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Jackie Donald (right) swimming on the North African Coast with other 3SQN pilots.
Transcript of Australian War Memorial
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
I was born in Sydney in February 1916.
And did you grow up in Sydney or somewhere else?
Jack at home. Eastwood (Sydney) NSW.
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
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
Well, I can't quite understand that question. Could you say
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
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
Right. It was really that clear-cut, was it?
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?
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
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
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.
Jack in Canada.
(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
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.
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?
Jack in Canada with a T6 Texan.
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
I'll never ever understand it. I'll never understand why.
Yes. Because I'd assume mostly in an aircraft you're using
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
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?
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Jack on a Kittyhawk in the desert, holding puppy "Trapper".
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?
Jack posing with an Oxygen mask.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Jack in a Lysander.
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
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
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
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?
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
(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
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
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
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.
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
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
[3SQN Assn repaired version of original transcript on https://www.awm.gov.au.]
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