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Jock with Mustang CV-P (KH716). Cervia, Italy, 1945.
John Neil ("Jock") McAuley
[Service Number: 430463]
3 Squadron RAAF
Date Interviewed: 1 July, 2004
Q: Right Jock, thank you very much for having us here today. I'm looking forward to hearing all about your life. Hopefully it would be great to hear about the early days, to go back as your memory allows it and hear about growing up out in Horsham.
A: Oh well, I was born and bred in Horsham. [Born 28th of November, 1924.] Lived there with my parents and a younger brother. Went to school first of all through the primary system and then through the secondary system and I finished school at the age of sixteen and was immediately appointed to a job in the public service, a department called the State River and Water Supply Commission.
There was a district office in Horsham and I was there for two years prior to my eighteenth birthday when I got the call-up, having been in the Air Training Corps for those two years. - I got the call-up and with a friend, who was just three doors along, he and I came down on the [Melbourne] Express and we were sworn in that day at what was the old Preston Motors Showroom in Russell Street, which is long gone since then. And that's when we went into the service.
Going back through the school days we had the normal schoolboy sports, football and cricket and bits and pieces. Never made the top grade by any means, but we used to go out to the Grampians a lot in those days. At the beginning of the war of course, there was petrol rationing and none of us had cars in those days, the old pushbike was fairly well used and we used to go out quite regularly to the Grampians for a weekend or overnight and there was a nice swimming pool out there and reservoir, so that was part of our interest.
Q: Can I ask what your folks were doing, what sort of work your father did?
A: Oh, Dad was the manager of a furniture store in Horsham. He was First World War and had come back and was in that store with the firm, a well-known firm in Horsham.
A Furniture Store in Horsham c.1925 [Museum Victoria MM7661]
Dad was involved in RSL [Returned and Services League] and mother was involved with Red Cross, Red Cross and the Presbyterian Church, so that was their background.
Q: So your father was a veteran of the Great War?
A: Yeah, the First World War. He was a corporal and his number was 946 and he was in C Company, the 38th Battalion. He sailed to England on the Runic, 1915 - 1916 and then went across, after some time in England, to the Western Front and then from there right through to the end of the war when they came home again. I don't know the ship he came home on, but he got home in 1918. Then during war time [WW2] he was a volunteer in (what was then more or less the Militia) the Volunteer Defence Corps, with the rank of Lieutenant at that stage.
Q: Did you hear him talk much about his World War I experiences?
A: Very little, very little indeed. I heard a bit more about during 1970. We were in London at the time and Mum and Dad came over, six or nine months, and I heard a little bit more about it at that stage, seeing that we were much nearer and I was able to take him around to some of the spots and down in Salisbury and that area and through to Scotland where he had some relatives and I heard more about it at that stage than [during] that schoolday era really.
Q: And you said he was involved with RSL, so he had a lot of mates, I guess?
A: Yes, a lot of mates, quite a lot of mates who enlisted with him in the town. Quite incidentally, I was in Horsham just three weeks ago and they've done a very wonderful memorial there with all the names of people who enlisted from the Horsham and Wimmera area since the Boer War and right through. It's a small replica of the POW [prisoner of war] deal at Ballarat. Have you seen that? - Well they've done it in the same type of wall with the names and Dad's name is there and my name is there.
A: And quite a few friends who enlisted, who I knew. Plus the fact that I've been involved in Legacy since 1958 and I've been a liaison officer between Melbourne Legacy and Wimmera Legacy and a lot of the Legacies. I go up there once or twice a year and of course a lot of the Legatees are schoolmates and they're still there, those that are still on deck. (A few have gone actually, since those days.)
Q: Okay, so you gave us a rough sort of picture of life with the Grampians not far away, what are your earliest memories of your childhood there at Horsham?
A: Very friendly town, we had lots of friends there and there were very simple pleasures in those days, very simple between friends. It was a good town, a growing town, had all the attributes of a reasonable size town. I think one of the first drive-in picture theatres was there and then there was an open-air picture theatre as well. There were dances when we got old enough and prior to the war we used to have quite good dances and at that stage they were all war deals, providing the War Saving certificates and that sort of thing. But it was a very pleasant life and I've still got a lot of life-long friends from that area.
Q: So your family's home was like in the town area?
A: In the town of Horsham, yes.
Q: And I guess the industry out there was, the big thing was wool?
A: In those days it was farming. That's wheat and wool, principally wheat, wheat in the north and wool towards the south, down towards the Grampians. One big industry that was there was May and Miller, an implement manufacturer and they were well-known in those days. That was about the only industry but since then of course the town has grown out of proportion and lots of industry right through. I noticed recently where they're setting up a new mineral sands deal which will be some hundreds of millions, with open mining, further away.
Q: Okay, can you tell us a little bit more about the family? We've heard about your father, what about your Mum and were there siblings?
A: Yes, Dad was one of three, one brother, a brother and a sister. He survived the other two. Mother was one of seven or eight and she was the sole survivor of her family and died in May '98 at ninety nine years and seven months, so she was the survivor of that family but they were all pretty well long-living.
Q: Tell us a bit about what you know about your parents, how they met? Your father, you said, there's obviously some Scottish roots there?
A: Oh yes, over the years. My grandfather was a Sergeant of Police and he was round the Geelong area; Geelong, Ballarat, Linton, Skipton, Avoca and Stuart Mill and it was on one occasion apparently towards the end of his career he was appointed the Sergeant of Police at Horsham, and that's where Mother and Dad met. It was after the [First World] War. They were married in 1922. Mother was living prior to that at Bannockburn and she went to the Gordon College in Geelong and did secretarial work and was a stenographer and secretary with a firm of solicitors in Geelong called Harwick and Pinnicote. Dad's father had auction rooms in Horsham prior to my day, mainly on furniture and then this furniture firm was established as part of a big merchant and Dad went into that and was in that right until the day he retired.
Q: And how many children were there in your immediate family?
A: Only myself and my brother. My brother who is nine years younger than I am and incidentally, he's been in the film game all his life, since 1956, and he's done quite a few films. Did you ever see the film of the liners, the liners throughout the world?
A: He's done that and he's just finished the battleships. He has done the balloons and he's in England at the moment starting to do one on flying boats, so I'll show you, he's got a couple of cassettes out there.
Q: So, documentary?
A: A documentary, yeah. He's been round the world for fifty years doing this, that and the other thing.
Q: You're surname's McAuley? That rings a bell actually.
Q: Yeah, that's great, because I'd love to see something on the flying boats, the Catalinas and the Sunderlands.
A: I haven't seen the film on the flying boats yet but I've seen the ships. It's been a conglomerate he's organised between the ABC [Australian Broadcasting Corporation], France, BBC [British Broadcasting Corporation] and the States, it's been a joint deal and it's been very good really.
A: So there's only the two of us and he originally started in the bank and then decided the bank wasn't his deal and he gave that away and it was 1956 when the Olympic Games was on and he got a job despatching films all around the world from the Games, and that's when he went into the film game and went to Sydney at that stage and he's lived in Sydney ever since and has pursued the film work from there all the time.
Q: Okay it would be great if you could give us a bit more detailed picture of the things that you got up to as kids in Horsham, be it mischief or whatever?
A: Oh that's an interesting one. Horsham in those days was a bit flood-prone through the Wimmera River. We used to have great fun and it used to come right through the main street. (That's all been done away with now but whenever there was a flood on we'd get on the bikes and go down through the flood waters and ride them through and so on.) That was one aspect. I had friends on properties throughout the area and used to go out on holidays and spend time with them. [Just] normal kids. I don't think we got up to any terrible bad deals at that stage.
Q: So who were the kids that you would play with? Your brother was obviously a fair bit younger than you?
A: Yes, he was a fair bit younger. They were my age group mainly.
Q: So how often would you get up into the Grampians?
A: Oh we did get up there often of a weekend in fine weather or school holidays, during the term holidays or Christmas time. They were good days, used to ride the bike up there. That was I suppose a pretty simple life in a country town in those days. Didn't get up to too much mischief I don't think.
Q: Good, healthy, clean healthy living?
A: Clean healthy living, perhaps throwing a stone on the headmaster's roof occasionally or something like that, providing you didn't get caught.
Q: Of course. Did you ride your bike up into the hills or the mountains there and what? Did you pitch a tent?
A: Pitch a tent, yes. There was a little village called Zumsteins where there were two or three small units that were let and there was the McKenzie River and there was a camping area there and there was no problem to put a tent up there, and they had conveniences there. Over the years the council had put up conveniences so it was quite civilized really.
Q: Was Hall's Gap sort of a touristy sort of place?
A: Hall's Gap was starting. That was over the other side. You used to ride up to Wartook which is more or less on the reservoir on the top of the Grampians and then down, descending all the way down into Hall's Gap. Hall's Gap has become a very big holiday area now, a very well-established area.
Q: So what would you do out on those outings? What would you get up to out in the bush?
A: Oh well when I went out with friends, if they were shearing, we'd be sort of sweeping up in the shearing shed or we might even have a go on the tractor if they were sowing wheat. Perhaps a little bit of droving with sheep, shifting sheep from one paddock to another. Ride a horse occasionally. I wouldn't say I was a great horseman but if you had a quiet horse it was all right to follow the sheep. Those were the sort of things that were pretty basic in those days, very basic.
Q: And tell us about school, what was that experience like? Were you much of a scholar?
A: Oh average I suppose. I wouldn't put it more than that. We got through and I suppose that's the main thing, isn't it?
Q: Tell us about the headmaster, the one who got a few stones on his roof?
A: We had a series of headmasters. They were pretty good and this chap was a little bit dour and we used to have to smarten him up occasionally. No, the school was a very good school actually and a lot of people that graduated from that school went all over the world in different jobs. Two or three became professors at Melbourne Uni, it was a pretty good school actually.
Q: How big was it?
A: I suppose at that stage it would be about three hundred students. The actual school that I attended has been long since demolished and a new building built, still on the same site, which was right on the outskirts of Horsham in those days but today it's almost in the centre of Horsham, where it's expanded completely right round, a 360-degree area.
Q: You've told us a bit about your folks, but can you sort of give us a more detailed description of what they were like? I mean what were they like as parents and as people?
A: That's a hard question, isn't it? They were good parents, average parents I suppose. No, we all got on pretty well together. It was through the Depression days of course and things were pretty tough and we lived very close to a railway line at that stage (long before your time). In this Depression there used to be hundreds of unemployed people, used to what they called "jump the rattler." And they couldn't do anything about it and they'd come to a place like Horsham and camp in the sheep yards at the station and homes near the station they'd always come and, "Can you give us half a loaf of bread?" And I'll say Mother and Father were very generous as far as that was concerned, although as I say times were tough and they could ill-afford to do much more than that. But they sacrificed a lot to give myself and my brother a reasonable schooling and both of us have really kicked on since then, so I suppose it goes back to that grounding really that we had with a secure family life.
Q: Your Dad was at the furniture store managing, was he managing the store there?
Q: And that was through the Depression he managed to?
A: No, it was 1936 I think when that was set up, which was getting on towards the end of the Depression. Things were starting to improve since then, but it was probably between '28 and oh '34-'35 was the worst I think.
Q: So what was your father doing during the worst of those years? How was he managing to secure some income?
A: At one stage very early in the piece when there was very little work he actually was lumping wheat, which kept the home together. That was for about a year, before he took on the furniture job as a permanent deal and he had a few odds and sods. He also had an agency for cream separators and he used to sell those. They were about thirty pounds in those days, but thirty pounds in those days was a pretty big figure, so he used to do that as a temporary deal. The old rabbit was a subsidiary meal in those days, we often went out and had a shot and caught a rabbit or two, which helped the meal situation.
Q: So it sounds like your dad was a pretty resourceful?
A: Oh very resourceful.
Q: Very responsible?
A: Very responsible, yes. I think that got back through a certain extent to his family and the war service where you get a pretty fair background in life.
Q: Was the Sustenance ever an option in Horsham?
A: No, never had to go on Sustenance. He was able to get enough to keep the family together right through that period and I'll pay him full marks for that because it wasn't easy.
Q: And your mother had done secretarial work?
A: She'd done secretarial work.
Q: Was she doing anything of that nature in Horsham?
A: Nothing in Horsham, although she was secretary of the Red Cross for many years, which didn't involve terribly much secretarial work. It was more of an organisational job and then during the war years they had a stall in the main street every Friday and there used to be jams and scones and things donated and they used to staff this and sell them and the money went to the Red Cross, so she was very involved in that for a number of years, right through.
Q: You mentioned the rabbiting? Can you tell us a bit more about that? How did you catch the rabbits? Would it mainly be with guns?
A: Oh little 22 shotgun. That shotgun is with our son and grandson up in the Gulf of Carpentaria at the moment, still operating, so there you are. I had it here for years but there was no need to have it here and seeing they were on a property and it all came out later on, it went up there.
Q: So how good a shot were you with the 22?
A: Oh I think Dad was a better shot than I was. You won a few and lost a few of course, at times.
Q: So how easy or difficult was it to snare a rabbit?
A: Used to go out usually just in the evening and normally I'd go out and [the rabbits would] come into a dam and you'd give someone a ring and say, "Look we're coming out for a shot tonight and the rabbits will be there."
And they'd say, "Yeah, go ahead". They were only too pleased to have a few rabbits taken off the property and that was about the best time to get them, when they used to come in for a drink in the evening.Q: And so obviously you had a feed with the rabbit, what about the pelts?
A: Oh no, they weren't worth anything in those days. I mean there was a chap that used to come around and sell rabbits and I remember only too well: 1/6 a pair, so that's about the, however that one and sixpence, he'd obviously been out trapping.
Q: You mentioned "jumping the rattler," that sort of evokes an image but what does that mean really?
A: It means that these unemployed chaps were going from town to town and the only way they could do it was as the freight trains started to move out of the station (they only ever had a swag), they would immediately get onto the railway line and while it was doing ten, twelve, fifteen miles an hour they'd jump onto a truck. And you might have, I've seen them there with thirty or forty fellows there on different trucks and the railways couldn't do anything about it and then prior to the next town, as it slowed down in the station, they'd probably get off there. Well they might even stay on. I know the police used to come up occasionally and try and clear them out, but the numbers were so great that it was almost an impossible job.
Q: So were they seen as swaggies, or was that a sort of different group really?
A: They weren't so much swaggies but they were caught up in the unemployment during the Depression and I suppose that was one way that they could exist really. A lot of them had families, I think, and were attempting to get work through the country. There was wheat: harvesting wheat or loading wheat at the stations, or maybe even on the properties with sheep but it was an interesting number of people that were doing this and were forced to do it in those days. That's what they term, "jumping the rattler," - in other words, jumping the train.Q: Do you remember any more, you said they'd come via your place and if your mother could she would offer them something, I mean how was she able to help, how were your parents able to help?
A: Well you'd perhaps cut a bit of a loaf of bread, only what you had in the home at the time or if they'd been a little bit of casserole or something left over you might give them a small bit of that. It was cutting down on what you had in the home. They didn't go out and get food or anything for this purpose by any means.
Q: So tell us a bit more about your mum. You sort of described your father, what sort of fellow he was; what about your mother? Tell us a bit more about her?
A: She was a very active person. She was very active in a number of organisations, in the church. She sang in the church choir. She was involved in all the church activities. She was on various committees. She was on the Ladies Auxiliary at the RSL. At one stage Dad was Secretary of the RSL for some years and she was Secretary of the Ladies Auxiliary. She ended up playing croquet in those last years they were in Horsham. They came down here in '55, when Dad retired but prior to that she was playing croquet, riding a bike too to get around, but other than that she was an ordinary, good-living person
Q: Who was the disciplinarian of the two, if there was one?
A: I think it was a joint deal, it was a joint deal.
Q: Can you tell us a bit more about that, I mean if you sort of had misbehaved?
A: Sometimes if you were home and Mum was there and you did something she didn't approve of she'd be the disciplinarian. She might even call on Dad when he came home and, "He's been in trouble and he's done this," or, "He's done that." - So between the two of them. It was a very happy life. We never got very badly treated by any means.
Q: But still things like getting the cuts were a little bit more the norm weren't they then?
A: Oh yes, you got those at school rather than at home, "Put your hand out". - Talking too much, or not talking enough, disturbing the class or doing something like that.
Q: Talk a bit more about your schooling now, what were some of the characters there, your mates or the teachers perhaps that stayed with you?
A: Oh they were a range of men and women and you look back on them and some of them were very talented people really. I suppose they were average people too, and they were dedicated and a lot of them came to the town. The single people of course had to find board and the married people normally were able to get a home, to rent a home. In those days there wasn't much accommodation by the Government School Authority. I don't know of any school houses. Everyone tried to get a home. No, some of them were characters.
Q: Any that come to mind? Any that sort of particularly got on your goat?
A: No, no, we always got on well together.
Q: How big were the classes?
A: Oh they were about 25 to 30 in those days. Now that you mention, there was one little interesting fellow that tried to teach us Latin. He name was Virgil and in those days it was quite strange to have a beard (and he had a beard, like yours). He didn't too do well in teaching us Latin. We weren't terribly happy about that, trying to learn Latin, being a dead language. It's one I do remember quite well.
Q: You got a bit frustrated?
A: Oh yes, he didn't have terribly much control over us for a start, that's probably the one where we played up a bit more than most of them.
Q: So if you did have an aptitude at school, what would it have been for?
A: Oh I think we were average at most things really. I can't say I was outstanding at any one side of it or dull in any one side of it. I think we were pretty well average kids.
Q: Do you remember the names of your mates from that era?
A: Yes, I had lunch with one only a fortnight ago - he was a chap who came down with me the day we both enlisted. He ended up doing 37 trips in the back-seat of a Lanc [Lancaster] over Europe, and is still alive, living about two miles from here. I saw him the other day.
I see a few from there, particularly if I go up to Horsham for Legacy. They're the ones I see, but this chap, this particular friend, we had lunch only a fortnight ago.
Q: You've talked about your dad being a veteran of World War I and obviously that had a major impact on Australia at the time, as you were growing up in the twenties and thirties, how strong was that Anzac spirit or tradition?
A: Oh it was a very strong spirit in country towns because it was amazing the number that enlisted from these towns and of course they came back and a pretty strong lot of fellows, setting up the RSLs in the town, having the Anzac ceremonies and the Anzac Days. Usually have a march and a guest speaker and that was a very strong part of their life and activity. And again they did a lot of work in trying to help their mates to get employment, which was a first class type of job to do really, a great help to fellows they were able to help. A lot of them had contacts around the area and knew what was going on and could recommend people as being reliable employees.
Q: You said how your father didn't talk a lot about [WW1], it wasn't until later that you learnt of his experiences but were there other veterans, other ex-servicemen who were?
A: Very much the same. Very few of them spoke about it at length at all. They might laugh and joke a bit on Anzac Day, but we didn't know the full details and it was only in latter years that I saw a copy of his battalion report, which they wrote a book at the end of the war and you wondered, really. Particularly this trench warfare was a terrible deal, where you wouldn't get out of the clothes for literally weeks on end and I don't know if you've been to Europe and seen some of those war graves and seen the number that was killed, it was colossal in those days. The possibility of losing your life was pretty great.
Q: Looking back, do you think those experiences, I mean your Dad was on the Western Front and as you say it was quite horrific, did you think that had any bearing on the way he might have carried himself?
A: I think all of us, and this applied to me as well as him, grew up pretty quickly after living with men and going through the military deal and I think that was one thing that was supreme with all these people, they grew up pretty quickly and I think it stood them in good stead right through their life.
Q: So when did you complete your schooling? How far did you go?
A: I went to Leaving Certificate, which would almost be equivalent of VCE [Victorian Certificate of Education] today, and that seemed to be about the norm. A few were able to go onto university, perhaps with parents who had the wherewithal. My parents didn't, so it was a question then of looking for employment and I was lucky enough to have sat for the Public Service Exam and got an appointment. I finished school in the December and I started work in the January, so I was lucky. And since that date I've been able to look after myself and I wasn't a drain on the family from that day onwards.
Q: And that was from what [age] about?
Q: So does that mean, you told us a bit about I guess primary school, at what age would you have moved onto [secondary]?
A: Oh you used to move on in Sixth Form, which is about [age] 10. Primary school till about 10 and high school about 10 or 11, so you had five or six years at high school and five or six years at primary school.Q: Was there just the one school in Horsham?
A: At that stage, there was the primary school and the high school and oh the Catholic Church had a convent school for both boys and girls, so that was the other school that was there. But today there are about four schools in Horsham and two or three secondary schools and it's grown immensely since those days.
Q: Did your Dad have a car?
A: Yes, yes, he did, yes.
Q: What was it?
A: He started off with a T-Model Ford then went to a Capital Model Chev [Chevrolet] in  and then things got pretty tough and he had to sell that, in I think it was . Then when he started with this separator agency he had to get a car and I think it cost him 75 pounds for a Whippet. And he had the Whippet for many years and in 1936 he was able to buy a Willy's, which was the forerunner of the Willy's Jeep, same motor that was in the Willy's Jeep.
And he sold that I think in 1940 when petrol rationing came and got the bike out again, so there we are.
Q: Did he sell the car to the army or?
A: No, he sold the car to a chap who was going from Horsham to Melbourne and wanted a vehicle and had the money to pay for it. I remember the number of that one, 79343, there you are, the Willy's Sedan.
Q: Why does that number...?
A: Oh it just, we had it for some years and drove it.
Q: When did you start driving?
A: Oh about 10 or 11 or 12, unofficially.Q: On your own?
A: No, normally with Dad, normally with Dad.
Q: So you'd sort of do the rounds with him or what?
A: Oh yes, I did in those days if he was going out and I used to have a drive when he was with me. So no, I used to love driving.
Q: So how long before you went solo?
A: Well I suppose, I'll tell you another story in a moment. In those days of petrol rationing there were gas producers. Have you heard of gas producers?
A: And in the State Rivers and Waters Supply Commission we had utilities and they were all fitted with gas producers but none of the engineers or surveyors could get them going and as a 16 year old, one of my first jobs was to fire up the gas producer and take if for a run around the block, unofficially. We were right behind the police station but they never worried. When I turned eighteen and fronted up to the police station and said, "I want a licence."
They said, "You've been driving for years. What do you mean?" So it was only a matter of signing a bit of paper at that stage. And it was only then 18 in the November and in the January I went into the RAAF.
Q: Yeah, I've heard about the gas producers. How did they work? How would you fire them up?
A: They had a big hopper with charcoal and you'd put a bit of kerosene in the bottom and put in a firelighter and start up the engine on petrol to get a draft, a sucking draft to get it burning and when it burnt, got going well and truly, you could change over from petrol, there was a tap on the dashboard, you'd change from petrol to gas and hopefully you'd put your foot down and the gas took over and you went. At that stage you kept the engine running and they went off on their job, but I seemed to be the main starter of these utes, although I was in the administrative service. I wasn't an engineer or a surveyor or a geologist or anything like that.
A utility truck in 1941 with a "gas producer" burning solid fuel to save petrol.
Q: Alright, maybe, okay you've done your Leaving Certificate and you've applied for the Public Service, now where did you end up with the Public Service? I know you told us.
A: The State Rivers and Waters Supply Commission, that is since been disbanded but that was an organisation operating right throughout Victoria in those days.Q: So you were 16?
A: Sixteen, yeah.
Q: So this is 1940?
