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(Two Interviews: 1990 and 1984.)
Portrait by Sir William Dargie. Walter Hamilton Arthur MAILEY (service no. 402375),
who served with No. 3 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force, during the Second World War.
Dargie met Mailey when he was covering the North African campaigns.
Mailey was awarded a Distinguished Flying Medal in 1942 for "sound leadership
fighter pilot and destroying aircraft". In correspondence to Treloar, Dargie captioned the portrait:
"Son of a famous Australian sportsman, this pilot saw action in both the Syrian & Libyan campagins."
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: WAL MAILEY
SUBJECT OF INTERVIEW: 3 SQUADRON, RAAF
DATE OF INTERVIEW: 2 JULY 1990
INTERVIEWER: EDWARD STOKES
TRANSCRIBER: LYNNE LOSIK
TRANSCRIPTION DATE: 16 AUGUST 1990
NUMBER OF TAPES: 2
Identification: This is tape one, side one of an interview with Mr Wal Mailey of 3 Squadron. The date is 2nd July 1990, and I am Edward Stokes. End of identification.
Right. And I think you were saying you went to school in Sydney and completed schooling, and then later began working as a cadet journalist?
Yes, that's right, with the Daily Telegraph who .... It was started by Frank Packer in '35, I'd think it'd be, '36.
Mm. I think you were saying with other people, you have the distinction of being sacked by Packer too?
Yeah, that was one of those things, yeah. I think every, er, journalist would have been at one time or another, sacked by Frank Packer.
Yes, he certainly had a name for that. Um, just turning back to some other issues in those early years. The general tradition of Gallipoli of the involvement of Australians in the first world war and so on - their achievements. Were you particularly conscious of that as a boy and a young man, or not?
Very, very much so. My father's brother lost an arm, and his other brother was killed, and, er, when I was within weeks of going overseas, my uncle died. So I had a little grudge.
The family then, were they fairly fully behind your decision to go overseas or not?
Oh my word. My mother had died but my father was very proud, and he was, of course, a well-known Australian. He was Arthur Mailey, the cricketer, and of course by the name alone was recognised wherever I went.
I hadn't realised that. That's interesting. Um, the political developments in Europe during the 1930s - especially the later 1930s - how conscious of those changes and events were you?
Well, I suppose because I had worked newspaper, was a reader of a newspaper, and of course there'd be .... Radio wasn't as efficient as it is today, but I was reasonably conscious. I suppose one would be in - oh, it's very difficult to say - conscious enough to praise Chamberlain and yet disappointed. I think we all were. I think there were .... People had high hopes of more than that but didn't want to back down.
Right. Turning to the air force, I think you were saying that you did try to join the air force, but your father prevented you. Had you always had a ...? Was there some deep desire to fly? What was at the root of all that?
Oh I suppose, yeah. There'd be the Kingsford-Smith's and the Amy Johnson's and the romance of flying in the late '20s, early '30s. Yeah, I think every young man wanted to fly then.
Mm, yes, well that's certainly understandable if you look at the feats of those people. Well, war broke out, of course, and you enlisted shortly afterwards. I think you were saying it was about May or June of '40 that you were in fact called up. What's your recollection of that first entry into the air force?
Well, very very - entirely strange because I'd never been in a barracks or having to sleep with a lot of young men before, and although I'd been a surf clubber and, of course, been away on weekends with the surf club, but it was - being regimented was quite strange. And I was, being a little older, found it a little more difficult than some of them just come out of boarding school or out of school and had been used to being told, `Tomorrow morning, be up at nine o'clock' - or six o'clock or five o'clock - `and go and peel the potatoes', and that type of thing. So I found that a little bit. Ah, it didn't take many weeks for one to realise that's - we had to take that type of thing and you just did it. And matter of fact, after a while I found - rather proud to be able to march.
Mm. I was going to ask you about all the parade ground bashing and so on. Was that a big part of that entry into the air force, or not?
(5.00) Oh, I think it was a very big part of it, because it was the first time that a lot of us had any discipline. As I remarked, I didn't do compulsory training because it had been cancelled by that time, but none of us had really been - apart from being a boy scout or something - had any discipline, so when we did go in there and found we didn't know our left foot from our right foot - and a tough little sergeant-major - it made a big difference.
Do you think that parade ground discipline later carried over into discipline in the air or not? Or were they just two totally separate sorts of discipline?
I think you just learnt to obey. No, it would carry over.
Right, well moving on a bit. After the period of your initial training - not flying training at Bradfield Park - I know you went to Rhodesia. Um, tell us about the journey to Rhodesia.
Well we were on a reasonably small ship, the Nestor and it went via the Cape then, of course, and there were just forty air crew and sailors going to England, I think, for further training. We were treated as full passengers, - had twin cabins actually - so it was not rigged for a troopship. It was literally - we just travelled as passengers. And it was very good because there was a lot of competition between the navy and our forty of the air force, and deck hockey and that kind of thing. It was .... It was a pleasure cruise in a way, except, of course, we went unescorted and as we left Fremantle, one of our ships had been sunk by a raider, and they let the old Nestor go out as a bit of a bait I think. Fortunately no-one swallowed it.
Mm, right. Was there much tension during the voyage to do with raiders and submarines, or not?
Well, as I said, initially yes, although we were rather ignorant of what was happening. We .... No-one briefed the poor little airmen that we were being shadowed. So, no, there wouldn't be a lot, although, of course, we did have to do a cigarette watch and that kind of thing of a night. No-one allowed to smoke out on decks and no lights and that kind of thing.
Right. Well, let's move onto the arrival in Rhodesia. I know you did your training at Salisbury, um, now of course, Harare. Um, what's your first recollection, or your main recollection, of that elementary flying training? Was flying as exciting as you'd hoped, or not?
I found it hard work, as I was a little bit slow on soloing, but very exciting because none of us had flown before we left Australia. Rhodesia - or Zimbabwe - is 5300 feet above sea level - or whatever that is in metres - and a little more difficult there because your aircraft drops out of your hands a little more than if you're down at sea level.
With the thinner atmosphere?
Yeah, and first time I landed afterwards in Cairo, er, I didn't know when the plane was ever going to touch the ground. It just seemed to want to float on and on and on. That made it a little more difficult but overall we, we got on fairly well with the RAF. There were a few brushes between the Australian - well, what you call it, ego? - and then the discipline of the RAF. It was all RAF training there at Salisbury. It was under the Empire Air Scheme though.
Were there only men from Australia and the African colonies, or also young men from the other dominions also?
Only Australian and English. I don't know .... Africa, er, South Africa had its own. They were quite independent. There were the odd .... Now I come to think of it, there was a Fijian there - a white Fijian. Early in the piece I don't remember - no, I don't think there was any Canadians at all. They did their own thing.
Yes of course. Um, just turning to the flying aspect of your training. Had there been any theoretical training coming across on the ship or not?
I can't remember.
(10.00) Well, going on to Africa then, during the elementary flying training, how much of your training was theoretical? How much of it was `in the air' training, and how good was the training?
Well, `in the air' training was excellent. We had qualified, very good instructors from England. A lot of them had had Battle of Britain experience, actually, and the theory - I would imagine that we would do two hours flying and four hours theory a day, at least. There would be your navigation, your, er, what else? Oh, the aircraft engines, frames, the whole .... We actually got a fairly good idea. None of us could understand why we wanted to know about an aircraft engine, and if it broke down up at 10,000 feet how were we going to get out and repair it. But afterwards it did pan out that it worked because you were conscious of what might go wrong, and when you came down on the ground, if there was a noise or something, you were able to explain it because you had the theory.
Mm, yes. I would have thought that was most important and knowing what to avoid doing to an engine perhaps in terms of overstraining it.
The more that you could be able to explain it to your mechanic. And so it gave him a lead immediately that you heard this or your revs went down, and you did this and you did that, and he had a lead without having to pull the engine right down to find out.
Right. After your initial flying training in Tiger Moths your advance training, I think, was in Harvards - quite a different aircraft. How did you cope with that change?
Well I immediately liked them because of the extra power and manoeuvrability, although of course, the old Tiger was a very very fine aerobatic aircraft, but the Harvard, especially .... The earlier ones were quite exciting because they had a quite a tendency to ground loop and stall - they had a high stalling speed - and the Mark IIs a little later were much better for teaching on. But they did everything. And of course they were the early runner, really, of the Australian Wirraway.
You were saying I think that you'd taken a rather slow start with Tigers, but that in Harvards you, your training gained momentum. Was that a quality of the aircraft or simply that you'd overcome some barrier of confidence?
Oh I think it was the confidence more than anything else, that once I'd soloed I just - I think there was just a mental block on the soloing that I had to overcome and I did. The Harvard came easy.
Tell us about your first solo flight. Was that a -? I mean, how traumatic an experience was that?
Oh it's a very .... The first solo on a Tiger Moth of course is rather interesting because you've suddenly got an aircraft without the other man in, so the weight is not there and it takes off so much more quickly and the style of thing as to .... It's a thorough thrill for anyone first solo. You only do a circuit and you go back on the ground - and you love to get back on the ground - but the moment you've done it you want to get up again, immediately. You want to go a second time. And from then on, of course, it is only when one becomes negligent that you have any problems.
Mm, right. The choice between fighters and bombers. I understand for you it was definitely fighters - that was your preference. Why was that?
I don't know really. I don't think it was worrying about responsibility for others. I don't think so. I have never really given it much that kind of thought. But I just liked the .... I don't know. Maybe it's what I read or saw, and found that the romance of a fighter was more than the bomber. And we didn't even know what a bomber really was like except from the first world war, so it was just a slow thing, and it didn't mean anything. But a fighter always had more romance to it I would imagine.
Mm. Looking at the men you knew who were both fighter and bomber pilots, speaking generally, would you see any difference in characteristics? Was there a certain type who made a good bomber pilot as against a good fighter pilot or not?
I don't think I could really say anything about that because I don't know. Ah, no. Be very difficult to answer a thing like that because most of my time was associated with fighters and fighter boys, and I suppose I was only ever in a bomber once and never really associated with bomber crews.
(15.00) Right. Age, I think, is perhaps an interesting aspect, just to pursue for a moment, Wal. You, of course, by this stage at the end of your training, were about twenty-six, twenty-seven - quite a lot older than most men. Was that an advantage or not, do you think?
Initially no, but afterwards, and when one used his maturity and became a little more, shall I say, `cautious' for a better word, he - which is not really .... It's supposed to be a fighter pilot's - lost the word - but I found that we, more mature men seemed to live on a little longer anyway. They, I think, applied their brain a little bit more than their raw courage.
Right. So in situations where it might have been foolish to go on, the older man might have pulled back?
I think so, yeah. He worked out that there was another day and he could, he could go up the next day and .... Quite silly to be left up there by yourself and about twenty of the other - the enemy, for words - having .... Be shot down and not be there. So you may as well whip off and .... There were so many times that, with a fight, that you all, you split up and you were just by yourself, so .... There was no way you could stay in formation in a fight. You have ten or twenty of the other men around having a look at you and deciding whether you're a good shot, er, a good target, well that was the time to look for a bit of cloud and go home.
Mm, time to get out. Um, tactics. In your pre-operational training, were tactics very much stressed or not?
Yeah, I'm talking about the period in Rhodesia.
No, no. Very little. There was no - oooh, very little ammunition firing. Maybe you fired a single gun once or twice. That's about all. They only put one machine-gun in the Harvards. No, it wasn't until you got to operational training that you got any at all, and ah, even mine was quite limited, but it was enough to get acclimatised to the fighter pil... er, the fighter aircraft.
Right, just one final aspect about your training. The other men you were training with. By and large, how would you ...? Did they cover the whole spectrum of Australian society or were they something of an Úlite in terms of educational background and so on?
Of well of course they all had to have a pretty good educational background because you wouldn't get through in the first place. And early in the piece - as I'm talking, it's early - I'm talking about a third course in the Australian scheme - Empire Air Scheme. And at that time they could be a little selective on who they were taking in. I don't why they selected me but there were young men coming in straight out of school, out of college, and of course they were keen as mustard and very good at their paperwork. Ah, myself, I had to nudge one or two of 'em to give me an answer every now and again, and make sure I passed.
The men themselves, did they see themselves as being pilots, as something of an Úlite or not - vis-a-vis the other services?
Oh yeah, oh yes very definitely. We used to wear a white arm band to show that you were in selected air crew, and that is a proud thing to be able to put up there, that arm band. So, oh yes, there was no doubt about that - they all felt they were a little better than the others.
Mm, right. Just one final aspect here. You were saying before that there was some tension, if you like, between the British RAF officers and the Australians, and you used the word `ego' I think. What did you mean by that exactly?
Well the Australians were, had been reputed - and I suppose we'd go by a repute - as not liking too much discipline. And of course the British love their discipline and they .... We objected a little bit to it, to a point - I'll put it to a point. And also, we, although our pay wasn't very very big it was better than what the British were getting and that hurt a little. We were able to spend money. Our uniforms were distinctive being the Australian blue instead of the grey-blue of the English. It was better material. These, all these little things, I think, hurt the RAF, and um, but overall, no. More or less one or two. I mean, they didn't like some things we did in the censoring. They'd censor a letter a little heavily and that type of thing. It was quite harmless but they would show their superiority by cutting a bit more out of a letter. It was just, with niggly things really, nothing much more. Afterwards, when we finished training and when we got into the operational area, there was no problems at all anywhere.
Right. So, it was more at this training stage?
(20.00) Well moving on to that, it was from Rhodesia you went straight up to Cairo. I think you did your operational training at Ismailia on Hurricanes and Tomahawks, I think? What's your recollection of that period?
Oh, once again, the aircraft, when they first walked out - both of them - they looked so damn big and a great nose sticking out - especially on the Tomahawk, with a couple of guns in it - was `How the hell am I going to fly this?', especially when you had no way of having dual or anything else. The instructor just turned round and said, `There's the stick and there's the throttle, and you take off at that speed and you land at that speed. Better have a go and there's where, how you put the flaps up and down'. So it was ...
Was it really as simple as that? Did you have no prior, for example, theoretical training on the aerodynamic characteristics of the aircraft - things like stall speed and that kind of thing?
Well I suppose so, yeah. We'd have been given, ah .... Sure, yes, we'd have been given the dope on that. Would have been just a matter of hours - a few hours of study. 'Course they kept the ground study up most of the time. You still always had to do a certain amount of navigation. Not there, in the OTU, not quite as strict as it would have been in - the theory, I mean - in, when we were in initial training. And then of course, from then on there was never any. From that moment on you never saw any kind of theory at all.
So any training from then on was discussion amongst pilots of the last operation, that kind of thing?
Yeah. That was .... One of the very imperative things was after discussion after an op. And we were very fortunate that our doctor saw that it was a very good thing for the sergeant pilots to get in with the officers. Not .... Very early we used to - just when we got down on the ground - I'd go to the sergeants' mess and the officers'd go to the officers' mess - even though they were only tents. And it was a bit lack of discussion. So the doctor found that it was a very good idea to start a pilots' mess and I think 3 Squadron was the first one to have a pilots' mess.
That's interesting, 'cause I have .... We have certainly talked with this with other people. I thought the pilots' mess had been instituted from the start, but you're suggesting that when you first arrived there was an officers' and a sergeants' mess.
Very definitely. Oh yes. The only time we would have ever combined would be on a Christmas Day or something like that, and that's when the officers served the crew. So, no, it wasn't till we were out in the desert on the second time that the officers' mess was created ...
The pilots' mess.
The pilots' mess I mean, yeah. But when we were in Iraq and Syria we definitely had our own building on the airstrip so there was no - and of course, the `sergeants' also meant the ground crew sergeants. They were all in the same mess.
Just going back to one other aspect of your operational training. Tactics. Was this stressed very much or not?
This is just reading out from Wal's log book, just as an interesting example of the lack of time that was allowed for operational training. This is a reading of the plane types, kinds of mission and hours during the entire operational training at Ismailia.
Well firstly had to do check duals - and that was on Harvards - and after a couple of those then they went up and gave us what they call a `on the Harvard' - with an instructor - a test for Hurricanes. Now that would take an hour thirty-five. We'd come down, discuss it, then went up again at forty minutes. In that time most probably what would be called a test would be telling you what landing speeds to do and what, when to put your flaps down and all this type of thing. That was all they could do because as the Hurricane was a single seater no-one else can get in with you anyway. Then we would go onto Hurricanes and do your first, er - although I didn't realise it was an hour-thirty experience on tape. So in other words you did your initial solo and you stayed up there for an hour-thirty, and this went on for .... Overall on Hurricanes was thirteen hours and forty-five minutes, and then they did the same thing on a Tomahawk, although we never went up again in a Harvard. We went straight onto the Tomahawk, did experience and a bit of formation, a bit of local flying practice and one air-to-ground firing. And our full time on both types was sixteen hours, er, seventeen hours. And that was finish of the OTU.
Mm, that's quite a remarkable, remarkably short period Wal. Well, moving on a little bit, it was after your operational training that you joined the squadron. Um, Peter Jeffrey was the squadron leader. Wal was just clarifying here that the total number of hours on joining the squadron was 166 - one-six-six. What was your first impression on joining No. 3 Squadron Wal? - the unit, the men and so on?
Oh, awe. The men had been flying in, most of them in combat, and of course you just looked at them with complete respect. I think everyone wanted to be in, to get into combat, but I think we all had our little doubts, most probably of ourselves, that we'd react - what our reaction would be. But, er, there were four of us joined the squadron at the same time. And I think that helped a little because we were four greenies and at that particular time we weren't doing too much because the Syrian campaign was coming a little to its close and we were able more to break into the squadron more easily than latter times when people'd come out and be - arrive one night and be in the air in combat the next day.
Yes, I think you were saying before that in the early weeks - months - with the squadron, there wasn't too much active combat and therefore it was a good easy lead into it.
That's right, yeah. The Syrian campaign was winding down and matter of fact, whilst we were at Rayak and Syria, the Vichy French capitulated and brought their aircraft into the air strip that we were on. And so that's how it had got to that stage of very little fighting there.
What would be your recollection of the general missions that you did take part in, in this latter part of the Syrian campaign?
Oh it was mostly, it was mostly recce stuff - not a great deal of anything else - that I was in myself.
Was there any active contact with enemy aircraft?
Not with me, no.
Peter Jeffrey was squadron leader. What was your view of him as a leader?
I found Peter very very competent - a very good one - very good at organising. It was one of our prides that if we had to pick up bombers we'd be there ten seconds before the bombers and we were always there. He was a thinker of tactics, and oh no Peter was a very very good CO.
Did you learn a lot from the pilots who had been through a lot of other combat missions? Was there a lot of talking about their experiences, about tactics and so on once you joined the squadron or not?
No there wasn't.
END TAPE 1, SIDE A.
START TAPE 1, SIDE B.
Identification: This is Edward Stokes with Wal Mailey, No. 3 Squadron, tape one, side two. End of identification.
Yes, I was just asking about the tactics and talk about tactics once you joined the squadron?
No. I think you developed your own tactics. There would be a certain amount. Of course there'd be discussion before we went up and there'd be also discussion on where we were, maybe, went wrong which - at one particular day we formed a defensive circle which is suicide, you know, running round chasing one another's tail and you just stayed there till you were shot down unless you decided to break out of it - well of course that would be discussed later but I think that it'd be very very difficult to tell anyone else what to do. The circumstances changed every time you went up. Sometimes you'll be a head-on attack, other times you'll be coming in from the rear quarter or, if you're lucky, you're right behind. So, it was just experience, I'm sure.
I know it was during this period in Syria, Wal, that you pranged a plane. Tell us that story and tell us also, if you can, how it affected you?
Well, it's nothing to be rather proud of, but a fellow by the name of `Tiny' Cameron - as you can imagine, being `Tiny' he was over six feet - he and I were coming back from, maybe a recce, and on the way towards the aerodrome there was a cornfield and I decided that I would see if I could reap some corn with a propeller. Unfortunately there was an irrigation ditch running through the centre of it and I hit that. The .... As for what it .... It didn't affect me that much - to the stage of anything against flying. I hurt my arm a bit and maybe a bit of blood here and there, but it made an awful mess of the plane.
