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Training for War:
Perth Railway Station
Thursday, 18th July, 1940
Left Perth (after waiting since February 1940 to be called up) on “Trans” train. Tiring trip; reached Adelaide on Saturday night at 6.30.
Boarded “Overland” for Melbourne and had terrible journey sitting up, eight in carriage. Had supper at Murray Bridge and settled down for the night with a dozen “Nathans” [beer]; happy time. Reached Melbourne; 9.30 on Sunday.
Met by tenders and taken 50 miles to Somers [Victoria]. Nice place but very muddy when raining.
--- [Two Weeks Later] ---
Spent two weeks there and went on leave for first time. Went to Mrs Elliott’s at Toorak. Met Kitty Fyffe and went to State Theatre to see Jim Davidson’s band. Back to camp and nothing but lectures and drill; very monotonous.
--- [Three Weeks Later] ---
1 September 1940 [Sunday]
Spent weekend swotting [studying]. Not too much swot though. Put in for Western Junction, Tasmania, for first flying. Went to Flinders [town] and Naval Base, four miles away. It is a tremendous concern. Has large playing fields and good hot water system. We usually get out of sport here and have a good hot shower. Vaccinations and inoculations are healing up; gave us a lot trouble while they lasted.
Gloucester Ball. Good show - partners provided. Got in for 3/6 instead of 10/6; left at 2am and got into bed at 6.30. Crook all day Saturday.
Had Maths final other day; average of Maths 91%.
2 September 1940
Lectures all day with pictures: “Navigation”. Did guard 1800-2000 hrs. Told off by Corporal re dinner.
3 September 1940
Glorious day. Slept in lectures. Had first practical navigation. Washed out respirator after going through gas chamber with Tear Gas.
5 September 1940
RAAF Trainees marching at Somers, Victoria. [State Library of Victoria AN010187]
Sick and tired of drill. Cpl. Horrocks not very well-liked. Had a lot of velocities [vector calculations] in Navigation and to start were rather confusing. Rumours of drill exam next morning. Having Law and Administration tomorrow afternoon. Been practising Words of Command all night.
6 September 1940
Had Drill exam in the morning, continuing later from 1 onward. I might go through tomorrow. Passed Signals, full marks. 10 w.p.m; could do more, easily.
Had Law and Administration this afternoon. Marks later.
7 September 1940
Nothing much done in morning; swotted in afternoon. Went to Whyte’s Balnarring [Family of G. Raymond Whyte of Perth, later Flight Lieutenant]; got lift in to Frankston. Had a few beers with Eddy, ‘Shag’, Ian and Gordon at Grand. Went with Gordon to McLean’s place. Butler only one home. Had whiskies till family came home. Met Bettes; went to town to get crayfish. Had crayfish and beer supper. Feeling pretty good. Went to dance. Saw young girls jitterbugging with A.I.F [soldiers]. Treat to see. Met ‘Shag’ and went home with Whytes. ‘Shag’ went to bed in clothes and intent on breaking globes. One went west.
8 September 1940
Went to church at Balnarring. Did bit of swot. Nothing exciting happened.
9 September 1940
Finished Drill exam, had Navigation exam in morning and exam from 1-2 o’clock. Ray Whyte and I then vacated camp and walked to Wallace’s for afternoon tea. Left at 5 and walked to Whyte’s at Balnarring; sat in front of glorious fire on the nice soft sofa and talked. Had toast supper; reached camp at 2330.
10 September 1940
Had Gas exam in morning. Never seen such cheating before. Our boys are artists in the art. Went to the beach after that, after evading Corporal who was taking us for drill, and slept and had a swim. Took several photos.
Postcard of the Beach at Somers. [National Library of Victoria RG008791]
Most of the boys went to Flinders this afternoon, while ‘Shag’, ’Blue’, Stan, Gordon and myself stayed behind; nearly wrecked the hut with the volleyball. ‘Shag’ and ‘Blue’ are arguing who will take Joan Whyte out to the dance at Somers tonight. Our boys are all waiting for their results in exams and postings. They’re a great lot of chaps and are going to Tassie, I think which means we’ll all be together thank goodness.
Our exams are farces with exception of Maths and Navigation. The boys would write crib notes, shove them under the pads and hey presto - they pass! It’s a great life.
11 September 1940
Had some drill in morning and went to Administration lecture. Received marks:
Law and Admin.
Posting on Thurs. Am going to Tasmania for certain. Then went down to beach and slept till dinner. After dinner handed in all our issues of equipment (books, compasses etc.). Some of us going to Whyte’s for a party. Will comment on it tomorrow. Last night by the way, Buck, Tiny, Tich, Phil, Gordon and myself went to Dromana to celebrate finish of exams. Tich got very drunk and removed a glass or two, which Buck and I are returning after tea tonight. There is a bit of worry about it all. S.P. [Military Police] are on the job but I think it’ll be OK. Buck and I are right, but Tich, Tiny and Mac are not very safe. Will see what happens later.
Had a great time at Whyte’s; seven of us turn up, had a wonderful party. They are marvellous people these Whytes. Hospitality from them is A1 and they’d do anything for us. Joan is coming to dance tonight. Five of us going up to C.O. [Commanding Officer] in the morning [re Hotel incident]; Buck, Tich, Tiny, Mac, and I. Hope it comes off alright.
13 September 1940
Went up before C.O. and he severely admonished us. Did nothing else thanks to hotel proprietor. Spent all day getting clearances. Terrible job hanging around. Helped in gym for dance.
Met Barbara and Mary Hannah and spent all the night till supper with Barbara. I lost her so I went to bed. All the boys came in full [drunk] and started a tremendous row, tipping beds over and such like. Mr Jennings and Walker came in at 2 o’clock and saw the mess. They nearly fainted, but Hut 44 was worse. Jennings threatened stoppage of leave but it didn’t come off. The officers and N.C.O.s [Non-Commissioned Officers] here are worse than the men. They took women to their messes and got drunk. Several charges were made by the officers against a couple of N.C.O.s. A very wonderful night for our pass out. Eventually got to bed at about three.
14 September 1940
Left camp at 12 o’clock; caught train at Bittern for Melbourne. Went to Misses Curr’s place at Malvern. Three elderly spinsters all knitting socks for soldiers. Good cooks. Phil and I went to Palais and met Athy. Linked up with three young ladies Vera, Joan and Dorothy. Very nice indeed but Vera is A1. Took her home at 1 am to Brighton, nine miles out of Melbourne. She is a very sweet girl and can dance very well. I am ringing her up on Monday. I am wiring dad for more money. Vera is very like Alice Faye, fair hair etc. (but is she sweet !!!???). She works at the tramway board in Melbourne. I am having lunch with her on Monday.
15 September 1940
Did nothing in the morning and left Curr’s place, went into the Power House for a few minutes. Walked into town, seeing the Shrine again on the way.
Shrine of Remembrance, St Kilda Rd, Melbourne. [State Library of Victoria PI000447]
We walked around and around town and finished up at Air Force House for tea. At night we went to Wesley Church, Lonsdale St., finished up at the Kings Theatre, paid sixpence, went into the gods and saw a very 2nd rate vaudeville show. Got home to Curr’s about 1 am
16 September 1940
Mucked around all morning. Rang up Vera and tracked into Air Force House from Curr’s. Had lunch at Elizabeth/Collins [Streets] with Vera. Turned out she has very fat legs and is rather plump, not as good as first impression. However, had tea at her place in Brighton and went to Shag’s place for a party with her; arrived back at Air Force House at 2 am. I am getting sick and tired at all these early mornings I’m having. Thank goodness dad sent me three pounds today. Also a letter from Bet and replied to it.
17 September 1940
Went to MacRobertson’s [chocolate] factory with Phil, Stan and Blue. Saw old Mr Mac himself but didn’t speak to him. Saw how chocolate was prepared, how they packed them and many wonderful processes for honeycomb etc. Rode in a funny little cable tram to the Aquarium and stayed there till about 10’oclock. Returned to Air Force House, had lunch and decided to go for a hot swim but felt too tired and went into a theatrette till four. Had dinner at the Alexander Hotel to celebrate Ian’s engagement. Went to see The Mikado. A very nice show. Got home and absolutely died in bed. Am feeling very tired, feet are aching and will be glad to catch the boat tomorrow. Leave is no good in Melbourne unless you have money. The boys are all broke and are pooling resources for trip. A lot have drawn their pay. I have lent a few bob to Tich. At 4.30 Ray and I saw Melbourne from Shell House, a wonderful view - took some photos.
