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AWM Interview with 'Mac' Macinnis. (1990)

3SQN Supply Officer 1939-42.


Acting Squadron Leader (Sqn Ldr) Bernard Terry, Sqn Ldr King, M. L. Macinnis, all of No. 3 Squadron RAAF.
Image from the collection of Marcus Lindsay (Mac) Macinnis.  [AWM P06280.010]

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

INFORMANT:   MARCUS MACINNIS

SUBJECT OF INTERVIEW: 3 SQUADRON, RAAF

DATE OF INTERVIEW:  9 MAY 1990

INTERVIEWER:   EDWARD STOKES

TRANSCRIBER:   SUSAN SOAMES

 

Identification:  This is Edward Stokes with Mac MacInnis, 3 Squadron.  Tape one, side one. 

 

Well, Mac, we've worked out a good general outline here of the events and so on.  Let's begin at the beginning.  I think you were born in 1914. 

 

1914, yes. 

 

              Could you tell us where you grew up? 

 

Well, I grew up at Delegate, which is about four miles from the Victorian border, and we moved to Campbelltown and later to Ashfield in Sydney. 

 

I think you were saying although your father died when you were quite young he was a mounted policeman working with black trackers. 

 

Yes he was.  Of course that's a long time ago now.  It was in 1914 they had black trackers around the countryside and his name was Jack McLeod;  I remember him fairly well. 

 

Right.  Well, moving on, of course you came down to Sydney and there was schooling at Ashfield but more particularly Haberfield and later Fort Street.  I think you said you left school when you were about seventeen? 

 

Seventeen, yes.  I joined the New South Wales Public Service in the Chief Secretary's Department. 

 

There was some yearning I think at this time, you said, to fly - to be a pilot? 

 

Well, I did try and one of my contemporaries at Fort Street actually joined the air force.  Afterwards I think he was director of intelligence in the air force.  That was Tom Ingledew[?], he was in my year at Fort Street. 

 

              Right. 

 

And John Kerr. 

 

Just one other thing about your childhood:  the general recollection of the achievement of Australians in the first war, perhaps particularly the ANZACs and the myth of Gallipoli and so on, was that a very real part of your childhood, or not? 

 

It was a very real part of my childhood, I think more in my recollection of conversations in the family when I got a bit older, but the Snowy River boys who marched to join the army down in Sydney, they started off from Delegate - it was 1915 or 1916 - and naturally I can't remember but I seem to know all about it because I've heard it talked about so much, and my mother was heavily involved in the Red Cross there and we knew all the people who had left Delegate to go to the war and we knew those who were killed, the ones that didn't come back.  I can remember them coming back, the ones who are dead. 

 

Mmm.  That's most interesting.  And during the 1930s when you were a young man were you particularly conscious of a sense of empire, a patriotic pride in Australia, or not? 

 

I think we all were.  And most of my friends were in the militia or something like that but they became involved in that sort of thing anyhow. 

 

Right.  Well, moving on, I know you did manage to complete an economics degree while you were fully employed I think with the Public Service, and later there was a period in a government department I think to do with architecture.  But then in 1938 I think there was a call for recruits for the air force? 

 

Yes.  I think that was a time of expansion.  This was in the post-Munich period and I think everybody knew war was coming, and the air force had obviously embarked on an expansion plan. 

 

Did people talk about the political developments in Europe much, or not? 

 

Not in a political sense I think but everybody had a good idea of what was happening in Europe because there was plenty of material available to read in those days, and there was quite a lot on the radio, of course, which was our main preoccupation in those days, when we weren't reading was .... 

 

(5.00) Yes, rather than being stuck in front of the box. 

 

Yeah. 

 

Well, moving on.  There was this call for officer recruits.  I think you were saying mostly ....  Or the general requirement was for men who had post-school experience, about 400 applied.  It was very selective I think? 

 

Well, I believe it was because there weren't that number of vacancies in the expanded air force even.  But this is very early days of course.  But the requirement was they had to have some business experience or administrative experience and they had to be under the age of twenty-five. 

 

Right.  And this was mainly aiming to get men into the equipment section of the air force, I think? 

 

That is right, yes. 

 

You did your training at Laverton No. 1 Aircraft Depot, approximately a five months' course.  What were the main aspects of your training as you recall? 

 

Well, we were educated in the whole range of air force activities, but naturally we concentrated on those subjects which would be our responsibility after our graduation as equipment officers, and that covered everything from the proper storage of armament to do the provision of rations and clothing for the air force. 

 

I would imagine there must have been a great deal of rules and regulations in terms of the supply of materials to come to grips with? 

 

Yes.  It was extremely tightly controlled by the auditors and the King's regulations of the day of course. 

 

And what about parade-ground bashing?  Was that part of it? 

 

That was good.  On our particular course I think we started off with nine but one dropped out early in the piece so we just had enough left to form fours, but the only trouble was that after we had formed fours we looked exactly the same as we did before we had formed fours. 

 

Right.  The general living conditions, social life, of young officer trainees, how do you remember that? 

 

At Laverton?  Well, we started off in the officers' mess but the part of the mess which we occupied in that time was a small area enclosed by hedges in which they'd erected eight tents of first world war vintage.  I remember the flies had first world war autographs all over them from 1916 onwards, so they were pretty ancient tents.  In one storm I think half the tents went or we had to get some new ones. 

 

Mmm.  Right, I can imagine that.  The other course members, I think this is perhaps an interesting point, what's your general recollection of their educational background?  For example, how many of them might have had degrees as you did? 

 

I don't think any of them did but they were all high school graduates of course - all of them - and they all had had responsible jobs and they had considerable experience behind them. 

 

Right.  And if you had to categorise their social background, could you say they came from any general class of society or were they men from all aspects and backgrounds of society? 

 

I would say it was a jolly good cross-section of Australia at that time.  There certainly wasn't any sense of the elite in it at all. 

 

Mmm.  I was going to ask that.  As a group of young men, forgetting backgrounds, but once you were actually in the air force, did you in any way see yourselves as part of an elite service or not? 

 

I don't think we did.  No.  I think a lot would depend upon who did the interviewing for the enlistment of these people coming into the air force, and the chairman of the interview board that I attended at Victoria Barracks in Sydney was Wing Commander Christie who had been a pre-first world war instructional officer.  He rose to command a battalion during that war and in 1921, I think it was, when the air force was formed on a permanent basis he transferred from the army with another battalion commander who had the DSO and Bar, MC.  And the third one who applied, I afterwards served with when I was attached to the army and he was a brigadier also with a DSO, MC.  But they're the people who were doing the selection.  I think they knew what was required. 

 

(10.00) Right.  So they were looking for the right things. 

 

They were looking for people who could do things, I think. 

 

Right.  Well moving on a little bit.  After that initial course you graduated as a pilot officer and went to Richmond No. 2 Aircraft Depot in charge of the supply store amongst other things.  You also learnt to cipher which is interesting.  How did you do that? 

 

Well, there was one senior signals NCO there who had been trained, and there was very little cipher work going on in those days of course because this was peacetime, and I thought it would be a good idea to learn because over the years I'd read books about ciphers and the breaking of codes and things like that and it seemed an interesting subject to ... 

 

              Was it very difficult to learn? 

 

No.  It was a very simple thing really.  It was hard to crack from the amateur point of view but I think these days they get it out in five minutes with a computer. 

 

Yes.  And when you'd actually done your cipher course and I know you later did cipher work through the war, did the codes constantly change and therefore you were always working with different codes or was there a basic code that you stuck by? 

 

There was a basic code that we stuck by for as long as I was involved in it.  I didn't do it after I came back from the Middle East.  It was only when I was in the Middle East I did it. 

 

Right.  Well, it was in early '39 I know you went to No. 3 Squadron, therefore one of the first members in terms of this recording we're doing.  I think Demons were the plane at the time, McLachlan was CO.  What was your first general impression of the men of the unit generally? 

 

I haven't got any definite recollection on my thoughts of the people at that time.  I was just very happy to be joining what appeared to be a very close-knit family.  And most of those people who were in the squadron when I joined them actually went overseas in mid-1940 and that's when I really got to know them. 

