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AWM Interview with Jack Donald. (1990)

Pilot 1942 / POW.


Jackie Donald (right) swimming on the North African Coast with other 3SQN pilots.

Transcript of Australian War Memorial recording. 
This historically-important interview has been placed here so that its content is searchable for 3SQN Website readers.
[
WORKING VERSION - Currently being edited by 3SQN Assn for readability and spelling of technical terms.]

INFORMANT:   JACK DONALD

SUBJECT OF INTERVIEW: 3 SQUADRON RAAF

DATE OF INTERVIEW:  1990

INTERVIEWER:   EDWARD STOKES

TRANSCRIBER:   SUSAN SOAMES

 

Identification:  This is Edward Stokes recording with Jack Donald, No. 3 Squadron.  Tape one, side one. 

 

Jack, could I perhaps begin by asking you when and where you were born? 

 

I was born in Sydney in February 1916. 

 

              And did you grow up in Sydney or somewhere else? 

 

Yes.  I was more or less going from background I was adopted.  I was a State ward and I was adopted by parents.  My foster parents in Eastwood in Sydney.  And I've always been air-minded.  I used to fly model aeroplanes when I was, oh, fourteen, sixteen, and was in the team for England in the Wakefield Trophy in 19 ....  Oh, it would be 1934. 

 

              What team was that, Jack? 

 

That was the Wakefield Trophy team with the Model Aeroplane Association of Australia - more or less ran to find out the finalist to represent Australia in the English Wakefield Trophy.  That was in '34.  And from then on I was in the Air League and I did start to learn to fly in '38 and funds ran out. 

 

Yes. I think you were saying that the lessons I think, or the flying air time was three pounds an hour and you were earning five quid a week.  That must have been pretty tough. 

 

Yes.  Well, then, what happened then I had a scholarship to complete my flying training from the Australian Air League and I got my licence from the Royal Aero Club in Sydney in 1939, just before the war. 

 

Just going back a little bit, Jack, what was it that actually sparked the first interest in flying? 

 

Well, my uncle really started it off.  He was a pilot in No. 2 Squadron in the first world war and he used to fly SE-5s and Sopwith Camels, Sopwith Snipes.  And I think he more or less started the idea of air-mindedness and I more or less carried on and joined the air force. 

 

That's most interesting because I was in fact going to ask you whether, or how conscious you were of the whole general tradition of ANZAC, of Australians and New Zealanders in the first war.  So I gather from this uncle there must have been quite a strong feeling about that? 

 

Well, I remember, looking back I remember my uncle going to ANZAC Day marches and the rest of it, and I used to wonder what the hell they had to celebrate.  Do you know what I mean?  And it wasn't until I was in the first, the second world war that I realised what ANZAC Day meant and what the spirit of heritage was. 

 

Mmm.  Right.  The other thing I wanted to ask you was:  during the mid or late 1930s - when I know you were working in the roofing trade to finance learning to fly and I think you'd also done a stint at East Sydney Tech studying aircraft engineering - how aware were you, or perhaps not, of the general developments in Europe, the rise of Hitler to power and so on and the danger that that posed?  Was that something you and your mates were conscious of or not? 

 

Well, I can't quite understand that question.  Could you say it again? 

 

Sure.  During the period that you were learning to fly in the late 1930s, Jack, were you very aware, or not, of the danger of war in Europe? 

 

Not really.  I mean to say, not when you're in your early twenties;  you've got life ahead of you, you're learning to fly and you don't ....  We realised certainly that something was brewing over there but not to that extent. 

 

Right.  I think you were also saying that having gained your licence - your civil licence - you did try to join the air force before the war? 

 

(5.00) Yes, I tried to join the RAF and the RAAF before the war but because of my age, because of circumstances, I had a job getting a job during the depression and you had to be ....  Well, you had to attend a university to more or less get into that type of work.  During the war the standard was pretty high I believe and as the ....  They depleted the intake for the Empire Air Scheme the standards dropped. 

 

Yes, I have heard that said before.  Well, the actual declaration of war, 1939, do you remember that?  Do you remember where you were when you heard that war had broken out? 

 

Oh, I cheered.  I cheered when war was declared because I was getting paid to fly instead of having to pay to fly.  And in my mind then there was no question of patriotism or anything like that, it was just a matter of getting free flying. 

 

              Right.  It was really that clear-cut, was it? 

 

Mmm. 

 

Was there a searching for adventure or was it just the thing of free flying? 

 

Oh no, it was just ambitions.  I was keen to fly and that was a way to get there.  And at that particular time I thought it would be a good idea to get in early and get the experience up, and all the rest of it but it didn't turn out that way. 

 

Right.  I think it was in July 1940 that you were actually called up, and you were saying you did your elementary flying training at Mascot, I think in Tiger Moths.  What's your recollection of that very first period in the air force? 

 

That's hard to say.  It was an experience;  it was an adventure.  I would just put it down as an adventure. 

 

              Was it easy to cope with the fairly regimented     discipline and so on?  The parade-ground bashing,    all that side of air force life? 

 

Well, I didn't have any trouble.  I don't think anybody had any trouble.  It was just the spirit of adventure.  We went to the flying schools and all the different establishments.  Unfortunately, in those days we seemed to strike the ....  All the places we went to, either Bradfield Park or anywhere, they seemed to be just starting up.  We were more or less ....  They didn't have the concrete paths down or the water systems on or anything like that.  Everything was new and that's the way it was. 

 

Right.  So living was fairly rough and tough, was it? 

 

Mmm.  Yes. 

 

The flying in your elementary flying training, of course you'd already got your civil licence, did you have to go back to square one or did they pick up where you'd taken off? 

 

Yes.  The air force's idea, they preferred to have a chap that doesn't know anything about flying.  They preferred to train a chap right from the start their way.  For instance, if ....  In my case, I had a licence and I could have picked up, which I probably did, I could have picked up traits that took more time to straighten out than it would have been to have started me off straight from scratch and from their way of flying.  That's the set-up there. 

 

I see.  So, there's no question of jumping ahead of other people.  You had to go back to the beginning. 

 

No.  You go through the same elementary flying.  You may go solo sooner.  You may pick up things a lot quicker than that.  Some of us were more air-minded than others.  Some of us grasped it better.  But as far as having any advantage, I wouldn't say you had a distinct advantage. 

 

Right.  I think from Mascot you went to do your service flying training on Harvards and this I think was in Canada, part of the Empire Air Training Scheme. 

 

Well, that ....  We were out at Mascot at mid-summer in September, October, November, '40 and we went from mid-summer to mid-winter in Canada.  And I'd never seen snow before.  It was just a matter of landing on snow and everything was frozen.  You couldn't see what was ground or what was water or lakes or anything like that.  I was lost.  I got lost in Canada.  There's nothing but snow underneath and I just put down into a field there which I knew - which I saw on the map - then I was very embarrassed to have to catch a train up near what they call Nottawasaga Bay and I can remember getting on the train with my parachute and a bunny suit and helmet and goggles and all that sort of stuff and then meeting my instructor back at the base.  He was just going on leave.  But that was ....  It was a bit hard for some of us.  Probably me in particular but I was just lost in the snow. 