18 September 1940
Walked around Melbourne looked at the shops etc, and returned to Air Force House, had lunch and drove down to the boat at 3.30. Trip started at 4.30 and became rather bad outside the heads, but had to travel in darkness. Kept bumping into people in the dark. Was funny seeing people hurtle to the railings [seasick]. Quite a lot were like it. I felt pretty crook so retired to bed and tried to sleep. Didn’t get much, through rolling of ship, and one time all the kitbags fell on me.
19 September 1940
Started “A” Course at Western Junction.
Woke at 5.30. Had a shave, breakfast and saw Tasmania dead in front. Ship was rolling still but we soon made the heads of Tamar River. We started up this very navigable river at 8.30. This trip is very beautiful, the scenery is excellent and the river in parts is barely half a mile wide so that at times the boat was almost touching the banks. We reached Launceston, 40 miles from the heads at 11 o’clock. Were transported to the Station, nine miles out. This is perhaps the only flat country for plenty of planes. [Western Junction is the site of the modern-day Launceston Airport.] Issued blankets, etc, and settled in.
20 September 1940
Spent all morning in lecture room. Had Theory of Flight, Navigation, Airmanship and Parachutes. Then were issued with flying overalls, had dinner and starting with our flying instructor on the plane. Looked all over it, practised starting drill, taxed and were taken for a flip to show the surrounding country, worked the controls by myself and I think it was OK. Then he gave me a steep bank, I thought my tummy had dropped overboard. We then landed and had P.T. [Physical Training] and caught the bus into town, stayed at the Criterion, mainly to have a bath, and went to the pictures after which went to a local dance. Launceston is quite small place, situated in a valley and the views are glorious. Bought some photos of it.
21 September 1940
Got up about 10, had breakfast and mucked around in the Criterion all morning and went skating and sightseeing in the afternoon. Saw Museum, “The Gorge”, etc, got home very tired. Went out at night with Athy to a dance at Longford.
[“Athy” refers to Geoff Atherton; later Wing Commander, Distinguished Flying Cross and Bar. In an apparent tribute to his long-term friend Harold Roberts, Geoff Atherton’s planes in the South Pacific were always given the same name that Harold had chosen for his in Egypt: “Cleopatra”.]
Western Junction "Class 4P". [Neville Rourke Collection from Geoff Atherton's Photo Album]
Met Nancy Box. She is a very bright girl and is great fun. Got back into camp at 1 o’clock.
22 September 1940
Got up at 6.15 (too early) had breakfast and through a big fog had to have lectures all morning; Airmanship, Administration. Had lunch and started flying. Practised turns, effect of controls, sideslips etc. Flying getting better and enjoying it. Getting very used to it and not getting tummy trouble so much in dives etc. Finished at 4.30, ate a good tea and interviewed our instructor after which I had to swot. Sorted out my washing, it will cost me a fortune to have it washed; can’t do it myself, through no water.
23 September 1940
Started flying at 7.30. Between flights had instruction on Rigging and Instruments. Had 65 mins altogether in flying. Practiced turns, gliding and effect of controls. Brought plane almost in to land and had a feel of the craft in taking off. Had a big talk about gunnery with Pilot Officer Walters, C.G.I. [Chief Gunnery Instructor].
24 September 1940
Had open-air lectures on Signals, Rigging, and Engines and had 20 mins on landing and circuits. Landing not too good. Turns are still difficult but will come in practise, I hope. In the afternoon had Drill, Navigation and Theory of Flight. Went down to the trickle (a little creek) and tried to wash ourselves. Not too successful. This flying makes you feel very tired. Haven’t a minute to ourselves all day. Going all the time, and not much at night because of swot.
Western Junction, Tasmania. Trainees in a classroom at RAAF No. 7 Elementary Flying Training School. [AWM P00956.011]
25 September 1940 Wednesday
Had Signals, Rigging, Engines and flying in the morning, I practised very terrible landings and a little better take-offs with Pilot Officer Carter only correcting me. Getting turns much better through the sideslip indictor. A bit bumpy about a thousand feet. Up to today, have done 4 hours 15 minutes. In the afternoon, had lectures on Navigation, Medical, and Armaments. Tonight I managed to write to dad and copy out all my notes. Am flying all day tomorrow so will go to bed early.
26 September 1940 Thursday
Flew in the morning. Landings terrible but take-offs getting better. Had lectures in afternoon. Went into town for a bath in the night and had a few drinks.
27 September 1940 Friday
Flew all day, interspersed with lectures. Had a couple of good landings so am filled with confidence. Hope for solo soon, a couple went up for tests. Athy went up first solo on his birthday, today. He is 21.
28 September 1940 Saturday
Flew in morning, landings still bonkers. Had lectures in afternoon and caught 5.45 bus to town, booked in at Launceston Hotel and went up to Nancy and waited for Athy, when we all went around in the car; ended up at Perth at the dance. Got home at 4 o’clock.
29 September 1940 Sunday
Got up at 9 o’clock, had a hurried breakfast (porridge, fish steak and eggs and toast) and met Nance outside in her car. Went up to her place and stayed the day with her. Her home in a glorious position overlooking the city. It takes a long time walking up the hills, though; when I first tried to find it in the dark I walked miles around the blocks. Reported back to camp at 10.30 pm.
30 September 1940
Weather rotten and windy. Did not fly and had lectures on Rigging, Engines etc. Noticed snow on Ben Lomond [a high mountain to the east]. After dinner had further lectures and went for a run instead of P.T. Had another talk to P/O [Pilot Officer] Carter (Errol Flynn). He’s a wonderful joker.
1 October 1940 Tuesday
Had lectures and flying in the morning; landings getting better. In the afternoon had spins and did a slow roll. Nearly fell out. Then did one good landing followed by a few rotten ones. Did a ground-loop taxiing out [360-degree inadvertent skid] and created a situation.
2 October 1940 Wednesday
Flew all day and had lectures between. Still can’t get landings and am getting very worried about solo [flight qualification]. My time is getting rapidly shorter and they have already chucked two men out. At night went into town for a bath and brush up.
3 October 1940 Thursday
Flew in the morning and did a better job of flying. P/O Carter said I’m getting better. Up to date have had 12 hours 55 minutes dual - too much altogether. Had a Theory of Flight test - very simple. Tried to swot tonight. P /O Carter went off about my log book. Am feeling very down in the dumps, with several chaps going out (can’t make the grade) I am very worried about my solo. Can’t get much out of instructor at all which makes me feel worse. Ah well, it’s a sad life. I brightened up a bit when I got a letter from Sis and Dad and also got paid.
4 October 1940 Friday
Flying scrubbed [cancelled] through wind in the afternoon, but in the morning I was recommended for solo. Am having test first opportunity. Have got landings much better now; feeling very confident. Friday night went into Launceston, seven booked into the Criterion. Had dinner and went up to Nancy’s. Athy and Biddy, Bob, Peggy, Nancy and I went out to St Leonards and proprietor burned our pies and toast for supper. Got home at 3 o’clock after climbing through window to get into Criterion.
5 October 1940 Saturday
Met Nance and spent all day with her at her sister’s place. Athy, Biddy and Bob came up and we mucked around. Wrestled, etc. Had tea at Nancy’s and she came into town to see me off to Western Junction.
6 October 1940 Sunday
Had lectures all day, as too windy for flying, worse luck. Am going to have test tomorrow, I hope. Wrote a letter to dad and fixed up my washing for laundry and went to bed.
7 October 1940 Monday
Had lectures all morning and should have had solo test but C.F.I. [Chief Flying Instructor] put it off till the afternoon. Waited impatiently for the afternoon and eventually got to plane. Solo test - took off and did a circuit and landed well. Next circuit did a rotten landing. C.F.I. took over, did a quick circuit and landed on tarmac. Then I went solo. Landed very badly first turn, but next one was perfect – flat. Ended the day’s flying. Am dying for tomorrow.
8 October 1940 Tuesday
Flew solo in morning, but wiped out flying next period, so had lectures all day. Got Theory of Flight marks and got 36% (putrid). Got a letter from Nancy. Swotted a bit at night and went to bed early. Flying four periods tomorrow.
