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Australian War Memorial Interview Transcript
ACCNUM S00416. TITLE: WRIGLEY, Henry Neilson CBE DFC AFC (Air Vice Marshal)
Interviewer; Recordist: Frank Marshall.
[Further corrected and with illustrations inserted by 3 Squadron RAAF Association.]
Air Vice Marshal Henry Neilson Wrigley CBE DFC AFC (Service no. 6) was born in Collingwood, Victoria on 21 April 1892.
Formerly a teacher, he enlisted with the RAAF on 1 October 1916 flying with various squadrons over Europe, before returning to Australia on 6 May 1919.
This experience from the First World War was marked by Wrigley's exceptional service to duty, on one occasion near ORS he flew over enemy lines at low height, bombing parties of enemy infantry.
He persisted with his attack despite intense machine gun and rifle fire.
During the interwar period Wrigley returned to the RAAF, mapping a flight path from Melbourne to Darwin and in 1935 publishing 'The Battle Below', a history of the Third Squadron in the First World War.
During this time he progressed rapidly through the RAF College and at the outbreak of the Second World War was appointed to several senior positions and assisted in the formation of the Women's Australian Auxiliary Air Force.
In 1941 Wrigley was honoured with a Commander of the British Empire. The following year, he was sent to London as ACC RAAF Overseas Headquarters.
He retired from the RAAF in 1946, returning to settle in Melbourne. He died on 14 September 1987. [© AWM ART40971]
Marshall, Frank (Interviewer; Recordist. March 13, 1986)
This is Frank Marshall, interviewing Air Vice Marshal Henry Neilson Wrigley CBE DFC AFC, regarding his military career. Air Marshal Wrigley was born 21 April 1892.
- Right, if you'd like to continue now and tell me about - begin with your childhood and then through your education and how it led into the military side of your career.
Wrigley, Henry Neilson (Interviewee)
Actually I was born in Abbotsford. Of my parents, my father was of Lancashire stock and my mother, her family came from Dundee in Scotland.
My father was a foreman joiner with John Moore & Son timber merchants in South Melbourne and he was an expert in almost every kind of woodwork and his main hobby was wood carving and wood inlay work.
As far as my schooling was concerned, I started school in the Richmond Central School and went on from there to Melbourne High School and completed the two years term at that school.
My first involvement in service work was when I joined the school company of senior cadets and after leaving school at Melbourne High
This was the Melbourne High School cadets, was it?
Yes. On leaving school I became a teacher in the Victorian Education Department and became involved at that time in junior cadet training and a little later became an officer in the senior cadets, and from there passed on to militia work and became a militia officer and served with two battalions of that force. One with headquarters in South Richmond with the unit officially known as the Yarra Borderers, colloquially known as the Yarra Murderers. And from there I was transferred to the Kew Glenferrie Regiment on its formation. And I was still serving as a militia officer with that regiment at the outbreak of the 1914 - 1918 war.
Like the majority of militia officers, I applied to join the AIF [Australian Imperial Force] but was turned down on the grounds that my services were required in Australia. This was something which was hard to understand as I was officially doing about one and a half hours work a week.
This was with the Education Department, was it?
No. This was at the AIF camp at Broadmeadows.
But why didn't they allow you to go overseas?
Why didn't they allow you to go overseas?
They said my services were required in Australia.
As a training officer?
Training purposes. And as I say one and a half hours a week didn't seem to me to be an obstacle of any nature at all to my going over to the AIF. However, eventually they called for applications from officers to do a course in military flying at Point Cook. And I applied for appointment to the course at Point Cook. I was called up before a selection board who questioned me on various subjects but mainly on whether I could ride a horse or not. However, I enlightened them on that subject by telling them that I had a thoroughbred horse which I bought partially broken in and finished the breaking in business myself.
But what - how did they connect the being able to ride a horse with flying? What connection was there? Was it from a balance point of view?
Well, you know, the touch and balance. If you were a good horse rider, you manipulated your horse by means of the reins, bit and reins. And in an aircraft it was something the same because you control the movements of the aircraft by your control column. However, as I was going out of the room after the interview, one bright member of the board asked me could I ride a motorbike and I enlightened him on that question and was then told I didn't have much chance of being selected for the course. However, I went home and, however, in less than a week I got a telegram telling me to report to Point Cook. So that was my start with aviation.
Did they have a course number in your day? You know, now we've got course numbers. They know
Yes, they did. But I don't know what it was. Can't remember what it was.
But you'd be one of the first of them, anyway.
Be one of the early ones. However, I completed the course at Point Cook and at that time they were forming what became known as Number 3 Squadron about a mile down the road from Point Cook station. And they - the fellows on the course, all except two of us, were posted to the expeditionary squadron down the road. The two who missed out was a chap who was an engineer and myself. And we knew at the time that one member of the course was to be retained at Point Cook as an instructor so that the two of us that were kept back knew that one of us was ear marked for the job at Point Cook. However, within three or four days I was posted to the AIF camp down the road so I knew that I was clear of the instructor's job. And from there, of course, we sort of fitted up and got ready for overseas. And eventually we moved to Port Melbourne and embarked in - I think it was A38 Transport [Ship]. In peacetimes it was the SS Ulysses of the Blue Funnel Line. And we went to Britain via Durban and Freetown in Sierra Leone and disembarked at Weymouth and were then shifted off to South Carlton which was
This is in the UK?
just north of Lincoln in the UK
Yeah, this is in the United Kingdom.
Yes. And there the squadron was fitted out and the mechanics were given a fairly lengthy period of training on the type of aircraft which the squadron was to fly. And the officers and pilots, we were sent off to various squadrons of the RFC [Royal Flying Corps]. I did a conversion course to RE8 aircraft and then set out to do my first tour of operations which was carried out with firstly, No.42 Squadron Royal Flying Corps, commanded by an Irishman and a very gallant one at that. And then when the Ypres offensive was due to open up, the squadrons up on that front were short-manned, and myself and a couple of other pilots from 42 Squadron were transferred up to 6 Squadron.
A very different type of commanding officer up there, but a very good commanding officer. He was a member of the House of Commons and a quiet, very unassuming type of man but like his comrade with 42 Squadron, very gallant chap and a very high reputation. And I finished my first tour of operations with 6 Squadron, by the end of which 3 Squadron was almost ready to go over to France and I was transferred back to No.3. We had roughly about a month there and then the orders came, off to France.
We had one casualty in the squadron on the way to France. A very inexperienced pilot got himself into trouble and that was that.
This is on the journey over, was it?
On the journey over.
And not in actual combat.
Yes. And we went over to the RFC squadron at Savy. And we sort of did a little bit of orientation flying there to get to know a bit more about the type of country we'd be operating over. And then eventually we were posted out to our operational airfield and strange as it may seem, we were in with No.42 Squadron, whom I'd had my first active service experience with. At a place called Bailleul.
22 October 1917. Members of No.69 Squadron [later designated 3rd Squadron Australian Flying Corps],
fixing incendiary bombs to an R.E.8 aircraft at the AFC airfield at Savy north west of Arras.
The entire squadron arrived there on 9 September after crossing the channel from the UK.
69 Squadron was temporarily attached to the RFC while they gained experience on the Arras front.
They began moving to a more permanent base at Bailleul on 12 November, operating as a full Corps Squadron attached to 1 Anzac Corps.
The last AFC aircraft and personnel left Savy on 16 November 1917. [AWM E01176. Photographer Frank Hurley.]
From there we settled in fairly quickly. Our NCOs and airmen were, by this time - like most Australians - they were pretty adaptable and they learnt their job pretty quickly and the squadron became operational down there. I think we did a very good job of work down there as an army co-operation squadron. The only fly in the ointment was that our CO never flew. Never flew on operations at all. And as far as I can remember, the only time he flew in France was when the squadron left Britain and went to France. And there was a hard and fast rule in the RFC at that time that when the squadron was going out to France, the leader of the aircraft formation must the CO of the squadron. And that is the only time I think he ever flew in France.
Was there any reason for him not to fly in combat?
No, not that I know of. He was a very good administrative officer, I'll say that for him. But never doing any operational flying in France, he lacked the ability to appreciate the conditions under which pilots and observers were working. And if a pilot and observer came back from the line without having finished their job, he was very critical of them. And no matter what reason they came back for, it didn't sort of tone down his criticism, which was rather unfortunate.
He actually wasn't experienced in that operational role himself.
No. But I think it said a lot for the aircraft crews that they carried on very efficiently with their jobs and that was the thing that really mattered.
In your operational experience, did you have any close shaves with, you know, with your adversaries?
Well, I think that a question of sort of - what shall we say - it comes down to a definition of a close shave. A close shave, we would consider, was one in which we probably got shot up a bit ourselves. On the other hand, you might be out there and be fortunate enough to be able to avoid the other fellow. But we had our days out there and sometimes fellows were unlucky.
We had one more extraordinary case in which a pilot named Sandy, and an observer, a chap named Hughes, were shot up by the Huns and both killed. And according to doctors they must have been killed instantaneously and yet the aircraft flew on in widening circles until it ran out of petrol and it sort of came down and landed itself. With practically no damage. And on that occasion, two others of our aircraft were on the scene. There was one - the pilot was [Lieutenant E. J. Jones]. And I was in the other one. We both went up and after the Huns cleared up, we were able to get up and have a look at Sandy's machine and everything appeared to be normal. So we just sort of waved a hand and said good luck to you and went off on our own jobs. And yet they both must have been dead at time.
And yet they were both killed. Mmm. Mmm. At the time - what was the role of your squadron at that particular time? Over the lines? Was it one of fighter escort or was it one of ?
No. We were purely army co-operation. It involved a variety of tasks.
In fact we always said that we were the 'maid of all work' in the air force. We had the regular and standard reconnaissance jobs. Both on our own side and the other side of the line. We did a tremendous lot of observation for the artillery. And when an offensive was on, as far as we were concerned, one of our own offensives, we had two other jobs to do. We had a contact patrol and a counter-attack patrol.
The contact patrol was carried out actually over the lines and it reported the progress of the troops engaged in the offensive. The counter-attack patrol - which in my opinion was a more arduous task than the contact patrol - had to be carried out well on the Hun side of the line because you had to report on enemy concentrations for counter-attack and that sort of thing. So you were well over on the enemy side of the line. And if you got into trouble and were shot up, you might not get back. Whereas with a contact patrol, if you were shot up and damaged, well, you came down on our own side of the line.
Yeah, at least you had a safety area.
But the contact patrol were the blokes, were the fellows that got all the kudos out of it.
Mmm. Any of our chappies that were shot down and taken prisoner by the enemy, were they treated well by the - pilots and airmen, were they treated well by the Germans? Do you know?
As far as we know.
There's lots of stories of course. They say that the Germans treated them just the same as their own airmen.
Well, I think that from all reports, and I'm thinking of overall reports in the RFC not only in the Australian squadrons, I think from the reports that we heard, that there was a feeling of comradeship when they were still with the enemy unit. What happened after that, of course, is another matter.
Yes. Yes. And how long were you over in France? Was it - did you do tours like there was in the Second World War?
Well something the same. I finished a tour, my second tour, with 3 Squadron and then I was posted back to Britain and eventually became chief instructor in No.7, one of [the AFC's] training squadrons. And I - it was - the circumstances were rather peculiar. We had a tremendous lot of officers in official positions who all wore observers badges but their experience as observers were almost nil. And at Horseferry Road, AIF headquarters, the senior bloke there was a Colonel Reynolds. He was a man that... "I'm going to say this, that and the other," sort of thing.
Before leaving France, I received my instructions to report to the Australian training wing at Tetbury and then to go to 7 Squadron as chief instructor. And when I reported at Horseferry Road, Reynolds said, "Now let's see where we'll send you".
And I said, "Well I'm very sorry, sir, but I already have my instructions".
"Oh", he said.
And I said, "Yes. I go to No.7 Squadron".
"Oh, no, no, no". And he looks at a chart on the wall and he said, "No", he said, "you'll go to 5 Squadron".
Well, 5 Squadron was a fighter plane [training] squadron. However, I went to 5 Squadron and as it turned out, it had it's advantages. The station commander was a Wing Commander Tedder, who afterwards as you know became
very famous man. And there I got to know Tedder fairly well, as far as a subordinate officer gets to know a station commander, sort of thing. But whilst I was there, I had the opportunity to go to the RFC School of Special Flying at Gosport. And that was really something, more than unusual. The staff of the school were very carefully selected and included in the staff was Norman Brierley, who was one of the instructors there. And of course in those days, forced landings were a very frequent occurrence. And a great deal of time was spent on training people to carry out forced landings in the best imaginable way.
I found the course was very useful. In fact, I later found that my training in forced landings at Gosport paid dividends on the Darwin flight.
But there were certain tests that you had to pass before they'd say that you'd passed the course. And then there were certain tests which you were allowed to carry out voluntarily if you wished.
And that was a really very difficult task, because they had marked out on the field the deck plan of HMS Furious, the first aircraft carrier, which was a converted merchant ship. And this voluntary test that you were allowed to take if you so wished, you had to land on that deck area in a cross-wind, which was no mean effort.
And I said, "Yes, I'd like to have a go at it". And I came off fairly well, I think. I managed to get the whole of the undercarriage, one wing and part of the other wing within the outlying limits of Furious, so I thought that was
Well, it wouldn't be a very big area then, would it?
Oh, no. Very small one.
I notice that you have DFC [Distinguished Flying Cross]. Obviously that was in the First World War. When were you awarded DFC and how did you come to win that award?
The DFC? How did you come to win that award?
I don't know. I've never seen the citation.
Oh, well, we won't go into that.
No, I've never seen the citation for that.
But obviously it must have been for combat or something in France, was it? Must have been. Obviously ?
Oh, yes. It had to be in France. It had to be on active operations, yes.
So it was in France. One of your tours of France.
So as I say, not having seen the citation, I don't know how it was described.
That's interesting, isn't it.
And when you finished your instructional training and then you were instructing in the UK, how far had the war progressed by then? Was it in it's ending stages or ?
Oh, it was just beginning to get into the hotting up period, you might say. Hindenburg Line etcetera. I went out just about - back to France - just about that time when the squadron had been moved from Bailleul up near Armentieres down to the Somme front. And I saw a good deal of the - when the war started to move, really move. And so that I feel from an army co-operation point of view, I had some very good experience because I saw the work of the army co-operation squadron in what you might term stationary or siege warfare, and I saw the work of the squadron when the war became more mobile.
In your period over there, obviously - what rank did you hold when you were in France in the war area? Did you rank?
Well, I was a flying officer to start with or Lieutenants we were then, and then I became a flight commander which was a Captain's job. And then when I went back for my third tour, I was still a Captain but I was the senior flight commander. And eventually the CO was invalided out owing to an accident which crippled him temporarily and I took over the command of the squadron.
I see. And that was command of - what squadron was that?
And then took command of it and brought them home.
I see. And then you came home to Australia with them then?
And when you got back to Australia, what were your impressions regarding the state of the country? Did you notice any great differences in the - from when you left? How long were you away? Were you away ?
To tell you the truth, I didn't have very much time to form impressions of that sort because a telegram to report to the chief of the general staff dragged me into a busy period getting ready for the Darwin flight. So that
Oh, yes. Yes. So you were smartly out of the war and into the operations around Australia. Would you like to begin how you came to be given this flight to Darwin?
