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Malta. July 1943. Informal portrait of 404604 Flying Officer Jack C. Doyle DSO DFC,
No. 3 (Kittyhawk) Squadron RAAF of Longreach, Qld, who took part in the Tunisian campaign,
in the cockpit of his aircraft just before takeoff for an operation over Sicily.
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 DOYLE
SUBJECT OF INTERVIEW: 3 SQUADRON, RAAF
DATE OF INTERVIEW: 4 MAY 1990
INTERVIEWER: EDWARD STOKES
TRANSCRIBER: DIANA NELSON
Identification: This is Edward Stokes recording with Jack
Doyle, No. 3 Squadron, tape 1, side 1.
Jack, we've got a good summary here of the story, let's go back to the
beginning; I think you were born in Queensland?
Yes, I was born on Kamilaroi Station[?] which is halfway
between Cloncurry and the Gulf area - 120 miles from the nearest doctor - and I
was born on 21st May 1918.
Right, that's good. And I understand schooling was in a
number of places, and there was even a journey from New South Wales to avoid a
polio epidemic, but I think you finished your schooling at Toowoomba Grammar?
Yes, we left New South Wales at one stage, not necessarily
wholly because of a polio epidemic but that did have a bearing on why we left.
Went back to Queensland and I did my education at Toowoomba Grammar School and
then did a one year's course after that at Queensland Agricultural High School
and College at Gatton.
I think you were saying during your school period you had a
real interest - much more than just a passing interest - in model aeroplanes?
Yes, I'd always been interested in aircraft. I was in a model
aircraft club in Toowoomba. We made and flew rubber-powered aircraft which was
really the only means of propulsion for model aircraft in those days.
Right. Were you conscious of the general developments in
aviation during the late 1920s, 1930s?
No, not really because I was away from main areas of
civilisation I suppose you could say and when I left school I went out
jackarooing at Cunnamulla. And after that I was overseer on Darr River Downs at
Longreach which was 92 000 acres and 22 000 sheep and from Longreach I joined
the air force.
Right. Well, let's just move on to one other thing. During
your childhood and your teenage years perhaps, were you at all conscious of the
general tradition of Australians in the first war; the story of the ANZACs and
so on. Was that a major part of your childhood, or not?
No, it wouldn't be a major part of my childhood because as I
say I'd been out in the country and you're limited with the information that you
get, and up in the Gulf country we only got mail every six weeks. And although
we did get daily papers you realise that you didn't read them with any great
detail. And your radio reception in those early days outback in Cunnamulla and
Longreach was mainly shortwave from England - BBC.
Sure. I think you were saying before though that you had some
inkling of the approach of the war.
Oh yes, we were well aware of that. I was speaking more of a
general thing between wars, but oh no, we were quite aware of the imminence of
war, very strongly.
Did you personally greet that as a good thing, that it might
involve some journeying overseas? Or was it regretted?
Oh, I think any war is regretted, and I think everyone
realises this but in my day and age we felt, as I still do now, that that war
had to be fought whether you liked it or not because the consequences could have
been quite drastic for everyone in Australia and everyone in the Commonwealth as
it was in those days.
Yes, certainly. Well, moving on a little bit. Of course war
was declared, you enlisted, and I think it was October 1940 when you finally
were called up and you went to Brisbane, and then later to Lindfield where you
did your first service training. What's your very first recollection of being
in the air force, of the general discipline, I suppose, of the services after
being off in the bush?
That didn't strike me as very unusual because I suppose
perhaps I was a moderately disciplined person; I was overseer on Darr River
Downs before I was old enough to vote, and so I have always been reasonably
self-disciplined, but it was also .... It was quite interesting because I'd
never been much in large towns for any length of time and then - well, I had
been to Sydney before I joined the air force - but that was quite interesting.
But we were worked very hard. We were kept very busy from daylight till dark in
physical activities and studies of various types of things needed in the air
(5.00) Well, let's move on to your first flying training, as
such, EFTS Archerfield, Brisbane. Were you flying Tiger Moths?
Yes, we flew Tiger Moths and Gypsy Moths and we had a great
lot of instructors there; they were all old-time pilots. And I can remember
flying over the cemetery at Petrie, I think it was - a suburb in Brisbane - and
my instructor sort of turned back to me and pointed downwards and I sort of
looked downwards and there was quite a long pause and he said, 'That area down
there is filled by pilots who fly low and slow' - that's the sort of thing that
lives in your memory.
That's rather a good comment. I understand facilities at
Archerfield were very good but when you went on to Amberley - this was flying
Wirraways - advanced training, life was somewhat simpler?
Yes, Archerfield was very good because it was a peace-time air
force base and we were billeted in rooms; one to a room with proper beds and
cupboards. Whereas Amberley, the so-called billets there were just open, large
buildings with a palliasse of straw on the floors for a bed.
The training in Wirraways at Amberley, what do you recall of
Well, it was all interesting as being a pilot is, of course,
particularly when I had never even been in an aircraft before I joined the air
force. But we just did the normal flying, cross-country flying up to Toowoomba
and around that area and three-three, triangular, cross-countries, and bombing
exercises and all that type of thing.
How much of your work was practical flying aircraft and how
much was theoretical?
Can't give the exact proportion but it was considerably more
in flying, because by that time you'd done your initial training in which there
was no flying - down at Lindfield, Bradfield - and the elementary flying in
Tiger Moths, there's a lot of paperwork done then.
So as the training advanced it became less book-based and more
Yes, less paper and more wings.
If you had to assess your overall training - I'm not looking at particular
moments or individual instructors but in the broad spectrum of
your training - how would you rank it? Good? Average? Poor? Very good?
I would say excellent because the type of instructor we had,
they were invariably older people who had an enormous wealth of experience and
were in fact qualified instructors, and I think that that stood us in great
stead afterwards, because I think I admired most of them, and in fact you quite
often knew of them just by their normal, civilian exploits.
Do you have any other significant recollections of the
No, I don't think anything else. We got through it without
losing anyone, although I think of the subsequent, the thirty-two people on my
training course, I think only seven of them came back from the war but I'm not
exactly .... Those figures are exact, but as far as we know.
Right. Your course didn't suffer major losses through
pranging aircraft and so on?
No, we had an odd mishap at landing. In fact one of our
personnel landed an aircraft very heavily and actually damaged it, went round
again and - it's a little bit technical - but it was held together in the air by
the fact that the flying wires held it together and whilst there was pressure
underneath the wings it remained intact. As he subsequently did a very smooth
second landing, as his speed dropped down the wings gradually drooped until they
were actually touching the ground and the aircraft split along the top. It was
actually split along the top flying but once you reversed the forces on it, it
That's fascinating. Well, moving on a little bit. I know
from Amberley you went to Evans Head which was, I think, a bombing and gunnery
school with Fairey Battles. What were you involved in doing there?
(10.00) Oh, we were training gunners, air gunners, and pilots
at, bomb aimers, and you'd take them up on twenty, thirty minute flights and
they would drop eight pound smoke bombs, [inaudible]. They'd find the wind
first - you'd find the wind for them - by doing certain manoeuvres in different
directions and they would plot a wind and then plot their bombsights and drop
bombs. And if they were air gunners they would fire at a drogue flying parallel
to them and flown by another pilot in a Fairey Battle.
I see, and your role as a pilot was largely to simply to keep
planes in the air while these men went through their own learning routines.
Yes, they'd have their training in static activities in the
classroom and then they'd go up and we would act as the pilots for them on, say,
a bombing mission in which they bombed a target or a gunnery mission in which
they fired at a drogue towed by another aircraft.
I think you were saying before that you and one other man were
the only people qualified to take Fairey Battles up to test them after major
overhauls or new planes.
Yes, Warrant Officer Murray - I think he was, and myself - I
was a flight sergeant at that stage - we just had so much experience on Fairey
Battles that we were the only two pilots permitted to test-fly an aircraft when
it had to be test-flown after some major overhaul. I got a lot of hours up
because I decided to try and fly myself out of the place; the more hours I could
get up the more recognition I might get to be posted elsewhere.
And I think in fact you were saying there was something like
630 hours in one year at Evans Head.
Yes, I got 630 hours in Fairey Battles in well under a year
and that helped me get out of the place and to something more to my liking; not
that it wasn't, not that is not necessary, you have to train all sorts of
people, but I'd felt I'd done my bit.
Sure. We'll come back to the submarine issue in a moment, but
you were also telling us before about this business of making the best use of
your time there and coming back from these routine instruction flights. Tell us
There were two other pilots there I was friends with and that
was Flight Sergeant Arthur Collier and Sergeant Paul Flack - or Warrant Officer
I think he was then - and we used to study tactics amongst ourselves, referring
to fighter aircraft. And we would make up little scenarios and try and work out
in theory what you should do to get out of that situation or shoot someone else
down. And at the end of our bombing details which we quite often flew together
- and sometimes deliberately organised it so we flew together - on our way back
to the station after completing the bombing exercise we would put these little
activities into actual practice and see whether our theories were right or
You made an interesting point about putting a plane into a
sudden, I'm not sure, climb or dive - the issue of dust. That's obviously quite
a pertinent point?
Well, yes, you can't really .... It's very difficult to
clinically clean a cockpit of an aircraft and one of our reasonings was if you
can make an enemy push his stick forward he'll get his eyes full of dust if he's
not wearing goggles and that can be rather confusing, and perhaps put you at
somewhat of a disadvantage. And we organised these little tests to see what
various manoeuvres that can make someone push the stick forward to get out of
trouble and get him into more trouble.
Do you think, incidentally, just on this point of tactics, do
you think in your training prior to this where you yourself were being
instructed - was enough emphasis put on tactics?
no, there wasn't much put at all, and this is correct because
you're not able to fly your aircraft very well at that time, and the main thing
is to teach you to fly an aircraft. I mean if you're teaching someone to drive
a motor-car you don't tell them how to do a four-wheel drift around a corner.
Right, so in other words you're saying that tactics really
were a more advanced thing that had to be learnt when you had much greater hours
in the air?
Yes, they had to be learnt if you were being sent to a
squadron; and people were being taught that obviously, but remember that I was
just in a training thing and this was a bonus to me and it served me in great
stead later on, I think.
Let's just go back to this business about submarines. While
you were at Evans Head you were also attached at one point to 52 Squadron, I
think you were engaged in anti-submarine patrols?