 

Mmm.  That's interesting that you should say that even in this pre-war period they were a close-knit unit. 

 

Well, I think in those days there was a great pride of membership of a particular unit.  There were four squadrons at Richmond in those days.  There was No. 3 Squadron which had a history dating from the first war, and exceptionally good record.  There was No. 6 Squadron which was nominally a bomber squadron although they were armed with the mighty Ansons.  The No. 11 Squadron which was the fleet co-operation squadron and they provided the crews and the ground, and the technical support for the Seagulls which were then embarked on the Australian cruisers.  And there was No. 22 Squadron which was ....  This is an air force squadron with a nucleus of permanent air force personnel supplemented every weekend by the citizen air force members. 

 

Mmm.  That's most interesting.  Going back to No. 3 Squadron and yourself, Mac, during that pre-war period, what were the main tasks you yourself were involved in? 

 

Well, the activity in the squadron in those few months before the war actually broke were on the increase and they were getting in as much flying as they could.  We had new air crew posted in from the last pre-war courses at Point Cook, who afterwards formed the nucleus of the air crew of No. 3 Squadron, and they were training at a very high rate for those days anyhow on air-to-air combat and, more particularly I think, on army co-operation activities because at that time it was nominally an army co-operation squadron. 

 

(15.00) That's interesting.  And I guess the basic, or would it be true to say, that the more pilots generally were training generally in the air the greater the demand and work load of equipment personnel in that things were being replaced more quickly? 

 

That is correct.  And the Demon aircraft which we were using of course weren't to any ....  Well, they weren't new. 

 

Mmm.  Sure.  Well, moving on a little bit, of course there were rumours of war.  I think you were the cipher officer who actually received news of war at the squadron? 

 

Yes, I did.  From probably two or three months before war broke out we did establish a twenty-four hour cipher service and I did the night duty.  I slept over in the cipher office and it so happened that I was on duty that night when the signal came through from air force headquarters saying that we were at a state of war - in a state of war with the - with Germany.  That would have been received I think before the announcement by Mr Menzies at the time. 

 

How did you feel when you realised what you were decoding? 

 

Well, I'm afraid that my first thought was that I'd got to go and wake up Group Captain Kanga De La Rue at about three o'clock in the morning. 

 

              He was a somewhat formidable character was he? 

 

Well, he was and he wasn't.  He was .... He pretended to be a severe gentleman but I think he had a most mellow centre. 

 

              How did he greet the news? 

 

I think his words were, 'Well, we expected it, didn't we?'.  And then he called in the senior officers who were on the base and told them all. 

 

In the next couple of days, as the news as made to the civilian population and as the general implication sunk in, what was the reaction of most officers?  What was your reaction? 

 

Nothing particular that I can recall or put my finger on. 

 

              Was it welcome news? 

 

We were busy;  we were very busy because they moved an increase to the working hours and we were working seven days a week to make everything available - serviceable.  And in the aircraft depot in particular they were working on the aircraft that were in for overhaul to get as many aircraft available for use every day of the week if they could. 

 

              Right, and I think you .... 

 

And they increased flying hours. 

 

Yes.  I think you were saying soon after that too, some Hudsons began arriving, although not from No. 3 Squadron, but at Richmond, with American test pilots? 

 

That is right, yes.  And they were ....  But they had to be assembled and all the equipment that came with them of course, all the support equipment came in with them at the same time.  It had to be bought on charge and packed properly for long term storage as we thought then.  But at that stage I wasn't involved in that because I was already with No. 3 Squadron. 

 

Right.  That does bring up an interesting point:  you were mentioning storage.  I mean, I'd imagine that even for a squadron, let along an air force base, there just must be an almost unbelievable number of different items in a supply list from the smallest bolt to the largest item.  How were all those things kept track of so that they could be found easily and quickly? 

 

Handwritten ledgers.  I should say that every squadron in those days' was nominally self-contained for ninety days.  It had ninety day's spares as its wartime operations, and every squadron had its own equipment store and equipment staff, and .... 

 

And that ninety days was ninety days of everything from typewriter ribbons to ....'

 

Everything, yes.  Including clothing and the whole lot.  So that squadron could be picked up and moved complete and enter into operations immediately. 

 

(20.00) Going on a little bit, of course, as the months went along there was the influx of wartime men into the air force generally and into No. 3 in particular.  Looking back on it, do you see any general differences in the attitudes of, for example, permanent air force officers and wartime air force officers, or not? 

 

None whatsoever.  There was no wavy-navy attitude at all. 

 

            The wavy-navy being the reserve navy? 

 

Mmm.  But there was always a ....  It seems to me that there was always a division between the regular officer and the wavy-navy, or the reserve officers even.  I never saw that anywhere in the air force. 

 

Mmm.  Right.  And would you say the same about the men? 

 

Yes, yes indeed. 

 

There was some political uncertainty at this time.  There were plans I know for a number of squadrons to go to the UK and that never eventuated.  There was the Empire Air Training Scheme and so on.  I think you were saying that your marriage had some bearing on the likelihood of your going overseas? 

 

Well, it did.  I was engaged.  We intended to marry in the fairly near future but in those days one had to get permission to marry and one had to be a certain age to marry.  But there was talk of the six squadrons going overseas.  They were jokingly referred to as 'Kanga's Killers' because Kanga was going with them - that would be Kanga De La Rue of course who was commanding RAAF Base, Richmond. 

 

And the decision to push your marriage ahead a little bit was to get in before you perhaps left, was that the plan? 

 

I suppose it was, yes, yes. 

 

Did you marriage, do you think, change your perception of war?  In a more general sense do you think married men saw the war differently to single men, or not? 

 

Well, we really didn't know much about war, did we, at that time except what we'd read in books about, and what we'd read in books of course was presented in rather a romantic fashion anyhow, and unless we read deeply into the reminiscences of the people that actually took part in trench warfare or aerial combat in those old aircraft we .... 

 

Mmm.  As against the more glossy versions of blood and glory. 

 

Yeah. 

 

Well, moving on a little bit.  No. 3 Squadron was of course the first Australian squadron to be sent overseas as a squadron. 

 

Yes.  No. 10 Squadron was already in the UK but they were over there to collect their aircraft and bring them home. 

 

Right.  When news came that you were to go overseas, what was the general reaction of men in the squadron?  What was yours? 

 

Well, I thought it was inevitable anyhow and rightly or wrongly I looked forward to it.  And I think most of them did. 

 

Mmm.  Parting from family, from your wife, how difficult was that? 

 

A bit of a wrench.  We ... I had, I think, seven days' pre-embarkation leave, as they all did, but at that time a plague of German measles spread throughout the area and I think most of 3 Squadron had it, and when we came on parade for embarkation it was a pretty sorry-looking crowd. 

 

              Did that prevent your going home? 

 

Mmm? 

 

              Did the German measles prevent your taking leave? 

 

No, no.  I think Jean had it after I left. 

 

              (laughs) These are the price of marriage. 

 

As a matter of fact I think we exported it to the Middle East because it was certainly aboard the Orontes and I think it arrived in the Middle East shortly after we arrived. 

 

Well, going on to the Orontes, do actually remember the day you left Australia, or left Sydney I think, steaming out of the Heads? 

 

Yes. 

 

              What was that like? 

 

Well, it was the first time I'd been outside the Head on a liner anyhow, and it was quite exciting.  But we had our thoughts for those we left behind of course. 

 

Mmm.  The Orontes itself was, at this stage, in its pre-war state.  It was quite a luxurious journey I understand. 

 

It was still a passenger vessel, it wasn't a trooper, and it was a very comfortable voyage and we had an escort from Perth to Singapore and then on to Bombay.  I think one of the ....  The first was a merchant cruiser I think, was the Kanimbla or something like that.  Then we had the HMS Kent which was one of the County Class cruisers like the Australia and the Canberra. 

 

(25.00) So big three-funnelled ships. 