Well, the - as you know the Commonwealth Government had offered a prize to the first aircraft manned by Australian crew to complete a journey from Britain to Australia within 30 days. And they - the chief of the general staff who was the officer who controlled aviation matters here in Australia at that time, he wanted an organised route down from Darwin, south, with decent, feasible landing grounds and supplies for any of these aircraft that arrived in Darwin. And he'd sent a small party out to select some landing grounds: Fysh [Hudson Fysh] and McGinness [Paul "Ginty" McGinness] up in the north and - I've forgotten who it was down in the south. But these were comparatively junior officers and he wanted somebody, as he put it plainly - he said, "I wanted somebody more experienced to make sure that the grounds selected were suitable. And so we want somebody to fly up to Darwin, inspect these grounds on the way up and if any of them are not considered suitable, to select alternative ones. And the only aircraft that we can use is a BE2E and according to the records, youre the most experienced pilot in Australia on that type of aircraft". So he said, "I've come to the conclusion that you're the man for the job if you're willing to take it on".
And I said, "Oh, I most certainly am willing to take it on and I very much appreciate the honour of being asked to do it". And that's how I came into the Melbourne - Darwin thing.
And then obviously there was a lot of preparation and - you know, you took off from where? Point Cook or ?
Point Cook. Yeah. There must have been a lot of preparation prior to your flight?
Well, there was a certain amount we had to
You must have had ground staff and you must had to ?
Well, I had to get a mechanic to go with me and the chap that I asked to come with me had just bought a motor repair business and invested all his savings in it. And he said, "I'd love to go but", he said, "after having put all my money into this show", he said, "I'm afraid it's ruled me out".
So I said, "Well, alright", I quite understood his point of view. I think left it to the then CO at Point Cook to pick a
And who was that at the time? Do you remember?
Chap named Sheldon.
Asked him to pick out a suitable man, well qualified particularly in engine work but also well qualified in the air frame side as well. And he picked out Murphy [Sergeant Arthur Murphy, DFC]. And Murphy and I had been to school together and we knew each other very wellA
A good combination.
and furthermore, Murphy had been a pilot in No.1 Squadron. And he'd reverted to his peace time rank of sergeant when he came back to Point Cook. So I very willingly said I would take him if he was willing to come. So I got hold of Murphy and explained the position and asked him whether he would like the job and he, in his dry old way, said, "Well, what do you expect me to say?".
Yes. He was a man that built quite a name for himself in the engineering side in the RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force].
That's right. So we were - I found he was a very good companion on that trip. He knew his job and, as I say, he was also, having been a pilot, he knew something of that side of the business and I could confidently hand over the control of the aircraft to him while I did some mapping etcetera to improve on the outrageous maps that were available.
I suppose they were little or more or less there were nil maps in those days of much of that area?
Well, the only map we had of the Northern Territory and Western Queensland was what you'd expect to find in the school atlas. And they were very primitive indeed.
And then what date did you set off from Point Cook?
Oh, what was it? Now you're asking me something I don't remember.
Well, we can get that from the records.
It was - let me see, be the end of November. End of November and we got up to Darwin about 12 December if I remember rightly. I can check that up but it's
Now, your flight, when you left Point Cook, how did the flight go in the beginning? Did you have any traumas first off?
Well, we had two forced landings between Point Cook and the railway line at Laverton.
Engine failure. And both from the same cause. The engines were fitted with alloyed pistons which some of us had never been very happy about. And we came down in a crop of wheat about half way between Point Cook and the railway line, in a crop of wheat and fortunately the farmer wasn't worried about any damage to his crop. But I got the aircraft, towed it back to Point Cook, dismantled the engine, found a nice big hole in the top of one of the pistons. And we went to the store and got a replacement engine, put it in, tested it out, seemed to be alright and we set off again. And we didn't get very much further the second time. The same reason. So we were in a bit of a quandary then as to what we could do. So Murphy and I went down to the stores, the store on the station, searched round and we found the a set of cast iron pistons. And we both said almost at once, "Right, that'll do us". So we fitted the cast iron pistons and they served us very well.
We had some repair work to do at Longreach but on the whole we had no serious troubles with the engine.
Were there any funny or hilarious instances on the trip from Point Cook to Darwin or was it all deadly serious because of the fact that being the first one and of course the previous time your engine ?
Well, it was a serious sort of effort. Sort of funny things happened.
We'd planned to arrive in Darwin two days ahead of what we actually did. That was in our planning. And we would have achieved that object but for two reasons. On the first day we went to Longreach and then we intended to do another stage on - not Longreach, Cootamundra - and then we decided to do another stage on from Cootamundra. But it was a Sunday when we went from Point Cook to Coota and there were no supplies at the landing ground so we had to hunt round for the Defence petrol contractor. Couldn't find him so we were hung up there till the following morning. When we eventually found him and torn a strip off him, he said, "Oh, we don't work on Sundays". And I said, "Well, your contract requires you to have supplies here at any time". "Oh", he said, "we don't work on Sundays". So we lost a day there which was unfortunate.
And then of course the final blow came at Katherine which - the landing ground there was being prepared by the Commonwealth Works people who'd been given the dimensions required: so many yards by so many yards and so clear of all obstacles. And they didn't consider 50 foot trees right up to the boundary on all sides as being obstacles. And I arrived over there and I thought, hell, how the hell are we going to get down in the spot. And I circled around and they'd put out a landing T and they'd put it down back to front. And of course when we came in that direction like bats out of hell and obviously it was wrong. Then fortunately somebody on the ground, whether intentionally or by accident, got a bit of smoke going and they had the T round the wrong way and on it's indication we were coming in down-wind. However, I went round and had a good look at the ground then and then the Gosport forced landing procedure came into good use, and I came in over the trees, slipped down, side slipped right down practically onto the ground and almost hard up against the trees, ruddered round and came in. And it just enabled us to get down. We finished up with the engine and the propeller over the fence.
And then of course the problem is how the hell are we going to get out of this place. So the Works department and the local inhabitants were very good. And they sent to work straight away and worked all through the night and that, cutting a lane down through the trees in the direction of the prevailing wind and we had about
[end of tape]
This is reel two of the Wrigley interview.
The Commonwealth Works Department and local inhabitants got to work rapidly. Cut a lane through the trees in the direction of the prevailing winds and the clearance in this path allowed us about six feet from either wing tip, clear. And we took off down this lane and set course once more for Darwin. And arrived there in due course two days later than we expected and a day after Ross and Keith Smith had landed there from Britain. And we passed on a lot of useful information concerning the route and then we had to consider our future movements.
Our original intention had been to return south via the overland telegraph route, down south and then across to Melbourne. But there was a political uproar in parliament following our arrival in Darwin and the government were severely criticised for allowing two airmen to proceed to Darwin in an obsolete aircraft. Obviously the people raising the point did not appreciate the difference between obsolescence and unairworthiness. And the next thing we received a telegram from Melbourne: under no circumstances were we to attempt to fly back south. Result was we had to dismantle the aircraft and get it back south by sea.
We received a tremendous lot of help with this dismantling job. The air field at the time at Fannie Bay was right alongside Darwin jail and the governor of the jail said that he was only too willing to give us any assistance he could with the job in hand and he had some fellows, some prisoners there who were more than handymen. They were super handymen. He'd found them very reliable in any jobs he'd given them and he'd be only too pleased to make some of them available under an overseer to help us on with the job. And we accepted his offer very gratefully and we had 12 life prisoners from Darwin jail to help us. He told us that of the 12, eight of them were in for murder. So it gives you some idea of the people we had. But they were hard working, they were intelligent, they asked questions as they were working about this, that and the other thing connected with the aircraft and did a very good job of work.
So you had no trouble with them at all?
We had no trouble whatsoever.
So in this flight, was there much interest by the people at the various places you landed? Obviously there wasn't a great population there at that stage but
Oh, yes, everywhere we went there was a crowd turned up when we landed. In - where was it? Longreach. Longreach they had the town bellman out with his bell and saying an hour before we arrived, we got advice of estimated time of arrival, and he went round exhorting the population to turn up at the landing ground.
Bit like the olden hear ye, hear ye sort of thing, I suppose?
Bit like the old English, hear ye, hear ye?
Yes, very much so. Course one of the troubles was on that trip was people did turn out to sort of see in the aircraft because in the majority of cases they'd never seen an aeroplane before. And they were a bit of a nightmare in some respects because they, you know, rushed up in front of where you were landing and several times we had to hurriedly take off again and come in at the furthest point from the spectators because you'd appreciate how easy it would have been to collected one of them if
Were you exulted as heroes by these people or did they just consider you ordinary ?
I don't know so much of the hero side of it but they were interested in the fact that flying was really, as far as they were concerned, something new. Something they'd never had any experience of before. And they asked a lot of very interesting questions and that and were obviously interested and they wanted to know some particulars about performance of the aircraft and the engine and the like. It obviously - a lot of them had read quite a bit about flying and that but they didn't know very much in the way of technical details and that sort of thing.
NEWCASTLE WATERS, 1919. IN THE FIRST TRANSCONTINENTAL FLIGHT ACROSS AUSTRALIA, CAPT H N WRIGLEY AND SGT A W MURPHY, FLYING A B.E.2E AIRCRAFT (NO. B6183),
LEFT POINT COOK, VIC ON 16 NOVEMBER 1919 AND ARRIVED IN DARWIN, NT, 12 DECEMBER 1919. COVERING 2,500 MILES IN 46 FLYING HOURS,
THEY SURVEYED T HE ROUTE FOR COMPETITORS OF THE FIRST ENGLAND TO AUSTRALIA AIR RACE.
SHOWN: A LINE-UP OF ABORIGINES AT NEWCASTLE WATERS. IT IS THE FIRST AIRCRAFT THEY HAVE SEEN. [AWM A04689, DONATED BY FRED MORTON.]
Now with you flying up to Darwin and then you came back by ship, what was the difference in the time flying up as coming back by ship?
Oh, I hadn't thought of that. When we had to get - see the only shipping that went into Darwin was Burns Philp's and we managed to get deck space on the [SS] Mataram I think it was. But she only went as far as Sydney and in Sydney we had to transfer to another ship and the only ship we could get quickly was a Japanese one, Tango Maru. And I was in the office of the manager of that line in Sydney and he had the captain of the Tango Maru with him and it was perfectly obvious in the short time I was there that the captain in that vessel was collecting information of, not just commercial information but information on
That could be used for military purposes?
That would be of use for military purposes.
Even as far back as that, hey.
Yeah. Yes. Amazing.
You were awarded the AFC, Australian Flying Cross for that particular trip. What was the outcome of that trip by the government after when it was - was it laid as an air route then ?
Oh, yes. It was the official air route from south to north for some considerable time and it was used by Fysh and Qantas up in Western Queensland, that part of it, was used through their original services.
And it was only when aircraft of longer endurance came into the picture that they were able to short cut a lot of the distances.
Two or three years ago you went back - or you went, you followed your journey back with a RAAF Hercules
No. We didn't follow the route back. We were in one of their navigation trainer aircraft, the
Oh, I see. Orion, was it?
No. What is it? N7 or something?
Oh, the A2748, was it?
Yeah. And owing to its endurance, we couldn't go non-stop and then we went up via Alice Springs for a portion of the route and then we connected up with the Darwin end of the route then.
A little difference from when you began that, from the initial or the inaugural trip to the one you did that day.
Well, we - I found a lot of difference up there. The original landing strip at Fannie Bay of course was right more or less on the foreshore.
Open space, no obstacles sort of around it. And when we were up on that trip, of course its right within suburban area. Houses and that. And Darwin itself, from being at best a small country town type of place had become a thriving metropolis. Notwithstanding the fact that Tracy [Cyclone Tracy: Darwin, Christmas Eve 1974] had levelled a great deal of it.
That's right. That's right.
After you returned from your Darwin flight, you had an appointment or you were appointed from the AFC, the Australian Flying Corps, to the Australian Air Corps and then on to the RAAF for its formation.
Would you like to give me some idea or would you like to talk about that and those transitions?
Yes. Well of course the Australian Air Corps was an interim corps formed to maintain service aviation until the government made a final decision on the future of air defence in Australia. There was a committee that was formed to investigate and report on it. The members were - General Blamey was the chairman, Admiral Nun, I think, was the naval representative and Lieutenant Colonel Williams, as he was then, was the air bloke. And they prepared a really pretty thorough report as a matter of fact, quite comprehensive. Went into quite a reasoned scheme. And that, if I remember rightly, was signed in was it February 1920 or no, be later - either '20 or '21. I'm not sure which now. The government accepted the report but explained that the provision of a force as recommended in the report was beyond the financial resources of the Commonwealth. But they did, if I remember rightly, agree to making a start on the programs for the first two years.
But the funds available were not very great. And they certainly wouldn't have been able to do anything at all with it, had it not been for the so called gift equipment from the British government which was the equipment equivalent to the units, the ASC [army service corps] units that Australian maintained during the '14 - '18 war. So that was the sort of - the start there and most of that time was spent on just checking over what we really had. And also taking delivery of this gift equipment.
I was the chap who was given the responsibility for handling all this equipment. I had to get it cleared through customs and get it away from Victoria dock, down to Point Cook and some old woolsheds at Spotswood and later an old warehouse in Fitzroy. And when I was given that job, I asked Air Marshal Williams how I was going to move all this stuff because there were a lot of crated aircraft which were about 35 feet long. And he said, "Oh, well in the first consignment there are a number of Leyland lorries and two wheeled trailers. You'll have to use those". All right. I sent to work. I was given one offsider and that was Lucas. And we went down to the docks there
If I can butt in here. He later became Air Commodore Lucas?
The Leyland vehicles were unloaded first but they'd suffered on the way out through pilfering. They were all - all the magnetos were gone, all the carburettors were gone and anything else that was saleable had been removed. And we had one heavy vehicle at Point Cook which I immediately commandeered and we got in touch with a Leyland agent in Melbourne. They could supply us with some of the parts we wanted but they had to get the rest down from Sydney. So we set to work with that and managed to clear everything from the docks without having to pay any demurrage on any of it. And moving these big crates with aircraft in them on these two wheeled trailers was not a funny business at all because if you turned a bit too quickly or on too small a radius, the darn thing just slid off. It tippled over. But we managed to get them all away but we found that that the pilfering had been pretty severe and
Was this with the aircraft as well as the ?
Oh, no. The aircraft
The aircraft were all right. Right.
because they were crated and a bit harder to get at. But the vehicles of course were not crated and a lot of the stores were just in the normal shipping crates and reasonably deal with and a lot of stuff went. There was one - we had one case of watches came out and it was a really a superior job. Each watch was in a small cardboard container and when we opened up the crates later one, we found in each of these cardboard containers, there was the package that the watch had been in, you could still see the outline of a watch in it and it was brought up to the correct weight with sand.
And the whole crate was like that. So it was
They knew their job.
Somebody knew their job and I think the only place that could have happened was at the depot in Britain and you never knew who was in those depots in those days. But there was a lot of pilfering. But we got that away and the - I found myself the CO of No.1 Aircraft Depot for a time when it was at Point Cook. And I had
Well, that was the virtual beginning then of the RAAF.
It as before that really, you see.
Yeah, before that.
It was in the Air Corps days. But we put all the aircraft we could that Point Cook could use, we put at Point Cook. And the spares and the like that they could use. And the rest went to Spotswood and North Fitzroy. AndA
And then of course came the formation of the RAAF and you were transferred across I take it?
And what rank were you at that stage?
Flight Lieutenant. And then where were you? At Laverton or Point Cook?