 

(10.00) Yes.  Well, I'd imagine in that snowy landscape it must be very difficult to keep your bearings.  Just stepping back for a moment though, Jack, the actual journey, leaving Australia, heading off to Canada, what's your recollection of that?  Leaving Australia? 

 

Well, then again it's just adventure.  It was we had something to look forward to.  On our way we went into Suva.  We experienced what kava was.  I remember I was romantically inclined in those days and we went to Hawaii.  America wasn't in the war then and some of us jumped in and swam ashore but we were promptly picked up by the MPs, the American MPs, and brought back on board boat.  We had the hula girls on board.  I remember one fellow, he flew Spits, he's still flying still in the Spit Association, and I remember him saying, 'You beaut, you'll do me', as they did the hula dance.  They brought the hula girls on board the ship, the old Oranje, and that was just a part of adventure.  We got in towards Canada and we were asked then to what we were suited to be - a fighter pilot or a single-engine fighter pilot, a twin-engine, so forth.  And in those days they wanted fighter pilots, and we went on to the middle of Canada where the single-engine trainees were in the service training units. 

 

I was actually going to ask about that.  I think it's quite an interesting aspect just to pursue for moment:  the choice between fighters and bombers.  Were you saying that the ....  On the ship the authorities asked which you would prefer or was the choice put onto you? 

 

That's right.  They did ask us what we would prefer.  And I think they did take some notice of it because some fellows got off at Calgary, they did twin-engines, they went onto Ansons.  We went on to Ontario, we went onto singles.  But by the same token, later on, you will find that fellows did a single-engine course and they ended up on twins.  It just depended upon what was needed and what stage the fellows were. 

 

Do you think looking back on it all, remembering how it happened at the time, Jack, that the air force made those decisions wisely with the kind of information perhaps they needed or were they rather ad hoc or not particularly well thought out decisions? 

 

Well, I think they had problems.  I mean to say, this Empire Air Scheme was only in its initial stage and they had to feel their way.  And they never had anything ....  Well, they knew what air force life was;  they knew what decisions and that had to be made.  But I think that because of the newness of the Empire Air Scheme I think they did very, very well.  For instance, the training that we went through in the Empire Air Scheme in comparison with what training that the Royal Australian Air Force do today, there's no comparison.  I mean to say, for the standard of flying and the standard of operations that we did carry out, they were really colossal efforts. 

 

Mmm.  Right.  Tell us what subjects or what were the main subjects you studied at Ontario, Jack, besides obviously improving your actual flying?  What were the other subjects you studied? 

 

Well, the ground subjects, if you mean the ground subjects, we started off initial training.  We started off on anti-gas and airmanship, Fairey flight engines, armaments, we'd do our drill and all that sort of stuff.  As we went through the FTS and SFTS - that's the elementary and the service flying training - these subjects were increased.  They were more or less provided until we went onto operations.  They just grew in value. 

 

Right.  So it was really a kind of building, sort of a building block process. 

 

That's right. 

 

You were talking before about the climate in Canada.  Obviously there were great dangers of getting lost in sort of white snowy landscape.  What other problems did the winter climate pose? 

 

I don't think they posed that many problems. 

 

              Did you get cold in the aircraft? 

 

No.  I remember we went into huts and they were all centrally heated and we had a bit of a do-in with the Canadians because we put the windows up to let a bit of fresh air in and they pulled them down because they were used to central heating, and we almost came to blows with it as far as that goes.  But I don't remember any problems.  There's one problem I would like to mention and that is radio.  We studied morse.  We had to reach a certain standard in sending and receiving morse code.  The only time I ever received morse code or utilised it was the night flying and you'd send out a letter when you wanted permission to land - that sort of thing.  Well then, a lot of these fellows were kept back because they didn't reach, some of the pilots - well, they were pilots - they were kept back in Canada to repeat their course in morse and we never ever used morse after that. 

 

(15.00) Mmm.  That's an interesting point that it was an unnecessary skill. 

 

I'll never ever understand it.  I'll never understand why. 

 

Yes.  Because I'd assume mostly in an aircraft you're using voice communication. 

 

Mmm.  See later on it was all RT - radio telephony. 

 

What about living in Canada, was that pleasant?  Did you have much time to mix with local people or not? 

 

Well, we didn't have that much time.  The only time I spent in ... I was in Canada, I was in Banff on Christmas Day '40 and I left in March '41 and all that time I had one leave and that was New Year's Eve because of blizzards and because of weather we didn't get, we had to stop back at Camp Borden to get our hours up.  And the only leave I had was really New Year's Eve in Toronto. 

 

Well I know you were saying, Jack, that you of course gained your wings there and you left Canada as a sergeant pilot and you went across the Atlantic in convoy.  Arriving in Britain in the spring of 1941, about April '41 - of course this was after the Battle of Britain and so on - did the sufferings that Britain had been through strike you very much?  Were you very conscious that you were entering a country that ...? 

 

What, the people?  The impression we got of the people? 

 

              Yes. 

 

Well, the impressions we got of the British people were that they were very strong.  I remember Winston Churchill, he was Prime Minister at the time, and as soon as he came on the air there was absolute quietness;  there was absolute silence to hear what he had to say.  I think the British people were behind the war effort over there.  That's the impression that the majority of us got. 

 

Right.  Well, I know you went directly to an operational training unit, this was April '41.  No, you were posted to a unit near Glasgow, 58 OTU in Scotland, flying Spitfire 1s, I think.  I think you were saying that these were mostly survivor planes from the Battle of Britain? 

 

Yes.  They ... The Spits we had on our operational training, they were used in the Battle of Britain, what we called 'clapped out Spit 1s'.  As the Spitfire went through its lifetime they went from 1 to ....  We flew Spitfires in operations, and I believe they got up to about twenty-four and they carried twice the weight - bombs and armament and all the rest of it - and twice the speed although they almost weighed twice the size. 

 

              Compared to the very first Spitfires. 

 

Yes, compared to the first Spitfires. 

 

              What was the Spitfire like to fly?  Did you like it? 

 

Beautiful.  It was ....  Unfortunately, I thought the Kitty was a bit heavy.  It was a fighter, it had too much electrical gear.  But the Spitfire had no faults really.  They were beautiful to fly:  beautiful landing, beautiful to fly, handle. 

 

Well, at the OTU, of course you were refining your flying on Spitfires.  I think you were saying the first solo was a bit of a surprise with the undercarriage pump. 

 

Well, it was, no, it wasn't that.  It was - the whole set-up was - it was probably myself to blame, I'd been used to flying Spitfires and it was only habit that you did three-pointers - but with a Kittyhawk you don't, you never three-pointer a Kittyhawk for the first time.  Later on you can land a Kittyhawk anyhow.  But, anyway, I pranged it and they more or less had so many prangs with Spit pilots coming down from Britain that they started a conversion course. 

 

Right.  Well, I think that's moving on a bit to the Kittyhawk period.  But I think you were saying with the ....  When you did your first solo in a Spitfire, Jack, that they had a pump that you used to pump up ... 

 

Yes, the Spitfires had a ... 

 

... and that made it very hard to keep a level flight. 

 

The Spit 1s had a retractable under[carriage] - no it didn't have a retract, you had to pump it up with your right hand and your left hand on the joystick, and your first solo with the movement of the right hand trying to pump the undercart up and your left hand moving it caused you to wave and hedge-hop and you could always tell a Spitfire on its first solo. 