(15.00) Yes, when the submarine scare came with the Japanese
submarines - you must remember they did get one into Sydney Harbour - we at that
stage formed a squadron at Evans Head Bombing and Air Gunnery School, and I
think it was called 52 Squadron and we .... Some of the pick pilots of which I
was one of them - we formed this squadron. It was formed and we moved inland
roughly ten miles in the old language and put down in a paddock and set up as a
complete, separate squadron which made sense because the Japanese could have
shelled Evans Head aerodrome and it was a great destruction, and we actually
operated outside the three-mile limit in searching for suspected submarines and
we actually carried bombs.
Did you ever sight any?
No, there were no sightings.
I think you were hinting before that there was some either
slightly controversial or perhaps unknown aspect of this period with the
Some of the squadron members, and remember it did consist of
pilots and ground staff and cooks - we were a complete unit moved out of Evans
Head - as really an operational squadron with armed aircraft - some of those
people .... We did make an endeavour to see if we qualified for the Pacific
Star as a ribbon.
And what was the feedback on that?
Oh, we never got it. I didn't take a personal, I didn't do it personally,
but there were endeavours made to achieve that effect but it never came about.
Right. Well, let's move on a little bit. After the period at
Evans Head you were posted to No. 3 Squadron. Had you applied to go to the
squadron or were postings just willy-nilly events from on high that you had no
power to influence?
No, you had to - as I understood it - volunteer to go to
3 Squadron at that stage, and perhaps at all times. I suppose because 3
Squadron was an original RAAF squadron whereas the other squadrons were Empire
Air Training - or a lot of other squadrons were Empire Air Training Scheme - and
you'd be posted to them whether you liked it or not. I suppose you could be
posted to 3 Squadron whether you liked it or not too, but there were calls for
volunteers and I volunteered.
Right. From Evans Head I think you went directly to Melbourne
to embark for the Middle East?
I went down there to Mildura first and did an advanced course
in advanced flying training and then went to an embarkation depot down in
Could I just pause though, just one final thing on training?
You were saying in the Evans Head period, I think you had 630 hours, say 600
anyway, that's a very large number of hours compared to what men often went to
fly in combat squadrons with. And then there's this little episode here at
Mildura where you were doing advanced flying training. Did that kind of
training really add to what you had already gained in your own flying or not?
Oh yes, it did because we were then getting instructors that
had been over to 3 Squadron and had come back and they were passing on their
knowledge to us. And I think when I left Australia I had a total of 830 hours
flying in all aircraft which is quite a considerable number of hours.
The knowledge they were passing on, was that general knowledge
of flying techniques or more what you could expect in combat situations in the
No, what you could expect because they had come back from
Right. Well, let's move on then down to Melbourne. How did
you feel on your departure from Australia?
Oh, no particular feelings other than we were quite eager to
get overseas and we were fortunate to get on a very small vessel, it was 8000
tons, and I think there were only eight of us on board. It was a cargo vessel
and it had 8000 tons of beer and whisky on board to take over to the army in the
Middle East. And when we left Melbourne we were unescorted, we headed slightly
west of south and got into enormous seas in the Antarctic purely for
diversionary tactics to keep away from submarines, if any.
And I think you were saying the ship itself was rather run
down and even to the point of engines breaking down, and its armament was
perfunctory to say the least.
Yes, it was a Norwegian skipper and he was a great fighter - I
think he would have tackled any submarine that came near him. It was the
Tiradontes[?] and it had a gun down the back that I think came from the
Boxer rebellion in China, somewhere up there. We had a .5-inch - half-inch -
machine-gun that we could not get to fire more than two or three seconds and we
actually had, believe it or not, a box kite to be flown for anti-aircraft
Just one other thing I meant to ask about before going on the
voyage, Jack. Japan of course by this stage is in the war, was there any
feeling on your part, or perhaps the men who were travelling with you that now
was not the time for Australians to be leaving Australia, that you might have
been fighting in the Pacific against the Japanese?
No, I don't think so. You tend not to be very clued up or
skilled in tactics of war and there's still a war going on over in the Middle
East and you were still needed there and you'd volunteered for 3 anyway. And
you felt that, well, you can't run a war, you leave it to higher up people that
you wouldn't be sent if you were needed elsewhere.
(20.00) Right. Besides those aspects about the ship's
armaments and so on, what other recollections do you have of the voyage? Was it
a pleasant or unpleasant experience?
No, it was quite pleasant. The weather was good and we broke
down and sometimes did two knots and I think our top speed was eight knots, and
I think I'm right in saying that any Japanese or German submarine that came near
us could have overhauled us even if it remained submerged and most certainly
could have overhauled us if it came to the surface.
Did you have much social life on the ship or were there too
few people for that?
No, there were only eight of us. As I say it was a cargo
vessel and it was a type of vessel that had cabins for eight people, a type of
vessel that does take passengers in peace-time in very minimal numbers.
And what about training? Were there any senior officers on
board who organised any ongoing training or was that all put to one side?
No, there was no official training. We played deck tennis and
various other things like that. The food, I must admit, was absolutely
magnificent. It was sort of peace-time food and we ate at the captain's table
because there was only one table.
Yes, the Norwegian ships, I think, are well known for their
looking after themselves well. The ship called in India, I know you didn't go
ashore, in fact I think you were only there barely a day, but there was a rather
striking incident that perhaps is worth recording about the barrage balloon?
Yes, we pulled in at India for refuelling, late in the evening
I think, and we subsequently left at something like two or three o'clock in the
morning. And as we departed the harbour there were barrage balloons there and
the mast of our vessel unbeknown to us, fouled one of the cables supporting the
balloon and it got hooked onto the mast, and as we steamed out of course the
balloon got gradually drawn down and down onto the top of the mast until it hit
the top of the mast and exploded. And there was a great bang and a lot of
yellow flaming balloon material floating down past the portholes of the ship
which gave us a bit of a shock.
Yes, it certainly must have. The voyage across the ocean -
Arabian Sea I think - to the Red Sea and up to Suez, how do you recall that?
Oh, that was quite uneventful. That was completely
uneventful, and just subsequently arrived in Egypt.
Let's talk about that for a moment, actually arriving in
Egypt. Of course you had been to India but not ashore, the Middle East
obviously was then, is now, very different to Australia. What was your first
impression of the place, the people?
It is just so different and I think Cairo in those days had
something like the population that Australia had in those days and very, very
dry and just completely and utterly different.
Were you, and the people you were with, did you tend to be
fascinated by the differences or repelled by them?
Oh, you were repelled by the poverty of course and that sort
of thing, it's rampant over there. And the city is not as clean. And all those
things you notice but they're sort of, they're quite fascinating because most
people of my vintage hadn't been out of Australia because in those days travel
was so relatively expensive.
Sure. Just to follow up on this particular theme while we're
on it. During all your time in the Middle East and for that matter Italy, did
you really get much time to - either individual days here and there or blocks of
leave - to get around and see the sights? Or was there really little time for
No, you do get time when you're in between postings and you
can go and see the Pyramids and that sort of thing, but there's not really much
you can do. You have a language problem, although it must be admitted over
there you can find children five and six years old that have quite good command
of four or five languages.
What were the places that stand out in your mind? Places that
I suppose only the Pyramids which is probably the only place I
visited, and Cairo as a large city.
Right. Well, after disembarking I think you were saying that
despite many pilots with only a few hundred hours who went directly to
squadrons, you with far more hours, 800 or so, were sent to a training camp.
How did you respond to that when you got the order?
I didn't think very kindly of it really because, as I say, I
had 830 hours and other pilots that came over with me with 200 and 300 hours
total were sent straight up to the squadron. Subsequently I think they were
sent back to training camp. But also I went down to this training camp which
was two days journey south of Cairo and I was the only NCO, being a flight
sergeant, and of course I travelled X Class whereas my officer friends that I
came over with travelled First Class in the train, and there's quite a big
difference, particularly in train travel, although we all went up the Nile for
one day in a paddlewheel steamer.
(25.00) That's an interesting point. Let's just develop that
for a moment because it's one of the general things I wanted to talk about. Did
those sorts of differences in privileges accorded in your case to a sergeant
pilot or in other cases to much greater privileges going to commissioned pilots,
did those differences rankle or not?
Oh, they did a bit, I suppose, because as I say, I'd come overseas with eight
mates and I think only two of us were sergeant pilots - two or
three of us - and you're all together in the ship and you're just all together.
It's interesting to note that we in 3 Squadron, in the overseas, we had a
pilots' mess which was very unusual. The English, sort of, didn't have that
type of thing at all. In a pilots' mess in a squadron all pilots and all
officers are in that mess and it doesn't matter whether the pilot is a sergeant
or not which makes sense because you're flying together whether you're a
sergeant or you're an officer.
Yes, I've heard that from other people, and that apparently
was, it seems hard to believe now, quite a revolutionary administrative advance?
Yes, both 3 and 450 Squadrons had pilots' mess and it just
works so well. It's just common sense.
Did RAAF squadrons pick up on that during the war or not?
No, I don't think so, I don't think so at all.
Just talking about another related issue. You obviously came into contact
with British squadrons during your period in the Middle East, do you think there
was a difference in kind between the relationship that Australian flying men had
with their officers and the relationship that British flying men had with their
I've never been on an English squadron but I think there
probably was, because as I understand it in England in those days you had really
two classes of people. There was sort of the upper class and the lower class,
and the lower class seemed to want to be lower class. But in Australia you were
more level and you gave credit for other people for the knowledge they had and
not what rank they were.
Right. One other thing, just again on this sort of issue of
characteristics. Looking back on the men you knew as wartime officers and men
you knew as permanent officers - I mean who were officers for the duration and
men for whom the air force was a career - was there any general difference in
their approach to their work and the flying? Their general attitudes or not?
Oh, no, I don't think you could say that. Getting back to
this previous thing - in 3 Squadron we had two sergeant pilots, Keith Kildey and
Danny Boardman, before my time, but they actually led the squadron as sergeant
pilots, and I think led even wing shows which is more than one squadron. That
would be unheard of in an English squadron.
Yes, that's interesting, in fact I have heard of those two
men. Well, let's go down to the training camp. I understand it was a fairly
varied and arduous journey.
Yes, we had one night on the Nile in the paddle-steamer, a day
and a night on the Nile and then I had about a day in the train across the
Nubian Desert which was quite extraordinary; the sand is just white and almost
blinds you looking out. All the carriages had windows in them that were deep
purple - almost the darkness that you would find in an old-fashioned green beer
bottle - it just let very little light in and there was an awful lot to be let
Having got down to this base that I think was an RAF
peace-time base, Jack, I think you were involved in Harvard trainers.
Yes, we flew Harvards and did more advanced type of gunnery
and tactics of putting yourself in other aircraft and it was purely, almost
ninety per cent flying and very little paperwork.
What were conditions like?