I was at Point Cook to start with but not for very long. I was whisked out of there - or really before the RAAF was concerned, I was whisked out of there up to headquarters and I found myself staff officer to Lieutenant Colonel Williams as he was then. And seemed to be stuck to him then for the greater part of my career in one way or another. And in fact, I suppose with the formation of the RAAF, next to Williams, I suppose I had more to do with the formation development of the RAAF than anybody else because I became director of organisation staff duties. And was at the beck and call of my master and did a lot of the devilling for him.
In that period, you obviously had time to do a night flight to Richmond from Point Cook. What were the reasons for ?
No, the other way round.
It was the other way round?
From Richmond to Point Cook.
From Richmond to Point Cook. What was the story behind that?
Well, it was really to get some idea of night flying conditions between Sydney and Melbourne.
Was this the first time it had ever been done? Night flying ?
Yes. And we - the job was given to myself and Hepburn and we tossed up as to who would be the pilot and Hepburn won. So I was the navigator and made all the notes and that that were required on the way down. We had a very hostile go at the press at Richmond. They stood in front of the aircraft just as we were - or just - when I say in front of it, almost in front of it, just clear of it - with powerful flash lights. And as we started to get to the stage where we were just about to take off the ground, these damn press lights came on. And they were blinding.
And of course we didnt' get off and we turned round and as the saying goes, we tore a strip off the press. Press photographers. Not that I think what we said had any effect on them. But anyhow we vented our feelings and we set off and everything went very well until we got south of the Murray. And down about Eurora and thereabouts, the engine just faded out. And we [inaudible] and we landed with the aid of Holt flares under the wings. I knew that part of the country fairly well because when I'd been teaching up near Seymour, I had a number of friends in schools up a bit further and at the weekends we used to visit each other and cycle to each other and that. And I knew that round about that particular area or just south of where we were - ah, no, yes - that there were some reasonably open country. And I said to Hepburn, "Turn back a bit and you'll have a better country for a forced landing than you've got just in this particular spot". And we had the height to be able to do it and we came down in a field near Violet Town. Then we tossed up again as to who would go to the local post office and rouse them out of bed at two o'clock in the morning to notify Point Cook where we were. And the loser had to go and Hepburn lost.
It would be a very hairy sort of a - I would say episode when you're flying at night time with little or no navigational aids, nothing like we have today of course with modern aircraft.
No, no. We weren't worried about the navigational side of the business. After all, we had on the Sydney end all the towns and villages along the route were still lighted up. And it wasn't until we got down probably round about Cootamundra that we were in the black out. But there were no problems from the navigation pilotage point of view. But we got down and when we examined the aircraft in the morning, we found no petrol. And yet we filled up, right up to the brim at Richmond and that should have taken us to Point Cook and got us there with a reasonable reserve left. And we never found out any reason for that.
No. Not a head wind or anything like that?
No. No. No, we were making very good time as a matter of fact.
Mmm. And what was the actual result of the night flight from a - was it a feasible study for ?
Well, we established the fact that the route between Sydney and Melbourne was quite a feasible route for night flying. And when use could be made of some of the aids that were coming into use at that time, it would be quite a comparatively simple matter.
So this was another first from your point of view?
Original Newspaper Caption: "Squadron Leader Wrigley (left) and Squadron Leader Hepburn (right) immediately
before they entered their aeroplane. The airmen were forced to alight 103 miles from Melbourne, their destination,
owing to a leakage in the petrol pipe."
What with the Darwin trip and this one?
And what followed after that?
I don't know. I don't think there is anything.
In 1927 you went to UK to the AIF staff college and met a number of service members you encountered of whose influence you used in the future. Would you like to give me some idea of that?
Well the - when the staff college first, was first established, students were selected just on their paper records. But later on - and it caught me too - we had to do a qualifying examination which was no, not just a cover up sort of thing. It was a pretty solid examination. And then you were not considered eligible unless you'd passed the examination although Air Marshal Williams later on broke the rule and sent someone who hadn't done the qualifying exam but that was only by the way.
The college was then at Andover in Hampshire. I found that it was a very useful course. First of all, I became friendly with the fellows on the directing staff who were pretty senior blokes. The commandant was Ludlow-Hewitt who later became the inspector general. The second in command was Christopher Courtney who later became the member of the Air Council for Supply and Organisation. Douglas Evill who became the deputy chief of air staff. And Tedder [Arthur Tedder] who afterwards, you know, became Deputy Supreme Commander to Eisenhower [Dwight D. Eisenhower].
And I found the course there, I became friendly with those chaps. They were reasonably minded sort of fellows. No idea of pushing rank or anything like that. They were the directing staff but the college was what you might term a family. Sort of parents and offspring sort of thing. And you expressed your views pretty freely and they were taken note of.
I had one rather interesting experience there. We were given an exercise to do, written operational problem, and the idea of the exercise was the elimination of an industrial complex which was producing vital items of equipment. And the map accompanying the exercise bore a very strong resemblance to the Ruhr Valley. And I looked at this problem. And there was a great big dam upstream from this complex.
And my solution to the problem was that we damn well bomb the dam.
Let the flood waters down and they'd do more damage than a direct hit would do. And funny thing, on the course was an Australian in the RAF who put in a similar solution and we were highly ridiculed by some of the directing staff and mercilessly criticised by some of our fellow students. Ridiculous idea so and so. But it's rather interesting that in the very beginning of 1939, the Air Ministry were examining the problem of bombing the Mohne and Eder Dams. So I came to the conclusion that our so-called stupidity apparently was bearing fruit.
And of course the dams were eventually bombed.
But it was a very interesting course. I think if I remember rightly there were about 25 students on the course of whom nine attained Air rank which is pretty good going.
Pretty good number. After your course, you were given an appointment in the UK. This is after the staff college. How involved was this - and I believe with this also you had purchase of aircraft and you had something to do with the Schneider Trophy and the R101 [aircraft]?
Oh, well that - we became interested in the Schneider Trophy whilst we were at the staff college because that was the critical time in the trophy's history and it was a question whether Britain would have a chance of gaining the trophy in perpetuity. And we were provided with a box seat at Calshot to watch this performance and we saw the British teams successfully win that particular series. And then at - if I remember rightly, Britain and Italy were then two all no, no, Italy were one behind, I think. Britain was two, Italy was one. Then if Italy had won the next year, they'd have been two all. And then Italy didn't challenge so in order to get three consecutive victories, Britain had to fly the course. And they just flew the course as a nominal gesture but increased the speed record on each occasion. It created a tremendous lot of interest in Britain. Down in Isle of Wight and Calshot the general public that turned up there to watch those contests was absolutely magnificent.
Mmm. Yes, I remember as a youngster we had a lot of publicity here of the Schneider Trophy and how it was challenged and the course and the rest of it which was very very interesting.
And a very good course too. There is no doubt that the development of the Schneider Trophy aircraft had a very great development on the development of the Spitfire, for instance.
Well, it had more or less the sleek lines, didnt it, apart from the floats and the rest of it.
Schneider Trophy Race, 1931 [Painting by Ivan Berryman]
Now, what about the aircraft purchase that you were involved in?
Aircraft purchase? You were involved in an aircraft purchase
Oh, yes. That was when, ah, when we were getting Wapitis, Bulldogs and Jupiter engines. And I had the job of, in doing all the work at the other end, procurement and that. There were no particular worries about it except I had some difficulties with the sales manager at Bristols over Jupiter engines. As I think you probably know, Air Ministry contracts were on a lessening scale of costs the more you purchased. You paid the first so many with a higher cost than so many further down the bill. And when we were getting the Bulldogs and the Jupiter engines, the sales manager at Bristols wanted to charge us at the initial rate, the top of the table. And I said, "Oh, nothing doing", I said, "this is an Air Ministry contract and they come down there and although we're paying for them they're still part of an Air Ministry contract and we don't pay any more than that". And he dug his feet in and wouldn't budge. So I eventually made an appointment with the chairman of directors of Bristols and went down and saw him and explained what was happening.
And he said, "Oh, I'll get Lennox in," that was the sales manager. He got him in etcetera. "Here, what's this about the price you're charging Australia for these Bulldogs and Jupiter engines?" And Lennox put his case and the chairman said, "Well now, Australia said that they're only paying for there when they come out of the Air Ministry contract". And he said, "I don't see why we should charge Australia more than we would be charging the Air Ministry if they were taking that lot of aircraft. No, decidedly, you charge Australia what the Air Ministry would be paying if the aircraft were going to them". So we saved some thousands and thousands of pounds on the contract. And still maintained friendship with the firm.
With the firm. Well, that's
Didn't care a damn about the sales manager.
The - of course the Wapitis came out here as a training aircraft and the Bulldogs, they were a fighter at the time
No. The Wapitis were a general purpose aircraft actually and the Bulldogs were fighters.
Hmm. And how did you get tied up with the R101?
Well, like everybody interested in things that were going on in the aviation line, we'd been watching these two airships, the 100 and the 101. And of course 101 had some refined engineering features. Not that I think those had anything to do with its eventual destruction but we watched this with interest. And I had an invitation in the beginning to go down to Cardington to see them bring the R101 out of the shed. And it was no mean effort. She only had about that much clearance
Mmm. She had a foot either side.
on all [inaudible] and thing. And I got up at - early, very early in the morning and drove down to Cardington, got there at just about day break and just as they were ready to start. And it was really a work of art to see them manoeuvre that thing out of the shed
It was a massive girth [inaudible] air ship, wasn't it?
Oh, yes, yes. And get it out and fixed to the mooring mast. And I saw that. And then later on, they got in touch with me and said, look, would you like to come on the trial flight of 101. And I said, "Yes, I most certainly would". So it was arranged that I'd do one of the trial flights on her. And they looked after us remarkably well. And from a comfort point of view, you had all the facilities that were available on a normal sea going liner at that time. Cabins didn't have beds, they were bunks, but they were spacious, plenty of room and the catering was excellent and on the whole I had a very enjoyable trip on it and got an insight into what the designers were aiming at with the vessel. And it's rather unfortunate that it came to such an untimely end.
Came to grief. Yes, well, that's
There again, explosive gases instead of a non-explosive gas. And of course America, I think, had a priority on the non-explosive gas.
[end of tape]
This is reel three of the interview with Air Vice Marshal Wrigley. So you made mention about returning to Australia after your staff college course, your appointment on return at the Air Force War Book. Would you like to give me some information on those three items in their turn? First of all your return to Australia? You came back to the RAAF and then what was your appointment after that?
Director of organisation and staff duties was the appointment that I went back to on my return to Australia. And I suppose one of the most important jobs about that time was the compilation of the RAAF war book. This was a volume which was intended to lay down the actions to be taken by the various branches, headquarters and units, in any case of emergency. And the commencement of the job was undertaken by a Squadron Leader Drummond who was an Australian in the RAF who was on loan to Australia at the time. And he and I commenced work on the compilation of that book. It was not completed by any means before Drummond returned to the RAF and the completion of it fell to me as the director of organisation and staff duties. And the book was duly completed and produced and circulated for comment. Any comments that were made by various branches or units were taken into consideration and some minor adjustments, minor amendments were made to portions of the book. Then it was produced in its finalised state and thence available to all concerned to use if the necessity arose.
This would be something like the Air Force bible, I suppose you'd call it?
Yes, in a way. And it apparently stood the test of years up to the outbreak of the Second World War. I revised it in the early months of 1939 and when the emergency arose which led to the outbreak of the '39 - '45 war, we found that what we'd laid down in the War Book was fairly sound. And I'm sure that various branches at headquarters and minions found it was a very good guide when they were faced with problems of what should be done and when it should be done.
And later on you - I noticed in your notes here, you've got yourself down as a RAAF trouble shooter. What role did that take?
Well, that came about in an extraordinary way. Air Marshal Williams very frequently would sound his buzzer and call me into his office and say, "Look here, I'm not satisfied with so and so at so and so. Go and see what's going on there and whatever the trouble is, whatever's wrong, get it straightened out and when you've got it done, tell me what you've done". And that, in some respects, was not an easy job because we were a small force and we knew each other personally and, I think, on the whole were very good friends throughout the service. And when the occasion arose and you had to, as the saying goes, put somebody on the mat, you wondered how it would perhaps work out. But I found that the problems that arose were, on the whole, problems that were easily solved by a bit of understanding on the part of the transgressors, as you might term them. And they took the criticisms etcetera in good spirit and most problems were solved fairly easily. Occasionally you came across a difficult one which you had to refer back to the chief for his final decision. But on the whole, it was possible to clear most of the matters that arose without any very great difficulty.
Was it through that troubleshooting period that you were sought after as the chief of staff to the CAS [Chief of Air Staff]?
Oh, no, not really. That was a sort of a means of relieving the pressure on the chief in a number of matters without having to make another appointment when you were hard pressed for experienced people.
Did you have any great differences with Air Marshal Williams when you were chief of his staff?
Ah, no, not really. As always, as you will find that there are differences of opinion between a commander or a chief and his chief of staff. And that's almost inevitable. Differences of opinion. And I had some differences of opinion with him and on the whole they were reasonably solved. The one that gave me what you might call a a pleasurable feeling, put it that way, was on the occasion when he told me that, oh, I think I'll send you out to a command. And I said, "Thank you very much, sir, when do I go?" And he looked at me with a bit of a surprise, he said, "Do you really want to get out of a staff appointment to a command?" I said, "Well, I've been trying to get a command again ever since the end of the 1914 - '18 war". And his retort was, oh, go on, get away with you. However, within about a fortnight he called me into his office and said, "I'm having you posted to Laverton to command". He said, "I'm not satisfied with the morale on that station and I'm sending you down there in command and I expect you to clean the place up a bit". So that was the sort of background in which I became station commander at Laverton.
And obviously you cleaned it up and to his satisfaction.
Well, we cleaned up. We cleaned up a lot of things there. Without any sort of nasty criticism on previous commanding officers, there were a number of things there that hadn't gone as well as they should have gone. Although we tried on numerous occasions to get action taken, it didn't occur. And apart from the sort of purely service aspect of things on the station, some of which did want straightening up a bit, but we had down on the north eastern corner of the station, a pile of builders rubble that had accumulated ever since the station was first established.
And I tried for a number of years to get somebody to take action and clean it up because it was the first part of the air force station at Laverton that travellers along the Geelong road, saw. That was in the days before the road was moved from the north of the air field to the south of it.
Like the window into the shop type of problem.
Yes. And nobody took any action. Well, one of the things I'd been on it for years to try and get something done so I felt that was one thing I had to clean up when I went to Laverton. The main problem was by what means would we do it. And the training program laid down an hour's physical training per day. And you know what the old physical training scheme was: arm stretch, legs full bend type of thing which I myself was quite against although I'd qualified as a physical training instructor in the Defence Department. In those days I didn't altogether tolerate a hundred percent of a scheme of arms stretch and legs bend. And I knew that technical men had a very adverse feeling towards that type of training. So we decided that - well, I had to make the decision - I decided that instead of doing the old type physical training, they would go down to the north east corner of the aerodrome and start to clean up all this builders rubble and stuff. And of course for the first couple of days the station commander was not very popular and quite nasty opinions were expressed about him wanting this job done. However, once the fellows knew what the object was and, as I say, not be very partial to the old type physical training, they became interested and the ones on the station after stand-down, they used to go down of their own accord and voluntarily put in an hour or two's work in the evening. And we eventually cleaned up the rubble and we extended that. There was a little water course went through that corner and we planned a dam across the stream and eventually had a very nice little lake there on the water course which we levelled out and put in a bit of grass and that.
And it became a very nice spot in the final effort. Even though it was christened Wrigley's folly.