 

(20.00) During the OTU I think you were saying besides flying there was gunnery practice and you also referred to what you called 'synthetic training', the RT trolleys and so on.  Tell us about that. 

 

Yes.  Well, in this synthetic training it brings back to mind up in [Greysmouth ?] we had three trolleys, much the same as we were flying three aircraft, and on the trolleys we had our radio gear and our headphones on and we'd call up the control tower which was only a short distance from us, we'd call up the control tower and 'xxx - control, xxx - control.  This is Red One calling' and 'Could we have a vector, requesting a vector?', and this is all synthetic training so that when we were up in the air it would come naturally enough to be able to communicate on the RT.  Also we had synthetic training in sighting aircraft.  We'd be in a Spitfire in a little room and in this little room there were little aircraft around the room covered up by little doors, and they'd open them and you'd have to report the position of them by the clock.  But all this synthetic training did help us later on when we got into a squadron. 

 

              Was there much actual gunnery practice in the air? 

 

Well, we had drogues towed by slow aircraft and we'd do gunnery practice on air-to-air firing and we did a little bit of ground firing but not that much.  Just to more or less to feel the guns;  just to feel, to have deflection and all the rest of it, that's all. 

 

Other people, Jack, have said that prior to getting to the squadrons they had very little actual training in tactics.  Was that your experience or not? 

 

Yes.  We had very few tactics as far as that was concerned.  See, the whole set-up was that they wanted pilots and they didn't want them in a month's time, they wanted them now.  In fact, I've read some books on the Battle of Britain and they had very, very few hours.  They were thrown into combat without any experience at all.  And it's quite possible that although we had good training, they weren't as thorough as what they were later on.  I don't know. 

 

The mortality rate of course had been very, very high during the Battle of Britain, with great losses amongst fighter pilots and so on.  Were you very conscious of that or not? 

 

Conscious, in what way? 

 

Well, that during the Battle of Britain the mortality rate amongst fighter pilots had been extremely high. 

 

Yes.  Oh, we knew ....  Well, we expected to fly something like the Hawker biplanes and that sort of stuff, and when we got to England in actual combat we found that they were Spitfires and Hurricanes.  We knew that fellows had lost their lives and all the rest of it but it didn't worry us.  I mean to say, there was aircraft to fly and it was wonderful to fly them.  It was all adventure to us. 

 

Right.  Well, after leaving the OTU, Jack, I know you went to 452 Squadron which was part of 11 Group.  This is early September 1941, Kenley in Croydon, and this was an all-Australian Spitfire squadron, what was the general routine of flying when you joined 452? 

 

Well, the general routine of flying, we spent ....  Bob Bungey was CO of the squadron.  It was recently formed up in Kirton-In-Lindsey in southern Yorkshire about a month before.  I think they were down at Kenley about a few weeks before I joined them and they had a colossal record, there's no doubt about it.  And I think Paddy Finucane and Bluey Truscott, Thorold Smith, quite a lot of the fellows that are known today as probably aces, they were part of the unit and we did quite a lot of flying over France, over the Channel.  As far as our experiences were, we did our practice flying, we did our, what they call our [belbow ?] flying, battle formation and all the rest of it.  Turnabouts, more or less got us used to what we'd have to do when you crossed the Channel in France if we sighted aircraft and that sort of stuff.  It was more or less to acquaint us with, and familiarise us with, what would have to be done later on when we went into combat. 

 

(25.00) Right.  I do know that later with No. 3 Squadron great emphasis was put on the group over the individual sticking together as a group in the air.  Was that the emphasis in 452 Squadron, or not? 

 

Well, it was ....  There was an emphasis there but once you met the enemy then you broke up.  You broke up.  In Britain we had a turnabout whereby the inside - doing a right-hand turn - the inside more or less drifted out to the left-hand side, and the left-hand side came in to the inside of the turn.  But this is a more or less a turnabout would be called, the CO or the leader of the unit, the formation, he more or less said, 'Break right' and that's how we more or less reversed our reciprocal track and that's how we ended up against the enemy.  This wasn't the case in 3 Squadron in the desert.  Our role in the desert was a little bit different.  We didn't have the same battle formations we had in Europe. 

 

I know it was after some time with 452, you did in fact fly operations over France, I think the aim being to get the German planes up into the air to fight.  What's your first recollection of flying over France into hostile air space and your first combat? 

 

Well, that needs a bit of thinking about.  Going across the Channel there was about twenty-one miles across the Channel, we used to fly about anything up to 30,000 feet, our usual position was about 30,000 feet, and I remember the flak, the ack-acks that used to come up to us at that level was very accurate.  As far as impressions, going into France, we were very, very high and as far as being over France we didn't know where we were.  It was nearly six mile up, or five mile up, and it was just cloud base.  It was a bit strange to us because I think you'll agree, that it was a strange feeling to be over strange country in a strange environment. 

 

Did you make contact with enemy aircraft on your first few missions over France, Jack? 

 

Well, it was ... I was shot in the wing.  I did have a wing tip for quite a while but I was one of the first to see a Focke-Wulf 190 but we did mix up over there.  We did come in contact but I think that as far as a fighter pilot is concerned it is the same as a apprenticeship, when you are a fighter pilot you don't go over and get yourself a Hun as the saying goes, you more or less take it very, very easily like an apprentice would and as time goes on you will have the experience to deal with them;  to deal with any situation. 

 

Right.  Jack, I think you left the squadron in December '41.  The aim I think was to return via Singapore to Australia.  Could you explain that please? 

 

Well, I left England in 1941.  We were, the RAF were calling for volunteers for the Far East with a hundred Spit hours and I had a hundred Spit hours and felt, well, if I get to Singapore I could get home on leave to Australia.  But, as it turned out, it didn't work out that way. 

 

              Was this after Japan had entered the war? 

 

Yes.  Japan entered the war.  In fact, Japan entered the war, it was in the newspapers in Scotland, the day that I left England.  That was, I think, on 4th December 1941 [sic]. 

 

Mmm.  Right.  I think the dates there maybe might need checking but, anyway, it was at that time.  Once Japan had entered the war, how common was it ...? 

 

END OF TAPE ONE - SIDE A 

 

START OF TAPE ONE - SIDE B 

 

Identification:  This is Edward Stokes with Jack Donald, No. 3 Squadron.  Tape one, side two. 

 

Jack, I was just saying after Japan had entered the war, how common was it for Australian pilots to want to get back to fly in the Pacific as you remember it? 

 

Well, naturally we would have like to have got back.  But it depended upon what we were doing.  I was on my way to the Far East.  But I don't think ... I think the pilots overseas more or less looked at it in this manner that they were put where they were wanted.  I think that's what really happened. 

 

Right.  Well, I know you did go via - by destroyer - via Gibraltar.  You were in Malta for Christmas '41.  I think there were a large number of air-raids while you were in Malta? 

 

Yes.  We had three ....  We had twenty-one air-raids in three days.  In fact, I can never understand how they ever did any work over there because they were in and out like moles in a mole-hill, you know.  But unfortunately I had a hearing problem and I came up on deck, and the guns were just opening up and that was the way my hearing problems started. 

 

Yes.  Just to get that straight.  I think you were saying that you came up on deck and were caught in a major gun barrage. 