Q: Okay, so if we can back track a little bit to even '39, even before that, I mean what sense were people in Horsham getting of impending war in Europe?
A: See they had this 19th Machine Gun Regiment, which had been operating in Horsham for ten years and as soon as war broke out those chaps sort of went in automatically, so the whole township of Horsham knew there was a war on and knew that the fellows were going. The others that were coming up to age, because their brothers had probably gone, they were going too. So that the whole town was certainly au fait with conditions at that time.
Q: Did your father ever talk about that because it seemed that some of the World War I vets would have a stronger inkling?
A: Well as soon as the war broke out and when the actual Militia, the 19th Machine Gun Regiment, went into war, they then formed what they called the Volunteer Defence Corps of ex-servicemen of the First World War and that took the place of, it became a militia unit and they did training. In 1940, they were in their thirties at that stage, 30-35-40, and they did quite a bit of training. Certainly checking on blackouts and things like that. See there was a blackout in those days, even though you were 200 miles from anywhere. There was a blackout and that had to be properly organised, all the names of [railway] stations were taken down in case of invasion. Now, how [the Japanese] were going to get there, you wouldn't know, but that did happen and they did training. And they used to talk to young people about joining up, not forcing them by any means but just telling them about things like that. So Dad was in that right throughout the war and all his mates of the First World War vintage were in that too.
Q: Do you recall that Sunday night when Menzies broadcast that message?
A: Yes, 3rd of September 1939. We heard it over the radio. At that stage I think we had a battery radio with a six volt battery and that was long before portables came in. We had a big car battery, a six volt battery hooked to a receiver with about three valves, the old valve type. We heard it then and I remember it very well. It was about seven or eight o'clock. Menzies announced that "We are now at war."
Q: What did you make of that? What was the feeling?
A: Well I was perhaps too young to realise at that stage, because '39 I was only 14. I think it had a profound effect on people like Dad and his ex-service mates, who'd been in the war. '39 was still only twenty years from the First World War and it was War again - and I think they were a bit askance that this war would have been a colossal war.
Q: Are you able to recollect what his words might have been or what he might have said at the time?
A: No, I can't recollect that. No, I can't actually.
Q: It was a few years ago.
A: No, I can't recollect the actual wording. I do remember very well the announcement and the fact there was a conversation between Mum and Dad and myself and my brother who was only about nine or ten at that stage and just said war was on and hoped it doesn't affect you boys.
- That was perhaps said at the time, that the war would be all over in twelve months, but as we know it wasn't.
Q: So in that early stage were there many young men from Horsham who were signing up?
A: Oh yes, yes, nearly all these people from the 19th Machine Gun Regiment. They were all some of the first to sign up and then quite a few went into the air force first up. Chaps that had sort of said, "Well I'd like to fly rather than be on a parade ground being marched from hither to yon."
Q: Do you remember much of, the 19th Machine Gun was it?
A: 19th Machine Gun Regiment based in Horsham.Q: Do you remember much of their activity about town?
A: Oh yes, they used to have camps and they had the first armoured car I ever saw. It was a colossal, it was a proper armoured car, built on an old Ford chassis but it had the lot and that used to parade round and they used to go camps and have what I suppose would be a mock battle and this old Ford, I don't know what ever happened to it but it was an old sluggish thing that couldn't have done more than 30 mile an hour. And a lot of them went from driving it and went from there into the AIF and went into mechanised units and there was a bit of background that they'd had, at least, in going into that.
Q: So by that stage you could handle a shotgun you said?
Q: Had there been any other military inclination? Had you done cadets or anything of that sort?
A: Yes Training Corps, we went into the Air Training Corps at 16. There were two or three chaps that had been in the AFC, the Australian Flying Corps, during the war and they set up the Training Corps and we did aircraft recognition, a bit of Morse code in those days, a bit of training, a bit of discipline, a little bit of theoretical work on navigation. It was a interesting little unit. These chaps from the AFC of course had the flying background and were terribly keen and they helped a lot of us boys, those that were a bit that way inclined, helped us to learn a little bit about what could be expected if you went into a flying corps of some description.
Q: So you joined that, that was after the war [had started] obviously and you were working at the time?
A: Yes, I'd just started working, I was 16. I think 16 was about the age you went into [Air Training Corps], so I had two years in that before I actually enlisted.
Q: So how do you explain that inclination of yours? Why that interest in the air force?
A: I had a friend that lived at Dimboola, who'd learnt to fly, and he used to come in a Gypsy Moth occasionally and there was a paddock opposite the high school that I mentioned and he used to land there. And once you saw an aeroplane [land, you'd go] over to see it.
And then prior to that, in about the mid '30s, Kingsford Smith was barnstorming around Australia in the Southern Cross and it came to Horsham and that was my first flight. I was shouted a five shilling flight in the Southern Cross and I think from then on, perhaps, "that wasn't too bad." And of course, if an aeroplane appeared you'd be on your bike and, "Oh, it's on Jenkinson's paddock," and you'd race out and sure enough you'd see the aeroplane.
Q: So you actually flew on the Southern Cross with Kingsford Smith piloting?
A: I flew, Kingsford Smith was piloting, on the old Southern Cross.
The Southern Cross, preserved today at Brisbane Airport.
Q: What more can you tell us about that? That must have been a fantastic experience?
A: Well that created a colossal interest in the town of course. Seeing he had the record behind him with the "Old Bus" as he called it, the Southern Cross, having flown across the Pacific. Then he started barnstorming around Australia to get a few shekels [scrape some money together]. It happened at Horsham and he was there for two days I think and he had to go out to a paddock about five miles out of Horsham because the ones nearer were too small for the Southern Cross, and it was just a grass field, but that caused quite a stir in the town. [The flight] was only about 10 minutes. It was take off, do one circuit and come in and land and that was it.
Q: How many of you on the plane?
A: I think it held, I think it was about eight or ten at a time. I remember they had canvas wicker chairs. No seat belts or anything in those days. You just sat in this wicker chair and you could see the windows on either side and I think, yes there were... four twos are eight. So there were four rows of two, there were eight. Whichever side you were on you had a window, four, four, with an aisle down the centre and you could see Smithy and the pilot and no door on the cockpit.
Q: Did he address the passengers?
A: Just said, "Good day, how are you?" And that was about all, there's not the radio communication they had in those days. He'd just say, "We're off," and away we went.
Q: And that was your first flight?
A: That was the first flight.
Q: Do you remember the sensation of that day?
A: Oh well, it was something I'd never struck before, it was new and you were speeding along the ground, probably about 70 mile an hour in those days and you got up in the air and it was a bit bumpy. And you wondered how it was, and came around and landed and you're back on the ground again, and that's it. That was the five shillings worth.
Q: But well worth it, I'm sure?
A: Oh well worth it, yeah. It's something I've never forgotten actually.
Q: So how, obviously it was an era of great aviators, the twenties and thirties, were you sort of taking an interest in all of that?
A: Yes, yes, and I say this friend of mine from Dimboola learnt to fly and he ended up flying with ANA [Ansett National Airways] and then Commonwealth Pacific Airways and something he said to me I've never forgotten. When he heard I was going into the air force, he said, "If you're going to fly, two things: keep your nose down and your speed up and you'll be alright." And I'll tell you what, that's very true with the fixed wing aircraft, very true.
Q: Nose down, speed up.
A: Yeah. Otherwise if your nose gets up and your speed comes down you stall and flip; so something I never forgot.
Q: Basic principle of safety.
A: Yes, that's one simple basic principle. There were a lot more than that, but it was very true, keep your nose down and your speed up and you'll be right.
Q: So after the flight on the Southern Cross what was the next occasion that you had to fly?
A: I think the next occasion was when I actually got into the air force and we did an initial training course at Somers and then the selection was made at that stage whether you'd be a pilot, navigator or air gunner. Leave that...?
Q: We're getting there. We're very close because we are moving that way.
A: To answer your question though, I was allocated as a pilot and the first flight I had in the air force was at the FTC [Flight Training Centre] at Benalla on Tiger Moths, but we'll come to that in due course.
Q: Yes, we'll be there shortly. Okay, so war started, you're working now and can you tell us a little bit about the kind of work you were doing there?
A: Well I joked about the starting up of the gas producers at that stage but that was only a side issue. It was a revenue office and I was a clerk in the revenue office where all the properties were rated and you had big rate books and you had to send out rate notices and you had to collect the money and then chase up those that hadn't paid. And for that rate, there was a very comprehensive [irrigation] channel scheme went through all the properties and these channels ran in the winter time and a property with a dam got one "fill" a year and that was for their rates. I was on the revenue rating side at that stage. And there were only three of us in that section of the office, a secretary, who was an interesting character, who never turned up to the office until about half past nine or ten o'clock in the morning and cleared off about four o'clock in the afternoon. And it was very funny that when I was a very new recruit, about nine o'clock a distinguished looking man appeared at the counter and he said, "Where's Mr Douglas?"
I said, "I don't know at the moment. I think he must be out cutting some wood for the fire." At that stage I was out the back, "I'll go and have a look at him, go and see if I can find him," jumped on the bike, went down to his house and woke him and said, "There's a man to see you. It's Mr King, the accountant."
"Don't you get the mail this morning, I'll get the mail this morning," and he got out of bed and no shave or anything and came up and arrived in the office ten minutes later with a bundle of mail, "I've just been to get the mail Mr King".
- So that story was told against me for many years because King, the accountant in those days, he knew the set-up. He just put it on me to see the reaction, I think, more than anything, so there we are.
Q: That was a great story, the one about with the accountant. So he knew what was on?
A: He knew what was on.
Q: He must have been impressed though with your quick wittiness?
A: He told that against me for many years afterwards. He's dead and gone now but it was interesting but there you are.
Q: So that was a reasonable challenge, what other challenges did that particular job present?
A: Oh it was one of those things that I sort of carried this chap. As I said he didn't arrive at the office until about half past nine and leave about four and I know at one stage he bought a property and was painting it during working hours. You were there and you carried the deal. There was an engineering section as well on the other side of the passageway but I was normally on the revenue side. When he wasn't there, I was there. So you had to tell a few little porkies occasionally.
Q: But would he do some favours in return?
A: No, no. He was a very difficult chap and he had a wife who was actually a pharmacist but she used to come into the office with the shopping list and say, "Right, here's the shopping list."
And he'd look at it and he'd say, "That's four and seven pence halfpenny. Jock, have you got two halfpennies for a penny?" And deal out the actual amount. Anyway she gave him away soon after that and decided when war came, she thought, "Well this is not for me," so she went into a pharmacy and she became a bit more independent. But oh he was a tough old nut that fellow.
Q: So what was the day to day routine for you?
A: The day to day routine was mail and particularly when the rates were due, there were cheques coming in all the time, you had to do the banking, bank the cheques. And then you then had to do with the ledgers, you had to write where a chap had paid, you had to note that he'd paid and there was a balance every day of the monies against the rates and bits and pieces and phone calls and so on and so forth. Different enquiries about their properties and when's the water coming and, "I haven't had water this year, when's the channel running?" And so on and so forth.
Q: Can you recall the times, obviously drought, I mean that area like everywhere else in Australia is prone to drought, were there any times when the water supply wasn't up to?
A: Oh yes, it varied a bit with the weather and with the system of open channels. (Which are now being replaced with pipelines - and there was talk about that in those days - but the evaporation and the seepage from these open channels was colossal.) So while you had a lot of water in the storage there wasn't a lot arrived a hundred miles away there, so they were times of difficulty, at times where certain sections had to be closed down to let water go to a further section rather than having them all running at the same time.
Q: So it was part of your job chasing up those farmers who were a bit behind on payments?
A: Yes, first and final notice and then even to the stage where you'd given them every opportunity and you had to take out an order to the court and usually when that order went out, that's usually when some money came in. Bear in mind this was Depression period too, so they were in the same problem. If their crops weren't any good they were down the drain and if the stock wasn't selling well they were down the drain. After all, they were up for the capital costs of putting in their crops and if they didn't get anything at the end they were in real trouble. So some of them were in dire straits and had to get some sort of accommodation from the bank.
Q: What would the rates have been?
A: Well they weren't high, certainly - hard to say. A six hundred and forty acre block, that's a square mile of rural wheat land, the rates would be about three hundred pounds in those days. That sounds a lot of money, but it was relatively good compared to what they'd get off that property in a good year. So it was one of those things that you just had to juggle a bit.
Q: From that period do you recall any cases that did end up in court?
A: Oh yes, quite a few, yes, with orders against them, so the State then had the first claim on any monies that were available.
Q: So it was quite distressing for the farmers?
A: Oh yes, it was a bit distressing at that stage but on the whole it was pretty right.
Q: So can you tell us a little bit more about the Air Training Corps? So you signed up for that, what sort of commitment was that?
A: Oh we used to have about two or three nights a week and sometimes of a Saturday or a Sunday, depending on what was doing. We might have a parade, a little bit of discipline and as I say the lectures. A lot of the schoolteachers helped on this with the various subjects and some of the local chaps in town that knew Morse code, particularly telegraphists with the Post Office in those days that did all their telegrams with Morse code. They used to come along and teach Morse code (but I never used Morse code in the air force, although we had to do it at that stage). It was basic training of what you'd experience as a rookie going into an air force. A bit of drill, a bit of responsibility, I think you were promoted occasionally from AC2 [Aircraftsman] to an AC1, which gave you a little bit of extra responsibility, I suppose the word would be.
Q: Does a uniform go with that?
A: I was just trying to remember, I thought that question was going to come and I think at that stage it was at most a shirt and there was no uniform as such. There was a shirt and a cap. I remember there was a cap, one of the Glengarry type of caps. That was all in those days.
Q: So where did they conduct the courses?
A: Oh mainly in the town hall, church halls, recreation reserves and football fields, things like that. And I think from memory, at one stage some of these lessons were at school, where a couple of schoolteachers would come along and do a little bit of lecturing to us in some subjects.
Q: And what about subjects that were more pertinent to the air force, like you said aircraft recognition , would that have been air force taught?
A: Yes, the air force used to provide all the photographs, like a jigsaw puzzle and something to put up, like "what's that?" And you had to learn them and there were sheets of aircraft and this was all European at this stage because there was no thought of Japan coming into the war.
Q: And you were doing this with your mate, what was his name again, sorry?
A: Yes, his name was Gerald McPherson. He had two other brothers in the air force as well and one of whom died just twelve months ago. He was a Vultee Vengeance pilot, the one that died, and the other one he was an air gunner and he died some years ago. And he did in fact bail out over England actually. They got back as far as England and the aircraft they abandoned it then, it was so badly damaged. So their family had quite a good record really.
Q: Just curious to know how the Air Training Corps worked with the air force itself. Was it a matter of when you signed up for the first were you automatically on a list for the air force?
A: Oh no, no, you signed up with Air Training Corps just to give you a bit of background and there was no guarantee you were going to get a place in the air force, no guarantee at all, but you probably had a better chance than somebody who hadn't been in it. From memory I think they used to say, "We want some people and where are the people in the Air Training Corps for a start?" You got a better deal that way.
Q: So you kind of saw it as it would be an advantage when the time came?
A: When the time came, yeah, yeah.
Q: Had the thought of joining any of the other services crossed your mind?
A: No, not at that stage. I had flying in my mind, hopefully, although Dad's background was army. Aircraft fascinated me and that was the reason really.
Q: Did you have any mates that went army?
A: One or two, yes, one or two and they survived.
Q: Now can you tell us a little bit more about, we've sort of covered the work and the Air Training Corps, what about your social life? How had that sort of changed the older you got, your teenage years?
A: Well in those years, you talked about dances, well you had dances in the town and then you had barn dances but you used to have a problem to get there. There was one school mate and he was on the land, a very big fellow and he used to borrow his father's car, a Hudson in those days. And Ken was one of those blokes that would come along with the Hudson and we'd say, "Right, you get in the back seat, we're going to drive it." And we'd go out to these dances of a night and I remember on one occasion we went out and it was only five or six miles out of Horsham and we had a deluge through the night and of course we couldn't get out. So the farmer had to provide a tractor to pull us out onto the road, so they were things that you did in those days.
Q: Tell us more about the barn dances, or both, the dances in town too?
A: Oh well they were good, they were good. They were in the shearing shed or somewhere like that. Used to be a local band that came and played and they were a bit of a fund raising deal again for the war effort, but they were also a good, what shall we say, a benefit for the young people to keep them together. And there was a big hospital at Horsham and the nurses from the hospital they used to come to these barn dances and the town hall dances and so on.
Q: It would be great to get a bit more a picture of the atmosphere and the sort of music that was played and the kind of dancing that was done?
A: Oh it was old time dancing in those days, the barn dances of course. You used to get around them and change partners and some of the Scottish ones. The Maxina I think was another one, and the music was old time music, different to the hot shot, pop shop today. But they were good, they were pleasant nights and they kept the community together and I think it was a good thing.
Q: And a good way to meet members of the opposite sex?
A: Yeah, that's right, yeah.
Q: So did you have a girlfriend at that time?
A: Oh I had lots of them at that time.
Q: How did that all work? Was there such thing as dating at that stage?
A: Oh not terribly much. The local picture show of a Saturday night, that was probably the one. As a matter of a fact I had lunch with one on Tuesday who I went to Sunday school with. Now that's going back a year or two, isn't it? She happened to be in Melbourne and she's now become a Legatee in her own right and I took her to a Legacy lunch on Tuesday. So there you are, there's from that length of time, still got the close communication.
Q: So tell me, you've sort of explained the barn dancing, the dances in town were more I guess the waltzing?
A: The barn dances were more the young people, the ones in town were where your parents came along as well, the township, the whole township sort of came along, gala nights, balls, they used to call it, debutante balls and used to get dragged in some times to partner someone that you didn't like at all. The debutante deal, oh they were interesting.
Q: So the barn dances were really where you had fun?
A: Where you had fun, yeah.Q: Was there any canoodling or?
A: Oh not so much that at all, but no grog in those days. Very little grog, if any at dances. No, they were good healthy... how do you describe them? Healthy recreation I suppose.
Q: So no grog at all at those?
A: Very little indeed, very little.
Q: Is that because it just wasn't about or there wasn't the need?
A: Not for sixteen and seventeen years old, certainly not.
Q: It just wasn't the done thing?
A: No, no.
Q: I mean there's always curiosity at that age isn't there?
A: Oh yes, I used to sometimes have a glass of wine at home. I'd be given a glass of wine at home, a little beer, something about that size. It was a rare occasion, a very rare occasion.Q: So you mentioned going to the pictures?
A: That was in the town on a Saturday night. Sometimes you'd take someone and sometimes you wouldn't.
Q: Do you remember the films?
A: No I don't those, I don't remember those films. It was something to go to, whether it was good, bad and indifferent.
Q: Live shows, were there stage shows at Horsham?
A: Don't remember any stage shows at that stage. In latter years, yes there had been but I don't remember any. See again the people concerned, a lot of them were away in the services, so that cut them down quite considerably.
Q: Yeah, you talked earlier about the blackout and pulling down the names of the train stations?
A: Yeah, that was part of the deal in those days.
Q: Yeah, so it was taken pretty seriously?
A: Oh it was taken very seriously in those days. All the vehicles had blackout screens on their lights. You'd put a screen in and it just showed a little slit about ten feet in front of the car. Oh yes, they were fair dinkum in those days, thinking anything could happen, but obviously it didn't.
Q: Slit trenches, were they dug?
A: No, not any slit trenches that I know of.
Q: It's taken very seriously in Horsham, even; what about the mood on the streets? Was it always the topic of conversation?
A: Yes, I think yes, particularly if you saw headlines in the paper of something that was a discussion always. You kept pretty closely in touch with the progress of the war as far as newspapers were concerned. Now probably the news took a week or ten days to get there at times, to be published. Yeah that was a topic that was pretty well to the fore.
Q: Do you remember when the focus in Australia shifted to the islands much closer to home? I guess there was Pearl Harbour for example in December of '41?
A: Yeah, Pearl Harbour in '41; people then started to get really concerned that if something happened there Australia could be vulnerable at that stage. Prior to that it was it was '39 to '41, the two years based on European warfare. No, I think Pearl Harbour shook a lot of people at that stage and I think politics in Australia were shaken at that stage. They could have had an enemy invasion if the Japanese got so involved and as it did happen quickly and they did go along very quickly with the bombing of Darwin and even the midget submarines in Sydney Harbour even and things like that. But the main part of that I was away. I was in Europe for the main part of that, so the European part of that was of more interest to me at that stage.
Q: So when you signed up for the air force proper that was what, '42?
A: 29th of January '43.
Q: So at that stage what was your understanding of what might lie ahead of you? Where most guys still going to Europe?
A: We didn't know, we didn't know at that stage at all because the Japanese were coming down aggressively and it all depended I think on the Air Board in those days as to where the people were wanted, whether Europe was the priority or the north was the priority, so it was a bit of a juggle as to whether you went abroad or whether you went up north.
Q: Now with your interest in the air force and aviation were you keeping tabs on what was going on in Europe, like the Battle of Britain and...?
A: Oh yes, oh yes, very much so. Particularly when you went into the air force thinking with the possibility that you might end up there yourselves, that was a distinct possibility in those days. And I think to a certain extent we were a bit lucky those of us that went to Europe, I think we were a bit luckier than those that went up to The Islands in some respects.
Q: In what ways was that?
A: Oh we had always something to do. If you were in England, well there was something to do. You weren't involved in anything terribly onerous in those days, that will come out later, whereas up north, from what I know about it and from friends, it was jungle, after jungle, after jungle and if you had a day off it was still jungle, so I think that was a bit difficult. The weather was pretty dicey over there, malaria and that type of thing was prone, where we weren't involved in that at all. So I think, to a certain extent, we were a bit luckier than some of them that went up north.
Q: Now clearly you loved the idea of flying, like being with Kingsford Smith and all that, that appealed to you; but what was the real sort of driving force for you signing up? What really motivated that?
A: I think we all had the thought at that stage that none of us wanted to be conscripted and righto, when you turned 18 and your mates who were 19, they've gone - well why not be in it? It was a bit of challenge in those days and what was the word I'm trying to find?
Q: That's the word.
Q: In regard to the build-up of the war, you were talking about Japan entering the war in '41 and the impact that that was having here in Australia, but for you personally? How that effected you?
A: Well I think we were involved at that stage in growing up knowing there was a war on, and that sooner or later we could all be involved and I think as I mentioned before that most of us wanted to enlist rather than be conscripted, should a type of conscription come about. And I think it was just common that as you approached eighteen you wanted to go into one of the services and I felt the RAAF [Royal Australian Air force] was the one for me.Q: So how did you go about enlisting?
A: Well you had a form for a start that you had to submit and that was sent to RAAF Headquarters, the section in Melbourne and they looked at it and they fixed a time then to call you up. I was 18 in the November and I was called up in early January and the day of enlistment was the 29th of January 1943. And from there, as soon as I enlisted, we were sent down to the Initial Training School at Somers.
Q: And you were working for State Rivers at that point?
A: I was to that point. I had to then say, "Well sorry fellows, I'm off to the service." And they understood that they had to cope with their staff, an older staff, so there was no problem there. They knew it wasn't a reserved occupation - which some were in in those days - and they just accepted that you were on leave there until you returned.
Q: So you didn't get any argument from then at all?
A: No argument at all.
Q: So it was a couple of months before you actually had to go into the air force?
A: Yes, well I had to give them notice that I had my call-up and I think I finished, I probably finished at the end of the year and had a week or two in January and then the 29th of January down to Melbourne and enlisted.