That same pond or lake as you call it, stands there today and of course the golf course takes in part of it as well.
That is so, yes.
It's a very nice area down there now.
Well the gold course was an after thought but we cleaned up all along that water course and really made it a pleasant little corner of the station. And of course the station's extended beyond that now and the gold course came in and
I notice that you had yourself down as a member of the naval exercise.
Was this naval exercise prior to the coronation of George VI or was it separate?
No, it was - every year the navy used to come down from Jarvis Bay to Melbourne, usually about [Melbourne] Cup time. And they - we tried to work in a little exercise with them each year. But it became rather stereotyped and had no particular training value, in my opinion. So I decided the first year we'd make it a bit more realistic. And as in warfare, you learn as much as you can about your opponents methods and his course of action under certain conditions and that, and if possible, apply the principle of surprise. And I thought it was time for us to do the same thing. And on thinking back, we found that the routine of the navy was almost identical every year. They used to come down and they used to anchor around Western Port and then come up in a leisurely fashion in the morning. So we thought, right, they've been doing this for years, they'll do it again. So we'll apply the principle of surprise. So the exercise was that we would reconnoitre the navy's movements and attack them from the air. Well, we decided instead of this being a daylight affair, we were going to catch them just as day broke, when they'd be just sort of turning out of their bunks, getting ready for breakfast and certainly not thinking of moving. And we went down and we caught them just at first light and came down with a mock attack on them. And by the time we'd got back and landed at Laverton, a signal came in from the navy, very generous on their part in on respect. The signal said that: Navy attacked by air force. All vessels bombed and damaged, some sunk.
So the exercise from the air force's point of view was a success?
Was a success. And I think it - I don't know - but I think the navy woke up to the fact that in these sort of things, if you're having an exercise, you must make it a bit more realistic.
Was that continued on after that? Was that the one and only exercise you had with the navy or was that then a yearly operation?
That's the only one that we had whilst I was there. After that, as a matter of fact, things were starting to hot up a bit internationally and the thought of a, what you might call, a routine exercise of that sort was sort of washed out. And something of more realistic value substituted for it.
What about your part in the coronation of King George VI?
Oh, well that, we - there was an all services review at Royal Park. The organisation, the administrative organisation of it was in the hands of the army but all three services partook. And in the air force, the whole of the air force was, took part in it except for sort of a small duty party at Laverton, Point Cook and Richmond. And we had a full dress rehearsal at Laverton on the Sunday and before, if I remember rightly, the actual review was on the Tuesday.
Anyhow, we had the rehearsal on the Sunday. Went off very successfully. Air Marshal Williams came down to see the rehearsal but arrived just as we were marching off after rehearsal and he wanted it all done again. But I had told all the troops that if the rehearsal was successful they'd be dismissed in time to catch the midday train to Melbourne. And that was something that the interstate fellows valued very much, being able to do that, because they could visit friends which otherwise they wouldn't have had an opportunity to do.
How many men would be on that particular parade?
We had the equivalent of three wings.
And all told, with the navy and army, have you any idea of the number that was ?
Oh, I can't remember what the total number was but it was a pretty fair force. Of course the army had the majority but we had, as I say, three wings. The army was in administrative control. Tom Blamey commanded the whole review and the - oh, we had one criticism of the army's arrangements. The executive - obviously, out on either flank, couldn't hear Tom Blamey's voice so they had to have some other means of giving the executive command. And that was to be a mounted troop with a lance. And on the cautionary, he'd raise the lance above his head and on the actual command, he'd bring it down. And the commanders of the three services were supposed to take their cue from that. But what the army failed to realise was that from the position of the air force at any rate, and I think it applied partly to the army, the troop with his lance was completely screened from observation by the air force and part of the army by a block of toilets. But by keeping a sharp eye on the fellows that could see him, we were able to sort of coordinate our movements with theirs and from that point of view, everything went off very satisfactorily.
From memory, I think the chiefs of staff of the day rode horses on that particular didn't they? The three chiefs?
That's right, yeah. Yes.
And Tom Blamey's chief of staff on that was Colonel Blake who at one time had been the commanding officer of No.3 Squadron AFC. But the only misfortune in the whole show was that the general public broke the barriers and encroached on the ground which was to be occupied by the air force for the advance in review order. And I had to go in with one wing back to front and - owing to the confined space left for us.
And I was a bit worried whether they would remember they were back to front. However, they did and everything when off very smoothly.
And Air Marshal Williams came along after the review to congratulate the troops, he wanted to do it personally, but unfortunately we were all - we'd been dismissed to local parades so that there was only one wing left in it's original position. The other two were in their own sort of private ground. However, he took his sort of misfortune at not being able to address the fellows, very well and he issued an order to myself to have issued in units orders, his appreciation of the forces efforts.
From Laverton you were posted back to Air Force headquarters. You had a special appointment there.
Yes, I had a very
This was in 1939, I think it was.
important sounding designation. There was no official post in the establishment for me so they brought me in as the advisor on war organisation. The main point being that the war book had been put into effect and as I had been responsible to a very great extent for the compilation of it, it was considered that I was the most appropriate person to supervise its
Also in November '39 you had an appointment overseeing a Group. That was at Southern Area, I think, wasn't it?
Yes. It was originally No.1 Group and then its name changed to Southern Area. And that comprised all air force units in Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and the Riverina. And we had to start off from scratch. I was given a vacant $griller in St Kilda Road as our headquarters. It was furnished with a trestle table and a hard wooden form and one telephone. And my staff was one officer for the start. And we had to take over the control of all units in that area in, at midnight on a certain night and we had to build up a staff of course to
'Cause that grew into a very big area, didn't it...?
...eventually Albert Park later on.
Yes. Well, we managed very well because we had excellent cooperation from all the units and all the personnel that we were concerned with. And then of course the expansion was taking place and we had to establish new units and new air fields and so on. And it was quite a, quite a big job actually but we decided it was no sense in trying to sort of be too speeding with things and we decided that we'd set down an order of sequence for the various jobs that had to be done and the various new units that had to be formed and so on. And we solicited the co-operation of AMP's branch [Air Member for Personnel] with regard to personnel and everything went remarkably smoothly.
Apparently there was some lack of confidence by the government in the RAAF senior officers. Did that turn out to be a very difficult task to overcome? Did they eventually - or what was the reason for the government not having sufficient confidence in the RAAF people?
Well, it was something that was a bit difficult to understand because as you probably realise, Australians generally wanted Australians in key jobs in Australia. For instance, that went even to important appointments. When McKell [Sir William McKell] was premier of New South Wales he fought a very strong battle with the British authorities for an Australian as governor of New South Wales.
And the general attitude in Australia was Australians were as good an anybody else and in the war '14 - '18, Australians proved they were damn good troops and there officers were looked upon as being of high quality. And then in the beginning of the '39 - '45 war, it was a - the government showed a complete lack of confidence in our people; notwithstanding all our senior officers in all three services underwent exactly the same courses of training as the British officers. And taking the case of the staff colleges, for instance. Our officers underwent the same training as British officers. When we sent Australian away on various courses of instruction in Great Britain, they invariably returned to Australia with very good reports on their abilities and the same with officers that went to the RAF on loan. Came back with excellent reports. And so there was really little difference between the training of British and the training of Australian officers. So why shouldn't the government recognise that the Australian officers were as good as the others.
What we were speaking about, did that have any connection with you going to London for the chiefs of staff meeting? You had a chiefs of staff meeting in London. Was that because of the ?
Oh, well that showed the views of the senior British officers on the abilities of Australians. I was invited to attend chiefs of staffs meetings and I went along to the first meeting wondering just how I'd be received by the chiefs of staff. And I went into the first meeting. I was an air vice marshal, the three chiefs of staff, one an admiral of the fleet, one a field marshal, the other a marshal of the Royal Air Force. And I was a very junior fry compared with them. And the first time I was there I listened very carefully and a point came up which concerned Australia to some extent. And after hearing some of the discussion, I said to the chairman of the chiefs - and at that time it was Field Marshal Alan Brooke - I said, "Excuse me, sir, do you mind if I pass a comment at this stage?" And he said, "Oh, no, no". He said, "We invite you to these meetings so that you can express opinions and if you have any point you want to raise, even if it's a matter of criticising what we're doing, don't hesitate to speak up. That's what we want you to do".
And I'm sure that the chiefs of staff would not invite somebody to partake in their discussions if they were considered to be incompetent of doing so.
So your presence of an Australian was accepted and went over very well obviously.
Yes. Oh, we got along very well and the affects of attendance there were perhaps even more widespread than would appear at first sight because in addition to the chiefs of staff themselves, the prime minister Winston Churchill's representative, a full general, General Ismay [Hastings Lionel Ismay] was always there and the secretary to the chiefs of staff was a senior major general, so that it was, they were all, you know, top level people. And as I say, well, they wouldn't invite anybody to attend and participate in their discussions if they were considered incompetent or ill qualified.
And I notice that Sir Charles Burnett, a former or he was a RAF serving officer, came out here and took over as chief of the air staff just prior to the war or just during the war. What experience did he have from the point of view of service and also as an officer, was he a competence and was he a man as suitable as CAS [chief of air staff] to control our RAAF?
Well, of course, in '14 - '18 he'd served in the Middle East and he'd commanded a wing there. Matter of fact it was rather interesting because he commanded the army co-operation wing and Air Marshal Williams or Lieutenant Colonel Williams as he was then, commanded the army wing. And of the two, Williams was senior to Burnett. And Williams at one stage was acting brigade commander. So - and between wars Burnett had filled a number of posts but he never, he never held a post in which he was a member of a corporate body like our Air Board or the Air Council in Britain. The only higher command he'd had was one in which he was a commander in chief and - a commander in chief, of course, in his own sphere is the final authority in matters. But as I say, he never had any experience in working in a corporate body and of course when he came here, he adopted the attitude that as chief of the air staff, he was in a position similar to that of a commander in chief in effect. And he acted accordingly. And he was very prone to try and override members of the Air Board here. And the duties and responsibilities of members of the Air Board were definitely laid down in the Air Force regulations and that. And that caused a lot of difficulties because he had a habit of overriding decisions of board members without the said board member knowing he was doing it. And it caused a lot of confusion and a certain amount of difficulty.
How was he viewed, how was he viewed by our own air force officers? Was he viewed in any great way or was he, you know, not considered a very great leader or anything like that? Or didn't they have much to do with him?
Well, apart from, apart from the members of the Air Board, his personal contact with senior officers was not very great. But with members of the Air Board, it was very frustrating to find that decisions they made in accordance with what was laid down as their duties by the Air Force act and regulations were somewhat difficult. You never knew where you stood. And he had a nasty habit too of getting authority for things behind the back of board members. Now, I had, for instance, as air member of personnel, found that on occasions, that cabinet approved of an appointment or promotion of an officer without my knowing anything about it. And
And what appointment did you hold at that stage?
As AMP. [Air Member for Personnel]
Oh, as AMP. I see.
Yeah. And I found that, for instance, a case in point was Bostock. He got permission from cabinet to appoint, to promote Bostock over the heads of several more senior, more capable officers. And the first I heard of it was Gazette notice.
[end of tape]
Reel number 4 of Wrigley interview.
The choice of Burnett as CAS was an unfortunate one and much of the trouble, in my opinion, lay with our own cabinet. The officer that was offered to us in the first place was Air Chief Marshal Mitchell who was an Australian in the RAF. And a man with a very high reputation. But cabinet dithered about and couldn't come to a decision. Finally the Air Ministry informed us that Mitchell was no longer available, that a man of his capability couldn't be kept hanging round indefinitely. The next offer was a man named Air Chief Marshal John Steel. John Steel was an interesting character. He was an ex-naval officer and he had been sent to command the Royal Naval Air Station at Eastchurch. Anyhow, he was much older than the average fellow on the station and he decided that he must learn to fly himself. So he learnt to fly and he eventually became the air officer commanding the Wessex Bombing Area which was the forerunner of the later Bomber Command. He was a very stout officer. I met him when I was at the staff college and got to know him reasonably well. And later on I asked Fairbairn when he was minister for air, why he was turned down as CAS. And I was told by Jim Fairbairn that, oh, if he'd come to Australia as CAS, he'd be telling cabinet what to do instead of cabinet telling him what to do. So we lost a darn good man there and we finished up by getting Burnett. And Burnett was - he had no time for any persons other than 'yes' men. And he was a bit against anybody who stood up against him. Bostock became his sort of deputy which also was unfortunate because there was - wherever Bostock was posted, there was trouble of some sort or another. And as deputy CAS, the same conditions applied. And I found that the door between Burnett's office and Bostock's office was never closed. And if any senior or important person went in to see Burnett, you could be sure that within seconds Bostock would be in the CAS's room. And of course the most unfortunate of position with Bostock was when Burnett sent him on his - well, orders to go to the United Kingdom and tell the Air Ministry that the Australian government and the RAAF wanted air force, Australian air crews distributed as widely as possible throughout the RAF. And fortunately on his way to Britain, Bostock stopped in the Middle East to have a look round there and told the commander in chief, the air officer commanding in chief in theMediterranean that Australian wanted her personnel distributed as widely as possible. Fortunately Peter Drummond was then the deputy AOC in C in Middle East and he knew that that was contrary to Australian policy. And he took the matter up with the Air Ministry and fortunately put the brakes on that particular type of distribution. And after that Bostock was recalled to Australia and went back as DCAS.
Deputy Chief of Air Staff, mmm.
there was an unfortunate muddle there again which had quite widespread repercussions actually. But that was the sort of episode there. And of course, Burnett too, in his dealings with other officers and that, could not tolerate opposition of any kind. In fact he was very much like a - he acted very much like a small boy who has had a sweet taken away from him. And we had an occasion on one Board meeting in which an important matter with regard to our overseas troops arose, and the two members of the Board most concerned were Air Marshal Williams as the air member for organisation and myself as the air member for personnel. And we'd discussed the matter between ourselves, we knew what was wanted and we put it up to the Air Board meeting. And Burnett opposed it strenuously and sort of almost adopted intimidating attitude. However, both Williams and myself stood firm on the matter and Burnett just got up, threw his papers on the table and walked out without any apology whatsoever. And when board members looked at each other and thought, well now, what next.
So as these matter [sic] was a very important one we were discussing, I moved that in the absence of the CAS, that the next senior member take the chair. And I moved that Air Marshal Williams take the chair.
The other board members concurred and we went on, carried on with the business, carefully avoiding anything on the agenda that was the prerogative of the CAS. Next morning I was called to the CAS's office, he obviously had found out that I moved that the next senior member take the chair. I was called to his office and severely reprimanded in front of a junior officer to which I took very grave exception.
Mmm, I can understand that.
So that's the sort of incidents that were occurring during his regime as CAS.
Mmm. I often wonder why - course you explained these other men were available but why, you know, I can't understand why they should send such a - well, such a dope of a man out here when they knew that he wasn't of a, you know, the high class we required?
Well, I think that the Air Ministry themselves were getting a bit exasperated with Australia for not making up their mind
Yes. That's right. Yes. They could have done.
You were the organiser and the man who got the air training corps on its feet and moving and what have you. All the young fellows that come in the air training corps to do basic training and then we got a lot of those out who made very good air crew as well as ground staff.
Would you like to ?