I'd imagine though, in a situation like that, if things had worked a little bit differently, you would have, could easily have killed yourself too. Did you think about that sort of thing afterwards much, or not?
Never, never ever. You wouldn't fly again if you thought of it. No, no. It didn't .... It didn't really worry me. I know it was my mistake. If we ever .... No, there's no way I could explain it any other else. It was my mistake and .... Luckily the aircraft in those days weren't like jets now. They took a hell of a pounding. They were amazing what they would take when they - especially wheels up. Er, you rip bits off underneath and then see they come to a stop. This invariably broke the, the propeller bent and, no, no, no, nothing.
Was more a mistake.
Yes, an experience.
Not to be repeated. Well, it was soon after this - mid-December '41 - the squadron re-equipped with Kittyhawks that then went right through. What's your recollection of flying a Kittyhawk for the first time?
Well the Kitty was so, er, a nicer, easier aircraft to fly than the Tommy. First and foremost you could see a little more over the nose, because they didn't have two guns in there as we did in the Tomahawk, and then its fire power was so much more complete. We had two, 50-calibre machine-guns firing through the prop in the Tomahawk and we had six fifties firing out of the wings in the Kittyhawk, so when you hit anything you hit 'em. And they were a very very good hitting gun, the fifties.
Of course they were very well defended too - the plane, itself - I think, with armour plating and so on. Was that seen as a positive thing or negative, in that it increased weight and so on.
I really didn't give it that much thought. No, it'd be a positive thing because we had a big armour plating right up your back to your head, so that felt a little bit of security there. But I don't think anyone paid very much attention to it. It was there.
Right. Tell us about the plane itself. Um, it would be interesting to talk, if we could for a moment, just about different aspects of flying - of taking off, how they climbed, how manoeuvrability was up in the air. Could you tell us about that as you remember it? For instance, actually getting into the cockpit, getting the plane up in the air?
Well of course the big thing was the amount of nose that was
sticking out, and being a - not a tri-cart, not having a wheel on the front - you just looked into a big nose. With taxiing you would have to have .... If you didn't have any man sitting on the wing you had to zig zag all the time to see where you were going, and of course taking off - the moment you could get the tail off the ground you did just so you could see where you were going. And coming in to land - they found that you could not three-point a Kittyhawk. You had to, what we call, wheel them on, and that took .... Actually, we did that with the Tomahawk as well, but that took a little bit more experience than with a tri-cart, and the Kitty was fairly heavy.
Was there a danger when you wheeled a plane on, that if you got the balance wrong, the plane could nose-dive into the ground?
I suppose there could have been. I don't remember ... I think there was the odd touch of the propeller hitting, but no, no, no. Now I think about it, no, you were too high off the ground, because your wheels were, kept you very high. You had to climb up on to the wing and climb into the cockpit, so .... They were very very .... I don't ever remember anyone nosing over.
Right. Well, once you got the plane roaring down the airstrip and your tail up, you can see ahead, how easy were they to actually lift off the ground and then to climb?
Oh you trim them they lift themselves off the ground just about. By the way, we always took off - in the desert - we always took off in formation, so you were not - you were flying your plane but you weren't even looking at it. You were looking at the fellow on your wing. We'd take off as many as twelve aircraft at once.
This was because of the dust problem was it of taking ...?
The dust problem and speed of getting them off, because you were very very vulnerable from any aircraft that happened to be around - enemy aircraft - could see the dust streaks and knew you were taking off. So to get the twelve off, or eight or whatever we had to take off, we tried to take 'em off at once.
Now, that's an interesting point. Nobody's mentioned that before, that the actual streaks of dust would have been visible from a great distance and therefore, people could have homed in easily.
Oh yeah, very much so, and the ME109's had good height. They could sit up there and you wouldn't even know they were there and quite a distance away. They'd be able to see that dust for a long way, because it was, well, just dust.
Everyone calls it the desert sand. It wasn't sand, it was dust there.
Right. Well, going on a little bit, and having got up in the air, what was the Kittyhawk like to handle in the air? What were its strong points and what were its weaknesses?
Oh, I don't know. There's no .... Like all aircraft it's how you trim them, and we would know roughly what the number one aircraft's revs would be. Ah, so you would settle into those. Now when you were flying behind a single-engine aircraft you can synchronise your motor by putting your blades of your propeller against the blades of the one in front, and if the shadow goes clockwise you have to increase your revs, and if it goes anti-clockwise you've got more revs than the one ahead of you. And it's just like watching the spokes of a wheel going through a picket fence, you see.
Mm, that's most interesting.
That action doesn't go very well over a microphone.
Mm, a circular movement.
Yeah, and you would use that to keep ....
You'd go behind your number one aircraft - your first aircraft - and you would then bring your revs the same as his, because it was very imperative - when we only had about three hours without extra tanks - it was very imperative to try and conserve gas. Well, if you're running so many more revs than him, you're going to use it up and, you know, you have to go home. So it was quite imperative to try and conserve all the time. That was one way of doing it.
(10.00) We might just put in for the record here that at this stage you were a sergeant and often leading a wing. Um, what's your general recollection of the kinds of operations you were involved in from the period of January '42 on after the squadron moved back out into the desert?
I didn't quite get what you meant there.
Well, just to start off again, this is to clarify some chronology. The re-equipment with Kittyhawks ....
I'm just correcting myself. The re-equipment with Kittyhawks was December '41. We are now going back to September '41 - the latter part of '41 - and Wal's just reading off some of the kinds of operations that were happening.
The `cover patrol over shipping off Sidi Barrani' - they were trying to get the stores into Tobruk at the time. `Diversion over enemy territory' - engine failure, returned. But diversion being - something else would be happening somewhere else and we would go out and look as though we were diversion over Marylands - bombing Gambut aerodrome. `Umbrella patrol over ALGO5' - that meant, an umbrella was meant to cover, that we would do .... Maybe someone was coming in to land, there was someone, some activity was going on. `Offensive patrol' meant we were looking for the enemy. `Remote patrol for bombers operating over Gambut' - that meant that we were .... When I say `remote', we'd be off. We could just see them so that we could go in if their fighters came in but we weren't close covering. There would be another squadron would have been close covering. Here again, `cover over bombers operating south of Gambut' at 12,000 feet, six 109s seen, number two South African Air Force engaged in fight. We weren't. Now that's when you would do a cover. They got in and we didn't. Um, then we'd go on interceptions which were sighting but we wouldn't make the interception. And this went on two or three times or four times. Then we were talking earlier about, er, formation practice. Well, here's one now that we were trying - another one. Pairs abreast, all weaving. Now that was another, trying out another type of - weaving meant, of course, weaving, moving all over the sky. It goes on. Many days you went up and nothing was seen. We were only up for twenty minutes sometimes for an interception. They'd take off in the opposite direction and you wouldn't catch up with them. But there were others when we were well outnumbered.
Right, that's very interesting Wal. I think that gives a general picture of the kinds of flying that were involved. Just a question about briefings. Before you went ...
Here's an interesting one.
`Close escort to GOC from Tobruk' - he went into Tobruk and we sat over the top - General Officer Commanding.
Now I'm not sure which one it was. I think it was the Australian - whoever the Australian General Officer Commanding at that time. And we were so close you could wave to him as he went in. That's it. This one was interesting. There was .... Our Australian man that came out - I have some photographs of this - wanted some shots for the Australian Press, so `shoot-up for movie camera at Gazala', and I, luckily, have some shots of that.
(15.00) Mm mm.
There were many little things that did happen that one forgets about. Now you read your log book and tales come into your mind again. I returned to base owing to leaking petrol. Well, someone had forgotten to tighten up one of the caps and as soon as we got into the air the gasoline was sucked out and got into the cockpit, and I could smell it and there was about two inches of fuel in the bottom of the cockpit. Of course, see, when you let your flaps and wheels down an electric spark could be - and so it was quite .... I did one circuit and I landed with much trepidation.
Yes, I could imagine if you had that petrol swishing round in the cockpit. Just to turn to something related to these different kinds of missions Wal - briefings before operational flights. Where did they happen? I mean, was there a special tent?
Did they happen in the open air, and how detailed were they?
Usually, if we were very early in the morning, it'd be done the night before. It had an operations .... We had a tent to do it in. Sometimes it was done in the mess, because the mess was only another tent with tables. And you must remember there weren't that many officers and air crew anyway. I think a full quota of air crew would be twenty-four and, ah, equipment officer three .... There would only be three or four other officers, so at the most the mess would comprise thirty, I suppose. Ah, we would be briefed .... We had an army liaison man and a - our own intelligence officer, so the army would come up with what they could to give us what we might see on the ground or where their units would be and our own man was mostly there for debriefing, so he could pass it on when we came back in to tell what we'd seen or what had been shot down, or what types of enemy, what aircraft we'd seen. Even other observations - if we happened to see tanks or something like that we'd pass it on. The um, the briefing from tactics .... Well, as I've previously stated the tactics could change if there were two up there or forty, so the tactics would change, but all the time we would be mostly briefed on where we were going and what we were supposed to do. If we were covering bombers or if we were covering a battle or we were trying to intercept - what we were told the night before. And most of our time our first flight was at dawn. We'd go out in the dark to the plane and before going up, ah, not very many of us ate breakfast. I don't think anyone ate breakfast.
To fly, that it was better to fly on an empty stomach?
No, no, no. Nerves. And there wasn't .... I doubt if there was one man that wasn't nervous before he got into those planes of a morning.
That was one aspect I did want to touch on, the whole thing of, well, nerves, fear and so on. In your case was that fear, was that a constant nagging thing that just went on and on, or was it something that was mostly in the background and peaked at certain times? And if it did peak when was it worse? Before an operation? During an operation?
Oh before. Oh yes. To .... Every pilot when he got out to the plane would have a nervous heave before he got into the plane. Everyone. That was it. And that was .... The nerve-racking time is the short time before take-off. Ah, seemed to forget it as soon as you got in the air. I think, with me, it would come again at the end of a fight - not during. You were so exhilarated during a fight that it'd be something that you .... Well, it's inexplainable really. You're on a high, on a complete high if we're using a more modern term. And the let-down would have been on the way home most probably. Although if you shot one down, or one or two down, and you'd been in a big fight, your high stayed with you till you really talked it out and that would be after debriefing. And there were times in a debriefing that you'd forgotten something - that your number two or one on the wings would remind you you did so and so or something.
Yes, that must have been very hard, recreating those details later. Just going back to what you were saying about being on a high. Was that to do with the fact that you, of course, knew yourself you, in a sense, were facing death and that there was almost a kind of spiritual element of being moved up onto another plane of very intense living or what?
(20.00) Yeah, what do you call it these days when a person's, - you used the word before andrenalin [sic]. Andrenalin [sic] is pumping high. Well that's the same as a sportsman I suppose. But the fear .... Not real fear it was more a .... Oh I don't know. You were on this such that your actions were fast. Your reactions were - all the time you were waiting to see that no-one got on your tail. If you got into these fights you just shot someone down and you didn't want anyone to do that to you. That could be the reactions mostly.
Could you recall your first active combat where you were both firing at and being fired at?
Oh yes (laughing). I certainly can.
Tell us about it.
Well it was an Italian and he was a very good flyer and we got separated from the rest, and we got fairly, reasonably close to the ground and we did head-on attacks at one another for about three passes each I would say. And when I turned close to the ground - I would not have been up more than five hundred feet - and when I got up, ah .... He was coming down and I'd be going up. We both missed one another. I think he was about as green as I was, and after three of these I'm down below and he's up above, I thought, `By - this has got to stop because he's going to hit me any time from now'. And I did, made the false move which, as it happened panned out all right. One shouldn't have done it. When an aircraft is coming down and you're going up you should have gone underneath him. And I thought, `To heck I'll have a go', and I pulled the stick back 'course by doing that I went right through his line of fire, but he got such a shock I think he pushed forward on his stick and went underneath me. His bullets would have been splayed around a bit and luckily missed me, and as soon as he disappeared I pulled off throttle and - not stall-turned, you couldn't stall-turn them, but nearly a stall-turn - and when I woke up there he was in my sights and one squirt and he'd rolled over and hit the ground. So it was a - and as I said, I think the words to myself, `Gee that was easy'. That was the reaction. It seemed so easy the few quick shots that I got into him.
That moment of seeing another plane destroyed by yourself, was there any feeling at all for the other airman, or was it the consciousness of, you know, his obvious desire to shoot you down so strong that there was no thought at all that another, another man, another flyer was about to go?
I never shot another man down. I always shot an aircraft. Never shot another man. It was always, `a 109', `a Macchi' whatever, but it was never another man. We never went back and said, `I got a Hun'. You went back and said, `I got a 109'.
Mm. That's most interesting.
And I think ...
Was that, do you think that was at the time a conscious defence mechanism?
No. I just think that he was a portion, you were a portion, of a plane. I don't think it was anything else. I never thought of the person on the plane. It was a plane shooting at me - or at my plane really - and if in .... There'd be a log book. In my log book you read, you will see, `Two 109s', never `Two Germans' or `Two Italians'. It was always the aircraft alone.
Mm. That's most interesting Wal. Um, Going onto an incident when you yourself, you know, had a what was obviously a close call - this is moving on a little bit - 26th January '42 was the date you gave before. This was the episode on the Mesus I think,
M-E-S-U-S, Antelat, A-N-T-E-L-A-T Road on a ground strafing operation when your engine caught fire. Tell us how that mission developed, and what happened when your engine did, in fact, catch fire.
Well we were on this, er .... There were eight in the squadron. We were doing a ground strafe - most probably being picked up by another aircraft and [inaudible] sent the message through. And to do a strafe like that we always left four up and four did a strafe and then the other - those four - went up and covered whilst the next lot did. And we - I was leading my little four - and after we'd expended most of our ammunition I went up top covering and - it was Bobby Gibbes actually, leading the other four - he went down and I had to yell that my engine was starting to play up. And there was no way in the world I wanted to land anywhere near that column which we'd been strafing so we started to go home. And I gradually lagged because my engine was very rough and there was smoke. I don't know whether I was hit or whether it was just an engine failure, but I .... Next thing there was fire in the engine and I looked over the side and thought I was too close to the ground to parachute out so I decided to take it in. And I pulled the fire extinguisher and, luckily, was able to scrape it onto the ground and ...
Was that a wheels landing or ...?
No, wheels up, yeah. I'm not even sure if I put the flaps down, but I scraped across the ground and then at about, when I was doing about thirty or forty miles an hour, I ran into a wadi and hit the other side, and I think the dust and the shocks and everything else, it put the fire out. I got out of the plane and decided I'd take my parachute with me - because it was cold at night - to sleep in and a bunch of Bedouins turned up. And that particular time, my number two - who was Lou Spence, Flying Officer Spence - he decided he'd .... He'd stayed back with me and I think he hadn't been noticing where he was going, so he decided to come back for me. He landed and we had a meal with the Bedouins and later in the day we took off dual in a Kittyhawk.
Mm. I think you were saying the Bedouins helped you clear the stones from the flight path where you were going to take off. Was there, were they very much on your side or neutral?
Oh, well (laughing) it was neutral, but what they could steal from us they would trade to the Germans and what they could get from them they'd trade to us. Used to come through the camps right out in the middle of the desert trading eggs, but, oh, they were very friendly, very very friendly. Matter of fact on the way back when we were going to get into the aircraft, the chief's son had a rifle - an Italian rifle - with him, and he upped to the shoulder and hit a rock at a good few hundred metres away. Handed me the rifle and I missed it by a yard. So that was a big grin all over their faces except when I took the old .38 we used to wear on our hip - which wouldn't shoot more than about twenty yards without dropping - I was able to hit a rock and he missed, so we were all square. But they, they were very very fine people, the Bedouins, the way they lived in the desert.
Mm. That's interesting. Just going back to that moment when the plane was coming down on fire. Pilots generally say that the great fear was fire. Can you recall your thoughts as you were getting out of that situation? I mean, as you were coming down to land with this plane burning and obviously not, no certainty of how things would work out?
Well the plane .... It wasn't like being shot down and in flames from your gas tanks. Mine was more an engine fire, I'm sure, and so I didn't have the great amount of flames that one would have if a tank had gone up. And, no, you have a tendency, because of fire, to panic. We were well strapped in and, with the fire, I felt I should let one of my safety go so I could get out and, fortunately, training stopped me from doing that and I kept my straps - safety straps - tight. Because when I hit this wadi at the other end I would have mashed my face right in and I would have most probably killed myself if I'd have let those go to get out because of the fire. Fire was the panic for most fighter pilots. Well, I would imagine any pilot. Fire is a terrible thing and fighter pilots, of course, used to lose their face mostly.
Of course. When the plane had hit the ground, did it go on burning or what?
No, it went out. I had pulled the fire extinguisher and, as I say, the amount of dust and - and I think it smothered itself.
Right, just to complete that story, I think you were saying you actually flew back on the lap of your friend Spence?
That's right. We put our parachutes in the, what they call the luggage compartment of our plane and I sat on the seat and he sat in my lap. I ran the pedals with pressure from his feet. All I could see was the middle of his back. And this wasn't the first time. I think it might have been the first time in a Kittyhawk, but the CO had already picked up Tiny Cameron - whether it was a Kitty or a Tommy I can't remember ...
Was this Bobby Gibbes?
No, er, Peter Jeffrey. He'd picked up Tiny ...
END TAPE 1, SIDE B.
BEGIN TAPE 2, SIDE A
Identification: This is Ed Stokes with Wal Mailey, Squadron 3, tape two, side one. End of identification.
Just turning to some more general things Wal, um, the air strips in the desert. Obviously there was quite a lot of movement. What's your general recollection of the quality of the airstrips? How do you remember them?
Well there weren't any airstrips. They were invariably, a grader would just go over and knock over the camel-thorn, and grade out an area. 'Cause, see, as I said before, unless you were right on the escarpment, there was very little rocks so it was quite easy to put a landing for your .... They called them LGs - landing grounds.
How were they marked out to be visible easily from the air?
Just because of their usage. By putting a grader over them you could see it. Of course there were times when we'd come back and the wind 'd come up and the dust storm and it was then like landing in a fog. What one would do, or try to do, is go off a little and see a hole in the wind - or in the wind, you can't see a hole in the wind - but a hole in the dust and follow it in, and land in that hole. It literally, you .... A dust storm would go up to as high as 8000 feet.
Mm, that's most interesting. I was going to ask about the problems of dust. Besides actual dust storms as such, was the general, sort of pervasive dust drifting around a great problem? Was there much of an effect on engines?
It was for the engines. To get .... If I remember rightly thirty hours was a very good number of hours for an engine to be able to - wearing. Really, one of the things was our engineering officer decided to try a way of overcoming the dust getting into the engine on taxiing, which was the biggest problem. The propeller would pick up the dust, put it through the air intake and, of course, it was just like emery paper going in there. And so he made a plug to put in through that but then, unfortunately, the engine would heat up very quickly. So he designed a cowling that went on the plane to see whether he could divert the air - put a plug in and then the air would come through this sort of this extra cowl. And he asked me to take it up and test it out to see what it did to the flying of the - the trim of the aircraft. I took it up to about twenty-odd thousand feet and rolled it over and aimed straight back to the airfield and unfortunately at about 15,000 feet it tore off. So he designed another one and put it on and he said, `Try and tear that one off'. I didn't, but the aircraft wasn't very good afterwards. I think it reached its TV.
What do you mean by TV?
Terminal velocity (laughing). An old (inaudible) of an aircraft, well, TV would have been just, about six, oh, five hundred, six hundred miles an hour, and ...
So did these dust cowlings stay on, or was there another ...?
Cowlings stayed on but I don't know if it ever was, worked out satisfactorily. The first one went off. The second one - it stayed on.
What were the other major problems of flying in the desert? I mean, I'm not talking about combat - actual flying in a desert environment as against, say, a kind of hilly or well featured environment?
(5.00) Well there were a lot of features that one got used to after a while. There were certain shapes, salt pans, and you knew where the - if you were near the coast there were the escarpments and, er .... Not as individual as flying over an area where there are individual - good mountains to see or good lakes, but the salt pans were rather .... And of course, there were quite a lot of roads that had been ploughed through. Earlier roads were some of the - one that went in towards Tobruk and that area were highways originally.