Q: Colin [interviewer] asked you earlier how you were following what was happening with the air force during that three years really of warfare that was going on, and there were a lot of casualties, fatalities amongst air crew, did that concern you at all? Was that something that you gave any thought too?
A: I think it was to be a bit of an adventure and I don't think... I certainly didn't look on that side of it. I suppose you took a punt and said, "Well look, the chances are that you mightn't return but let's have some fun beforehand." I think that was more or less the attitude of most of us. I don't think you looked on the bad side ever and certainly through the service you didn't look on the bad side.
Q: What about your parents? What was their reaction?
A: Well they... Put it this way, they accepted the situation and hoped that maybe I'd be all right. They wouldn't stand in my way at all. With Dad's background right through and the V.D.C. [Volunteer Defence Corps] and then the Air Training Corps for myself, they obviously accepted that one day I would be going into the air force and they accepted it but just hoped that I'd survive.
Q: So okay tell us about Somers, arriving down there? How did it all happen? Did you group somewhere and travel down together?
A: Yes. There was a group of us went by train to Frankston and then they organised buses from Frankston to Somers because there was no rail link between Frankston and Somers. And then we went into this camp and I suppose there were probably five, six, seven hundred people there. It was a three-month course where it was basically the majority were theoretical subjects of all types, a bit of drilling, a few medical exams, a few more optical exams.
A bit of leave on weekends mixed in with the three months and then towards the end of that period depending on I believe your results with the subjects that you did and your whole attitude, and I suppose you were assessed the whole time, you were then selected for either pilot, navigator or air gunner training.
At which stage you were told, "Right, you've been accepted as a Pilot and you'll be going to 11EFTS [Elementary Flying Training School] at Benalla for initial flying training."
Q: Now you'd been in the Air Training Corps, had many of the other fellows also had that experience?
A: Quite a few, but of course fellows came to Somers from all over the state and there were fellows that I didn't know at all. They all graduated whether they were in the Air Training Corps or not, I don't know but we were lucky that we had a little bit of background in the Air Training Corps and that stood us in at least a little bit of a starter.
Q: That's what I'm curious about is how they pitched the course if some of you had already had some training?
A: Yes but it was pretty basic training. There was no training as far as categorisation was concerned, no training at all. When I say categorisation, pilot, navigator or air gunner and that was determined on your results with your class subjects and your attitude, which obviously was assessed by a Board and the numbers and they categorised as one of the three: either pilot, navigator or air gunner.
Q: So your basic training was a little of everything?
A: A little of everything but mainly theoretical training on subjects and Morse, I mentioned Morse code as well.
Q: Because you'd had some training in Morse code, hadn't you? Okay lets go through the subjects that you were presented with there at Somers?
A: Oh there was maths, chemistry, meteorology, a basic section, a bit of English too thrown in and then there were things like aircraft recognition, which became a real subject in those days. Those were the basic subjects and Morse, of course. And they had little cubicles and you went in and tapped away on Morse and so on and did tests on it, so many words a minute.
Q: I hear it was very intense and repetitive training?
A: It was pretty intense.
Q: Did you like it?
A: Yes, yes, it was an adventure, something new, something we'd never done with a heap of fellows and it was well organised, well organised with a schedule of classes and so on all the time. Oh no, a bit of an adventure.
Q: With the aircraft recognition what aircraft were they getting you to identify, teaching you about?
A: Well at that stage with Japan coming into the war principally Japanese but still European as well because let's face it European fellows going to Europe and Japanese fellows going up north.
Q: So can you take me through how they actually trained you in aircraft recognition?
A: From memory they had a set of slides and an operator would throw up a slide, "What's that?" And you'd have to say, "That's an ME109," or, "That's a Zeke". And then they'd shuffle them around again and try them again. They were pretty clever because they had different sorts of slides of the same aircraft from a different angle, some that you could see the hull from below, you could see the aircraft and others you could see from above and side on and so on but it used to make us pretty adept at learning what was what. That was mainly the type of thing we had in the, and then they did exams and they'd screw up things and you did sort of tests.
Q: Were these black and white photos?
A: Black and white yeah, it was in those days. Not too much colour in those days.
Q: Were they silhouetted or?
A: Some were silhouetted yeah, yeah, and some were head on even, coming at you head on which altered. Some had crank wings and some didn't. Some had fixed under-carts and some didn't and things like that but we were a tell tale and some had one engine and some had two engines and some had three and some had four engines, so it was pretty intense. That was interesting really because you got to know and you got to recognise these various aircraft.
Q: And can you recall what aircraft were easy to identify?
A: I suppose one of the easiest was the old Tiger Moths, which wasn't, it was only a training aircraft. Then you had, the Lancaster was becoming pretty well known in those days, the Beaufighter, that was operating. You then went into some of the fighter aircraft such as Hurricanes, Spits [Spitfires], American Airacobras, American P38 Lightnings. And then you had some of the transport aircraft like DC3s, and they were the main operating aircraft I would gather.
Q: So you were taught to recognise?
A: Oh yes, yes.
Q: What did you get confused with? What one's were very, very similar?
A: I suppose two of the similar ones was the Zero's, the Zeke and even our old Wirraways or even a Focke-Wulf 190, which was both single seater radial engines and the Zeke was smaller than the Focke-Wulf 190, but they were pretty similar to look at until you saw perhaps the underneath or above or side on and you could get a better view at that stage.
Q: Did you realise why it was so important to be able to recognise these craft?
A: Well you had to recognise who was friend and who was foe and if you didn't recognise, too bad. They'd certainly recognise you.
Q: But at the time?
A: Oh at the time I think that was instilled into us that you've got to know what these are because one of these days you'll strike them, one way or another.
Q: I guess that brings it home, doesn't it?
A: Oh yes, absolutely. It's either you or them really, when it gets down to that. So that was pretty forcibly put forward to us for our own protection.
Q: Did they tell you stories, was there anecdotal information too?
A: Very little on that, no, very little, best unsaid I think from the Chinese point of view, why frighten them? And that could have in some cases depending on a person's physical attitude or psychological attitude, that could be a problem.
Q: You said you also studied meteorology?
A: Yes, did a little bit of that because let's face it, that has a lot of bearing in flying, one way or another. It was basic meteorology, it was winds and where they came from and the seasons and this type of thing and the strength of winds and the fact that winds at different altitudes were a hundred and eighty degrees opposed. At three thousand feet you might have a northerly wind and at five thousand feet you might have a southerly wind. And they do vary in speeds of course as well. Things like that that were fairly basic but it was part of the met that we would in fact be using if we were successful in later days.
Q: So is that a rule of thumb that at different altitudes you can pretty well count on the wind coming from the opposite direction?
A: Oh yes, yes, I don't know if you've been watching but there's a hot air balloon deal at Mildura right at the moment and as I understand it from the hot air balloon where they haven't got any power, it's a question of going up and down to meet the winds that they want to go either that away or that away. Never affected us other than endurance and petrol consumption and that type of thing. If you're into a head wind naturally you used more fuel but these were pretty basic things at that stage.
Q: Yeah, basic but critical I suppose when you're out in the field?
A: Yeah, yeah.
Q: Did they talk at all about specific regions when they were training you in met? Like did they talk about Europe or?
A: Oh they talked about Europe and they talked north, the islands and the possibility of storms here, there and everywhere and the monsoon periods in the north and that type of thing, more so than you get in Europe, getting on then to the icy conditions that you get in Europe, where you didn't get them up north to the same extent, not at the normal altitudes. But no, it was a general sort of thing that they gave you, not knowing at that stage where you might be, so they gave you a little bit of a two bob each way to have a bit of an idea if you went up north and you'd strike this and if you went to Europe you'd also strike something else.
Q: They were so extreme aren't they from Europe to, from the Equator to?
A: That's right, that's right.
Q: Okay what about out in the field? Did you have any field training of any sort? With guns? I'm talking about Somers?
A: Well we did a bit of clay shooting, clay pigeon shooting. You know what that is with the 303's and the clay and you had to (demonstrates) and you didn't know where it was going.
Q: I don't really know what that is.
A: Don't you know clay type shooting?
Q: No, tell me, give me all the details?
A: They have an operator with, I don't know the real guts of it but it flings out a little clay, like a dinner plate, or a bread and butter plate and that goes out and someone operates this and it goes out in various angles and you're there at a distance and you've got to shoot it and shoot it down. So it's a question of where's it going and you've got to (demonstrates) so that was fun, that was real fun.
KIRIWINA, TROBRIAND ISLANDS, PAPUA. C. 1943-11-12. FIGHTER PILOTS OF NO. 76 (KITTYHAWK) SQUADRON RAAF
SHOOT CLAY PIGEONS WHILE ON "STANDBY". [AWM OG0409]
Other than that at Somers we did a lot of PT [physical training] at Somers to get us fit, because we weren't as fit as they thought we should have been. Did quite a bit of that, even running, endurance running. We used to run from Somers up to Bittern and back and it's only five miles but five miles there and five miles back sorted out a few, I'll tell you, even at that age. And of course it's right on the beach and we had a lot of swimming. It was summer time and hot and it was a magnificent beach there and we had a lot of swimming because after all you might have been in the drink sometime and if you went further on and had to bail out or something like that. So they encouraged those that couldn't swim to swim and to swim pretty well, reasonably well.
Q: And did your swimming improve?
A: I think so. I'd only ever swum at Horsham in a little old river, different in the sea with a little bit of wave and so on. Not that there was surfing waves down there.
Q: Summers on the beach, yeah. So the physical training, was that something that was like a daily routine?
A: Yes, daily parade and either you did a bit there on the spot and then you were dismissed to go to classes and then probably later in the day there was another session. Then there were things like basketball and that was a bit of relaxation, cross-country running just to keep you reasonably fit.
Q: And how were the boys handling this? I mean I'm just wanting to get a picture of who these boys were?
A: Oh they were handling it pretty well. Some of them were finding it a bit tough, those that perhaps only went to merit certificates or something like that and they hadn't had the opportunity to get as far as leaving certificate and they were finding it a bit tough, because it was probably at about a leaving level most of these subjects, studies. On the whole though, pretty good I think, enjoyed it. The food wasn't too bad and we slept on palliasses on the floor and then we had a kit inspection probably out of the blue sometimes and then we had a bed inspection every morning so we had to pull the blankets and fold them over the top of the bed. That was all right.
Q: So a bit of discipline?
A: Oh discipline was part of it, yes sure because they knew there was going to be discipline further along the field if we got there and why not start if from there.
Q: And how did you react to that?
A: Alright yeah, I think so, I had no real problems at all.
Q: So the instructors, your sergeants?
A: Yeah, they were all good. One of the chaps who was there as an instructor at the time was Hubert Opperman, the bike rider. He was in the air force as an instructor at Somers.
Q: What did he instruct you in?
A: Oh mainly physical training mainly. He was good too. He had quite a record behind him and was well respected. He died only a few years ago.
Q: Did you do any cycling?
A: Not down there, no. Running at that stage.
Q: You said also maths, mathematics? What kind of level and what kind of specific area?
A: Just general maths, because particularly those that were going to navigation and even to pilots you had to plot courses and you had to learn about degrees and use protractors and so on and so forth and a bit of logarithms in preparing courses to fly and winds and setting off winds against the magnetic course to get a true course to fly. With the wind if it was coming from the north at thirty miles an hour that means you had to head into the wind to be blown onto your right course, things like that. That was quite interesting and quite, well not involved, but they did it very well.
Q: How did they train you in that? I mean what practical methods did they use?
A: Well they'd say, "You're flying today from A to B, you're flying on a course of 180 degrees, but you've got a wind of 35 mile an hour from the north east, now what's your true course to fly?" And you had to plot that with on graph paper with a course and speed calculator setting the wind off against the air speed against the actual route, so to fly a course of one hundred and eighty degrees you might have had to fly at a hundred and fifty degrees or two hundred and ten degrees to get you onto the destination where you want to get to.
Q: That's really interesting and that's I guess where your meteorology studies and your maths studies started to...?
A: Yes, dovetail in together. It wasn't of much interest to those that were chosen as gunners in the end, however.
Q: And how were you feeling at this time? There at Somers and your aspirations?
A: Full of expectation, hoping that I might have been categorised as I wanted to, as a pilot, which in fact did turn out, so there you are.
Q: Did you have any doubts?
A: You never knew at all as to how you'd be chosen or how you might have performed to be chosen but you hoped that one day, if you wanted to be a pilot (everyone wanted to be a pilot) and hopefully those that really wanted to be a pilot got the job. Sometimes it went wrong, but however, there it was and even those that were chosen as pilots, a lot of them got scrubbed.
Do you know what getting scrubbed is? Put off course very early in the piece. Those that were scrubbed at Elementary Flying normally went as navigators.
Q: Yeah, scrubbing didn't happen until the next stage.
A: Yeah, the next stage, yes that did happen because although you were selected at Somers as a pilot that didn't say that you were going to end up a pilot, a fully-qualified pilot in the air force.
Q: One other thing I was curious about, did they cover ship recognition at all?
A: Oh yes, I omitted to tell you that. As well as aircraft recognition there was a certain amount of ship recognition as well with types of naval vessels particularly, not as involved, from memory, as aircraft, but yes, there were ship recognition deals.
Q: So what method did they use?
A: Much the same as aircraft, the silhouettes and viewed from different angles and different classes of ships, battleships, destroyers, minesweepers, this type of ship. Perhaps they'd blow up a minesweeper to almost the size of a battleship and you had to tell where it had its guns or it didn't have guns, or something like that.
Q: Okay, so it was also identifying components?
A: Identifying components, yeah.
Q: Specific ships, like the Queen Mary?
A: No, it was mostly naval ships, oh there were a few passenger ships thrown in because the Queen Mary and the Elizabeth, they were all the troopers at that stage but they were pretty easy ships to recognise, big ships with two or three funnels with half a dozen decks above the sea. And they normally had an Oerlikon gun I think, two or three Oerlikon guns on them, but only anti-aircraft and they were only small guns.
Q: So at what point did you find out how you were going to be categorised?
A: At the end of the course at Somers, a few days before the end of the course. I think we got a note, I think from memory we got a note saying, "You've been selected for Pilot Training and you'll be transferred now to the next Elementary Flying Training." - To an Elementary Flying Training School at wherever it was; at Benalla or Western Junction in Tasmania. [Or] could have been Temora in New South Wales, Narromine in New South Wales. And on my note I was selected to go to Benalla, 11EFTS. And at the end of the course we were transhipped to Benalla. Went up by train - bus to Frankston, train from Frankston to the city and then the train from city to Benalla.
Q: So can you just tell me a bit about that day when everybody got their orders, or their selection?
A: Well some were elated and some were disappointed, naturally. Can't say much more than that. Those that got what they wanted were terribly happy and those that missed out, "The air force is not so good, I reckon I could have been a pilot. They reckon I'm a gunner."
Q: I mean you did exams?
A: Oh yes, you did exams.
Q: And what other way did they have of making the selection?
A: I don't quite know definitely but obviously you were assessed by instructors, your attitude I suppose to your lessons, your attitude I suppose on drilling, things like that I think they possibly looked at you as an all-over deal and probably met some basic criteria for selection I think.
Q: You say your attitude to drilling, what do you mean by that?
A: I suppose how you performed and whether you complied to, "Left, right, left, right, right turn," and whether you did a left turn instead of a right turn, things like that I suppose.
Q: So knowing your left from your right?
A: Yeah, yeah.
Q: So no interview?
A: Yes, there was an interview as well. Yes, and I think perhaps yes that was part of the selection process as what they might have had to look at and plus a personal interview and I think that was the culminating factor.
Q: How did your interview go?
A: Alright I think, it must have, it must have, I got what I wanted so it must have been all right.
Q: Did you go in there wanting to persuade them?
A: Oh that comes later. I'll tell you later about something on that.
Q: Okay, let's move on there along to Benalla. Did you have leave after Somers?
A: I think we had a weekend's leave, I think.
Q: How were you feeling?
A: I was feeling elated at that stage. You got to the first rung and you've achieved something, and you've achieved what you hoped to be chosen as and then you're looking forward to flying training.
Q: That must have been a good weekend going back home?
A: That's right, going home and you're a pilot, "Yes, going to be a pilot."
RAAF recruiting poster.
Q: Okay, yes, Benalla, what was the layout at Benalla, like how big was it and what kind of barracks?
A: Benalla was a town of about five or six thousand population at that stage. A very big airfield right on the boundary of the town, and it was only walking distance into the town and a lot of sleeping huts on it and aircraft, a lot of aircraft out in the open and administrative buildings and so on, a medical centre, the normal run that you'd have. Fire, fire brigade, and so on based on the airport, normal preventative measures you had on the airport, in case of accidents. There was a hospital in Benalla, oh there was a hospital actually on the base but that was only for minor coughs, colds and that type of thing, injections and that sort of thing. If anything really happened seriously you went into hospital in the town I believe and I was never in that unfortunate position.
Q: And what were the sleeping quarters like?
A: Oh they were all right. They were huts, about 25 in a hut and the same deal, straw palliasses on the wooden floor, with blankets and a pillow and a little cabinet beside for any bits and pieces that you might have had.
Q: What's it like sleeping on a palliasse?
A: Alright, if you're tired enough you'll sleep. Oh yes, you get used to it, depending how much straw is in it. If it's a bit thin, if you roll over, it gets a bit hurtful on the hip but no, it's all right.
Q: And blankets you were issued with? Sheets?
A: Oh no sheets, in those days. Heaven no.Q: So how did they commence with the training?
A: Actually I had a month at Benalla, our intake had a month at Benalla before courses. I went through 32nd Course at Benalla and because of this month's delay in training at Benalla we were on just aircraft duties, cleaning aircraft and doing bits and pieces so it became Course 38 at Benalla. They allocated so many instructors at Benalla and how they allocated trainees I don't know, except in my case I do know, because there was an instructor at Benalla that came from Horsham, a fellow I knew well. He was a bit older than me and he was the last person I wanted as an instructor and blow me down if I wasn't chosen as his pupil. So he said, "I'll fix McAuley," in no uncertain terms and the first flight I had with him he did everything he could in that Tiger Moth to make me crook and I didn't [get sick]. So from then on we got on pretty well.
Although he was pretty cagey and I'll tell you something else after, too, but the actual selection, look I don't know. There were three flights, A, B and C Flight and see there were three groups all the time. So A Flight went out and we came in to A Flight. B Flight had a month to go, so they were there and C Flight perhaps had two months to go and it depended on the vacancies with the instructors attached to that flight. So if you've got ten or fifteen new pupils coming in they'll just say, "Right oh, I'll have the first three, the second three," I don't think there was any selection other than, "I'll take three, you take three and you take the next three". I think that was the way it was but this particular bloke when he saw that I was coming he asked for me and he got me. I was a bit disturbed over that, but it worked out all right in the end.
Q: He must have been a little bit fond of you?
A: No, well I don't know about being fond, but I must admit he was a hard taskmaster and I'll pay him full marks because I think my pass later in the day reverted back to his training. I mean he did some nasty things on me.
Q: Tell me?
A: Well on one occasion we were up and we were doing slow rolls and I could do one to the left all right and I couldn't do one to the right. I'd belly out on the one to the right, so one day he sent me up and he said, "Right, you're flying solo. I want you to go up and all you do is right hand slow rolls". Unbeknown to me his next pupil he had on instruments under a hood, so he was, the pilot was flying under the hood on instruments but all he did was, he told him to where to go and he followed me and he followed me for the whole session and watching me attempting to do right hand slow rolls.
And of course he was on the ground when I came back and he said, "How did you go?"
"Oh," I said, "not too bad."
He said, "You're talking rot". He said, "I saw three of them and you bellied out on two." He was very crafty like that.
His favourite saying, we used to fly out to a little place called Goorambat, which is a satellite of Benalla, which is only a grass field and the day he sent me solo we landed in this spot and he got out of the front cockpit and he pulled the control column out and he said, "You're away - but I'll tell you what, you pick me up here with my parachute, right here."
So I went off and flew solo and did a circuit and what did I do? I landed at the diametric opposite end of the paddock and he went a bit crook at me over that. And then I used to hear him when we were coming in to land and he used to yell and scream at me and I could hear him from the ground, when we were down about twenty or thirty feet and his favourite saying used to be, "A child of three could fly an aeroplane, provided he had some bloody commonsense and I don't think you've got any." At that stage you're on the ground and you're bouncing along and so on, so that was another incident that.
Anyway we ended up good mates and unfortunately he was killed in Heidelberg not long after the war. One of those things, he stepped out of the car and was clobbered by an oncoming car. A delightful fellow but had his funny ways though.
Benalla, Vic. C. 1944. A group of instructors and trainee pilots at No. 11 Elementary Flying Training School, RAAF Benalla.
On the airfield behind them are the unit's De Havilland DH82 Tiger Moth training aircraft. [AWM VIC1049]
Q: But like you say, good training. That's a good point isn't it - the instructors are getting into a plane with a complete unknown. How do they do that? How do they build you up to a point where you eventually fly solo, but even before that?
A: Well there's a whole syllabus of what they do in way of instruction and I can show you my log book where... Righto this course is spinning, this session at least is spinning and then you do steep turns and then you do gliding approaches, things like this. It's all in a syllabus and it's taken as a pilot progresses up to a certain stage where he's allowed and they realise, or agree, that he's fit enough to go solo.
And from there on you've still go these exercises to do, when you go up solo. "Righto, you're up today doing such and such..." and then you had dual sessions, as I mentioned, under the hood. You had the hood right over the top and you've got to try and fly by instruments and the Tiger Moth is pretty basic, believe you me.
Q: What instruments do you have in the Tiger Moth?
A: Well you've got an airspeed indicator, an altimeter and a turn and bank indicator, with a black ball in the centre and if you're turning the black ball should stay right in the centre and if it's not it's skidding or slipping and flies out to one side and the aircraft is slipping, instead of a nice even turn. All those sessions, it's part of a syllabus and I can show you afterwards in the log book the way it goes on and so you progress on to. Then night-flying, dual night flying and bear in mind it was wartime and blackouts. We only had six kerosene flares on the strip and with these basic instruments you had to take a torch with you and you had to have a watch. You'd plot a course beforehand and it was usually three stages, first stage, second stage and then home. And righto the first course might have been sixteen minutes on the course and you'd have to do sixteen minutes and at sixteen minutes you'd get that torch and you'd turn onto the next course and it might have been seventeen minutes or thirteen minutes or twelve minutes. And on the final course you turned on the course home and hoped to hell you saw those kerosene flares. We got away with it.
Q: Was that like flying in a straight line for sixteen minutes?
A: A triangular course, straight to one course, turning point to another course, third point, turning point for home so it was really a triangle.
Q: So you had no visual markers?
A: No, oh no.
Q: All timing?
A: The timing factor; and being blackout you can't see the such and such station down there, I'm pretty right and you hoped you saw the six kerosene flares when you got back to your starting point. We did and you look back today, to aircraft today, it was pretty basic in those days. Oh well, we're still here.
Q: Oh it must have been a better way to learn?
A: Then you went through and you did more basic subjects as well as flying. You did some basic subjects and went on from where you left off at Somers on some of these, a little stage further and you still had your drill work as well. You had a bit of recreation, a bit of physical culture, a bit of basketball, cricket, and this type of thing, as well to keep you sort of amused and you had leave. And at Benalla on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon there used to be about a hundred girls ride their bikes up to the edge of airport to see these brave flying men, which was quite interesting.