Yes. Well, there was a stage in which we were losing a lot of very good air crew types because in their school days, they either had not had any fundamental training in mathematics etcetera or if they had, they'd forgotten it after they left school. And we wanted to be able to obtain the services of these types and not let their sort of personnel then be sort of collared by the other two services. So we thought well the thing to do is to set up some sort of a training organisation where we can give refresher courses to those who had forgotten or partially forgotten their previous training, and to give the necessary training to those who'd had no previous training of that description. And so we decided that it would be a very good idea to set up an organisation where we get these chaps in and train them up to the standard in maths etcetera that we required for air crew. And that was agreed to and I was told, yes, go ahead. And I had a look round then for a man to sort of control it, to be the sort of director of that particular show. And I didn't want to take an experienced officer away from sort of fully, a full air force job. And looking round I looked among some rejects from our reserve officers and I came across a name there who'd been turned down medically for air force, full air force duty. And he - I knew him quite well. He'd served as a pilot in the old AFC [Australian Flying Corps]. He was a very well qualified engineer. In fact he was the right hand man to the then top man in the State Rivers and Waters Supply, East. And I said, "Well, if he's willing to take on this job, he's the man for it". But I thought, now the difficulty is with his boss, the chairman of the State Rivers and Waters Supply.
However, I got in touch with East and he was quite happy about it. He said, "Yes, if you can use him, we'll make him available. We want to help as much as we possibly can". So we got him as the director of the
Who was he, by the way? What was his name?
Robertson. And he came along and he started the air training show going. But when we sort of officially formed the agency, I had in mind a short term and a long term aspect and this one was under Robertson was the short term. But having been associated with the army cadet system in my earlier days and seeing the great benefits that were derived from it, I decided that in the long term it would be a pretty good idea to have a similar thing here in the air force. And we made provision for that and although the long term effort was in abeyance for a certain time, we gradually formed it originally with a number of fellows who couldn't for some reason, either medical or some other reason, couldn't cope with the short term one and go on into the service. So we had a nucleus there that we were able to build on after the war ended. And as you know, today the air training corps is a very successful and very useful organisation.
Very useful organisation, yes. Especially now with the wide scope of which these young fellows can take. I mean, all the job opportunities that they train for - or at least the things they train for for job opportunities is very good. Very good indeed. Especially - I think its a good thing from a discipline point of view too with young [inaudible]
Oh, it's a very good thing. It's some
It's from 14 to 18, isn't it?
Yes. And parents are all full out for it. So much so that today the air training corps have a waiting list, you know, almost as big as the approved establishments.
That's right. Well, of course
And of course, they're not allowed, the governments have put a curb on it, that they will not exceed the number that they had at such and such a date. They can have replacements up to that limit.
They've got young girls in it now too. A female part of the air training corps.
Oh, yes. Girls in it too. And they're very good.
Oh, yes. Yes.
I've spent a lot of time in Victoria with the Victorian units. I was, would like to go round and see what's been done in some of the other states but that, at the moment, is something that is in the future.
Did they ever give you the title as 'king of the kids' with these young boys?
No, I don't think so. They might have.
This is behind your back probably but not to your face.
Also you did something with the establishment of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force?
Yes. I came in as the sort of a founding [inaudible]. In compiling the Air Force war book originally, I realised that Australia would be faced with a very considerable manpower problem and I started to think about it and wonder, now how can we sort of relieve the manpower problem a bit. And the only way that was feasible to make any impression on it was to enlist women in fields in which they could play a useful, profitable part. And so I went ahead when the proposals which were very strongly opposed politically. The politicians were frightened of it, I think. And of course a lot of the goodie goodies in the general public thought it was wrong. Just straight out
With having women in a man's service, type of thing?
Yes. However, we went ahead and very reluctantly got authority from the government to enlist a certain number in certain jobs which would sort of be, would sort of isolate them from service personnel generally. Sort of put them in a class apart which was not a very sensible idea.
However, we kept plugging at it and I eventually got approval to take on a certain number, very small number and they had to be girls who could go into jobs where they required no further training. Not an easy proposition. Anyhow, eventually we got approval to go ahead on a limited scale and we proceeded. And then of course the question came up: women, they'd have to have a woman in charge of them. So we had to have a director of WAAAFs [Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force] and then the fun started.
Air Marshal Burnett of course brought two daughters out to Australia with him, both of whom had been in the WAAF [Women's Auxiliary Air Force] and he wanted the elder one to be director of WAAAFs out here. However, I said, "Well, there was enough public outcry in Australia in certain directions against your appointment as CAS". And said, "There's going to be a further public outcry if a woman other than an Australian is brought out as the director of Australian WAAAFs. So your daughter's out of the question". Then there was a lot of propaganda for a Mrs Bell who'd been a prominent leader in a women's organisation somewhat on the lines of the Girl Guides and the Air Training Corps as it is today. And there was a lot of political lobbying on her behalf and a certain amount of pressure brought to bear from the organisations with which she was concerned.
However, in my opinion, I considered that the women's corps would grow to quite large dimensions and be quite a sizeable force and that we had to be very particular about the director. And the CAS, when he couldn't have his daughter as director, lost all interest in it and said, "Hmm, AMP, it's your pigeon. Your responsibility, you take the responsibility". So I said, "All right". And there was a lot of pressure from socialite quarters. And I put my foot down and said, "We will not have any socialite for that post". And I laid down the sort of person we wanted. We wanted a woman of mature age, a woman that had practical experience in running women's affairs, who was able to gain the support of people in the service, not only the females under her but also the men. Who had the ability to enforce discipline understandingly and a person with some administrative experience and, if possible, a certain amount of business experience. And those were the conditions that were laid down. And a certain amount of academic experience also.
And I hunted round and I eventually found a woman in the Sydney University who fulfilled all the conditions that I laid down bar the one on business experience. I'd see, gone round it pretty carefully and I came across this woman and I went and saw her and explained the position and asked if she was at all interested. And eventually, after careful consideration, she said that she was very interested. But she said, "Unfortunately, this post I hold at the university here, I've onlyheld for a matter of a few weeks and I feel that at this stage I can't let the university down, much as I'd like to take on the job that you're offering me". So I had to look further afield.
I asked her if she had any recommendations and she made one recommendation and I had recommendations from several other people, very responsible people. However, I eventually decided on the person who was appointed as director of WAAAFs because she filled pretty well the conditions that I'd laid down. And I went and saw her and asked her if she was interested. And she said, "Oh, yes, she found it very interesting". And I said, "What about your job?" And she said, "Oh, well, I'll see the company's board of directors", and she said, "they're all very loyal types and I think they would raise no objection".
So eventually they said, no, go ahead. We're delighted that a member of our organisation's been offered the job. So hence we got the director of WAAAFs.
And who was she?
A Miss Clare Stevenson [Clare Grant Stevenson].
Oh, Clare Stevenson. Mmm.
And she did the job very very well.
Group Officer Clare Stevenson Director of the Women's Australian Auxiliary Air Force (WAAAF).
[Oil painting by Nora Heysen. AWM Copyright ART22215]
Mmm. Then of course you had rather a prominent WAAAF officer in the Olympic sprinter, didn't you? Doris Carder. Who later became chief of WAAAF after the war.
Oh, yes. I didn't consider her at the time because
No, no. She was a lot younger woman.
the other one's qualifications were far far superior and, as I say, she did a very very good job.
Yes. Well, WAAAF did an amazing job through the war. You know, you've said they gradually became wider in their field of operations, not just clerical and that, they were transfer drivers and
No. As the proved their worth in one sphere, so the people in charge of the other spheres they thought, oh, we'll try them here. And so the spread of WAAAFs increased. And they became a very important factor on the operational side which lot of people, I don't think, realised.
After that of course, you were sent to London. You had an appointment as Air Officer Commanding the Australian contingents over there. What date did you take that up? That would be in about the 1940s, I suppose would it be?
Ah, no, 1942 I went over there. And I took over from Air Marshal Williams. He'd been posted to Washington as the senior Australian officer there and sort of the link with the American air force to some extent. But his job of course was really a very important one concerned with the procurement of aircraft and aircraft spares.
And as AOC, what was your particular job there in London?
Well, I had the overall jurisdiction of all RAAF personnel serving outside the southwest Pacific. That's what it amounted to. Other than those serving in Canada where Gobel was responsible.
And what about - did you have any dealings with the Empire Air Training Scheme as such? With the RAF personnel there?
Oh, yes. After all the bulk of our personnel serving overseas were the ATS [air training scheme] personnel. And there were a number of problems with regard to that. They received a directive from the government for certain things to be done. The original Empire Air Training Scheme Agreement was found in practice to require a number of amendments. We had considered these amendments in Australia and agreed to what amendments we wanted. And the government brief to me was that the conference with the British authorities to make these amendments was to be given the highest priority. It was the first thing I had to do.
I went over there knowing in detail just what amendments we wanted.
They were mainly drawn up, as a matter of fact, by myself as AMP [Air Member for Personnel] because they were mainly matters concerning personnel. There were a few others which other branches wanted to make. And when I arrived over in British after having made the necessary courtesy calls on the CAS and the seeing of people at the Air Ministry, I went over and saw Air Chief Marshal Courtney. I'd met him and became very good friends with Courtney at the staff college. Courtney had been the deputy commandant and he became the Air Member of the Air Council for supply and organisation. And I told him I had a brief and that we wanted these amendments considered and dealt with as soon as possible. He said, "Right", he said, "I'll get the director of organisation along", which he did and it was decided that we would give top priority to getting these amendments okayed. And the director of organisation and I sat down and went through the lot. That didn't take very long because he agreed in general with what we put up. He made one or two minor suggestions which I agreed to and in, oh, less than a fortnight after I arrived there we had agreement on the amendments that would be put forward to the conference.
But meanwhile, a signal arrived that the minister had given permission for Air Marshal Williams to attend the conference as an observer. Now that's the key point: as an observer. That meant he had just to look on. Nothing else. But however, he arrived in London and promptly installed himself as AOC and addressed me as the deputy. Alright, that didn't worry me very much at that stage. But then he got half the staff of overseas headquarters assembled before he and I set to work and went through the whole of these amendments, dotting the 'i's and crossing the 't's. Well, I'd told him that we'd already got Air Ministry agreement in the first fortnight I was there. Oh, no, that didn't suit him.
And this damn business went on day after day from nine o'clock in the morning, frequently till nine and near ten o'clock in the evening without a break except for lunch. And the fellows were getting pretty fed up with it. However, in the finish, Mr Bruce apparently found out what was happening and rang me up and said, "I want you and Air Marshal Williams to come round to my office immediately". Well, Air Marshal Williams raised all sorts of objections to going. Oh he wasn't going around there. I said, "Well I'm going and after all, Mr Bruce is the High Commissioner and resident minister and he can't be ignored".
So eventually he, we went round there and Mr Bruce saw us both and then he said, "Air Marshal Williams is to return to Washington as soon as can be arranged". And he told me to arrange an air passage back to Washington for him as soon as possible and that I was the AOC there and carry on as the AOC.
So once Air Marshal Williams had gone, we put the machinery in motion again and the conference was held in the Air Council chamber at the Air Ministry and formal agreement was received after a half day's sitting. And the documents were all signed and that particular point in the directive was finally solved. And the certain point in the directive was that RAAF air crews serving overseas were to be collected into squadrons in which the air crews were predominantly Australian. Well when I arrived over there, there were RAAF personnel serving in 400 different units of the RAF. And
We didn't have any of our own units there?
Oh, we had our own but they were fully manned by our own people.
These were those over and above the demands of our own squadrons.
And it was a matter of simplifying the administration enabling us to supervise the training and operations of our own personnel and to simplify welfare and administrative matters generally. Fortunately cabinet said that this was to be done without any sort of adverse effect on operations. Well, of course we could have done all that in a matter of three, perhaps four weeks at the most. But it would have had a very adverse effect on operations. So it had to be done gradually and although we didn't achieve as much as we would have liked to have done in that respect, we achieved a very considerable concentration of our people and that provided opportunities for promotions which are a very important factor with fellows serving overseas. And it removed any impression that people might get that the Australians serving in an RAF squadron would be completely ignored when promotion was possible in that unit. So that was affected very considerably and as a result we got a steady flow of promotions, we got a certain number of units, RAF units, became more or less RAAF units. For instance, operate - the school that carried out conversion courses became almost entirely RAAF. And operation training units the same. And units which previously had been RAF command units, became Australian ones. Mountbatten was an RAF station which eventually became an Australian station.
Number 5 reel of the Wrigley interview.
Mountbatten was a two-squadron station for flying boats and No.10 Squadron, when it was formed, went to Mountbatten and stayed there the whole of its career overseas. The other squadron on the station was an RAF one until, at a later date, I arranged to move No.461 Squadron RAAF which was at Milford Haven, to Mountbatten. And then the station became a fully RAAF one and enabled us to promote the CO of No.10 Squadron and he became station commander of the fully RAAF station at Mountbatten.
Are you going to mention the third point of the government direction?
We come now to the third point of the directive given to me by the government. And that was that I was to ensure that no RAAF squadron or any RAAF personnel were engaged in any operation which, in my opinion, was unduly hazardous. There was only one occasion in which I had to step in and ensure that two of our squadrons didn't take part in an operation which to my mind was not hazardous only but foolhardy.
A couple of RAF officers who'd been rapidly promoted and had, I think, went to their heads a little bit. And at the time of Anzio [Amphibious Landing], they concocted a scheme where they were going to send some British squadrons to operate behind the German lines in Italy with the co-operation of the Italians. Well, to start off with, the thing seemed to me to be somewhat ill-conceived because to send squadrons based and operating from behind the German lines was a very hazardous business to start with. And we had learned that we couldn't depend on the Italians in any way whatsoever. However, to assure myself that the scheme was not a workable one, I borrowed an aircraft from the RAF and carried out a reconnaissance of the area in which these squadrons were to be based. I didn't take a long time to consider the question.
When I saw the proposed area and knew what the disposition of the Germans in that area were, I decided under no circumstances would our two squadrons, No.3 and No.450 Squadron take part in that particular operation.
That was in the Italy area, was it?
Yes. Yes. In Italy. North of, north of a line east and west through Rome.
Relationships with other people in Britain: for instance relationship with the Air Ministry and the RAF. Generally speaking our relationships with the RAF at all levels was absolutely first class. Both sides worked well with each other and we had very little trouble there.
The senior RAF officers were very helpful and our own RAAF personnel, notwithstanding their somewhat independent ways on occasions, worked very well with the Air Ministry and the RAF. We had very few conflicts. The most serious conflict with the RAF commanders was, I think, with Sir Arthur Harris, the Air Officer Commanding in Chief of Bomber Command who took some action which was opposed to the conditions laid down in the Empire Air Training Agreement and he and I found ourselves on a collision course.
The event was concerned with the operations in Normandy. Sir Arthur Harris had always been strongly opposed to the use of Bomber Command in a tactical role. His point being that it was equipped with aircraft to carry out a strategic role and his pilots and crews had not been trained in any way to operate in the tactical role. However, the powers that be decided that on this particular occasion, Bomber Command had to get into the tactical thing. It was at the time of the hold-up in Normandy at Caen where the British and Canadians were held up by the Germans in a very critical position. And Sir Arthur Harris was ordered to use his heavy bombers to bomb the German positions.
The operation was carried out and unfortunately some of our bombs from Bomber Command fell on some of our own people and there was a terrible row about it. Sir Arthur Harris dismissed the CO of one our heavy bomber squadrons because his squadron was involved in this - involved to some extent in this bombing business. He had no right to dismiss a squadron commander which was clearly laid down in the Empire Agreement, that the only person who could do it was the AOC RAAF.
That was you at that stage?