When you were flying off on missions did you carry, um, small maps, maps to locate areas, or were you very much flying on recognition of landforms - things such as roads that you simply knew in your head?
By recognition. Really, you didn't have time. Number one may have a map but no-one else had time to look at one.
So getting back home was very much based on a sense of dead reckoning where you'd come and therefore working backwards?
Yeah, oh yes. The idea, most of the time, was head north and you hit the Mediterranean, and then head east and you - and then south (laughing). Just work it out by time. But, er, oh no, it was always .... There was very little worries - great worries - about that. Seemed to be able - always seemed to be able to make our way home.
Tell us about life in the desert, the general life in between operations. Was there much time for relaxing, or were you very much working out of an operation and working into the next?
You relaxed all the time. Sleep was a big thing. It was a big thing. If it'd be practically nothing else but go over the attempt and maybe have a little beer session and one thing and another like that. There were normally four to a tent and food was also an obsession - and water. But food - we used to very luckily get quite a few parcels sent from home and so we'd have a cook-up in the tent. And four people'd put in - one of their rations'd go in and make a stew or something. Water was one of our bigger problems and you used to save, try and save your water up if you were .... The cookhouse got most of your water so you might get a pint or so for yourself for a day. So you'd save up three or four pints and we had a little collapsible bath we'd stand in and pour water over ourselves and keep that water for another one, - the scum, take the scum off it and use it again (laughing).
How often were you able to wash? Was that every few days, once a week?
Facial and that type of thing and hygienically keep yourself clean, but if you wanted a bath or a good wash - oh, three or four days if you were lucky. But I .... My biggest problem was my eyes. They played up. The dust got my eyes eventually. That was my .... I think quite a lot of others too. But it was the one thing that put me out of flying, was my eyes, eventually.
What, the effect the dust had had on your vision?
I .... To get, wake up of a morning, I'd have a small quantity of water beside the bed - my bunk, whatever I had, a cot - and, er, bathe my eyes open. They'd be stuck together - conjunctivitis - stuck together and I'd wipe .... Soon as I got them open they were all right.
Was there any medication available for that or not?
Oh we had a doctor in the.... Oh yeah.
Was there anything that could be done?
Just ointments or drops - no real medication. Used to take it along to the doctor and he couldn't do very much because it was more dust the next day.
Sure. Getting away from the unit and going off on leave. How often did that happen?
Oh, not often enough, but oh, I'm just trying to think. One, two, three - I think I was on leave once in Alexandria, once in Cairo and then we went in to pick up planes well we squeezed a day or two that time. I think I was only on leave twice in the desert. In Syria we were a little more tolerant.
Were there a certain number of operations men were expected to complete before they either left the squadron or had significant leave, or was it just a thing that rolled on?
(10.00) I think it was more the doctor. I, I do believe it was the doctor that kind of had a very good .... He had an eagle eye actually and he watched people - and we did have an excellent doctor.
What was his name?
Ah, it's just at the moment of - I do know and it's just slipped my mind. Peter knows him well. He's - ah, won't come at the moment.
Right. I know you also did have some very good priests attached to the unit?
Well, not to our unit - to the area - but I, I'm afraid I was never interested.
Right. One other aspect that perhaps we might touch on is the relationship between the air crew and the ground staff. How close a collaboration was there between a particular pilot and the men working on his aeroplane?
From the ground crew's point of view - very deep. They - no. Their regard was for their aircraft. Once again, here it comes back similar to what I was talking about shooting an aircraft down. When they went back to talk about it, it was AK416 that shot it down - not Mailey. So that was their attachment. And they'd walk around an aircraft when you came back to see how many holes were in it, and if there were no holes then they'd see how much ammunition you'd shot out. They were pretty keen. They knew whether you'd been in the fight or not.
Did you have talks with the ground staff generally when you landed? I mean, would they ...?
Oh yes, yes, always. Always tried to tell 'em how your aircraft ran and they were so pleased that everything had run correctly and very upset if your guns had jammed. The armourer would be very much upset then which was - when you think about it, the amount of dust and the oil of a gun, how much that they could jam. As soon as we got in the air that was the first thing you did - you turned and opened up on all guns just to see they were all working. And we did have re - we were able to recharge a gun in the air.
From what you're saying Wal, the ground crew were very much involved in the plane. Were they also, though, involved in the - perhaps you could say the emotional aspect of flying - what pilots had to go through?
I don't know. I really don't know about that side of it. I don't think anyone could really feel what the pilot went through. There's no association between looking after the aircraft and the pilot's feelings, and you really, rarely expressed your feelings to anyone anyway.
Mm. I was going to ask you about were there men or say, in your case, was there any person you could confess your feelings to or were they all bottled up inside?
Oh no. In my own case, no. Ah, I'm not a religious man so there was no way - nothing to talk to anyone about that. The doctor, er, I suppose if I was - anyone I spoke to it would have been to him. But it was mostly on whether we - it'd be on the bright side, the light side of life, not .... I was a little fortunate. I didn't let it worry me a great deal.
Right. Just turning to something else that in fact is not related, but I meant to get in before. I think it's an interesting point. It was a point you were making about a young, or inexperienced pilots not focussing, not seeing in the air. Could you tell us about that, and also about how much, while you were in the air, a pilot was or was not looking over his shoulder?
Well I think that the first time I went up - I've forgotten how many aircraft were around us - and I mean, I never saw one. When I came down [inaudible] debriefed I understand there were quite a number of enemy aircraft around. As I say, I didn't see one, so that is initial. You've got to be very lucky not to have been shot down because if someone came up he had me. After about, I would say at least ten or a dozen outs, you start seeing them. Towards the end of the tour I could see them when no-one else was .... I'd be the first one to see one - if it was in a certain position. For instance, if I was leading - then means ahead. I was more responsible for any aircraft ahead because the others were looking sideways or back and their responsibility was to make sure of my tail. Er, usage, I think, was the answer to seeing aircraft, and knowing more or less where to look. You always were thumbing the sun to make sure that there was nothing up in the sun. When I say `thumbing the sun', you put your thumb up so that you cover the sun, and you can turn your thumb from the sides and that style of thing. Focus was - it's strange, I suppose an optometrist would know what I'm talking about - is being able to transfer the sight to a scene to be to a certain distance and pick something out by not looking through it or over it or round it or - you just were able to focus it. And I think that took a lot of time and practice.
Mm, yes. That's very interesting, and I know what you mean, the ability just to kind of pin-point an object.
Quickly, yes. I suppose many people have done that to this day. They will look up for - see an aircraft going overhead - and it takes some time, and all of a sudden it appears so clearly, and yet they've been looking at the same spot and couldn't see it, and then it appears - that they've just got their distance right.
(15.00) I wonder if we could just turn to talk about a particular action which obviously was a very significant one, and this just, for the record, is where the DFM was awarded. This is just reading the citation of the DFM to Sergeant Walter Arthur Mailey, No. 402375. It reads: `One day in February 1942, Sergeant Mailey, whilst leading the squadron sighted six Messerschmitt 109s which were preparing to attack from above. The enemy aircraft were engaged and as a result five of them were destroyed and the sixth damaged. He then lead his squadron in an attack on other enemy aircraft below. Under his sound leadership the squadron destroyed four of these, making a total of nine, two being shot down by Sergeant Mailey. This airman has completed a total of forty-four operational sorties and has destroyed six enemy aircraft and damaged five others'. Just leaving aside that last paragraph, Wal, but referring to the specific action, could you tell us how it began and how you remember it in your mind's eye, and how the action developed?
There were two squadrons - I think it was 112 and ourself - and I was leading the wing, but because we had the number of aircraft which would be twenty, I think - yes, we had twenty aircraft in the air - um, I sent the other twelve off into wind and we took off from the side of the landing ground, so that the dust would disappear quickly when we went up. And he was instructed to half-circle and I'd go underneath him and then get ahead to lead. We weren't up very, er, long enough when aircraft were sighted, and my training - at that particular time there was cloud cover of about 11,000 feet and the training was there was sure to be something in that cloud. And when they saw the Stukas and stuff coming across the other crowd went in to attack - the other, er, 112 - and I smelt 109s. And as it happened they were there. I was abused by someone of which I don't know who it was saying, `The fight's down below and not up above', but very fortunately I'd, we were able to turn into them as they came out of the cloud and that's why we got them. And then we heeled off and went into the other fight underneath. But they .... That was once again, was experience. I'd been there long enough to know they wouldn't have those underneath without a few of them - 109s - sitting up top waiting. And we'd have gone in, with - not 112 - would've shot a lot down. As it happened we had one hole in one aircraft and we shot twenty down between us.
I was going to ask you about the losses on your side. That's a remarkable imbalance.
(20.00) I mean, quite remarkable. Has that ...? Are there any other main aspects of the period with No. 3 Squadron that you think should be mentioned? Is there anything that hasn't been covered?
Not really. I don't .... In my time, no. It was a very good ground crew - very enthusiastic crowd. The only time they ever got a little upset was when the Japs came in and they reckoned that they'd been over there fighting so long, and a lot of the ground crew felt that they wanted to get home.
I was going to ask that about the entry of Japan into the war. That was a strong feeling was it?
And amongst air crew too? Or more ground crew?
No, the air crew didn't .... I think they knew that what they were doing - they were fighting. The ground crew had the frustration of doing their job and doing it admirably. But they didn't get what you call `real action' because it wasn't even like a soldier firing a gun in the front line. I fired his guns - he looked after them, but I fired the guns for him - and he felt, I think, that if he was doing it there, he could do it back in Australia just as well, and be the more personal.
Yes, that's interesting. Just one other thing that perhaps I might ask you about. Was there ever any feeling, while you were there, on your part at least, that Australian airmen in the Middle East were somewhat neglected, that there was a long chain of command from Australia to the Middle East that things such as promotion, pay, those aspects, were not handled as tightly as they might have been?
I don't know. I .... Our rations were sometimes Australian if we were close enough to the army to get some of them. No, I really .... See, we were in contact all the time. Matter of fact it was one of his favourite squadrons to visit was - of course, Tedder and Coningham. He used to come and visit our squadron as often as he could get there, and he was .... So, we did have close, fairly close contact in that way and also the wing commander was .... We were invited to his mess a couple of times and, so, from that side of it. And of course, as far as the promotions and that, I would know nothing about that. Although I got my own commission because of Tedder. He personally recommended commission with the idea of taking over a squadron in his words. But in the meantime my eyes had played up and put me out of flying for some time.
Right, but you were commissioned during the period with No. 3 Squadron?
I was actually commissioned whilst there but it didn't come through. It was back-dated. The recommendation - I still have the recommendation which was put through by the Air Officer Commanding, Middle East, which was Tedder, who finished up what? The biggest thing in the air force.
Mm, right. Just turning to this issue with your eyes. When it was clear that, you know, you had to pull out, was that a great disappointment, or was there a relief to be doing something constructive in terms of training without the obvious danger of combat?
No, I think at the time I was disappointed. I think that there was disappointment because I was physically, apart from the eyes, right. Didn't seem to be anything else wrong with me. There was although, in one medical report, there was fatigue mentioned so could have been a certain amount of fatigue. But I didn't have very long to celebrate because I went back to Cairo and I was posted to South Africa, er, to Rhodesia and I arrived in Khartoum with a streptococ [sic] throat and I spent two and a half weeks in hospital there. So my relaxation was in hospital and then I went on down to Rhodesia.
Right, and I know you did say - we might just to put in for the record - that you spent about a year as an instructor in Rhodesia and then later moved to, I think, Mildura where Peter Jeffrey was once again?
Yeah, Peter was once, was in charge of the operational training unit there and because of the amount of work he'd put on us sprogs, he had requested that we - when we got a posting to Australia - he always requested ex-3 Squadron to come to his training unit and there were quite a few there. Matter of fact (laughing), I believe most of the survivors of 3 Squadron eventually went through Mildura.
Yes, well I've certainly talked to quite a few who did. Looking back on the whole period of your, the combat period with No. 3 Squadron, what's the strongest recollection and is there any final thing you wish to add to the record Wal?
Not really. The strongest portion of it would be very proud to be RAAF. I'm sure that side of it came in a great deal - that any of the chappies that were posted there always when they arrived there was a glint in their eye, `There, I've made it to 3 Squadron'. I remember people like Kildey coming into the squadron. I was on the way out just about that time, and regardless of who it was, said, `Gee, it's amazing to come and meet you'. That's .... There was that pride in coming into 3 because of what had been publicised at home I would imagine quite a bit.
So there was that really strong Úsprit de corps?
Oh yeah, very much. Yes, once again, by that time I think there was 450 had also been made into an Australian squadron, and I'm not sure how much of their ground crew the .... 3 was the ideal squadron to be able to be posted to if you wanted to be a fighter pilot.
When it was all over, when the war was finished, how did it seem to you and had it changed your life?
Oh very very - definitely changed your life. You're, I think, so much more appreciative of life and in my own case I spent considerable time holding up the bar of Usher's and the Australia Hotel in Sydney for quite some time and then I decided I hadn't been around the world enough, so I went to America - Canada - and I lived there for .... Went as a logger, and enjoyed it very much. I never worked physically in my life before and I enjoyed working in the woods. But, it was a, most of .... Oh, an experience that one could never buy and I suppose that, in itself who can buy a fight in an aircraft in the air? Seriously.
Sure. Well I think that's a good point to end on. On behalf of the War Memorial, Wal, thank you for taking the time to make this tape.
END TAPE 2, SIDE A.
END OF INTERVIEW.
AUSTRALIANS at WAR Video Interview
Date Interviewed: 6 May, 2004
Q: If you'd like to tell us briefly about your life and we'll start with when and where you were born maybe?
A: I was born in Drummoyne, a suburb of Sydney. I went to school in Drummoyne until I finished at high school.
Depression time...I got a job driving a truck for the City Fruit Markets. I left that and went to the newspaper as a cadet reporter for three years. That brings me up to about 1938ish. 1938.
We owned a small store and I took it over and built it up a bit, and from there I joined up. I was five and a half years in the air force. After the war I decided I'd go to Canada.
I went over in 1947, married a Canadian girl, had two children, came back in 1954. Got a job counter hopping in an iron ware store. Ironmongery or what ever you call it.
From there I went to a company called Allan Taylor and Company. They were timber people. I had been working in the woods in Canada and I had a bit of knowledge of the timber. From there I left them and started a company, a Tasmanian company in Sydney. I was managing that for three years.
My wife's father, my father-in-law had an accident in Canada so she wanted to go back. She went back with the two boys, and called me and asked me to go back. So I resigned and went back to Canada. I started a tourist resort.
So I built a few cabins and made some camp sites, bought some boats for salmon fishing. What we call, tinnies out here. They were not fibreglass, but the same size. My Canadian wife died in 1970,
two years later my son was killed in a car accident. So my second son and I decided to rent the property and travel around the world. I got as far as Surfers Paradise and have stayed here every since.
I've been here thirty years now. I married a lady from this area who I was introduced to by an old friend. Unfortunately she died twelve months ago. So I'm here and by myself.
Q: And just really briefly, just tell us your role in the air force and where you served?
A: When I joined...
we joined in Bradfield Park. I was luckily selected...I was one of the first on the Empire Air Training Scheme to go to Rhodesia [now Zimbabwe] as it was known. There were forty of us and we trained in Rhodesia.
From there I was sent to Egypt and did my operational training in Egypt and then up to Palestine as it was known to 3 Squadron. We operated there against the Vichy French [French who sympathised with their German occupiers] in Syria.
When they capitulated we went to northern Syria to a place called (UNCLEAR). From there we went back to the desert. The squadron had been in the desert when I joined it. Then we went into the western desert to Libya. We were a fighter
squadron and had a fair amount of success. My eyes started to play up and I was posted out, and they sent me back to Rhodesia as an instructor. I was at Mildura here for a while as an instructor.
My eyes had improved a bit, and then they played up again and I was given a course in radar as a controller. So they sent me to New Guinea and I was in, as it was known then, Dutch New Guinea. After all my flying I had a jeep accident and
damaged my leg. So I was sent back to Townsville and hospitalised. From there I was there posted to Darwin as a controller. I went to Adelaide River as CO [Commanding Officer] there. Then I was posted to a place called Truscott. Very few people know about that because it was a secret air strip. It
was constructed in about 1944. The planes used to come from Darwin area and refuel before going up to Timor and that area, and then they'd either come back and get some more fuel, or go straight back to Darwin. I
was there for a few months and then I was made CO of the area. While there the Japanese sent over a...I'm not sure, but I think it was a Nakajima to take photographs of the area,
and we got an early warning from another radar that was out on an island. I scrambled two...we had four Spitfires [aircraft] there. When I say scrambled, I sent them up in the air. My job was, I could see the dots on the screen, and one was the Nakajima, and
two were Spitfires. To be able to identify them, you call your Spits [Spitfires] and you say, "Use your IFF," which is an identification friend or foe, and then those two bips keep pulsating. So you're could identify them as against the enemy.
Eventually I was able to put them in the right position behind them, and they shot it down. In the book I have on Truscott it says that I was the controller and it was the last Japanese aeroplane to be shot down over Australia. I think that would be
in early 1945. I was sent back to Mildura and I was discharged there, from Mildura in late 1945. That was the war.
Q: Excellent, that was a terrific overview. Now we'll go into all the details of your life. Growing up as a young boy,
do you have any memories of just at the end of World War I or just after it. Of the men return or anything?
A: No not really, except that it was a terrific?not a let down, but you'd been living off your nerves for so long...we all didn't know what to do with ourselves.
We used to meet in the pub every day.
Q: And as a child, tell us about your father?
A: Well my father was a very very quiet man. Very intelligent. A very kind man. But he was away a lot because it used to take so long to go anywhere. To go to England it was six weeks on the
ship and six weeks back. So there was three months travelling, where we're there overnight now. So when they went on a test tour, he'd be away for nine months. Then of course, he would tour Australia
when the Englishmen came out here. So there were lot of time I didn't see him very much. But when he was at home, he was quite attentive. He worked in the newspaper in Sydney. He was a very very fine man. We never played cricket together.
I think he had had enough of it and I wasn't that awfully keen. But as a father he was easy.
Q: Just for those who don't know. Who was he and what was his name?
A: He was Arthur Mailey. They used to call him the "Gooley Bowler".
He was a slow spin. He played for Australia from about 1920 to about 1926 I think. He was an older man, comparative then. I think he was around 38.
When he retired from cricket he then became a journalist and of course he was very good with the cartooning. He used to bring out a cartoon book for each test,
and sold it for the great sum of one shilling. The boys used to go round with it, around the grounds. I think they got...I wouldn't know, it was probably a penny or threepence if they sold one. He had a lot left over so I put an ad in the Bulletin, which used to be quite a country paper.
I set up selling them for cover price plus postage. I sold quite a few and kept the money myself. It was my enterprise. A shilling was a lot of money then.
Q: Was he a popular cricketer?
A: Yes, very popular. I have some stuff over there. I was overseas when he died, and there was a test match going on in Melbourne. It was quite a write up about his career.
He eventually died of old age.
Q: What was it like as a kid growing up with your father as an Australian cricketer?
A: It was amazing really. Everyone immediately wanted to know something about him.
My maternal grandfather lived in Drummoyne and belonged to the local bowling club and sometimes on a Saturday they'd have me out on the greens bowling the kitty. I couldn't bowl, but it didn't matter, but the older men thought it was something to have Authur Mailey's son in the club bowling the kitty up and down.
I used to like playing their poker machines.
Q: Would other kids come up to you and talk about your father?
A: Not really. I think...I would supply the local kids with a bat and ball and they would play in our paddocks. So I had first digs.
There were quite a few young fellows in my street.
Q: What was the suburb like that you grew up in?
A: It was a very good suburb.
It was where Dunlop Pedro started. He made tyres...I think one of the main tyre people in Australia. I think they call them Pacific Dunlop [company name] now. And of course they employed a lot of people and so the area as fairly well off.
Q: What about your family, how were they?
A: We were pretty good. We didn't suffer at all in the Depression. As a matter of fact we employed a maid and gardener and a lady to come in and do the washing and ironing. My mother played tennis.
That was my sport, tennis. There were a lot of tennis courts just close by.