Q: So you'd have an audience when you were flying?
A: Well when we either took off or landed because they couldn't see too much when we were flying because we were away from the airfield but they used to get up to the fence where we'd park when we came back, laughing and joking, at those big brave airmen.
Q: Did that make you nervous?
A: No, no, not at that stage. There was too much to think about and see the Tiger didn't have any brakes either so when you were taxiing up you had to be a bit careful. If there was a fence in front of you, you had to turn well before the fence or you'd go through it.
Q: Gosh I didn't know that. So how do you actually pull it up to a stop?
A: Well you don't. It's got what you call a skid on the back and on the tail there was a skid which does retard it a bit but then you've got to turn the aircraft to wherever you want it and then throttle back and stop. Then you didn't have a starter motor in the Tiger either. You swung the prop, in other words standing in front and the pilot inside, in the cockpit, switch is on, right. and you swing it down against compression and hope it fires.
Q: So a ground crew would be doing that?
A: Either ground crew or trainee pilots that were waiting for their next period, were out early or waiting for their next period or we did a lot of that during the month that we had to wait. Your superiors would get you out swinging the prop and starting the aircraft. There was no starter motor and one interesting period in a Tiger Moth was getting up to about five thousand feet in a Tiger and turning the switches off until the motor actually stopped and the propeller got slower and slower until it stopped, and restarting the engine in flight. You had to dive it down fairly steeply and pull it back and hope the G forces as you pulled it back would go against the compression and the motor would start. If it did it started. They were interesting little exercises.
Q: Did you have an instructor onboard with you?
A: You had an instructor with that, oh yeah you had an instructor on that.
Q: But there was no way out if you didn't get it started?
A: Oh you did have to look for a landing field below and do a gliding approach to it. Oh you could do that with a Tiger.
Q: This was also something you trained in?
A: Oh yes, yes and then there were also what they called forced landing fields where you did force land. You never actually landed but you came down within about twenty feet of the ground and took off again. For instance an instructor might just pull the throttle on you at some stage and say, "Righto, put her down."
So you'd have to have a very quick look and "Where will I put her down? There's trees all over there and that looks better, so yeah."
He'd say, "Where are you going?" "Going down in that paddock down there."
"Alright, righto." And you'd go down hopefully and it was a reasonable area that you could have landed on if necessary, but you just got about fifty feet from the ground and put the throttle on and we'd go off again. You never knew when that was going to happen, which was good training. Kept you thinking, wide awake.
Q: Did you do any forced landings Jock?
A: No, no. Not right down to landing on the ground or having engine trouble or anything like that, no, never.
Q: You were a bit much for the instructor were you?
Q: What about accidents? Were there accidents happening?
A: There were. Unfortunately there were accidents. "Why?" you don't know, but some of the pupils on solos came in too fast to land or came in too slow to land and stalled in. There were a few accidents with night flying. It was pretty hard to tell, some of them couldn't tell the distance from the ground with just these six kerosene flares burning along the side of the strip. You had to have a pretty fair idea if you were fifty feet or twenty feet or ten feet above the ground. Yes, there were accidents. There were a few mid air collisions while I was there, which was a bit unfortunate, but that happens. See we had about 150 aircraft operating out of one of those fields, or satellite and it's a bit hard to see other aircraft while you're in the air and they go that way and occasionally some do meet and there you are, it's unfortunate.
Q: Right, so suddenly they don't realise that the other aircraft is there?
A: They mightn't even see them. They might literally fly over one and not see it. See if it's underneath you couldn't see it, you're looking ahead.
Q: What's the vision like in the Tiger?
A: Oh the Tiger's not bad, open cockpit of course with a helmet and goggles, no radio in the Tiger. There's what they call a Gosport Tube which is just a tube between the two cockpits that you could yell into your instructor and you had a couple of earphones. They weren't electrical or anything. They were just discs that you put in and you could hear the instructor, one way or the other and he could hear you and he'd bellow at you and so on.
Q: Hopefully you heard him correctly?
A: That's right. , "Can you hear me?" - Oh they were interesting days.
Q: You were talking before about the difficulty with the right rolls and you bellied too much, why did you have that difficulty on the right hand side?
A: I can't tell you to this day. Left hand was normal. I could roll to the left, no problems, and go right round and keep the nose on the horizon. If you could imagine something rolling around with the nose on the same horizon. The right roll for some reason I'd get half way round and the nose would drop and I'd go like that but finally got to it in the end in Wirraways. I was alright in Wirras but just one of those things that sometimes you do something better with the left hand than you do with the right hand. There was nothing wrong I don't think, just a little bit of practise in keeping up your nose. See when you go over in the upside down attitude your controls are completely different, whereas you put your nose forward to keep the nose up underneath, whereas if you're on the right plane you pull your stick back to keep your nose up, see? You've got to sort of co-ordinate and this is where some chaps got into real trouble with co-ordination and the control surfaces which are in different attitudes in the aircraft.
Q: Yeah, you're flipped around the other way. Has it got anything to do with left hand, right hand co-ordination?
A: Only as I mentioned the instructor sent me out because I was having trouble with right hand rolls and he sent me out to practise them. It was a matter of practice. I finally got to the stage where I could roll on the right hand side, keeping the nose reasonably level, not bellying out.
Q: And keeping the nose level, is that just a visual?
A: On the horizon, on the horizon, yes, looking at the horizon in front of you. See you keep an aircraft level flying at the horizon and if the weather's bad you've got to know, on more modern aircraft you've got an artificial horizon in the cockpit there and you keep that level there and that keeps the aircraft straight and level but in a Tiger Moth you just look outside and see the horizon in front of you.
Q: So the nose is always on the horizon, on the horizon line?
A: Well yes but it might be a foot above the horizon or a foot below the horizon, depending on the attitude of the aircraft and the type of aircraft or you might get, on the Tiger the two struts up to the petrol tank, now half way up the struts might have been the horizon for a straight and level. It was a judgement of each aircraft as to where you kept it on the horizon, because your altitude meter would show you whether you were going up or down, but that's pretty basic.Q: Did you notice idiosyncrasies from one aircraft to another? I mean just amongst the Tigers that you were training in? Was there a difference there?
A: Yes, some that had been reconditioned for instance were a lot quicker and faster and more responsive and some that were getting pretty tired were like a tired old motorcar. You had to nurse it along a bit but they still kept going. Yes, I must admit, you did find differences in particular aircraft.
Q: Which I guess is good experience?
A: That's right, yeah, yeah.
Q: And so overall, what's your opinion of the Tiger Moth?
A: Oh the Tiger Moth is a delightful aircraft but a fairly difficult aircraft to fly completely accurately. People will tell you that today because it's such basic instrumentation. I mean it is looking at the horizon to keep level and you've only got to touch the stick an inch a side and you'll go up or down or go left or go right; and in turbulence it's even better. With a bit of turbulence you've still got to fly it with your hand on the control completely all the time. No automatic pilots or anything like that. It's you that's flying it.
Q: So because it's very sensitive?
A: Terribly sensitive, but a lovely aircraft to fly and a lovely aircraft, hasn't got any real vices at all. A lovely aircraft to land. They're still flying today, you'll see them still flying today.
Q: I'm dying to go up in one actually.
A: Are you? Good, why not? Go up and do a few aerobatics, a loop.
Q: As long as I'm strapped in.
A: Oh yes, you'd want to be strapped in.
Q: In that month before you actually got in the planes, at the end of the month you were waiting?
Q: You said that you were cleaning and turning the props of aircraft?
A: Cleaning aircraft and fuelling aircraft and swing props for aircraft and any sort of messy job to keep you employed that was all, basically.
Q: But a good chance to go over the aircraft?
A: That's right, yes, yes. And then in the winter mornings, I was in Benalla in the winter, you had to run up the motor in the mornings and one of us had to lie across the fuselage near the tail otherwise she'd take off. It was a bit cold when they revved up the motor with the slipstream while you're lying across the rear holding the aircraft down. That was another job we used to cop too.
Q: Where was that again, sorry?
Q: Yeah, but why? Why did you have to lie across the fuselage?
A: Because if you opened up the throttle the first thing it do was the tail would come up and it would want to fly, so if you did it, if you opened it up far enough it would go up on it's nose, so you had to lie across the fuselage at the tail and just hold her down. All good clean fun for budding pilots.
Q: Sounds like one of those jokes that they play on a rookie?
A: Oh they do, see especially at half past six, seven o'clock on a cold winter's morning when the temperatures about three degrees.
Q: Okay, so how long were you training at Benalla for?
A: Three months and all we did at that stage I think from memory, I can check with the log book but I think we did about seventy hours flying on Tigers and that included dual, solo, night flying, dual and solo and then we had a final test, a flying test by the chief flying instructor which is where they regarded you to being competent to carry on. Then there was another big decision being made on your behalf, whether you went onto single engine aircraft or multi engine aircraft. Now little short fellows they were almost certain to go onto multi engine aircraft where controls are much closer than a fighter plane. It all depended I suppose on how they regarded your flying as to whether you were fighter material or bomber material. You had no control over that and you were just allocated and when you got your posting like you did at Somers you were either posted to a single engine aircraft flying school or a multi engine aircraft flying school, which in my case was Deniliquin with Wirraways and some of the other fellows to Point Cook on Airspeed Oxfords, twin engines but that was a bit of the luck of the gods. Obviously how you performed and what instructors I suppose had made comments, perhaps you'd make a fighter pilot or perhaps you're a bit slow and stodgy or something and maybe you'd better go to bombers, I don't know.Q: What did you want?
A: Fighters, yeah, fighters, fighters, and luckily I did and I was sent to Deniliquin and that was the next rung in the ladder.
Q: I haven't asked you about your first solo flight? Do you remember that?
A: Yes, very well.
Q: Was it significant?
A: Yes, very significant. There you are, you're on your own. You're controlling the aircraft. All you do is about a ten minute flight, a circuit and then I remember I mentioned earlier the instructor said he wanted me to land, "There, where he's standing with his parachute over his shoulder." And I landed half a mile diametrically opposite to him in the field, so I remember that very well because I got a little bit of a talking-to at that stage.Q: Why did that happen that you were so far away?
A: Well it was a question of judgement, I was on my own and I've got enough things to think about, forget him down there, let's get the aeroplane down and get it down safely, forget him. I suppose it was one of those things that I overshot I suppose at that stage whereas instead of making a approach at a certain point and coming down in a nice glide to just bring me in to land and stop near him, I went further on when I started the landing approach, simple as that. There was tons of room, I mean there was no problem of stopping it or anything like that, I was on the other side of the aerodrome when I was meant to be on that side.
Q: And how was the landing even though you were over the other side?
A: Oh the landing was safe. "Any landing that you walk away from is a good landing." - Have you heard that before?
Q: I'd believe it.
A: Haven't you heard that before?
Q: I haven't.
A: Any landing you walk away from is a good landing. But you had to watch the old Tigers, because the old Tigers used to bounce a bit. If you came in and hit a bit hard she'd go up thirty feet in the air and then down again and so on.
Q: That much?
A: Oh yeah, yeah, and then you had to be a bit careful at that stage that you hadn't lost speed and it would stall, so you had to motor on at that stage perhaps and go around and have another go.
Q: Did you have fun with it, I mean high jinx when you were flying? I've heard the odd story about?
A: A bit of low flying, and if you saw a bit of washing on the line and it looked interesting sometimes, if you weren't too high you might go down but you ran the risk at that stage of someone seeing you and you had a great big number on the aircraft and they couldn't miss seeing the number on it. I did a few of those things and then when we were out at satellites normally the instructor would come back with us and the two instructors would say, "We're taking over now," and they'd have a bit of a dog fight between the two of them. It used to be quite interesting. That was a little bit of fun and games.
Q: The satellites were?
A: Extra fields away from the main airport to help distribute the number of aircraft into the spaces in the sky rather than them all operating out of one particular spot, spread them around a bit. They normally had satellites everywhere just to split it up a bit.
Q: So graduation from Benalla?
A: I was selected for further single engine training and was sent to Deniliquin in the Riverina, 7EFTS, flying Wirraways and again we had a month's delay there between courses because as I mentioned before they were stacked up and one course finished and another came in and so on and then we had to wait our turn so I ended up on 39 Course at Deniliquin and that month was spent in either fuelling aircraft, driving fuel trucks out to satellites, some ten or fifteen miles away, changing engines on Wirraways, under guidance. We had to do the dirty work, the oily parts and so on and the swapping engines. Again any menial task that had to be done until we commenced flying again and that was usually about three weeks to a month.
Q: So you would have been pretty curious about the difference between the Tiger Moth and the Wirraway?
A: That month you saw them there and you saw a few high jinks, you saw a few prangs and see it was a totally different aircraft, completely different aircraft to the Tiger Moth. It was a monoplane where the Tiger was dual wing, bi-plane. It had a four hundred and fifty horsepower motor instead of a hundred and thirty horsepower motor in the Tiger, two seater and it was always regarded as being a very self-respecting aircraft. You had to watch the Wirra very, very carefully and you had to make your approach (and this gets back to what I said earlier about nose down and speed up) and I've seen this unfortunately happen several times where someone has let the speed off landing and it would flick as quick as that onto it's back and land on the runway and of course kill the pilot. That did happen a number of times. Night flying again with judgement of height with kerosene flares as that's all we had in those days, kerosene flares, just the tin with the wick in it and you'd light it and that was the flare. I found the Wirra a delightful aircraft but it's like getting from perhaps a Morris Minor into a Falcon if you can sort of get that difference from getting from one simple, light aircraft into a self respecting aircraft, a bit faster and a bit heavier. The Wirra was about two and a half, three tons, quite a heavy aircraft and a retractable undercarriage, that was another thing you had to learn. Some fellows forgot to put the wheels down although there's a Klaxon at your left ear telling you that the wheels weren't down but some proceeded and landed and of course didn't hurt themselves but hurt the aircraft a bit. It bent the prop and did a bit of basic damage. But I enjoyed the Wirra, very much.
Q: With the night landing and the kero lamps how do you assess, the height that you are? How do you do that?
A: It's a question of your eyesight and determining (even in daytime) determining your height above the ground. It's a co-ordination and you only look out one side of the aircraft and normally you look out the left hand side of an aircraft. The skipper of an aircraft always sits on the left hand side, if it's a dual seater. The skipper's always on the left and you're always looking at the left. The same with the fighter aircraft, you always look to the left and it's through practise and you know whether you're fifty feet or seventy feet or twenty feet and it's a question of. Again at Somers, going back to Somers again, we did a lot of orthoptic training of the eyesight and was tested for this very thing of judgement of heights and objects and so on. You probably know more about orthoptics than I do but they used to check us on this.
Q: So the size of something, the different...?
A: Well they gave you muscle exercises, the movement of the eyes more than anything is orthoptics, so that you could move your eyes and look and you would adjust very quickly to levels.
Q: No I don't really know much about it. Yeah, because I'm just thinking with the night landing and the flares are there and the closer you are to the flare the bigger it is, I guess so that's one way of telling, was it that simple?
A: Oh, there were six or eight flares spread right along the length of the strip and it depended on your altitude coming in as to whether they were far away or closer or one long line or a shorter line so that helped you judge heights and distances and how far you were down the strip. It was no good going down, trying to land halfway down the strip. If you ran off the end you could have been into anything, so you got to know this fairly well.
Q: Alright let's look at Deniliquin now and the Wirraways, did you progress your skills, increasing and improving? So how was that different to Benalla?
A: Again I had a long schedule of lessons of what you did with the aircraft, how you flew the aircraft, and what the aircraft was capable of doing. We started to get into then low-level cross-countrys. We used to get into long cross-countrys. One we did at ten thousand feet where it was totally different where you had to fly a course. These were during daytime, so at least you had rivers and towns and so on that you could map-read all the way. You did a lot of aerobatics in Wirras, loops, rolls, stall turns, and again they had quite a lot of sessions on this because if you were going to be a fighter pilot. Aerobatics were basic to your survival if you were in combat with the enemy, to throw the aircraft around and to know it's limitations and so on and so forth, so aerobatics played a big, big role. Navigation of course was by sight in those days, where you map-read your way around a course but they were longer, quite much longer legs and at various altitudes. And of course flying at fifty feet on a low level cross-country was far different to flying where you can see the whole countryside, because fifty feet you can only see the houses as you go past and you're onto a town and over it before you know where you are. But you have rivers and canals and Deniliquin had a section of the Mulwala Canal, well that was a great pinpoint to where you were. And the year we were there also we were operating off a grass strip as they were putting irrigation pipes in the main strip and the dust was horrific and you could see the column of dust from the aircraft taking off a hundred miles away, so when you turned for home and you saw the dust you knew you were on the way.
Q: Sounds like there was always that question in your mind as to whether you were on the right course?
A: Oh well I suppose you had to learn that and it was no good running out of fuel a hundred miles from the airport, so you had to get home because someone wanted the aircraft for the next lesson in an hour's time probably. They wouldn't be too happy if you didn't bring it back.
Q: Did you ever have any situation where you were right off course?
A: No, no, I had a very interesting experience probably worth repeating with night flying. We used to fly right through the night and the instructor normally had two hours' periods and I happened to be the second pupil on his second hour and the aircraft taxied in and the pupil got out of the front seat and at this stage we flew in the front seat and the instructor flew in the back seat. He got out and I got in and all I heard in the back was, "circuits and bumps," which meant you took off, you flew around the circuit and came in and you approached for landing and I took off and I landed and I took off again and I landed and not a word from the back seat.
And I thought, "Oh I'm doing all right tonight," not a word and I finally got back and landed and climbed out of the aircraft, this was about three o'clock in the morning, and I went straight to bed. About ten o'clock I was woken up by the instructor and he said, "I've got to fill in the log book. Did I fly with you last night?" He was as full as a bull, fast asleep in the back seat. I don't know who was gamer. I thought I was doing a hell of a job in not hearing a word from the back seat and he was there hoping to hell I suppose, sound asleep. So I had to tell him yes, I flew in the second period between two a.m. and three a.m. He said, "Don't tell anyone that." That was an experience though.
Q: He owed you a favour after that?
A: He owed a favour after that, that's right, yes.Q: So you did fine? You didn't, with that flight, I mean the circuits and bumps?
A: Oh yes, yes, yes, it was quite, it was actually very good. Got down safe and did about four or five circuits in the air and got down and taxied back and took off, and taxied back and usually there's some comment that comes from the back seat, "You're too high, you're too low, keep your speed up, keep your speed down," but not a word.
And I thought, "God, I'm doing a great job today, tonight." Well I must have been safe anyway because we both survived.
Q: Well you didn't wake him up?
A: Well I didn't wake him up so I must have been reasonably good.
Q: Did you find that they'd just sort of bark instructions at you sometimes when it was not appropriate?
A: Sometimes yeah. Some instructors were better than others. Some were able to deal with men better than others. Some I think were very encouraging. It's a different thing to bark to you than to say, "Hey, what about doing such and such? I think you'll do it better if you do it this way," which is a totally different deal to barking at you and saying, "You're on the wrong deal, now come on, pull your finger out." I think you struck some very good instructors who were encouraging you and could deal with men by making suggestions in a nice way and I think you took more notice of them than you did at the bloke barking at you.
Q: So you had your theoretical subjects you were still doing there at Deniliquin?
A: Yes, still doing them plus your flying.
Q: What about technical, the technology I suppose?
A: Did a bit of engine handling. We had sessions on that, the safe operation of this particular engine with its revs and pressures and so on, oil pressures and oil temperatures and so on, yes we had quite a bit on that which you had to watch and follow when you were flying. So it gave you a far better idea of the capability of the aircraft and in Wirras it was the first time we did the air to ground gunnery, where the Wirra had two machine guns that fired through the prop and we had targets on the ground and we had to come down in a dive and fire at targets. That was the first time we did air to ground gunnery. We also did quite a bit of formation flying where you got in pretty close to one another and the leader of the formation he led the whole thing and all you did was watch his spot. You had nothing to do but follow him and we had radios at that stage, pretty basic radios, but he'd give the order, "Turning left sixty degrees," and he'd start turning and you'd keep in the formation and turn with him. We didn't do any aerobatics in formation like the Roulettes do these days but we did pretty close formations. That was good, what shall I say? Good training where you were pretty close to the aircraft and the aircraft go up and down like this and you don't realise but when you're beside one that's going up a bit and you're going down and it's a bit like that, but that's all right, you're still there. You still tuck your wing in behind his and keep your distance and throttle off a bit if you're getting a bit close and throttle on if you start to lag a bit.
Q: It's precision isn't it? So we're at Deniliquin and you've explained that to us pretty well. How long were you at Deniliquin for?
A: Oh three or four months.
Q: So by the end of that period how are you feeling in terms of your confidence in flying?
A: Felt fine, fine, so much so that I was awarded my wings and there's a little story attached to that too. McAuley's my name and who should present my wings but Air Commodore McCauley.
Air Commodore John McCauley. Painted in 1956 by Ivor Helle. [Copyright AWM ART31771.]
And he held up the parade by saying, "Why is your name spelt that way? Mine is spelt that way. Where did you come from?" And everyone was waiting to the wings parade to continue while he was chatting to me and it seemed like about ten minutes, probably about three minutes but he held it up and everyone else was wondering when they were going to get theirs after me.
Q: But no relation?
A: No relation at all. He's since dead, too, but he had a different spelling. He was a permanent air force officer.
Q: So what else went along with that? There was a bit of a ceremony was there?
A: Oh a ceremony, a wings parade, yes, yes. Oh yes quite a wings parade and relatives were invited and Mother and Dad were able to go up. Oh it's quite a ceremony really when you get your wings.
Q: Can you tell us a bit more about that?
A: Well you've done training on the, I think I had about 170 flying hours at that stage. You've flown satisfactorily on two types, on the initial Tigers and then on the Wirras and you're selected then for, by going onto Wirras you're selected for single engine training, so your future was going to be in fighter aircraft, hopefully.
Q: Was that your preference?
A: Yes, yes, so interestingly we were sent on leave for a couple of weeks and if you recall I enlisted on the 29th of January '43 and on the 29th of January '44 I was on the Nieuw Amsterdam bound for Europe.
Q: Can I just hold you there for a second Jock. Why was it that you thought you'd be better as a single engine pilot, as a fighter pilot?
A: It was just something you'd feel you'd like to do. There was just so much glamour about a fighter pilot. There was so much glamour about the Battle of Britain and there was so much about the exploits of other aces afterwards and I think most pilots hoped to be a fighter pilot, whether you got it or not. I think those that didn't and went onto heavies, I think they were quite satisfied too as the time went on.
Q: And during that, just sort of wrapping up on "Denni", were many scrubbed during that course?
A: Quite a few, yes, quite a few were scrubbed on a number of reasons. Some just didn't have the get-up and go that they should have had, or weren't able to cope with a bigger and heavier and faster type of aircraft. One or two got airsick and every time they went up and did aerobatics they filled the cockpit with something that shouldn't have been there! There were a few. And one or two took ill for some reason, a fairly serious illness. Maybe some of them came back, but I don't know, some of them went off the course because of illness but most of us got through.
Q: Was L.M.F. a term that was bandied about much in those days?
A: Very little, very little indeed. If it did arise I think it was more when people were in operations. I think that's where it arose more than in training. I never heard it in training at all.