9 October 1940 Wednesday
Flew all day and had a thrill when Peter Ingoldby ground-looped and smashed his undercarriage - was most popular boy with ground staff.
[Pilot Officer Peter Ingoldby was later killed in a flying accident with 22 Squadron on 2.5.1941.]
Went for about two circuits solo after being with Mr Devine, I didn’t like him, he was telling me off properly because I wouldn’t land into wind, etc. Wind was very strong and gusty and rotten for flying; was glad to go up with P/O Carter again. At night went for bath in Launceston and had a few beers with Stan who got very drunk - indeed for the first time, and he was a proper job. Saw Nance and told me she still loved me.
10 October 1940 Thursday
Went for a whole period solo and did loops, spins, steep turns etc. and nearly tore wings off. Had a dogfight with Gordon White and shot him down.
[Gordon “Whitey” White later flew with 3 Squadron in 1941/42. He is mentioned extensively in Brian Thompson’s Diary. Sadly, Gordon was killed in action in New Guinea, flying with 78 Squadron, on 8.8.44.]
K. C. Smith had a very remarkable forced-landing creating a great sensation. His engine stopped at three thousand feet and he landed between some trees in a rutty paddock without damage. Had blind-flying and low-flying in afternoon.
11 October 1940 Friday
Wind sprang up and cut out flying. Also a very dense fog came across, all but two machines landed at aerodrome but these two had to make a forced landing away. Cut out flying for the rest of day. Went into Launceston on leave and went to St Leonards and drank beer etc. and went to Corinna and had a barbeque. Nearly fell into river from cliff. Got home at 4.30 very tired and dopey (Dixie).
12 October 1940 Saturday
Woke to meet Nance and went up to her place. Had a sleep and went for a swim to The Basin with the crowd. Had a wonderful time. Returned to camp at 10.30 very tired.
13 October 1940 Sunday
Flew all day; had blind takeoffs and blind gliding and turns and low flying. Went solo; did spins, loops, gliding and climbing turns; very lazy day.
14 October 1940 Monday
Very nice morning for flying and had two periods. Blind, loops, etc., and went solo and had a dogfight with Buck and did low flying. It’s great practice - loops, spins steep turns and a stall turn. Didn’t fly in afternoon but had lectures. ‘Drip’ was quite jolly and he cracked a few jokes. Very windy and rainy towards 6 o’clock.
Instructor and Pupil at Western Junction 1941. Note the “blind flying” hood over the rear (Pupil’s) cockpit,
and the “air tube” earphones for communication. [State Library of Victoria]
15 October 1940 Tuesday
Wind came up a gale and it rained. Naturally flying was scrubbed and had lectures and an exam in Administration. Nothing very unusual happened except went for a run and have very stiff legs tonight. All the ground-staff are on the prowl tonight. The Sergeants’ Quarters are in a terrible condition. Their beds are in the rafters, clothes tied up in the form of dummies and there will be hell to pay tomorrow. They had a go at our hut, taking out the bolts from beds and short sheeting several beds.
16 October 1940 Wednesday
Very windy day; all flying was scrubbed. Had lectures all day and loafed on it; very uninteresting day. Went into town for a bath and saw Nance, Biddy. Introduced Stan to Biddy and Stan was very shy and gallant. He became very serious about it all too.
17 October 1940 Thursday
Flew all day with a fair wind in morning, which died away towards end of day. Did landings and circuits and climbing, gliding steep turns. In afternoon, practised flick halves, stall turns, steep turns. Last period flew formation and fought Athy. Saw a machine gliding down and we both dived down on him on either side. He nearly did a somersault with fright. It was Jack Ward.
18 October 1940 Friday
Rookies flew in the morning and we had lectures etc. A lovely day for flying and we had to fly in the afternoon with a slight wind. Flew solo both times and practised rolls, loops, flick halves and stall turns. Had a great time with rolls; I got a fright when I was upside down and a bolt hit my foot from the rudder gear or somewhere. It didn’t seem to make much difference though. Every time I slow-rolled, the engine would nearly cut out and I’d dive to start it again. I flew to 7000 feet up above clouds and felt very lonely up there. Went into Launceston on leave; met Nance and went to see Ninotchka. Got home about 3.30, after meeting Athy, Bid, Phil and Diane and going to St Leonards.
19 October 1940 Saturday
Woke up very tired. Had breakfast and shopped till 11 when I met Nance. Had lunch with her and met Athy and Biddy and went up The Gorge, had a swim and cooked chops and had a sleep on the rock; a very restful afternoon. In the morning had a scare when Nance showed the boys a ring - they all congratulated me. Had to go and have a few whiskies to think it all over. However it was a lot of torment. Had tea at Nance’s and went on to the Launceston Hotel. Had a bath; went home to camp.
20 October 1940 Sunday
A beautiful day, sunny and very little wind. Junior Course flew in the morning and we flew in afternoon. P/O Carter tested me on slow rolls and loops. Had a solo period - still practised slow rolls, stall turns, flick halves and low flying; had a very lazy day indeed. Wrote a few letters at night and retired to bed very tired.
21 October 1940 Monday
Had Navigation lectures and general study in morning and flew most of the afternoon until a big wind sprang up and scrubbed flying. Practised a few slower rolls and getting better. Didn’t do flick-halves too well. Got told by C.G.I. that I’d better get my feel back and get better marks in final exam to what I’d got in tests. Will have to settle down and do serious swot.
22 October 1940 Tuesday
Lectures as usual in morning; had Theory of Flight and Navigation. Flew in afternoon and continued slow rolls etc., getting them much better. Went up to 8,500 [feet] above some clouds and over Launceston. Very cold and saw the Great Lake in the hills which is 4000 feet above sea level, it is 30 miles long and 20 miles wide.
23 October 1940 Wednesday
Juniors flew in the morning, weather very gusty and they scrubbed flying for us in the afternoon. Had very boring lectures instead. Went into Launceston for a bath, saw Nance who had some cakes for me. They were devoured wholesale by the boys. Got home and some fun occurred when boys upended their beds as we walked in.
24 October 1940 Thursday
Beautiful day for flying. Afternoon - had a work-out with P/O Carter, ‘Shag’ dived down on us and wanted a dogfight. Mr Carter took his number and Shag is under arrest. Am going to give evidence tomorrow.
25 October 1940 Friday
Wind sprang up - too furious gale, about midday. They had one period of flying, scrubbed it. Wind was so hard that Johnny Allen was landing and when he stalled to touch down, he stayed suspended in the air for about thirty seconds. We mucked around in lectures and stood down at 5pm. Got dressed and went into Launceston for bath. Booked in at hotel and went up to Nance’s for tea. Went to party at night, where I don’t know, but I finished back at home at 3.30. Dixie Lee and Johnny Broderick were sick and W/O [Warrant Officer] Burns made love to Nance. He was very drunk and passed out after supper.
26 October 1940 Saturday
Woke up at 10 o’clock, bathed and dressed and went and had morning tea before meeting Goxy. Met Peter Ingoldby and Pam who took us for a drive in very small Singer Tourer up to Mount Barrow. The road is rutted right up to the summit about 4.000 feet up rocky sides.
Mount Barrow Road. [National Library of Australia]
Saw my first snow. Had a snow fight and took some photos. Very cold, so down we returned and visited the Brisbane Hotel. Went up to the Power Station after tea and returned back to camp by 10 o’clock bus.
27 October 1940 Sunday
Very, very cold and some of the chaps who went up were almost frozen at the controls. The snow was a wonderful sight. Up in the hills it was very heavy but on the drome was a very light shower. It’s like a big mist and very cold indeed. Tried to swot tonight, but very hard to do so. The day has been very miserable and cold and I’m very tired. Am looking forward to the R.A.A.F ball next Friday; it’s going to be a good show.
28 October 1940 Monday
Good day for flying and had three periods in the afternoon. In morning, had two hours’ Drill and Command out on the drome which was very nice. First solo I flew up above the clouds and it was very beautiful. Flew up through them by instruments and came out on a beautiful clear world with blue sky and billow of clouds just under me. It was a grand sight.
Tiger Moths, NO. 7 EFTS, Western Junction, Tasmania, 1940.