Q: How had your family managed to survive some of the worst parts of the Depression?
A: Well father was always in work and he got a very good salary and they paid cricketers. Not that they got that much, nothing like now.
All expenses were found, all clothing, and of course he was also writing, so he was getting extra money that way. He worked for the New South Wales Water Board
before he got into cricket and journalism. He was never out of work, so I mean...when the Depression came. Of course, he had two brothers who went to the First World War. One was killed overseas and the other lost an arm.
He died just before the Second World War. No, we never went hungry. We were very fortunate.
Q: Did you ever talk with these uncles of yours about the war?
A: No. It's a strange thing. Unless people...I don't talk about war.
Only if someone asks me a question, or they're going through the album or something like that. But I don't think many people quite understand what it's all about, unless you're there.
Some of the memories you don't want to forget, but unfortunately so many of your friends are not here any more. I'm getting to be an old man and I go to the RSL because I don't know anyone. All my local acquaintances have all left us.
I would rather watch it on TV, Anzac Day. Have a beer at home.
Q: Tell us about your schooling?
A: There's nothing to tell. I did not like school. If I could get a note from my mother that I would be late, then I would be late.
I don't think I should talk about school.
Q: Well tell us about after school, what did you do for work?
A: I was driving a truck around the city. I used to deliver fruit and vegetables to most of the main hotels and some of the bigger clubs, the Tattersall,
the University Club, Australia Hotel, Carlton Hotel. I used to have to get up at four o'clock in the morning and catch a tram into the city markets.
Eat as much fruit as I wanted. It was a brand new truck that I had and about the fourth day out, a tram ran into me. My boss was not very happy.
I can't use the words he used. But he said, "I thought you could so and so drive?" It was a funny accident actually. You know Sydney? Well one street is called Bent Street. And I was coming up the hill towards Macquarie Street, and the tram was coming from the Quay
up Elizabeth Street, and I thought the tram on my left and I thought he'd pull up on the corner. He didn't. The stop was over on the other side of the road, so I kept going and the tram kept going. The boss got over it. He didn't sack me.
Q: And tell us how you got into the newspaper job?
A: Influence. It was Frank Packer then. The Telegraph hadn't been going too long and then the Women's Weekly started. My father used to work for The Sun
newspapers and he got enticed by Frank Packer to go to work for the Telegraph, and I think he said yes if I had a job. I think, but I was never told that. The next thing I got a call, please report into the Telegraph, and I had never applied for a job.
So I think that's how I got the job. I wasn't very good. I wasn't a good reporter. They didn't do the right thing by their cadets. I never went out with a senior man. I never got instructed to use the library as one should. I mean, I know what to do, I do now.
If I was told to do an interview, I'd go without the knowledge of who was going to interview. If I was to do it today, I'd go to the library and read up what he did and who he was and what questions to ask.
And my shorthand wasn't the best. I could type but half the time I would miss out because my shorthand wasn't fast enough. But I liked the job. Actually from the point of view of being romantic, if anyone asked me what I did, I was a reporter.
Q: What kind of stories were you doing?
A: I was doing mostly general, but then they sent me to the Police Court to do court work. I don't know what they call it now but it used to be Central Police Station. Leopold Street I think it was.
Anyway I would go down there at nine o'clock in the morning and stay there until the courts closed at four. I got some good stories because criminal stories start there and then they're sent to Darlinghurst. I can't remember...I used to know all the local criminals by
sight or by name. I can't think of their names now. I also knew most of the prostitutes in Sydney. The used to have to turn up earlier because they had their court early. So you got to know them. I would be walking down the street with a girl from the office and
one of the prostitutes would call out, "Hello Wal." "Who's that?" "Oh, just a girl." Oh dear. One morning in court, it was early. I used to smoke in those days, so I went and sat in the box with the girls and had a cigarette
with them. I was watching the time and the magistrate came in. He beat me, and I'm sitting there in the court rows. He had one look at me and I crept out and sat on the chair at the front. When the court rose at 11...they used to rise at 11 for morning tea. I got a note, "Please see the CSM" [Company Sergeant Major]. Chief (UNCLEAR) Magistrate.
"What were you doing in there?" "Sir, I was trying to just get a background story and you caught me." He said, "I don't want to see you in there again." That was all. It had to be in that style of court. They had to be understanding people.
A good story with these girls. They would get away with it. They were working girls and the magistrate would know this. He would give them a lecture, a ten shilling fine.
Q: What were they like, these working girls?
A: They were a fine bunch of girls. Very decent. Very kind.
Any charity or anything they'd dob in some money. They were fine. They were really. It's amazing. They would also take advantage of anyone they could. I always found them very easy and nice to talk to.
Q: Did they ever tell you the story of their background or how they came to be working girls?
A: No, and I didn't ask either. Sometimes you had to respect their privacy.
Sometimes there would be eight or ten or twelve of them in there. Some of them were very high money girls. They would work the big hotels and would like to get to the country visitors who were coming in with all their money after the sheep were shorn. They would shear the shearer.
Q: Would you write stories about them?
A: Not really, unless there was a real good background to it.
Q: So you would mainly write stories about the criminal cases?
A: Yes they were more the style of things you were looking for. See, some of the big cases started there.
They would first arrest them and charge them there and here a preliminary case and then it would be transferred to the Central Criminal Court if it was big enough. If not the local magistrate would fine them.
I can't remember if they used to get maybe 24 hours in the slammer. Never anything big.
Q: Did you work on any big cases like murders?
A: Well only initially. Then it went to a senior man.
Q: And tell us, being on a newspaper were you hearing news of the build up to World War II?
A: Yeah. I had left the paper. I used to go in because I had made good friends with some of the artists, and I would wander into the press room and talk to some of them there. I was in there on the Saturday when the news came through. So I knew where the recruiting office was and I went down and said I would like to join the air force.
The sergeant was there and he said, "We're not taking any recruits." I said, "Will you be open on Monday?" He said, "Yes." I said, "I'll be back on Monday. Now remember who I am. I want to get ahead of the queue." I said, "What queue?" And I said, "There will be a queue Monday."
So I went down on the Monday and this sergeant was there and he said "Come here." And there was a queue too. He called me up and he said, "You stand there. How did you know?" I said, "I can't tell you how I knew but I knew." He said, "You can go ahead of the queue."
Q: How did you know? What did you hear on the Saturday before?
A: Well you see the time difference was?England had declared war. It had come through the press but I don't know if it had been declared publicly anywhere except through the press.
And England is ten hours ahead I think. So we were behind them in our news.
Q: And you wanted to be recruited by the RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force], why the air force. What had inspired this?
A: I always wanted to be
be in the air force. I wanted to join when I left school, and I applied and I got a reply to turn up to Point Cook, but my father wouldn't sign. He didn't think it was a career. So I just had to forget. You must remember, flying
was a romantic thing to do in 1936, 1937, 1938, 1940. It was soon after Kingsford Smith [pioneer aviator] and the long distance flyers from England. I just thought it would be something I would like to do. And I couldn't
see myself being a soldier somehow. I don't like mud.
Q: What are your memories of Kingsford Smith?
A: Well I was at the airport when he landed at Mascot...who wasn't! I think
he used to visit just up the street from me, and he would call my father to go and meet him, and Dad would go up and have a drink with him.
I suppose it was half a mile away. I never met him personally.
Q: Would your dad talk about what he was like?
A: Not really.
He must have been reasonable and good company because my father couldn't stand fools. He wouldn't go back if he didn't like them. I don't think Kingsford Smith was a fool.
So I think one of the more interesting things I did was go to Canada.
A: One interesting thing when I went to Canada in 1947. I had a letter of introduction to the owners of one of the big newspaper crowds in Canada,
who took me out to dinner and took me to the newspaper. They still had rationing of liquor and I had to be issued a ration book. As you might not know, all liquor sold in Canada was sold in government stores. There were no bargains.
It was all the same price. Anyway I went into the news room and I was talking to some of the men and they said they were getting thirsty, so I went down and bought some liquor on my ration. I was very popular for a while. Any rate I was offered a job but I refused it because I didn't have local knowledge, and you must know where
all the streets are and people. Any rate, I had to get some work so I went down to a logging outfit and asked for a job. They said, "What experience?" and I said, "None." So they said, "We're sorry, we can't give you a job, but if you go to?" Now the name won't come but it was a central logging outfit for hiring people.
I went there and they picked my accent, and the bloke behind the counter had a good sense of humour I suppose. He said, "Yeah, we can give you a job, on the truck." I said, "Alright, how much does it pay?" He said, "Ninety five cents an hour." He said, "That's about fifty cents more than you'll get in the city,
and all found, and you're paid a dollar a day for your meals. Your bedding was supplied and sheets and that type of thing. Well the only thing I knew about logging camps was what I had seen on movies, and they were pretty rough places. So I went out.
I went by bus, first from Vancouver to the ferry and then the ferry across to Vancouver Island, and up Vancouver Island by bus. Then they dropped you off at a place by sea and you had to go up to a camp by what they called a Speeder. It was on rail.
When I arrived in camp there was a flunky there to take my bags. It was a most amazing thing when you think you're arriving somewhere rough. Any way the next day I got up and had breakfast and I'm to work with Chinamen. They were doing all the laying of tracks. This is where I say the bloke had a sense of humour.
But I went out with them and they used to cook their own meal at lunch time. It was beautiful. Like eating Chinese food. And I think the foreman woke up to the fact that I was enjoying myself too much, so he took me off that and put me in the sawmill. From the sawmill I went into a planer mill. One day, the foreman called me aside and he said,
"I want you to go down the track there where there's a crane. I want you to operate it. I'll give you an hour and then I'll put you out on a job." So I sat in there. I had no one to teach me. Any rate I worked for a while and fiddled around. So from then on my job was in an enclosed cabin with a warm motor beside me.
I could make coffee on the motor. It would be snowing outside and I would be sitting in there in my shirt sleeves. My job was to swing the sleepers around and the Chinamen would pick them up and lay them, and then swing the steel around and place it. That's what I did until I met my Canadian wife and
went to another camp near her home. Later I bought a sawmill and operated my own mill in the interior of British Columbia. We got married up there.
Q: We might talk a bit more about your experiences in Canada later on today because they're quite interesting. But right now...you were talking about when you first signed up for the air force at the beginning of the war.
Can you talk about where your initial training was?
A: The initial training was at...if I use the old names, Rhodesia instead of Zimbabwe; Salisbury instead of Harare and that type of thing.
I was posted to...I arrived in Durban and I took the train up to Salisbury, and I went onto Tiger Moths [old fashioned aircraft] at an airport just out of Salisbury.
Q: Did you undertake any kind of training in Australia?
A: Only, initial ground training.
Just the...oh, I don't know what we did really. We learned to march. I think that was the most we did.
Q: How did they transport you from Australia to Durban?
A: By passenger ship. Not troops. We had our own cabins.
There were forty airmen and about forty or fifty sailors on the same ship. It was not a very big one. It was about 12,000 tons I suppose. Then we went by train from Durban to Rhodesia. After I had finished the Tiger Moths,
just out at the other side of town was a...Tiger Moths were initial training. The advanced training was on Harvards. I went there and I did the course and eventually got my wings there.
Q: Just talking about the journey on the ship first of all. What was the atmosphere amongst the men?
A: Oh very good. We were treated as passengers first and foremost. We had a shared cabin and every morning a steward would arrive with hot water for shaving and coffee or tea, before we went to breakfast. He was a very good English Cockney.
He had a big bald patch so he used to grow his hair long and put it over the top of the bald patch. The wind would blow it and he would come in and his hair would be hanging over the side. So he was pushing it back the whole time. I can see it to this day you know and that's sixty years ago. There was some competition between the navy and us. We used
to play deck hockey and a bit of boxing and that type of thing. It was quite an enjoyable trip. We went unescorted. I think there were supposedly raiders in the Indian Ocean, but I don't think we were enough prey.
Q: And what places did you stop in at along the way?
A: From Sydney? Melbourne...
not Adelaide, and then Fremantle and Durban.
Q: And were you a good sailor? Did you get seasick?
A: No. No, I am a fairly good sailor fortunately.
Q: And were there any interesting sorts of observations along the way during that trip?
A: I made one observation. Now I know...I didn't get a commission on course, and those who got a commission, the diligent ones used to volunteer. I never volunteered for anything. So I didn't get a commission. I was later commissioned by the air officer commanding the Middle East.
He recommended I be commissioned. The one thing I would tell anyone who was joining up. If you want a commission, volunteer! It was an easy trip. The way back was worse.
I spent three months in Durban...after I left the Middle East I was sent back to Salisbury as an instructor. I spent 18 months there. And then they stopped sending over Australians in '43.
So they didn't need me there. I went down to Durban waiting for a ship and they sent quite a big ship for those days. They were sending refugees from Malaysia and that area back to America. They got to Durban and at that time there were
subs working around the Cape. So they disembarked these people, and put any Australians on board and then sent the ship to Tasmania to pick up beef to send to America. It doesn't make sense. They offloaded Americans to send a boat eventually to America, and they picked up beef in Tasmania,
and we were disembarked there and came back up by train. Launceston to Hobart. But unfortunately for me, I was appointed the officer-in-charge of the troops on board. There were only a few. Nothing to do with the ship.
Two days out I got pneumonia. I spent the next twenty days in bed. I was pretty sick. They used one of the first...at the time they used?what did they call them? Pills...I suppose, antibiotics really. And it sent me black under the skin.
I had twenty four to take, one a day, and the twenty fourth wouldn't stay down. Every time it went down it would pop up again, and I was cured. So when the ship arrived in Tasmania, they sent an ambulance down to pick me up. I walked off the ship.
They wanted me to lie in the back of the ship and I said, "No, I'll sit up the front". I said, "Where are you talking me?" And he said, "The (such and such) a hospital". And I said, "No you're not. Take me to Hadleys Hotel. I'm not going into hospital." He said, "Sir, it's my instructions." I just pointed to my stripes. I said, "I've just cancelled those instructions.
Take me to Hadleys. I'll sign a thing for you." I never heard anything more about that. I stayed at Hadleys that night and went out on the town. The next day they sent an officer down from Melbourne to escort us up to...so we would all get on the train.
When we got to the train there were no compartments. This officer just went along and said, "You people have to get out, I want this apartment." He had the authority. War authority. So the poor people had to get out to let us in. We arrived in Melbourne and they gave me a couple of days leave and then sent me to Sydney.
I was on leave there for whatever length of time.
Q: When you first arrived in Durban how long did you spend there?
A: In Durban? Oh only maybe two days.
Q: And what were your impressions of the place?
A: Oh, Durban is quite an unusual city. It's surrounded by hills where all the wealthy people
live. Baboons live there too. Of course the caffa used to pull the rickshaws. The last time I was there which was a couple of years ago there were no more rickshaws. It was very picturesque for us specially.
We had good accommodation on the train, sleepers. Durban is on a harbour. Have you been there? You go through a breakwater into a harbour and the ships are inside.
Away from the sea really. My wife and I did a trip a few years ago. We went to Greece and we got a ship from Greece to Palestine and the Suez, into Jordan, into Egypt and down to...
we were supposed to go to Mombasa. We went into Ethiopia. They were having elections in Kenya and there was a bit of trouble going on, so instead of going to Mombasa...I had been there before anyway...
it's a mud flat. And going up to a safari we went up into the Indian Ocean and did the islands towards India. I've forgotten the names. Then we went from there down to
Durban and from Durban to Port Elizabeth, and from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town. We flew back from Cape Town to Singapore and then home. It was a beautiful trip. Forty days I think it took.
Q: How did they move you from Durban towards Salisbury?
A: By train.
Q: Did you stop off anyway on the way?
A: No, only changed trains. The South African trains go as far as Jo'burg, and then the Rhodesian train starts there. They pull the trains into a station. The South African train is on the right and then a replica train will be on the
other side. And if your shaving brush was standing up in this one, then it will be standing up on that side. They transfer everything over to the same number in the opposite train. That's all you saw of Durban, but later I had leave there.
Q: And when you arrived in Salisbury
what did they do with your then?
A: It's always...you never wander by yourself. There's always someone to meet you, or transport you there. So you don't see anything until you settle in. I think it was two or three days before we were given leave.
Q: And whereabouts were you based in Salisbury?
A: The first one for the ITS [Initial Training School], the initial training, it was a place called Belvedere. That was just out of the city of Harare.
Q: What were your first impressions of this ITS?
A: Like everything else, you always wonder whether you can fly. I had never flown. They didn't give us any initial training in Australia. It's a lot of learning. Of course, you had to do navigation and you had to weather. Things that you normally don't study. I had been away from school
for seven years then. So I found it a little more difficult but I had a younger fellow sitting in front of me that I got some answered passed back.
Q: What sort of things were they making your study?
A: Well first and foremost we had to do Morse Code [communication system]
which we never used again. And also engines. We had to do mechanical studies, apart from the workings of an aircraft. How they responded
and things like that.
Q: And what were the main aircrafts that you were studying?
A: Tiger Moths there. I think the Tiger Moths were most probably used all over the world for training, for initial training. They were so reliable and easy to learn on.
They didn't have any bad traits.
Q: And what was the kind of, I guess, air force life like during the ITS?
A: I enjoyed it. You had to get used to discipline. Sometimes that was a little difficult. Although...
I suppose you just got used to it that's all.
Q: How harsh was the discipline?
A: Not very much. Nothing really harsh. Only they demanded that you do things on time and when they wanted you to do it. I suppose the most would be, maybe you'd lose a day's leave. Never lose any money.
There wasn't that much to lose.
Q: Where were your instructors from?
A: Mostly English. I think they were all English. Not very many of them...
I don't think they had very much experience. They hadn't been in fighters themselves. They were always...they were mostly permanent RAF [Royal Australian Air Force].
Q: And what were your impressions of the RAF?
A: Well, from an Australian point of view, they're a bit strict.
What's the word? Class conscious to a point. Officers were officers and airmen were airmen. You had to respect their...the way they wanted you to do a thing, then that's what we had to do.
There were some things on which we didn't see eye to eye, but they taught us.
Q: How did you, I guess, receive your muster? How did they decide you would be flying?
A: I don't know.
When I joined, that's what I stipulated. I joined to be trained as a pilot, and I think the instructors are the people who eventually say whether you're going to be a bomber pilot or a fighter pilot. You do have...they do ask you of course
what you wanted to be, but that didn't necessarily you were going to be. If they thought you were more adaptable to be a bomber pilot then they would move you to a twin engine. I don't think they ever thought I'd be a good bomber pilot. I don't think they ever contemplated that.
Fortunately for me because I didn't want to be a bomber pilot.
Q: Why not?
A: Oh I don't know. I just liked throwing an aircraft around a bit. It just seemed to be different...oh I don't know. It was just something you felt you'd rather be.
Q: So when did you start your training
on actual aircraft?
A: Would you like me to look it up?
Q: It doesn't have to be specific?
A: I think it would be...look I can't tell you. My log book is over there.
The 31st December 1940.
Q: Well tell me about your first flight up?
A: Well, you just...see the first time you go up you're only sitting there doing nothing. Your instructor says put your hand on there and don't do anything. You'll feel what I'm doing.
That's the first thing. Then after two or three hours, he'd say, "Right you take it off", and you wobble off the ground and hope to get in the air. It's a complete learning process you have to go through. Everyone goes through it.
You're also frightened that you might not be able to fly and they're going to ground you. After a certain number of hours they do. If you don't go solo in eight or nine hours, I've forgotten how many, they start questioning whether you can fly. So when it gets up to seven hours, you're a bit nervous about it all.
Q: When the instructor was leading you through it,
and he told you to just feel what he was doing, what sort of things was he doing?
A: Taking off and maybe he would fly for ten minutes and then he would land again.
Q: And how did this teach you what to do?
A: Well there's a speaking tube from him to me. Initially you're in the back seat, and
he speaks through this tube. And then gradually as you...you move into the front seat and he goes in the back and he will say, "Put a little bit more left rudder on" or "Pull the stick forward." "You're crabbing along, you've got too much weight on one pedal."
Just...actually it's just repetitious. You keep repeating things until you can do it. After a while it becomes natural to do it.
Q: And what was the feeling like when you took the plane up?