Q: You've told us some really funny stories about your training there in Deniliquin, what were some of the more sobering moments? Were there any particular bad accidents during that time?
A: Yes, there was one bad accident. On one of these long cross-countries up into, oh beyond Balranald, Oxley, a little place called Oxley on the river, one chap didn't come back and subsequent aircraft found his aircraft crashed and found what was left of him. He had problems with the aircraft, bailed out, and pushed the wrong button and fell out of the parachute, so that was the end of him and we then had to go and look for him. We were taken up in trucks and we knew where the aircraft landed but where he landed was finally found in some pretty rough country, but that was a nasty and sobering one.
Q: What kind of effect does that have on your morale?
A: Well you do think about it don't you? I used to say, "Don't push this, pull the ripcord, don't push that". Where all the straps come to in the quick release you just push it like that and all the straps come out - and he obviously did that instead of the ripcord here (pulling the ripcord) and it was unfortunate. There were one or two aircraft accidents too in the air, a couple there while I was there. This is inevitable really with trainee pilots.Q: How many Wirras would they have had stationed there?
A: Well there must have been about a hundred thereabouts. Again they had two satellites as I explained this morning. On training during the day we went out to a satellite and as well you may be on the main strip and some went out to the satellites and operated out there.
Q: You may have mentioned earlier, what were the vices of a Wirraway?
A: The Wirraway had a very nasty "flicking" at stalling speed. If it got to stalling speed it would drop a wing like that, as quick as that, and if you were close to the ground it just flopped onto the ground and whoever was in it was killed. They always called the Wirras "self-respecting aircraft", treat it properly and you'll be right. Again what I said this morning, twice I think, nose down and speed up and you'll be all right.
Q: So those words stayed with you?
A: Oh they stayed with me forever. They're very true and the Wirra wouldn't flick if you did keep the nose down and the speed up. It was when the speed did fall off that it did flick, so very true.
Q: And at this stage, how old are you now? This is about 1943, you're about nineteen?
A: Just turned nineteen.
Q: Were you a drinking man at that stage?
A: Oh, we became one at that stage I suppose. We had one or two occasionally, oh yes. I wouldn't say in excess by any means but I think the night of the wings parade I think we had a few charges.Q: What would you do when you did manage to get leave? I imagine you didn't get much but on a weekend or if you got a day's leave, what would you get up to during your training period?
A: One or two of the blokes were from Melbourne and I remember they had an old vehicle and instead of running it on petrol we ran it on kerosene and we'd go somewhere for a couple of days, back to Melbourne and back to the old Denni on kerosene; used to chug along at about 35 mile an hour, but okay it was something. And at that stage I had a motorbike at Deniliquin. A little bit of a hundred octane [aviation fuel] - that made the old head flap up and down a bit - but it ran all right.
Q: So what was, so you did get down to Melbourne a little bit?
A: Once we got down I think during that period in this old car, otherwise you'd probably have a couple of days at home and pottered around Deniliquin locally. A lot of the people around there were great hosts to go out onto a property for the day or the weekend because we'd come from all over. Very few had come from that area, we'd come from all over Australia in effect, so no, the locals were very good in that respect.
Q: So what do you remember of Melbourne during that period? What was it like?
A: Oh a bit slower than it is today. Oh Melbourne it was still a city. It was still quite a big city and for those that hadn't lived in Melbourne of course the city was still a little bit new and strange and you explored bits and pieces that you'd heard about and hadn't seen.
Q: And you said how the, obviously the aircrew to be were coming from all over Australia, was there much sort of interstate rivalry or chiacking amongst the fellows?
A: Oh you'd laugh and joke a bit sometimes with them but generally there wasn't, no, no, not anything organised, not like state, New South Wales and Victoria, no.
Q: You didn't have names for each other?
A: Oh a few, some had names and such at different times.
Q: Now were you always "Jock"?
A: I'm John Neil but I was always 'Jock' from the day I was born apparently. I was christened Jock by my parents and I'm known all over the world as Jock, so there you are.Q: And your air force days, was there another nickname or...?
A: Oh no, no, 'Jock'.
Q: Okay. So you've got your wings and that must have been a great time for you?
Q: Where did they move you to next?
A: On leave for ten days, came back to the Melbourne Cricket Ground, which was the embarkation depot and we were living in the stands and then we got the note that we were sailing on the Nieuw Amsterdam on the 29th of January.
THE TROOP TRANSPORT SHIP NIEUW AMSTERDAM
Bang - finished! That was only about a day or two days before, so there was no question of... You could let your parents know, that's about all - but they tried to keep it as quiet as possible for the departure of the vessels.
Q: And did your parents come? Was there time to come down?
A: They came down and saw us off at station pier, yeah.
Q: What do you remember of that day?
A: Oh well, "We're going overseas and it's a big boat and this is going to be a terrific experience." You never thought of the worst side of it. I think they probably thought maybe we won't see him again, but we didn't. We were optimistic that we'd be home again, one of these days. I think that's the only way to be actually.
Q: Were you leaving behind a sweetheart?
A: No, no, no, no. As I mentioned this morning dealt with [girls] in numbers, so that was the main thing.
Q: Safety in numbers?
A: Safety in numbers, yeah. I was pretty well known but no-one specific, not in those days.
Q: There was no-one that came to see you off?
A: No, no, no.
Q: How about Deniliquin?
A: No, we used to go to dances in Denni and so on but no, there was no permanent connection anywhere there. Good fun while it lasted and move onto the next.
Q: So at that point before you set sail, how much did you know about where you were headed? Or was it all hush-hush?
A: Didn't know at all. We were in summer gear, 29th of January, shorts and shirt, and 24 hours after leaving we were frozen. The ship went down below Tasmania, right down to the Roaring Forties, and headed across to the Indian Ocean. We knew we were going west, that's about all we knew.
And then there was a bit of a panic, we lost a bloke overboard. He was an English army bloke who was in the brig and he calculated that if we were going to Durban that we'd be within twenty four hours of Durban. Instead of that we were about three days out of Durban when he shot through the porthole. We were on our own and no escort, 40,000-ton ship and we did one 360 degree circuit, couldn't see him and off again.
We were in Durban for a few days as there was a problem on the boat, Durban round to Cape Town and we tried to get out of Cape Town on three occasions. Wandered round the harbour and wondered where we're going and then we went up to Freetown in West Africa and we were in the river there. We were in there for three days and weren't allowed off the boat and when we got to England it appeared that there were two or three subs lurking there and we went straight in.
And this particular ship, the Nieuw Amsterdam was the pride of the Dutch merchant fleet. It left Holland in the September of '39 and hadn't been back to European waters. It was used as a troopship across the Pacific and Middle East and back and at stage we picked up a lot of naval people in South Africa and it was obvious, it came out a bit after. There was a little bit of a hoo-hah. The Dutch crew wanted to take the boat straight to New York and it got to within I think twelve hours sailing of New York, it came out afterwards that the naval personnel aboard apparently threatened, "We'll take over if you're going to dump us." So we ended up heading across to Greenland, across to Iceland and then due south into the Clyde, about thirty miles out of Glasgow and from there we got off the ship by lighter.
The lighter had a fair bit of a rise and when the lighter came up you stepped on and if you missed you were in the drink. From there we went down to Brighton, right on the south coast and the two areas there we lived in were the two big hotels, the Metropole and the Grand, right on the front at Brighton, and they were taken over by the Australians as personnel depots.
Q: Okay, I'll rewind a little bit if that's okay, cause that's an incredible journey that you've just undertaken. It's like you keep moving away from England and finally you're there. Before you set sail, was there pre-embarkation leave?
A: Well we had about a fortnight's leave after our wings parade and then we came back and I think we had 36 hours at that stage. Once we knew we were going overseas I think we had 36 hours leave and at that stage I think from memory I rang my parents and there was no way of getting up and back but they were able to get down so they saw us off actually.
Q: Did you live it up a bit, those 36 hours or so?
A: Oh yes, a few of us I did I think.Q: Where would you have gone?
A: Oh we would have gone somewhere around the city. I can't quite remember now.
Q: Was it still the rage to go and see Chloe there at...?
A: Oh yes, that's right, yes, at Young and Jackson's [Hotel, Melbourne]. I think I've been in there once or twice, but no, we were pretty young and we were pretty well behaved in those days. Didn't go over the traces terribly much.Q: I'll take your word for it. So that journey itself sounds quite an adventure. That guy going overboard and what else do you remember about that journey, there was the freezing weather down south, what were conditions like?
A: Oh pretty cold. We had a lot of, we were on gun watch, we were programmed to go on gun watch and there was deck quoits and they organised deck sports and so on as far as they could go. There was three thousand I think on the ship when we left Melbourne and we picked up a lot of naval personnel and there were a lot of Polish women. How on earth they ever got to Durban I don't know but they were ex from Poland and we picked up West Africans and naval personnel and we ended up 8,000 people on the boat. We were in a single cabin with four bunks, four of us, pretty close, wasn't too much room.
And we did have an alert between Greenland and Iceland. So we went from one extreme in the south to the cold in the north and our station was between the two funnels on the top and it was pretty cold -but it was no problem. You might remember that just at that time one of the Queens, either the Elizabeth or the Mary went straight through a destroyer and didn't stop. Do you remember that incident?
Q: Yeah I heard about that.
Anti-aircraft cruiser HMS Curacoa was accidentally sliced in half by the huge troopship Queen Mary on 2/10/42.
The two halves sank within six minutes and 338 out of the total crew of 439 on board HMS Curacoa were drowned.
There were no casualties on board the Queen Mary, which was carrying nearly 20,000 American troops bound for the UK.
Convoy regulations forbade the Queen Mary from attempting to stop to pick up survivors from the sunken vessel.
A: Well it was about that same time and at any rate there were U-boats operating in the area and there was a bit of an alert, but we came in and [it was] uneventful from then on.
- Except for the 36 hours out of Gourock in Scotland with 8,000 aboard, we ran out of tucker - and that was a bit difficult. They found some biscuits from somewhere and that was... the last two or three meals were biscuits.
Q: How understanding was everyone on board?
A: Oh they had to be, there was no option was there? No going to the 7/11 and picking up a pie or something. You were there and that was it.
Q: You stopped at Durban and Cape Town, yeah? Did you get onshore?
A: We were off at Durban but not at Cape Town. We were in Cape Town for about two days and they wouldn't let us off and we had these abortive attempts to get out of the harbour there and I think that's the reason they wouldn't let us off, they mightn't have got some of us back.
Durban we were there about a week. There was a problem with the ship and we went into an army camp at Durban and I must admit the people there were very good as far as hospitality was concerned, very good indeed.
Q: Who did you make contact with there?
A: Oh the army people, but then we had hospitality and I remember very well. And this might be worth mentioning; we went to a lovely home in Durban and of course they all had Zulu boys for servants and it's the first time I've ever struck this. We treated them as equals and they said, "Can we wash your shorts or your shirt or so on?"
And we treated them as equals and the host came to us and said, "Please, don't be civil to them, kick them in the backside, hit them over the head, do what you like but please don't be civil to them." The first time I'd ever struck that attitude and so we then had to conform to the South African way of doing things.
Q: Kick them up the bum?
A: Kick them up the bum too, which we didn't of course, naturally but for callow 19 year olds who'd never been away from their country, it was a bit of a shock to get that.
Q: You're not the only person that's said that. We've spoken to a few guys who said they got to South Africa and it was quite shocking to see how poorly the Africans were treated.
A: And quite frankly if it hadn't been for Smutts, who was the Prime Minister at that stage, I think Africa would have been against us, because there was such a big German population and the inter-marriage between them, the locals and the Germans, oh I'm trying to think, they were very much in the war and I think Smutts just kept them in and that was about all.
Q: They would have had a huge bearing on the war, those two oceans, the Indian and the Atlantic?
A: That's right, yes.
Q: What did you think of, that incident aside with the servant there, what did you think of the people there?
A: Good, oh good, very good, and I've since been there, Cape Town, haven't been to Durban since but I've been to Cape Town. They're a different people. Oh I'm trying to think of the name, it's on the tip of my tongue, a cross between the Boers and the Germans, the Afrikaans. They were a bit difficult. Going to England in '68, the beginning of '68, I was posted to London, which will come up later and we had a couple of days at Cape Town and my brother had been to Cape Town a number of times and there was a lass from Sydney that he knew that was there and was married to a Afrikaans in Durban and they picked us up. And this is the second time, this is '68 and it's twenty years later and he said, "We're going out to dinner, what about pulling up at this roadhouse and we'll have a drink." So he bought drinks and I saw what he did. He handed over money and I saw the correct change given by the black fellow behind the bar and he abused him up hill and down dale, "You've short changed me."
And I thought, "Well hello." From there we went to a roadhouse for a meal and we got to the roadhouse and he looked across the dining room and he said, "You have people at my table, now get rid of them." And we're getting pretty embarrassed at this stage and he stood his ground. He was a terrible Afrikaner, this fellow, and he made them shift these people half way through the meal, so that we could sit down, so that's the second occasion I've had in South Africa that was a bit different. Then at one stage we had South Africans with us in a neighbouring squadron, and that will come later on too, and they were a different type of fellow too.
Q: Yeah, I've heard about the South Africans. What squadron were they?
A: They were a Mustang squadron, with us in northern Italy. I'm just trying to think of its number. [No.5 Squadron SAAF]Q: Anyway we'll talk about them when we get there I guess. Okay, that's interesting. Then across the South Atlantic and you stopped off in Freetown [Sierra Leone], did you see anything there?
A: Freetown, no, only a dirty river and stinking feet, 8,000 people prancing around the deck of the ship, no didn't see anything at all; wouldn't let us off there.
Q: And what was that kafuffle you were talking about? You were sort of going towards New York, you were twelve hours out, what was that all about?
A: It appears that when we left Freetown the owners of the Dutch boat, which hadn't been back in European waters since the start of it's maiden voyage in 1939, they were determined not to take it back into European waters and would take it to America. And that's when we heard later that the problem was on the boat and with the naval personnel aboard they were told that if they didn't take it on, the naval personnel would take over the ship and there was sufficient naval personnel and skilled people that could have done with, without very many problems, so it wasn't just pie in the sky.
Q: But that was settled amicably?
A: Well it was settled onboard. We didn't know this until long after but it was obviously settled but they persevered as long as they could before they came to conclusion that, well, we'll have to go to Europe after all. And then it was quite strange having done that and having been down in Brighton for about ten days, a lot of our mates arrived. We said, "How did you come?" - "Oh, went via the States and came from New York on the Amsterdam." So the moment it left us it went straight back to New York and bought another team back from New York to Scotland again, so they obviously got the message they had to keep it running and keep it running in accordance with what was required.
Q: So these were guys that had trained in Canada?
A: No, not necessarily, no some of them went via the States on other ships to the States and across the States and people we trained with, we knew a lot of them.
Q: So your guys basically circled the globe. They were with someone somewhere at the same time?
A: Yeah, that's right.
Q: Right then you made it, you called in at Gourock - was it in Scotland?
A: Gourock: it was the little port right in the Clyde near the John Brown shipyards where the Mary and the Elizabeth were built and that's about thirty miles upriver from Glasgow and we got a train into Glasgow and then an overnight from Glasgow down to Brighton and the first time that we experienced an air raid was at Paton Junction, just south of London, so we were stopped for about two hours during an air raid. And that's the first time we saw a bit of the action.
Q: How far away was this?
A: Oh we could see bombs dropping on London and we were there in the rail yards and rail yards are a pretty fair target too but we were lucky and got onto Brighton without any problems.
Q: And what was Brighton like when you got there, as it had received a bit of a whack as well?
A: Oh a little bit but a colossal seaside town. You've probably heard of Brighton and the Esplanade at Brighton? But this is in February '44, four months prior to the invasion - of course on the beach was all wired up and then along the front and on the little streets going back from the front were all military vehicles and guns of all description being assembled for the invasion. Wherever you went, I've never seen so many vehicles and guns and things and all types. And from Brighton - because it's right on the English Channel - on two or three occasions they had dummy runs and you could see this great armada of ships going out and they'd go out of sight and then in about an hour later you'd see them coming back. So everyone knew that something was going to happen, but of course we didn't know when.
Q: And when you got to Brighton was there to be further training? Or did you know where you were going to be posted?
A: Brighton was a holding depot and the RAF [Royal Air Force] were in charge and they had some pretty unruly Australians and they used to take us out to the back streets and try and do a bit of drill. And a large double-decker bus would go past and the last half-dozen ranks jump onto the bus and go around the next corner. And another bus would come and...
Q: So half of you would jump on the double-decker bus and you'd just get out of there?
A: Well, we had nothing to do and they were trying to drill us there and we weren't terribly interested in doing that, so we had the numbers too. These poor RAF blokes didn't know what to do. We had nothing to do.
Q: All the supervision was RAF? There was no Australian RAAF?
A: Yes, there was some RAAF but outside for any drill, if you like, they were RAF blokes, so we sort of had a piece of them. We told them what we'd do and what we wouldn't do. But we had nothing to do and this was the problem. This six months prior to the invasion and it's very interesting that it's just 60 years now and there was something like a million troops in England assembled there waiting for an invasion. As it turned out the invasion went off much better than ever expected, so they had to farm people out. But prior to that, of course we had to go to the Metropole Hotel before what they called 'Category Selection Boards' and there were three senior RAAF officers, because the first question was, "What do you want son?"
And the stock answer was, "Fighters sir, fighters sir."
And their stock answer was, "We have a nice line of four-engine night fighters. You can have a Lanc, a Halifax or a Stirling, make up your mind."
This went on two to three times and I don't know what happened, but out of the blue we were sent up to an advance flying unit. But prior to that, no, I'm skipping it a bit. Prior to that little deal they had to farm some of us out in airfields around England to get a bit of Tiger Moth flying again, just to keep a few hours up. I happened to be allocated to a little aerodrome called Fair Oaks in Middlesex and its satellite was Smith's Lawn within Windsor Great Park, where you've seen the polo played and in wartime it was at that time the King's private aerodrome and this was a great lurk. It was only fifteen miles out of London and free and easy and we did quite a bit of Tiger flying and we were there when the invasion happened. We saw the lot from the aircraft, the gliders; and a couple of times we ventured down towards the coast to see what was going on and we had blokes in Fortresses waving to us and Spits rolling around us and we thought, "Get to hell out of here and get back." It was all right and then we went back to The Metropole and we went to this category selection board and the answer was, "Four engine night fighters".
And out of the blue, about six of us, the next thing we knew we were sent to an advanced flying unit in the Midlands to a place called Ternhill, just near Shrewsbury and this was a glorious spot and a lovely little aircraft, a Miles Master Two, which had a complete Spitfire cockpit... and they were lovely little aircraft and a photo of one out there.
RAF Ternhill today.
That was about a three month course, which again was an advanced flying unit which covers a lot of the things that I've shown you in that book, only in further detail.
And out of the blue there we were sent on leave and came back to the station and the next thing we knew we were to Liverpool to get on a boat to the Middle East. At this stage this was getting into end of August, so the invasion had been June, July and was going pretty well and the losses were a lot less. Although the losses were fairly heavy they were a lot less than they ever anticipated, so they had farm people out, so we were sent to the Middle East and we spend some time in Cairo and Heliopolis, the Heliopolis Palace Hotel, which during the First World War and the Second World War was a hospital, about ten miles out of Cairo. And from there we went down to RAF Fayid, right on the Bitter Lake on the Canal to do an operational training unit on Kittyhawks. That was a permanent RAF station and quite a lot of instructor pilots were there having done a tour of ops in Italy. Australia had two Australian squadrons in Italy and had been right up and down the [North African Desert] two or three times and then across to Malta and then into Italy.
And I was allocated eventually, after doing the operational training unit on Kittyhawks, I went across to Italy to a place at Salerno, where there was a landing [Salerno invasion 1943] to do a conversion course from Kittyhawks to Mustangs and then from Mustangs there, which was only a short course there. We flew Harvards and Mustangs there and up to the squadron and I was lucky enough to get up to the squadron a couple of months before the war ended.
Q: So when you got to Cairo what stage was the fighting in Italy at? I know Rome had already?
A: Rome had fallen and they were working there way up; 3 and 450, the two Australian squadrons, they were concentrating on the Adriatic Coast and the RAF were going up the east coast with the 8th Army and the New Zealand forces. Our Squadron was a fighter-bomber squadron that was co-operating with the ground forces and it was what they called, "Rover Davids", where you had a pilot in a light aircraft conferring with the army and he said, "Righto, there are three tanks on the corner off there and there and there and they're a bit of problem, see if you can get someone to knock them over." And that worked terribly well and it was a question with fighter-bombing you went out with bombs on and there was a target. Then after you dropped bombs on the target that they'd asked for, you strafed anything that moved, rail transport or road transport or barges on the Po River or anything like that. Good fun.
Q: That's what you'd been training for - for a year and a half?
A: That's right. We were the lucky ones. We'd at least got there before the war finished and I think I did about 25 trips in a fighter aircraft. They were only short trips and they're only about an hour, an hour and a half; whereas thirty trips in bombers were probably ten hours at a time. And we were up and down like yo-yos.
Q: Righto we might save that for the next tape or thereafter. You had a good six months in the UK?
Q: So from Brighton you were skylarking a bit?
A: Brighton up to a little bit of Tiger Moth flying at Windsor Great Park. Following that up to the advanced flying unit in Shrewsbury in Ternhill on Miles Master II advanced trainers, finished that and that was the end of our time in the UK and then out to the Middle East.
Q: So what were your impressions of England? Obviously the war had changed it over the years but they had suffered very badly?
A: Oh they had suffered very badly and of course at that time what we did strike was the V1 Flying Bombs. If you went into London for anything and certainly when we were at Windsor Park, go into London, it was only fifteen miles out of London and go in there and you'd see one of these Doodlebugs or hear one of the Doodlebugs. While the engine was going everything was fine, but if you saw one that the engine had stopped, duck for cover because as soon as the engine stopped - down it would come and of course it was a loaded bomb, that's all it was. And then after that of course they had the V2's which were a rocket, which went straight up to thirty thousand feet and you never saw them and they just came straight down and they were terrible.
Britain as a whole you could see the damage in London and places like Coventry. Again going out to Ternhill and Shrewsbury and those places, Scotland, very little effect. Farms were still producing a little bit to eat and people were still working, very conscious of the war of course but things were a bit tight, food was rationed and everything was rationed.
Q: What sort of spirit were the people in do you think?
A: Oh they were in good spirits, first class spirits because they'd had a couple of pluses, they'd won the Battle of Britain, they'd stopped any possible German invasion after the Battle of Britain, they'd had a couple of skirmishes, one at Salerno and well they'd finished in the Middle East, they'd fixed Rommel in the Middle East.Q: And your Operational Training?
A: Well at the advanced flying unit at Ternhill we were actually on a satellite again at a place called Condover and we had Polish pilots and we had French pilots and we had one Maori pilot and his name was Wikkitiha, a delightful fellow. And he and I were ordered one day to go up and practise what they called "fighter pairs". He was in one aircraft and I was in the other and he was formating on me and I looked over and I couldn't see anyone in the cockpit! - And here he is with his head between his knees lighting a cigarette - and I got to hell out of it at that stage.
And that same little fellow, a chap rang me about five years ago wanting to know about someone on 3 Squadron and he said, "By the way, I've just been to New Zealand and I met a Maori pilot." And I said, "Wikkitiha?"