[AWM Photo AC0098]
Had a period dual and went up last period again solo. Forced landings and aerobatics occupy most of the flying time but I put in a few circuits here and there. The Douglas’s [Douglas DC-3 transport aircraft] tail wheel blew out when taxiing and she started out over an hour late.
29 October 1940 Tuesday
Lovely day - had drill and lectures in morning; very interesting. Went for a solo flight and practised aerobatics and forced landings. In third period flew with W.J.C. blind and flew circuits and did a landing in blind with him just instructing. He was very, very pleased and congratulated me heartily. He told almost every one about it. He’d better not praise me up too much, or a swelled head I will get.
[Flying Officer Walter James Carter, Harold’s instructor, finished the war with the rank of Squadron Leader.]
30 October 1940 Wednesday
The best day we have had here, beautiful for flying and I went up. Took some photos of Athy and fought him and practised low-flying together over a swamp. Spent about 30 minutes at this and enjoyed it. Later period did all the aerobatics - covered the plane with oil and experienced first “black-out” [due to excessive centrifugal force], coming out of a slow roll when diving. Everything became dark brown; my eyes flicked and eventually cleared up. Practised forced landing and came home. Nothing else happened of any interest except boys are discussing forthcoming cross-country.
31 October 1940 Thursday
Pay Day!!!!!! Got paid at 12 o’clock and went back to the classroom for all the afternoon, it was so bleak; windy, rainy, cloudy - all flying was scrubbed. Had an Armaments test in afternoon and were discussing cross-country for Tuesday and a dinner for passing out of here. Everyone getting excited about tomorrow night’s Ball.
Had a letter from Nance; she has flu and it’s a toss-up whether she’ll be at the Ball or not.
1 November 1940 Friday
Terrible wind and cold; scrubbed flying. We were going to have Theory of Flight exam when they told us we had Leave till 0730 Saturday morning. Boys didn’t like it very much, but eventually got into town. Saw Nance, went to pictures in afternoon and went to R.A.A.F. Ball in evening. Wonderful evening was spent; got back to bed, after being tossed out by Nancy, at the Launceston Hotel at 3.15.
2 November 1940 Saturday
Got back at 7.30 this morning very tired, had a bit of breakfast and had lectures in morning and aeroplane testing on ground. Blew a tremendous gale all day and our hearts sank into our boots. No flying again; devoted the day to study in a gloomy classroom. At night broke out of camp and Peter Ingoldby, Athy, and myself went to see Biddy and Nance at Evandale, under the shadows let down two tents and had a grand time, especially when a car turned its lights on us and we had to lay in the grass for about ten minutes. Had supper at Geoff Deane’s place and were driven back to camp.
3 November 1940 Sunday
Wind still blowing a gale. The weather in Tasmania is putrid. Had Theory of Flight final today and heard all about our cross-country tomorrow. Hope weather is good for it. Am trying to swot up Engines.
4 November 1940 Monday
Cancelled cross-country flight, because of weather. Had Engines exams and flew in afternoon; had a whole period blind and one solo. Tried to find Nance on the road to Launceston but no go - couldn’t find her at all.
5 November 1940 Tuesday
First batch went to Hobart for cross-country. Two had forced-landings and all struck terrible weather. Snow etc. was met. I went up and chased a train about 20 feet from it. All people in it waved to me. Got back and did perfect Precautionary Landing.
6 November 1940 Wednesday
Left at 8.35 for Hobart with Sgt. MacFarlane; struck very bad weather - nearly flung out of cockpit several times. Flew on a course through clouds and rain and bumps for about ½ hour. Visibility ¼ mile only at times. Eventually landed at Cambridge drome [Hobart], after finding ourselves over Brighton about 10 miles away. Out of eleven planes, only four got there. Left at 15.50 in a windy gale and had perfect trip back; hardly a bump and excellent visibility. Sgt. Mac is a wonderful chap up top; didn’t complain, and let me fly her all the way. When we got back had trouble about E/S.4. [RAAF Form E/S.4; Receipt for Supplies.]
Western Junction Trainees after their first cross-country flight to Cambridge. [Neville Rourke Collection from Geoff Atherton's Photo Album]
Note the "Sidcot" flying suits, named after the famous Australian aviation pioneer (and spy!) Sidney Cotton.
(Who, amongst many other achievements, developed the RAF's war-winning high-speed reconnaissance techniques.)
7 November 1940 Thursday
Beautiful day for flying and rest of chaps flew to Hobart in perfect conditions. Saw C.F.I. about E/S.4s, who gave us each three drills [penalty]. Having exams tomorrow, and tests by C.F.I. in flying; think I will come out all right.
8 November 1940 Friday
Flew in afternoon. Test was scrubbed because of clouds. Did some low-flying etc. Went into town on leave.
9 November 1940 Saturday
Got up at 9.30. Went up to Nance’s place and had dinner. Slept all afternoon and put her trailer back in drive. Went to Perth to a dance and finished up at camp at 12.30; Athy and I snuck in past the guard.
10 November 1940 Sunday
Had flying test in morning with Squadron Leader Buscombe. Did steep turns; climbing and medium turns; loops; slow rolls; forced-landing stalls and landing. Went off pretty well. Rained from 11 o’clock on, and all flying was scrubbed.
11 November 1940 Monday
Armistice Day. Had Armaments test in morning before C.G.I., Sergeant Moon; all passed. C.G.I. is definitely improving, in fact he was very good to Terry MacManus about not getting too many marks. Had ’Teddy Bears’ [‘Teddy Bear’ long-johns - worn under flying suit for high altitude flying] and flying boots issued and was quite thrilled. Still don’t know where we are going. There are many rumours. The general one is that Point Cook [Victoria] is our next objective. We don’t know how we get to the mainland. All boat services are stopped because of blowing-up of ship in Bass Strait.
[In July 1940, a German naval commerce-raider, the ‘Pinguin’, accompanied by its captured Norwegian tanker auxiliary, ‘Passat’, laid mines in Bass Strait and up the East Coast of Australia. On 7 November 1940, the ‘S.S. Cambridge’, a British-registered merchantman, hit one of these mines off Wilson's Promontory and sank with the loss of one crewmember. Bass Strait was closed to shipping for a week.]
We may travel in Douglas [DC-3 transport aircraft]. The weather here for last couple of days is foul. Rain, cold and wind go hand-in-hand to make us miserable. All boys are playing cards, reading, yarning and sleeping during the day; always the same at the end of the course. Have not heard from dad for a couple of weeks and am getting worried. Had a letter from Harry Staton but won’t write till I know where I’m going. Letter writing is terrible. Still haven’t heard about my flying test. F/O Carter came out and seemed very reserved about it when I asked him about it.
Had results of exams.
Theory of Flight
58% (very bad)
12 November 1940 Tuesday
Had rest of trials in flying and boys got through OK. Found we’re going to Point Cook. Mucked around all day.
13 November 1940 Wednesday
Got all our clearances; returned our blankets, books and compasses. Wondering where we are going to put the stuff. Mucked around till 3 o’clock when we went into Launceston on leave. At 7.00 o’clock met our instructors before our dinner and drank till 7.30 when we began our great dinner. Everything went off well, even C.O. enjoyed himself. At nine, dinner finished and after singing dirty ditties, continued serious drinking. We had a great party. F/O Carter, Drip. The Doc, F/O Barry, Athy. Dick Overbean, etc. We drank and drank; I remember Nance coming in once but I passed out and F/O Carter and Athy put me to bed.
14 November 1940 Thursday
Said goodbye to Nance and Biddy on wharf and boarded ‘Taroona’ [ferry] once more.
This was first boat to cross Bass Strait after mine was discovered, so we expected to see mines surrounding us. Very uneventful trip; had a bit of sleep and wrote a few letters.
15 November 1940 Friday
Got off boat at nine and was met by a tender and Sergeant Major on wharf and taken to Point Cook, 20 miles out of Melbourne. Found huts weren’t lined and no sheets or pillows. Had medical exams and went to showgrounds to have ‘X-Ray’. Went into Melbourne on leave and went to Luna Park with Athy and Buck and Peter Ingoldby. Spent plenty of money and went to Palais, [dance venue] but price was 5/7 so drifted on to Earls Court. Ditto here so went to the Rhumba. Athy and Peter met a couple of women and Buck and I went back to our rooms. We were in there and they turn up with the girls, so Buck and I went to Peter’s room in the London Hotel.