Conditions were quite good for flying. It was very .... You were out in the
stony desert and there were Bok Bok and various other type of animals, and
apparently a few lions roamed in that territory when they felt
END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A
BEGIN TAPE 2, SIDE B
Identification: This is Ed Stokes, Jack Doyle,
No. 3 Squadron, tape 1, side 2.
What were living conditions like?
Well, living conditions were outwardly very good. It was a
peace-time station and you had beds and you had sheets but you also had
cockroaches and bed bugs.
Yes, which no doubt could be very irksome. And food: did
places like that get decent supplies of food, or not?
Yes, food was all right. You must remember at the age we were
that food wasn't a major priority as long as you got enough to fill you, you
were in the main happy.
Right. Now, I think a couple of interesting things here is
that you were saying at this particular place you generally carried a gun, a
.303 I think, for protection in case you were forced down.
Yes, there was a hatch in the aircraft and we were shown a
.303 with ammunition in it in the back of the aircraft. And the reason that was
put there, we were told, that if you were forced down in the desert and they
couldn't get to you by road or other transport quickly enough, that it wasn't
for protection against lions, it was for protection against the local natives
who, if they got hold of you, tended to hand you over to their women and their
women were in the habit of castrating you and sewing your testicles up in your
We didn't find anyone that this happened to so whether it was a furphy or not
I don't know, but certainly the firearm was in the back hatch of
the aircraft and we were informed of that.
Carried the .303s. Right, that's most interesting. I think
you were saying by contrast, when you were up flying with the squadron, which
we'll come to soon, you carried a chit called, I think, a 'gooley' chit.
Yes, that was the common name but I've never heard it called
anything else and I have mine at home, quite nicely preserved. It was a piece
of very strong reinforced paper written in Arabic and English and asking any
person, meaning mainly desert Arabs, that if they found you, or captured you,
that they were asked to take you back to your headquarters in which case they
would be suitably rewarded; but that was the name it went under anyway.
Right. So it was a kind of a passport. Gooley, do you have
any spelling on that? How would you spell it?
No, I don't have any spelling but gooley is another word for stones.
Right. Okay, that's fine. Before we go on to No. 3 Squadron
which you joined after this period of training, I just wondered if we could talk
generally about some aspects of flying in the desert, but thinking of your
broader experience right through the war, Jack. Was the very open landscape of
a desert which is generally fairly featureless, was that really a boon, an aid,
to flying or was it a disadvantage?
(5.00) No, it's a disadvantage for navigation because it all
looks much the same and if you're not near a coastline - a coastline is a very
good thing to navigate by because it's very precise - but out in the desert it
can be difficult and you can also get a lot of dust and if you're up high it can
obscure the ground. In my early stages, of course, I didn't have any need to
navigate but later I did, of course. But being a country person originally I
was a little bit familiar in navigating without man-made objects.
Yes, that would certainly be an advantage. What were the
other difficulties do you think of desert flying?
It can be very hot, which can make flying in an aircraft
uncomfortable because you're sitting about three feet behind an engine that's
turning out 1000 horsepower, and whenever that's - power is always associated
with heat - and obviously there were considerable problems for the ground crew -
parachute folding was done on a fabric laid out on the ground - but the
Australian ground crew were quite remarkable with the way they kept their
serviceability up in aircraft. And in fact three in, I think, 450 were almost
the highest number, percentage of aircraft that were always available to fly
right in the desert and right through in Italy because I had access to some of
those figures in my daily job at one stage.
That's interesting. I'd imagine dust must have been quite
painful for ground crews.
Yes, it was. Getting back to Evans Head I think there an
engine lasted ninety minutes in the flying on Evans Head Air Base in Australia
when they didn't have a proper runway and sand used to get sucked into the
And what would the figure be in a non-sandy environment?
I think it would be, it wouldn't have any figure it would just
go on to normal usage of what you'd expect a thing to do. But in, back in
Australia the Fairey Battles had an air intake underneath the engine which was
okay for England with grass and mud and that sort of thing but no good with
sandy environments. In Italy, the Kittyhawks had an intake up on top of the
front cowling and they didn't suffer from that problem. But the Spitfires in
the desert did have greater problems; they had to go to a lot of expense and
that for special filters.
That's most interesting. And the airstrips that you by and
large remember through your period in the desert, how good were they or
Well, mainly otherwise; they were just open areas that were
free of bush and major stones, and obviously cleared of that. They weren't
necessarily of a runway shape. If the area was very good you could take-off
two, three, four, six abreast because the width was just there if the terrain
So generally speaking it wasn't land that had actually been
graded or bulldozed, it was just the existing terrain picked clean of stones and
Yes, major stones were moved and it was, that was it. You
created an enormous amount of dust as you took off so it's quite a good idea to
take-off four or five aircraft abreast, and you'd do that three times to get a
squadron in the air rather than one at a time and waiting for the dust to clear
for the next one.
I suppose if a plane had taken off ahead of you unless it was
a windy day blowing the dust clear, you really had problems.
Oh yes, it does. Dust takes a while to clear because it gets
spread out widely from an aircraft taking-off. It's not a thin stream behind
Sure. About a hundred times worse than being stuck behind a
semi-trailer on an outback road, I'd imagine.
Well, going on a little bit, Jack. It was from this training camp
that you went directly up to the squadron. By this stage, of
course, No. 3 Squadron already has quite a name in the Middle East in terms of
what they've achieved and some of their personalities. What was your first
impression on reaching the squadron?
Well, my entry to the squadron was a bit unusual. You have to
get yourself around in wartime when you go to places, and I discovered that
there was an aeroplane down at Tripoli that had brought some soccer players from
the wing that the squadron was in and they were going back to the squadron, so I
hitched a ride in that. It was a captured three-engined Italian aircraft and it
was overheating and all sorts of problems were with it. And we tried to
take-off a couple of times and didn't make it and we finally did get off and the
aircraft was overheating in the air but we were still able to fly. And the
method of putting the flaps down prior to landing was quite interesting; an
airman in the aircraft started an engine out of sight of windows and underneath
and behind the pilot's chair - call it a chair, it was like that - and whether
the pilot was scratching himself or gave a wrong signal or whatever, the airman
started putting down the flaps at the wrong time and we failed to make the
runway at the squadron and in fact landed amongst the tents of 450 Squadron
which I subsequently commanded.
It must have been a somewhat surprising arrival. Well, anyway
having sort of come in through the back door so to speak, what was your first
impression of the men of the squadron, the morale, the officers?
(10.00) Oh, the morale was good, I think it mainly is good in
a squadron. But it's all so new you sort of .... Okay, you do form impressions
but they're so sort of numerous and various not anything necessarily stands out.
Right. Let's just deal with some straightforward living
things first. Was this a tented camp?
Yes, you're all in tents. Some people might say we lived very
well. We had a 240 volt electric lights in our tent because we have - in a
squadron you have that type of thing to charge batteries and use all normal
equipment that is run off 240 volts back at home - and that gives a supply of
it. And a fighter squadron being relatively small there is surplus power left
over - it may be different in a bomber squadron with three times the personnel -
so there is enough electricity left over for people to string lights - airmen
and officers and everything - to string lights and have electric light in their
So the camps weren't blacked-out?
No, they're blacked-out at night; it depends on the air
superiority. If you .... If the enemy has good superiority and come over at
night, tents are blacked-out but quite often they're not - only necessarily
blacked-out if there is an air raid warning.
Right. And what was mess life like? Were newcomers such as
yourself made welcome quickly, or not?
Oh yes, there were various initiation ceremonies which we
needn't go into now that are all good fun of course if you're not the recipient.
Are you willing to enlighten us on that?
Oh, it's a bit involved to describe some of these and it could lose a lot in
Okay, well, we were just having an aside there on the sort of
light-hearted activities involved. During this time 3 Squadron, Jack, had
advanced fairly rapidly through the desert and was now at Tripoli - this is late
1942. What was the squadron's main role at that time?
We were army support really, the sort of fighter-bomber
activity. We're not a fighter squadron at that stage, just by force of
circumstances because there wasn't really very much to fight. There had been a
lot of enemy air activity in the early days of 3 Squadron of which I wasn't part
of, but when I arrived at that stage the enemy aircraft could only get
superiority if they put nearly everything into the air at once and then they
could achieve that. But otherwise we mainly supported the army in bombing -
bombing enemy army targets and strafing.
Right. I was going to ask you to clarify a little what is
meant by close support of the army. This isn't so much reconnaissance work as
attacking targets to aid their own activities.
Yes, I think close is really literal. You bomb very close to
your own front troops but bombing sort of just behind what is known as the bomb
line - that's an imaginary line drawn near the space between enemy and your own
troops, but it's obviously drawn three or four hundred yards further into the
enemy area so that you don't bomb your own troops, and troops move anyway.
You were saying before that navigation's very difficult in the
desert. How easy or otherwise was it to pin down such a precise line which had
to be done correctly if you weren't to kill your own men?
Oh, there were various ways. You have roads, of course, in
the desert, there are roads and various other landmarks that are hospitals, and
you do get waddies and little water courses and clumps of trees and things like
that. And remember it's moderately static and you are flying over an area,
you're flying over today, you flew over it yesterday, you get to know it and the
whole front line doesn't move that vigorously that you, that things you flew
over yesterday are still in sight when you're flying over today.
Right. Well, let's actually go off on a couple of
operations. I know you were hit a couple of times in your first few flights
which must have been rather stunning to say the least. Do you recall your first
Yes, we were flying in very close support of the army and
there was a big push on, and we were stuck in strafing ground troops and we were
down so close and so hard for quite a time that I remember that Arthur Dawkins
in South Australia strafed a tent - enemy tent - and he came home and still has
until this day, razor blades that came out of tent and blew into the air and got
lodged in the radiator intake of his aircraft.
Could I just pause for a moment to try to get the actual flow
of an attack? You've located a target, coming into strafe I assume you're
coming down losing a lot of altitude, what's going through your mind?
Well, it's almost bedlam when you get into those things.
There are aircraft going everywhere and hopefully there are no enemy ones
because you can't look, you have to look behind you and you do that continuously
by sweeping round behind you either side but you've also got to concentrate on
ahead because you're going down very low to the enemy. You have to pull out
before you hit the ground, obviously, and you're aiming at things and there are
other aircraft doing the same thing. And it's, very active.
(15.00) How much are you consciously thinking about the
attacking part of your work, and how much are you consciously thinking about
flying? Or is flying at this stage almost instinctive?
No, I was lucky when I entered actually, operations I had over
800 hours and I could fly my aeroplane. I didn't have to look where things were
because I knew where they were and it was to that extent instinctive. I didn't
have high skills in actual combat, but the very fact that I could fly my
aircraft without worrying about the way I did it is an enormous advantage.