He said, "Did you know him?" I said, "I knew him well," and Pat and I were going to New Zealand about three months later, so this chap gave me his phone number and I rang him and he and his wife met us at Auckland airport. It was a most emotional meeting as far as he was concerned and it was 50-odd years or more but he was terribly emotional. He's since died but and then it was very interesting because there's still a feeling about Maoris in New Zealand. I was quite surprised. I'd thought they'd levelled out but I went to different aircraft museums while we were there and one at Christchurch and one at Auckland and a Beaufighter squadron, oh the warbird fighters at Manukau in the South Island and I mentioned about this Maori pilot and everybody shut up like a book, terribly interesting. I thought the Maoris and the New Zealanders had sort of come to the arrangement but obviously there's still some feeling there and he finished flying Spitties. - I was coming up the Adriatic side of Italy and he was with an RAF squadron coming up the west side and I didn't even know. It was quite strange for a Maori to be a Spitfire pilot. He'd be one of probably a number you could count on your hand I think. So that's another little anecdote.
Q: To get in he'd probably need to be twice as good as any white pilot?
A: Probably, probably, yeah.
Q: It's funny because a lot of Aussies that we've talked with who fought with Maoris, be it World War II, Vietnam even, they seem to have the utmost respect for the Maori soldiers.
A: Oh yes, I'll tell you a story about that later on too. We used to go on this ground strafing and this support of the 8th Army and the New Zealand Army was there of course, but very few of them ever went into battle in their uniforms. You'd see them with top hats or bowler hats or shirts or anything and you'd come down at fifty feet over them and you'd see them and they were characters. And then after the war had ended and we finished up about a hundred miles south of Venice and we went into Venice pretty regularly on leave and these Kiwi trucks came along. There were two of us and these Kiwi trucks came along and two big burly Maoris got off and threw their arms around our waist and said, "You're coming with us, Oz." Didn't matter what you did, "You're coming with us." So they drove us up to a hotel and they ordered a tray with a hundred glasses of beer on it and, "Now come on, show us your form?" So that was some of the Kiwis.
And another interesting article was after the war we were able to get some vehicles while we moved up to within thirty miles of Trieste out in a little place called Udine and we had a vehicle and we picked up a share vehicle and it had been on town gas and the motor was pretty well "had it" and the Kiwi boys were over one night having a drink in the mess with us and we were complaining about our motor and they said, "bring it over in the morning". We arrived over in the morning and there was a big box in front of their mess and they said, "Open it," and it was a brand new Chev engine in it and they said, "The only thing is give us your old one to put in so the weight will still be in there." And they said, "When you finish with it, only one thing we ask, give it to us."
Well they went home quite a bit after us and before we left we drove the Chev over and said, "Well here's your car fellows, thanks a lot." We'd been all over Italy in that. So that's another little anecdote.
Jock's purloined Chev, parked in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Q: Oh the more antics the better, that's great. Just going to hover in England for a little while longer because you were there, as you say for D-Day, so a pretty important time. What sort of reputation do you think the Aussies had there in Britain?
A: Oh good really because in the First World War I think they made their mark with the Brits. We were pretty well respected, very well respected and the only thing that used to irk us at times was people who regarded us as a colony, "You're from the Colonies, are you?"
"No, from a dominion." Well we were too, we weren't a colony any longer. That's some of the old buffers for you.
Q: How was their respect for our training?
A: Oh very well I think, very well.Q: How would that be expressed?
A: Oh it was hospitality I think more than anything. Yes, that's probably the best way to put it. They opened their homes and they, there was an organisation where you could say, "I'd like to go to the Lake District for a couple of days on leave," and they'd have hosts and hostesses up there to take you in and do everything for you, all over England. I think we were, I think the First World War created a pretty good spirit for us and we were able to follow on with that behind us. Oh no that was good.
Q: Is there anyone in particular that comes to mind, a host for example or any English speaking characters you came across?
A: Oh I'll tell you something quite personal. In schooldays the principal of the agricultural college at Longham, just out of Horsham, the principal's wife was Scottish and because her sister and her husband were in the ship-building business on the Clyde and things were pretty rough because the Clyde was being bombed, the sister and two boys came out to Horsham and lived in Horsham and came to the school with us: Eric and Graham Brown. And the first morning they fronted up to high school in kilts, so you can imagine that was the only time that they did! But just before I got to England, things had settled down so much so that they went home, so I kept in close contact with them and they lived in a little place called Irvine between Glasgow and Kilmarnock and they had a magnificent home, Ivybank, set on a big block of land and I spent a couple of leaves with them at times when I was in England. They knew me well, I knew them well and it was marvellous to do it really.
Q: Any more there?
A: No, I think that was one. Oh Dad had looked up some relatives beyond Inverness during the First World War and there was a cousin in Edinburgh, Fraser by name, who was a farrier in Edinburgh and he got me to look him up and that was the only one I looked up. He said, "Don't bother going too far into the background". Not that there was any problem I think but that was the only one I looked up at that stage.
Q: What did you make of RAF culture as apposed to RAAF culture? Did they do things differently?
A: Oh they did things yes differently. They were sticklers for what shall we say etiquette and saluting and form and so on. Later on and this is in the squadron days, our squadron had been up and down the desert as part of 239 Desert Air Force and they instituted the pilots' mess, irrespective of rank, and that really took the RAF apiece, "How dare they?"
Well our people said, "That's it," and they had a pretty good argument. Flying fighter aircraft, when you're in a formation, you're looking after someone over there and someone's looking after you and it was futile coming down to two different messes for the debriefing, so it was a logical thing. Irrespective of your rank we're all doing the same job and let's live together and we did and that was most successful.
The RAF could never get over that, never get over it. We reckoned we had the results and the logic was there to do it. There was still a lot of class distinction in those days. Less now, I think, but there's still a bit of class distinction in the RAF.
Q: So there was a bit of tension there perhaps?
A: Oh no tension, it was more laughable than anything.
Q: For you guys?
A: Yeah. Let them do what they like but we're going to do what we like too. We're from the dominion and maybe we do things differently and we'll do it our way, yeah, we'll do it our way.
Q: Just tell us a little bit more about where you stationed at Windsor Great Park?
A: Windsor Great Park, which is just below Windsor Castle, bounded on one side by the Virginia Water on one side and Port Belvedere, which was Edward the Seventh's famous pad, just right at the end of our strip and it was a glorious area, right within the park and a lovely spot. And they play polo there now, the Royal Family and in '68 just after we went to England, I took the family, I said, "We're going down to Smith's Lawn for the day," and we did and they were playing polo and there were about twenty people there watching the polo, the whole of the Royal Family were there and looking over, our old flight hut is their club, same old hut. I've been down there a number of times after that, but at that stage (this is post-war of course) in one of these polo matches Philip won something and the Queen presented him with the trophy and I was nearly as close as I am from here to you and his reply was, "Not another bloody ashtray," that was the trophy. So that's how few people were there.
Q: So you were back on the Tiger Moths, just reacquainting yourself with them?
A: Oh they just farmed us out all over England, just to give us a few hours. We used to drop in and see some of our mates who were somewhere and only just to give us a few hours flying and keep us in trim.
Q: What was the flying conditions like? You were used to flying around the Riverina and that sort of area, what were the conditions like in England?
A: See this was summertime in England and it could be jolly nice in summertime in England, jolly nice. Night flying was a bit of a trap in real blackout and particularly in the Midlands when we were doing AFU [Advanced Flying Unit] because you had about six or eight aerodromes overlapping and the lights would go on one and, "Is that ours or not?" So you had to get at one stage what they called the reef in, which put out a certain series of lights so you knew that we were on our aerodrome, but that was a bit of a trap.
One bloke on the AFU saw this lights and what he thought was the runway and had wheels and flaps down, ready to pull back and all of a sudden there's a puff of smoke and he's lining up with a train.
Q: Oh God.
A: So that scared the hell out of him.
Q: So tell us about life in the mess. What would you get up to, sort of, after-hours there?
A: Oh it was not over-raucous.
I suppose after the war ended and we were in Italy we moved up to, things were a lot easier there and the ground staff boys were great scroungers and they'd take a three ton truck off to Milan or somewhere and bring back a load of beer or a load of vino rosso [red wine] or vino bianco [white wine] and a few days after the war I drove a Blitz up with about six blokes and we drove back the Blitz and five decent motor cars, just on the streets, they were just in front of us. A couple of Alfa Romeos, and we decided on the Chev and very quickly painted the Chev khaki with the help of the ground crew and put an RAF logo on it and an RAF number on the door and we were able to go into fuel supplies and just book up a bit of fuel, RAF number such and such and there was no such number but it worked. I suppose blokes that (when the war was still on) when they finished a tour, that was a night that they played up a bit. We couldn't very much do that because we didn't know if we were flying at first light in the morning. I remember one night (and the chap's since died) he was still sitting on the doorstep with a bottle of beer at 0630 in the morning and we were going flying [at] first light. He'd been up all night and he'd finished his tour and that was that. And we had quite a night of VE [Victory in Europe] night of course, when word came through that the War was over - so we did have a bit of a night that night.
Q: Was there a ready supply?
A: Oh yes, yes, yes.
Q: Okay, just one or two final questions on your time in England. You mentioned that you saw the build up for D-Day, the invasion, can you give us some more detail of that and the actual hearing the news that they'd landed and seemed to be successful?
A: Oh we'd been in London that night, the 6th of June and mid-summer and it was daylight saving and it was light until about 10:30 and coming home from London that night we could see the DC3s with the gliders, hundreds of them, forming up. We could see aircraft forming up and the following morning it was announced on the news and as I say we were up in a Tiger and when I mentioned earlier that you could be on a training strip with a couple of hundred aircraft and never see another aircraft in the sky, I had never (and I can see it now) seen the sky which was actually full of aircraft, wherever you looked there was aircraft, must have been thousands. And it was a marvellously orchestrated deal. So we saw that. And of course there wasn't TV there; radio bulletins were coming over every few hours with the progress and you could see them. And then down on the coast you could see this armada and there was something like 8,000 ships involved, of all types, small ships, bigger ships. Something like I think a hundred war ships, a colossal organisation.
That's why I mentioned all these vehicles they'd all been waterproofed and the ones on the front that I mentioned when we first got to England, right down right in Brighton in the streets running off it and they were all being organised then and overnight you'd see that street and they'd all gone, they were moved. There was a big swimming pool at a little place called Hove, just down beyond Brighton on the front and that was used to waterproof some of these vehicles. They used, most of them were diesel and they used to put up a snorkel for air and they'd run them backwards and forwards just to make certain that they were operating in water because after all when they got off the landing barges they had to go into water. They couldn't go right onto land immediately. So it was a remarkable sight to see it.
Q: Did you get a sense that you were seeing history in the making?
A: Oh yes, yes, absolutely. As I say, I've never seen a sky like it again and I don't think we ever will. You can go up to Tullamarine and Moorabbin today and see a hundred aircraft and never see another one in the sky and these were thick.
Q: Okay, so after you went up to Shrewsbury?
A: Ternhill, which is just out of Shrewsbury.
Q: Now what were the planes you were flying there?
A: Miles Master II's. I'll show you a photo of one in a moment.
A Miles Master II Training Aircraft.
Q: What were they like?
A: A delightful aircraft, delightful aircraft. Low-winged monoplane with about a five, six hundred horsepower radial motor and a Spitfire cockpit and the idea I think was that you could convert straight to a Spit without any problem but we never got onto the Spits. I never flew a Spit unfortunately. We had a Spit squadron with us after the war, not far from us and we did arrange a roster of swapping aircraft and that was going fine until one of them pranged and the wrong person was in the wrong aircraft and that was the end. He wasn't killed or anything but he bent the aircraft and of course they went to see who was in and the bloke who was in it, I was about second or third further down to fly a Spit and I never flew a Spit unfortunately.Q: So he wouldn't have been your bosom buddy at the time?
A: Oh well, it was just one of those things that happens. One of my best mates he came in one day, we were watching George come in and he got lower and lower to the ground and he forgot to lock down the undercart down in a Mustang and he just came down lower and lower and lower and (demonstrates). They were all interesting sojourns.
Q: Yes. So you were at Ternhill for how long?
A: Oh we were at Ternhill for nearly two and a half months I suppose. It was a fairly intense course of going through a lot of those things I showed you there in an advanced stage and some of those things for Tigers and Wirras and plus night flying, instrument flying.
Q: I imagine you would have been champing at the bit, with D Day having happened and the end might be nigh?
A: Well the only thing we thought, "Well if D-Day's happened, they don't want us here and maybe they'll send us back to the islands." Well when the war ended our squadron was going to be reequipped with Griffin engine Mustangs to come out to the islands but by the time they got this organized or were getting it organized the war in the islands was over so we still stayed in Italy until about August and then across to Cairo again and waited for a ship to come home and got the Stratheden eventually in Port Said and the Stratheden didn't stop and we went out in lighters and we had about 2000 of these RAAF blokes that had been in England, a lot of mates that had never seen anything and they ended up as postmen or something in England and they were running a book over the side to see who would fall in off the Jacob's ladder. And we had a pack on our back and climbing up the ladder, while the ship was still moving. At any rate, none of us fell and we got home satisfactorily.
Q: Tell us about, you just mentioned Cairo, tell us about your first period of time, you did it down from England to?
Q: Cairo, then RAF Fayid was it?
A: Yes.Q: Tell us about those places?
A: Well not having been in a, what shall I say, a Middle Eastern country before, it was an interesting one. We caught a train at Alexandria and it overshot Cairo and we ended up about thirty or forty miles beyond Cairo. How or why I don't know so we had to come back into Cairo.
Cairo, life was very cheap in Cairo. There was a big tramway that ran from the centre of Cairo out to Heliopolis, the Palace Hotel where we were living and the tram would run over people and wouldn't stop, life was very cheap. Vehicles, the few odd taxis that you'd see there in those days, had three different size wheels on them and they'd pinched a wheel off something, and pinched a wheel off something else, and you'd see them and they're going like this (demonstrates) with a big wheel and a small wheel. This tram was very good but you'd see people walking across the lines and going about thirty miles an hour and just goes through them and that was a bit eye-opening. We'd go into Cairo and potter around there and there were markets and goodness knows what there and of course the Nile was right in and some nice spots and a sporting club right on the Nile. Then there's a base called Almaza, which is tents, right in the desert and luckily we're in Heliopolis because when we came back from the squadron back to Cairo we went into Almaza in the tents and we were just sitting there doing nothing until there was a ship.
We'd potter around and if we were on leave, one leave we went right up through what was Palestine [now Israel and Palestine], through as far as Lebanon and the Cedars, Damascus. We had a good trip up there, on leave, and I had my 20th birthday in the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, which was later burnt down and it has been rebuilt as the one that's there now (but the one that was there in our day was burnt down). And as it turned out I was home in time for my twenty first birthday. So there.
On the road to Jerusalem (Jock at right).
Q: You're getting us home again. I'm going to take you back.
A: I'd grown up a bit by then.
Q: So definitely it must have been a real eye-opener. So you were based in Heliopolis first?
A: When we came out yes, just sitting there waiting in the end for a vacancy at the Operational Training Unit at Fayid and when certain classes went out and there was a vacancy: right, they called on some more and it was just going like that. That was an interesting time too, because if you go back in history have you heard of the 'Yalta Conference' where Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill met at Yalta. Well Churchill came out on one of the battleships, which was stationed right in the Bitter Lake and we were not allowed to use the east-west runway because he was there on the battleship before he moved then on to Yalta.Q: So why was that, why couldn't you use that runway?
A: The battleship was there with Churchill on it and they didn't want an aircraft to prang on it or fly over it or do anything over it. So while the ship was there we had to use the north-south runway irrespective or wind or conditions while the battleship was there.
It's right in the Canal, Bitter Lake. And okay we had a course there again and we hadn't flown for a month or two, so we went onto Harvards there for a kick off (from which the Wirraway originated). It was improved from the Harvard and it was a very nice little aircraft. And then onto Kittyhawks and the first thing we saw on Kittyhawks in the flight office was in big bold letters: "Kittyhawk aircraft must not be spun." We looked at few manuals and again, "Kittyhawk aircraft must not be spun."
There was an RAF officer who had been out through Burma, had done a tour in Burma, a chap by the name of Jungle Jim Edmonds, about six foot six, six foot eight. And he was our flight commander at that stage. He was later killed, not long after, but he wouldn't fly a Kittyhawk under any circumstances. He had a Spit; but how he got into a Spit I don't know, because when he taxied out to the strip he had almost as much as I am now above the windscreen and for takeoff he used to slip down and pull his head down and close the canopy and one day he said, "I'll take you up and we'll do a bit of line astern". And didn't let on to what he was anticipating - these old Kittyhawks had been up and down the desert so many times and there weren't two alike. And they'd been built up from wrecks and bits and pieces and short tails and long tails, early models and later models and they were clapped-out.
You never took your eyes off two dials. One was the oil temperature and the other one was the oil pressure and they had old Alison motors in them and once the oil temperature went up the oil pressure went down, you'd close up the vents and you'd get if for a while. (One chap did bearings in the end because of lack of oil pressure.) But on this particular flight there were six of us and we got up to about 12,000 feet and they were struggling and he said, "Line astern fellows," and he led us in the Spit into a big long circle. He said, "Righto, Number One spin the aircraft," and he nearly fell out. And the first one was an old mate of mine (he and I eventually shared an aircraft) and he was the first to go down and the Kitty in about a turn and a half went from 12,000 feet down to 5,000 feet; they fell like a rocket. So we all had to do it. And at any rate we spun the aircraft, but it gave us I suppose then a little bit of satisfaction that providing you had some height when you did spin, you could get out if but if you were low when it spun you'd be in trouble.
Q: He was well aware of that?
A: Yes, he was well aware of that and there was another perhaps interesting bit that I should tell you. At the same station while there were Kittyhawks there were also American Thunderbolts. They were a very big aircraft, single seaters and some of our Australians went onto Thunderbolts. And one day six Thunderbolts went up to 30,000 feet, rolled on their back to dive down and four of the six went straight into the desert. The two that got out of it, one was an instructor and the other was an ex-British Imperial Airways pilot that had gone into the RAF, who'd had a lot of flying experience and the flight commander kept yelling at them, "Throttle on, throttle off, throttle on, throttle off," and what happened they called it at that stage compressibility but it was really breaking the sound barrier - where a vacuum formed over the control surfaces and your control column was just like a pudding and the two that got out were able to throttle on and throttle off in this speed which probably was six, seven hundred miles an hour, to get enough to break the vacuum over the control surfaces and got out of it.
The CO was a little chap by the name of Group Captain Carey. He was an RAF officer who was also a well-known rugger player at international rugger and he had a black Thunderbolt, jet black with a red strip right down the side, as his own personal aircraft. And as soon as this happened he took this up to try and go through the exercise that these chaps went through and he got out of it and he got out of it because of what the flight commander and the other pilot, the two that got out of it, mentioned to him and then we were all called together and it was the first time that, they called it at that stage "compressibility" but it was really almost at the sound barrier. So that was another interesting thing while we were there. One other interesting one, Air Marshal Tedder, who was in charge of the RAF in the later stages in the desert, his son was with us as a pilot and he was flying Thunderbolts and we did a lot of air to gunnery there - and he went right through the target one day. Got out of it, but straight through the target and skidded across the desert.Q: Did you give him a bit of stick for that?
A: I don't know but his old man of course was an Air Marshal in the air force, so he wouldn't have got too much stick I wouldn't think, so they were two little incidents at Fayid.
Q: So do you want to tell us a little bit about the Kittyhawks, because that was what you were going to fly with 3 Squadron, wasn't it, the Kittyhawks and then the Mustangs?
A: Well actually, by the time we got to the squadron they had moved up to Mustangs and that's why we went to Salerno and as soon as we finished in Egypt. That's another funny story I'll tell you in a minute.
Q: Which one is that?
A: No, going across to Italy. When we finished at Fayid we just went back to this Almaza, this desert sand with the tents and we were on leave all day and what we had to do was report back to Almaza at midnight because there were transports, DC3 transports flying from Cape Town to Italy. And depending on what they were carrying and what capacity they had, they'd take a few of us over on the trip with them. If we were "on" this night, they'd know by midnight if there was an aircraft coming in and they'd take us out and he'd land at Cairo West and we'd be on. And a mate of mine who has since died, he said, "If there's a bloody SAAF [South African Air Force] pilot on this I'm not going."
Well three o'clock in the morning, that night, we were boarding to go and we got out to Cairo West in the pitch dark and the skipper came off the DC3 and he had red tabs on and I said to Johnny, "What are you doing now?"
Anyway we went, but this was interesting as there were six of us and we were all single-engine trained and these two fellows had flown directly up from Cape Town, literally with only fuel stops and they were pretty tired, so they saw six pilots and they said, "Have you ever flown one of these?"
"Well come up, we'll show you. We'll take off and we're heading for Tobruk." Well the six of us then huddled in the cockpit of the DC3 and they went back and had a sleep. "Wake us up when you get to Tobruk," and this was the first time we'd flown up the desert in the DC3 and once we got around it we were all right and they landed it and we had breakfast at Tobruk.
And this mate of mine (again who said he wasn't coming with us, with the SAAF pilot) he was in the left-hand seat as we went across from Tobruk to Athens and at that stage Crete was right on track and was still occupied. And we saw Crete on the horizon about a hundred miles away and put the DC3 into a steep turn and we'll divert around Crete and we got to Athens and at that stage there was a civil war on in Athens between two factors of the army, the EAM and ELAS (and don't ask me what it means but that's what they were). And there were Baltimores that one of them had, twin engine Baltimores bombing the strip at Athens so then there was a bit of a lull in proceedings and we had quick look and the South Africans were flying it by this time and they said, "We think we can get down," and we got down all right.
And we were there at lunch time and the only lunch - I don't know if you enjoy boiled potatoes on their own - it's all boiled potatoes. I can taste them now! So we had lunch there and after lunch we took off and we flew up through the Dodecanese Islands and across the Adriatic and to Bari in Italy. And we spent the night in Bari and overnight we organised a ride with the Americans across the Apennines to Naples, so there - how's that!
Q: That's a good story.
A: Yes, I mentioned about flying across with the South Africans. We flew across to Bari with the South Africans and then got a ride with the Americans to Naples and we were in Naples for a couple of days and went down to do this conversion course at Salerno, right on the beach at Salerno where there had been an amphibious landing some time before, before the fall of Rome.
And there was a little airport down there with two or three of our fellows including the CO [Commanding Officer] at the time was a chap called Charles Wannan (Charles is still on deck in Sydney and we see him quite frequently). And we did a bit of Harvard, a few hours on the Harvards and then on the Kittyhawks again and then the Mustang. At that stage it was what we called the Mark III Mustang, which didn't have the bubble cockpit.
The cockpit cover came up on the side and over the top like a Messerschmitt and you had about twenty feet of Rolls Royce Merlin poking up in the air and you couldn't see a thing. Couldn't see a thing until you got the tail up and once you got the tail up you could see right ahead. The Mark III was a bit of trap actually, but it was okay, we got through it. And then when we got to the squadron they had the Mark IV which has the bubble-top and you still had a disability in looking ahead until you got the tail up but there was a lot more vision in that than there was in the Mark III.
Q: Do you know why it was designed like that?