A: For the first time? First and foremost, in a Tiger Moth when there's two people in it, you
take one out and it makes the plane so much lighter and you take off before you realise it. You wonder why it feels so light, and when you come into land, when there's two in it, it sinks more quickly. When you're coming by yourself you never think you're going to hit the ground. And also of course where we were flying,
it's over five thousand feet above sea level, so a plane sinks quicker there in the lighter air. When I first went and flew in the Middle East, I thought the plane was never going to get on the ground because it was hot warmer air.
It's a great kick when you do your first solo. You really want to go...they only send you up for fifteen minutes. Fly around once and land and you're dying to get back into the aircraft straight away. I suppose flying is one of the
thrills of life. To be able to fly yourself.
Q: What does it feel like to be up in the sky by yourself?
A: Free. A great sense of freedom. No one can do anything to do. You're by yourself. A little bit of noise, and without the noise you get worried.
Q: Do you ever feel lonely?
A: No. There's always something to look at. Even the type of ground you're going over. There's always something around, and of course when you're in operations you're looking around the whole time for
enemy, so you're head's going the whole time. It's never in the cockpit. So you fly automatically.
Q: And what were some of the more advanced flying things they were teaching you?
A: A bit of aerobatics, and a bit of blind flying. They would put a hood over you and you would have to fly on your instruments.
That style of thing. You had to do night flying so you had to learn to use your instruments. Not that there were that many in a Tiger Moth. You only had about three or four.
I think the biggest thrill was when you went on to the more advanced plane, the Harvard. It was much faster and bigger and much more powerful.
Q: How long did you spend in the Tiger Moth before graduating?
A: I've forgotten. Just hand me the book.
Fifty two and a half.
Q: And did you move to a different place?
A: Yes. The Tiger Moth school was called Belvedere. That would have been about ten miles out of Salisbury towards the west, and Cranbourne where you went on to Harvards would have been about six or eight miles south of Salisbury. And it
would now be the main airport for Harare. So we were in the same area.
Q: Tell me what the Harvard is like as an aircraft?
A: Of course it was much more advanced.
Faster, heavier. It was a very good training aircraft. The Australian one was a Wirraway. It was similar to the Harvard. I think the Australian one was a little heavier. You could do much more in a Harvard than you could in a Moth.
I took a little more time in a Tiger Moth to go solo but I was very quick on the Harvard. I think the faster the aircraft the better I liked it. I didn't take very long to go solo.
Q: And can you describe for me the process you'd go through when you first got into the Harvard to take off?
A: No, I couldn't. I really can't recall. You're excited of course. I can't just recall my inner feelings.
Q: Well how about physically? What did you have to do within the cockpit of the plane?
A: You do exactly the same as what you did with the Tiger Moth.
You went up with an instructor and you sit back and let him do the work and just see what he's doing and feel what he's doing. But by this time, having done fifty or sixty hours in the Tiger Moth, you're able to catch on more quickly.
Technique is much the same. You still land much the same way, except that you have to make sure your wheels are down. With the Tiger Moth the wheels are permanently down. It's a fixed undercarriage. You feel an awful goat if you come in with your wheels up. I never did fortunately.
When you pull the throttle back to land, a horn will go if the wheels are not down. If that horn goes you do one of two things. You put the throttle on and go round again or hope to get the wheels down in time.
Q: With this early training with the Tiger Moths, how did everyone go, did they all pass?
A: I think out of the forty who started up, I don't think any of them failed. Some went to bombers,
that photograph up there was the crowd that was with me on fighters. No, they all...I think in later courses they were losing more. Some were scrubbed.
Perhaps they selected well in the first lost. They couldn't afford to take them home again. Later on...this is a story. One fellow went over and he didn't make it as a pilot so they sent him down to South Africa to be an air gunner. He didn't make it as an air gunner, so they sent him back to Australia. He spent some time there and then they sent him to Canada to
be an observer. By the time he got through the war had finished. He never saw anything else but training camps.
Q: And for yourself, you mentioned that you didn't want to be a bomber, but what kind of skills did they choose you for, to be a fighter pilot?
A: I think
because you were a bit haphazard. I don't know. I really don't know why. Most probably it was the way you flew the aircraft and you were a bit sloppier than a bomber pilot would have to be. He would have to be more precise. I don't know. Although I was an instructor myself, I knew what I was instructing for. I mean, when I came back to Australia I was at the Advanced Training
and I was teaching people who could fly. I was instructing on tactics. How to get in and out of strafe and things like that. But no reason. I suppose I could have been a bomber pilot.
Q: Well tell us about the elementary flying training on the Harvards. What kind of techniques were you learning at this early stage?
A: In the early stage it was just to fly the aircraft. After you get a little bit more proficient you do aerobatics, then a lot of it then is solo. You go up. He tells you what he wants you to do. Then having done that two or three times he will go up with you
and check that you've done it. But that's in what they call advanced training. You go to another set of instructors who may be have been in combat. But the initial two instructors hadn't been in combat.
Q: Well tell us about what kind of knowledge the teachers who had been in combat were teaching you? What kind of things would they teach you?
A: Nothing more. We did have a plane with one machine gun on and that would be mostly for strafing the ground. I went up the Amazon and strafed some hippos.
I shouldn't have done it but I think the bullets bounced off them. No, it was literally...you were just getting experience on the planes. The experience of being in the air. Experience to know when you're upside down what to do.
Because when you're in a fight, you don't fly in a fight, it's just instinctive. You never look in the aircraft, whether you're flying straight and level. You just look out. It's just a matter of being in the air.
Q: What kind of avoidance and defensive techniques were they teaching you?
A: Nothing very much there. When we got up to the fighter training which was in Egypt, of course you can't go up dual there. All the planes were just single seater. So the instructor goes out, you sit in the plane and he points this out,
tells you what speed to take off. That's the first...that's the hairier one. Taking up of those for the first time. You've got to remember all he's told you without him going through it.
The first one I went up in...do you want me to say now. That was in the Hurricane. They're a lovely aircraft to fly. So I did my first few hours on Hurricanes. Then they put me onto Tomahawks because that was the plane I would have been flying later.
That is much more nerve racking initially because you don't have anyone sitting behind you. If you make a mistake it's yours.
Q: How do they teach you the techniques of being a fighter pilot?
A: Well you literally go up with another experienced man or an instructor who is usually...in that training all the instructors are ex-combat men. So you literally have a dog fight. You learn from what they do,
how to evade, what you should be looking for. If there's a bit of cloud he'll go in the cloud and he'll disappear all together and you have to find out where he is. So you're watching everywhere to see, and it's just a matter of when you get back on the ground he'll explain what I did wrong or did right.
All of it is repetitious and being able to...the more you did it the better you became. You just had to keep flying.
Q: Well tell us how you got up to Egypt?
A: We flew out...there were five of us and we went by
a passenger plane. It was a Lockheed Loadstar, from Salisbury to Northern Rhodesia as it was then. Now it's Zambia. We had lunch there and we flew from there. We were passengers. We flew from there to Nairobi and Kenya.
We stayed the night at the airport there. The first time I had ever heard a lion. The airport's a bit out of town and the lions come across the strips at night. Anyway, the next day...we only stayed there one night...we got a train from Nairobi down to Mombasa
which is the seaport of Kenya. In Mombasa we stayed one night there, and then we got on a short Sunderland flying boat and went from Mombasa to Lake Victoria and had lunch...no, we picked someone up or dropped them off at Lake Victoria. Then we went to Uganda, landed on the Nile, stayed over night at the hotel there.
These planes used to take off at about nine o'clock in the morning, and land at about four in the afternoon. We would have lunch on board. They never flew above five thousand feet, you could see everything. They were big fellas the old flying boats. It was luxury flying.
Armchair seats. The next night we landed on Nile [river] in Nairobi and we stayed at a very grand hotel there, named the Grand actually. The room...my bathroom was as big as my bedroom here. It was a massive hotel. No air conditioning, all punkahs. The punkah wallahs were working the whole time.
It was 120 [degrees Fahrenheit] in the shade. I had been a bit adverse to gin. I didn't like gin. I sat out on the lounge overlooking the patio. The waiters were big Nubians. Big fellas with a fez and long robes. They came out and asked what I wanted to drink and I said,
"I'll have a beer." Using a bit of language I had picked up I said, "Meningi macassa" which meant "a big cold beer". The waiter said, "No boss. Gin (UNCLEAR)." And I said, "I don't like gin." "Gin please. It's too hot for beer."
So I thought oh well, why not, and I've liked gin ever since. It was a pint glass full of ice, gin, tonic, fizz, and the water was forming down the side of it. I think I had three. They were real coolers.
Then we flew from there the next day to Cairo and landed on the Nile there. Then we were transported immediately down to East Helwan where the training school was, by car. Having finished there, I was
transferred by car to Palestine, and joined the squadron there. We were camped at a place out at Tel Aviv, and the next camp was where we now call the West Bank. We were operating in Syria
against the Vichy French. That's where I joined the squadron.
Q: What was your feeling like, having passed all the courses and now being a fighter pilot?
A: Pretty good. Oh yeah. And I was very thrilled to be sent to 3 Squadron because I think it was
was the only full Australian squadron at that time. They were all Australian pilots and all Australian ground crew.
Q: And what would you fly on in the operations in Syria?
And after the Vichy French capitulated, we moved into Syria to a place called Rayak in northern Syria up towards the Turkish border. We didn't have much to do there.
Q: Well tell us about some of the operations in Syria?
A: I didn't do too many. We had a pretty short time there. Then we moved back to the desert and we started to get more into the operations.
Q: What about your very first operation?
A: Yeah. We went out on a...just really, what would
one call it? A recce [reconnoitre]. Just not to meet anyone or do anything, but just look around. And we ran into some Italian aircraft, and I got into an individual dog fight with one. And he was about as experienced as I was. So we missed one another a number of times.
We weren't very high off the ground, and he was going down and I'd be coming up and we'd miss one another and this happened about three or four times, and suddenly I started to get worried. I thought, "He's going to hit me". So the normal thing would be, if you're going up and he's coming down, you would go under him because the line of fire would be
over the top. This time I decided I would go over. I kind of thought that as soon as he sees the belly of my aircraft, he's going to push his stick forward to stop a collision, so his guns will be pointing the other way. He did. As soon as he disappeared from my sight, I turned and he was turning down below and I was able to get him.
I often worry about that one. I think he was a young bloke, inexperienced. But it was either him or me. I'm here now.
Q: What was it like to see that...hitting another aircraft?
A: It was...you get very exhilarated.
It's one or the other, you or him. You don't ever consider people. In my log book you'll never see a name of an Italian or...it will be 109 [Messerschmitt 109; German aircraft] or the name of the aircraft which you shot down. You never thought of it as being a German man or...it was just a German aircraft.
You stayed impersonal that way.
Q: Is it important to be impersonal?
A: Oh yes. You can't consider yourself a killer, really. I mean, you don't think that way. You know you are but you don't think that way.
It's always just another aircraft.
Q: So what happened once the Italian plane was hit?
A: It just flipped over and hit the ground, and by that time I had to find my way home. I was by myself. The others had split up and gone. I don't know how I found my way home.
It was my first time out. Gradually you get to recognise what's on the ground. It might be a salt pan or a certain formation that you can recognise and you find your way by that. You never really navigate. When you throw an aircraft around, all your instruments go astray. The compass would go off. So you have to visual your way home.
And then invariably, in a dog fight, when there's a few aircraft, they all split up eventually. It only takes, maybe?I wouldn't say. It could all be over in two minutes.
Q: For this first dog fight. Were you using training techniques or
do you think it was more instinct?
A: Instinct I'm sure. Training must come into it somewhere. You're taught to throw off so much...if an aircraft is coming this way, you don't shoot there, you shoot there ahead of it
so it will run into it. By the time...if you shot at the aircraft, it would be away by the time your bullets arrived. There's always tracer bullets in your stream of fire which you can watch smoke coming from, so you know where your bullets are going. I think the more you're in
the more it becomes instinctive where to look. As I say, you fly the aircraft by complete instinct. You don't fly it by instruments or anything at all.
Q: And was this first event and your success
so to speak important for your confidence?
A: Oh yes. The more you went out and the more you came back, the greater you felt. It was a matter of ... yes, you had to feel...well I wouldn't say superior,
but you felt you were going to make it. You see your whole time in operations you lived day by day. You don't think of tomorrow. There ain't no tomorrow.
Q: And having been your first operational flight, a dog fight, was this so to speak a baptism of fire for you?
Actually it wasn't my first operation. It was the first time...I had been flying operations but we hadn't run into any aircraft before. That was the first time I had been involved in a fight. We had done quite a few
bomber escorts. We would sit over the bombers or beside them and they would bomb. And if we had some old beer bottles, when they dropped the bombs we'd drop the beer bottles. It would make an awful whistle while they were spinning. You know what's it like when the air goes over the top of an empty bottle. It was frightening apparently on the ground.
I suppose it would do a lot of damage if it hit you too. Of course we didn't have very many empty beer bottles. No refrigeration. When we did get a few beers?yes, beer came every now and again?there were two ways of cooling it.
One you dig a hole in the sand, put the bottle in and pour 100 Octane fuel over it. Quick evaporation and it would cool the beer. The other way was to load an aircraft with beer and send one of our newer pilots up to 20,000 feet. We'd tell him to stay there for 10 minutes and then come down quickly. No one would take any notice of him; they'd just open the beer.
Oh dear. There was a lot of wasted gasoline. People were rationed.
Q: What kind of beer?
A: It was Australian beer that was sent over. Not a lot, but we would get some every now and again.
Q: After this first dog fight, what was the reaction when you returned to base?
A: I think they had to have it confirmed. And a lot of times the army would confirm it. They might say they picked up, or saw an aircraft crash or land. We had an army man with us.
He stayed with the squadron all the time. He would get word from them and that would confirm that that aircraft had been shot down. Sometime there would be what we called a probable, or damaged. We wouldn't see it go down. It may be flying but smoke may be leaving it. The army would say, aircraft such and such type
crashed near them or something like that and they would confirm it. Other times, the bloke flying beside could confirm that the plane went in. They might say they saw it go in.
The tried to confirm pretty accurately. There was no good saying we shot a 100 down and the next day a 100 would show up again.
Q: And was there any kind of congratulations?
A: Oh no. No, it was supposed to be your job. There would be...if we were fairly successful there would be a certain amount of...
what would you call it? Not celebration but a good feeling around the place. No one...not any of us skited about how many they were shooting down. That was what you were there for and so you did it.
Q: And for this first time how did the firing compare to learning how to fire?
A: We had many more guns. The Tomahawk had 2.5's firing through the prop [propeller] and four 30s in the wings. So you literally...if you fired them all at once, you could feel the aircraft jolt. But in the Kitty Hawks, they had 6 50s in the wings.
The first time I hit an aircraft with that, it blew the wing right off it. It looked rather similar, but the firepower was terrific.
The Messerschmitt had a cannon and it fired through the nose of the aircraft. If that hit you then you had had it.
Q: And so talking about Syria, tell us how long...how that kind of fight developed from your perspective?
A: As I
say, I didn't do a lot in Syria. I don't think I was involved in a fight there. I did ground strafes. No, I wasn't involved in a fight. Of course we were fighting the Vichy French there, and they
were much like the Italians in a way. They would show off in the air a bit. I had one Italian attack me and he rolled over on his back to fire his guns. He missed. But they would do things like that and it was quite silly. They were excellent fliers but they didn't seem to know how to fight.
Q: What happened to this Italian who turned upside down?
A: Well he missed me. I don't know where he went then. He was coming in and I was a sitting duck really. I don't know, he was maybe three or four hundred yards off.
The next thing I know...I'm watching and I was going to take evasive action. I was watching him and he turned upside down. You can't quite realise how silly it looked. And he started firing. You wonder...I often think about it and wonder why. Maybe he wasn't serious.
The Italians didn't have their heart in the war. They'd rather cook than fight.
Q: Would the men took about the Italian's lack of will?
A: Not really. It just seemed to be understood. The Germans used...they wouldn't, I don't think, fly with an
Italian escort. They would escort Italians but they wouldn't have them escort them. Not to my knowledge anyway. I don't think they ever did.
Q: So in Syria, what sort of air resistance were you facing? Was it just the Vichy French?
A: They were...
all the French planes. The Devoitines; Dorniers...really, I can't think of the names now. The French were pretty good pilots but I don't know if their hearts were in it or not. They were good pilots, well trained.
The aircraft were pretty good too. But as I say, I didn't have a lot to do in Syria.
Q: Was it just the French you were facing in Syria?
A: Yes, only French.
Q: And how did it feel once you controlled Syria?
A: Well it was just a holiday. I hitch hiked from Ba'albek through down to Beirut, and from Beirut to Tel Aviv. So the whole country was easy, no worries. I hitch hiked. I was on leave and there were no worries.
And most of the time you would be picked up by an army truck or an army staff car or something like that. They were the only ones who had fuel.
Q: What was your leave like?
A: Oh good. Oh yes, there was plenty of everything.
We could get it anywhere. There were always good canteens. See the army was in Syria and Palestine. As a matter of fact they had one of their big battles in Syria. I think Cutler, the VC [Victoria Cross], he got his VC there.
Q: How did you mix with the army yourself?
A: Okay. It was easy. Oh no, never any hostility between the forces. Maybe a little jealousy between some of the English and us.
We were paid a little more. The same happened in Australia with the Americans.
Q: And on this leave, what kind of things would you do in say Lebanon?
A: Oh a little sightseeing. I'm not a religious person, but I like looking at some of the things I knew about?Bethlehem. I went to the Church of the Nativity.
I went to the Mount Ararat. Most of the time we would go night clubbing. There were always nightclubs in Tel Aviv. A lot of good surf at Tel Aviv.
At Beirut there was good surf. I rented an apartment there. I think I was on leave for a month, and of course we always had plenty of money because we didn't spend it while we were in action. We would come out with quite a wad of money. That always helps.
Q: And what was your impression of the local populations?
A: We got on well. Never any time that I had any trouble. One bank I went into,
where was that? In Haifa, Barclay's Bank there. We used to have our pay paid into the bank and we would have to go in and get it out. The next thing I know the bank manager came out and he said, "Are you any relation to Arthur Mailey?" He was very English. I said, "I'm his son." He said, "Would you like to come home to dinner
at my place tonight." "Certainly." He had two lovely daughters and they entertained me royally. I was able to...we were given a ration for fuel so I was able to fill his car up which helped. I can't think of his name now if you paid me.
But he was the manager of Barclay's Bank in Haifa. Another time I went to a cricketers' club in Cairo. They entertained me. Kazera Club. My
father was pretty well known all over the world where cricket was played, and it didn't do me any harm.
Q: How did you hear the news that the Vichy French had capitulated?
A: I don't know.
I really don't know except that I suppose it came through officially to the squadron. See we had an intelligence officer with us always. He was an ex air force World War I. And I suppose it just came through officially.
Then we moved. We were in Palestine then, so we just moved as a whole squadron to a place called Ba'albek which was occupied by the French originally. It was one of their permanent
air strips. It was a tarmac airstrip and hangars and quarters and all this type of thing. It was close to a little town. And we just holus bolus picked up and went there.
Q: How do you move an entire squadron?
A: We had a number of trucks, ambulances as well, and
the ground crew pack everything up. And in our...in those aircraft, just about half way between the cockpit and the tail was a big opening where you could store our personal...we didn't have a lot of luggage, but we had our stretcher and bedding.
We would...post probably send an advance party the day or two before to prepare a cook house and that type of thing. Then we'd fly in and settle in straight away. What was left behind, they would pack all that up and we'd come along. One move when I was out in the desert,
I went along in the ambulance. I wanted to see what was happening on the ground, all the burnt out tanks and things that one couldn't...you could see it from the air but you couldn't see the detail. It was rather gruesome going through an ex tank battle. Dear dear. Thank goodness I wasn't a soldier.
Q: And at Ba'albek, was it?
Q: What was the set up like for the airstrip there?
A: Good. It had very big hangars. I was a sergeant pilot. We had our own building with bedrooms, and the officers had another one, maybe a little more elaborate.
We had our own cook house in that building. The food was fairly good there because we were getting local fresh food. But when we were in Palestine we were right beside a kibbutz and we were getting a lot of good food. And they were doing our laundry for us.