When you say you knew where things were, do you mean the
controls in the cockpit?
Yes, it's .... Obviously one has your hand on the stick all
the time but you're aware where the oil pressure gauge is and you watch that
like a hawk because if you lose oil pressure you catch alight in two minutes
without any prior warning, so those .... Even to this day all the cars that I
have have an oil pressure gauge in that I install.
Could I just ask another question ...
Not that I am frightened of catching fire in a car but it
allows me to monitor my engine.
Sure. As you're coming down on a diving attack and obviously
at a certain point you have to pull up if don't want to plough into the ground.
Are you consciously saying to yourself, 'Now, this is where I must pull up', or
are all those things just happening as a matter of course almost without
thinking about them?
No, they happen without thinking because you can go round a
corner in a motor-car without having a look at your speed indicator, in fact
your Formula One cars I don't think have a speed indicator - speedometer - they
just have a rev counter.
So it's very much a feeling thing.
Yes, it's a feeling and it becomes more or less instinctive.
The first time you had ack-ack fire coming up towards you,
what did you think?
Well, you don't .... Ack-ack fire as I understand it being
mainly eighty-eight millimetre and forty millimetre and twenty millimetre which
is called anti-aircraft fire is not very damaging to us. I don't think we ever
got anyone shot down with the eighty-eight millimetres. The dangerous things
are rifle bullets, revolver bullets and light machine-guns because when you're
in that situation everyone on the other side is shooting at you and there are
things coming from all directions.
So given that, is there any skill in evading incoming bullets
or is it really just luck?
No, there's an enormous amount of luck. I was hit three,
twice in my first three operations. The average number of times in a squadron
you got hit was three. I've been hit fourteen times, but I did have a technique
that I felt stopped me being hit and it's a little bit technical, but in a
normal bomb dive, not necessarily strafing, in a bomb dive I just flew
deliberately with my aircraft flying out of line - trimmed so it flew skidding
slightly sideways. And remember in those days before the sophisticated things
they have today, when you're firing at an aircraft you take an imaginary line
between its tail-wheel and the front of its nose and fire in front of that
line. If a person is skidding their aircraft sideways you will fire to one side
of it. And whenever I got hit subsequently it was almost always in the left
wing which justified ...
That skidding idea - I understand it quite clearly - that
would seem such an obvious thing to do, why wasn't that a general practice?
I don't know. I don't think it is an obvious thing to do. I
was lucky to have my own aircraft and know its characteristics and it started a
bomb dive I would trim it inaccurately and it would then be without any
alteration on the way down was trimmed to fly - being flown - accurately at the
bottom when you're lining everything up and releasing a bomb.
Let me ask another question about coming in on, for example, a
bombing run, and incidentally this is not meant in any personal or judgemental
sense. How difficult as you came in was it to keep yourself going in right
close to the target when one would assume at some point you could quite easily
pull off a little bit, face a little bit less hostile fire, drop your bomb close
to where you're supposed to drop it, but not perhaps as close as you could
really get it if you took a somewhat greater risk?
No, I don't think you are taking any greater risk because
you're going down to the ground, and it doesn't matter whether it's a hundred
yards here and a hundred yards over there, everyone that can see you is firing
at you. So, if you move away from one area you're only getting closer to
someone else and then they're scattered all over the place and everyone shoots
at you. And I haven't ever flown - I've flown 220 sorties and I've been shot at
every time I've flown. You just have to be with .... And as I say it's the
small arms because there are just so many of them. And if enough people shoot
at you long enough someone will hit you.
(20.00) Did you ever get shot down?
No, I've never been shot down. I've never even damaged an aircraft other
than other people doing it to me.
Right. Tell us about the oil on the windscreen. I think this
was on one of your first few flights, and it sounds a fairly horrific flight
back to base.
Yes, this was on my first flight and we were stuck into
strafing the enemy and I got hit in the oil line by a bullet and this put an
enormous amount of engine oil onto my windscreen to the extent that I couldn't
see through the windscreen to tell between land and air - I had to look out the
side of the aircraft through the canopy. And what I had to do then was pull my
goggles down over my eyes, open the canopy, navigate home - back to the
aerodrome - by looking at the ground out through the side. And then of course
my goggles would oil up with oil being thrown round the windscreen into the
cockpit. Then wind the cockpit shut - the canopy - move my goggles up - I could
see slightly through the canopy even though it did have oil on the sides - clean
my goggles while I'm flying and trying to navigate, pull my goggles down and
repeat that process all the way back to the aerodrome. Any enemy aircraft in
the area, of course, would have had a sitting shot but there obviously weren't
And how did you line up on the airstrip?
I side-slipped slightly because - some people might doubt this - you can
side-slip a Kittyhawk and there was really no other alternative. But I still
.... I just cleaned my goggles first at the right point, pulled
them down, opened the canopy and came in a slightly side-slipping turn.
Right. That's fascinating. I'd imagine with oil spraying
around the place fire was a real possibility. Was that a real possibility with
oil coming out?
It would be, but until you raised it now I don't think I ever
even thought of it - I was fairly busy.
What was the greatest fear pilots had?
I don't know, that's a very hard question to answer. See the point is if
flying, the end if it comes is obviously quick. If you're hit
physically - not your aircraft - if you're hit physically say in a bomb dive and
you are unconscious for two or three seconds you're fifteen feet into the
ground. It's not arguing against army or navy or anything. An army person who
are very brave people, they can be injured and lie in a battlefield for
twenty-four hours and still live. It's an entirely different thing, so I
suppose you have different attitudes of fear.
Yes. Was fire a major aspect of fear, in that that could be
perhaps the most lingering kind of death you'd have in an aircraft?
Yes, I don't think it would be lingering. I always wore
gloves and I actually had shirts made to measure for this very purpose in Cairo,
with long sleeves, and I never flew operationally in shorts.
What were they made from?
Fire protection. If your engines catch fire you can go
through it but you're going through flames at three, four, or five hundred miles
an hour going round you, and you only need a tenth of a second going through
flame with that speed of it beating on you as you hit the open air out of the
cockpit to burn any exposed skin certainly. But just with the time lag of that
going through it doesn't need much to actually protect you.
Let's just stay on this issue of fear just for a moment and
cover it once and for all. As time wore on and you flew more and more sorties,
did the sort of nagging level of fear that most people admit existed in some
form or another, did that increase as you became more used to the routines, or
did it always remain? Or did it get worse?
No, I think you've got two conf - not conflicting things
there, but the more you go on, the more you realise that if you go on long
enough you are more liable to be shot down. Now with the South African one of
the squadrons ...
Could I just pause there? Do you mean in a real sense or in a
kind of statistical sense?
No, in a statistical sense, and a real sense I suppose,
because as I say I was hit fourteen times and I think two or three of those
times were with my own bombs because I went a bit low. There was a South
African in one of the other squadrons, he'd been hit twenty-one times and he
reckoned no-one could shoot him down. Unfortunately now he's at the bottom of
Trieste Harbour because he was shot down. So you realise that you ...
Are you saying there, there was an issue of over confidence?
Yeah, well, I don't think that brought it about. If you do
the same thing long enough something will happen, and if enough people shoot at
you long enough, they will shoot you down. But then again you get, you don't
get immune to it but you sort of feel .... You get more and more confidence as
you go on, but deep underneath if you've got any sense at all you know that you
really can't go on indefinitely - that someone will get you.
(25.00) That's very clearly put. Besides the episode we'll
come to later with the bomb in the building, talking of being in the air, what
was your most fearful experience?
I think you can say all or none, either .... There's always a
slight element of fear but, you know ...
Was there any time in the air when you really thought, this is
Only that time I speak of when, on my second operation, when I
got oil on the windscreen. And you're just completely and utterly helpless and
vulnerable to any enemy aircraft that's there - you're a sitting duck and you
So, that's just luck in that sense, if you're spotted or not.
Well, let's go on to talk about something less personal. The Kittyhawk: I
think most pilots came to like them although not all liked them initially. What
were the planes good and bad points as you see it?
Getting on to your first point I don't think everyone did come
to like them, because I know some people that would never do a three-point
landing with it, or attempt to and they'd do tail-down wheelers. But I think
they were an outstanding aircraft for the job you were doing. I went right
through the war on Kittyhawks although I was promised Mustangs in 450 Squadron.
They didn't give me Mustangs but they gave me one personally to play with to
sort of abate my wrath a bit, but actually the Kittyhawk was better than the
Mustang for doing the job that the Kittyhawks were doing. It is very robust.
It is very solid. It has a minimum amount of plumbing for radiator and oil and
that sort of thing - the Mustang has a radiator way back and there's a lot of
plumbing and you can get bullets through the pipes which causes you problems.
But the Kitty was very strong and robust and it had very good armament. It
carried 2000 pounds of bombs. There were twin-engined three-crew aircraft in
the Middle East that only carried 1500 pounds of bombs. We carried 1500 pounds
of bombs on the Kittyhawk as a perfectly normal bomb load.
So it had a very powerful, or it had very good lift and strong
Oh yes, it did. I mean - you can laugh at this - we were
climbing at 200 feet a minute with a bomb load - you're modern stuff goes up
vertically - but they didn't have much of a rate of climb but I carried the
first 1000 pound bomb on the Kittyhawk and in subsequent operations the more
experienced pilots which sometimes flew the newer aircraft, a better aircraft,
they carried 2000 pounds and the remaining six or so in the squadron would carry
1500 pounds; a normal load is 1 500 pounds but we carried 2000 for shipping.
Climbing was the plane's weakness, I think, wasn't it?
Yes. Look, there are three things, if you can have one of
those things and get into a fight with enemy aircraft you can stay alive - if
you can out-climb them, if you can out-run them, or if you can out-turn them you
can stay alive. If you can't out-run them you've got to stay and fight as long
as they want you to fight, as long as you don't run out of petrol first you're
relatively safe - I'm speaking in theory. You're not safe if there's ten of
them and one of you. But in the main the Kittyhawk could out-turn most enemy
aircraft so you could at least stay alive, but you might have to stay where they
wanted you to and not where you wanted to be.
I was going to ask you about some of the planes you flew
against, for instance the Messerschmitt 110s and 109s. Did they out-rank the
Kittyhawk or did the Kittyhawk out-rank them? Or can you only talk about
No, as I say .... Let it be put clearly here that I had very
little contact with enemy aircraft because when I went over there we had
virtually complete superiority. The ones that went over earlier before me they
were the ones that had it a bit harder. I went over when all things were
softened up. And it wasn't softened up on the ground, I copped perhaps more
ground fire than the early boys did, but they copped more aircraft fire, and it
gets a bit tough with ground fire because the more you push an enemy back and
back and back towards his home base, the more concentrated his ground fire gets
if he hasn't lost it.