A: I don't know. It was an American design and it evolved over the years and it started off that way and it was improved and improved and I think I mentioned they changed motors from Allisons to Merlins and that made the aircraft and finally they got the bubble canopy on it, which you'll see today when they stage flights around Melbourne and it's still got the canopy on them and you can see a lot more out of them.
Q: With these developments like the Kittyhawk you ended up flying several Marks didn't you?
A: Several. You've read the log book. I think I mentioned to you these were old Kittyhawks that had been up and down the desert so many times, had been pranged, had been rebuild from a bit of this and a bit of that and a short-tailed one and a long-tailed one and a Kittyhawk E and a Kittyhawk F and that's why there are so many different Kittyhawks. Look they're basically the same aeroplane. They're either older ones or younger ones and been improved or rebuilt and make up what they could get from bits and pieces and I'll tell you what, they were pretty rough old aircraft!
Q: Why were you learning to fly the Harvards?
A: When we came from England out on a troop ship which was about a fortnight and then to Heliopolis and we were there for about a month. So we hadn't flown for about three months and they had Harvards there and they said, "We'll give you four or five hours in the Harvard," with an instructor first up, just to see that you hadn't gone terribly stale, so that was the reason we flew Harvards.
Then from Harvards onto Kittyhawks and Kittyhawks were the first single-seaters we flew and a chap who lives down in Mont Albert, he was an instructor there at that time and he sat on the wing of a Kittyhawk while I taxied down and said, "Don't worry, you've got a radio there. If you're in trouble give us a call and we'll have a chat." The trouble was he didn't tell me these old radios only worked on the ground; ten feet off the ground and you didn't hear a thing! So at any rate we flew around for an hour and came back and landed and was all right.
There was an incident there with someone that you've probably have heard of, who was the Deputy Premier at one stage, Bill Borthwick, Minister for Health, Deputy Premier. Bill was on Hawks with us and these two or three instructors, they used to play euchre or solo [card games] or something while we scrub pilots were out flying and all of a sudden someone looked through the window (where they should have been down on the strip) looked through the window and here's a Kittyhawk up on its nose and Borthwick's in it. So they never let him up on that. He went along the end of the strip, which was a bituminised strip, straight into the sand and so straight up, so they got a bit of a wrap too for playing cards instead of being out on the strip, so that's another little incident.Q: Where were you on Operations?
A: Bear in mind that we were right at the tail-end [of the War] and the squadron had moved from the Middle East across to Malta and Malta to Sicily and from Sicily to Italy and it criss-crossed a bit backwards and forwards in Italy but in later six or nine months operated on strips up the eastern Adriatic beaches. And where I joined the squadron was a place called Cervia, right on the beach and it was a holiday town originally, not a very big town, a holiday town but this strip was basically on the beach so they put down what they called perforated steel plating on the sand and that enabled you to operate off it. The first time you land on it - the clunk and the clank - you think the bottom's falling out of your aircraft, but it worked, it worked well. And actually we were there until the war ended, which was only a short time after I joined the squadron.
And from there we moved onto this little place called Samadenchia, and into a grass strip, which was about ten miles south of Udine and about thirty miles west of Trieste right at the top of the Adriatic. At that stage Tito was the dictator of Yugoslavia and was getting a little bit toey at times, although he held the place together (look what's happened in Yugoslavia 60 years later where they've all been fighting amongst themselves) and he held it together at that stage but for a couple of months after the war had ended we kept operating over Yugo, just to let him know that there were people still about in Italy - and we kept flying over Yugo.
Q: Were there any incidents?
A: Not really, no. There was one incident I suppose that involved myself.
When the war ended, and you may not realise it, but although the Russians were Allies they were Allies until the day the war ended... And then there was a problem and the day after the war ended we were called into our ops tent and they had a line drawn from Vienna, down to a place called Klagenfurt down that way and from Klagenfurt in a shoestring line back to Trieste and we were down below that and we were warned that anyone that went over that line would be shot down because the Russians had come down [occupied] that area and there was a great problem there with the Russians, a day after the war ended - and they were Allies until then.
A week after the war ended we were called into mess and they said, "We've got a job to do and I think we'll juggle this one and we'll put it in the hat and you can draw, someone is going to draw the long straw."
"What's it all about?"
"You've got to take documents up to a place called Klagenfurt, which is on this line." The interesting part was the aerodrome at Klagenfurt, which we'd strafed on many occasions, was on the Russian side of the vee, so you had to approach, had to go over the Alps from where we were and approach from the Russian side but it was a rather interesting situation. There was no problem there but the Germans were in control and there were about two hundred German aircraft on the ground and probably about four or five hundred German air force blokes, about six RAF blokes and this was the first time they'd seen a Mustang in the flesh and I was scared stiff that somebody was going to do something, put a bit of chewing gum in the pitot-head to stop the air-speed indicator or something like that. I wasn't there long, but I never took my eye off that aircraft and it was quite an interesting feeling, landing on a drome that you'd been knocking about a bit, still in the area and there was about six RAF against about three or four hundred Germans. Okay I got back safely over the Alps and back home and was all right.
Q: Well that was the Klagenfurt?
A: Klagenfurt, in Austria. Lovely spot.
Q: That's a very interesting period, isn't it?
A: Lots of people don't realise that there were problems with the Russians while they were with us while the war was on. It was the race into Berlin and you've probably heard of that and the problems there and there were real problems there and that's why they drew this line and warned us not to go across it.Q: So what presence was there of the Russians?
A: Not many in that area, but they had aircraft operating out of Austria and through there and the thought was that they might be a bit of a problem if we went into their territory which they guarded jealously at that stage. They'd come down and there was the race into Berlin and the race of them taking over, or the Americans or British taking over.Q: So with Yugoslavia what were you doing? You were flying over the country?
A: During wartime we used to go over, the squadron used to go over regularly to Yugoslavia to help the partisans but you didn't know who was who most times because one day it was the Red Partisans you were helping and the next day it was the Green Partisans and you wouldn't know and we used to wear a thing around our neck saying "This is a British pilot" (or an Australian pilot) in Croatian or Slovenian or so on, saying who he was and what we were and just in case you were forced down. And several blokes were forced down over Yugoslavia and got back all right.
Q: This is before the war had ended?
A: This is before the war had ended, yeah.
Q: So Tito did he have an army mobilised?
A: Yeah he had people, yes he did but he was a bit like [Saddam Hussein] that they're trying in Iraq at the moment. He was a dictator, actually a dictator and absolutely in his own right but at least he held all those fighting areas together at one stage as Yugoslavia and you know the problems there've been in Yugo over the last few years, the Slovaks, the Croats and goodness knows what else, the Macedonians and so on.
Q: So did you get any response from him, from Yugoslavia when you were doing these?
A: Not really, no, not really only that it was felt that by the presence there and people flying over he knew that [Air Force] people were still about, that was all. I think it was just a strategic move just to say there is still some forces about.
Q: So backtracking a bit, back into the war and Italy and the ops that you were doing over Italy, you talked a bit before about having to work in with the squadron that was working with ground forces?
A: Working with the 8th Army and the New Zealand forces on the ground and we had air force people, a lot of our Australian people, in little light aircraft, operating over the front. At that stage the 'Gothic Line' - which kept moving up - was the German line and the army people would call up what they call a, "Rover David," in these light aircraft and tell them the difficulties they were having here, there, with a map reference whether it be a road bridge, a rail bridge, a barge on a canal, a tank that was causing problems somewhere and they'd relay it to a squadron operating in the area to see if we could do something about it. Bear in mind that I only had a very short time on the squadron while hostilities still prevailed, so no air ace or anything like this for a moment.
Q: But I was curious about it, because that's quite different work to what you'd been doing?
A: Yes, yes.
Q: I mean you were bombing?
A: Well the Mustang was a very versatile aircraft and normally there'd be a 500 pound bomb under each wing but on occasions we have had a 1,000 pound bomb under each wing. Now that was as much as a Flying Fortress would carry with about twelve crew and we had one crew, so it was a very versatile aircraft. Then on one occasion we had [fire bombs] it was a drop tank of a very volatile, I don't think it was petrol, but it was something else and we dropped those on an area and (demonstrates), they really blew up to fire an area that they wanted to get rid of. I did have one trip with that on.
A: It was a type of Napalm. It was something, it wasn't quite Napalm but it was that type of thing. But normally the bomb load was a five hundred pounder under each wing and you'd drop that first onto a target as you were directed and get as near to the target as you can, but it was really quite interesting how accurate you can get going down in a dive, in a dive and drop it in the right spot. Quite often there was an 88 millimetre German gun having a go at you too. They were a magnificent gun. They were accurate from twenty feet above the ground to twenty thousand feet and they were in salvos of four and if you saw two puffs you knew there were two more [coming]. If you saw three there was one and sometimes if there was one puff you saw quickly, you knew there were three more, very accurate, pretty accurate.
Q: So you were dodging them and diving as well?
A: Well you were diving down and it was on the ground and they were probably attempting to fire at you. But our squadron, and I'll tell you this too, we had what we called screamers fitted underneath the wing tips and they made this howling, like a tin whistle only it was a scream and that was a bit breath-curdling too to here that when you were going down in a very steep dive at a pretty rate of knots, four of five or six hundred miles of hour and it was pretty interesting. I must admit I did see at one stage where a crew bailed off an 88mm gun when you were getting a bit close with the noise and knowing what was going to happen. And right towards the end of the war we had a big show with 72 aircraft right up into the Alps and they were trying to get through the Alps quickly, the Germans, and we saw an ambulance at one stage and the CO said, "Hey, what's that ambulance?" And all of a sudden the doors of the ambulance opened and about twenty able-bodied blokes jumped out of the back and they were using everything. That was the night the 72 aircraft were right up in the foothills of the Alps with about 15,000 feet of rock, around about.
And all of a sudden the sun went over the ridge and it got darker and darker and so much so that you could see tracer going and probably they were going down a road bridge or traffic but mainly it was transport at that stage and you'd see a tracer go across your nose and someone was coming in at that angle. We'd never flown Mustangs at night and they've got six stubby exhausts on each side of the motor and in daylight you don't realise but at night there's about a foot flame comes out of each one of those and when it gets dark of course it is flame and some of us had nav [navigation] lights on and some of us had cockpit lights on and some of us had landing lights on and the group captain, Brian Eaton (who's also dead) he called us all up and he said, "Look, we've still got another hundred miles to go back to the strip." He said, "I'll get down, you haven't flown these things at night and I'll get down to the end of the strip and if necessary I'll talk you in." So when he came back to us he said, "The 71 best landings I've ever seen in my life." So it was a very interesting deal that one.
Q: So you've gone from flying in the desert kind of environment
A: But not hostile desert.
Q: No, but different terrain?
A: Training over the desert to a fully populated area in Italy.Q: That's quite a contrast, quite a difference.
A: Oh yes, quite a contrast.
Q: So can you tell me how you adapted and you know in the training and in the conversion training?
A: Well the conversion was mainly to the aircraft, just flying the aircraft. You adapted yourself to conditions pretty rapidly and you were directed always by someone in the formation. There was always a leader in the formation. We went out in formation so there was a flight commander leading that and he was basically responsible for the whole deal and what it was and you adapted pretty well. And never having flown over desert area that was hostile - you didn't have that problem. It was just a geographic deal.
Q: What about weather conditions? Were they different?
A: Weather conditions could be very difficult in the Alps certainly during the late spring. May was still spring. Usually in the afternoon you could get a problem when it would cloud down or you'd get a sign that there could be low cloud and that's where six of these South Africans that I told you about and they were operating in a squadron near us and they were out one afternoon and went round and turned right into what they thought was a valley and it was a dead-end and four of the six got wiped out. That's another instance.
Q: So where were they?
A: They were in the lower Alps near the Brenner Pass area. Yes, that was in the lower Alps. You had to watch these little valleys as they could be a dead-end and in some of those valleys we didn't know until the end of the war when were pottering around that there had been cables strung across the valleys. None of us got caught but they were there.
Q: And you weren't aware of them?
A: No, well you weren't aware of them at speed and it was when we pottered around the Alps afterwards and we saw these and, "Gawd, we didn't see them." But we're still here.Q: You certainly are. I'm just surprised that it was something that nobody knew it was, it was intelligence that nobody knew about.
A: Didn't at that stage.
Q: So that trip that you did to Bari?
A: Cairo West - Tobruk - Athens - Bari in a day.
Q: Was that your actual migration to Italy?
A: Italy, yes, yes.
Q: So what did you do at Bari?
A: Just stayed overnight and got a ride the following morning organised, with an American DC3 across to Naples where there was a little set-up there where we stayed for three or four days, right on the side of Vesuvius. There was a little tram line that went up the side of Vesuvius right next to the building we were in. And from there we went down to Salerno where we had about three weeks doing the conversion course from Kittyhawks to Mustangs and from there the squadron flew in up in a DC3 up to an aerodrome called Forli, which is just below the front line at that stage and then across to our squadron.
Q: Okay, that's good.
A: On the Adriatic, right on the Adriatic.Q: So you had a bit of an opportunity, you were on the ground there for a while?
A: Oh yes, oh yes, very much on the ground.
Q: So can you tell me what state that part of the country was in?
A: Oh it was, there was a little bit of damage here, there and everywhere. Quite a few road bridges and rail bridges that you could see was damaged and river crossings being upset and river barges and you could see some of those had been sunk. Actually the villages were pretty well unhurt in any way. They were there and they were operating reasonably. At that stage of course the Ities [Italians] were on our side so they just operated as they did normally and we were just there and we didn't do much else but fly. We were confined to the squadron at that stage. We weren't on leave at that time so we had a mess there and that was about it.
Q: And with the conversion training to Mustangs can you tell me how you compare the Kittyhawks to the Mustangs, what are some differences?
A: Well, Kittyhawks to Mustangs is like going from a very basic Holden into a Rolls Royce. It's the nearest thing I can tell you, a magnificent machine, still is. I don't know if you have seen or heard of (down at Tyabb) Judy Pay? She has a Mustang and is flying it and our last surviving Commanding Officer [Murray Nash], who is in a retirement village at Baxter, she approached him when she did up this Mustang to see if a) she could put on the squadron camouflage that we used in Italy and b) use the squadron lettering, which at that stage was "CV" and we all had a letter of the alphabet in the aircraft that we flew and his was CV-P. So if you see a CV-P Mustang flying around now and it does fly at air shows and down at Tyabb, that was Murray Nash's aircraft. - He's still alive and she flies it as "CV-P" with camouflage.
A modern No.3 Squadron F18 holds formation with Judy Pay's tribute "CV-P", at an airshow over Tyabb.
Q: Well what sort of camouflage?
A: Well dull grey, green, stippled and not straight edges, kind of verging in, although his last aircraft I must admit, I had one of the camouflaged ones, CV-Y, the last aircraft he had CV-P, which was a plain aluminium finish, plain silver finish.
Q: So that camouflage was particular to 3 Squadron?
A: Mm. As a matter of fact you'll see on all our squadron aircraft we had a blue fin, which is the rudder, it is blue and we had the Southern Cross on it, the starts of the Southern Cross. We had that all the time. She's got it on CV-P now, which is quite identical. I'll show you a photo of CV-P in a minute.
Q: How did the camouflage design come to be designed?
A: Don't know, don't know. I think they're the boffins that arrived at these things, depending on the topography over which you were flying. I don't know. I can't answer that question for you but to the end, at the end we had some camouflaged aircraft still. The one I had was a camouflaged one, a lot of them were still silver without any camouflage but the blue fin and the Southern Cross on them and CV, which was the squadron sign.
Detail from the artwork "Southern Cross Over Italy" by Steve Heyen, Murray Nash's last "CV-P" leads a 3 Squadron formation late in the war.
Q: So just getting back to the conversion training on the Mustangs, I mean you're very, very experienced by this stage, so how, I mean how did the instructors teach you given that you were very experienced? What specific things did you have to learn?
A: You had to learn the layout of the cockpit for a start. You had to learn the engine handling and you had twin turbos, so you had to know about the boost and when you got from high boost to low boost. The blind flying equipment, which consisted of an artificial horizon, Sperry Horizon, and you had oxygen and a radio and a helmet with an oxygen mask. We always used oxygen and at the end of that oxygen mask was our transmitter, with the on off switch taken out, so it was always on so if you breathed someone knew you were still breathing or if you wanted to say something everyone heard it and then you had the radio and then you had the oxygen that you clamped onto the oxygen. Now you had to know all these things. You had to know speeds, you had to know take-off speeds, stalling speeds, landing speeds. You had to know the operation of the flaps, the undercarriage, anything else before you went out. Now there's no second try in a Mustang. Judy Pay with this Mustang that I've told you about, she's taken out the forty gallon petrol tank that sat right behind the armour plate that sat right behind our head, right behind and she's now got another seat. So she has a two seater Mustang, where there was plenty of room with this forty gallon fuel tank taken out for someone to sit in there with only partial controls. It's not a full dual control but it's partial controls in it. But you had to learn all about those things and then it was by guess and digress, "Right take her up son, away you go."
I suppose it's a bit like you getting into a new motor vehicle. You've got to sort of find out the basics and then you refine it as you become more conversant with it but you have to know the basics. Certainly the speeds, the take off speeds, the stalling speed, the landing speed, the operational flaps and under cart and the lock down of under cart and things like that that were absolutely basic to fly. A lot of the rest of it, the handling, you got to know it by flying it.
Q: So with take off and landing, how did that differ from the Kittyhawk, for example say in terms of the length of the runway?
A: Well for a start the Merlin was sixteen hundred and fifty horsepower where the Allison was only eleven hundred horsepower, so you really got a kick in the back when you opened the throttle, well and truly if you know what I mean. That was marvellous, you got a kick in the back and you got your tail up and you pulled her up at about eighty, ninety miles an hour and then you could do a climbing turn off the deck, even with bombs on, which you couldn't do with a Kittyhawk. And the old Kittyhawks that we had with this trip to Cervia, and we still had a few Kittyhawks then (wartime) and there were trees at the end of the runway, thirty, forty feet high and the old Kittys you'd pull them up over the trees and point them down to regain flying speed. Whereas at the same strip, the Mustang, with 500lb under each wing and you could do a climbing turn off the deck without any trouble. Never landing, of course you had to have your landing speeds and we used to come what we called, "Over the fence". That's the boundary of the aerodrome or strip, whatever it was, a hundred and fifteen miles an hour. They were all in miles in those days, a hundred and fifteen miles an hour over the edge of the strip and then just settle her down from there.
Q: So that was a standard thing that when you hit that point where the fence was - what was your speed?
A: Well you had to have your speed at that stage of coming over the fence at a hundred and fifteen miles an hour. If you were less than that you'd undershoot. If you were more you'd land half way down the runway. Well you couldn't afford to land halfway down the runway because you wanted as much strip as there, for safety reasons.
Q: So with all this power in this machine that you hadn't really experienced before?
A: More power than we'd ever had, yeah but once one or trip trips. The power was a great asset to have particularly if you wanted to do something and do something drastic and the power was there. Marvellous.
Q: So it's like the torque of the plane, it would respond?
A: Yeah, respond instantaneously and then you could take a Mustang up to, I've had a Mustang up to fourteen thousand feet. Admittedly it was hanging on the prop almost at that stage but normally we operated about fifteen thousand feet, fifteen to twenty thousand feet but the first stage of your turbo would take you to that height. If you wanted to go higher than that you bunged in the second stage of the turbo which took you onto the second stage, as far as you could go. But we, after the war had ended, one day we had a bit of a lurk and, "I can get a Mustang higher than you".
Q: What do you mean, "Hanging off the prop"?
A: Well it was almost to stalling. It wouldn't go another foot higher, I've got the prop and it's churning away madly trying too but the air was so thin and that was it. Didn't have the power to push on beyond that. That's what we called, "Hanging on the prop," it was just sort of holding it there and then you put your nose down and you were right.
Q: So you were training also in dive bombing?
A: We did dive bombing and we did air to ground bombing, starting in Wirraways, then we did it in Kittyhawks and then we did it in Mustangs, so we did a bit of air to ground gunnery. We did a bit of bombing with only eleven pound bombs, practise bombs in Wirraways but not a lot there, eleven pounds, only a little one that big. And then we got up to, as I say, about five hundred pounds, two 250s in a Kittyhawk was about all these old pranged-out Kittyhawks would take but in a Mustang with a couple of five hundreds it's amazing how accurate you could get. Dropping it down there and dropping it off and pulling away.
Q: So targets like you were saying, like a tank or a bridge or?
A: A bridge or rail transport or a locomotive. They go up with a nice puff when you hit something onto a loco.
Q: How close, they're actually rather small targets aren't they?
A: Yes, yes.
Q: Not like a big power plant or a munition factory?
A: There was no gunsight, there was no sight to aim at. You aimed the nose of your aircraft. It was by practice that you got it really. You can get pretty accurate, pretty accurate. As a matter of fact one bloke, he only died a few months ago, a delightful bloke, Ken [Richards], he was credited with putting a 500 pound bomb right down the funnel of a ship in the Adriatic. He always said, "I guessed and I got it," but it did, it went down the funnel and blew the ship up, so that's how accurate you can get.
Q: So that accuracy is not just luck. It's about practice and finding the right aspects?
A: Yeah, getting the right angle of dive and the release is the big thing because you don't want them to skid. You've got to release them on the way down. If you release them even as you change the altitude it will skid out there, so you've got to drop it at the point still going down in the descent. It's amazing how accurate you could get.
Q: And get out of the way really fast?
A: Oh once you drop it oh yeah, you were out. You got to hell out of it because you probably dropped it at about a thousand feet, which is still getting down pretty well. You're doing about five, six hundred miles an hour at that stage. So you didn't hang around.Q: So you said there wasn't bombing by sight, so you're sighting a target ahead of you?
A: Yes, you see the target you're going down for, through the windscreen of the aircraft, and you aim your aircraft at that and it's a question then of judgement and practice as to what stage you drop the bombs but you've got to avoid slipping or skidding.
It's got to be a proper dive without the aircraft slewing one way or another or without you changing the attitude of the aircraft. Once you change the attitude of the aircraft you can imagine the bomb if you release it and then you're on the move it just goes out there. You've got to get it to go straight down.
Q: So you've got to be very intentional about what you're doing?
A: That's right, yeah, that's it. That's the job you're doing and you want to get as close to it as you can.
Q: Other considerations with flying the Mustang?
A: I mentioned with the seventy two aircraft in the evening. We were out in the morning, we were out in the afternoon and at six o'clock we had to scramble again and that's when we lost daylight and it was well and truly dark, flying back the last hundred miles, not having flown a Mustang before [in darkness]. Mustangs not having baffles on their exhaust and a foot of flame goes out of each port and all you could see looking along was about four feet of flame, but we got back all right.
Q: So you were easily spotted?
A: It wasn't so much us being spotted, it was us seeing where the go with this flame, looking into this flame but okay, we got back and that was the main thing.
Q: So in that situation you scrambled late in the day and was it predicted that you'd be flying home at night or was it?
A: We didn't think we'd stay that long, but they kept us there and there was so much going on (on the ground) and there was so much [enemy traffic] trying to retreat through the Alps, we kept going.
Q: And this is where you had the ground fire, the ack-ack [anti-aircraft fire] firing up at you, didn't you?
A: Oh yes, on previous jobs yes. There wasn't too much ack-ack that night.
The danger with 72 aircraft of course was, when it was getting a bit dusk, is where the aircraft were coming in and tracers were going across and it got a bit hectic there with seventy-odd aircraft flying about.