That was myself. And I protested to the Air Ministry about it, hoping that they would take up the matter with Harris. And much to my surprise, Air Chief Marshal Portal sort of turned the job back on to me and said he thought I should go and interview and settle the matter with Sir Arthur myself. I took a dim view of that at the time but afterwards, thinking it over and having dealt with the subject, I think Portal was right. Actually, to my mind, the planning for the job was not all it might have been. The principle of the operation was a timed run from a fixed point to the target. And in my opinion, the distance between the fixed point and the target was too short a one to ensure accuracy. And, as a result as I say, some bombs fell on our own troops, mainly on the Canadians. Portal suggested I should go and see Harris myself, which I did.
On arrival at High Wickham, where his headquarters were situated, I found myself faced not only by Sir Arthur Harris but by five senior members of his staff, all who'd been carefully briefed beforehand. I listened to all they had to say, I learned one or two things that I didn't know before but which really didn't affect the issue whatsoever. And after this conference with Sir Arthur and his staff, the staff went off and I was left to continue the matter with Sir Arthur himself. I pointed out to him that I had gained some information which I had not previously had but on weighing up that information, I considered that it had no relevance to this particular problem. I saw I would have to be somewhat - make myself somewhat of a heavyweight in dealing with Sir Arthur Harris. After all, he was an air chief marshal which was two steps in rank senior to me and I had to be - tread a little bit carefully but on the other hand I had to be pretty firm and definite in my views. And I eventually told Sir Arthur that either he reinstated the commanding officer of that squadron or else I would be forced to seriously consider withdrawing from Bomber Command all the RAAF squadrons and all RAAF personnel employed in the Command. And Sir Arthur looked at me with some astonishment and said, "Oh, well, of course, you realise that only the Commonwealth government can do that". And I said, "Yes, sir, I realise that. But I don't think you realise that in this particular case, I am the Commonwealth government, because I have a delegation of powers under the Defence Act which enable me to do it".
Which I think rather surprised him and he was thoughtful for a moment and then said, "Well, let's go and have some lunch". And we had some lunch, on very amicable terms. I then bid him farewell and returned to London and by the time I'd got to London, Sir Arthur had taken all the necessary action I desired. The commanding officer was - his acting rank which had been taken from him was restored and he was posted back as commanding officer for further operations. So that was an exceptional case.
Otherwise our - I only had one brief encounter with another senior officer in Bomber Command. This particular officer had rather abused an administrative case. I found that a certain officer in his particular group had been very highly recommended for promotion by his squadron commander. Equally highly recommended by his station commander and on the bottom of the file was, in the hand writing of the group commander, 'not recommended under any circumstances'. As I was the final authority, I rang this particular officer up and wanted to know what his reasons were for not recommending a man who'd been highly recommended by the two officers closest in contact with him.
And he informed me that he was not in the habit of giving reasons for decisions he made. And I said, "Well, in this circumstance you certainly will give me reasons". It was rather unfortunate because he was an Australian and and Australian who'd been trained at Point Cook for the RAF. I made it quite clear that there was something wrong if the two men, two officers most closely associated with an individual, highly recommended him, for a man who was remote from his day to day operational activities should overrule the other two. And I told him he had - either he changed his recommendation or I would completely ignore it and state my reasons why I ignored it. But that
Did he in fact recommend it after that?
No. It was just left. I overruled his decision on the matter. So that was the only two sort of conflicts with sort of senior RAF people. With the remainder of the RAF, we had very, through all ranks, we had very good relationships with the RAF.
And speaking of relationships, how did you get on with the Australian press in Britain?
Did they upset you at any stage?
with the Australian press in Britain were excellent. There'd been some misunderstanding, I think it was, between the Australian press representatives and Air Marshal Williams when he was AOC over there. And I felt that the situation with them was a little bit touchy so I thought the best thing to do was to have a press conference and get them all together. And I arranged that. The senior bloke and the sort of unofficial leader in a way of the Australian press, was a man from the Herald, Trevor Smith.
Anyhow, I got them altogether and I asked them to express their views on general matters and press coverage. And they expressed their views which were quite reasonable. There was nothing abnormal in the press.
So I said to them, "Well, this is a case where we must have cooperation between you and myself and my staff here. And I said, "I'll make a proposition to you. When there's a story that can be sent without any trouble on either side, I will get you together or you can send along one of your representatives and I will give you the story in writing so that there's no chance of a mistake being made. And in return, I would like you to consider your side of the question. If you get a story other than from my office here, will you submit it to me to check its accuracy before you dispatch it". And I said, "I think that's fair on both sides". And there was only one objector to that and he was the representative of a somewhat scurrilous paper here in Australia and they other press representatives undertook to see that he didn't send anything.
So no names of the paper that were mentioned?
No. No. So we had very amicable relations with the Australian press and that was to the benefit of both sides. And there was only one occasion on which a story was leaked to Australia without our being able to check it. And in the long run the effects of that story merely reinforced the stupidity of some civil people here in Australia.
So your relationships with the press were very good?
Very very good indeed. In fact, I could say they couldn't have been better.
Mmm. And what about Australia House? Did you have a great deal to do with Australia House?
Well, Australia House - first of all I think Australia House had been warned by Mr Bruce to keep their fingers out of our pie, so to speak.
And although the relationship with the members of the staff there were more or less formal, but they were nothing detrimental about the relationship. I found that the staff at Australia House were not, generally speaking, not interested in anything that we were doing or the RAAF was doing unless they could see some avenue for personal profit from it. And the only time that we really came into conflict with - or I came into conflict, was on one occasion after the war finished when I had a phone call from the official secretary not requesting me to go and see him but telling me to come and see him. And I told him I had no intention of coming at that time because I was in the middle of a conference. But I eventually went to see him and enquire into what the matter was and in a very pompous way, he informed me that he wanted to get all our ex-prisoners of war back to Australia as soon as possible.
"Well", I said, "that's none of your business. These fellows under my command until they arrive back in Australia and in any case, you're somewhat late. The majority of them are already half way back to Australia". And that is the only sort of conflict we had with Australia House.
London, England. 1945-05-22. Air Vice Marshal (AVM) Wrigley CBE DFC AFC, Air Officer Commanding RAAF Overseas Headquarters,
entertained a number of pilots of No. 3 Squadron RAAF, with which he himself flew in WW1.
With the exception of Wing Commander (Wg Cdr) J. R. Perrin DFC, of South Yarra, Vic, all were liberated prisoners of war (POWs).
Left to right: Flight Lieutenant (Flt Lt) J. Sergeant, of Brinkworth, SA; 250771 Flt Lt A. M. Edwards, of Malvern, Vic; AVM Wrigley; 420284 Flt Lt H. J. Shipley, of Bexley, NSW;
411914 Flying Officer J. Howell-Price, of Homebush, NSW; 402147 Warrant Officer (WO) D. Scott, of Tenterfield, NSW; 260650 Flt Lt W. Kloster, of Sydney, NSW; Wg Cdr Perrin.
Seated: 411495 Flt Lt J. A. T. Hodgkinson DFC, of Orange, NSW; 404085 WO A. C. Cameron DFM, of Bidleston, Oakey, Qld. [AWM UK2901]
You had a rather distasteful incident there at one stage too, with a white feather incident, a moral fibre type of - type of thing?
Oh, yes. That was a case - on one of my inspections, I went to a couple of our own units and in both squadrons, I had a sort of a deputation of a - a small deputation, about three or four NCOs with a request if they can have an interview with me. And I said, yes they could. And they said, they had been receiving letters, they and other members of the RAAF had been receiving letters from relatives and friends in Australia wanting to know when they were coming back to where the real war was being fought and enclosing a white feather. So I asked them to let me have copies of some of these letters and then when the minister for air, Mr Drakeford made a short and very hurried visit to Britain, I raised the matter with him and asked him if he would take action and put a stop to that sort of thing. It was something that had to be done from the Australian end. And his reply to me was that, well, I don't believe you. I don't believe what you're telling me is correct. And I handed him some of the letters with the feathers attached. And he still said he didn't believe me. So I felt that this was a case of it was absolutely hopeless trying to do anything through the official channels and I quietly released the story to the Australian press and they handled it very tactfully and very nicely.
I told them that Drakeford had refused to have anything to do with it and they, at my request, kept his name out of it altogether. But it left rather a nasty taste in the mouth of fellows who were going out every two or three, well, two or three times a weeks sometimes, on long bombing raids as far as Berlin for instance. And for fellows in other - well, not - I don't want to use the term hazardous but in jobs in which there was a great deal of operational danger. Put it that way.
It's under operational conditions, mmm.
And that was the white feather episode which I thought was a damned awful thing.
It was a disgrace wasn't it, really. Big disgrace. Especially when the chappies were doing such a good job over there.
A good job, yes.
So you had in your time a number of ministerial visitors, Australian ministerial visits to London. What was the purpose and what was the outcome of their visits?
Yes. We had quite regularly a number of political visitors. I'm excluding Mr Bruce in this case. I've mentioned relationships with him before which were always on an excellent footing but we had, for instance, we had Dr Evatt, we had Mr Ford, we had Mr Drakeford.
And they're three cases in point. Dr Evatt showed a particularly keen interest in the RAAF and what they were doing and he wouldn't under any circumstances be enticed into any political talk. I took him round on a number of visits. He visited some of our units each time he was in Britain which was fairly frequent for a minister of his standing. And on one occasion I took him down - funny thing, it was at Mountbatten too - and he said, "Will you arrange the CO to get the lads together so that I can talk to them?" And we duly did that. And whilst he was telling them about conditions in Australia and what was going on out here which the chaps liked to hear but I noticed two sergeants in the background sort of chatting away there and looking at Evatt and then at each other and a smile. And I thought, now those two fellows are up to something. And sure enough, when Evatt had finished, he said, "Now for any questions anyone would like to ask, I'll be very pleased to answer them if I can". And in due course one of these sergeants came out with a question which was purely political, no other aspect to it.
And Everett looked at him in a very fierce way and said, "Sergeant, I think that your rank, three strips is a sergeant, isn't it?" And the reply was, yes, sir. Well he said, Everett said, "I have come here as one Australian visiting a number of Australians engaged in very serious tasks. And I came here to say how do you do to you and to tell you something about what's going on in Australia which you might be interested in but if you're going to drag politics into this, then I'm leaving and I won't come again". So that was Evatt's attitude.
Ford made his visits a purely electioneering stunt. He had a secretary with him, he asked each man as he went along where he came from. And if he was a Queenslander, he'd say, oh yes, your father alive? what does he do? and so on and so on. And where do you live. Make a note of that will you. And he did - all except people from that state he just passed by. Took no notice. So I came to the conclusion that was purely electioneering. Although I couldn't say so on the spot.
And Drakeford as minister for air, you would have expected to take some keen interest in what our chaps were doing. And he asked me to arrange for a visit to one of the squadrons, which I did. And he said would I arrange transport and all the rest. Picked him up at nine o'clock in the morning and the first thing he did was he wanted to go and see an optician. Right. That occupied an hour and a half. Then we set off for the squadron and we were due at the squadron at eleven o'clock in the morning. On the way, he decided, oh, that's an interesting place, I'd like to have a look at this. And we stopped sightseeing and occupied quite, another period. Then he decided it was lunch time, he'd better have some lunch. I tried to restrain him from that but I couldn't and he went to lunch. He had Air Marshal Williams with him. They wanted me in too but I said I was in the habit of doing without lunch. And we arrived at the squadron at three o'clock in the afternoon. And it was a cold wintry day, a heavy mist right down onto the ground so that flying had been cancelled for the day. And when that happened, the troops were usually given leave for the day, sort of local leave. They'd missed out on that and by the time the minister arrived, the heaters in the lecture hut had gone out and it was icy cold and they had to put up with a meandering talk from Drakeford which lasted for a good half hour. And then he departed and that was that.
I take it the troops were not impressed?
Not at all. As a matter of fact they made their feelings very very obvious indeed.
What? In his presence?
Yes. And that was that as far as our ministerial visitors to London.
So in your period over there, did you have any instances of LMF?
Yes. We couldn't expect to be without them actually.
Which of course is "Lack of Moral Fibre", for those people who don't realise.
That's so. And we had a very low number of cases. I think, if I remember rightly, the Air Ministry said we were very much the lowest with that particular type of case. The - I found that the RAF officer who'd been dealing with all these type of cases was a chap that I had met when I was at the staff college. And he was on the staff then of the headquarters of Wessex Bombing Area. And I got to know him very well and I found him a very careful and painstaking sort of officer. He retired from the RAF as a wing commander to become a farmer and of course was on the reserve, was called up on the outbreak of war and he was given the job in the Air Ministry of dealing with these LMF cases.
I had a look at two or three of the cases that he'd dealt with and they impressed me with there careful sifting of the evidence and the summing up and circumstances and all the rest of it. And when our headquarters were formed, when I got there, the Air Ministry said, "Oh, I suppose you'll want to deal with these LMF cases yourself". And I said, "Well, eventually I'll have to make the decisions but I've read through some of the reports of your senior staff bloke on this job and they're so good that if you've no objection, I'd like him to carry on on our behalf", which he did.
The worst case I had was two officers who were trained on heavy bombers. And then they boasted openly that they had no intention of doing any operations. That their sole object in learning to fly heavy bombers was to qualify them to fly civil aircraft after the war. And it was so blatantly open in their talks that I decided that, right, they were of no further use to the RAAF, I sent them back home as services no longer required. That was the worst case.
The most interesting case was a lad who came up and asked for an interview with me. A nice looking lad, clean, well turned-out. And he came in and I said, "Well, son, what do you want to see me about". He said, "Well, sir, I'm an LMF case". I said, "Yes, I know that". And he said, "Well, sir, I've been classified LMF and very rightly so. But", he said, "I've been thinking a lot about it since that classification and I'm going to make a somewhat extraordinary request. I'm going to ask you can I have some leave where I can get away somewhere where I'll neither see nor hear an aircraft because", he said, "thinking it seriously from all aspects, I think I can cope with the situation". So I said, "Right, how long do you want?" And he said, "Oh, if I could have about three weeks?" I said, "You can have up to three months but report to me each month and we'll see how you get on". That happened.
He came back at the end of about, well, not much over a fortnight and said, "Can I go back to my squadron, sir?" I said, "Well, are you all right?" He said, "Oh, yes, I'm - a lot of thought and that and I'm quite convinced now that I've got over my trouble". And I said, "All right. Well, I'll send you away to another squadron". He said, "No, sir, that wouldn't do. I must go back to my original squadron. I've got to show the blokes there that I'm all right". So we sent him back. And to my amazement, three weeks or a little later over three weeks after he returned to the squadron, he was awarded an immediate DFC.
Was he? Mmm.
As you know, an immediate DFC is
Is really hard to get.
well, it's for definite
Bravery on the spot, yeah.
Yes. And that was our, my most interesting LMF case.
Mmm. Were there a great number of - well, I think you said that there weren't as many as with the RAF but there were - we did have some?
They weren't serious cases.
Well, some of them were serious ones. Some were cases where we had to take someone away from flying and put them on to other jobs. But the Air Ministry told me afterwards - or at least the air member of personnel told me afterwards that without checking up the actual lists and that, he was under the impression that our LMF numbers were the lowest of all the British and dominion air forces.
We had some but I
Is that so? Mmm.
Which is rather pleasing to know.
Yes. Yes. It's a, you know, rather a fierce thing when you get branded with that [inaudible], isn't it?
Oh, yes. And
It's not a light thing to have to carry and it's not a light thing to have to overcome.