That's an interesting point. Let's just go back briefly then
to the Kittyhawk. Just tell us about flying off in it. You're scrambled - I
don't know where you were when you were scrambled, if you were in the plane or
not, but tell us about the sequence of things that no doubt happened very
quickly to get yourself up in the air.
Well, as I say, we didn't fight many aircraft in my day so
there was really not much, if any, scrambling in the true sense of the word. It
was more orderly in that you would, the previous night you would know that you
were flying at six o'clock next morning or nine o'clock next morning and that
would be on a sort of routine bombing raid. But you'd only be scrambled if you
were in fighter protection or protecting an aerodrome from an enemy air raid, in
which case you could be sitting in readiness and perhaps at certain times even
sitting in your cockpit waiting, but this didn't happen to 3 Squadron in the
latter parts of the war when we actually had aerial superiority.
END TAPE 1, SIDE B
BEGIN TAPE 2, SIDE A
Identification: This is Ed Stokes with Jack Doyle, No. 3
Squadron, tape 2, side 1.
Just one other thing on Kittyhawks - an interesting sidelight - the
two-seater Kittyhawk, the Eaton hawk, tell us about that?
Oh yes, we made a twin-seater Kittyhawk. It was the
brainchild of Wing Commander, later Air Vice-Marshall Brian Eaton who commanded
the 239 Wing that 3 Squadron was in. We removed the fuselage - the ninety
gallon fuselage tank - from the Kittyhawk and that left it with a tank in each
wing, and the belly tank that we could put on, which we did put on and left
permanently; and that was very handy. It wasn't abusive or a bit of a fun thing
or abuse of anything, because if you damage an aircraft in an operations and it
gets left behind and is subsequently repaired it can be difficult to get that
aircraft back. If you drive a pilot back there it can take you three-quarters
of a day to get a hundred miles under certain conditions, so this thing you just
throw another pilot, in the back behind the front cockpit and fly him back and
he'd fly the aircraft back. But Wing Commander Westlake was flying this one day
and he took up Pete Dutoy[?] who was our South African intelligence officer, and
they did a flight in this aircraft. And I also flew my doctor - Dr Scanlon[?] -
over the front lines in, shall I be silly enough and say a relatively safe
operation - no operation's safe - but he was quite happy. He wanted to come and
I wouldn't have done it for anyone else because it might have been a morbid
interest. But I felt a doctor could gain advantage from seeing conditions under
which we operated, and I flew him on an operational sortie fairly close to the
bomb line. But getting back to Wing Commander Westlake, he flew this aircraft -
and before you come into land in any aircraft you do a complete cockpit drill to
ensure that your aircraft's in a right condition to go around again, enough
petrol to do so and temperature's all right and that type of thing - and in his
approach to the aerodrome Wing Commander Westlake inadvertently selected his
passenger as regards petrol. He turned the petrol thing onto the fuselage tank
which had been removed and his passenger was sitting there and of course he ran
out of petrol before he actually got to the aerodrome and wrote the aircraft
off. But fortunately it was only an Aspro for each of them and they cured their
headaches. There was no other physical damage done.
Very fortunate. Well, let's move on a little bit, Jack.
After the fairly intensive period of flying army support after you reached the
squadron when they were based at Tripoli I understand there was a rest period,
you weren't actually on leave but just a period of less intense flying. Just a
few things to pick up on which we might just cover briefly so there's more time
for the later part of the story. Sandpapering planes: amazing, twenty
kilometres an hour.
Yes, we sandpapered our planes to remove the roughness from
them because the paint was a camouflage paint and there was no attempt to make
it a smooth finish. So we sandpapered our aircraft as an experiment, and we
were getting twenty miles an hour more speed at the same boost setting and the
same aircraft at the same altitude and same time of the day - not a completely
controlled experiment but it was done on so many aircraft it was quite
That's a huge advantage. And so all the planes were
No, only people that wanted to do them. I'm guessing a bit
but probably half a dozen of us that did it and we all got much the same
I reckon I would have been in there doing that to get that
extra twenty kilometres an hour. Slightly more light-hearted thing: fishing
with gelignite and a close escape.
(5.00) Oh yes, we used to use gelignite to pick up fish off
the wharves in some of the harbours along the Mediterranean there. At one stage
we, three of us, Wing Commander Eaton as he was then, and Flight Lieutenant Ron
Susans and myself, we put some gelignite on the end of a thirty or forty foot
length of electrical fuse and someone got in a boat and rowed this out from the
wharf and got it thirty feet away from the wharf of course, and just dropped it
in the water. And I was on the wharf with these other two people and what we
didn't realise was that that stick of gelignite was gently swinging down like a
pendulum until it ended up - because the water was very deep - ended up
underneath the wharf and by the time we'd got the electrical side organised and
a couple of torch batteries pushed on the wires, the gelignite went off
virtually underneath the wharf and it didn't blow the wharf up but it gave us a
hell of a shock; we also got some fish out of it.
I'd say so. The King, a visit.
Oh yes, at one stage in the Middle East, I think this was in our - it was in
our rest period there, between going into Malta - the King came out to knight
someone. And there was an enormous parade of personnel, an enormous parade
out in the desert, no shelter or anything. And the authorities had borrowed a
beautifully ornate chair, a type of dining room head of the table type of chair
and it had tapestry on it. And the King sat in this chair and the person to be
knighted knelt in front of him and the King subsequently rose and tapped him on
the shoulder. So we decided that we would, 'clifty' is the word, we would take
this chair and in fact we did it. One of our squadron members, Flight
Lieutenant Forsstrom, he and a few others grabbed hold of the chair and we put
it in the back of the padré's utility and put a canvas cover over it and got it
back to the squadron. When we got it back to the squadron we didn't know what
quite to do with it, so we thought that we would make it that the only people
that could sit in it were those people that had 'gongs'. Subsequently we
realised that no-one in the squadron at that stage had a gong so no-one sat in
it, but unfortunately Desert Air Force Headquarters or some authorities that had
borrowed the chair found out we had it and it had to be returned. And actually
there were no questions asked because we did return it.
The situations like that were taken in good part, were they,
I think they were. Obviously it was a very expensive chair
and probably part of a dining room suite, and it had probably been borrowed from
a very influential Egyptian family so you can realise their side of it, and
anyway it all ended happily.
Sure. But people weren't pursued and reprimanded?
No, not in that case.
Right. Well, just a couple of other general things, too, I
wanted to - and this is going back to flying. Do you remember what formation
you generally flew in? And did the formations you flew in change with time or
Yes, we used to fly in - twelve aircraft fly at once, that was
almost universal in my time - you flew two sixes. Bottom six would be Red Six -
be Red One, Two - and you'd have different colours for the other of those. And
the top six would be blue. The leader of that would be Blue One, the leader of
the bottom one would be Red One. The top six would fly, oh, two or three
hundred, four or five hundred feet above Red - the bottom section - and the Blue
section would always be down-sun from the bottom section so that anyone coming
out of the sun - any enemy aircraft - would be seen by either one or the other;
you couldn't get in the sun to two different units that far apart. Towards the
end of the war Murray Nash devised a very nice formation which we flew in three
fours. This was very good because you could send four people down to bomb when
it mighn't have needed six. The other way you could only send six down to bomb
or twelve down to bomb. And this other way you could [send?] four down to bomb
or eight down to bomb and the other four could bomb somewhere else. It gave
more flexibility, and because you had a Red, White and Blue section you needed
one more leader, and the White section which was between the Red and the Blue
section was a little bit protected, and you could put a somewhat inexperienced
leader then and use it as a training tool, apart from being very effective.
That's most interesting. Of course when you reached the
squadron the Americans were in the war and increasingly increasing numbers in
Europe and obviously in the period in Italy and so on. Did the American, or
presence of the Americans, change the general strategy and tactics of the
Australian units or not?
Well, they did because you had to watch out for them. Also
What do you mean by that?
Well, I've personally seen Colonel Willamot - a South African CO of 239 Wing
- shot at over the top of his own aerodrome in Italy by Lightnings coming back
from an escort into Germany.
Are you suggesting that the Americans were ill-disciplined, or
(10.00) They are very excitable. They fight very well, very
well indeed, but they become very, very excitable and the only aircraft that 3
Squadron ever lost under close escort was shot down by Americans. And that was
shot down near the end of the war which delayed the end of the war I think,
because it was a Fiesler Storch, a German aircraft - captured German aircraft -
which the top authorities used in the Middle East because it was such a good
aircraft. It had very distinct markings on it and it was surrounded by Mustangs
in close escort of some of the Italian top brass going into Germany to
accelerate the end of the war and that was shot down by American Mustangs.
Do you know of any other similar episodes involving Americans?
Yes, we had another episode when we were on the coastline in
the Adriatic in Italy. There was an air sea rescue pilot based in the squadron
and the previous day I think he had pulled some Americans out of the water up
near Trieste that they'd forced landed into after a trip to Germany. And these
aircraft coming back from Germany strafed our aerodrome which was right on the
beach, which is easy to tell where the front line is because navigation is easy
to tell on a coastline. They killed this air sea rescue pilot who had
previously rescued them, rescued some of their mates, and they also set one of
our aircraft on fire of which one of ground staff - who subsequently I think got
an MID - he jumped into the aircraft, started the engine, dropped the bombs off
and taxied the aircraft away from the bombs while it was stil burning and jumped
out and left it. There was quite a hue and cry out of this and the next day
some of the top brass of the American Air Force flew up to our wing, landed,
went inside with discussions to our principals and while they were in there some
of the ground staff of 3 Squadron painted some roundels on the cockpit of this
American person indicating that he'd shot down a British aircraft.
A very strong comment. That's most interesting. Just more
generally, not only talking of Americans, but the British too, and perhaps other
people you met. Do you think there was a clear difference in the nationality of
pilots in that some air forces seemed to produce better pilots than others, or
was it purely a personal thing?
No, I think both those statements are right. Some air forces
do produce better pilots. I'm not knocking the Americans as such. They fight
extremely well, and very well, and almost to a suicidal extent at times, but I
think their temperament is more of a Latin temperament and I think there are
more Italians in Brooklyn than there are in Rome, or something - figures like
Which was the best air force then in the Middle East?
Oh, that's a, that's really a leading question; I'd like to
say Australia - RAAF - but the New Zealand Air Force is good and the RAF are
magnificent too; you can't sort of nominate who's best. They all have different
attitudes and they do do things very well, and the Americans did excellent work
in going over, I believe, with, say, in their heavy bombers, in their daylight
raids because they were very heavily defended their aircraft but they copped an
awful lot of flak going over, and I admire them for that. But their temperament
is a little bit against them under certain circumstances, and I think that's the
best way to put it.