 

Yes.  So we had one ....  We had a convoy of one ship escorted by a cruiser. 

 

In fairly good hands.  The journey over there I know you went through Singapore to drop off the Wirraways and Colombo and then Bombay transhipping to the Dilwara.  On the Orontes period do you recall much serious work or training going on, or was it just filling in time? 

 

There was a lot of training going on because all air crew were picking up on the morse code and all the procedures for air-to-ground co-operation and things like that.  That was ....  We had classes every day. 

 

And what about recreation, social life, was there much of that or were people very much just left to their own devices? 

 

Well, from that point of view they carried out PT and all that sort of thing and after that they were left to the devices;  playing deck quoits and things of that nature. 

 

And what about the dangers of the journey from, obviously, submarines or surface raider attack.  Were people particularly conscious of that or not? 

 

They weren't until they got to the Red Sea I think and by which time we were in a big convoy.  And I remember one ship had four funnels I think.  It was the Khedive of Ismailia or something like that and it was a pre-first war vessel I think.  I think it could do about five knots and, of course, we were all reduced to that going up the Red Sea.  I particularly remember breakfast being served in the lower decks of kippers and porridge, going up the Red Sea at four or five knots with a following breeze probably.  It was pretty dreadful. 

 

Actually I think I've seen a cartoon of that of men sitting down to British kippers with the Australian troops complaining like mad.  Going back to that point, the Dilwara, the conditions for officers and men were very, very different and various people have said the conditions for men, you know, really were quite inadequate.  Do you think that reflected any particular British attitude towards how men could be treated, or was it just a quirk of that particular ship? 

 

No, it was the normal ....  It was a normal British troopship, and of course they'd been trooping the East for God knows how long, hadn't they, and I think there was a very great division between the ranks which didn't exist in the air force. 

 

And the Australian men really took umbrage, did they? 

 

They did, yes. 

 

Did they generally have the support of their officers? 

 

They did, yes. 

 

              What was done? 

 

Well, for one thing, they were eventually allowed to sleep on deck if they wished, which improved conditions enormously, especially under conditions of blackout and things like that with everything closed down;  it was pretty grim. 

 

Yes, I could imagine in terms of heat and smell and so on. 

 

Yeah, yeah. 

 

Going on to the Middle East, Mac, it was obviously a very, very different region in terms of its landscape and geography and people to the Australia you all knew so well .... 

 

Unless you'd been brought up on the Nullarbor or some place! 

 

True, true.  And to the landscape there, that's right.  But for you Sydneysiders, how was it?  What were your first recollections? 

 

Well, my first recollection when the Dilwara berthed, I had a small safe which must have weighed I think about 150 pounds at least, and I had it down in the bows of the ship, and I had what was for those days quite a fair bit of money in it which was in sterling which I had drawn from the ship, and I had to get this safe carted up and carried off to Ismailia where we were going to be based for a while.  I remember eight Arabs coming down - or not Arabs, they were Egyptians coming down - to collect this safe and they picked - the smallest of them - put the safe on his back and he carted it all the way up the companionways and down the gang-plank and put it on a truck. 

 

              Just a moment. 

 

END OF TAPE ONE - SIDE A 

 

START OF TAPE ONE - SIDE B 

 

Identification:  This is Ed Stokes with Mac MacInnis of 3 Squadron.  Tape one, side two. 

 

Mac, you were saying there was a bit of noise in this operation. 

 

Yes, because I think the only reason he would have been able to do it was of the chorus of encouraging calls being made by his mates which they were very good at.  We used to watch them pulling the barges along to the same sort of encouragement. 

 

What about the general poverty of the area, was that something that struck men, or not? 

 

Well, we didn't see very much of it because we went straight off to Ismailia and we went straight to our messes of course and it was only in the next few days when we started to walk around to see how people lived and how they worked.  But we certainly were struck by the degree of poverty which existed around there. 

 

              Mmm.  The ... 

 

Almost squalor. 

 

Yes.  During the time in the Middle East, this is now looking ahead a bit, was there much time when you had leave - five days here and there - when you could really see the sights, or not? 

 

Well, speaking entirely personally, no, I didn't have much time at all because I had to ....  When we first went to Ismailia we had brought nothing with us apart from items which were peculiar to the RAAF which was mainly clothing and things of that nature.  So we had to acquire all the equipment to set up in the Middle East as an army co-operation squadron armed with Westland Lysanders. 

 

Just a general point, do you think it would be true to say that, of your time with the squadron, whereas the pilots obviously had periods of very intense activity, they also had times when there was no flying and they could really unwind, whereas perhaps men in your support situation had to keep working more steadily but with fewer breaks? 

 

Well, I think that's only right and proper because they had tense periods which we never had, and I think any time off which they got was very well justified, but I'm not even sure that I was aware of what they were doing.  At a base like Ismailia of course which was quite a big air force base, it was established during the first war, and had been there ever since. 

 

Well, going on to the Ismailia period, I know there was a problem with planes being supplied, that planes that would have been ideal were being diverted to British squadrons, Hurricanes and so on, was there any feeling that you were being ill-done by? 

 

No.  No, not at all.  We knew I think before we left that we were to be armed with the Westland Lysander, an army co-operation aircraft, which had its extremely good features and some extremely bad features.  The extremely bad feature was it was no good in army co-operations aircraft because it wouldn't survive against any ....  It wouldn't survive in any aerial combat at all.  But, as we all know, it was used with great effect in France during the war, in landing agents and things like that. 

 

Right.  Well, from Ismailia, I know the squadron did then, via another place, go on to Helwan and it was really there that you became fully equipped I think with different flights, including Gauntlets, some Gladiators came in a bit later and a few Lysanders.  How easy was it to equip a squadron with these all different aircraft?  Did that pose particular problems? 

 

(5.00) Well, it did, while we had a mixed bag of aircraft because we had to look after them all.  We started off by erecting our full complement of Westland Lysanders.  I don't know where the decision was taken, I wasn't involved in it at all but it was determined then that the aircrafts' mix should come about, and as a first move they introduced one flight of the three flights of Gloucester Gauntlets which had been in the Middle East for a good many years I think.  But they were an open cockpit biplane between the world war vintage, probably 1933, '34, or something like that but they were introduced to be used as dive-bombers.  At a later stage the other two flights of Westland Lysanders were also changed and we got Gloucester Gladiators, also a Bristol aircraft there.  But we did keep one Westland Lysander which was a godsend to me later in the campaign. 

 

            Why was that? 

 

Because I used it for communication to go back to get spares from air stores park which, as we moved fairly quickly, were frequently anything up to 200 miles behind us. 

 

The RAF, I understand, was to provide the squadron with all its necessities bar, as you said, the specifically RAAF items.  How well equipped were you initially with all the other requisites:  tents, eating equipment, typewriters, all the things that I assume are needed for a squadron? 

 

By the RAF?  I think very well.  We were, after all, a mobile squadron and we couldn't afford any luxuries at all.  We just had enough to operate and move quickly as a mobile squadron.  We were given some peculiar typewriter I must admit, the old Olivettis with the vertical sort of thing. 

 

              Oh yes, those ones.  You'd need a monkey to type. 

 

Yes.  But I think we were very well looked after by the RAF. 

 

Mmm.  Right.  Well, moving on to the period at Amiriya where I know was one of your main bases before you really moved on to Mersa Matruh and then the general advance.  What's your recollection of the period at Amiriya? 

 

It was a very brief period actually and it was ....  Our activity was I think entirely devoted to preparing for a move into the desert which we were looking forward to. 

 

So was it a very intense period in terms of training and so on? 

 

In the air, I think it was, yes.  Yes. 

 

              And what about for the ground staff? 

 

Well, they were getting everything sorted out and discarding what we thought we didn't need, which was quite a lot.  We left all our clothing behind.  We were given a small store down at Amiriya were we were allowed to leave all our kit and everything like that because people had trunks and all sorts of things like that which .... 

 

So you were really going off just with a change of clothes so to speak? 

 

Yes, a small kitbag, that's all we had. 

