you knocking at the door and we didn’t know who to expect and there you were with mud all over your face and that sort of thing and we couldn’t understand what you were talking about,” and even to that day, she never really learnt much English. But it is a compulsory subject in the school and most of the younger ones can speak quite a bit of English in Europe.
Did you pick up any Swedish while you were there?
Very little. Yes and no and that sort of thing. A few words, milk and freezer, hairdresser but didn’t have to – most of my time was with other RAF fellows so there wasn’t much opportunity. When I was in Stockholm, on the way home, no it must have been the time when we were
coming home and we had half a day in Stockholm before we went to the airport that night. And we knew we could take a certain amount of liquor back through the customs even though we were returning from being shot down, we had to go through customs. You could take back a certain amount of pairs of stockings – I thought, the Steel family, I’d like to take them back to them. So I went into this women’s wear shop in a fashionable part of Stockholm.
And I said, “Do you speak English?” and, “Nah, nah,” and they must have said, “What is it you want?” “Some of those things – stockings.” “Yah, yah,” they bring out boxes and they probably said, “What size?” “About that.” Then of course, ”What colour?” Then I noticed that there were probably about five or six girls serving,
quite a few people in the shop and everything had come to a stand still and they were all interested in this fellow trying to buy stocking with no knowledge of Swedish and that sort of thing. Anyway, I got them home with the appropriate amount of liquor and what not. We went through customs at Lucas Air Force base. And the fellow said, “Anything to declare?” and I said, “Yes,
there are some stockings there and some liquor.” He put his hand down one side of the suit case, “That’ll be okay.” And I suppose I could have had 400 pairs of stockings and I could have charmed all the girls in England, well some of them.
Can you tell us that story about much later on – quite recently you said you met up with someone who was in one of the Lancasters that you were supposed to meet up with in that part of the world. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Yes. On the spur of the moment I can’t think of his name. But he came from Yanco. Yanco near Leeton in central NSW apparently. As I’ve said, I’ve been producing for a number of years a sheet of little peel off Australian flag stickers and we sell them
through Legacy for 50 cents a sheet of 100 stickers and he got to hear of this through the Legacy in the district and he wrote to me and he asked me for 10 or 20 sheets. And he said in his letter and his order, “Will you send me 10 or 20 sheets of flag stickers. Let me know how much and I’ll send you the money. I was in the Air Force during the war over in Europe, we flew Lancs.” And I think
Keating at the time had just declared that superannuation would be taxed at 30% and I’m getting nearly towards the end of my career in the bank and I didn’t want my lump grabbed at 30% and so I put my resignation into the bank at the age 59 instead of 62 and he said, “If we owe that bugger Keating over here, we would’ve taken him up to 17,000 and chucked him out.” So I made up the order and said, “Like you, I was in the air force
and I nearly met my Waterloo on February 8th 1945 on the way to Politz. We were shot down by Swedish flack. Happily I’m okay but my crew were buried in Sweden,” and I think I mailed them on the Thursday and on Saturday morning at seven o’clock the phone rang and went out to answer it and it was him calling from Yanco and he said, “So and so and so and that was ‘45 was it?”
And checked a few details, “Yeah, you were going to Politz. Well, we saw you and the engineer and I said to one another, ”Hell, nobody got out of that, that’s for sure,” and so we marked the map as we usually do.” Then later he was visiting a son in Tasmania and on his way back through Melbourne, he said, “I’d like to come and see you,”
and we said, “Yes by all means, come up.” So we had a chat and just out of the blue, I said, “You mentioned that you saw us, how close were you?” And he said, “Too bloody close,” and he didn’t say 200 yards or whatever – it was all very vivid to him. So that was a strange coincidence.
went down in Sweden there, did you first think that it was German gun fire from Denmark? When did you realise it was really Swedish?
Not until – the district where I landed, the aeroplane had cut the power lines to that district and put everything out. No farm houses, no vehicles – well vehicles wouldn’t have been affected. But I couldn’t see a light from where I landed
and stood in this paddock and so I was convinced that I must have been hit before crossing the Catagat but I wasn’t. In fact in Denmark, which I knew from the previous experience, was totally blacked out like – as was Holland and France and Belgium. So I sort of half crouched walking up towards the rise and once I got up and looked over the rise, the city
was full of blazing neon signs and traffic lights and whatever. It had to be Helsingborg. And it was to the west of me, so I was just a few miles in from the coast of Catagat. The Catagat separates Denmark – the Copenhagen Island and Helsingborg in South West Sweden. So that was a relief, and then of course I saw my
aircraft blowing up from the distance and I had mentioned earlier about my parachute. I had sort of gathered it towards me and I was standing on it, not doing a lot of good in the soot and all this mud. But soon as I saw the flame go up and then this explosion, I throw myself down on the parachute thinking, I don’t want to get hit by a bit of shrapnel. I did this about four times, then I realised I was being a bit of a
goose because the sound would be travelling slower than the bit of metal and I was standing up waiting until I heard the explosion and then throwing myself down. And after that I thought, “Well I better have a look around,” and then the explosion stopped and that’s when I walked up the top of the rise and saw all the bright lights. So I felt a bit more relaxed about it at that stage.