Right. One other general thing: there was obviously great
technological change during the war in aircraft generally but let's say
specifically the ones that were flown by 3 Squadron, beginning with biplanes and
we're now into Kittyhawks. Did that technological change have much effect on
the tactics of the unit, or not?
Well, I'm not in a good position to answer that because I went
right through the war in Kittyhawks. I started in 3 and finished my tour in
that and then I took over 450 which was physically side-by-side with 3 Squadron
and had an interchange of pilots actually. And I finished the war on Kittyhawks
and, really, there is no better aircraft for the job that we were doing in it;
much better than Mustangs.
Did the other pilots talk about the early days?
What do you mean by that?
By flying in the pre-Kittyhawk, pre-Tomahawk planes.
No, because those pilots had gone home by that stage, you see,
and there is a limit to the number of flying you do. Most of those boys that
were early days in flying Tomahawks and Gladiators and this sort of thing,
Hurricanes, they came back and subsequently went up to New Guinea.
Right. Just one other general thing about the squadron. When
you arrived at Tripoli who was the squadron leader?
Squadron Leader Bobby Gibbes.
And who were the other squadron leaders that you served under in 3 Squadron?
Not very many to be truthful, Bobby Gibbes lasted a long
while. He's quite an extraordinary person and very few people have more
operational hours in Kittyhawks than I have but those others that do have more
hours have a heck of a lot more. I don't know how it's come about, and Bobby
Gibbes is one of those, and he's a very exceptional pilot, and I have great
admiration from him.
(15.00) He was highly regarded by the squadron generally?
Oh yes, he was a bit rough on some of the people at some times I suppose
but that's the way it goes, and it's none of my .... I wasn't actually there
when he was CO for that long but he went through a rough period and he did a
magnificent job. And as I say, I have a very high respect and regard for him.
And I think Reg Stevens was another CO you served under?
Yes, Reg Stevens was quite remarkable. He's also a beaut
bloke. He was a warrant officer pilot and I don't think I'm wrong on this, he
went from - virtually overnight - from - and did go overnight literally - from
warrant officer to squadron leader commanding 3 Squadron. And he's a - he was
Right. Let's go back to the general story of the squadron.
May '43 you were flying to Malta. You were telling me that on the actual move
to Malta when you set up a base there that people literally took in their
personal belongings on their own aircraft.
Yes, there was no other supply source for us. The ground
staff went in with special trucks that had been - or not special trucks, trucks
that had been waterproofed - and we had to fly all our gear in. And one method
of putting a bed-roll in a Kittyhawk - you must realise there's not much space -
you can pull the ammunition out of the ammo bins and put beer in there as some
blokes did, but you put your bed-roll nice and tightly wrapped up in the bomb
rack underneath the aircraft. And of course a bed-roll is not meant to be
exposed to two or three hundred miles an hour airflow over a period of time, and
some of the blokes when they got to Malta and were doing circuits prior to
landing, every time they did a circuit they lost a blanket, more or less, and
were lucky to get something to sleep on when they landed.
Right. I understand the airstrip in Malta was fairly
difficult, if not actually dangerous.
Yes, it's not actually the airstrip being dangerous but the
surroundings were because Malta is made of rocks. And the way you make an
aerodrome in Malta appeared to be that you just moved rocks and you can't do
very much with them, there's no nearby cliff to throw them over so you just
built stone walls. And the point is that if you ever have a forced landing in
Malta and don't land on an aerodrome every twenty yards you are hitting a rock
Did that happen much?
Not to anyone I know. I didn't happen more than once, I don't think.
While you were on Malta the squadron was really preparing with
other units for the invasion of Sicily. What's your recollection of the kinds
of operations you flew during that period?
We didn't fly much from Malta. We were bombed quite a bit
because I think they knew what was happening. And then we moved onto Italy and
flew into Italy and we had an aerodrome there, right on the water's edge in the
Straits of Messina.
This is Sicily?
Yes, in Sicily. And we were camped on the aerodrome but we moved up the hill
from that because of two reasons. One was the 'Gerrys' bombed us
and bombed the aerodrome and actually put delayed-bombs into the aerodrome which
can be a bit inconvenient and also the mosquitoes were quite unbelievable, both
their size and their ferocity; and that's a very bad place for malaria there.
So we moved up the hill in sight of the aerodrome.
Right. And I think it was from Sicily that you flew a great
deal of missions: bombing the main peninsula of Italy.
Yes, we operated a bit in Sicily to start with but then that
capitulated and we flew over the Straits of Messina which was terribly, terribly
heavily defended and operated round the heel area of Italy but still being based
on Sicily. And our first move into Italy was to Grottaglie I think and that was
the peace-time air force base of the Italian Air Force.
Right. You were saying before, I know, that there was very
heavy defence encountered during these raids on Italy across the Straits of
Messina. And I think on one occasion you were attacked by a Macchie 205?
Yes, we were actually bombing an area up through the Straits
of Messina but it was round the corner in Sicily. And the navy was shelling a
local village there and we were bombing nearby and we had about four Spitfire
top cover which let some Macchies through. They shouldn't have done that but
still it happened. And we were attacked by approximately four Macchies. They
damaged one of us - Rex Laver think from memory - and we shot one of them down.
The interesting point that evolved from this was that subsequently in Italy,
after Italy capitulated, some of the Italian Air Force were flying Air Cobras
and they were based at Mount Etna aerodrome and the CO in charge of their
squadron, as a wing commander, was Wing Commander Westlake who was our wing
commander (flying) of 239 Wing. And I have actually been entertained in their
mess at Mount Etna in which case I met Major Retze[?] who was a CO of this
Italian squadron which operated from Italy over Yugoslavia. They never operated
against targets in Italy because they would be obviously bombing their own
relatives. And Major Retze entertained me and confirmed without any shadow of
doubt that the day he attacked us, it was me and my other people that had been
attacked because he nominated the navy was shelling this place underneath.
(20.00) That's fascinating. And you were saying that the navy
generally only shelled places once because their shelling was so effective,
therefore you could pinpoint this event in time.
Yes, the navy will only shell a small village once because
they remove it.
This was obviously quite, well almost, bizarre; the Italians
who recently had been defeated now flying for the Allies.
Yes, they flew Air Cobras, operated over Yugoslavia. But I
have personally, with other friends, on a leave in Naples taken an adult woman
to opera and - as a group of us - and her brother was on the other side fighting
against us. It's relatively common I think. You just get, families are just
split up that way.
Sure. Just going back to this flying from Sicily across to
the mainland of Italy. Do you have any other recollections of those attacks and
of the opposition you encountered? What it was like at the time?
No, it was .... It wasn't very severe in the extreme bottom
end of Italy. They more or less, well, they didn't expose themselves down into
the heel and toe that we could easily get cut off so it was a little less down
there but it was withdrawing. But you must remember that the more an enemy
withdraws and withdraws he virtually gets stronger and stronger because he is
withdrawing onto his own strength; once you're advancing you're spreading and
becoming weaker and weaker. So you tended to get stronger opposition as you
went up Italy.
Right. That's interesting, Jack. Of course the squadron did
later go on to bomb Yugoslavia from Italy and you yourself were involved. Any
specific recollections of that?
Oh yes, one particular thing that brings out the sense of
humour of your fellow pilots. I led a flight to Yugoslavia to bomb Split and
Sibinik and we were quite heavily laden, I think I was carrying 2000 pounds of
bombs and the rest of us had 2000 and 1500 odd. And I decided to go down and
reconnoitre a bit to see which ship would the best to attack, and I'd lost
height and - from the normal 8000 feet that we flew at - and went down to what
must have been about 4000 feet and no-one shot at me for fairly obvious
reasons. They weren't going to shoot at me while I was coming closer and closer
- maybe I didn't understand this, it shows how naive you can be. When I started
to climb away just about the whole of the harbour opened up on me and all my
eleven other friends up top thought it was a great idea seeing all these black
bursts going round me; but I managed to get up there and we led them down and I
think we got a ship or two because we did knock a few around over there.
That's most interesting. Well, going on to the end of 3
Squadron, because there are some 450 Squadron things that would be good to talk
about briefly. The normal tour I understand was about, or was, 150 hours but
you were saying in 3 Squadron it was generally extended to 200 hours,
Yes, it's rather a loose arrangement. Yes, I think 150 is
termed a tour on paper. Obviously if wars go on and you're very distressed, I
mean you can fly just indefinitely until you're killed, there are no such
luxuries of being taken off ops and given a rest tour. But we normally made our
pilots, both in 3 and 450 fly to about 180 or 190, just under 200 hours, no
definite cut off point, but that's the way it went. I did 200 hours in my first
tour and did a voluntary extension of 50 hours. And I had 249 hours 45 minutes
in my log book, sitting in my aircraft with the engine running about to lead my
squadron on what would be my last op - I worked on the theory that I could get
an aircraft off the ground in fifteen minutes so I still had time to
theoretically need another op - and my squadron doctor who was Dr Derek Scanlon
with whom I went to school with in Toowoomba, he removed me; ordered me out of
my aircraft because a doctor has authority over a CO - I was acting CO at that
stage - and he ordered me out of my aircraft. I presume he felt he might have
been saving my life, but it didn't sort of please me at the time but we never
ceased speaking to one another.
Did he believe that you were really battle fatigued?
I think he was just being nice to me and felt that you can still get killed
on any operation and I was alive then and he might want to keep me alive.
But why was he being kind to you?
Well, as I say, I could have got killed on that operation and
249 hours, 45 minutes is a reasonable figure I think. And I suppose he might
have thought that, so that was it.
(25.00) Right. Of course you had been a flight commander for
three months during your time with 3 Squadron and you in fact left as the acting
CO. And you'd also been awarded a DSO, DFC and the bar to the DFC, or to the
No, bar to DFC.
Do you remember what those awards were made for?
No, not specifically. Some of it I think was bombing over in
Yugoslavia and we also had some pretty tough assignments in Italy that, we're
getting twenty flaming trucks and this sort of thing amongst a lot of
opposition. There are specific details mentioned in the citations but I don't
actually recall them.
It's actually .... I don't sort of normally discuss my decoration and I've
always made it quite plain that you've got 220 people in a squadron that are
toiling on the ground. They're folding your parachutes, they're keeping your
engine running and when I wear them on ANZAC Day, I really wear
them on behalf of all those ground staff that really helped me get them.