 

I know that later in the advance, the first advance through the desert, you equipped yourself with a lot of enemy transport equipment and so on, but until you had achieved that and got that equipment, how did you get by for transport given that you were presumed to be a very mobile unit? 

 

We had no personnel carriers or anything of that nature at all.  We had a couple of station wagons and the rest were Fordsons[?] six-wheelers, I had two of those, and a small truck which was fitted out for the small spares items with little drawers and stuff like that.  But everything was crated up in the big trucks and the tentage and the cooking gear, such as it was, was usually a Sawyer stove, this went on to ordinary commercial Ford four-by-two trucks and the personnel sat on top. 

 

(10.00) Right.  This would have been in keeping with the local style of travelling I would imagine. 

 

Yeah. 

 

Could I just go on, Mac, to ask you about, more specifically, your own personal tasks.  We've got a list here.  Let's just run through and discuss the different aspects.  You were I understand at times working as a cipher officer? 

 

Yes, I did the duty at night as well as my ... I carried out my other tasks during the day and I did that at night.  In fact, I was on standby duty for cipher at any time.  And later on certain other officers including well-known names I think, Peter Turnbull was one and Johnnie Jackson in particular, he did ciphers to relieve me at times especially at Benghazi and ... 

 

What's your recollection incidentally of John Jackson?  He later of course commanded 75 Squadron. 

 

I think he was one of the greatest men I've known, Johnnie Jackson.  Peter Turnbull, you name any one of that squadron and they were all .... 

 

Exceptional men.  Right, well, going on back to your own role.  Of course you were intimately connected with the whole supply of the squadron.  You said you were a bit of a ragtime army, what did you mean by that? 

 

Well, we went into the desert during the latter half of the year and the desert can be very cold in the winter-time.  Water, if you have any water, will freeze overnight and we were sent into the desert in blue uniforms which was ....  Which of course in the dusty conditions didn't stand up very well.  Eventually I was able to put the squadron into British army battle dress which was much more suitable, and it was much better camouflage incidentally for ground staff and things like that. 

 

Yes, I'm sure that's true.  Just a small point related to uniform:  by and large, when you were in active situations, did men wear badges of rank and so on or were you all just so well-known it was irrelevant? 

 

Well, I think we wore our shoulder straps but it wasn't very relevant.  It was one big family. 

 

Right.  Pay, that was obviously an important aspect.  I assume men weren't actually physically paid in cash while they were away.  How was it all recorded? 

 

We had pay books which I had and they were actually paid, because they used to send people back to the Delta area either to collect equipment which we couldn't get from the air stores parks or to send them on leave, and they always had some money with them when they went.  And I always carried ....  I had a reasonable amount of money.  Leaping forward a bit when we retreated from Benghazi, I heard over the grapevine that the people up at Barce which was about 100 miles to the north of us had left the money in the safe when they left.  And on the way back I, in fact, did lose my safe but fortunately I had all my money inside my shirt.  I was leaping out of the .... 

 

That's very interesting.  When you said you had all your money inside your shirt, was that because given the particular situation you thought that was a safer place? 

 

Well, I wasn't prepared to be accused of leaving money behind anyhow, and I wasn't prepared to leave it in the safe because, as I said, I did lose that safe during the retreat.  I acquired it back later.  But I lost one of my stores trucks due to enemy action and the safe was in it, but we went out at a later stage and recovered it and it hadn't been touched but there was nothing in it apart from some rather heavy coinage which I couldn't put inside my shirt. 

 

Mmm.  That's most interesting.  The general difficulties of maintaining a supply line - this is going on ahead a little bit through the advance - how real were those difficulties? 

 

Well, it varied of course but I did have the Lysander to collect equipment in emergency, or at least such equipment as would fit into a Lysander, which wasn't very much. 

 

(15.00) Yes, I was going to say that could only be fairly light items. 

 

Yes, only fairly light items but we did carry all the essentials but from time to time we did have some severe shortages.  One was a wide lack of aircraft tyres.  When we got to Benghazi I think there were two aircraft were flown out of Benghazi with burst tyres stuffed with blankets and we couldn't replace them.  One was flown out by Peter Turnbull.  And unfortunately we had to leave behind our Italian CR-42 which we had to burn and leave because it didn't have a [inaudible]. 

 

Mmm.  Right.  One other final thing I'd like to ask about general provision of equipment.  You were saying before that until the squadron acquired during this coming advance the, I think, Italian tool truck or a kind of mobile workshop, you didn't have one.  That would seem to me an absolutely essential item for a mobile squadron that was obviously going to be involved in repair and replacement.  How were you expected to cope? 

 

I don't think people had anticipated the degree of mobility which developed during the several campaigns which took place.  When we moved out in the desert we moved up to an imaginary line and the enemy was behind an imaginary line, you know, about fifty miles away.  But the area in between of course was patrolled by both to a degree.  So I don't think they had anticipated the need for that sort of equipment, and if they did they assumed the repair and salvage units would be so close to the squadrons that they would be able to provide that for ... 

 

Right.  Because there were those repair and salvage units that operated independently of the squadron? 

 

Yes.  There were mobile repair and salvage units and mobile air stores parks which provided what was supposed to be close support to the front-line squadrons. 

 

Right.  One other aspect of your duties or - I don't know officially - but anyway you were involved in giving anaesthetics with the squadron doctor, Doctor Laver.  Tell us about that? 

 

Well, it wasn't that I volunteered but he requested my help I think.  I don't know whether he needed it because he did have medical orderlies with him but he thought it would be a good idea if I learnt to give anaesthetics, and I did.  It was only on three or four occasions I think that there was anything serious. 

 

              Were these battle casualties? 

 

Yeah, battle casualties. 

 

That must have been quite hard coping, I mean, facing people who'd been badly injured? 

 

Yes, it was ....  It's surprising how quickly you become accustomed to it, to seeing blood and serious injuries. 

 

              Mmm.  Sorry. 

 

At that time of course we were up in the battlefield area and there was plenty evidence of man's inhumanity to man lying around the place. 

 

Yes.  I was actually going to come onto that in a moment, Mac.  Doc Laver, let's just briefly sidetrack here.  Other people have said, and you've stressed that he was a fairly exceptional man.  Why? 

 

His personality, his consideration of others, his judgment of people;  in every shape and form, he was a superman.  He finished his medical career I think as a superintendent of the Women's Hospital in Melbourne. 

 

And he had been a flying doctor pre-war which obviously fitted him for this particular role.  How much of a father-confessor figure was he to young men on the squadron, perhaps pilots?  Or did he not get involved in that way? 

 

Well, that's where he excelled and without being obvious about it, he kept his eye open and that sort of thing.  There were some exceptionally young pilots with us, for instance, Wilfred Arthur, and I'm not suggesting that Wilfred needed - or Wolf as he was called in the squadron - needed any such attention from a doctor.  But Doctor Laver kept his eye on everybody, including me. 

 

(20.00) Right.  Was he able to step in where pilots were under great stress and perhaps on the point of cracking up? 

 

I don't think that situation ever arose. 

 

Mac, after the period at Amiriya you pushed on, I know, to Mersa Matruh and this was the beginning of the general advance.  I think you had a dug-out at Mersa Matruh, that's an interesting story, built by yourself, Doc Laver and Peter Turnbull.  What was the point of the dug-out? 

 

We thought we were going to be there for a long time, and it was pretty cold sleeping in an old bell tent and we saw signs that there had been some occupation there anyhow.  This was at a place about eight miles to the south of Matruh on the side of a wadi and we acquired a little bit of timber and we put a sort of roof over a hole and put some bunks in it and we were exceptionally comfortable.  [inaudible] 

 

              Could you stand up inside? 

 

Oh yes.  You could walk around and light the primus and cook some bully beef up. 

 

Sound rather like Sturt's little thing at Depot Glen. 

 

Yes. 

 

The dug-out I assume was a lot safer in the case of attack? 