16 November 1940 Saturday
Went to the City Baths with a few of the boys and then to the Museum to see working models of engines. Felt very tired, so went to the pictures by myself to see Bing Crosby in ‘Rhythm on the River’. Saw Isador Goodman and his Orchestra on the stage too. Got to bed at 11.30 and Jack Allen (Tiny) came into our room to sleep. We were crowded out.
17 November 1940 Sunday
Had breakfast and caught taxi to camp. We had lectures all day and had a swim after knocking off. Tried to write letters and did some gym work and nearly busted myself.
18 November 1940 Monday
Had lectures all day again and had a swim again. Stand down and didn’t go too near any planes at all. Nothing much happened.
19 November 1940 Tuesday
Met instructor in morning and looked over Demons [Hawker Demon trainer aircraft].
Over RAAF Point Cook, Victoria, 1941. Hawker Demon aircraft in flight.
Didn’t go up but got issued with goggles and earphones. Had lectures in afternoon and a swim. Very hot day and had a C.O. [Commanding Officer] Parade in the morning. Big affair.
20 November 1940 Wednesday
Flew in afternoon and had lectures on Navigation, Armaments in morning. Demons very hard to fly at first, and noticed greater speed in than Tigers [Tiger Moth trainers]. They’re rather hard to land and all the instruments get me bottled up.
21 November 1940 Thursday
Wish it were payday because am very broke. Had a flip and went solo in it. Circuits and bumps. Lectures. Nothing else much happened. Have noticed ground-staff are a rough crowd and no comparison to Western Junction. Flying organization is up to…….
22 November 1940 Friday
Had lecture and weather was terrible, but flew for 20 minutes low flying with Sgt Barker. All boys went on leave, except 11 of us who stayed behind and prepared for a good bludge.
23 November 1940 Saturday
Dad’s and Sissy’s birthday. Sent them a telegram but had no money to buy presents until next payday. Stayed in bed all day and read and slept. Rained all day; tried to get my washing dry.
24 November 1940 Sunday
Flew in afternoon, in rotten weather. Went to Werribee and did circuits, landing solo. Mucked around with lectures in morning. Went to pictures at night. Wrote to Bet.
25 November 1940 Monday
Flew with P/O Clark over at Werribee doing circuits and landings - powered approaches. He is very quiet and casual about everything and very Pommy the way he talks. Demons are getting better now and are quite good to handle. They turn comfortably. They climb like goodness. Had Navigation and Armaments lectures. New Armaments lecturer is an English Sergeant and his views of Australia and R.A.A.F. are not nice. We had quite an argument about it.
Nothing much happens here and I am reserving writing in this [diary] until something special happens. There is only the same old flying and lectures, which not very interesting reading at all. At this stage I am getting better in the Demons which are great to fly. Wapitis [Westland Wapiti trainer aircraft] are grand and slow for instrument flying but not much good for anything else.
--- [Three Months Later] ---
1 March 1941
Here I am, a week to finish at Point Cook, I have my wings now and we are waiting impatiently for our postings. There have been several crack-ups in Demons and Wapitis. One chap was killed several weeks ago while blind flying in a Wapiti. He collided with another “Wap”. Three bailed out but poor old F/Lt Robbie injured his spine while bailing out. One pupil was killed and the “Waps” were horribly complete wrecks. Johnny Campbell force-landed too and went on his back, but came out OK.
This is going to be a big break-up for our old 4P [Training Class] however I’ll remember them all; so damn fine cobbers. I was recommended in A.T.S. [Armament Training Station] for Commission and was one of four with above-average flying results. Our two Instructors in A.T.S., F/Lt Buckham and F/O Johnstone, are wonderful chaps and we have some fun with them. In A.T.S. we’ve done bombing and gunnery which is great fun but pretty hard. I can’t write too much but will comment when were leave here. I am looking forward to see my dear old dad and the girls back in Perth and I can’t get away quick enough.
--- [Two Months Later] ---
1 May 1941
I am resuming today from when I left off this work just as I was proceeding on leave to Perth. The time I spent there could be described as perfect, but I was glad to get back to some flying again at Laverton [Victoria] this time. I am doing a conversion on Wirraways [monoplane trainer aircraft] and in that time, I spent two weeks at Cressy [Victoria] at bombing and gunnery.
Down there I found I had been selected to join 3 Squadron overseas if my conversion course succeeded, which I have now completed, and am waiting for a signal from Air Board. The results of my bombing and gunnery were not wonderful, but I think fair enough for Air Board. Now I’m being watched for my character or something.
The C.O.S., Lt. Charlton, called me in and gave me a pep talk. Apparently I am “over- confident” and since then I have heard that mentioned several times and I’m sick and tired of it. I flew in formation with Pat Gleeson yesterday and apparently it was too close, so a week’s duty crew was given to me. I heard they are trying to break down my confidence a bit, but that will never happen. Although I say so myself, I have confidence in myself even if I’m not too good, and confidence in my aircraft and together they give me a pleasant sensation. I had a forced-landing at Cressy and brought her down OK.
I was told today that I will go the same way as a lot of other over-confident pilots: into the dirt. If ever that happens I will be happy in the knowledge that I did it in the machine and trade I love, for love it I do and it will always be my only ambition to be a first class flyer - and if I go to war, to make a name for myself as an ace.
2 May 1941
Had a party for ‘Baron’ Von Alwyn last night after a dinner at the mess, drank beer and champagne until feeling very tired and silly; took Kit home. Pat Gleeson had a fight and has now a broken nose, thick lip and black eye. [Pat Gleeson later flew with 77 and 80 Squadrons in Northern Australia and New Guinea.]
Felt very tired and rotten when I woke up this morning. Got back to Laverton and did aerobatics for an hour, and dog-fighting this afternoon.
From Harold’s photo album; Harold at far left (arrowed).
Voyage to the Middle East:
--- [Two Months Later – in Perth] ---
Did nothing but loaf all day and am going to bed early tonight for a change. I am at last on embarkation leave in Perth. I received the signal PZ886 from Air Board re my posting, after successfully attaining 16% in air-to-air gunnery at Cressy [percentage hits of rounds fired]. Had a good time there for 10 days, went into local and mucked around etc. Only reason I’m sorry for leaving Melbourne is Kit. I love her very much and she does me, we have had some good times together and I’m very sorry at having to leave her. If I had the chance I’d take a plunge and get engaged!
Finished at Melbourne with a few parties etc. and flew over in Ansons [in Avro Anson twin-engined reconnaissance aircraft, as passengers] with Sgt Graham, Bill Anderson and Sgt Haffner. Had a good trip across with a bit of oil pressure trouble. Arrived home and went for a week to Jacobswell to recuperate. Athy and Whitey and boys are all at Pearce [RAAF Airbase, Western Australia] and some sessions are bound to come. Took Joan Pule to Air Force Ball and had good time; got to bed 5.30.
7 July 1941
On board Queen Elizabeth. Ready to begin trip but don’t know just when we sail. Had a dammed hectic time in Perth; was broke most of the time, had lots of parties, etc. and was a tragedy to walk into the dive at the Palace Hotel - I know so many people there - all Observers etc. and got into some horrible sessions. Took out Pat Coleman, Connie Fisher, Joy McManus, Bet Hogbin to lunch, Babs Bennett, Freddie Bennett, Sis, Roma Bridges, Laurel Balding.
Kathy McManus became engaged to Len Moore and we celebrated in great fashion. Last night’s leave I had with Athy and never drank so much in all my life. Passed out with Athy in Perth Hotel, woke up at six and went to camp. Had a shower and shave etc and went to sleep for three hours. Woke up and still full, so went and said goodbye to Building Society. Jess very passionately kissed me goodbye, wish I had another night’s leave. The farewell at 5ED [No.5 Embarkation Depot] was pitiful; women weeping etc, and was a very watery show. 5ED was a horrible mess when we left; beer bottles cluttered the place up. “Untidy” was a mild form to express it.