That's interesting. And of course the role of the ground
staff was immense and in many ways, well, as you were suggesting, rather
I think every pilot recognised it, they just don't get the
public recognition because they're not sort of doing the things that achieve
public recognition. I mean they are doing humdrum things but they are doing it
conscientiously and under quite appalling conditions quite often and, they ....
I think every pilot that's ever flown just realises it deep down.
How close a bond was there between individual pilots and their
individual ground crew?
Oh well, you got quite a close bond because of this, they're
really keeping you alive. But you don't see that much of each other; they're
working when you're not and when you're working they're not. So it's really a
split-up that way.
Sure. Well, after No. 3 Squadron you went to Desert Air Force
Headquarters - a squadron leader now - and you were a controller. I think your
main role was nominating specific targets that the squadron should act against
to achieve what people further up the chain of command wanted to generally do.
Yes, the higher command would decide they might need a railway
line broken between A and B and I would be the best person to know just where
between A and B that it should be bombed, because perhaps a week ago I saw it
and might have even bombed it, and thus my specific knowledge of the whole area
was just used and I would pass the directive on to the squadron that
such-and-such a squadron would go and bomb a railway line at a certain point on
a map reference.
And then reconnaissance information would be fed back to you?
Reconnaissance photographs of damage done, or would that go directly to the
No, that would go over to higher command. I could see it if
necessary but you don't have that much time sometimes to do other people's
jobs. And you find when you've done a tour of operation you sort of get a
mental let-down and you really want to sort of sleep all day and every day which
is quite disturbing because it hits you rather suddenly. I suppose you've been
living so long on your nerves and not even realising it and it sort of comes
Well, after the period as a controller you then had a task, I
think, called 'Rover David', is that correct?
Yes, Rover David was a type of operation in which you went up
the front line and you got yourself, if you could, an observation post in sight
of the front line if possible; it was in a building or up on a bit of high
ground. When you subsequently spoke on this operation of course they shelled
you, they even knew your name. And the operation was that aircraft from your
own squadrons in the wing would come over at half-hour intervals and patrol for
half an hour, carrying bombs, and they would have a very specific map detailing
the bomb line in great accuracy, to within probably a hundred yards of your own
troops. And as Rover David you consisted of an army officer, yourself and two
other people, an air force airman and an army airman with radio facilities. And
the army might ...
END TAPE 2, SIDE A
BEGIN TAPE 2, SIDE B
Identification: This is Edward Stokes, Jack Doyle, No. 3
Squadron, tape 2, side 2.
The army would perhaps say that they wanted to do a push and
they suspected there were trucks behind buildings near a fork in a road or
something like that - and the aircraft patrolling overhead, you'd get in touch
with them and ask could they see these buildings in Square 9Z or Y7 or something
like that on a similar map that they had that you had. And they would say 'Yes,
we see those buildings and it's near a forked road'. This would confirm that
they were looking at the right place and wouldn't bomb their own troops and you
would say, 'Well, please bomb them'. I was in the attic of a two-storey
chalet - it was a magnificent building, it had its own chapel, billiard room,
sewing room, library, and it was absolutely unreal - I'd driven my Jeep up the
main stairs into the hallway and left it there and gone upstairs into the attic
in my little green ...
Could I just ask you why the Jeep was driven into the hallway?
Well, that keeps it out of the rain, if it rains, and we just
drove it in there. It's quite easy to drive a Jeep up front stairs. And there
were other army personnel in there sleeping and the Germans had been in there
within twenty-four hours. You never went into a building in case it was
booby-trapped, or never touched anything, but if there were servants in a
building and had been there when the Germans were there, that was a reasonable
indication that the place wasn't booby-trapped. But I was in the attic and 3
Squadron happened to come over just by chance - they were on cab rank - and they
came over and my wireless operator got up and said, '3 Squadron's coming over,
Sir'. And I went over to pick up the headphones and as I did there was a 500
kilogram aircraft bomb went off in the basement. The place had been
booby-trapped at three o'clock because we subsequently heard over German radio
that the chalet that was booby-trapped went off successfully at the time
nominated. And we fell three floors and I landed on a steel girder on my
stomach and a wall fell on top of me and pinned me there. And there were twenty
people in that building and six of us lived out of the twenty. We only lived
because we only had a roof that fell on us. The army people resting in the
ground floor had the entire building fall on them.
Just an appalling experience.
Yes, it certainly was.
How did you all get out? And what happened then?
Well, that was my rest tour. So I decided it might be a
better idea if I got back into operations.
But did you have to go to hospital?
Yes. A very interesting thing happened there; we were rescued
by American Red Cross type of organisation. These were Americans that I think
were relatively wealthy or something and when the war started they were able to
start up their own first aid organisation. They bought Jeeps - were given and
bought Jeeps - they raised money and they came over there and they operated
completely autonomously in Italy. I don't know where else they operated. They
could have operated worldwide. I don't even know the name of their
organisation, but they were just trained personnel that had got themselves
trained in first aid and they just went where they thought they would be best
done. And I have no doubt they did an outstanding service, and I don't know the
name of their organisation. They were not controlled by anyone other than
themselves, as I see it. They obviously went where they were best suited.
How long did it take you to get over the psychological trauma
of the loss of all these lives and the fact that you might have been dead too?
It took a long while, because when I came back from overseas
in 1946 I had occasion up in the Darling Downs area to climb on a roof of a
rather large shed at Blaxland near Dalby and I got quite - I hadn't been on a
roof since that episode, I had no occasion to be on a roof - and I had quite an
extraordinary feeling being up on the roof.
Did you have nightmares?
No, I didn't have any nightmares about that, although ....
There's no pain in it, there's no sound, you just fall for years, you just fall
for years and you just go on and on falling. I had no skin on the tips of my
fingers, I must have clawed at tiles all the way down, in fact there was hardly
a piece of skin on my body bigger than the top of a teacup that hadn't been
abraded. I broke no bones - the others broke pelvises and that sort of thing.
That's interesting, the sense of loss of time.
Yes, it is, and there's no sound. All I remember when I walked across these
floorboards, there were only floorboards in the attic - if you hit an old, very
old verandah floorboards with a hammer you'll see dirt rise up
between the cracks in the floorboards, you can do it with any old solid floor -
and this is all I remember, just dirt coming up between the floorboards; no
sound, no sound at all but then a sort of rushing sound and I just fell and fell
That's a very graphic description, Jack. Going on from there,
as you said, you went back to fly on a squadron. I know you were to go as CO of
3 Squadron but for various reasons which we might perhaps pass over you were
sent to 450 Squadron where, some time prior to your joining 450 you had said
there'd been real tensions in the squadron and even this episode recorded
elsewhere of a pilots' mess being gelignited and so on. What was 450 Squadron
like when you reached it?
450 was great but they were living under very poor
conditions. See, I've actually got photographs of pieces of canvas in mud and
water and that was really - in Italy in almost icy conditions and that was sort
of where they were living. So ...
What did you see as your first role as squadron leader? Your
most important task?
Well, try and get the, anyone, including the ground staff -
mainly the ground staff - into better living conditions. So we commandeered
buildings in the village we were in. We took over a school hall, I think, and
we actually rigged tents in that and that was the airmen's mess. And my
squadron doctor and myself and my adjutant, we walked up one street and we
knocked on houses and any inhabitant in there we told them that we were going to
commandeer their buildings. And it's quite amazing how many people you find
that say they have heart attacks, or bad hearts when you start this caper, but
they didn't realise that one of us, of course, was a doctor. So we gave them
physical examinations when necessary, and we subsequently commandeered a quite
large building and made that the medical headquarters and those people that
really did have heart problems - and there were few of them - we removed them
from the houses, billeted them in the medical headquarters and they got the best
attention and medicine that we could give them, quite free.
Once that had been done were people appreciative or was there
still a real resentment that they'd been turned out?
I suppose there must always be a resentment if you are turned
out of your house and put up in another house five doors up the road but I
suppose they were philosophical and realised they couldn't do anything about it;
and they were being looked after and I'd say properly fed anyway, and getting
good food and good medical attention, quite free.
There was a story of 'ergs for Aspros'.
Oh yes, that's my statement. The local hospital there had a
110 volt emergency lighting plant. Of course Italy is 110 volt and all our
stuff that we had in the squadron was 240 volts. So what we did, they ran their
generating plant and we threw a lead from the hospital into this street that
we'd commandeered, and we just hooked it up to the fuse boxes and we could walk
into any of the houses that we billeted ourselves in and just turn on the switch
and you got 110 volt normally lighting. And what we did in return for that, we
had a bit of spare penicillin which had just been made available at that time in
the world, I think, and they didn't have any, so we used penicillin on certain
of their patients in the hospital - gave it to them and everyone was happy.
Right. Now during this period with 450, but let's, I think,
look just at perhaps the initial period of it because time's pressing on, Jack.
What role was the squadron being used in?
(10.00) It was much the same as we'd all been because 3 and
450 were side-by-side, physically side-by-side in the wing and quite often a lot
of your pilots did a tour in each, as I did. But 3 Squadron then got Mustangs
and 450 was promised Mustangs and I didn't get Mustangs for 450 so they gave me
one to sort of play with, which wasn't an abuse of equipment because we used it
as an attack aircraft on the occasional times that we ran little training
sessions in the squadron.
But the squadron was basically still equipped with Kittyhawks?
Yes, I went right through the war on Kittyhawks, and we
obviously got the close support jobs of bombing and strafing because we had
Kittyhawks and some of the other squadrons had Spitfires of course, and others
had Kittys, and some had Mustangs. And the Mustangs obviously got Mustang jobs
and the Kittys got Kitty jobs.
There was obviously what must have been a very, very
distressing period when you, as in 450, suddenly started losing pilots, and it
was finally worked out that you were in fact - their bombs were blowing up. How
did all this come about?
It was distressing and it did lower our morale a bit, I must
admit, because we got periods there - and I don't know how many pilots we lost,
probably about three or four - in which an aircraft would explode in the bomb
dive. And the explosion was just so much bigger than any anti-aircraft fire, or
the normal explosion of an aircraft which they usually burn anyway more than
explode. And this things would just explode and a wing would go, a complete
wing would go, just fluttering down like a leaf. And our morale did get a bit
low. We thought it was sabotage of some pressure-sensitive device probably
being inserted in our fuel tanks and things like that. And we were actually
sealing off fuel tanks and putting little wires on them and seals and that type
of thing. And what was discovered by an engineering officer in the Middle East,
he came up to the fashion, the reason; it was the British bomb was never really
made to be carried outside the aircraft and be subject to the airspeeds that a
bomb is when it's exposed to the air. And I don't know why it didn't happen
more often in the early days but whether we were coming down from higher levels
with local ground fire getting stronger - we were only coming down from about
eight or nine thousand feet, we normally came down from seven and eight. And
these bombs were actually, their little arming device was overcoming the pin
that stops it going off and the propeller would shear the pin off and screw the
bolt that it's attached to into the detonator; that's a very crude explanation
of it, but that is what was happening. And I was holed by one of my own bombs
in this, and as I, virtually as I released it, it went off and the kick in the
seat of the pants, it had to be experienced to be described, it is just so
violent, and put holes up through my aircraft. But ...