 

Mmm.  Yes, they had an air-raid there and I just came on deck as the guns opened up and that was it. 

 

Right.  Moving on, Jack, after you left Malta, I know you got to Alexandria and I think from there you were appointed to 450 Squadron? 

 

Yes.  I was with 450 Squadron for a day and then I spoke with the CO and ... What really happened was that I pranged a Kittyhawk and I did a three-point landing as I did in a Spit and you never do a three-point landing in a Kittyhawk the first time.  Consequently I ground looped and wiped the Kitty off.  Gordon Steege who was CO at the time, he was just reforming from Tomahawks to Kittyhawks, and Kittyhawks were very scarce and I can understand him say, 'Well, Jack, I'm very sorry, that's it'. 

 

The interesting part of this story to me is that, as I understand it, you went straight to a Kittyhawk squadron without any conversion training? 

 

No.  Well, there's no conversion training at the start.  Later on we were pranging so many Kittyhawks - the Spitfire pilots were - that they did start a conversion course at a place called El Ballah and I attended it later on. 

 

Tell us about this actual landing perhaps in a little more detail if you could, Jack?  You're coming in to land and landing as you would a Spitfire, the plane ground loops, how much time do you have to realise something very bad had gone wrong? 

 

We didn't have very much time at all.  You can just imagine you're coming down, oh, probably about 140 mile an hour, 120 mile an hour and you do a three-point landing and you almost go straight into a ground loop before you realise it. 

 

(5.00) A ground loop is where you slew around ...? 

 

A ground loop is one way or the other.  Usually right-hand turn on the ground.  And you put your wing in probably or that's the way it happens. 

 

              Did your plane catch fire or anything like that? 

 

Oh no.  No, no fire, just damage to the aircraft that was all. 

 

I'd imagine still there must have been extreme shock on your part.  I'm sure in some prang situations pilots were killed.  How did you feel after it? 

 

Well, no, I don't think any pilots have been killed in a ground loop.  A ground loop is just a loop on the ground, that's all.  You damage the aircraft but the pilot usually gets away with it. 

 

And how common was it after incidents  such as that for commanding officers, in this case Gordon Steege, to throw somebody out of a squadron? 

 

Well, what else could he do?  He was short of Kittyhawks and, I don't know, as I say, I was there a day.  I don't know what happened to the rest of the people.  I don't know how he really looked at it.  But I can just imagine if you're short of Kittyhawks and you've got plenty of pilots and they're ground looping, then you've got to get rid of them. 

 

Right.  Well, from there I think you did go to a transit camp.  Now this particular episode I think does seem very interesting because it does really point to the fact that the air force almost willy-nilly was appointing people to inappropriate tasks, to tasks they hadn't really been trained to do.  Tell us about the Hurricanes and the Indomitable. 

 

Well, the transit camp part was more or less a camp that you enter in transit from one unit to another.  There seemed to be quite a lot of bods there.  In my case I went to there, transit camp and was transferred to the Indomitable.  We were going - or actually to some unit down in the Red Sea called Port Sudan.  We flew down there on a commercial flight from Cairo down to Port Sudan through Wadi Halfa. And I remember it was a big airliner.  It was one of the British Airways airliners and I did about three hours on a Hurricane with long-range tanks on, like a block of flats to fly round - very heavy.  And then we went aboard the Indomitable to ...  We were supposed to fly off Java.  Somebody was supposed to come out from Java and pick us up and lead us in.  But at the last minute, before the Indomitable left they took the majority of Australians off to reinforce the squadrons in the desert against Rommel.  And I went up then, up in a .... 

 

Could I just pause just for a moment, before we get to the desert, Jack.  Having flown off the Indomitable, the plan was that you were the land back on the ship, was it? 

 

No, no.  No, an aircraft from Java probably would come out to the aircraft carrier and lead us in to a landing ground on that island.  That is what I have found out since the war. 

 

I see.  So you simply had to get off;  be catapulted off. 

 

No.  No, we weren't catapulted off.  We just took off.  No, we weren't catapulted off.  There's no signs of any catapults there. 

 

              Mmm.  Well, that's an interesting .... 

 

We didn't like the sound of it because some of us never seen an aircraft carrier before and we were lucky - we were very - we thought very much of it when we were taking off and put on the Lake's boat, in the Lake Kathleen I think it was, Princess Kathleen, to go up to Alexandria again. 

 

Right.  Well, I think you were saying from Alexandria you went to El Ballah and at El Ballah you did finally do a conversion onto Kittyhawks. 

 

That's right.  I went onto ....  I did a conversion onto Kittyhawks at El Ballah and then I think it was about four or five fours, something like that and then I was posted to 3 Squadron. 

 

Yes.  I think we actually had from your log book there, six hours on Kittyhawks and three on Harvards.  Tell us a bit more about this conversion to Kittyhawks.  How much instruction did you get?  Was it good instruction or were you just put in a plane and sent off to learn yourself? 

 

No, it was good instruction;  far better than going from one aircraft to another in my mind.  We did go back onto Harvards to get a bit of dual.  I think the reason was that it wasn't so much the Harvard/Kittyhawk set-up as having somebody there who's dual instruction.  Once we went back onto the Harvards in dual, flying it solo and having dual with us, well then we were probably more capable of handling a Kittyhawk. 

 

(10.00) Tell us about the Kittyhawk itself, Jack?  Some pilots, I know, loved them;  some didn't.  How did you feel about it as a plane? 

 

I think the Kittyhawk was a bit heavier, much heavier than the Spit.  Also the Spitfire seemed a better fighter all round, although the Kittyhawk did a colossal job.  It did a wonderful job for its particular role as a fighter bomber later on.  But I do think that it was a bit too heavy.  I think there's too much electrical gear.  Everything ....  There was about twelve or fifteen switches you had to switch on to even start it. 

 

Yes, I have heard that.  It was sort of a much more technically advanced plane in that sense than the Spitfire.  Of course, its weight meant it climbed fairly slowly.  How do you remember the Kittyhawk in the air?  What were the best and worst aspects of its flying ability? 

 

Well, I haven't any ....  I haven't much comment on that point because I never found anything wrong with the Kittyhawk.  As far as the engine's concerned, it's a wonderful ....  It always amazed me, under the conditions that we flew in in the desert, the sandstorms and the dust storms and the worst of it, how the ground engineers, the fitters who keep and maintain, sustain the airworthiness of them.  I've never had an engine failure in the Kittyhawk.  As far as handling's concerned, well then, once you got used to it, it was easy to fly.  It had no inherent problems or anything like that. 

 

Was it difficult taking off with the very high nose poking up into the air? 

 

Well, you got used to it.  In the Spit we used to have to swing it.  We used to have to do much the same with the ....  Because of the attitude of the aircraft and the tail was on the ground, well, naturally, you had this big motor in the head of you to wave around in front of you and see where you were going. 

 

By swinging the plane, you mean, slightly zig-zagging to get your vision? 

 

That's right.  Zig-zag so that you could see.  I remember in the desert, not so much in Europe, in Kenley/Red Hill, but in the desert we had a fitter that used to steer the plane and he used to sit on the end of the wing, and we had to take instructions with him whether it was right or left, that sort of thing.  He more or less steered us.  He more or less brought the aircraft out back. 