Gee they were workers. A Jewish settlement. I mean, there were always a couple of elders. They worked hard. They were working on ground like this carpet and growing all kinds of greens.
The knew how to do it and they knew how to sweat too. In the kibbutz, any children born belonged to the kibbutz, and they were bought up by the whole crowd. It didn't belong to you or I, it belonged to the crowd. Amazing situation really.
They built places where no one else would. That's why there pretty hard to throw out.
Q: And when you were at Ba'albek, what sort of flying missions were you going on?
A: Only practice flying. As a matter of fact I crashed up there.
Another fellow and I were out doing practice flying, like dog fighting, and on the way back I was flying what is called Number Two. The first plane was there and I'd be down on his wing here. And he got lower and lower to the ground, and eventually we were going across a corn field, taking the tops off the corn with our props.
And an irrigation ditch arrived and I hit it. I was severely reprimanded. It's in my log book. I think I stuck two pages together, a big red negligent sign.
Q: Why were you flying so low?
A: We considered we were doing strafing. Oh you do these silly things for amusement.
Q: And how did the irrigation ditch come out of nowhere?
A: It was there but the corn was up close to it and you couldn't see it. It wouldn't have been six feet high.
Q: And what happened when you hit it?
A: And awful bang. The propeller hit it first and of course that snapped all the whatever you call it, drive shafts. When they came and picked the plane up, the engine fell out.
Oh dear. I have some photographs and I had a scratch on the arm.
Q: What was the feeling like when you hit the ditch?
A: Terrible. Immediately...I felt such a fool at first, and you know you're in trouble. We shouldn't have been that low. We weren't instructed to do that. We had been told to go up and do some dog fighting.
It's easy enough to have an accident. Lack of concentration for a while. I had three I think all together. I caught on fire once, and when I went back as an instructor I turned an aircraft
too quickly and dipped a wing. Just negligence. In my book they said, 'Owing to the experience of this instructor, it was pure negligence.'
Q: And this time you crashed into the irrigation ditch, what's the procedure of them coming to collect you?
A: The other chap who was flying with me, he went home
and told them. They sent out a wrecking truck to pick it up. And picked me up to.
Q: What happened to the plane?
A: They repaired it. The mechanics were...one particular head man, he
attached a Hurricane wing to one of our aircraft to fly it back for repairs. They could do anything. The person who flew it back flew it carefully. He didn't do any aerobatics. They had spares and good workshops.
They were excellent. Maintenance was as best as could be done, out in the desert especially. When we were taxi-ing, the propeller would pick up the dust and put it in through the air cleaner into the engine and it would be like rubbing emery paper on it, the engine. They didn't get very many hours out of them. But these blokes would pull the engine down
and overnight they'd repair it and have it running for next day practically.
Q: And what kind of personal relationship would you have with the ground crew?
A: Oh quite good, because most of the time a mechanic and a fitter would be on that aircraft. I didn't fly the same aircraft
every day because they wouldn't be serviceable. You might fly maybe three or four days in a row. But the mechanic and the fitter would stay with that aircraft all the time, and then the armourers would of course go to one after the other. A couple of times we've had to come back and land
and go to the toilet and get back in again and they would have re-armed the planes and refuelled them. It would be maybe no more than say 20 minutes or half an hour. That was some of the frantic times. It didn't happen very often fortunately.
Q: Was there any class difference between the ground crew and the air crew?
A: We had different messes. They had their own dining area. No, it was just that. There was never a class barrier or anything like that.
We didn't think we were any better than they were, because without them we couldn't fly anyway. Food was exactly the same. They ate what we ate, which wasn't very good. The cooks tried their hardest.
Q: And amongst the air crew were there any sorts of superstitions?
A: Not that I know of but I suppose we all did have...like maybe to make sure you had the same scarf on. I had a silk scarf. You see, the straps used to come over your shoulders and they bunch...there were four straps
and when you were turning your head continuously it would run. So I had a silk scarf around to stop it. So it wasn't affectation. I never know where it went to. I wish I had it to this day. I can't remember where it went. And I think, I don't know. Maybe I put the same shoe on each morning.
I still do. I always put my left sock on, then my right. My left shoe and then my right, always. And I noticed myself doing it. I think I should do it the other way, but I never do. I don't know why. Do you have anything like that? Earrings, or necklace or something?
I think we all have a little idiosyncrasy.
Q: And when you were flying would you ever relate these things to your personal safety?
A: I don't think so. Maybe at the back of your mind and that's why you did it.
I didn't carry anything that I wouldn't fly without.
Q: Did you have anything particular like you might always get into the plane the same way?
A: You always got in the plane the same way. On the wings was the place where you would put your feet.
Your parachute was in the plane. So your mechanic would get up and pull your straps over for you, and then they'd go out and sit on the end of the wing while you taxied out. I suppose some of them had
pet things that they did. No one ever talked about it. As I say I never carried anything in particular like a cross or a bible. Some of them did. They had been given it so they kept it.
Q: And how long did you spend at Ba'albek?
A: I don't remember. It was a good break.
Q: And where did you move to after this?
A: Out back out to the desert in Egypt. We flew straight through from Syria to Egypt.
I was left behind. I blew a tyre when I was landing and they had problems finding another tyre. So they refuelled and took off and left me. I had never been in the desert before and I had to find my own way.
The simplest way was to go down towards Alexandria, follow the road, which I did. The airstrip was close beside the road that I wanted. I found it eventually.
Q: What were the airstrips made of in the desert?
A: They would just send a grader out and grade the camel thorn off it, and that was it.
Just a plain, big square of clean, no bushes or anything on it. No little hillocks or anything. A great big cloud of dust when we took off.
Q: Were there any markings on this, lights or witches hats [road cones, usually orange] to show you where to land?
A: No. The planes would be scattered.
They would never be left in a line or anything like that. The only time they would be in formation would be before we took off. They would be scattered around the area and a pick up truck would take the pilots to each plane. The mechanic would always be there. Sometimes
we might get a call to stand by and we'd just sit under the wing out of the sun, and when there was a scramble, a siren would go and you could hear it from the area. Most of the time you knew where you had to go. You would be briefed before. If you have to go then you go to such and such a spot.
The leader of the squadron by that time would know anyway. You followed him. We all took off together. Twelve aircraft across. We'd all take off at the same time. So there would be an awful big cloud of dust.
Q: Would there be hard to take off with that much dust?
A: Well, no. It wasn't hard. You
were so used to not looking in the cockpit, looking around, that you'd automatically do it when you were taking off. You'd watch the wing beside you. When he lifted off, you lifted off because you were flying formation. So really, it was just automatic.
Then when you got into the air you went into the type of formation you were supposed to be flying. Maybe the whole twelve wouldn't be abreast. It maybe four and four and four. Staggered. And coming in to land, of course you would break off and do a circle so that the one ahead landed.
If there was one plane running short of fuel, he'd butt in and demand he land first.
Q: And what was the general procedure. If you can take me through a typical mission, step by step, right from the beginning?
A: Well the night before we would most probably be briefed, and it would come through the intelligence officer who would be told by the Wing, what we were supposed to be doing. If we were escorting bombers, we were to just scout, or strafe...what and where. So we'd
all be briefed the night before in that. In the morning, well it was just...we rarely had breakfast. It would be just a cup of tea. A steward would probably sometime bring it to the tent. We rarely had breakfast and then we'd go out to the plane
and wait for dawn, and take off at dawn. We would wake up normally about four in the morning. The stewards used to come and wake us separately.
Q: And would you eat before you went out?
A: Not really. Food wasn't that attractive anyway.
And you had a nervy tummy. Everyone lined up against the back wheel and had a nervous wee. That was an automatic thing to do.
Q: What would you wear?
A: Shorts, sometimes...it depended on what height we were going. If we going high then we'd wear flying boots. Sheep lined ones. Most of the time we'd wear desert boots. And I picked up a flying suit up in Syria, a French one. I wore that. It was longed sleeved.
Long legged, one piece thing. It was light, yet would cover you for fire. We were always worried about fire. The one frightening thing was fire.
With the hood...we'd always try and fly with the hood fully closed until you got into action and then you'd open it up because visibility was easier. And also if you had to bail out you could bail out quickly. When it was open so much, if the engine caught fire, the flames would come up and go out. They wouldn't hit you but they'd toast you.
All your clothing would be toasted into your skin, your face would fall off. Your nose would disappear. Yes, it was terrible, fire. Even your face mask, your oxygen mast would toast. The one fear was fire.
Q: You mentioned that your plane caught on fire?
A: It wasn't bad. It just smoked badly.
There were very few flames. But I was losing power so I knew I had been hit. I wasn't in a fight. I had been doing a ground strafe, and I think there was a stray bullet. A bloke may have been laying on the ground and just shot up like that and hit me.
Anyway I got up about 10,000 feet. We used to halve. Six would go in and strafe and the others would be up top as a cover. When we were finished with our ammunition, we'd go up and cover. We wouldn't use all our ammunition. The other six would then strafe.
And I was up at the top covering, and I could feel the engine was misbehaving, so I started to call the others that we'd have to leave. So they quit and we started to go home and I was gradually losing power. So I had my number two who was flying behind me... I
signalled him to go home. I was going in. I fortunately picked a...I was able to pick a good spot and I put it in. No wheels. A belly landing. I scrapped across the ground and fortunately I didn't undo any of my straps.
I was doing about, maybe thirty miles an hour and I ran into a wadi which is like a hollow. And the plane took off on this side and landed on the other side and the straps made a bit of blood come from my lungs.
But I was out of that so quickly then. I grabbed my parachute. I had a long walk home. I was going to sleep in the parachute. The silly things you do. Then I went around...the plane went out. I pulled the fire extinguishers... and the shock and I think the dust had put the flames out, so I was able to go around and pick
up my emergency supplies which were in the back and take out the crystal which is in the radio, which is quite secret. I crushed that. I was behind enemy lines. I was just trying to make up my mind what I would do next and about a dozen rifles were putting at me.
So I put my hands up. They looked like Italians but they happened to be Sunni Arabs. They were Bedouins. They had a camp nearby. Right in the middle of the war, it didn't matter. They would sell eggs to us and trade, and go and sell to the Germans too, and trade. Anyway they
decided to take me back to their camp and give me something to eat. We're walking back and the next thing, up flies another Kittyhawk. It was my Number Two. I think he couldn't find his way home. He came back to pick me up. He found a good spot to land and he landed on his wheels. So any rate we decided that we may be susceptible if we took off then with the dust.
If there were any aircraft they would see us. So we waited until about five o'clock. But they took us back to their camp. The chief set us down on a raised dais at the entrance of a big tent which was made out of sheep skin. They brought the food in. First the women came in with a kettle of water,
and we washed our hands, and we only washed one hand, the right hand. That was the one you were going to eat with. So everyone dives in. The food was brought. It was sheep, lamb. I've forgotten what else now.
Some vegetables. I'm not sure, I've forgotten. Anyway we dived in and had some of their food, and we stayed there. One of the chief's son could speak a bit of English, so we could talk a bit.
So we decided we'd take off, so we went back to the plane. We asked a number of them to clean a few rocks off the area to make a bit of a runway, which they did. We used to wear a revolver, a 38. We'd practice a bit. They weren't awfully accurate...about from here to the kitchen.
Any rate the chief had an Italian rifle and he aimed at a rock about a 100 yards or more and hit it. I had a go with the rifle and missed. So any rate I got my 38 out and aimed at something closer that I thought I could hit. I hit it and I gave it to him and he missed. So we were all square. These people are amazing. Right in the heart of the war, living a normal life.
When they ran out of feed for their sheep, they'd move a bit further. I don't know where they got water, I have no idea.
Q: How did you communicate with them?
A: Well, the chief's son could speak a bit of English. He most probably had been educated in Cairo or somewhere. We had a
thing which we carried...which we called a "goolie chit". One portion of the Arab crowd in ? I think it was Syria ? used to castrate prisoners of war. So this was the "goolie's chit". It was written in Arabic.
"If you return this man whole and safe, there is a 100 pound reward." So I had a pen and I wrote on the back that we had been well entertained and they were to hand this to any British to get
bully beef [canned meat] or whatever they wanted. I don't know if it ever turned up again. We were very grateful that they took care of us.
Q: What did you talk about with them while you had dinner with them?
A: Oh I couldn't tell you. It would have been quite limited. They probably asked about
our country. Really I can't remember.
Q: How big was their camp?
A: Oh I would say there would have been fifty or sixty of them. They were all in the one tent. All lived in this one area.
They just brought things in and disappeared. They weren't fraternising.
Q: What were they wearing?
A: The usual Egyptian long stuff, always dark.
Q: And the women?
A: Yeah. They didn't wear something on their face but they wore a long sleeved?what do you call it? I don't know what you call it any more.
Their hair was covered. An amazing life really.
Q: Was it strange that your number two had come back and landed?
A: Yeah. It was the last thing I expected.
Q: What did you expect to happen?
I expected to walk home. It would have taken me a few days. You walk through the night and sleep during the day if you can spot somewhere to sleep.
Q: What did you have on you to navigate your way back?
A: Nothing. You worked on...you knew roughly which direction to go and worked it on the moon or the sun or the stars.
A lot walked back. The hardest portion normally was when you got near the fighting zones, and you had to get through.
Q: Well what were your feelings like when your number two turned up?
A: I was pretty happy. I wasn't looking forward to walking home I can tell you. I don't think my boots would have been very good.
I forget what I was wearing. If I had been in flying boots it would have been impossible because they were so sloppy. I think I most probably would have tried to wear barefoot. But, oh no. When he taxied up, that was the best sight I could see.
Q: Did you ask him why he came back?
A: No. He didn't volunteer.
I think he just didn't...because my plane was slowing down, the squadron had got ahead of us and he was by himself then. And it was one of his first trips out, and so he may probably have...when he was coming out he wouldn't have noticed things as you do when you're leading. You're noticing what you're going over.
So you can find your way home. The roads and the different springs if there are any, or escarpments. There were so many different things. The desert is changing all the time. You navigated back that way. So I think he wasn't too sure and he thought, "Oh well I'll go back and pick him up".
So that's what he did do.
Q: Okay. Back to the Bedouins. What happened next?
A: We were walking back to the plane, the pair of us. We cleaned up the bit of runway and threw out the odd stones and stuff that's always in the desert, and then...
When we got to the plane we both took our parachutes and put them in the luggage compartment of the plane where the radio is. I sat on the seat which is just a bare iron seat, and Lou sat on my lap. I had my feet on the pedals and
he did the stick. If he wanted any pressure on the pedals he pressed my foot and I pressed the pedal. So all I could see was the middle of his back. When we came into land he operated...I still had my feet on the pedals and he was pressuring hard against them. He was literally doing the pedals because my reaction might be a bit slow.
And of course we'd been away such a number of hours that we were posted missing. It was thought that we would have run out of fuel by that time. So we rectified that. Of course there was...I won't call it a celebration, but everyone was rather glad to see us.
The chap who picked me up was Lou?anyway, later he went to Korea?Lou Spencer. He went to Korea and he was CO of the squadron in Korea, and he went on to
jets up there. He was killed there unfortunately. I think he was permanent air force. I was speaking to some people when I was down at Coolangatta when I was down there with the F18s [aircraft] and they all knew Lou pretty well.
He had a pretty good reputation. It was one of those incidents...it wasn't the first time that someone had picked someone up. One bloke we had called Tiny Cameron. You can imagine why he was called Tiny. He was a very tall man. He was picked up by
our squadron leader. I don't know how they got into the cockpit, I have no idea. Tiny was big enough by himself, let alone someone else. I don't think they could close the hood. I think one head would have been too high. It wasn't a recommended thing to do. They didn't approve of it really.
They were always frightened they'd lose two instead of one. But it happened.
Q: So tell us about some other dog fights that you had in the air? Anything particularly memorable.
A: I suppose...I suppose the one I was decorated for more than anything else.
I was still a sergeant. I hadn't got flight sergeant. But it didn't matter. In the air force rank didn't mean anything, and by this time I was getting reasonably experienced. So they put me in charge of the wing.
I learnt later that I was the only sergeant ever put in charge of a wing. Anyway we went to an advanced airstrip or aerodrome, and I had eight planes from my squadron, and the other squadron had twelve. So there were twenty of us all together.
So when we were sitting on the ground waiting for the take off time. Waiting for the scramble. The call came, and I had spoken to this CO, the leader of the others. I said, "I'll let you take off first." The wind was coming in one direction. I said, "I will take off cross wind,
you go off first and your gust will go away. Circle once and I'll be underneath you. Then I'll go above you." Anyway he took off. He didn't wait. We then took off and we climbed up. There was cloud cover of about 11,000 feet.
It was light wispy cloud but you couldn't see through it. I was climbing up and I thought I could see a shadow and we had always been taught that where ever there were...if there were Stukas [German bombers] coming in to dive bomb us...and if they were around then there were usually fighters sitting above them to protect them. And once again it was experience. I was going up towards the clouds
I could nearly smell them there, and one of my crowd came on the RT [radio transmitter], which wasn't awfully good. He said something about "The fighters down below." I just ignored him. I had hardly heard that and out of the clouds came six 109s.
We were heading up towards them luckily. If we had been going down towards the Stukas they would have got all of us. It seems a strange thing to say, but a plane going up is a very steady platform for firing. A plane coming down at you is turning,
and it's not as steady. So I was able to lift my sights and get a good shot at the leader. Then I had a go at a second one. That day we shot down, between the two squadrons, I think it was either eighteen or nineteen,
and we had one bullet hole in one aircraft. I got two 109s and damaged a couple. When we got back to the squadron and we were being debriefed, I said that I thought I got one and damaged a couple. But my number two said, "No you got two. The very first one that came in and you shot at, he kept going. He went straight in."
I must have shot the pilot. So he confirmed that. And in my citation from the squadron...I suppose that would be one of the more memorable. I can nearly see it still.
Q: What do you see exactly?
A: I can see the clouds. I can see the 109s coming down. I can see the 109s firing too. But that's more memorable because I was leading it I suppose.
Q: What's the difference in that role...of leading it?
A: You have more responsibility and you're the thinker.
You're the one who thought that there would be 109s up there. Someone else might have gone in for the Stukas, but the 109s would have played havoc then. They don't like being shot down either. So when four of them went very quickly they were very wary. I think they went home then.
I think Italians were flying the Stukas. I'm not sure. But who ever was flying them they were left without top cover. It was just one of those experiences that one would remember.
Q: Describe what you think about when you're in this situation, when you see the 109s?
A: There's nothing really. It's all instinct. There's no planning, not real planning. You've been taught to do?or your experience has lead you to do certain things and you just do it. .
No, there's nothing really one could say. You have to be lucky. Luck comes into it a hell of a lot. There are people who have joined the squadron, come in to be a spare because someone had been missing, and they might be in my tent...or the tent I was in. There were four of us to a tent.
He'd go the next morning and his bed would be empty the next night. It didn't happen too often fortunately. There were always a bit of a quietness in the mess when there were too many empty seats.
We had one particularly bad day when nine didn't come back out of twelve. Two walked in the next day. Two were taken prisoners of war and the other five were killed. A day like that you don't dwell on.
Q: Do you talk about it at all?
A: No. You don't. How can you...you really can't talk about it.
There's nothing to discuss. You're there to do the job. Every day you're liable to be shot down if you're unlucky. It's a job, and you do it to the best of your ability and you hope you're lucky.
Q: How do you personally overcome fear?
A: Oh yes. There wouldn't be one of us who didn't suffer fear at some time or another. Probably the most fearful time is just as you're going out to the plane, before you take off. That's the time that everything starts working.
It's very tiring. Living off your nerves is very tiring. After morning patrol, within an hour you'd be asleep. Slept well, no nightmares. If we only had some good food it would have been alright, and water. Water was more precious than food. There were dug
wells. As you may have read there were many advances and many retreats. They wouldn't poison wells because they knew they might have to use the water again, but they'd throw salt down them. So all the time you'd be drinking tea and I would be salty and it was hard. The water was hard and you couldn't get a lather up if you tried.