No. Because it's - all your comrades at the unit, they know what's happened to you. And the news spreads through the - it spread through the whole of the RAAF overseas, that so and so turned down for that reason. And it eventually gets back to Australia so that
And of course your comrades are your toughest judges too, aren't they? In these things. And I mean they don't leave anything unturned.
Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Your fellow workers are the ones that are the most critical.
[end of tape]
Reel six of the Wrigley interview.
So we have spoken about various ministers from the Australian government visiting the UK but I believe the top member you had was the Australian prime minister of the day, Mr John Curtin. Did he meet the troops at all and how was he received on his visit?
Yes. Mr Curtin was undoubtedly the most important of the visitors that we had and he arrived in London in May '44 with a very full program ahead of him. But he was very good as far as the RAAF was concerned because he told me he would devote a whole day to the RAAF and he wanted to see some of the troops and he wanted to see some of their work. And with that in view, I arranged for him to come with me to Waddington for a full day. I selected Waddington because it was a station with two of our squadrons stationed there, two heavy bomber Lancaster squadrons and I thought he would get a very good idea of the work that the squadrons were doing. He agreed to the program that was nutted out and we went to Waddington and he spent most of the day, or the earlier part of the day, going around the squadron, meeting the men, talking to them, questioning them about their views on the work they were doing, on their service views generally, whether they had any particular worries that he could perhaps help to solve. And that filled in the greater part of the day. But he also expressed a desire to see the squadrons take off on an operational job and he would like to see them when they came back. So I arranged for him to be present first of all at the briefing. And he sat in at the briefing of the crews, listened very intently and once or twice asked very pertinent questions which were sometimes answered by some of the officers, sometimes by some of the NCOs. As I say, he sat in for the whole of the briefing, he stayed and saw all the troops, all the aircraft take off on their mission. And when they'd all taken off, I suggested to him that he go back to his hotel where he was staying for the night and have a bit of a rest because none of the aircraft would be back again for a matter of five or six hours. He accepted that and I arranged that I would pick him up and get him back to the station comfortably before the first aircraft were due to arrive back.
We did that, got him back and he stayed and watched them all come in, had a word with each crew as they landed. And then he insisted that he should go and sit in at the de-briefing of the crews, which was a fairly lengthy process. However, in he went and he stuck it out until the small hours of the morning and finished up with having a chat with the crews and a cup of coffee or a cup of tea and thanked them very much for putting up with his questions and the like. Thanked them very much and said that having spent the day there and seen what was going on, he then had a much better appreciation of the work they were doing and he wished them all the best of luck and safe return to Australia.
Besides the air crew members, did he have a chance to talk to the ground people, ground staff and so on?
Oh, yes. Oh, yes.
And were they impressed with his ?
Oh, yes. What I think pleased them more than anything was that his questions were intelligent ones. Where previously lot of them were very superficial and meant nothing very much. And I'm sure that they all appreciated his visit to them. He told them too that he'd tell the Australian people when he got home the sort of work that they were doing.
Mmm. Oh, that's nice.
And I felt personally that if he did that - and I'm sure he would do it - it would have helped to brush away the white feather episode. So on the whole, it was a very good visit.
How did the RAAF effort stack up against the other dominion services that were operating out of UK?
Well, that's a bit of a difficult question to answer because I'm perhaps a little bit prejudiced. But I think generally speaking the RAAF were held in high esteem in the Air Ministry. And I think that - I would not express my own opinion on the comparison between the various sides, RAAF and the dominions, but a very senior officer in the Air Ministry expressed to me on one occasion that in his opinion and in the opinion of a number of his colleagues, he ranked, to put it plainly - to use an old expression which would perhaps not offend anybody - he said, well, they were second to none. So that seemed to be a fair summing up of their ability, as I say, without offending anybody else.
In the area, UK, Middle East, etcetera, how many squadrons did we have and how many personnel overall?
Well, we had, overall we had two of our permanent squadrons were over there. No.3 and No.10. No.3 was in the Middle East and No.10 was at - flying boat squadron
Flying boat squadron. Mmm.
Yes. And in addition to that, under the EATS [Empire Air Training Scheme] Agreement, what were none as the Article 15 squadrons. And those we had six fighter squadrons, two of which were later transferred to the south west Pacific. We had a fighter bomber squadron, a general reconnaissance bomber squadron, two general reconnaissance squadrons, the five heavy bomber squadrons, three Lancasters and two Halifax. A flying boat squadron and a light bomber squadron. The light bomber squadron being equipped with the well known Mosquito aircraft.
Yes. Yes, they played a very important part in - not only the bombing but also the ?
Oh, in every air activity, you might say, the RAAF had some part to play. And there's - one interesting point about those Article 15 squadrons. There was one of them, No.455 Squadron, actually saw service in Russia.
Oh, yes? What was that? That was a bomber squadron, 455, was it?
Yes. It was equipped with Hampden aircraft and actually it should never have been in Russia. But some of our people - it happened before I arrived over there - but some of our people slipped up there a bit and didn't say boo about them going to Russia. However, they took their squadron of Hampdens over to north Russia and they taught the Russians to fly them and to operate them. And when they were satisfied that the Russians could do the job, they were air lifted back to Britain and re-equipped in Britain.
Hmm. So they left the Hampdens ?
They left the Hampdens with the Russians. And in the course of those operations, they picked up two Russian decorations. So apparently the Russians appreciated what they
And did they work in co-operation with the British and Australian squadron? That Hampden squadron? Did they work in co-operation?
No, they were - as far as the RAAF were concerned, it was purely an operational training mission to teach the Russians
I see. Teach the Russians how to fly.
how to fly the Hampdens and how to use them.
What about our strength over there? Did it - our strength in the UK? How did it compare with the rest of the dominions? We had a very substantial number of air crew and ground staff, didn't we?
I don't know how the RAAF compared with the other dominions with regard to strengths. Of course Canada would be the nearest in numbers to the RAAF and New Zealand and South Africa would come in at, of course, on a lower scale. But as far as working conditions went, they were all operating on very much the same lines. There was very little difference there. But as to, as I say, as to comparative strengths, I can't express
Well, how many officers and airmen did we have over there at that stage?
Ah, in in air crew we had 5,672 officers and 8,396 other ranks. And on ground staff we had 495 and 2,595 other ranks.
That's a pretty substantial crew, wasn't it?
A substantial showing. In all there was over 17 thousand RAAF members served overseas and I suppose you could say that at any one time we had, well, in round figures, ten thousand plus. So it was quite a substantial force.
And out of that, what were our casualty rates?
Well, our casualties - we had three theatres of operations and our casualties in Europe were over six thousand. In the Middle East, about 1500 and in India and Burma, slightly over 300. So you might say, in all, our casualties were about 8,300 odd.
Mmm. A lot out of a force, isn't it?
It's a lot, yes. And it's rather an interesting comparison. In the South West Pacific, we had five thousand three hundred odd. So that the overseas force was bigger than the South West Pacific force which is, I think, not appreciated here in Australia.
Mmm. They probably didn't know at that stage or the figures were never released. What about decorations? We received our fair share of decorations, did we?
Decorations for flying operations were 1,462 including one VC. And foreign decorations: nine including the two Russian ones. So that
They would be unique, would they?
The Russian ones? Yes.
Would that only apply to Australia or did any of the other dominions get any Russian decorations in the war?
No, I don't know, I don't know of any other decorations at all. But I do know those two because of the squadron being there. So that
You had a number of RAAF personnel visiting from time to time. Did they have any great part to play in the operation over there or was [inaudible]?
No. As a matter of fact, we had quite a number of people sent over there. And except in, I suppose round about - well, I suppose a little less than fifty percent of them, we knew all [inaudible] what they were sent for because they were sent to undergo courses or to investigate something on the technical side. But there were a number more that arrived over there, we didn't know what they were coming over for. I don't know whether they knew themselves.
And except in one case, we had one to our point of view, a rather - an annoying posting. We were protesting at the time about the ration and accommodation allowance that had been paid to many members of my staff who had to live in London. And they were paid, same as I was, one and eleven pence a day for rations and two and five pence a day for accommodation. Well, you can imagine how far two and five pence a day would go for accommodation in London. Air Marshal Williams when he was over there, had tried to set up barrack accommodation and messing in London but Australia, who all knew better what should be done in London than anybody else, said no. I raised the question again and the Air Ministry were very good. And they said, look, we'll provide you with barracked accommodation at no expense to your government and we'll ration your people the same as we ration the people in the units. Now, if that's acceptable to you, it's acceptable to us. And I said, "Yes, most acceptable to us as a matter of fact".
But unfortunately it somehow or other was leaked to Australia and we got a signal back saying, under no circumstances. So these poor individual airmen were stuck with trying to keep themselves, feed themselves and find sleeping quarters for themselves at that rate. Well, we kept up the fire and the demand to be allowed to do this and they took a man out of the finance branch, a civilian, made him an honorary wing commander, I think it was, and sent him over to London to investigate the matter. And he spent all his time sort of wondering round overseas headquarters and he eventually put in a report which I endorsed, I heartily disagreed with, that the allowance was adequate.
And that seemed to strange to me, coming from a man who, whilst he was in London, was paid a very handsome allowance. And at the same time he complained that expenses were very high and could I arrange for him to be accommodated with a London family like one or two of our airmen were. Oh, I - to that I took very strong exception.
So we never got any further with that. They just dug their feet in here in Australia. British people were very good helping where they could and in one or two cases where it was a married man with a family in Australia, I put my hand in my pocket and withdrew some of my meagre savings and helped one or two fellows who were really in a spot of bother. I thought that was really unfair to the personnel concerned.
You had a welfare effort going - when you're speaking about welfare, you putting your hand in your pocket - you had a welfare scheme going that apparently helped the troops over there?
Yes, well, we had our normal welfare arrangements such as were within our means so to speak. And the Australian Comforts Fund were very good, of course, over there. But as you know their funds were very limited and that of course limited what they could do. But we had - for instance, one of our very good efforts was known as the cigarettes scheme. On one of my inspection visits to some of our units, I had a deputation from some of the senior NCOs in one of the squadrons who explained to me that they were - their nearest neighbours in the service were an American squadron which was situated only about, oh, very short distance away from them and that all the personnel on that station received once a week a full American carton of cigarettes, free of charge. It didn't cost them anything. And these lads of our wanted to know if some scheme could be devised whereby they could get regular supplies of cigarettes. They didn't want them for nothing, they were quite prepared to pay for them. And the average cost of a packet of 20 cigarettes in Britain at the time was two shillings and sixpence. And as they said, they didn't mind paying for them provided they could get them. So I said, "Well, leave it with me and I'll look into the matter".
So I approached the Board of Trade which covered the customs people and asked them if they'd help the Australians by allowing me to bring in supplies of cigarettes, duty free. And I explained to them and position, you allow the Americans to do it, isn't the fair thing to allow one of your own dominions. And I dealt only with the heads of the departments in these things, and I dealt with the head of the Board of Trade who got the senior customs bloke in with him and they said, oh, by all means, we'll agree to that without any hesitation. Well, the next thing of course was how to get the money out of Britain to pay for them. So I had to go along and see the head of British Treasury and again, got full co-operation from them. And then of course the next thing was Board of Trade - ah, Ministry of Shipping. To get shipping space which was always scarce.
So I got whole-hearted co-operation from all the departments concerned. And then the problem came up of purchasing them. I sent a signal to Air Marshal Williams in Washington explaining the scheme roughly and would he co-operate with us and arrange for one of his staff to do the actual purchases. He needn't worry about anything in the way of payment or anything else. Just purchasing. And I got a signal back that he'd have nothing whatsoever to do with the scheme.
Is that so?
Which annoyed me intensely. So I went and saw Air Chief Marshal Bowhill, the chief of RAF Transport Command and said to him, "Look, I want to send a welfare officer over to the United States on a job and I'm here to request you to make a passage to USA, air passage USA and back for him", and I explained what it was about. He said, "It's alright. We'll fix that for you". So I sent my welfare officer over to the United States, he made all the purchase arrangements and I told him how - to tell the people over there how payment would be made and all that was fixed up. And so the scheme started. A packet of 20 cigarettes in London at the time cost two and sixpence and under this scheme of ours, we sold them to the troops to the nearest penny. So they got a packet of cigarettes for sixpence. And we made - at that figure, we made a very very handsome profit.
Another welfare effort: our ex-prisoners of war, when the Germans collared them, they confiscated their watches. And these lads came back and they didn't have a watch and they wanted a watch. I said, "Right, we'll have a similar scheme to the cigarette scheme". I sent a welfare fellow over to Switzerland where he purchased good watches under an Air Ministry contract and the lads got good watches at a little more than cost. We made a round figure on it. And out of our welfare activities there and a small canteen that we had - oh, and plus another welfare scheme that we brought in there. Colonel George Langley representing the Red Cross in Australia, arrived in London with a shipment of - to describe it using a common term - a shipment of goodies for ex-prisoners of war. But unfortunately I had all the ex-prisoners of war on their way home before he arrived and he was in a bit of a difficult position to know what he was going to do with all these goods. Colonel Langley and I had been school mates together so we knew each other pretty well, and I went along and got hold of him and said, "Look here, George, what are you going to do with all these goodies you've got?" And he said, "Well", he said, "I've got to get rid of them. I can't take them back", and he said, "I'm in a bit of a fix and the only avenue I can see of disposing of them is NAAFI [Navy, Army and Air Force Institute]. Navy, Army, Air Force
Yeah, canteens, yeah.
And he said, "They're the only avenue I can see of disposing of them".
And he said, "I don't suppose I'll get much for them, however", he said, "better to have a little than be messing about with it". I said, "Alright.
Well, George, how much do you think the NAAFI will give you for that?" And he said, "Well, according to enquiries, so much", and it was some ridiculous figure. And I said, "Well look, George, I'll buy all those from you - and give you ten percent more than the NAAFI are offering you. And you'll only have one delivery point instead of several". And he said, "Right" and accepted it on the spot. So I took over all that and treated it in the same way as we'd treated the cigarettes. We made it available to all our personnel at a nearest even figure to what it cost us and that enabled them to, in the way of goods they received that way, to return some of the hospitality that they received from British people. And as a result, that was - that stock of material was snapped up very quickly at no real cost to us or the service and that made us a little extra profit. And taking in the cigarette scheme, the watches and the Red Cross business, we had an accumulated profit of 52 thousand - this is sterling - 52 thousand eight hundred and sixteen pounds sterling which we sent to the RAAF Welfare Fund in Australia who never acknowledged it nor said thankyou for it.
Which I thought was very very poor.
And you didn't know where it went to after that once you'd ?
So that was one of our welfare, three of our welfare efforts which my welfare officer and his small staff of about three men, managed in their stride. They did an excellent job of work. And the troops were happy
The troops appreciated it.
And I hope that somebody in Australia was happy too.
Mmm. You'll probably never know.
So how did you repat your prisoners of war, all those that were kept in the enemy prisons? They come to UK and then they were transferred to ?
Yes. We gradually got them back into the United Kingdom. They came back more or less in small parties because they had to be collected from some very remote parts of Europe. We got them all back, we got them into our personnel reception and disposal depot in Brighton. We re-fitted them with uniform, equipment and that and sort of treated them - although there was a certain amount of discipline in the depot at Brighton, it was not anything heavy handed you might say. It was a benevolent attitude towards them. We realised the experiences most of them had gone through and we saw that they were comfortably accommodated, that they were well rationed and given an opportunity of mixing with not only our own service people but with the British population generally, as a sort of get them used to
Reception desk at Gowrie House, Eastbourne. [Painting by Stella Bowen, Copyright AWM ART26270]
Upon arrival at the Australian prisoner of war repatriation centre at Eastbourne, the men were provided with a meal and accommodation.