We boarded the old Zephyr and were taken out to the Queen Elizabeth, moored next to Queen Mary and Aquitania - a beautiful target for bombers. The Queen Lizzy is ‘huge’ - one gets lost every day - but the workmanship in her is astounding. In the lounge is a piece of marquetry 30 feet high and same wide depicting some historical event, the inlaying is perfect hundreds of species of wood have gone into it. The cabins are beautiful but they have been converted to take many men, so are fairly crowded. In my cabin are Mal Watson and myself (Pilots); Bill Diddums and Bob Ingram (Observers); Ted Wood and Jack Phillips (R.A.F. Voluntary Reserve). We are pretty crowded but get along very well together.
Am practising regularly on ukulele. On board we have a lot of Tahitians etc. who are in the Free French Army. They are wonderful in singing, dancing, playing ukuleles and guitars. To hear them sing their traditional songs is beautiful. I am sorry in leaving Perth from the family point of view, but am dying to see some action, which I haven’t had since leaving Laverton. I wonder how Kit is going. I’m still in love with her but it’s such a long time since I saw her I can hardly imagine her. I hope she feels still the same about me, although she is 26 and I’m 20, I don’t think it matters much really, perhaps it’s just as well I got away when I did though.
The great reason for not wanting to leave Perth is leaving Athy. I’ve never met a chap that I adore so much, I’d do anything and everything with him, I’ve the highest regard a man can have for a pal in him. I would give anything for him to be with me here, drinking decent beer. We’ve had great times together, he and I, and I’ll never forget him. We are expecting any day now to pull out of Fremantle - the sooner the better, it gets very tiring staying in the same spot all the time. However we can’t do anything about it. I’ll leave this resume till later and describe the voyage in detail.
--- [Four Days Later] ---
11 July 1941
At last on the briny, sailing steadily to our destination wherever that may be. The first night was a gale, the wind was about 60mph from N.W. and the old crate bucked a bit, not enough to affect us though. It’s very stuffy at night in our cramped cabin and I came out with a lovely cold. Have been doing P.T. [Physical Training] furiously and playing ukulele until the strings broke and I hadn’t any more to fix it up. The officers here are very stuffy, especially A.I.F. [Australian Army]. Haven’t had much to do with them. Have [command of] a Flight of 16 chaps, but only see them on parade. Today had two of them on parade, rest on fire patrol etc.
Two pilots caught throwing messages out in tins and are under close arrest. Free French chappies provide interludes with their guitars and uku’s, and are marvellous musicians. They sing their folk songs and love songs which are very beautiful.
Had a concert on board last night. We have some good talent aboard – strongman act, singing, sketches, conjuring - which filled in two and half hours’ good entertainment. Today we saw a few sharks and a whale which was a slight diversion. Tonight, after dinner watched the phosphorous lights in the water [stirred up by ship’s wake].
Wed 16 July 1941
Pulled into Trincomalee, Ceylon this morning at 6.30, much to our great joy. Beautiful harbour is a naval depot. Were greeted by some ancient type of aeroplane, low-flying. Harbour bounded by minefields. Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth came inside and Aquitania stayed outside, refuelling very fast.
The great liners Queen Elizabeth (left) and Queen Mary refuelling in Trincomalee Harbour, 1941. [AWM 302834.]
Great interest over native crew on boats alongside. This port looks very pretty with palm trees and forest right to water’s edge. Lovely swimming, if only we could get ashore. Getting used to heat now.
Thursday 17 July 1941
Left Trincomalee at 5.30 and ran into heavy rain. Nothing happening.
Friday 18 July 1941
Celebrated 12 months in R.A.A.F., had few drinks etc. Sea heavy; nothing doing - no fun.
Saturday 19 July 1941
Had good party at night. Air Force chaps put in and bought A.I.F. drinks. Went through 50 gallons of beer; everyone very full, good night. Had a swim during afternoon.
Sunday 20 July 1941
Slept all day and watched boxing and wrestling - great show.
Monday 21 July 1941
Nothing but sea. Went through Gulf of Aden and so into Red Sea. Getting A.R.P. [Air Raid Precaution] positions and posts ready. Stinking hot - anything worse? (Bert Sherborne described this as hell - he’s right.)
Tuesday 22 July 1941
Humidity 94%; can’t think of anything worse. I don’t like these hot tropics. Cruised all day up Red Sea. Saw a few sharks and (on the quiet) looking for bombers. At night, took up A.R.P. positions 11pm-4am and 12.30pm -15.30pm. Have to stand by with hoses and buckets of sand.
Wednesday 23 July 1941
Still cruising up the Red Sea. Not really red (not very bright). Several strange paths of lighter-coloured water stretched right across as far as we could see. A.R.P. duties at night.
Thursday 24th July 1941
Arrived at a place alongside the Sinai Peninsula, opposite Mount Sinai - noted for Moses’ ten commandants. This is a strange-looking, fearful place; desert stretches for miles to these sheer 8000-foot mountains. These are bare rock and no vegetation what so ever. Sharks galore around ship. Chaps caught a few. A.R.P. as usual.
Friday 25 July 1941
Rumours flying fast and thick - still anchored here. Queen Mary has gone - and rumoured she had an air attack at Genefa. A troop ship has been bombed at Port Tufik not far from here. [MV Georgic - a huge liner, was bombed on 14 July 1941 but was later repaired and refloated.] Nothing else happening.
--- [One Month Later] ---
I am writing this in the Windsor Hotel in Haifa [Palestine]. We at last continued our way up to Port Tufik [Egypt] and disembarked into lighters which took us to the docks.
Very bloody hot; got onto trucks and were driven through Tufik and Suez to the Middle East Pool [Depot Camp] outside Genefa. On way, saw bombed Georgic on shore. She looks very battered and a complete write-off. Middle East Pool [Camp] very large, dusty and hot alongside an assembly aerodrome. Had no idea desert was like this - interior miles of sand dunes. Passed a Wellington squadron [twin-engined bomber aircraft] and Egyptian Gladiator squadron [obsolete biplane fighter aircraft].
Went into Ismailia for leave and eyes were opened. Dirty; chaps selling [sheep] heads etc. and would rob you as sure as eggs. Saw about five fights between Gippoes [slang: Egyptians]. Brought several things. Women try to tell fortune and then sell you bangles on ankles and arms for enormous prices. Stayed at Oassia’s Home and went to French Club. Dim lights, dancing, music and drinking. Lots of French lassies. Took taxi back for 200 piastre and taxi man, an Indian, loved honking horn. Every hundred yards, would honk whether anyone there or not. Gippoes are a dirty crowd and men wear funny hats and long flowing dress, and may be bare footed. Love quarrelling. Women long black dress and wonderful carriage; carry large loads on their heads. They do all the work - husband just watches. They ride round on little donkeys on which they pile enormous loads. Funny to watch - donkeys pulling along streets completely covered with huge loads. Also ride camels, plough with oxen on side of Canal.
[Suez] Canal is wonderful affair, running between little lakes. Came back from leave and spent all day in Middle East Pool [transit camp] getting ready to leave. Got a camp kit and waited till 5 o’clock when we pushed off to the station. Got on the train in a 1st Class carriage with luggage piled up around us.
Train trip to Ismailia uneventful, except sights we saw on the way. Gippoes hitch-hiked all the way on the train; along the roof, on the side and underneath. We passed all their camps at their meal time and they were all sitting around chewing at their melon and stuff. Gippoes have no qualms about where they relieve themselves; anywhere the urge gets them.
Changed at Ismailia for train to the East. Got stuck on station here waiting for someone to take the rations across; eventually grabbed a wog and located boys in train waiting to go. Caught it just in time; rotten wogs tried to thieve our tea. In carriage with an English Major, a Polish Nurse, two Polish Officers and a woman from Cyprus. Major brought out a bottle of whisky and we both got full. I forgot myself properly.
Next day pulled into Haifa [Palestine] where we spent two nights and a day. This part of my leave was most enjoyable. Haifa is the sweetest town I’ve ever struck. It’s clean, only about 20 years old, thus all the buildings are modern. Plenty of shops for enjoyment and the people are quite decent, of course the Arab quarter is dirty, but I speak mainly of the European quarter. We saw a ship in harbour that was bombed intentionally by the Jews. It contained internees and the poor blighters had nowhere to go so the Jews dynamited her with the loss of enormous numbers and a few Aussies and English solders. A lot of nice ketches here, about 100-tonners I reckon.