And was it at that time that you realised
that you weren’t actually fired upon. You were fired upon the...?
No, well I couldn’t be sure that it was Swedish flack but no other guns had fired at us across the width of Jutland in Denmark nor had they fired at us the previous month when we went to Sweden. But they did fire at us from Sweden. But the Swedes said
that they didn’t aim to hit, that the fuse caused their shells to burst beneath Allied aircraft. But the Germans would be satisfied that Sweden was defending its neutrality by apparently firing at these aircraft that would invade their neutrality. So they said that they certainly didn’t aim to hit our aircraft.
The fact that they did hit you, how
did that affect their attitude afterwards?
Well, they couldn’t have done more for me, the ones that I came in contact with. I had to admit I didn’t come in to contact with a lot of civilians. It was the army people who took me into custody. The police, well they didn’t have anything to say at all. They seemed totally officious, not brutal or anything but almost as if they couldn’t care less.
They went and did what they had to do and then handed me over to the Army and the Army was like brothers in arms sort of thing. And apart from seeing people on a train, reading their compassion, I didn’t really speak to a lot. When I went back with Marie years later and speaking to the receptionist at the Hotel Morberg, I said “I need all these
cuttings over two three days translated, would there be any chance a Rotary Club?” She said ,“They meet here, they meet here weekly but they met yesterday,” and I said, “Well, would there be any city people around about who belong to the club?” “Oh yes, the Fallmans at this café directly across the road.” And Mr Fallman and his son Peter are both in the club, so I went across
and the son was there and they couldn’t do enough for me. He said, Look ,I’m flat chat at the moment,” he was a baker as well as a pastry cook. “Could you come back in about and hour and then I’ll be free.” And when I came back – there was Marie and myself and John. “Please come in and sit down and what can we get you,” coffee whatever, “What would you like to eat…
no no it’s on me, it’s on me, and girls, I want you to look after Mr Clifton and Marie and their son John.” So we had a lovely afternoon tea and he organised for me to meet up with somebody from the Rotary Club and he said, “As a matter of fact, we’re having an international meeting on a ferry tomorrow. The ferry will leave here and it will
take 20 minutes to go across to Denmark to Helsingor. It’s Helsingor and Helsingborg in Sweden and we’ll have a international meeting on the way over and we’ll have a club meeting on the way over and I’ll introduce you to some Rotarians and then the Danes will get on the boat and on the way back we’ll have an international meeting with both clubs involved and then on the way back,
they’ll have their lunch and head back to Denmark.” So he sat near the table with some businessmen who said, “We’ll do that for you.” Well, it took them a long time to do it but eventually they did and they translated these pages of cuttings - got them done and photocopied and sent them out to me in Australia. So they
were very nice. This last time when I went back in 1995, I made myself known again and it was just like old time and he said “can you come to dinner with me” and he took me to dinner out where he lives and as we drove and just on some high ground, he said, “The gun that probably got you
would’ve been stationed there on that rise at Sofero we call it.” And we just turned down a couple of side streets to his home. So that was probably the spot the gun – what done it.
The newspapers clipping that you got translated, did you learn anything from those?
I didn’t learn anything, that I guess, I didn’t already know
other than what affect it had on the townspeople, who rushed there, who gave an eye witness account, “Yes I was standing so and so,” and “I saw this happen,” “It was a huge explosion,” sort of thing . Just like you might read that there was a disaster out here. There was always eye witnesses and, “We spoke to Mrs. Brown and she said so and so.”
You talked about that funeral, talking about being in Sweden and obviously a very big thing to happen to his community as well. Sounds like there was a great sense of guilt and then a lot of compassion as well. Can you just describe in more detail that funeral?
Over there on the table I’ve got a
programme as prepared - the burgomaster will speak - the band will play something or other and it’s all item by item and so and so will lay a wreath there, the mayor or artillery post No. 464 will lie a wreath and so on. British Embassy Officials will now lay a wreath, so it was all very officially done
and to coin a phrase, I would say, they did the boys proud, sort of thing. It couldn’t have been done any better with all the pomp and ceremony of the bands playing and choirs – very respectful. And it was reported – no no, there’s another article there that says it was raised in parliament shortly after, that the latest shooting down of a British aircraft was to be
deployed and at this stage of the war, this must stop and deedah sort of thing. So it became a bit of an international affair.
Is there anything else that you would like to put on the tape, for the record as it were?
Just about talked myself out I think. Talked you into numbness. Well apart from the fact that I do receive a 20% disability pension for arthritis and the cervical spine, I’ve been lucky to get away – I mean if I died tomorrow, my wife wouldn’t get a war widow’s pension because my death wouldn’t be treated due to war service and that’s a good thing. Not that she won’t get a war service but well
enough to get by. I do have vascular problems in my legs. I’m really only good for walking about 200 yards non stop before I have to rest and that. I can’t go in the Anzac Day marches and haven’t been able to for about the last four years for that reason but that’s my only drawback. So because I don’t exercise, I stack on the
weight but I do cut my own lawns and those sorts of things. That’s about it.