Clothes. You stank after awhile. You couldn't do anything else. You'd save the water after you had a wash. You'd put it in a bucket. You'd take the scum off the top of it and use it again. I think we were given eight pints of water a day, and that was...
I think the cook house took six of it. The rest was for drinking and washing. I think that was about the figure anyway. The water tanker would come round and...we used to use the German jerry cans [containers].
The captured ones.
Q: What were the places like where you were set up?
A: They were just in the desert. Tents would be put up, staggered, and slit trenches dug right beside each tent. The
slit trenches were necessary. We were strafed one morning early. Now, slit trenches were dog legged and if a plane was coming down strafing that way then you'd go into the centre one. If they came around and came in the other way then you'd run to one of the legs, or crawl to one of the legs. You wouldn't get your head above if you could help it.
If there was one today then everyone would be out digging it a bit deeper the next day. It didn't happen very often but it did happen. The Germans were similar to us. They didn't have very many night fighters. We did try and fly our planes at night, but you couldn't see. The exhaust...if you could see it at night, the exhaust came right
passed the cockpit and in the glare you couldn't see. You could see to take off. They would put flare paths out or they'd be bombed.
Q: So how did you manage when you tried to fly at night?
A: We didn't.
Q: You didn't try it?
A: No. We tried one night to put a seal over the exhaust but it didn't work.
Q: And when you were being strafed, did you ever think
ironically that it was being done to you?
A: No, I never thought of it that way.
There was quite a highway system right across north of Africa from Tripoli to Cairo to Zambia. And that helped a lot of navigation.
Q: What was it like coming down low for a strafing run?
A: I suppose really you felt pretty safe. The Germans were very methodical and they would most probably have a truck of machine guns in the lead, at least one or two in the centre and one at the end. So immediately what you did when you came in you'd go for the machine guns and try and knock them out.
Then you attempted to not run along but come in from the side. If you went along the soldiers could always fire up. But if you went sideways, the had to fire sideways too of course. And I think you weren't exposed as long if you went sideways.
And of course we'd be spread out. So it was better for four of us coming in, or six, that way, than tail to stern coming along. It was rather merciless.
You can imagine six guns firing at people. It was pretty rough. You couldn't have that much sympathy really. It was their war, not ours.
Q: But was it ever hard for you to reconcile it or deal with it? Some of the jobs you had to do?
A: No. I never thought very much of the consequences or the whys. I think you were drilled to be a soldier and that's all there was to it.
Q: What were some of the closest calls that you had? I mean, you've told us the one time when you had to crash land, but were there others?
A: No, I was very fortunate. I hardly suffered any bullet holes.
No. What I've said would be about as much as...I've forgotten. It would be in my log book. I've forgotten how many sorties I did. Seven or something. I think it was in that number.
Q: How many hits, how many planes did you shoot down?
A: Six and a half. The half was when two attacked the same plane at the same time, and both think they registered hits. You don't know who shot him down so they make that a half.
Q: And tell us...you mentioned the mission where you got the citation. But tell us how you found out that you had been given an award?
A: I was on leave in Cairo, staying at the hotel called The Grand. They had a Reuters
ticker tape in the bar area. We were having a few drinks. There was another chap on leave with me, and I walked over to the ticker tape and the latest news was coming through. After one piece of news came up, that the King had graciously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross to
Flight Lieutenant so and so and so and so. He was in the same flight. He was leading the other twelve. And after that came up, then it was my number. Sergeant W Mailey, RAAF, immediately award of the Distinguished Flying Medal.
That's how I knew. There were Americans who had come over to pick up planes for flying in China. They were staying at the same hotel and they put on quite a show about it. I think they got me a little tight that night.
They were more excited than I was I think. The next day I went to the RAAF mess area, headquarters, and they gave me a ribbon to put on. But I didn't receive the medal until I came back to Australia.
It was presented to me up at Newcastle somewhere. We had a special parade there one day.
Q: How did it feel to get this recognition at the time?
A: Oh very good. Oh yes. Everyone...anyone likes to put a ribbon on. There were no other ribbons then. We didn't do like the Americans did, get a ribbon for shooting someone.
It was only for a medal or a cross or something. It was something to wear. It helped.
Q: And tell us about some of the bomber escorts that you did. What was the technique? How would you escort the bombers?
A: Well usually there would be...maybe half the squadron would be above to top any other aircraft coming in. Three would be each side close in, and the idea was to
escort them into their bombing and when they dropped their bombs we would go home. So we went home too then. Sometimes they missed their target...we never navigated. The bombers did all navigation. If they went to the wrong place then we went to the wrong place with them. Most of the time they found their target.
We had a little chute beside there. We were supposed to be able to put flares in I think. And we used to load it with empty beer bottles, and when the bombs went down we'd pull the lever and beer bottles would fly out. Well they set up a fantastic whistle as they were going down. A real ear splitting
sound. They reckoned it was very very hard on the people who were being bombed. The whistling was nearly worse than the bombs. If any had hit anybody they would have killed them too. So that was our bombing. Later on of course, after I left, they rigged...they became fighter bombers, and they would do dive bombing.
Q: Do you remember what kind of places you would be bombing?
A: Oh, not by name. It's maybe in my book, but not by name, no.
Q: Was there ever any aerial resistance?
A: Yes there would be a couple of time, and there would be a fair amount of ack ack [anti-aircraft fire].
I'm not sure if any of us were ever shot down by ack ack. I can't remember. Of course bombers had their tail gunners and also they had their own defences. Most of the time we used to go in and out. There didn't seem to be that much resistance. Mostly ack ack.
Q: Was there any techniques to try and avoid the ack ack?
A: Not really. If it was about your level then you'd go a little higher. It's not really something you can see coming. It just comes up and it puffs. It has to be pretty accurate to do damage.
I wouldn't know how far away to...when it explodes. I think it would have to be within yards.
Q: And tell us about some of the escorts you did with supplies going to Tobruk?
A: Well actually,
what we used to do, we would cover them in and then we'd circle around until they got out again. Actually, one day we took in the commanding officer of the Middle East into Tobruk. He went in a...I think it was...I'm not too sure of the plane he went in now. But we were
close cover. I was within a 100 yards of him and he gave me the thumbs up sign. He was in there for about...he couldn't have been more than an hour because we only had three hours fuel. And then we escorted him out again, without incident. Nothing
happened. We didn't have to do anything but take him in and bring him out. The supplies most of the time came by ship, and we'd go out in the Gulf and sit over the top of the ships as they were approaching Tobruk.
They were very susceptible to being dive bombed. We would sit out for as long as could and then we'd have to go home. I think half the time the Jerries were watching and would send the planes in as soon as we would leave. Then they put long range tanks on.
We had to go out and help escort the navy into Malta, and that was a very long trip. We put these belly tanks on, and when they were empty you would just drop them. Use those up first. And we could do about an hour over the top of the ships.
That seemed to be pretty effective. Once again, as soon as we left they would come in from the mainland. While they were there they stayed away. That was when Malta was being very badly bombed.
Q: What was the toughest enemy aircraft that you had to fear?
A: I thought the 109s were about the toughest. They were fast, they were well armed, they could go higher than we could, and they were flown by pretty good pilots. Experienced most of them.
They had had quite a bit of time before they came out to the Middle East. They had been...a lot of them had even been in Spain before the war. So they were pretty experienced men. But we were lucky.
Q: Was there any kind of acknowledgement of the skills of your enemy?
A: Not to my knowledge, no.
Q: Were there any that you knew by reputation?
A: I didn't, no. Apparently they did know...see some of the aircraft, which I thought was quite a foolish idea, used to put a swastika up when they had a kill. Well to me, I thought, "Anyone
would want to pick out the one with the most swastikas [symbol of Nazi Germany] on", because you'd know he was an ace and you'd want to shoot him down. Anyway we were changing planes so often so why put it on. The Germans used to put rondels on. They, I read,
knew the names of different pilots, aces. And they would look for them. How they'd look for them I don't know, except you might be leading a squadron. I really don't know. But there were...some reports I've read since could quote who
would be opposing them. But I was never in a position to know that.
Q: Do you think you would have been singled out?
A: No. I was never famous.
Q: Tell me. Was there any other way, except sight that you would spot enemy aircraft, or acknowledge they were there?
A: Only by sight. Our radio contact wasn't so clever and I don't think we had radar in the desert. And when we were even talking to one another, we had a lever and when you were sending that had to be forward and when receiving it had to be back.
If you left it in a forward position, no one could communicate. It cut everyone else off, and that at times happened. What the CO would most probably hear, or know, everyone would know...he would go past the planes and do this.
In other words check the transmitter. You would have no way of communication if someone left it in the wrong position. And we used to have to repeat slowly and by the time you got the message through it was sometimes too late. But somehow it worked. The Americans
had much better transmission. They had throat mikes. We had these oxygen masks with the mike in front. And of course the noise would get in, whereas a throat mike would not do it. It would be easy. No noise and very little static.
Q: Would you communicate much when under attack?
A: Not really. We'd try but you see, being so slow it was rather difficult to...you might yell sometimes if you could see something coming up on someone's tail, and he was unaware of it. By yelling it might make him more aware.
"Number two, or number four, or red two. One side would be red and the other side blue. Red one, red two, red three and red four. That was rare but it did happen.
We used to have...if the twelve planes were out, they'd fly as a main group and then we'd have what we called two swingers. They would do this behind so they could look in every direction. We would be able to look ahead.
They would be able to see anything that was coming in from behind, and they would signal. They would say, "Bandits, Angels six" which means [enemy aircraft] 6,000 feet above us, 6 o'clock. Well immediately that message came through, the leader would turn the whole squadron around to face them, and he would hope the message would come through early enough.
Q: When did you start to have trouble with your eyes?
A: In the desert. The dust played them up pretty badly and our goggles weren't the best.
They weren't goggles, what would one call them? There wasn't glass in them...it was the days before plastic. They were celluloid. And they would scratch, and they were most unsatisfactory. So most of the time you flew with them up here and the only time you would pull them down was when you were on fire or something.
And taxing out the dust would be picked up by the propeller, and of course at times we had bad dust storms. A couple of times we had to go to another aerodrome to land because we couldn't go into our own. Very similar to heavy fog.
You would see the dust storms literally moving and there would be a gap in them, and sometimes we would circle around, if we had enough fuel, and wait for a gap to land. And other times we would have to go to another aerodrome to land. That really started it. Then
gradually, as you can see now, I have this problem the whole time, weeping eyes. I don't dare go out in the sun without my sunglasses. I can't drive a car without them. It rather amazed me when I had this operation a few weeks ago, and now I can see better.
It's just one of those things. Old age. I think they're just wearing out.
Q: When did you start to notice problems in your flying.
A: I couldn't open my eyes of a morning. They would be glued shut. I would have to bathe them open.
There's a name for this type of thing, a medical name. But they would be literally glued shut. I kept a glass of water beside me to open them up.
Q: Would they be sore or itchy?
A: Yes. You would want to keep rubbing them.
They would become very bloodshot too.
Q: How did this affect you when you were flying?
A: The reason I was posted out was, I knew my distant sight wouldn't be good. Our doctor was very good but he didn't know anything about it.
So they sent me into Cairo to an optometrist and he found the faults. He recommended that I didn't fly for a while.
Q: Did you make the problem with your eyes known to someone?
A: Oh they noticed it. They would become very bloodshot. The doctor would have noticed it.
He was very attentive, very good. I've suffered ever since, on and off.
Q: What were your feelings about being posted away from the squadron?
A: Well because of my eyes I was relieved that I had come through it. I had done more or less my share.
I had hoped...I wished I had had my commission because the air officer commanding had hinted that if I had had my commission he could have got me a squadron and I would have been CO of the squadron.
But when the eyes played up that got rid of that. But I was fortunate that they came good enough that I was able to go back to flying in green country. In places like Rhodesia where there was no desert, no dust. Very clean air. That helped.
Q: And tell me about your work as an instructor?
A: Well, it would be a repeat of what I said earlier about the other instructor instructing me. First I had to learn the basics of using the correct type of words to the pupil. So I went
out with another instructor and I would talk to him, and he would pick me up if I said the wrong things. And that started on Tiger Moths too, and then I moved onto the Harvards. In the Harvards we had two groups...the initial and then the advanced flying.
I was in the advanced flying so I was teaching them more of the aerobatics and air to ground and formations, and things like that that I did know. I would have four pupils at a time. The two newer pupils would fly from first light until
eight o'clock and then quit for breakfast. And then I would take the two more advanced pupils from ten o'clock to midnight. So I would do four hours flying each day, except when I could send them solo and then I would sit in the bunk house and drink coffee.
Q: And what was it like having to fly with a student.
A: Nerve wracking for a start.
I had one I had to scrub. We used to...the first few lessons, when we were coming into land, I would say, "You would put your fingers on the stick and feel what I'm doing." And then when they were a little more advanced, as they were landing it, I would touch my stick and feel
how rigid he was. I did this one day and the bloke was absolutely stuck. He was stuck on that stick and he wasn't going to let it go. So into the voice tube I said, "I've got it" which meant take your hands off everything, and he didn't. And we were coming into land and I could not pull the stick back.
He had both hands on it. I don't know what came into my head, but these voice tubes had a cup on it and it just sat in front. I pulled the tube and I put it out into the slip stream, so the air went to his ears and he immediately let go of the stick to put his hands up to his ears. And he let go of the stick.
Fortunately he didn't attempt to take it on again and I landed it. So I went to the chief instructor and I said I think we had better scrub him. I wouldn't take him up again. So I think the chief instructor recommended he be grounded. It wasn't something I liked doing. I didn't like doing it. But he would have killed himself.
Most of the time it was...they listened to what you had to say and paid attention.
Q: Were there any training accidents while you were there?
A: Oh yes. There were quite a few. When I say quite a few, there were a number. Considering the amount of training, not a lot.
Q: What sort of accidents?
A: Night flying. One night I was...you had to take them on what they called 'beyond the flare path'. And our flare path were not lights they were wicks in paraffin. They would light these and post them every?
I've forgotten, maybe every twenty yards apart. And you had to land across that. And for the start they would have four or five across ways. So you had to aim over that. I was on the strip this night, and when they came round we did a left hand circuit, we had an elders lamp, and you'd hold it up and there would be a
light underneath and he would call his number, and if the strip was clear you'd give him a green so he would come into land. But this particular night, one took off and I think...I put the report in that he had
crossed his controls. You take off in the complete darkness and you must watch your instruments. There's a ball that sits in the centre and if you're veering one way the ball will go that side, and there was a horizontal horizon thing which went up or down.
And when you take off at night time you literally watch these things. So if you cross your controls, it means the ball might have gone over and you start pressing the right rudder, and to rectify it you put the stick on the opposite direction, and the aircraft lets you go that way.
The more you press and do that the worse it gets and eventually you go in. It stalls. And this is what this bloke did I'm sure. That's what I felt from watching him. You watch each one take off. Anyway I went out the next morning. The ambulance went...he was completely crushed. I think every bone in his body was broken.
As soon as I saw him go in I grabbed the ambulance which was always on the strip. I went out to the plane and I went to pick him up and my hand just went into him. There was nothing left. The ambulance people did it. But he looked cold, he looked right. He looked like he was just asleep. The only thing that was holding him together I think was his flying suit.
Q: How hard was it when you lost a student?
A: Oh, it's hard. They become friends of course. It's quite...you get to know them pretty well. You get to know their personalities. You're talking to them all the time. You sit and talk to them in the Flight Room.
You sometimes talk about their families to them or something like that. No, you never liked losing anyone like that. There is a photograph of the plane in my old scrap book. He was just sitting there. He looked whole. He crashed pretty hard.
He didn't catch on fire. Normally they do. I think that's the only accident with my pupils.
Q: When was the decision made that you would come back to Australia?
A: When the Empire Training Scheme really filled
the pilot quota. They were sending them to Canada as well as Australia and Australia had quite a few flying schools. And we had a liaison officer in Rhodesia, and they were still sending pupils over in 1943. But then they stopped it in about mid 1943.
So they decided they didn't want me there any more and I was posted back to Australia then.
Q: What were your feelings about coming home?
A: Oh?yeah. I had been away for over three years, so it was quite a keen to get home.
Q: What did
you expect to be doing once you got back to Australia?
A: I had no idea. I didn't think I'd be sent to a war zone because I just didn't think I would be because of my eyes. Although in New Guinea I think it would have been okay. A green country.
But they sent me to Mildura instead.
Q: What were the differences between, aside from obviously the country, between Mildura and Rhodesia in terms of what you were doing?
A: Well Mildura is a little bit more of a green area. Of course in Rhodesia you're up 5000 feet, and Mildura is right on the Murray, and of course the type of flying I was doing was entirely different.
I wasn't initially teaching flying, I was just teaching tactics. I was teaching instructors who were then to go to a fighting squadron who had been instructing for a couple of years. They could fly better than I could really.
But it was the tactics that I was to teach...how to attach, how to evade, how to strafe and other things. Then we would do dog fights and that type of thing. We had fighter planes there. Wirraways for instructing.
We had the Kitty Hawks, and ?what were the other kinds. I've forgotten. They were a little bit superior to the Kittyhawk.
Q: Were they Beaufighters?
A: No. Beaufighter is a twin [engine aircraft].
I'm not sure if we had any squadrons of them. They're a good aircraft. They're a good aircraft for low level work. I think they were used in Europe for train strafing and that type of thing.
So once again I played up there and I was sent to Newcastle.
Q: What had made your eyes play up in Mildura?
A: I just think they were weak.
Q: Were you ever given any sorts of glasses or?
A: It was just as is happening right now. My eyes would just close up on me and they would suffer this closing up. I would be frightened to fly in case the sight went. I couldn't see well enough at times..
I enjoyed doing the radar course. It was a bit technical for me. I never knew what they were teaching me but I knew enough about flying to be able to do my job.
Q: What kinds of things didn't you quite??
A: Oh some of the technical stuff, the radar. The electrical technical side?the whys and hows. All I was interested in was to put a plane in the air and direct it which I learned on the job. I was first posted to
New Guinea which is now Irian Jaya. A place called Mawaraka. A mountain was a ten foot mound, it was that flat, right in the river delta. Mosquitos were the size of a bee, and humid. It was terribly humid.
We had to take pills for malaria every day. Our tents were rather biggest and they were completely covered with mosquito netting. And even a double door. You had to go in one door and go into a little space and open the second door.
The mosquitos were terrible. Anyway, being a pilot they wouldn't give me the Atebrin. Atebrin were yellow pills and it sent your skin yellow, and they wouldn't give those to me. I was taking quinine.
Q: Why wouldn't the give you Atebrin?
A: Because I was a pilot.
Even though my eyes were gone they said that it did affect your colour sight. So I was given quinine and so I never turned yellow. That's when I had the jeep accident.
Q: Well before you talk about the accident,
take me through the set up of the radar work in New Guinea?
A: It was just a short jeep drive...it was a separate building. It operated twenty four hours a day, there were three of us. I think we did eight hour shifts.
Actually there was practically no action around there then, but you had to be there. I think I slept most of the time. Well they had to wake me up if anything came on the screen. You don't watch the screen all the time. You have two operators. They watch the screens and
I could work out the heights and this type of thing if any aircraft came in. Most of the time we were directing our own aircraft. If there was low cloud or something we would direct them in. It was interesting but boring.
Q: Describe the equipment you were using and what it looked like?
A: Well, you'd have ear phones and a microphone to contact the aircraft. And the tubes as we called them were round...about so round. There were two of them, and they were just lit. And
any aircraft that came in...the idea with radar is to send out a pulse. It hits the aircraft and it is received back in a receiver, which then transposes onto the screen, as a dot. A little white dot. Then I would call that aircraft and have it identify itself.
If it was an enemy of course he couldn't identify himself. So we would send fighters off to intercept it. That didn't happen in Mawaraka. I never any contacts but it did happen when I went to Truscott. The other side of it I really don't know. That was the
technical side of it I was supposed to learn when I was in Newcastle. I couldn't get very interested in it. I do know that side of it. You had a transmitter that transmitted a pulse and it bounced off an aircraft and came back to a receiver.
Q: And how exactly would the aircraft identify themselves?