--- [A Few Days Later] ---
We stayed at the Hotel Windsor - a grand little pub. First night Ken and I went to casino; invited two dancing girls over for a drink. They ordered champagne. Had a Spanish dance with one of the girls. Next night met Greta the little Austrian; very sweet. Next day caught train for Damascus [Syria]; little dog boxes. Distance was 140 miles and took 18 hours to do; highest train in the world. Several times had to roll back and get up speed again to get up hills. We all got off and walked some of the time.
Boys kept on making tea from engine which cracked two super-heater [steam] tubes. Arrived Damascus at 1am and stayed the night. Had two hours next day to wander around native bazaar, some beautiful stuff to buy here, but have to beat them down, damned robbers. Transported by trucks to 3 Squadron at Rayak. In a valley 3000 feet high, hemmed in by other mountains 5000 feet high; some are snow-covered.
Weather fine with heat during day and cold at night. Ken Stratten went for first flip in Magister [Miles Magister trainer] and had a forced landing, damaging tail wheel. Waited three weeks for spares and were not allowed to go off in Tommies [Curtiss Tomahawk fighters]. Saw Beirut, Zahle and Baalbeck. Ruins of Baalbeck interesting; 3000 years old, built by Romans. Zahle in valley; plenty of beer gardens - lousy beer. Nothing much done in three weeks except sleep, eat, read - except letters; mail service bad indeed.
Rayak, Lebanon. No.3 Squadron ground-crew pick over a crashed Vichy French D520 fighter.
Behind is the Miles Magister trainer used for aircrew qualification. [Photo: Harry Clare Collection.]
At last got off in Magister then Tomahawk. Latter are a glorious kite and plenty of guts. Magister flying: did airmanship most of the time, got into an inverted spin from slow roll at 200 mph; dammed awful. Have done formation and gunnery now.
Shot one camel (confirmed) and frightened numerous wogs.
[This is probably the camel incident described in the Introduction.]
Saturday 30 August 1941
Received letter from Sis. Have met up with Jim. Did two periods’ formation, shooting-up [low flying] and dog-fight. Allotted crate [Tomahawk aircraft] AK439, but it has no guts. Have burst landing wheel tyre, but landed again without damage. Dammed good job!
Went to see Sam Lees in hospital. He has had a touch of sand-fly fever.
[Sadly, Sammy Lees was to be killed in action on 22 November 1941, the same day that Harold was to be shot down and made a Prisoner of War.]
Had my first deflection shooting practice on lake near drome. “Shadow shooting” we call it. [A gunnery-practice technique invented by Australian ace Clive Caldwell -shooting live ammunition at the shadow of an aircraft as it manoeuvres.] Had a good go at it and found it fairly easy with reflector gunsight.
Time to leave Rayak is drawing near. Found we are going to Sidi Haneish in desert [Egypt]. Had a couple more practice dog-fights and tested my kite, AK439, for the long flight to Ismailia.
4 September 1941
Rose at 0400, had breakfast and flew to Ismailia [Egypt]. Clear, going well and flew 500 miles (approx.) non-stop. Had another breakfast here and flew onto Amariya where we covered up our kites and hopped into Alexandria. Stayed at the Le-Roy all the time.
--- [A Few Days Later] ---
Had some experiences in the Excelsior and Femina [Clubs]. Girls - money grabbing little hussies. Have come to conclusion there are no girls like Australians. Saw Stanley Bay, King Farouk’s palace. Saw first air raids and a few more women. Got so tired of Alex [Alexandria] we went back to Amariya and ferried kites [transferred aeroplanes] to Wadi Natrun to have them camouflaged. Took Ken’s AK378 [Kittyhawk] and force-landed through oil pressure [failure]. Landed next to a ditch; nothing broken. Had to bum a ride to Sidi Haneish to get to Squadron, slept night in the cold hard desert and arrived at 13.LG. [Number 13 Landing Ground] next morning.
13 September 1941
Began practicing pairs/formation and it was a horrible start.
14 September 1941
Six of us on standby. Sam Lees, Bruce Evans. Dave Burbury, John Jackson, Roy Bothwell and self. Took off to do patrol of Sidi Barrani [Western Egypt], arrived there and had to strafe Gambut [Libya]. Dave and Sam were shot down; Dave prisoner; Sam [Lees] walked 70miles and got back here. I shot a Ju88 [German Junkers Ju88 twin-engined bomber]. Since this day, have done only fleet patrols [maritime] and haven’t seen a thing, so will refrain from commenting.
Am letting this [diary] go, so will write it as a resume until I get it going again.
--- [Three Weeks Later] ---
Have had bombing over Mersa Matruh [RAF aerodrome] lately by moonlight. Got 17 new pilots; Mitchell, Brian Thompson, G. White are amongst them.
Will continue [this diary] now by day.
5 October 1941
Tom Trimble, Sam Lees, Sgt. Wilson and self on standby. Escorted Blenheims [twin-engined British aircraft] to LG.75 [desert landing ground] and did cover patrol over it while they picked up passengers and escorted them back. Did not see any E/A [enemy aircraft], worse luck. Had a glorious big lunch and slept all afternoon - smelling of onions which I ate for lunch. Had a bombing scare at night; Ju88 flew over drome, perhaps a recon kite [reconnaissance plane].
Libyan-Egyptian Border Area Map
6 October 1941
Took off at 0600, flew to Barrani and then did offensive patrol over Tobruk area while recon kite went in and photographed. Nothing seen; nursed sick engine all way and nearly forced-landed in evening. Nearly passed out after accidentally switched off oxygen. Flew at 22,000 feet. No.2 SAAF [South African fighter squadron] jumped by ten 109F’s [German Messerschmitt 109-F model fighters, a new and potent enemy aircraft] and shot down two E/A to their two. Received six letters; one from Kit with photos. Going to bed early to write letters. No [German] raid.
7 October 1941 (Tuesday or Monday - don’t know which).
Rose 5.30 and took off at 7.30 to provide cover for bombers over Gambut. Flew at 20,000 ft. and saw four unidentified a/c [aircraft] going like hell for German Territory. Apparently 109s - did not give chase over Gambut - 10min while they bombed. Met no A.A. fire [anti-aircraft]. Returned home. Very enjoyable patrol. Did nothing further all day except test Cleo [Harold’s Tomahawk, “Cleopatra”]. One cannon had a solenoid changed, and a change of plugs [engine spark-plugs]. Shot-up [flew low over] the drome.
From Harold’s Photo Album
All boys are going over to 451 Squadron, so will write letters here.
8 October 1941
Jerry [the Germans] dropped bomb somewhere around here at 0400 and dammed Wathy and Tom came in very drunk. Great commotion. Tom insisted that I wanted to relieve myself and pinched my pillow. There’re suffering this morning. Muck around and had photograph taken in Sweetpea [one of the Squadron Tomahawks] by Dept. Inf. Photographer [Department of Information].
October 1941. Photographer George Silk gets down in the dust to make Harold look very imposing! [AWM Photo 010163]
Terrific sandstorm all day and the boys that took off in morning to land at Barrani returned. Otherwise no flying. John Jackson posted back to Aussie, lucky guy.
[John Jackson went on to lead 75 Squadron during their most dangerous days of service in Papua, defending Port Moresby. He was killed in action on 28.4.1942. The modern-day Port Moresby Airport is named “Jackson Field” after him.]
Turning it on in the mess for the boys. Weather beginning to get very cold.
Going to bed early.
9 October 1941 Thursday
Up at 5.30 and escorted recon. kite over Sidi Omar etc. at 20,000 feet. Heavy cloud and no damned e/a. My opinion is that there aren’t any Germans here. Very disgusted; nothing exciting to report. Painted “Cleo” on kite.
10 October 1941 Friday
Rose again at 5.30; had breakfast and went out on a high cover for Tac. Recon. [Tactical Reconnaissance.] Sweet F. A. [nothing] to shoot at. Dust storm all day. Went for a swim in the afternoon.
11 October 1941
Did a fleet patrol over Sollum Bay; three 109s attacked us and shot at Tiny Cameron, luckily missing him. They did not stop to fight. Coming back did formation over our drome for photographer.
[AWM Photo 010891, by George Silk]
Western Desert, North Africa. c. 1941. A formation of four Tomahawk fighter aircraft of No 3 Squadron RAAF.