Q: So let's talk about the formation flying. Was that a formation arrangement that one?
A: No, not at that stage. It was every man for himself at that stage, have a go. You normally flew out, we flew out there in a loose formation but once we did the bombing and we went strafing it was, "Have a go," looking out for other aircraft and the problems that you were looking out for.
Q: So with the formation flying, you talked earlier about how you'd throttle on a bit to shift up to catch up with a partner and try to keep wing tips level.
A: You had to keep close.
Q: So how was that flying Mustangs?
A: That was all right, yeah. They were good, very stable and once you got a setting you were pretty right, where some of the lower-powered aircraft, like the old Kittyhawks, were more problem flying [formation] because the Mustang was very good.
3 Squadron Mustang CV-Y
Q: And with this flame that shoots out from the turbo?
A: Well from the exhaust, from the exhaust of the engine.
Q: Does that mean that you have to keep a little more distance from each other?
A: No, no, no, that goes out into the atmosphere. We didn't fly too close in the dark coming back I'll tell you. We straggled back a bit. Oh no, some of us couldn't find nav lights and cockpit lights and landing lights. We'd never flown at night, no occasion to fly them at night. We used to say, "If the birds don't fly at night, why should we?"
Q: So can you take me through, you were at Cervia weren't you with the Mustangs?
Q: So that was after the training?
A: That was when I first joined the squadron for the short period before the war ended.
Q: Can you take me through a day, a typical day at the base?
A: Well there again it depended with the liaison with the army, what the army wanted us to do. Now some of them they wanted us on a first light job. Take off perhaps in dusk, well coming daylight, if they had a particular thing they wanted to attack or during the day and then these, "Rover David's," would come back and say, "Oh righto," and it depended on how many aircraft flew first and how many aircraft were wanted later in the day. If you weren't on the first lot you were probably on the second lot. There is normally twelve aircraft in a squadron, but very rarely did twelve go up as twelve aircraft. There'd be four or six usually, and depending on the particular target at this stage. So you waited until you were required really. That was the day. Sometimes you mightn't fly until the afternoon.
A lot depended as I say on the liaison with the armies and with the retreat of the German army into Italy, right into northern Italy.
Q: So what's a, "Rover David," by the way?
A: A "Rover David," was an air force officer in a little light aircraft like an Auster, who patrolled over the front line and was in touch with the army on the ground all the time.
All he did was fly about in that area and he replied or he called up the squadron for anything that the army wanted.
Italy. c. May 1944. Pilot Officer A. McDonald, a member of an Army Observation unit, with his Auster aircraft
which is named "Puddle Jumper" owing to the craft's ability to land and take off in confined areas.
The Army use them for observation purposes to good effect.
[AWM MEA1908 - By this time Alec McDonald had already completed an operational tour flying Kittyhawks with 3 Squadron .]
Q: So you would be briefed about what the day's operations would be?
A: Oh yes, we were in the ops room first thing in the morning and you would be briefed on what the day was doing or what they thought the day was doing, or if there hadn't been a job allocated at that stage, "Well just hang on until we do get a call for a job." That was about the way it worked in the short time I was there and let's face it, it was running down at that stage because we didn't see any enemy aircraft in the air in those days. They were out of fuel. The only one we did see, and we saw this one quite often, was the ME262, which was the first German jet and it had a range of about a quarter of an hour and it used to fly up to about thirty thousand feet and take some photographs and be back on the ground in about a quarter of an hour. And we used to see that occasionally go across but it had no armament and no-one bothered to look after it.
Q: Why do you think it was doing this?
A: Oh I think they, again the German Army wanted to know what was going on and where their troops were; and where they were getting to; and were they being knocked about; and could they get back; and things like that. And then they'd have a look and see where we were and where our army was and so on.
Q: The work of Rover David that would have been a bit risky wouldn't it, if it was right on the front line there?
A: Yeah, but usually it was an experienced officer who had completed a tour of operations, so he was very well aware of what was required and well I've never heard of one shot down. They pottered about in this little light aircraft, wandered around and I don't think anyone was too interested in them really.
Q: On a slightly different tack, did you do any camera or cine-bombing, cine-cameras?
A: We did those in air to ground in both Wirraways and a little bit in Kittyhawks. We never had one in the Mustang, never had one at all. We did have six half-inch machine guns, three on each side, as well as the bombs. They did more than the cine cameras.
Q: But did you use the cine cameras was that just for training?
A: It was only for training, see how far you were out from the target or if you were anywhere near the target or if you're in the next paddock or where. Yes, that was all for that.
Q: Getting back to the briefings, how would they brief you? Would you be shown a map of where...?
A: Yeah, we had a map on the wall and there were co-ordinates. It was like a Melways [street directory] in sections and they'd say, "That's where we're going and that's where we are and we'll fly up the coast and come across," or if they knew there was a bit of anti-aircraft, "We'll avoid that and go around the other way," or something like that. But you were led there. You had nothing to do with that. The leader of the formation did that and he was always an experienced pilot who had done a lot of ops and knew the area and you just kept in touch with him.
Then he called you up and he said, "Righto we're over target," well you knew roughly, "You're over target now. I'll go down first, get into line astern and I'll go down first and follow me down." At an interval and that's the way it basically worked and then you'd arrange to form up again after the bomb dive, form up somewhere, in that next hole in the cloud or something like that.
A: Yes, sometimes. Or form up over the coast, if you were near the coast, we'll rendezvous over Ravenna or Rimini, somewhere like that, or Bologna. Just depended on where they were or what they were doing.
Q: So in that situation where you're all bombing at intervals at the same target?
A: Yes, yes, if someone didn't get it the first time a chance was someone would get it the next run or the run after. Or even if we didn't get it, it created a bit of havoc very close.
Q: And would you be told what size bombs?
A: Oh yes, they'd say what it was and the CO or the commander would work out, "Oh five hundreds will do this all right," and then they told the armourers and put the bombs on the aircraft and away we went.
Q: Now finding your way around Italy was part of your preparation and training, was that part of the bombing?
A: Yes, except as I say in a formation it was the responsibility of the pilot leading the formation and you didn't, other than casually, look where you were going, you didn't have the responsibility of seeking out a specific area or a target that had been nominated. He did that, he did the whole of the navigation. If you got separated by any chance he might sing out and say, "Well make your own way home, you know where to go."
Or if you didn't rendezvous at the spot, "Are you all right?" - "Yes," - "Well make your way home," and that did happen on occasions when you missed your formation and just went home. You'd dropped your bombs and you'd done a bit of strafing so there was nothing else to do because if you'd formed up with the formation you'd have just flown home together that was all.
Q: What navigation equipment did you have on the Mustangs?
Q: No radar equipment?
A: No, a map on your knee. We had a map on a little plate that fitted on our knee, we always had a map on our knee, that was all.
Q: So a map for that specific area?
A: Yeah, yeah.
Q: And what would be on that map?
A: Well to answer your question properly, there was no radar but you had an ordinary compass and a radio compass and at least you could get a bearing from that point of view. But as for finding we had no GPS to tell us you're over such and such, you had to follow that by sight on the ground to know exactly. That worked.
Q: Yeah, as long as you're down below the clouds.
A: Yeah. Yes, if you went above the clouds in any case you had to find a hole to come down through or if you roughly knew where you were, probably the commander who was leading the squadron would go down first and say, "Alright, we're okay, come down." And then you were line flying for a time as you got through the clouds.
Q: So did you ever have any problems with finding your way around?
A: No, touch wood - Never got lost, touch wood.
Q: Well why don't we talk now about, well you must have had some leave, I'm thinking it's towards the end of the war when it's all winding down and you moved off that base didn't you?
A: Yes, to this final spot called Lavariano out at Udine. At that stage our CO said, "Righto, half the squadron will fly and half will go on leave each week," so in effect we had a week off and a week on and that's when those that were flying did the flying around "Yugo" (Yugoslavia) and the other half went on leave. Did I mention about the cars that we acquired and we went off for a week and we saw a lot of Italy in those days in that week. And that worked very well, a week off and a week flying. It was very good in that respect because there was no need for us all to be sitting around so we had the opportunity of having a look at Italy. Different spots we'd been to and seen from the air and down to Rome and places like that.
Q: What was the atmosphere like in the country, given that the war was over?
A: No problem there, they were mates at that stage. They wanted to be mates, oh no, no problems there.
Q: I imagine there must have been a lot of relief?
A: I suppose there would be from their point of view, yeah, but there was no trouble at all.
Q: Did you get involved in their culture?
A: Not really, no, not really, no.Q: I mean just in the villages or, did you eat in the towns?
A: Sometimes, we had a good mess and we had good cooks and they used to procure things from here and there and we never knew where they got them, but they were very resourceful.
Q: So local produce?
A: A few turkeys occasionally, a duck or something that they saw roaming around that didn't get home that night. The turkey and the ducks didn't get home that night and that worked pretty well. The last little spot we were in, this place at Lavariano, it was an old church with big concrete pillars on the gates and we painted "3 S Q D N" [3 Squadron] on it and across the road was a little old hotel with a mother and a seven year old boy, who ran the hotel and we took it over and gave them quarters out the back. And that was fine, and I was coming back from Vienna on one occasion when I was in London with Pat and the family and I said, "I'll take you to Sammardenchia," and they said, "You'll never find it." Well I got to within about a kilo of it and I had to ask at that stage because the field we used was back into agriculture and that sort of made it a bit difficult. I drove into the village and this is thirty years later and 3 SQDN was still on the pillars of the churchyard and it was a Sunday afternoon and Pat said, "What are you doing?" I said, "I'm going into the hotel," and believe it or not the mother and the 37 year old are standing behind the bar. Well they didn't recognise me as an individual but the moment I mentioned the squadron and a few happenings, "bravo, bravo," and it was a very little village and they called most of the villagers in. But I'll tell you what, there's a bit of vino rosso and a bit of vino bianco and the kids were oozing with Coca Cola and lemonade. It was quite an interesting run down to Venice that night, after we'd been there for a couple of hours. So there you are.
Q: So that was Italian hospitality.
A: That was 30 years later.
Q: So what did they remember? Were you able to recall?
A: Oh yes, two or three things and we did have a squadron mascot but it was picked up apparently in the desert, which was a human skeleton and it was called Stinky Miller and had a cap and the DFC [Distinguished Flying Cross] on the rib and that went wherever the squadron went and in this little village the priest in this church opposite he was horrified and the moment I mentioned, "Do you remember the skeleton?"
"Oh, that nasty skeleton, nasty skeleton!"
It came to an end when we went down by train to Taranto and we were in Taranto waiting for the Winchester Castle to take us over to Egypt and he was boxed up in a coffin and he was dropped into the harbour, so that was the end of Stinky Miller.
Q: Buried him at sea?
A: Buried him, yeah unfortunately. We were going to bring him back, but we lost him.
It was in September... I can't tell you, the date's here, but in September  we flew our aircraft over to an airfield called Campoformido where we had a big fly-past of the six squadrons that were in desert air force and we left our aircraft there and that was the end of flying there in Italy.
Udine, Italy. C. 1945-06. Fly-past of Desert Air Force squadrons, including three Australian RAAF squadrons, at Campoformido airfield, before Air Marshal Sir Guy Garrod,
Commander-in-Chief of the RAF in the Mediterranean, and other high ranking Allied officers. A Mustang squadron in line abreast.
We were then put on a train back to Bologna and we were about three days in a train from Bologna right down to Taranto, which is on the heel of Italy and we were there for a couple of days until the Winchester Castle came in and it took us across to Alexandra via Malta, down the Mediterranean, Malta across to Alex.
In Alexandria on the way home. (Jock at left - goodness knows where he got the pith helmet from.)
And from there we went from Alex down to Cairo out to this desert camp called Almaza where we just waited until the Stratheden was ready to pick us up to come home. There was a big problem in getting the troops home, out of England at the time, and back to Australia and it was a question of just waiting for a ship and I think we were there about three weeks, just sitting. We weren't doing anything. We did a bit of sight seeing and so on until we caught the, we were given a few hours' notice. We were taken down to Port Said and there was the Stratheden coming down the Canal and it slowed down until about two miles an hour and we went out in barges and climbed up the Jacob's ladder with our kit bags on our shoulders and that was it. And we were on the Stratheden until we got home on about the third week I think in October. And we went on leave at that stage and had to report back to the Exhibition Building was the depot at that stage and that that was in December and that's where we received our discharge, so that was the end of the air force.
Q: Okay, just to take you back a little bit, you started talking about Stinky Miller when you were talking to me about the hotel in...?
A: Sammardenchia.Q: Okay, and you said that they did remember?
A: Because it was a very, particularly the priest from across the church. He knew that was there and he thought it was terrible having a human skeleton. That was, and the moment I mentioned and we had it in the mess in this hotel and oh it wasn't a hotel. It was a bar more than anything and it was upstairs and downstairs and he was on the wall there and they knew it only too well and the moment I mentioned Stinky Miller she went, "Oh yes, yah, yah, I remember that," so we had a very interesting couple of hours there.
Q: Was the priest there?
A: Didn't see the priest on that occasion.
Q: But they told you the priest didn't?
A: Oh we knew that at the time.
Q: How did you know that at the time?
A: Oh he made it well known that we were terrible people doing that and then he used to ring the bell in the church every morning and our C.O., who was camped in tent in the church yard, we were in a tent in the church yard too, he used to fire his Very pistol and shoot up to the bell. Stop that bell. This was after the war, well after the war of course was over, so a bit of levity there.
Q: So you must have left quite an impression on the town?
A: I think we did. It was a village I suppose of about fifty people. Only a little village and a completely agricultural village and that's why I say I got to within a kilo of the village but the strip we were at, which was a grass field had all gone back into agriculture. It was 30 years later.
Q: What other things did they remember about you in those two hours that you were there?
A: Oh aeroplano, aeroplano, buzz, buzz. Oh no they remembered the Australians only too well.
Q: And you remembered the mother and the seven year old boy?
A: Yeah, that's right. Then the 37 year old boy, 30 years later they were still in the little bar, so there we are.
Q: Okay the Stratheden finally turned up, how long was that trip back?
A: Oh it was a direct from Suez to Fremantle. I think I can give you the actual dates in a minute, if you need it, but it was about two and a half weeks I'd say, three weeks.Q: And this holding camp in Cairo, was an embarkation camp?
A: Yes, Almaza.
Q: How many fellows were there? How big was that?
A: Oh, there was a lot of British Army people, British Air Force people, we as Australians. I wouldn't know. It was a camp that originally held several thousand I think, it was a colossal set-up. You'd almost get lost looking for your tent until you knew what line it was in and how far down it was.
Q: Were there any POW's around at that camp?
A: Never saw any of our POW's. We did have one or two that got back very quickly. A friend of mine, he was leading the two of us one day and he got shot down just north of Venice and I saw him crash-land on the beach and get out of the aircraft and run and he was away for about a week and he was in my tent and I bundled up all his gear and one night he arrived back in the mess and, "Where the hell's my gear? Didn't you think I was coming back?" So he was all right. He got back but he was helped by some partisans. Others got back, long before I joined the squadron, they got back too, had been shot down or bailed out.
Q: So had just avoided capture?
A: Some avoided it and others did get caught and they were up in Germany in a Stalag Luft [German prison camp for pilots] and quite a number of them, particularly from the Middle East who were shot down and taken straight to Germany, through Italy first and then to Germany.
Q: So you saw him shot down?
A: Yes, I went down to about a hundred feet I suppose and it was light anti-aircraft fire and that's what. It was a single .303 shot that bought him down, into the radiator of the Mustang and he lost the glycol, the fuel and the engine would freeze up in about two minutes and I saw the glycol stream out the back. I was slightly behind him to the left, to the right and I called him up and said, "You've lost your glycol Don," and he said, "Right," and he looked at the beach and he put it down on the beach with wheels up and got out with no problem and ran. He was supposed to be the fittest bloke on the squadron and he was. He ran like hell at that stage.
Q: To get cover?
A: Yes, got into a ditch at that stage and then he got into a barn and he was on side and he could hear the Germans on the other side of the wall, so he had to lie a bit low there. He was only away for a week, so he wasn't actually a POW as such.
Q: No, but he'd had a bit of an adventure?
A: He'd had an adventure, yeah. That was the closest I saw of anyone getting shot down. He's since died, but he came back and flew with MMA [MacRobertson Miller Airlines] in Western Australia for about 30-35 years.
Q: Did he tell you his story, that week?
A: Oh he told us all in the mess, bits and pieces at times.
Q: Any close encounters with the Germans, apart from?
A: No, other than the fact that he heard them and I think luckily they didn't come to his side of the barn. He was in with the pigs and they didn't come looking for the pigs but he got back all right.
Q: Was anyone else in the squadron shot down?
A: Oh yes, lots, over a period.
Q: That you were there?
A: Oh no, he was the only one in the period that I was there. A friend of mine got shot down and killed, a friend from Horsham, where I came from. He dropped me a note in Cairo and heard I was coming up and, "Looking forward to seeing you," and before I got up, he'd been shot down and killed at a place at Casarsa, a big bridge on the Tagliamento River, about midway between Venice and Udine, where I've been to a number of times since, but he was very temporarily there and brought back to the war cemetery in Italy. So I was able to take photographs of his grave and send back to his mother mother and brother, who was alive at that stage, but they were the only two, Ian Lake that was killed and Don, who survived, and was back in a week.
Q: That big op that you did with the 72 aircraft up into the Alps?
A: Seventy one and a group captain, he was the 72nd - or the first, whichever.
Q: He was the one that said, "71 successful landings"?
A: He was the one out on the end of the strip because he knew that we'd never flown at night and I don't think he'd flown them at night either and he thought he might be a bit of moral support if someone's in strife.
Q: You've probably said this but just to make sure, what squadrons was that that was flying?
A: The whole of what they called the 239 Wing. It was 3 Squadron, it was 450 Squadron, it was 112 RAF Squadron,  SAAF squadron, that's four, and there were two other squadrons. [RAF 250 and RAF 260.] There were six squadrons in what we call 239 Wing and an Australian was actually the group captain of the Wing. He was a former CO of 3 Squadron and he became the group captain of the whole wing. A chap by the name of [Brian Eaton].
Brian Eaton standing in front of his personal Mustang, specially marked with his initials "B A E".
Q: So they were based in different places around?
A: Yes, all in close proximity to us and we operated as a wing, We were on different strips, some of us were on different strips but not far away.Q: Well that was a pretty big operation isn't it, to send that many planes away?
A: It was yes.
Q: And how successful was it?
A: Oh very successful, yes. We stopped a lot getting home through the Alps. Because the idea was originally when we did this through the day that they went ahead and bombed the bridges going up to the Brenner Pass and the different passes through the Alps, so they were there and once you did that in the front and you did it behind, there was no escape much. It was pretty ghastly from that point of view, from their point of view, they were bottled up.
Q: So were you dive bombing or were you strafing?
A: Strafing at that stage, bombed some of the bridges ahead just to make certain that there was no way of getting through and then strafing.
Q: Okay. Getting close to the end of the tape. We haven't really spoken very much about the camaraderie between you and your mates, can you tell us a little bit about the men that you were closest to?
A: 3 Squadron is a unique all-Australian deal and we've still got a very strong Association Australia-wide - and I happen to be President of the Victorian section because I think I'm the youngest. There's a chap in Sydney and myself who are the youngest surviving pilots on 3 Squadron. We still have a yearly do and this year it's at Canberra and we get the best part of a hundred down the track at this stage and I've got a list I can show you that lists the whole of Australia. We sit down and we have a complete squadron newsletter that comes out very regularly, about three or four months, so the camaraderie is colossal and the camaraderie with the existing 3 Squadron, the boys operating now is fantastic. In Sydney on Anzac Day, a hundred of the boys from Williamstown came down and marched with 3 Squadron, so it's carrying on.
Q: So it's a heritage, isn't it, that you're passing down?
Q: And it's meaningful to you?
A: Oh it's very meaningful. So I suppose we're lucky to have had this Association, which we've stuck together so much. We've had three colossal Padres, all have now passed on.
Fred McKay was the successor to Flynn of the Inland and starting the Flying Doctor Service and Fred was a colossal fellow. He also started St Philips College in Alice Springs.
Johnny McNamara, the Catholic padre, he used to grab me at any function in Melbourne and say, "Jock, are you driving me home tonight?" And I used to be afraid, the last place that he was at was a little flat down beside, in Corpus Christi in Kew and I was hopeful that his night he didn't say, "Will you come in and have a Scotch with me?" And he didn't - and thank goodness he didn't because it was days before 0.05, but I knew I'd had a quota.
And then there was Bob Davies, who was the Bishop of Tasmania, Anglican, and he died about six months ago. They were known as the "Terrible Trio" in the Middle East and they lived together and played together and they were the three most marvellous blokes that you'd ever find, ever, and they did a lot with the squadron. I know there weren't that many of us at that stage but they prided themselves on knowing every Australian by Christian name from Gibraltar to Suez and they did.
Pat could never get over that. The first time I saw them we were walking down Collins Street and this was about five or six years after the war and across the road, "Jock," and Pat said, "Who's that?" And I said, "That's Fred McKay," and we had a very close association with Fred ever since, not only with the squadron but being a patrol padre in western Queensland he knew the property that our son's still on and he and Meg used to fly in and see them and they got to know our son and daughter-in-law and children, so there was that close association as well as the squadron deal.
He died three years ago and we went up to Alice Springs and laid his ashes in St Philips College and we did a bit of jiggery over this too because we knew our squadron was coming back from Darwin and Timor and the ceremony was at 2.30 on the Sunday afternoon at St Philips College and at 2.29 and fifty nine seconds, five F18's came over ridge at about 200 feet and we reckon Fred would have said, "That's not bad fellas!"
So those things you think about very much. His wife Meg died about nine months ago and she's now been laid to rest with him at St Philips College in Alice Springs, so [the Padres were] three marvellous fellows, absolutely.
Q: So how did you, oh you had daily contact with these men?
A: Oh yes, they moved around the various, there were two or three Australian squadrons around there.
But they were basically based with 3 and were regarded as being based with 3.
Q: Did they counsel you?
A: Yes, we had a bit of a talk and a laugh and a joke and they used to write letters home to your people and that and they were magnificent fellows.
Q: They would write to your people?
A: Yeah, say he's still all right, but no, they were three colossal fellows.
Q: What amongst the other pilots, who were you close to?
A: Oh still quite a few. This other chap in Sydney, he and I were in the squadron together and we're the two youngest. And I mentioned that lass today that I knew who I went to Sunday school with and I shared an aircraft with a fellow and I never knew until I meet him in England that he lived about thirty miles from Horsham and he was a farmer and when we came home I introduced him to this lass and they got married. And I used to laugh and joke and say to them, "Now watch it, I know a lot about the both of you, so watch your step please." Now she was the lass that I took to the Legacy lunch on Tuesday. The four of us were away in Bali, four and a half years ago and we had a glorious dinner the four of us on the Saturday night and they didn't come home until the Tuesday and Johnny [his name] had had his father's old Mercedes refurbished and on the Wednesday morning he took it out for a run. And reckoned there was a little bit of a rattle in the front bumper bar, jacked it up, took the front wheel off and it fell on him and killed him. And Lois (the lass's name), she wondered why he didn't come in for lunch...
[3SQN edited version of original transcript from http://australiansatwarfilmarchive.unsw.edu.au/archive/2033-john-mcauley .]
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