A: Well if...for instance. If you put two fighters in the air, they would only be bips as well. So what we used to say to them was, put on your IFF. That means, Identify Friend or Foe. They would have a little thing that they would turn on in the aircraft that would make the "bip bip" pulse.
So you could see the two aircraft pulsing and you would see the enemy aircraft which wasn't. So you knew where your aircraft were and you'd be able to direct them.
Q: What if their IFF was damaged?
A: It shouldn't have been.
Q: What if they had been shot up or something?
they wouldn't have been because they had just taken to the air and they were after a bomber. There wouldn't have been anyone to shoot them up except when they got close to the bomber and by that time it wouldn't have mattered. They would have seen the bomber. I'm off the air then. I walk outside. I do nothing. After they say, "Tallyho" which means, "I've seen the enemy", I leave it to them. There was nothing more I could do on the ground.
Q: What's the best position you would try and get them into?
A: Oh mostly, slightly below and behind. By being below they were more blind. The enemy would be more blind. You could put one down below and one up above so he could come in at an angle. But always from behind.
Invariably he would be going away. He would have taken his photographs and he would be on his way home. That was interesting because you had to keep having to mentally map their next move
and work out the direction they would have to go; what compass bearing. You would say, "Vector 225" which means, "Ahead in 225" on your compass. The words you were listening too all the time was tallyho.
Q: And would you ever have any
other contact with the pilots. Would you get to meet them at all?
A: Oh yes. I would drink with them. As a matter of fact I used to steal an aircraft every now and again. When I say steal, I would talk them into letting me take up one of the Hurricanes [aircraft].
Q: Where would you go?
A: Just around locally and shoot up my own camp.
Q: What did that entail exactly?
A: Flying very low over your own camp but not hitting a ditch.
Q: Did you miss flying?
A: Yes I did. I did a little bit in Canada. A friend of mine owned an airline there. He used to have some float planes and I did a little bit of floatplane flying.
Q: And when the war was still on, did you wish you could get back into the air?
A: I never got back into the air again.
Q: But did you wish that you could?
A: Oh yes. They sent me back to Mildura but I was grounded. I was doing aircraft identification. In other words, the would put a silhouette up. It might be a 109 and that's what it looks like in the air.
And I generally had a good time.
Q: And still in Dutch New Guinea when you were working on the radar, what was the general lifestyle like in the camp?
A: Oh good. We had fairly good supplies of food, plenty of liquor
which always helps a little. Yeah, there were Americans there, poker games. It was quite a change, except for the humidity and the mosquitos.
You would never go out sunbaking or the mosquitos would lift you up and throw you over the cliff. If there was a cliff.
Q: What was your impression of the Americans?
A: Quite good. The moment you get away from the cities it's different. They were the front line soldier,
most of them...they had an air force there. They were actually 'the' air force there. They were very compatible people. Americans are you know.
Q: And what was the airstrip like?
A: It was the metal airstrip.
First they grade the ground off, then they put heavy rollers over it. And they use a steel, metal strip about so wide with holes in it. And they link one with the other all the way, and when you land on it, it sounds like you're landing on...you could hear it. It would reverberate when you landed on it.
That was used in monsoonal areas especially where there was a lot of rain. They can't normally find sufficient depth or hardness to put tarmac down.
The same was over at Truscott. That was metal. The standing strips where the planes were, they weren't. When they went off the metal they went up to their hubs. You know, monsoonal rain. It doesn't rain
a couple of points, it rains a couple of inches.
Q: And can you take me through what would have been a typical day for you working on the radar?
A: Well, actually you were more on standby. You would be sitting outside where the tubes were and if anything happened then you would
be called in. So it was a matter of reading and amusing yourself. It was literally quite boring really. But I don't know, there were always two operators. So you could get away. We would go fishing...
not handline fishing but net fishing. Plenty of big fish and tons of oysters. Oysters the size of a plate. Then at least once a week a DC2 [aircraft] would come up from Perth and drop off supplies. I would
order and pay for a case of eggs to be sent up. I'd give them to the crew. When I was CO I got extra beer by fiddling around.
Q: How did you fiddle around?
A: Well I put more on the staff than there were.
And each man got a ration of two bottles of beer a week. So if I had an extra 20 on the staff, we got 40 bottles of beer a week extra. I used to give them...if anyone had a birthday I would give them a bottle of beer.
Q: And when you added men to your list, did you give them their names?
A: No, no. Just a number. No names.
If you had 250 then you'd make it 270. No one counted them. I never took a payroll for them. The pay was by number. There were no consequences about the grog.
Q: What was the experience of being CO like?
A: Quite good.
You have your own batman, your own tent, your own refrigerator. Everything. Your own jeep. And you can visit other messes and be welcomed. Nothing like being the chief.
Q: Is it lonely?
You always have another officer under you who looks after the administrative side. There wasn't a lot of paper work because you have a clerk to deal with that.
It was just one of those things you could enjoy. Privileges are nice. You don't have to answer to anyone. Of course in a fighter squadron it would be a bit more nerve racking.
You would have to administer the whole squadron, but then you had your backups. The CO's of each Wing.
There were two Flights. A Flight and B Flight. Each one represented 12 aircraft. And there would be a CO of that 12. And then there was the CO of the COs. You always aimed for the top job.
Q: We were just talking off camera about this jeep accident. So what was the story there?
A: Well I'll give you a condensed version. We had been entertaining in the mess. We had a local doctor and some
visiting people. I was to drive the doctor home. We left the mess and on the highway they used to put 44 gallon drums full of sand. They'd put say four here and four there and you'd have to go through them.
And also if any landing were being made then you'd have to go through there. I was speeding a little. Not bad. But truck had apparently gone through and knocked one of these barrels over and instead of it going through, it was in the centre and I hit it.
The jeep took off and I rolled it and caught my leg underneath it. It pushed the knee cap around to the wrong side of the leg. I woke up the next day in the field hospital and the first words I heard from the next bed were, "You silly bastard Mailey." It was the doctor. He was in hospital too.
Any rate they couldn't do much for me there so they sent me to Townsville Hospital and operated there. I limped until 1970, a little before, and my knee started to ache and play up. I went and had an operation and they took out some ligaments that were floating around.
That gave me some relief and about two years later it started to play up again and the same doctor operated and he took the kneecap right out. So I'm minus a knee cap.
Q: What was it like at the time? How long were you in hospital?
A: I was in hospital for a month I think, in Townsville. And then they sent me to a convalescent depot up in the hills which was a holiday.
And then that's when I got posted from there to Darwin. That was the biggest injury I had during the whole war.
Q: Did that seem ironic to you?
A: Oh yes. I never tell people it was a jeep accident.
My war injury.
Q: And tell us, what were you doing in Darwin? What was your role in Darwin?
A: Actually, I only reported into Darwin. I went to Adelaide River as a radar controller. I was only there for a short time and then they sent me to Truscott.
Truscott had just been originated. It is right up at the top end of Western Australia. Right at the very peak. It was a secret airport. I don't think we were allowed to mention it in our mail.
A lot of planes came over from...there were quite a number of airstrips on the road between Darwin and Adelaide River. The bombers were there. They would come over to Truscott and refuel and go up to the islands. And also Catalinas would land in the harbour and refuel there.
It was a fairly big operation eventually. That's where we contacted the enemy aircraft.
To explain the events. There was another radar station, not the same as the one I had, but on an island as an early warning. And they picked up this aircraft that was flying in and they identified it as being Japanese.
It went passed us and went down to the mission and then came back, and we got it on our screens then. So I scrambled the two Spitfires, and I was able to trace the Nakajima [Japanese aircraft] on my screen, and also to get its height. The operators who worked the screens were able to give me the height.
So I then...when my Spitfires appeared on the screen, when they got to seven or eight thousand feet, I then asked them to identify themselves, and they turned this thing on that makes a pulse. By that I could identify them. And from there I could see where the Nakajima was,
and I knew where my aircraft were, so I was able by looking at the map to work out the direction they had to take. So I called them up and said...whatever. I've forgotten the actual words. What ever direction it was the worlds were?my call sign to them, "Vector such and such". And that
means go on their compass. They did that and I gave them the height to get to. What they do, they keep going on that until I...if it had veered I would have given them another vector. But he kept flying straight. When they see the aircraft they call back to me, tallyho.
And as soon as that happens, I forget them. There's nothing more I can do. It was up to them to shoot it down, which they did. It crashed in the water close by. It was the last aircraft...according to the report, it was the last Japanese aircraft to
shot down over Australia.
Q: Does that make you proud to be apart of that?
A: Oh well, yes. To be part of anything...you're a bit of history. Not that many people would know unless they buy that book.
Q: Tell us about Truscott? Where exactly was it? Like how far from Darwin was it?
A: I think it was three hours flying time. I would think 600.
Q: And what was the set up like there, describe it?
A: A full bush camp. I had a double tent with an iron floor. It was very cool because the air could come through the floor.
And of course a telephone to my tent to keep me in contact. A refrigerator. A kerosene refrigerator. And I...one other officer was there and we dined in my tent.
The cook house would send my food over. I ate the same as the rest of them. But the privileges of course. I had my own jeep. I could send out a fishing party and some beer would arrive. What else would you need. Nice fresh fish and oysters.
Every now and again a bottle of scotch would arrive, and I've been drinking scotch ever since.
Q: What was the environment like there?
A: It was typical monsoonal. Wet season from November I think through to March, and it rained. When it rained it rained.
All our roads were just dirt roads so you could hardly move sometimes.
Q: Were there any local aboriginal people in the area?
A: Yes. They helped build the camp originally. The mission...there was a mission about 100 miles down. It was mentioned in the book but I can't think of the name.
They had an airstrip there and I think the Japanese were going to bomb that one. I don't think they knew about Truscott except that they ran across it. When they got the plane that was shot down? it happened to land on a sand bank
and was only submerged at high tide. The tides are up to 14 feet and that type of thing. So when they were able to...
Q: We were talking about Truscott and the planes and the tides?
A: Well they found the camera and he had taken photographs of Truscott.
But I think he had gone to the mission to look at their airstrip which wasn't very big. It wouldn't have taken any of our bombers or anything like that. I think it was only for a Tiger Moth or something of that size. And I think he just happened to come across us. And it was fortunate that
there was a couple of Spits there to take care of him.
Q: Well what planes did you have at Truscott?
A: Most of the time it was visiting planes. There would be every kind. There would be bombers going up. The American bombers would come in. Wellingtons and the flying boats.
Blenheims, short nosed. Practically none stayed there. They just came in to refuel and they wouldn't come back. They would go straight to their airport on the way back. They'd pick up some fuel to top them up and then
come back to their own. If not, they would come in and refuel before they went home.
Q: Where would you get all your fuel?
A: Barges. They did quite a bit of clever work. This was virgin country before the air force moved in, and there was a harbour,
and the bulldozed a spit. They had freighters, army freighters, and then a barge would go to a freighter and off load onto the barge and the barge could land, drop its front and the trucks could get onto it by building this sand spit.
That how the whole of the area was supplied. And after the strip was put in, then the DC2s would come in and deliver the mail and fresh meat, and beer.
See I should have re-read the book there. I do not remember how many people were there but I think there were maybe...I would think 1500 or so. We also had an air sea rescue boat there. They were the Bofors gunners...the airstrip defence.
Engineers. A field hospital. Headquarters. I imagine there was about 1500 men there.
Q: Were you the CO of all of these men?
A: No, only the radar section.
Q: With such a big operation, how do you keep such an operation secret?
A: Well I don't know. As I said, I don't think we were allowed to quote where we were. But then with all these aircraft coming in and out, I don't know how they could keep it secret. But no one else...I've spoken to other people in the air force and they didn't know it was there. They didn't know it was there. So somehow
or other it kept itself fairly quiet. As that book says on the cover, didn't it say, the secret air force?
Q: And what was life like out there?
A: Like any out post. You would amuse yourself. Movies came in
when they came in. There would be a dining in night at headquarters every now and again, especially if some good fresh meat came in. There was a concert when the concert party flew in. My time off I would go fishing. I would take the crew and we'd go net fishing. We'd put the net around and haul in a lot
of fish. If we got too many we'd send it to the headquarters or some of the other messes. You read a lot. That was it.
Q: And what were some of your tasks in your role as CO?
A: Well mine was to make sure that everything was kept under control.
Nothing more than that. There was not much paper work. My subordinate did that anyway.
Q: Were you receiving much news about how the war was progressing?
A: We'd be talking to the pilots when they came in from the Darwin area.
And of course we had radio contact, public radio contact. We could get the ABC and that kind of thing. Like any army camp that's how you kept in contact.
Q: Was there any kind of camouflaging of the place?
A: Oh yes. The normal
type of tropical camouflage with nets over gun emplacements and over my particular critical hut. Not over my tent, that didn't matter. Most of the tents and things were army green, so they blended. The growth was pretty heavy around that area.
An oil company took the place over in the 1990s I think, and they did the strip up again and they were using it as headquarters for their exploration in that area.
Q: You mentioned the aboriginal people. Did you have any contact with them during this period?
A: I didn't know. They were there originally
more for construction, and I think helping to find sacred places and water. There was apparently...not that I was interested, but there were apparently sacred areas there.
Q: And tell us, how long were you at Truscott for?
A: I couldn't tell you without looking up that book. I must have been there for 18 months I think.
Q: And where were you posted to after that?
Q: And what were you doing there?
A: I was doing a bit of tutoring: aircraft, silhouettes and?I don't know what else I was doing. I don't
think I flew out of Mildura. No, I can't remember what I did.
Q: Well tell us about hearing about the war coming to an end? You were at Mildura?
A: There was a great celebration of course. Everyone applied for discharge.
They actually put on quite a show. We put on a march into Mildura. The mayor and our CO taking the salute. All the local people turned out and the local farmers turned up into Mildura. We marched
from the airport to the town. I was in charge of one of the squadrons or flights. I had to march ten paces ahead by myself and give them the signal of when to eyes right.
When we were practicing out at the airport, we had markers so when you got to the markers you would start giving instructions which were...B Flight, by the Flights, eyes right, and then you saluted and looked. As they looked right...
but they didn't have this marker and I was looking for the marker...you do it with each step...each instruction is a double step. I did it every step. I had to get it all done before I arrived at the saluting bay. I got it out. Normally they have just a little red thing,
that's your marker to start giving your instructions and they had forgotten to put them out. Anyway it went off.
Q: How did you feel coming to the end of such a long service, five and a half years?
A: Actually it was a bit rough going back into civilian life. There were quite a few of us around, so we were meeting in Sydney. There would be eight or ten of us who would go in for a drink most days for a few hours.
Maybe all day. We were on long leave after the war for quite some time. We were in uniform and on pay. I think it was for at least six months.
So we would have to go to Bradfield Park and get paid every now and again. I don't know if they thought the war was going to start again or what. Of course I only stayed a year and then I went to Canada.
Q: And in the preceding years did you have any...well you talked to Naomi [interviewer] a bit about it, but
did you have any health problems from your service?
A: No, not really, apart from the knee and my eyes. I'm on a disability pension now.
Q: Did you have any problems with post traumatic stress from some of your service?
No. No one did any counselling fortunately. You counselled yourself. You didn't talk about it.
Q: Was that the best way for you?
A: I just accepted it as part of my life. I had no regrets and I rather
enjoyed it so I didn't need any counselling.
Q: Had your service time changed you from when you first joined up as a young man?
A: Oh I think so.
Q: In what ways?
A: It gave me more discipline. Made me more appreciate people. I've never
been a swearer. My father never swore and I never learned to swear, so I didn't even pick that up during the war. There wasn't a lot of bad language actually.
Q: What were some of the most important lessons that you learned from your service?
A: How to look after myself.
Discipline and self regard. I think, yes. Being able to look after yourself and not take any worries and be badly affected by it. I've been broke. I've been hungry.
But something turned up.
Q: And looking back over your war service what do you think were the best of times?
A: I really couldn't pick it out. Leaves and some of the big cities would be the pick. I had leave when I was in Rhodesia and I went down
to Johannesburg and I had a whale of a time there. I was very lucky there. When I came back from the Middle East, by flying boat, we came down to a place called Elandsdoom which is in South Africa out from Jo'burg [Johannesburg].
We were transported by car from there to Jo'burg. There were five or six of us and the rest were English. They had a transit camp there and I was put in that. And the next day I was walking through Johannesburg and there was a sign up, Anzac Club, and I thought, "Why not". So I walked in and
there was free coffee and beer. So I went up to the desk and there was a middle aged woman there and she asked me where I was from. I told her originally Sydney but I was now operating?just coming through from the Middle East. She asked my name. So I told her my name.
She asked where I was staying and I said the transit camp. She said she would like to get in touch with the President of their association, so she phoned this bloke and she said "I have a Sergeant Mailey here." He said, "What name?" I could hear him on the phone. She said, "Mailey."
He said, "Ask him if he's any relation to Arthur Mailey." I told her that I was his son. He said, "Call him a cab and send him down here I want to see him." So she called a cab and he was a bloke by the name of Billy Swarwar. He was an Australian and in charge of concrete construction in Jo'burg for Africa and they did a lot of the big buildings.
So they showed me up to his suite, the manager's office. He said, "I met your father when he came over here and played the Wanderers. Where are you staying?" I told him the transit camp. He said, "No you're not" and he phoned the hotel. He said, "We'll put you up there and all you have to do is sign. Everything's on the house."
I couldn't get back to the hotel quick enough. So I spent about four days or so there. In the meantime, every lunch time he said to come down and he would take me to the club for lunch. So we went to his club for lunch. I met other expats there. One of them owned a gold mine. They were all very wealthy men.
He said, "What about you come and stay at my place." I was having such a good time at the hotel doing anything I wished. But he said, "I'll have my daughter pick you up." So that convinced me that I would go and stay. It was a marvellous home. Tennis court, swimming pool.
Servants galore. Anyway I stayed there and the daughter was much my age and very attractive and she took me around and I met all her friends. So I had a really whale of a time. The next thing there's a signal come through to the camp where I was suppose to be in, asking
where I was. So they had to send out the MPs [military police] to find me. They found me and I was on the next train up to Salisbury. Dear oh dear. I got to Salisbury but nothing happened, and in the meantime my commission had come through. I was there for about six months but I had leave,
and I was straight back to Jo'burg.
Q: Did you have any romances?
A: Yes. I nearly got married in Rhodesia. Fortunately no. Oh yes there was always someone you'd meet. I had a girlfriend
in Alexandria and one in Cairo. They were acquaintances.
Q: Where were they from exactly?
A: One was a Greek...an Egyptian Greek, a Greek background. Her parents were in the restaurant business I think, and the other one was a jockey's wife. I think I was playing hard there.
You know what would have happened there. That was in Alexandria. But they were always very nice, nice women, and good for a laugh, and good for a night out.
Q: What was your life like in Rhodesia?
A: Oh good, excellent. I made some exceptionally good friends. One of them is a tobacco farmer and had a very big farm. I used to spend a lot of time there. He had a swimming pool and tennis court. We would play tennis with four ball boys.
You didn't have to bend over. It was amazing.
Q: Did you have servants?
A: Yes. Of course in the air force I had my own batman. He would turn up first thing in the morning, polish my shoes, brought my tea. You always had a little bit of a sleep in the afternoon. He'd wake me at four o'clock with a cup of tea,
fresh uniform ready for dinner. Spoiled silly really.
Q: So was it hard for you to finish up with the air force because of all this?
A: Well no. See we had batmen [officer's servants], or batwomen in Mildura. Where ever I went, from then on I was able to have a batman. Someone to look after me and do my bed and uniforms and that sort of thing.
Q: Well, looking back also, what do you think were the worst memories you have of the time?
A: Oh I wouldn't like to try and think of that. Really, I think most probably it would be the hard living type of thing, bad food in the desert, the lack of variety, that sort of thing.
That would be the biggest growl you'd have. But apart from that I can't think there was much I can complain about.
Q: Well now we're coming close to the end of this tape, I might ask a final question which is, is there any words or anything you'd like to add to the record?
A: I think we've covered everything just about.
Just apologise for crying. I'm not really crying, it's just what happens with a bit of light. I'd just like to hope that the project goes well.
Q: Thank you and you did a terrific job today. It was great to talk to you.
[3SQN Assn repaired version of original transcript on https://www.awm.gov.au.]
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