So you were very lucky yourself.
Oh yes, yes indeed. I did tend to be a bit lucky. We
subsequently put American bombs externally and the thing ceased immediately.
But it lost one of my pilots who was on his last op; he was a sergeant pilot.
I'd done a job with him in the morning. They wanted the job done again in the
afternoon - not that we didn't do it properly, but it was big enough to do again
and hit other parts of it - and I got out of my aircraft and asked him to take
the - this was his last flight - and he could lead the squadron. And he led the
squadron and blew up in his bomb dive which was sad to say the least.
Yes, those things must have been terribly hard to get beyond,
to overcome. Was the matter of letter writing, writing letters home to
next-of-kin, did that fall to the squadron leader or to somebody else?
No, it, the squadron leader and the adjutant and you do get
sad ones. We had one person that came over there who was a New Zealander and
who was only with us about a week and who was killed under what would be normal
war circumstances, nothing exceptional in the way it happened, but it's the same
no matter how it happened, but the letter sent to his home in New Zealand would
have got there two or three days before Christmas. There's no way you can
really overcome that.
No. But did you write those letters yourself? Or was it your
No, we .... I've written some of them and they're not nice
things to write.
Sure. Did you ever get feedback from families who would write
back to the squadron or was it a closed matter normally?
No, you do get that feedback but I don't know whether all mail
ever gets through in a wartime, you never really know.
Sure. Well you yourself were again very lucky with the shell
that entered your petrol tank.
Yes, it was within a few weeks of the end of the war and we
were strafing up in the extreme northern end of Italy, and strafing in sort of
the trenches, and I had an explosive shell entered underneath my left wing
tank. It entered the wing tank, it exploded inside the tank and blew a hole out
of the top of the petrol - the self-sealing, so-called self-sealing petrol tank
itself which is about the size of my fist - and subsequently blew an area about
twice that size out of the wing shell on top. And then another shell removed
most of the left rudder, most of my left elevator rather, and contributed to a
lot of damage in my rudder and it was a bit hard to fly back home. I had to put
on an enormous amount of rudder to fly it.
(15.00) That does sound like a very, very close call. Just a
few final things to ask and these questions, Jack, refer to the whole period
you've been flying and fighting, not just to 450 or to 3 for that matter. Was
it easier in strafing attacks when you were clearly aiming to knock out
equipment as against knock out men? As you were coming down, as a person flying
down, was it easier to pull the trigger when what you saw in front of you was a
truck or a tank rather than a group of men?
I don't think there was that much difference; you know there are people in
the truck. There is obviously a driver even if there's not much more, but it's
not sort of so personal, I don't think, in an aircraft because
you're not aiming so specifically. If you're dropping bombs it's not very
personal at all. I mean, okay, I know that there could be people in the house
you're bombing but you're not thinking of bombing those people, you're bombing
that house. Now, I know it's just the same regardless of what your thoughts are
but your own thoughts are not vindictive. You are not actually bombing people
although you know they are there - it's a little bit hard to explain.
That's an interesting point. I think what you're saying is
the feelings are rather different to perhaps the feelings an infantryman has as
he lines up an individual body in his gunsights.
Oh yes, you have snipers that are aiming at a certain part of
a certain body, I'm not saying that's wrong, but I mean it's more impersonal and
I would have never shot anyone out of a parachute of the other side if they ...
I was going to ask you about that, in fact that was the next
question. Did that go on or not?
I suppose it did. Yeah, it would have to have - both sides,
but both would have gone on. There would be people who wouldn't have shot you
out of a parachute and the people that would have, on both sides, I suppose.
What you're saying is that, in the end, was just a personal
Yes, I think so, just what you do in the heat of the moment.
You've still got to realise that that bloke you shoot him out of the parachute,
if you don't shoot him out of the parachute he may have been one of the best
pilots in Germany and he might shoot you down in a week's time. But it was
never sort of that personal, and you'd like to be accorded that tolerance if you
were in the other position. So I suppose that comes a bit into it, but it's
purely a personal thing of your whole attitude towards it. And it's .... War
is not nice to fight but you sort of, with our war that we did, we had to fight,
and I'm quite convinced of that. So you've really got to do the best you can
yourself and do the best for your country and not have any vindictive thoughts.
This is jumping ahead in time, but it's an interesting
reflection that history does so often come full circle.
Yes, it certainly does come full circle. We in 3 Squadron
hold reunions every year and we never have any women at the reunion, not for
reason we don't like women, but there were no women in 3 Squadron during the
war, and it's just a natural thing that they are all male and the women hold
their own reunions anyway, wartime women ...
Just to interpolate on that point. I do know that you also
have very open and warm family days with the wives of the squadron members,
Oh yes, but they've never come to sort of reunions. I don't
know any squadrons that do that. We organise other things in which the women of
the members come to: picture outings and barbecues and trips interstate and long
weekends in country towns - still doing it.
Sure, but the reunions themselves - men only. Back to the
Yes, there's always just been men only, not that we object to
women. Anyway, subsequently after the war we became more involved with 3
Squadron flying their Hornets up at Williamtown and they have subsequently come
down and marched with us on ANZAC Day and they bring contingents from their
squadron to the reunion. And on an occasion two or three years ago - the first
time they joined us at a reunion - they brought down quite a few male members of
3 Squadron and a few women from 3 Squadron. And the interesting part about this
was not only did women attend our organisation which we enjoyed but one of them
was an engineering officer and she's an Italian.
So life changes. Just a question that in fact is relevant to
the morality of war, if not to your particular experience in the Middle East and
Italy, Jack. The island of Morotai at the end of the war with Japan, up near
the Philippines, when there was a stand made by some senior officers, including
Bobby Gibbes, against going on flying behind the lines when they felt that men
and planes were being futilely wasted. Do you know anything about that?
No, I ended the war in the Middle East and got home in 1946
and just what happened up there actually I didn't know anything about.
(20.00) Right. Well, let's just move on to the end. Peace
finally came in Europe. I think you were the officer responsible for disbanding
Yes, I disbanded 450 and I posted myself home to Australia via
England because that - normally a CO was given that honour or pleasure - but the
posting was knocked back because there were so many POWs coming out of Germany
and the place was overloaded, and food was short and gosh knows what. But I put
one of my flight commanders in charge of the train that took all the boys down
to the bottom end of Italy and then across to Egypt. And being the type of
person he was - he was an absolute character - the first thing he did was hock
all the sugar for beer which gave the train a nice beer supply because sugar was
short in Italy. And the train line went down the Adriatic coast and quite often
came near the coastline. Whenever the train came near a little beach or so, I
heard later, that the train was halted, they all had a barbecue and drank a few
ales and the train proceeded on, which was quite a pleasant trip I should
There must have been an almost indescribable feeling of
euphoria and relief and joy at going home. How did you yourself feel?
Well, I missed out a bit on it because I virtually went home
by myself. In the Middle East when I got down there I got, for the second time,
I got infective hepatitis, and spent a bit of time in hospital. All my mates
had gone home. And as I say, I didn't get back till 1946 and sort of came back,
not by myself of course, but not amongst my normal friends.
Right. Looking back on it all, war generally, and your own
service in it particularly, what would come to mind? What came to mind then
while you were resting up in hospital?
Oh, it didn't come to mind then because it's really, you're
too close to the end of the war for anything unusual to happen but it does come
later of course. It comes to the futility of it. And I mean, you've only got
to look at it now that sort of Germany and Japan almost benefited by war because
you can say that perhaps the physical damage you do to a country is actually
beneficial in the long run [inaudible].
In terms of creating the seeds for rebuilding?
Yes. And maybe you get a better response to your seeds.
Australia has virtually been untouched by war. Okay there were bombs up in
Darwin and an explosion in Sydney Harbour from a Jap submarine but the general
populace hasn't been touched at all. They might have been frightened
occasionally but they haven't been touched. And you know, it's a big subject
but it certainly makes interesting study.
Are you suggesting that in destroying the physical
infrastructure of a country, you force the country to rebuild and perhaps
rebuild better? Or that the suffering that the people go through in warfare as
a civilian population steels them to greater efforts in the future?
Both of those are quite true I think, both of them. And also
I think you can bomb a people too much. I mean, if you bomb the English too
much they get stubborn.
Sure. Well, anyway, Australia you came back to, was it easy
to pick up the threads of civilian life, or not?
No, it wasn't because you've never spoken to an Australian
female. You have no common conversation at all. You've lived a sheltered life
of being amongst 200 Australians that are all doing a certain thing that no-one
else in Australia is doing - not anyone that is in Australia is doing - and
you're an isolated little cocoon over there. You don't have any contact with,
okay, you meet Italian women that speak English and speak very good English
sometimes, but your contact with them is extremely limited. And then you get
back in Australia and no-one understands what you're talking about. Because
you're not talking about things that are common to them. And I rehabilitated
myself to a degree by just reading newspapers - commercials and advertisements
and all that sort of thing - and that sort of gets you back into what's all
happening all around you. There may be better ways but I didn't know of it.
Did you go back on the land?
Yes, I went back on the land, too. There's another thing
there too, when you come back you've got no clothes. You're at an age that we
all were, you grow out of clothes and you come back and you get coupons and you
get a coupon to buy a hat which were common in those days. And you get a coupon
to buy coats but you can't buy a coat and you can't buy a hat. And I had to
use, relatives of mine had some deceased clothes of their own family that I
used, sportscoat and that sort of thing. You don't have any clothes, civilian
So it wasn't an easy time?
No, it's not a matter of just being given coupons to buy clothes; clothes
were not there to buy. And I mean, petrol rationing, two gallons a month for a
They were difficult times. Looking back now is there anything
you feel you would like to add to this record, Jack, that you haven't commented
on so far?
No, nothing that I haven't commented on; just reinforce the
fact that the ground staff don't get the - they get the recognition amongst the
people that served with them deep down in their own minds - but they sometimes
don't get it necessarily from the lay public.
Right. Well, on behalf of the War Memorial in Canberra, for
your time, and for making the tapes, thank you very much.
Good, thank you, Ed.
[3SQN Assn repaired version of original transcript on https://www.awm.gov.au.]
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