 

Well, we were never attacked there.  We used to see them every night on the coast going down to Maaten Bagush and the area between Matruh and Alexandria I suppose.  They used to go down with the old SM-79s and you'd hear them coming over at night and there'd be all sorts of tracer shooting up to them.  But they never came near us because we were way out in the desert. 

 

Right.  I might just ask when you first saw, even distant attacks such as that, how did you feel?  Was there much apprehension or not? 

 

No.  Our ambition was to acquire some guns ourselves.  We did have a ground defence section and, but they were just mounted twin-Vickers guns and they had to come pretty close to us to be in any danger at all, I think. 

 

Right.  Well, after Mersa Matruh there was a quite rapid advance with the squadron leap-frogging along behind the army, so to speak ... 

 

Well, during the time we were, in the Mersa Matruh area.  They used to send regular flights out, mainly on reconnaissance, and they were accompanied by Gauntlets on occasion to do a bit of dive-bombing on the Italian perimeter camps, which ran in a great chain from Sidi Barrani down into the desert and they were well covered by reconnaissance every day.  And on the basis of those reconnaissance of course the eventual advance was planned and they knew which direction they were going to attack them from. 

 

Right.  So that aerial reconnaissance was obviously very important.  As you pushed on, the retreat became something of a rout I think, there were many battlefields you went through.  What was your recollection of that, I mean, of seeing it first hand, the destruction and devastation of battlefields in terms of material and men? 

 

25.00) Well, my first sight of that was a great salt pan at a place called Buq Buq between Sidi Barrani and the border at Bardia and the Gulf of Salum and the engineer who was a lighthorseman during the first war, he had joined the air force in the early 1920s and he was a trained engineer officer, he and I and a couple of ....  One or two others went out with us - for the life of me I can't think who they were and I haven't got a photograph - but at Buq Buq we ran across this battlefield where it had been a considerable Italian headquarters, and there was a field hospital there where we acquired some hospital equipment and a field workshop where we acquired this mobile workshop, afterwards accompanied the squadron to Italy I think.  And I've got no idea what ended up, but we lost it.  It's a great pity it's not at the War Memorial I think. 

 

Besides those things that you could acquire that were still obviously usable, how much material destruction, how many bodies were there? 

 

Well, with this particular area was littered with bodies.  There were no Allied troops at all, they were all Italians but the burial party hadn't started to deal with them.  It was a bit of a shock just to see them.  And their poor dress, and I think there was a very great division between the Italian officers and the comfort in which they lived and their troops. 

 

Right.  When you were in situations such as that or perhaps later when you came into contact with prisoners of war, or heard about them, did men such as yourself go beyond seeing them as the enemy Italians to Italians, men just like myself, or not? 

 

Well, I think most of them were so pleased to be out of it, the ones that did fall into our hands.  As a matter of fact, quite a lot of them made damn sure they were not going to escape as a matter of fact.  Well, they were men.  But there was no animosity whatsoever. 

 

Right.  That's interesting.  Well, the actual process of the advance is quite interesting.  It was obviously, in some ways, quite a complex situation where you had to be keeping up with the army and moving quite regularly.  I think you were saying you could move in two hours if you had to.  You were involved with the adjutant organising that.  How was it actually done?  How did you manage this process? 

 

Well, by that time ... Well, after the first move from Amiriya I think out to the Matruh area we had organised that move with proper paperwork and that sort of thing, but after that we just had to put out the word 'We're moving' and the people knew their trucks, they knew their equipment, they loaded 'em', they climbed aboard and off we went. 

 

So basically everything went back into the same truck, the same place? 

 

That's right.  Yes. 

 

The squadron was divided up into different parties I think.  Tell us how that operated? 

 

In what sense? 

 

Well, when you were making a move some people went ahead, some stayed behind, et cetera. 

 

Yes.  Some people went ahead to establish where we were going to be.  We were told of course but we had to find it, which is often very difficult 'cause there were no aerodromes as such, often it was just a clay pan in the desert.  But there was an advance party went off and then the main party went off following that and not very far behind, and if there was a need for a rear party to complete the repair of aircraft which were unserviceable or something like that, they'd follow along later when they could.  But it was to .... It was a fairly easy organisation because everybody knew what they had to do. 

 

As you moved on from airstrip to airstrip would you normally reach each new airstrip within a day's travelling or would you sometimes be overnighting? 

 

Yes. 

 

              You would rarely be camping on .... 

 

Very rarely;  very rarely. 

 

And having got to the new airstrip, was it a pretty well established routine where tents were to be pitched and the general camp organisation? 

 

Yes, it was, yes.  Yes.  It was dispersal.  That was the answer to it.  We didn't put all the tents together, they were dotted all over the place and just general directions were given and the section that travelled on that truck, they belonged to particular sections of the squadron, of course, they were armourers or something, they put up their own gear and they settled in and they went over to the so-called airmen's mess and got their tucker. 

 

Tell us about the airmen's mess, tent life, how comfortable or otherwise was it and what was it really like? 

 

It was pretty hard I should say but we were young then, or most of us were, and it was cold, it was hot, it was dry and we were dirty of course 'cause there wasn't much water to waste on cleanliness or anything like that.  Everything was reduced to its bare essentials. 

 

END OF TAPE ONE - SIDE B 

 

START OF TAPE TWO - SIDE A 

 

Identification:  This is Edward Stokes with Mac MacInnis, 3 Squadron.  Tape two, side one. 

 

Yes, you were saying you were pretty tough and you put up with the unpleasantness of this life.  The food, how nourishing or otherwise was that?  I don't mean in the sense of how tasty but how good was it as food? 

 

Well, we were rarely hungry but essentially it was iron rations.  We had no fresh vegetables, no bread, it was army biscuits, and the first army biscuits which we had, I think they'd been saving for a while, they were like large paving slabs and short of breaking with a hammer or soaking them overnight, you couldn't eat them at all. 

 

              Really, they were that hard? 

 

Yes.  They were literally that thick and about that square. 

 

              That's about four inches square and an inch thick. 

 

Yes.  But they were, I think within six months, they were replaced by a much smaller biscuit which was easier to break up and chew. 

 

Mmm.  Tell us about the oranges that you later had in Palestine?  I think you were saying that it was political difficulties that meant you didn't get those oranges where you might have in the desert? 

 

Well, that was the squadron opinion, because there would be no difficulty at all shipping truckloads of oranges out to the desert where they certainly would have done some good and reduced the incidence of desert sores which were quite common, due to the lack of vitamins. 

 

              Right.  Similar to the onset of scurvy in fact? 

 

Yes, yes. 

 

              Was scurvy itself ever talked about? 

 

It was never identified as scurvy but I think there were a few loose teeth around.  But there's nothing we could do about it.  Everybody was on the same basis. 

 

In the times when you weren't actively working and in between advances, was there time for a bit of fun, a bit of recreation or not? 

 

Oh, a bit of ....  We got a beer ration.  The troops got a beer ration and we had a captured radios [sic] and things of that nature, and we used to listen to the Italian radio and things like that and we played cards and things like that at night. 

 

              Was there much impromptu sport? 

 

None at all.  It wasn't conducive to sport of any kind because it was all rocks and sand and there was no area where you could have played sport. 

 

Right.  Well, going back to the general story of the advance, moving on towards Benghazi, Mac, what's your general recollection of that period? 

 

It was sort of a hunt I think.  It was 'Who's going to be first to Benghazi?'.  And we reached Derna before the army did.  I remember an army truck turning up and said, 'Where've youse blokes been?' and we said, 'Where have you been?  We've been here for a day.'   

 

Was there some real rivalry between units in terms of who would get to places first? 

 

No, not really.  But we were told to move and we moved probably with less problems than most other people because we'd become used to it by then.  And the ....  We probably shouldn't have been where we were on occasion but it certainly wouldn't have worked against the Germans because they would have been waiting for us. 

 

Right.  Well, at Benghazi I know the squadron spent a few months and I'd imagine it was something of a relief to be in one place for some time.  What's your recollection of Benghazi? 