 

Right.  Well, I know you joined No. 3 Squadron in April '42.  At this time Bobby Gibbes was CO, Nicky Barr a flight commander.  What was your first impression of the squadron as a group of men? 

 

You were posted to a squadron and you just took it as a squadron.  I haven't had any impressions regarding personalities or aircraft or anything. 

 

Some people speak of No. 3 Squadron having earned quite a reputation and having very high morale, was that the way you saw it or not? 

 

Oh yes.  We certainly had a high spirit of morale.  We did have a high spirit of morale.  We were going somewhere, we were getting there, we had a good reputation and it was very good - extra good. 

 

During your time with the squadron, did you think it was led well?  Were its commanding officers effective, or not? 

 

They did a colossal job.  As they were shot down, later on as you know, Bobby was shot down, Nicky Barr took over, somebody else dropped into his place, Lou Spence dropped into flight commander.  But they did a colossal job all round. 

 

Right.  The general kinds of operations I think you were involved in this first period with the squadron was partly flying as a squadron or a wing to escort to defend Bostons, also dive-bombing and strafing, and also Stuka parties when you were, I think, going out to get at the Stukas that were being top-covered by 109s.  Could you tell us a bit more about the kinds of operations? 

 

Well, the main operation of 3 Squadron in my period, apart from Stuka parties and going out for individual targets such as, I remember going out, I was shot in the neck and on that particular sortie we were going to destroy Rommel's headquarters.  Strangely enough he bobbed up again but that's the way it was. 

 

(15.00) But the majority of sorties in those days were dive-bombing sorties.  What would happen was that we'd take off in probably 3 Squadron's wing - there were four squadrons in the wing, 239 Wing.  There were 450, 3 - both Australian - and 250 and 112 RAF, and we would go out to escorting the Boston bombers.  We'd pat and bomb the target, mainly they were Jerry aerodromes.  Then we would go in and dive-bomb with 250-pounders.  They had a long stick - a long fuse on them - so that they'd explode above the ground.  And then we'd go in and strafe and clean up what was left.  That sort of thing.  As far as the Stuka parties were concerned, we went out, we had ....  In my mind we had two or three Stuka parties.  One of them was very good from our point of view that some of the boys shot down and got stuck into some of the Stukas and the 109s, and we were flying from anything from three or four thousand cloud base down to the tent tops.  And I remember seeing 109s gaily painted and going the other way about twenty or thirty feet - you were going one way and they were going the other way.  So there's no way you could do anything about it.  But they did.  They did bring down quite a few. 

 

What were the most dangerous kinds of operations in your memory? 

 

The most dangerous times in operation is keeping your wits about you and seeing no aircraft were on your tail.  That was the dangerous part about it.  Unfortunately they operated in pairs.  They'd dive down and they could be up again - go straight down and straight up just like that, at very high speed and that's how I was shot down eventually because I never saw him. 

 

Yes, we might come to that in a little while, Jack.  I think it was 16th June when you were shot in the neck and you thought you might have been killed.  Could you tell us the beginning of that operation, how it began, how it developed and how you were shot? 

 

Well, it originated, I think Nicky Barr was leading the flight I was in, and the objective was one of Rommel's hide-outs, one of his headquarters, but unfortunately an explosive bullet came up and through the canopy.  We were very low level.  And I got hit in the neck and I had blood everywhere;  I thought I'd had it.  I called up Nicky and he thought I ... I said I'd been hit in the, instead of the neck, the leg.  And I remember when we got back to base they just pulled me out of the aircraft sort of thing and I went back into hospital at Alexandria. 

 

Tell us about that, if you can, Jack, in a bit more detail?  You were coming in, I assume, very close to your target which is where you were hit by the ack-ack.  What was it like having ack-ack coming up at you? 

 

Well, I never ....  It wasn't ack-ack in the desert so much.  Do you mean in the desert or in the ...? 

 

Well, when you were hit this time I think you were saying you were hit by ack-ack. 

 

I was hit by an explosive bullet.  It wasn't by ack-ack.  It was probably just a stray explosive bullet that somebody flew.  Somebody fired at me, and it was just one bullet.  It came up through the windscreen and fortunately I had my head turned to the left.  I was weaving looking out to the left-hand side and it went straight through and hit the head rest at the back.  Had I been just sitting up and not weaving I wouldn't be speaking to you now. 

 

Right.  So you're very lucky you were in a way nicked. 

 

I'm very lucky I got out of that particular ... 

 

But as you flew back you were saying you were bleeding a lot and so on.  Was it difficult flying the plane back or not? 

 

It was difficult but I mean to say you had ....  Well, you just stuck to it, that was it. 

 

And were the others shepherding you back, or were you flying back alone? 

 

No.  I don't think they were shepherding me.  It was just a matter of keeping formation until we got back and landed and hoping that you did make it, that's all. 

 

Right.  We might just go on to talk about the period in hospital in a moment.  I know ... I think it was in that operation that two other men were killed.  How did pilots feel when they saw their own mates being killed? 

 

Well, I don't think any pilots thought much about it at all.  It was accepted.  It was just accepted that you had your mates there and you just say they'd 'gone for a burton', or that sort of thing.  But I think it was just accepted.  You just accepted the fate.  You thought of buying it at times but you never thought of being shot down.  But we just carried on regardless sort of thing.  You'd just say to one another, 'Oh, Buck Horne's had it', or ....  You know, that's the way it went. 

 

(20.00) I'd imagine it was very difficult to not be afraid.  There must have been times when pilots were afraid and, I suppose, had to conquer their fear.  What's your recollection of that and could you say in your case anyway, when you felt most fear?  Was it before operations, during an operation?  How do you remember that? 

 

Well, I don't know.  I can't think much about that.  I mean to say, it's - I think anybody that's been in a war has had certain times of fear but you're more or less try and overcome it and that's about it.  I can't more or less enlarge on that. 

 

 

              Did pilots talk about it amongst themselves or not    and how they ... 

 

No, you don't at the time.  You don't at the time because it's ... it's more or less taboo.  I mean to say you don't let the other fellow know that you're scared or anything like that.  Looking back on it you sometimes think, well, you got out of that alright or you probably could have done something else. 

 

Do you think it might have been easier if pilots had talked about those things or would it have been harder? 

 

Well, I don't think so.  I mean to say, what use are you going to get by talking about it.  I mean to say it boils down to you could be here today and gone tomorrow.  You more or less live for the day and it's part of life. 

 

Right.  Well, going on to the story of that particular incident, Jack, when you were wounded.  Of course this was during the very rapid retreat - very, very fast retreat - I think you were taken by ambulance to the hospital in Alexandria.  How did that go in hospital? 

 

Well, we had a ....  We had a tri-motor that used to fly back from the forward aerodrome back to base, back to Cairo, back to Alex[andria] at least.  But we were so close to the lines that that's how I came to go back by ambulance.  And I don't remember the retreat because I went to the hospital in Alex for a couple of weeks.  I don't remember being in hospital.  And then I joined the squadron after the retreat at Amiriya. 

 

Right.  Do you remember anything about the quality of medical care that you received in hospital? 

 

No.  No, I don't.  I don't remember anything about the hospital.  I don't remember where it was or being there.  But I just remember going there and I remember coming back to the unit. 