After settling in, they were allowed to send a free cable home and were presented with a Red Cross parcel.
The men were presented with new uniforms and pay advances and then given 14 days leave and rail passes to explore Britain.
Upon their return, they awaited embarkation to Australia.
In this painting, Bowen has captured a friendly gathering of ex-prisoners of war with Women's Auxiliary Air Force officers,
the group framed by the warmth of a desk lamp and watched over benevolently by portraits of Winston Churchill and John Curtin.
A normal type of life style?
normal rules and life and existence. And then we were in communication with the Ministry of War Shipping with regard to ships to get them home. And here again we received excellent co-operation from the Ministry of Shipping. When they had a ship available which they thought was suitable for ex-POWs, they got in touch with me, told me what the ship was and asked me would I like to come down and look the ship over. And that we did. I inspected every ship. One or two I turned down on the grounds that they might be better than they were. But - the Ministry said, okay, we'll find a better one for you. So we got some of the best ships that were available. We found the same co-operative attitude when it came to general repatriation of our RAAF personnel. They said, look, we'll tell you what ships are available, you can come down and inspect them. If you dont think they're quite what you would like, you'd like something a bit different or better, well just say so and it might be a fortnight or so before we can give you something better, we'll see that you get something that you consider nice and quite good. So we had excellent co-operation from them all the way along the line. The only - Australia House at one stage tried to butt in on the repatriation of ex-prisoners of war. The official secretary rang me up on the phone and said, "I want to see you straight away". Well, I took a bit of umbrage straight away at his approach and I said, "Well, you can't see me straight away because I'm busy with a conference at the moment. I'll ring you when I'm available", which I did and went along and saw him. And he sat back in his chair and told me that he was wanting to get the RAAF ex-prisoners of war home to Australia as soon as possible. And I said, "Well, that's a very fine idea but you're a bit late", I said, "they're already on their way home to Australia". And so that's the only
What was his attitude towards that? What was his answer to that?
He was just dumbfounded. So that was the only sort of little - well, it's the only time that the Australia House staff took any interest in anything concerning the RAAF personnel.
So what part did you have to play in the Empire Air Forces Memorial that was to be erected?
Well, it was actually somewhat of an indirect approach in a way. I had been over to the Air Ministry to discuss some matters with Air Marshal Sir Bertine Sutton who was the air member for personnel. And after we had finished the business I went over about, he said, "Well whilst you're here, I want to get your views on a certain matter. The Air Ministry have decided that it would be most appropriate to establish in Britain somewhere, an Empire Air Force Memorial and we're trying to get sound ideas on the subject. We feel it can't be a hospital, it can't be a university, it can't be a school because that would only benefit people in Britain and we want something that is not going to benefit any individual part of the Commonwealth. Have you any ideas on the subject?" Well, I did a little bit of quick thinking and I looked out of his office window and I looked on the ruins of St Clements Danes church and I said, "Oh, there's the answer". I said to him, "Well, sir, come and look out of your office window here". And he said, "Yes". I said, "Well, there's St Clements Danes church. Now that has for years been the - or was for years the official church for Australia and New Zealand in London. So it's appropriate from those two dominions point of view". And I said, "It - the Air Ministry where you're sitting now overlooks that site", I said, "my headquarters is only a very short distance up Kings Way from the church. The Canadian headquarters is up in the Lincolns Inn Field area, also very close to the site of St Clements Danes. The New Zealander's headquarters is also very close and so are the South African headquarters. And I think it would be a very appropriate idea to make the restoration of St Clements Danes the Empire Air Force Memorial". And of course, as you probably know, the idea was adopted. St Clements Danes was restored, not to its original condition before it was bombed but structurally and in design, yes. But the interior has been given an Air Force atmosphere by the general interior layout and furnishing within the church. For instance, the flooring in the church is now in slate, in slate tiles, and each tile is a replica of the badge of every squadron that served in the RAF and the dominions during the war.
It's the dominions [inaudible], yes?
Yes. And the badges of our Australian squadrons who served overseas are there in the slate tiles and there are also other, what you might term furnishings of the church which have a distinct air force sort of atmosphere or
Like stained glass windows and things such as that?
Yes. And it is now known as the Church of the Royal Air Force.
LONDON, ENGLAND, 1944-12. EXTERIOR SAINT CLEMENT DANES CHURCH. [AWM P00687.154]
Mmm. Of the Royal Air Force?
Oh, well, they take the Royal Air Force as being, you know, the combination of all.
Oh, I see.
And that's made quite clear in the place.
Just combines all the other dominion air forces.
My wife and I visited the church when we were in London a few years ago and I had a long talk with the verger and also with the vicar. And our only regret was that there was no special service being held there whilst we were in London. But we attended a service there and the old parishioners still turn up and always a sprinkling of air force people as well. A very worthwhile effort.
[end of tape]
This is Reel 7 of the Wrigley interview.
What were you views of the RAAF achievements in the European theatre?
Well, actually the RAAF squadrons in the overseas theatre took part in every important operation that was carried out by the RAF and dominion air forces. It's a bit difficult to detail exactly the extent to which they took part except in the case of Bomber Command. In Bomber Command we had a force of five squadrons of heavy bombers, three squadrons of Lancasters, two of Halifaxes and it was easy there to make a sort of assessment. But those five heavy bomber squadrons actually constituted just under five percent of the total of Bomber Command. And I've selected four different bombing attacks which give some clear idea what that five percent did.
In Berlin, for instance, on one raid, 645 aircraft actually attacked the primary target. And of that 645 aircraft, 9.15 percent were RAAF. So that five percent accomplished, you might say, 9.15 percent of the total effort on that raid.
There were two occasions against Frankfurt. One of them was 736 aircraft attacked the primary target and of those, 9.3 percent were RAAF. Another raid on Frankfurt, 745 aircraft attacked the primary target and 9.92 percent were RAAF.
Taking a third place, Stuttgart: 762 aircraft attacked the primary target and 9.72 percent of those were RAAF aircraft. So that gives you some idea of the RAAF effort.
This effort was not imposed on the RAAF by the RAF in any way. It - the effort - was stepped up by the air crews themselves. The RAAF air crews themselves. They wanted to show that they could do a little bit better than the other fellow and so it was not exactly a voluntary effort but a little bit stepped up effort, you might say. And that sort of attitude occurred not only in Bomber Command but in Coastal Command, Fighter Command and all other commands of the RAF, both in Britain, in the Middle East and North Africa and in India and Burma.
Mmm. Would you call this a competitive spirit? Would it be termed a competitive spirit in a war time ?
Well, I don't know exactly. I suppose you could. But I think it was something - that feeling that a lot of Australian have. That they liked to be doing things just that little bit better than anybody else. The average reasonable thinking Australian feels that way.
Yes. In other words a competitive spirit without going overboard.
Mmm. So I suppose now comes the time when your job as AOC in London more or less came to an end and you returned to Australia. What were your thoughts about returning to Australia after the wide scope of job or position that you - or command - that you had in the UK?
Well, when this question of coming back to Australia for retirement, I felt a little bit disappointed to be sort of retired the day I got back on Australian soil. I felt that I could have contributed somewhat to the lessons learned during the war had I stayed on for a while. But however, the powers that be have the final say. One thing that did annoy me about it, is that I first learned of my impending retirement from a paragraph in the London Times. And it was not until almost three months later that I received official notification. And I thought that was most discourteous.
Mmm. Very much so.
However, that's as it worked out and it was a bit of a blow in a way too, insofar as loads of us that were retired were left without a job at the time and we had no retired pay of course. And the Commonwealth public service objected to us participating in the Commonwealth superannuation scheme on the grounds that we were occupied in a dangerous occupation and air casualties would cause a terrific drain on the financial resources of the superannuation scheme. Which was of course all nonsense. But of course the government made a great song about the fact that they'd given us a grant on retirement. I don't know the basis of the grant, whether it was the same case for all of us that were retired but as far as I was concerned, it was an amount of five thousand pound. But a great song was made about the generosity of the government in making this grant but what they didn't mention publicly was the debits that were made against that five thousand pounds. For instance, there was a debit of deferred pay which in my case amounted to some three thousand pounds odd. And that was our own money that we'd had deducted regularly from our salaries. And I thought that was a bit over the odds to make such a song about their generosity. But as far as I was personally concerned was that I didn't get back to Australia immediately the war finished because there were a lot of things still to be done. There was getting our personnel back home and numerous other things and by the time I got back - and being retired I had to earn a living so to speak - as I said, by the time I got back, all the worthwhile jobs round Australia had been snapped up by people, not only air force people but other people on the spot. So I had difficulty actually in finding a job for a while because there were no jobs going. But I eventually earned a living by taking on some administrative jobs which carried on for a few years. But once those opportunities - waiting for those opportunities to arrive, I went into business for a while but I had to give that up because I found I couldn't compete with these chain store people who were selling goods on the retail market for considerably less than I could buy them for.
You would have difficulty too - the fact that you spent virtually all your life as a military man with no training other than probably your flying and of course your administrative side within the services, you'd find it fairly difficult trying to apply that sort of a qualification outside?
Yes. And of course, well, of course I'd had some years experience as a teacher in the education department, both in metropolitan and country schools. But there again, the education department was faced with the problem of placing all their returned people. So that as I'd been away from the profession for a while, it - well, not for a while, for some years - of course there were not anything in the way of openings there. But still, we got on with the job.
That seems to be the main thing [inaudible], yeah. What in your service life, do you consider your greatest achievement or the part of the service that gave you the most satisfaction or the job within the service that gave you the most satisfaction? 'Cause you had a very varied - what shall I say - number of appointments?
Well, that's a difficult question in a way. I held some appointments, for instance as director of organisation and staff duties, next to Air Marshal Williams, I suppose, I had probably more involvement than any other officer with the development of the service. Then as station commander of Laverton, I got to know pretty intimately a considerable number of war ranks there, which was very useful. And I was sent down there with a specific job to do, a bit over and above the normal command job and I think I got - not only myself but my fellow officers and airmen on the station - got a good deal of satisfaction out of some of the things we achieved there.
Then of course came along the period when I was AOC of Southern Area and I derived a lot of satisfaction there building up one of the main training efforts of the RAAF in south eastern Australia and got that going. And then of course I was moved in as Air Member for Personnel and had the administration of the personnel in the service and the training program in the service. I got a lot of satisfaction out of the personnel side because I'm afraid that that had got into disarray somewhat. We'd had an RAF officer on loan to us here who'd been a very gallant squadron commander, very gallant squadron commander indeed, but it was unfortunate that his real ability ended as a squadron commander. But he came out here and the then minister for air had been a junior officer in his squadron in the first war and he indulged in too much intriguing with the minister. And when he returned to the RAF he was promptly placed on the retired list. But I got a lot of satisfaction in getting a muddle in personnel matters straightened out and sort of introduced a proper personnel scheme where we knew what we wanted and we knew how we would get it.
And then of course I was send overseas to the job there. And I must say, I obtained a tremendous amount of satisfaction in that job, so far as the RAAF personnel serving in the overseas theatre were concerned and satisfaction from the excellent work that they were putting in over there and the excellent results that they were achieving. That gave me a very great amount of satisfaction and the only trouble I found with that job was with our own people who were always wanting to interfere in matters of which they had no detailed knowledge at all and yet thought they knew everything. But I certainly received a tremendous amount of satisfaction in knowing that our chaps were doing an excellent job of work and also satisfaction in being able to look after their interests and the like.
I think this is probably pointed out every year, when you attend the RAAF Europe dinner when you take your place at the head table with the other VIP members, how some nearly 300 members give you a standing ovation as you come into the hall which I think must be a tremendous satisfaction for you.
Yes. That gives me a great deal of satisfaction, a great deal of pleasure, to know that they feel that way. And that goes not only at that particular function but another one that I always get a lot of satisfaction from is the annual reunion of the Odd Bods Association. As you know, the Odd Bods are the RAAF personnel who were distributed among RAF units. And were always the most difficult part of our overseas people to deal with because they had no Australian boss on the spot in the squadron, so to speak. And it fell on the AOC to pay particular regard to their particular interests and wellbeing. And the fact that, as you say, they give me a standing ovation on these occasions does make me feel that after all I was of some use. And so that's
I suppose that in the flying side of it, would you consider the south to north Melbourne to Darwin trip, flight that you did, would that be probably one of your more notable flying trips?
Well, I suppose it was in
[Inaudible] being of an exploratory nature, more or less?
Yes, I suppose that is so because it had been organised almost at a moment's notice; you might say with an aircraft which was not by any means of a recent model at the time. It was certainly an aircraft in which I'd had a lot of experience and knew pretty well but it was an occasion on which one had to use a good deal of initiative and what is perhaps more important, a good deal of commonsense. And I was very fortunate in my comrade, Murphy, who was an old school mate and who was a chap who, in a way, had learnt in the hard way and knew his job, was co-operative and dependable and I couldn't have had a better comrade on that job.
The trip also was of interest to me in somewhat of a personal way because I'd heard stories of the Northern Territory when I was a boy.
My mother had a very great friend who married a Territorian and she used to have, not very infrequent visits to a certain part of the continent, and when she did come south she always came to visit my mother and we heard tales of life in the back blocks of the Northern Territory. This person was really quite famous. It was Mrs Aeneas Gunn who wrote two books on the Northern Territory: We of the Never Never and The Little Black Princess. And having heard her stories of the Territory and live there even, as I say, as a teenager, a very young teenager, I thought to myself, well that's the sort of place I'd like to know more about or see something of. So when the opportunity to go to the Territory on that flight arose, I didn't hesitate in accepting the task. And although I didn't see the very rugged parts of the Territory where Mrs Gunn lived, I at least saw enough of the Territory to appreciate the isolation and loneliness of life of the settlers in the Territory, particularly of those who were not living on one of the big cattle stations. Even life in some of them was fairly primitive but not quite so much so as in the more lonely settlers. And I appreciate the guts of the people that went out there. And of course going up and seeing Darwin in those days, when we arrived there was not much more than a very small country town. And life there was not the easiest. And of course later on when we went up there 60 years later, and found a thriving metropolis and the old landing ground there was a flourishing residential area, it shows how the Territory had grown.
Had grown... 'Cause Tracey [Cyclone Tracey] had gone through before then, hadn't it?
And that cleaned it up. Of course I think, all due respects to the northerners, with Tracey going through, I think it did a great thing for them because it enabled to build much more beyond than they had before.
Yes, I think it enabled them to - they got rid of a lot of stuff that they could well do without and it was replaced with a better class of stuff.
But what I found on that trip up there 60 years later, I was amazed at the way they'd cleaned up after Tracey. It was absolutely - mind you, there were many scars about the place but the scars were not the result of the cyclone. They were scars resulting from the making of new roads, improving communications and various amenities of one kind or another and of course I don't know, they've probably disappeared now with new vegetation and that about the place. And I'm hoping I'll be able to go up to Darwin again in the near future.
Well, I'm hoping so too, even if you are - even if next month does herald your ninety-fourth birthday!
Well, thank you, sir for your time. It has been a very interesting interview and I'm sure that what we have on tape will also be of value to those people who are looking for the history of the RAAF, coming from such an important person as you, with the important job you held with the RAAF.
[End of interview]
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