 

(5.00) I didn't ... It was an empty shell of course.  There'd been considerable damage especially in the harbour area which had been bombed fairly regularly by the RAF - RAF Wellingtons actually.  We later acquired a Wellington which crash-landed at Benina aerodrome on its way back from Tripoli and it had got a bit bent, and we got it back on its wheels again and we got it in the air but we only got as far as Barce, I think, and they had to abandon it because it was unsafe. 

 

And at Benghazi were you in a tented camp  or were you in ...? 

 

No, we were in the old ....  It was a very large base, about I suppose three times as big as Richmond - pre-war Richmond - and it had a great officers' mess.  It was filthy and had been wrecked to a degree but it was cover.  But the hangars and everything like that had been bombed to the ground;  there were smashed aircraft everywhere. 

 

So in terms of your work as a equipment man, Benghazi wasn't a lot different to the period of the general advance? 

 

No.  We did some salvage there.  There was quite a lot of material in those stores that hadn't been destroyed and a lot of that was sent back to the Delta area, a lot of aircraft plywoods and things like that which were quite valuable.  They were recovered from there.  But the actual fighting equipment had been destroyed.  It had mainly been destroyed on the ground. 

 

Right.  Well, it was shortly after arriving there that there was some warning of the concentration of the German pre-advance troops and so on, although I think you were suggesting the evidence wasn't totally accepted back in Cairo. 

 

Well not initially, no.  No, because they didn't think that the ....  I think they knew that the Germans had arrived in North Africa but they didn't think they'd be on the job so quickly as they were.  But they didn't know Rommel of course. 

 

Right.  So ....  But you were saying you were so basically well prepared for moving that when you had to move off quickly it was no great problem? 

 

Yeah. Well, our problem was at that stage of course that due to high political decisions half of the defence of the area had been removed to Greece.  We were the only fighter squadron left on the front.  And the armoured division was, the 7th Armoured Division, which had carried out the push right down to the south of Benghazi, it was back being re-equipped.  It had to be re-equipped because it was worn out, and they had a very hastily thrown together second armoured division I think.  I'm not speaking with any authority on this but they didn't have much, not much in the way to prevent what happened because they'd been denuded of any defence at all.  It had all been sent to Greece where it was just poured into the fire of course. 

 

Sure.  When the retreat did occur, and I know you, as a squadron on the ground, crews went inland a little bit, it was a very, very rapid retreat and incredible distances in a short time. 

 

Before you go on, I think I didn't mention that while we were at Benina aerodrome near Benghazi we were rearmed with Hurricane 1s. 

 

Yes, I'd meant to ask you that.  Well, that was an important change.  They were quite different aircraft I think. 

 

They were different aircraft and they carried out a lot of operations down in the gulf and that's when Jock Perrin got shot down and the ....  We ran into the might of the Luftwaffe.  By that stage of course ME-110s and ME-109s were coming into it and were a different proposition. 

 

From the point of view of an equipment officer, that first re-equipment with Hurricanes, how difficult was it for you to handle the whole change of supply spare parts, et cetera? 

 

It wasn't difficult at all because I had every assistance from the RAF and the squadron's kit was made up at the base and it was brought up to us largely, all the forward part of it and the backup spares were placed in the air stores parks behind us.  So, it was no problem at all. 

 

So the RAF were very well organised in terms of the planes and all their parts coming in at the same time? 

 

Yes, yes. 

 

              Well, going onto the retreat and perhaps passing over the specific instances it was a very, very rapid journey back, how great a feeling of despair and despondency was there, if there was at all? 

 

(10.00) I don't recollect any despair or despondency at any time in the period that I was in No. 3 Squadron. 

 

              What do you ...? 

 

They seemed to accept whatever came along, and they were always expecting things to improve tomorrow, and eventually they did. 

 

So there was a feeling that although you were being pushed back you'd be .... 

 

Oh, we'd be pushing on again there.  Yeah.  Which is what happened. 

 

Yes, sure.  Do you have any other particular recollections of any incidents, for example, during that retreat? 

 

No, except they burnt all the ration dumps behind us and we were a little bit hungry. 

 

              Who was 'they'? 

 

Well, those responsible for the base areas I presume, and that would be the Royal Army Service Corps I suppose. 

 

Right.  They didn't realise that you were still to come or they couldn't allow for it? 

 

Well, we were a bit late getting out.  I think we were a bit late getting orders.  Now I'm not speaking with any authority on this, I was just getting the people out.  But I always carried reserve ammunition and I always carried reserve fuel, but to a degree we were dependent on that retreat on Italian fuel but we had our own arm spares.  If we hadn't had that I think the retreat would have been a lot worse because No. 3 Squadron during that retreat put up an extremely good show and they shot down a lot of enemy aircraft, particularly the JU 87s.  It's all in the history but I can't speak on that at all.  I just know the numbers that were shot down and who shot them. 

 

Yes sure.  That's an interesting point I think about the spare ammunition and petrol and so on.  This was all I assume being taken in trucks.  How many trucks would you have had that were simply loaded with ammunition and fuel? 

 

Well, about four trucks - I had small tankers called 'bowsers' in the RAF for some reason or other - and I also had fuel in cans and in drums.  I had about four trucks of that, but we would have been short of fuel on the way back if we hadn't had access to Italian fuel. 

 

And what about ammunition?  How many trucks would you have had loaded with ...? 

 

Two.  One truck got strafed somewhere near Barce I think and we lost a top hand.  I've got a photograph of it.  And that's the one I lost the safe in - the empty safe.  And coming through Derna we got a flat tyre and I was with this truck at the time and we tried to change this wheel, and I wasn't aware that they had left hand threads on the wheel of this blasted truck and I think there were about three ruptures out of that before we got that wheel changed.  But that had the ammunition on the bare chassis of this Fortune truck but that was ....  Of course the only ammunition we were using at the time was the old .303 ammunition;  it was in heavy boxes. 

 

That's an interesting point about the bogging.  Of course the terrain was very difficult, stony and if not stony, often sandy.  Did you have much problem with major boggings and that sort of thing? 

 

We did, but we got pretty used to digging out of course.  With very few exceptions these heavy slab-sided stores trucks as they call them, they were the only multi-wheel drive and they only drove on the back wheels.  They were six by fours as they called them.  But the rest were just ordinary commercial trucks. 

 

              Just two-wheel drive. 

 

Just two-wheel drive.  So you had to pick your way through the desert pretty well, and you certainly didn't stop on any soft sand if you could avoid it. 

 

              Yes. 

 

Because you couldn't take a [inaudible] into them. 

 

              Yes, that's a nasty feeling. 

 

You'd make for the nearest outcrop of rock and park on them. 

 

Mmm.  Sure.  Well, going on, at the end of the retreat I know you came to rest at Sidi Haneish I think? 

 

Yes. 

 

And there was a brief period when you were withdrawn from the line.  But then you went almost immediately up to Palestine in a cattle truck - cattle train.  You were saying you were very worn out, underweight and so on. 

 

(15.00) I think the squadron was because of the conditions under which they had been living.  And I think it was the fact that we hadn't been in contact with any source of infection - apart from flies of course and dysentery and things like that - but we didn't have any respiratory problems whatsoever until we hit the Delta and then a lot of us went down with a thing. 

 

And you, yourself, I think, Mac, had double pneumonia but only twenty-four hours in hospital? 

 

Well, I was in far better hands in the doctor's care when he moved me back to Lydda because conditions, there were even better than the hospital I think and I had better attention from him. 

 

              And this is with Doctor Laver? 

 

Yes, yeah. 

 

Mac was just making the point off tape that, of course, that was pre-penicillin.  In camp at Lydda, Mac, was where the squadron I think re-equipped with Tomahawks. 

 

Yes. 

 

I have heard some pilots say that that particular conversion was very difficult because they were a much more highly powered plane than they were used to.  Is that your recollection or not? 

 

They ....  Well, I couldn't speak on that at all, not being a pilot, but certainly listening to the pilots when they came in after training, they found them much more difficult to fly than the old Hurricane, which was a gentlemanly aircraft.  And the main problem with the Tomahawk was that it had a ....  That the armament included two .5 inch machine-guns firing through the airscrew disc, and the interruptor gear which was supposed to prevent any damage to the airscrew of course wasn't terribly efficient, and we had quite a heavy usage of airscrew blades with the .... 