 

Right.  If we could just step back in time a little bit, before you'd been shot down - this was looking at the period April, May, June 1942 - before you'd had the shot in the neck rather, this was the period of the very rapid retreat.  The period also when Bobby Gibbes was shot down and Nicky Barr took over as CO.  How fast was that retreat in your recollection?  How quickly were you moving back to new airstrips? 

 

Well, I don't remember the retreat at all because I was hit in the neck at a place called Gambut and in the retreat I joined, again, the squadron about a fortnight later, so virtually the retreat took about fourteen days.  As far as I was concerned it could have only been a week. 

 

I think in fact the retreat had begun - I think I'm correct, Jack - in May.  So it had been going on for a month and a half before you were shot in the neck.  Do you have any memory of that period? 

 

No.  The general retreat.  We had a battle of Knightsbridge;  we supported the Free French in May and June, but I don't remember any retreat.  I remember the - I think it was Lord Tedder - he came to the squadron and gave us a pep talk, and saying that they expected Jerry to start an operation and if Jerry didn't start that we were going to start.  Well, the next thing, instead of starting and heading west, we were in retreat.  That was the set-up there.  But I don't remember ... I remember the battle of Knightsbridge and Bir Hacheim but I don't remember anything about the retreat because, as far as I was concerned, the retreat started when I was hit in the neck and then I joined the squadron back, after the retreat, back in the Delta. 

 

(25.00) Yes.  Right.  Well, we'll leave that.  The airstrips that you flew on during the general period you were in the desert, what's your recollection of that?  How good or bad were they to fly from? 

 

Oh well, the strips, they weren't strips as we know them today, sealed or anything like that, they were just, I don't know, they probably prepared them.  But just like a field, a field without any grass on;  a lot of dust.  And I can remember in one stage where we were instead of formating right-handed where you have a leader formating, everybody formates on him on the right-hand side.  Apparently they started off right and left and I was in the middle and I was just about out of space.  But there were actually no strips there;  they were just fields without any - just fields in the desert. 

 

Right.  And I know dust was a very great problem.  Besides the dust, was flying in the desert easier or harder compared to, say, a landscape such as England's?  What were the advantages and disadvantages of the desert as a place to fly? 

 

Well, I don't know whether there were any advantages or disadvantages.  In England we flew on runways, or grass.  It was mainly grass.  And in the desert it was just a lack of grass.  Just a barren ground.  I wouldn't say there was any advantages or disadvantages in either.  They were both the same except for what you landed on. 

 

What about things such as navigation, reliable weather, the ability to crash-land easily?  Were those things easier or harder in the desert? 

 

Well,  in the English aerodromes you had better facilities and better surroundings.  Navigation-wise, in England we'd fly back across the Channel, hit the coast at a certain point and then fly north until we hit the railway line, along the railway line and that was our navigation, there was your pin-point.  In the desert you didn't have the pin-point so much, they were more sparse sort of thing, but you, somehow looking back, we found our way.  But I wouldn't say there are any disadvantages one way or the other. 

 

What about living in the desert, Jack?  Of course this was tent living and you were moving camp really quite regularly.  What's your recollection of that? 

 

Oh, that's a different story.  In England we had ....  We'd be over the Channel and doing ops over France and that night we'd get a train twenty to thirty minutes out of London and we'd be in London that night.  Out in the desert, we'd have our sing-songs and our mess life and we'd wait ....  We'd hear 'Lily Marlene' on a European station - I think it was a Hungarian station - half past ten we'd go to bed.  We'd have our air-raids and Junkers 88s coming over and get into slit trenches and all that sort of stuff.  But in comparison the two, I'd say that the desert we'd have a harder life and I remember going down ... I think Bobby Gibbes had organised a camp, a rest camp, so that we could get some decent sleep down at the rest camp. 

 

Mmm.  That's interesting.  I'd imagine sleep was very important when you were flying operations? 

 

Well, it would be.  I mean to say, you've got to be refreshed to have a flip. 

 

After you rejoined the squadron, after the period in hospital, July '42, I think you went on leave to the Holy Land.  How significant were those experiences, those opportunities to see something of local life? 

 

Well, to me, the Holy Land was ....  Since the war I've often thought about it.  I've read about the Jews and I've read about the Arabs and I feel sorry for both of them.  They gave us an opportunity to see the Holy Land, regardless of religion, I was an RC and at that particular time I enjoyed seeing parts of the Holy Land that I'd heard about.  But it was very interesting to go up to Palestine, as it was in those days.  We stayed in Tel Aviv and it was quite an experience, quite an experience. 

 

How easy was it to move around places like Palestine?  Was it very difficult or did you have a fair degree of freedom? 

 

END OF TAPE ONE - SIDE B 

 

START OF TAPE TWO - SIDE A 

 

Identification:  This is Ed Stokes with Jack Donald, No. 3 Squadron.  Tape two, side one. 

 

Jack, I was just asking you how free or otherwise you were in moving around the Holy Land? 

 

There were no restrictions at all.  We were on leave and it was a wonderful experience to see Tel Aviv and we flew up from Egypt up to a place called Lydda.  Lydda was the main aerodrome.  We flew up in Bombays and we had a wonderful time up there.  I remember chicken was the main food and then we went across what they call the Seven Sisters to Jerusalem and Bethlehem.  And I remember a strange thing that Bethlehem there's a Church of the Nativity and they did sell sort of stars, Bethlehem stars made out of mother-of-pearl.  And the mother-of-pearl was made just opposite there and it came from Broome in Western Australia.  And it surprised me in those days to think, well, I've come all this way and here's some West [sic] Australian stuff.  But we went to Jericho and the Dead Sea and, as a tourist, we enjoyed it.  But there were no restrictions at all, we just moved about the same as anywhere else. 

 

Mmm.  That's most interesting, especially the Broome

mother-of-pearl.  I can imagine the surprise.  Jack, after that leave period, this is now August/September '42, the squadron was again flying and I think involved quite extensively in dive-bombing and preparing for the major push that later followed.  During this period I think you - or during the period at least with No. 3 - you shot down one plane and perhaps another.  Can you tell us about that combat when you had a confirmed kill? 

 

Well, I put in for confirmed but it was only probable.  I've checked on reports since and I think there were four shot down that day and two confirmed, or two were found on the ground.  This question of confirmed aircraft, there is a book called Fighters over the Desert and the present writer he more or less says that the squadron may not have shot down 200 or at least 200 aircraft at that particular time, that there's more aircraft should have been probables than there were confirmed.  But this point of confirmation that goes from the OAF and you've to have definite identification.  It has to be found on the ground;  it has to be confirmed by another pilot or by army confirmation.  There is no point at all in trying to confirm an aircraft unless it is confirmed. 

 

Yes.  That is an interesting point.  Jack, it does tie in with something else you were saying before that I think other people have hinted at too, that perhaps not many pilots were in fact in a sense true fighter pilots.  What did you mean by that? 

 

Well, first of all, you take the EATS.  That was a scheme to more or less convey to Britain a more or less stockpile of air crew.  Well then we joined the EATS and we were sent to different training units, and there was no thought of then whether you were a good fighter pilot or a bomber pilot or anything else.  And looking back, it's only ....  I've more or less tried to work it out - but there's a very small percentage of fighter pilots that were really fighter pilots.  The majority of us, we were just there to make up the numbers, sort of thing. 