 

By this you mean the men were actually shooting their own propellers? 

 

Mmm. 

 

              Why weren't the planes then crashing? 

 

Well, these were metal airscrews and didn't destroy the blade but it made it inefficient of course.  It only made a hole about that big through it.  But you certainly couldn't send the aircraft off again with it.  Although we had crash-landings in the Hurricane days, and I watched people straightening out airscrews with a sledge-hammer and that aircraft going back into combat. 

 

              Mmm.  Incredible. 

 

Yes. 

 

There were though I think quite a few prangs with these new Tomahawks.  Is that your recollection, or not? 

 

Yes, there were. 

 

              Did that pose a great strain on your supply lines? 

 

Well, it imposed a great strain on the supply of aircraft rather than ....  They were only slightly damaged.  They'd land on one wheel or something like that and they would destroy one wing-tip.  But I think a lot were concerned about it at the time because - and I don't know that it - it was part of the aircraft's fault I think. 

 

Right.  After the period at Lydda and this conversion the squadron got involved in the Libyan campaign .... 

 

In the Syrian. 

 

Sorry, the Syrian campaign, yes.  What's your general recollection of that period both in terms of the squadron's activities and the somewhat easier living conditions? 

 

Well, they're certainly healthier living conditions because when we left Lydda we moved to rural areas which were on the outskirts of Jewish kibbutzims [sic] and they were very generous to us in the way of supplying fresh vegetables and truckloads of oranges and things like that, for which they received no payment whatsoever - but they wouldn't take it.  And even up in Syria the fresh food supply was extremely good and that's when we arrived in Syria and were based at an old French air base they called Rayak. 

 

Right.  The actual campaign, the squadron's duties, to you recall much of that? 

 

The ...? 

 

              The squadron's duties, during the Syrian period? 

 

Well, they were air defence of course and they had remarkable figures for that period.  I think the score was twenty-nine to one during that Syrian show and we recovered the pilot from the one that we lost.  That was Frank Fisher, afterwards the chief pilot for TAA after the war.  But he was picked up by Senussi and brought back to us.  And, of course, very heavy ground strafing activities.  Of course, one of which took place - I don't recall the name of the area now but it's on the same site as a famous No. 2 Squadron victory during the first war when they caught convoys in a very narrow defile and shot them up no end;  it was absolutely devastating what they did there. 

 

(20.00) That's most interesting.  After the Syrian campaign there was another re-equipment this time with Kittyhawks which of course were not too different from the Tomahawks.  How did that affect squadron life and your role in particular? 

 

Well, it was only a change of mark number rather than a change of aircraft title because the Kittyhawk was a development of the Tomahawk.  It was a Curtis aircraft with the same engine but the armament was much more reliable and it didn't fire through the airscrew, and I think the engine was more powerful as well and they didn't have any problems with the Kittyhawk which would be comparable with the ones they had with the Tomahawk. 

 

Mmm.  I wanted to ask at some point about the leadership of the squadron.  People generally talk in very glowing terms about the squadron's unity and morale, esprit de corps and so on.  How much of that do you think was due to the different COs that passed through the squadron? 

 

All of it.  All of it I'd say.  There was a natural cohesion with the squadron but they'd been together through some pretty hard circumstances for a long time and when the .... 

 

I was asking you, Mac, about the qualities of the COs. 

 

When we were at Benghazi they decided that they would have a set up an RAAF section with Middle East air force headquarters to oversee the whole of the influx of the other RAAF people who were moving to the Middle East, in the main, output of the Empire Air Training Scheme arriving and they were going to set up additional squadrons, so they decided they'd have to set up this section at Cairo and Squadron Leader McLachlan as he then was went down to take charge of that.  And the successive changes in the squadron COs were all brought about by people being promoted to higher responsibilities, and I think Peter Jeffrey took over a wing rather than just looking after No. 3 Squadron and of course somebody had to step into his shoes.  But the chaps that successively stepped into the predecessor's shoes chose themselves naturally without any question from anybody.  It was just a natural succession. 

 

Right.  If you had to single out one of the squadron leaders as the one who had the most to do with the formation of the strong morale of the squadron, who would it be? 

 

Peter Jeffrey.  But I can only talk about my times.  See, Bobbie Gibbes came along after I left, as CO.  He was with the squadron for quite a long time before I left it of course, but he became CO after that.  So I can't speak of anybody else apart from that.  But I think Peter Jeffrey was. 

 

              Why was he outstanding? 

 

Well, he had a very strong personality;  he was a good leader;  he had people behind him;  he fought for the squadron;  and even when he relinquished command of No. 3 Squadron he was still with us because he was commanding the wing of 4 Squadron of which No. 3 was one.  So he was with us all that period.  But he was a citizen air force chap before the war and he was also training in engineering at Sydney University when the war broke out.  But he was the squadron's signals officer when - before he took over from Squadron Leader McLachlan and that was at Benina before our first retreat. 

 

Right.  Did you ever later in the war or at any other time come across a squadron that had a comparable level of esprit de corps? 

 

(25.00) I never had the opportunity because I got posted to weird jobs after I came back - staff posts in the main.  I can't imagine any squadron being in any way being comparable to No. 3 Squadron. 

 

              (laughs) This isn't at all subjective, is it? 

 

No.  That's very objective and it's a very personal view because ....  I don't know.  It was because we went overseas at a time it was appropriate to feel like that I think ... 

 

              Well, it's certainly a ... 

 

And we were isolated too, that was another thing.  We were isolated.  We were inward-looking all the time. 

 

Yes, that's an interesting point just to develop.  How much of the esprit do you think was the result of two other things:  one, fighting a 'clean' war in the desert, in that there weren't civilians getting knocked around;  and, two, being in a desert environment itself that imposes its own challenges whether you're at war or not? 

 

I think it is extremely important.  What you said is quite correct but I think the fact that we didn't have much contact with other people at all.  We were after all on our own in a particular spot in the desert, and there were very few people close to us in any way at all, except army people who were patrolling around us from time to time.  But there was no bases at all and the nearest squadron until we started forming into wings was a long way away. 

 

This is an interesting point.  During the general advances and retreats, not looking at any specific period, but when you were out in the desert, how much day to day contact did you have with members of other passing units - an army patrol passing by, an air force unit going to set off somewhere else - or were you really very rarely in contact with anybody at all? 

 

Well, we used to meet them.  I used to go out on bits of safaris looking for shot-down aircraft.  I wasn't the only one that did that.  The engineer officer went out, and the doctor went out on occasions too because on one particular episode in the second push to Benghazi early in the piece - Operation Battle-Axe, or something like that - we lost seventeen aircraft I think on one particular operation, and we had one report that a pilot had been seen to get out of his aircraft.  Well, we used to go out looking for these people and try to recover the aircraft and we got quite a lot of those pilots back.  They often came back under their own steam.  The army'd pick them up and brought them back to us and ....  But on this particular occasion we went to this aircraft that had been shot down to the south of Bardia - it was during a big hook arrangement that Rommel was carrying out and he had a very large armoured force and he had flak tanks with him and that's when you run into trouble because they were ground-strafing these people and dropping bombs on them - but this chap who was supposed to got out of his aircraft, we did find him but we was ....  He'd been rolled up into a ball and that's how he'd got out of his aircraft, he'd been thrown out.  And we were in the process of burying him when a German tank came towards us and started [peeping] off and we were rescued by a detachment of the 11th Hussars that brought up a twenty-five pounder gun. They were just passing and they unhitched their gun and opened fire on the gun which retreated.  You met people like that all the time when you were out there because the ... 

 

But there was no regular ongoing contact with other people? 

 

No, no. 

 

Mmm. So you did become very self-sufficient both ... 

 

We did have visiting ....  We had visiting staff of course.  We had Lord ....  We had Air Marshal Tedder who used to come to visit his 'black troops' as he called us and he'd have a bit of bully beef with us, and people like that.  We had, I think, most of the senior army officers came to visit us from time to time because we were close support and we were with the army to that extent but we weren't cheek by jowl with them. 

 

Mmm.  So in terms of day to day living and friendships, you formed your friendships within the unit or not at all. 

 

Yes, that's right. 

 

Well, going on, Mac, it was after the re-equipment with Kittyhawks that the other push, or the second push began back into the desert, in part to relieve Tobruk.  You yourself I know left the squadron soon after the relief of Tobruk.  What's your recollection of those last weeks with the squadron? 

 

END OF TAPE TWO - SIDE A 

 

START OF TAPE TWO - SIDE B 

 

Identification:  This is Ed Stokes with Mac MacInnis, 3 Squadron.  Tape two, side two. 

 

Yes.  I was just asking about the last weeks with the squadron. 

 

Well, they were very intensive operations of course, because if you've read the history of the attempt to relieve Tobruk and push on beyond, the actual army engagement became so complicated I don't think anybody knew anything about it apart from those that were in a particular local action.  It seemed to be spread all over the desert in little penny packets, have little fights and big fights and all busy losing their tanks until Rommel, he left Tobruk with a considerable force with the object of cutting off the British people who were halfway to Tobruk from the Egyptian border.  We were down, oh we were about a hundred miles down the wire at that stage, and we expected this great column to pass through the particular field that we were operating from - if you could call it a field, it was an area of desert - sometime at midnight.  But they missed us by about three or four miles I think and turned north to Bardia hoping to enclose a considerable portion of the British army who were between them and Tobruk.  And it was that time that I think we had our worst day in the air.  But they were shot down from the ground rather than from the air. 

 

              Mmm. 

 

But the enemy air activity was much more intense as well, mainly by fighter aircraft and ground strafing aircraft. 

 

Just going back to your personal story, how much warning did you have that you were to leave for Australia? 

 

Well, not long I think.  I was just told I was required back in Australia for reasons which were beyond me anyhow at that stage.  But I had been posted down to Cairo early in the piece but fortunately I climbed out of that one and they posted somebody from Australia to do the job.  I'd have hated to be down there. 

 

              Why? 

 

It didn't appeal to me at all to be ensconced in Cairo while the war was going on in the desert. 

 

And you were saying that you did really enjoy being in the desert. 

 

I liked it, yes.  It was clean.  I think you said earlier, there was no civilians involved.  It was a war of movement, there were no fixed lines.  It was exciting at times. 

 

Mmm.  When you did hear the news that you were to come back to Australia, was that good news, or not? 

 

Mixed feelings.  I wanted to get back to my wife of course and no doubt if I climbed out of that she wouldn't have been very pleased.  But I couldn't anyhow because they'd already posted somebody to take my place.  Unfortunately for No. 3 Squadron Dick Hickson had been posted to another squadron, one of the Empire Air Training squadrons that were being formed and they posted somebody fresh from Australia.  That's about the same time as 'Dixie' Chapman came I think. 

 

(5.00) Mmm.  Right.  The actual departure of men from a squadron in the way you left when things were going on, was there a pause to say 'goodbye' to individuals or did people come and go so much that it was just matter of course? 

 

There was a pause and I think the first major party to go home was about forty some time before I came home, and they were officially farewelled on a parade on the desert.  You know, everybody gathered around and the CO sort of said a few appropriate words and after that, of course, reinforcements kept arriving and people were sent home.  I think of the crew that I started off with on my own personal staff - I had about nine I think - I think five of those were commissioned eventually, three as air crew and years later I finished up with one as my offsider in London so - one of the commissioned ones. 

 

I should have asked you too, just as we were going through, Mac, when you came to leave what rank were you? 

 

I didn't know because I hadn't been told, but I was a squadron leader. 

 

Was that issue of promotions being very slow coming through, sometimes not coming through at all, did men really resent that, or not? 

 

Well, I landed back in Melbourne and I met somebody who was on ....  Who had been on a couple of courses after a while.  It was the same one that my brother Ian was on and I met him walking along Collins Street.  I was reporting up to Victoria Barracks, where Department of Air were still, and he was a squadron leader and I was still a flight lieutenant.  But I found I'd been a squadron leader for six months, or something like that. 

 

              And the paperwork just never got through? 

 

Well, something happened somewhere along the line and the promotion didn't get through, yeah.  It didn't really matter. 

 

Right.  Well, I was going to ask:  Did men resent the fact that promotions were slow coming through or were they so busy and generally so satisfied with their work that it didn't matter much? 

 

Well, fortunately I don't think they operated to establishments.  I went away with one corporal, some LACs and the rest were ACs.  When I left the corporal was a flight sergeant and I had, I think, three or four sergeants.  So they didn't hold ... I didn't hold up their promotion because they were overseas.  They were promoted on recommendations from the field and they were promoted on their seniority of course.  And I don't think anybody in No. 3 Squadron lost out.  I think it possibly could have happened in the Empire Air Training Schemes [sic]. 

 

              Right. 

 

Once they were overseas they were largely in RAF hands I think.  I don't really know about that.  But certainly we could have raised no complaints about it. 

 

Right.  Well, moving on a little bit, just to put it on the record because we have to keep the focus on No. 3 Squadron, you did later I know go to air force headquarters where you were involved in setting up a field organisation, I think, of repair and salvage units? 

 

I wrote the report which was very well received on my experiences in the field as a mobile squadron participant and I .... 

 

What was the key lesson of that, could you put it in a few words, or not? 

 

Well, the essential point for mobility is to reduce the baggage to an absolute minimum, and the only way of doing that and still maintain support is to move some of that baggage back to an ancillary unit within easy reaching distance and to do the same with heavy repair work.  And on the basis of that report, which was adopted by airborne, they set up the air stores parks and the repair and salvage units and the airfield construction squadrons which were used in the war in the Pacific.  But there's one point which I think I should make.  We were moving about one land mass which is a lot easier than moving from island to island and across mountain ranges going up to 11,000 feet or whatever it is. 

 

(10.00) Yes.  So it must impose its own problems. 

 

So it wasn't to the same degree of mobility so, although the basic organisation was adopted and it seemed to have proved effective, but the air stores parks had to move quite a long time after the squadrons moved, whereas in the Middle East they could move practically at the same time because they had their own transport. 

 

Mmm.  Right.  Well, after that I do know that you were involved in intelligence work that took you up to Queensland, I think even up to the Philippines? 

 

Well, not intelligence work, I think that is the wrong term to use.  But a "watching and liaison" brief to see that we were fairly treated. 

 

Right.  Well, just finally, Mac, looking back on it all, both in particular your time with No. 3 Squadron but the experience of war generally, at the end of the war or perhaps now, how did it all seem to you? 

 

Well, I think the biggest shock at the end of the war was I was involved in the repatriation of the prisoners of war - army and air force - as I was with the army then.  I was on General Blamey's headquarters.  I saw these people coming in from Singapore to Morotai, and that was the real shock and my war wasn't like that. 

 

              Yes.  In a sense No. 3 Squadron had a good war. 

 

Yes.  Well, in comparison with the POWs they certainly did, but I don't think it's appropriate for me to comment on that aspect because .... 

 

              Do you mean the prisoners of war? 

 

No, on comparative danger or, comparative danger or comfort or anything like that but I was very glad I wasn't posted to No. 1 Squadron or No. 8 Squadron in Singapore. 

 

Mmm.  Yes.  They had a different time for sure.  Just finally, is there anything that you feel you would like to add to the record that you would like to say? 

 

No.  Just a general statement is that I don't think that there was any body of men anywhere that compared with No. 3 Squadron. 

 

              Right.  Well. 

 

... at any time, while I was with it or after I left it.  From what I've read from what happened after I left it, they continued the good work. 

 

Good.  Well, on behalf of the War Memorial, Mac, thank you very much for making these tapes. 

 

Thank you very much. 

[3SQN Assn repaired version of original transcript.]

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