 

(5.00) When you say some of you were not real fighter pilots, what were the qualities as you see it would differentiate the general mass of men who were flying from the few who were true fighter pilots? 

 

Well, what I mean by a fighter pilot, there's chaps that first of all they have a very keen eyesight, they probably see aircraft.  Why I am saying this, I've more or less looked upon different fellows such as the different aces that we've heard about.  I flew with Paddy Finucane in England and I've flown with Bobby Gibbes and Nicky Barr in the desert and these chaps, they can see aircraft long before other pilots would see them.  They also are quicker on the uptake and they can more or less really be fighter pilots.  Now the average fighter pilot, he can't see aircraft to the same extent.  He picks them out.  As far as firing, air firing, well some of us have it and some of us haven't got it.  But I do believe that there is only a small percentage of pilots that were really fighter pilots;  the rest of us were just there to support, in other words, the squadron. 

 

Yes.  And I guess obviously filling just as important a role in the sense of providing the support these other more highly tuned fellows perhaps needed to do what they were doing.  Yes, I guess what you are saying is for a very few men who had a sort of complex mix of physical coordination - extremely keen eyesight, very fast reflexes - these were the guys who were in the truer sense - fighter pilots. 

 

That's right, yes.  I entirely agree with that. 

 

Was there ever any jealousy or any animosity within, for example, No. 3 Squadron between men who were the more run of the mill pilots, and the very few who were the so-called 'ace' pilots? 

 

No.  This is only an opinion of mine.  At the time we were all fighter pilots and there was no animosity, there was no saying that you're a better man than I am.  But since the war I've thought of it and it has come to me that that's the way I feel. 

 

You were just saying after the war that's how you felt, Jack. 

 

Yes.  It was just more or less thoughts after the war.  At the time there was no animosity. 

 

Of course No. 3 Squadron had, at this stage, a pilots' mess, not an officers' and sergeants' mess and you yourself I know by this stage you are a commissioned pilot officer.  Did that pilots' mess that brought sergeants and commissioned pilots together, did that help? 

 

Certainly.  It certainly helped.  There's a difference altogether between the RAF command in England, where the officers were in an officers' mess and the sergeants were in a sergeants' mess and that sort of thing, there's a lot of difference between that type of life as a sergeant pilot and what we had as a pilots' mess in the desert.  This was an innovation that I don't know who brought it about, but it was very successful because we were all doing the same job whether you were commissioned, or whether you weren't commissioned and I believe it helped quite a lot because we were all doing the job.  We all talked together, we flew together;  it was just a communal set-up.  Even on leave we mixed.  We carried capes and all that as sergeant pilots and for the duration of the leave we were more or less commissioned.  But there was just esprit de corps between us there that was not available as we knew it in Britain. 

 

That's most interesting, Jack.  It was, incidentally, I think Peter Jeffrey, who introduced that - Peter Jeffrey - who introduced that system.  One other thing I wanted to ask you in relation to relations between groups of men:  the air crew and the ground men who were maintaining, preparing and so on, keeping the planes going, how close a bond was there between a pilot and the men who were responsible for his plane? 

 

(10.00) I think there was a big bond although it wasn't prevalent at the time so much as it is today.  We did feel then and we feel now that the ground crew, they were very, very proud that they had an aircraft to maintain and proud of their pilot.  And I know in my case, a fellow - he just died - I was the first plane that he lost and he'll always remember that.  He's told me that.  But there was a colossal bond between the air crew and the ground crew. 

 

Yes, Jack was just saying about the ground crew, [the] remarkable what they did in the desert. 

 

Yes.  I'll never understand how the ground crew maintained the serviceability of the aircraft because I've never had an aircraft that would ....  That had any trouble at all, you know.  I mean to say, even with spark plugs in dust storms and all that sort of stuff.  But it was amazing.  There was a wonderful bond between us. 

 

Yes.  Well, there must have been so much hard work there too.  Well, going on Jack, 15 September, the date when you were shot down, this was I know an operation when the squadron was flying a top-cover for bombers and just quoting briefly from the book you showed me:  'The squadron became involved in a terrific dogfight about twenty miles south-west of El Alamein when fifteen 109s and then more 109s came down from the sun'.  It must have been an appalling fight.  What's your recollection of how it began and how it developed? 

 

Well, I can't give you much insight on that because I was shot down.  Since I've been shot down other fellas have come up and said well, it was a great show and all the rest of it.  Some fellas would come up and my No. 2, he came up to me - he's dead now - Garth Glaven, he came up and apologised for letting me get shot down.  But that was the set-up.  Apparently it was a good sortie.  It was really a mix-up but unfortunately I was shot down and I don't remember much about it. 

 

Do you remember anything of the lead into the engagement or did it happen so quickly that there's not much to recall? 

 

No.  The only thing I can remember we were in 450 dispersal and we were eating watermelon, the bell went, and we took off.  Before we knew it we were involved in a dogfight and I was shot down.  I'm sorry I can't .... 

 

That's all right.  I know your plane was hit in the motor and also hit in the wing.  What was your greatest fear? 

 

My greatest feeling?   

 

              Or fear? 

 

Well, my greatest fear was it was going to catch alight.  I have always had a fear of fire in the air and I was hit in the wing and I had a job more or less keeping the wing up - the left wing.  And then the motor started to burn and I just thought it's time I left it.  So I just let it roll over and I did all the steps and out I went. 

 

That short period, I'm sure was not very long between when the engine started licking with flames I suppose and rolling the plane to drop out of it, what was going through your mind? 

 

Well, it happens fairly quickly, these things.  It all happened so quickly you haven't got that much time to think.  By the time ....  First of all you're trying to keep the aircraft level;  you're trying to keep the wing up and then the motor starts burning and then you just do things without thinking.  Everything is so automatic.  And then the next thing you know you're very quiet and you're on the end of a parachute. 

 

Right.  So you rolled the plane right over I understand from .... 

 

Well, it just rolled over itself, yes. 

 

              Right.  And then you just dropped out. 

 

Yes.  I just undid all the straps and went out head first. 

 

Drifting down in the parachute, do you have any recollection of what was going on about you, or not? 

 

Mmm, very quiet.  They do tell me that if you baled out over a church at 10,000 feet you can hear the church bells ringing, it's so quiet.  I've never had that experience, but it is quiet to come down under a billowed parachute.  That's about all I can say on that point. 

 

I know there have been instances, not many, but they had occurred of Germans shooting men down in parachutes.  Was that going through your mind? 

 

(15.00) No.  I've heard the same thing but I don't think ... I think most pilots have thought of it where there's a dogfight above you and you're out of it and you're coming down and somebody's going to take a shot at you.  But I don't think that ....  I've never met anybody who's had an experience of being shot at or had a shot at a German pilot coming down. 

 

Right.  Well, of course you were coming down in enemy territory.  How were you taken prisoner, do you remember that? 

 

How was I taken prisoner?  Well, all I can remember is coming down on the end of the 'chute and I knew I was going to drift into a camp.  The old saying, 'I landed on the cookhouse - Italian cookhouse', but normally you more or less turn a little release button on a box in front of your parachute and hit it when you touch down and everything falls away from you and you're supposed to walk away.  But unfortunately I came down, I was still in the 'chute, trying to work out how I was going to get away, and the next thing I knew was trying to throw money away - a belt that I had with probably German money and maps and that in it - and a couple of fellows with Tommy guns saying, 'Inglesi', and that was my introduction to prisoner of war life. 

 

Tell us generally, Jack, what happened after that.  I think on the whole air crew were fairly well treated.  Was that your experience, or not? 

 

Yes.  From then on I flew from Derna to a place called [Ecchi ?] in the middle of Italy on a tri-motor transport.  Then I went to a transit camp in Bari, then on to Sulmona.  I would say that POWs were well treated.  The Italian generally was very emotional, they were upset very easily, in comparison with the German treatment and the German personality.  We went from .... 

 

Did that benefit?  Did the Italian volatility help you or hinder you? 

 

Well, put it this way, if we played up a little bit in Italy or did things we shouldn't done, they'd cut off magazines, they'd cut off walks, they were more emotional, whilst in Germany they were more of our own kind.  We were under the control of the Luftwaffe in Germany.  In Italy all prisoners of war were under the control of the German Army and there was a certain amount of esprit de corps between the Luftwaffe and the RAF in Germany.  We did have, in the camp, we did have fifty of us that were shot.  We had a great escape.  I think there were about seventy-two got away.  Unfortunately, the thing that I noticed so much about it is that the majority of these fellows, the seventy-two got out okay, there were only about five that were really equipped - they were dressed in civilian clothes, they had passports, money, they could speak the language - that had an opportunity of getting away.  The majority of the fellows that escaped just went out in their own uniforms as they were, or anything, just to tie up the German war effort, to more or less tie them up and that was it.  And unfortunately they were picked up and unfortunately they were shot.  But I would say that they did treat us well in comparison with what the Japs handed out. 

 

Sure.  Was there much talk in prison between men about the duty or morality, if you like, of either escaping or not escaping?  Was that a big issue or was it just a thing that was left to individual choice? 

 

Well, I've since realised and found out it was an officer's duty to try and escape.  But I can't see how we could have got out.  The tunnel ... The escaping set-up was mastered by what we call a big 'X' and the set-up there was that apart from the tunnelling we had a [completed ?] organisation and the less you knew about what was going on in another part of the organisation - and there were dozens:  there was the tunnelling, there was the clothing, the uniforms into civilian clothing, there were compasses, there was the food set-up, there was the security of the camp as far as every goon that came in, as we called them.  We had three or four 'kriegies' as we called inmates of the krieg gefogorten [?].  We had kriegies watching them.  But that was the whole set-up.  If you were ....  The reason was that the better security, if nobody knew all that was going on. 

 

(20.00) Right.  Well, just to continue the story a little bit, Jack, I know as the Allies advanced up Italy, so you were pushed northwards yourself.  I think you were later sent by train and marching and so on to, through Germany and on to Poland.  I think you were in Poland when you were liberated? 

 

Yes.  We were in a place called Sagan.  This happened in January, the end of January '45 when the Russians crossed the Oder, we could hear the guns going off.  And we knew the war was coming to a climax and some of us more or less got organised in the way of making haversacks out of blankets, Red Cross blankets and that sort of stuff.  But it came upon us so suddenly that we more or less upturned tables and put our gear on the tables and used them as sleds;  we towed them as sleds. 

 

But you were being led off by the Germans somewhere else? 

 

That's right.  There were possibly eight or ten thousand in the - in North Compound at Sagan, Luft 3, and we more or less marched until - and pulling the sleds - until the snows melted and then we just had to carry what we could from then on.  But we marched about, oh, about a hundred kilometres I suppose to a train.  We entrained up to a place called [Tomsted] near Bremen which was a MALAG camp, a camp for naval prisoners of war, and then we more or less marched from Bremen up to Lubeck through Hamburg and we were liberated on the - I think it was on 4th August - or May, I'm sorry. 

 

Yes, the date you gave me before was 2nd May, I think Jack.  One thing I did want to ask:  during this whole period in captivity, did you have any certain knowledge that messages had reached Australia about your safety or not? 

 

Well, we were told that they would eventually reach us. 

 

              Did you ever receive any communication? 

 

Yes.  We had ....  I still have a form there.  I think we were allowed once a month you could send out.  But the whole set-up was in the camp we had ....  We'd seen air-raids.  When the Americans entered the war, when they really started their bombing, daylight bombing raids, we'd see them flying over one day and the next day they'd be in there and we'd have the latest news from what was going on in England.  This is if we were talking to them, you know.  Their personal chatter on what went on in certain pubs in England and that sort of thing. 

 

              By radio? 

 

No, by the fellows who were in the aircraft who flew over one day.  They'd fly over, we'd see an air-raid one day, then they'd be with the next day;  they'd be shot down and they'd be prisoners of war the next day, so you'd have a ball-to-ball description. 

 

Right.  I understand.  Sorry, I thought there might have been some clandestine radio set-up. 

 

No.  We had our own radios.  We had - every night we - they had secret radios there - and a chap used to come round and give us the BBC report every night. 

 

Well, looking back on it all, Jack, looking back on your war years, your service with the RAAF and No. 3 Squadron in particular, how did it all seem to you at the end? 

 

Not worthwhile.  There's nothing in war to have a war.  I can't understand why people want to fight.  That's my impression. 

 

              Had the flying been worthwhile? 

 

Well, the flying part, I mean to say, it'd bring back recollections:  you meet different pilots and something to recollect about.  You have a common knowledge, common aim.  But as far as the war's concerned, forget it.  I can't understand why they have wars. 

 

Yes, I can understand that.  Just one last thing that I like to ask anybody, Jack:  is there anything that you feel you would like to add to this record that hasn't already been touched on? 

 

No, at the moment I can't.  I haven't any recollection ... 

 

(25.00) We had stopped taping but we were just talking.  Jack, you were saying about your being a ward of the State that I think you were born in 1916.  Tell us about that. 

 

Well, I've made inquiries since the war, or since my birth, and - recently - and apparently my father was in the Japanese Navy in the first world war in Sydney.  I think the Japanese Navy was in Sydney, and I never knew this until 1970s that I was half Japanese.  And strangely enough I hate the Japanese because I've read what they did to the Australians during the war.  But it is a strange thing.  I mean to say, I have a son here, Sam, and he says, 'I'm only quarter Japanese', and he said, 'I'd sooner be half Japanese'. 

 

Yes.  Well I guess the most important thing is the person underneath it perhaps.  But I think you were saying another interesting thing, certainly significant about your period as a prisoner of war, you have got quite clear ....  Well, certainly part Asian or part Japanese features that that in itself would have made escaping extremely difficult? 

 

Well, I've often thought of escaping but I've thought also that had I been in the hands of the Japanese I probably could have got away, but in Germany there's no way at all I could pass myself off as anything but what I am. 

 

Right.  Well, that's most interesting.  Jack, on behalf of the War Memorial, thank you very much for making these tapes. 

 

Thank you for coming.  Thanks for coming. 

 

END OF TAPE TWO - SIDE A 

 


 

JACK DONALD

[3SQN Assn repaired version of original transcript on  https://www.awm.gov.au.]

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