12 October 1941 Sunday
Took off at 7.30 to do cover over Fort Sheferzen [in the front line]. At 0900 six 109Fs attacked us from astern and high. I steep-turned and my elevators were shot away and a shell burst in my port wing. I pulled her out of the dive somehow and landed her on the wheels, taxied four miles to H.Q. of a South African unit and journeyed over the country, had prisoners, made one carry my chute. Eventually got back to my crate with my [ground] crew. Took tail-unit off Frank Parker’s 112 Squadron kite, fixed it on mine and flew it back. Spent two nights in desert and got back to base on 14th.
A Newspaper Clipping from Harold’s Collection
[Author Russell Brown concludes in "Desert Warriors" (p36) that Harold's first shooting-down on the 12th of October was probably at the hands of the famous German ace Hans-Joachim Marseille. Marseille claimed Harold as a "kill" - so Harold had a lucky escape!]
(15 October 1941---27 October 1941)
After my adventure I managed to scrounge a spot of leave for a week. I travelled with Eric Lane to Alex. After flying my dud kite to Maaten Bagush [No.53 Repair and Salvage Unit] not Fuka - she was a sick as the devil - then got into Alex and thumbed a ride into Cairo. Spent two days here, saw Museum of Hygiene, several cinemas, the wax works and little Katy and Daisy from Alex. Eric went to Suez. Then we bottle rides to Ismailia trying to find Ken Stratten but “no findy”.
[Harold’s friend Ken Stratten had been seriously injured in a landing accident and subsequent fire, on 21 September 1941. Corporal "Dick" Whittington of the 3 Squadron ground crew was awarded the British Empire Medal for bravery after he soaked himself in fire-fighting foam and rescued the unconscious F/O Stratten.]
Spent the night at the drome and had a raid warning; no bombs dropped. Caught the train to Alex and found we’d just passed Ken’s hospital and were very shirty about it. On the train, Eric and I met two nurses just out from England and travelled with them to Alex. I liked the little Scottish nurse, Nancy Stewart, and made a date for the next night in Alex. The next day we ran short of money, I took Nancy out had a good time(!) and couldn’t pay my bill for [Le Roy] hotel. So they trusted us and will wait for it. Madam Le Roy presented the mess with a claim. We returned by plane to base and that same day I went on a scramble with Roy Bothwell with a dammed cold and injured one of my sinuses, so am U/S [unserviceable] for a while.
[Flying Officer Roy Bothwell was killed in action on 25 November 1941.]
26 October 1941
Relieved Eric Lane as Ops [Operations] Officer while he went on a fleet patrol with the boys. They saw nothing and returned home to base.
[Eric Lane was killed in action on 22 November 1941, the same day that Harold was shot down and captured.]
All the boys are practising tactical formation latterly. The C.O. has invented it. Too sixes and sevens [disorganised] to be successful. Squadrons are continually arriving round here; No.30 night fighters (Hurry 1’s) [Hawker Hurricane Mk I single-seat fighters] are here on the drome now and others coming up. I think Jerry is going to get a kick in the pants this time.
Changes in Squadron routine have been made lately. One thing is the introduction of the “Pilots’ Mess” instead of Sergeants and Officers separately. Operations are dealt out equally to the squadrons now and we haven’t had a great deal of work to do. Christmas is coming and the boys are all sending home cards. We have had a special card for the Squadron made, which is quite good. The last couple of days we have been hard at it censoring, etc. I’m gradually picking up my mail some time when energetic. I’ll write a story about the Squadron, but that’s when I’m energetic.
Boys practised formation in a Wing. It was a horrible show, more a dog fight than aught else.
27 October 1941
Cold a lot better. Doc said I could fly again thank goodness. No flying all day. Write a few letters. WA Sportsmen’s Committee of Perth donated to us tobacco and [cigarette] papers of Michailides Ltd. In one leaf of papers, Elva Lee of Michailides had written her name, so just for fun will write to her.
28 October 1941
Censored letters in morning, practised new formation in afternoon. Formation looks terrible but I think will be used successfully, went over to 112 [Squadron] mess at night and had a few drinks with Ken Sands etc, they are just back from a few days at [Landing Ground] 110.
29 October 1941
Got woken up at 4.45, had breakfast and took off at first light for LG.110; refuelled. With 250 Squadron and 238 [RAF Hurricane Squadron] above us we escorted two “Tac-R” [Tactical Reconnaissance] Hurricanes over Gambut. Put on our new formation, which came out successfully when several 109s tried to attack us but they couldn’t. One Jerry flew along with us for a while and when he saw us turn for him he went like a bat out of hell for earth, all three squadrons after him. We gave up the chase after a while. One Tac-R lost and two of 250 Squadron. 250 got two 109s. Landed back at base and a dust storm came up which lasted all afternoon and last night. Everything covered in fine filthy dust.
30 October 1941
Still dusty. All day the lousy dust has been blowing. It lifted enough to [flight] test Cleopatra. The rest of the day I just loafed and wrote a few letters. Received a letter from old Athy. The old blighter shot up [flew low over] Yanchep and a W/C [Wing Commander] put him on charge. Whether he gets out of it or not is not certain. I hope to goodness he does; if he stays in, there is a chance of his coming over here, a thing which I would love. To fly with old Athy again would be great.
31 October 1941
Still blowing dust but thinning down a lot, our tent is in a hell of a miss, a coating of filth ½-inch thick is over everything, all last night I was sucking it into my lungs. The boys practised a spot of formation and I went for a swim with George Silk, Dept of Inform Photographer.
1 November 1941
Rose at 4.45 and stand-by till 0830. Went for a swim and did another stand-by at 12.30-14.30 and again from 16.30. Tom Trimble and Rex Wilson had a scramble over Matruh but saw nothing. All the boys from the South Africans and 250 Squadron are coming over tonight for a party, so am going to bed early. At half past three this morning, Watty, Tiny and Scotty came over to the tent and got stuck into some eats and made a horrible mess in the tent. The party seems to be going very well.
2 November 1941
Rose at 7.45 and Watty isn’t a very happy man. Still in bed and he’s not the only one there at the moment. Barney Terry is still full; he apparently was a very good host last night. If anyone wouldn’t have a drink, he told them to go home.
[Barney Terry was the Adjutant of 3 Squadron until he joined 239 Wing H.Q. on 18.4.42. He was killed on 16 November 42 when his jeep ran over a mine near Tmimi.]
Several of our cars were hidden by visitors and it took several hours to find them this morning. The Fleet Air Arm chaps [naval pilots] ran into a tank trap on the way over and bent the car a bit; several were injured.
Flew with John Manford [later Wing Commander, DFC] as target A/C over the sea for a time and then in the desert. Saw two crashed Wellingtons, apparently been there for some time. Cleo not what she was; engine oil pressure giving trouble. She’s due for a 180-hourly [maintenance], so sooner she goes in the better. The night fighters’ squadron, No.30, has taken up positions here and in two nights they smashed up as many of their kites - and one of them ran into Sam Lee’s crate and ripped a wing off. The Huns have been over at night lately and dropped their eggs [bombs] over at Fuka and Bagush; none here lately thank goodness. Moon is at its fullest now so we won’t be surprised if they drop eggs here.
3 November 1941
Six of us escorted two Blenheims carrying Air Marshall Tedder and A.O.C. [Air Officer Commanding Middle East] from LG.75 to Matruh. Went and did shadow-shooting in the afternoon with Rex Wilson.
[Rex Wilson, a Sergeant-pilot and 3 Squadron ace, was killed in action on 9.12.1941. Rex was awarded a posthumous Distinguished Flying Medal.]
Also did half an hour’s low-flying and shooting-up. At night went over to 112 Squadron for a few beers. As all of us came, the F.A.A. [Fleet Air Arm] landed here in a dense fog and spent the night here.
4 November 1941
Spent all day waiting for Douglas [DC-3 transport] to pick us up, fly us in to some place where we were to pick up kites and ferry them back. Douglas didn’t arrive, so loafed all day.
5 November 1941
Guy Fawkes Day. Went over to 229 Squadron and Douglas arrived, only to find it overbooked, and two of us had to return to base. Went for a swim and had a few beers in the mess; no Jerries over and slept well.
6 November 1941
Did nothing in the morning and went for a swim in the afternoon and flew Cleo afterwards. The oil pressure is cactus, so is poor old Cleo. She’s had her day and is dying for a rest. She’s going for a 180-hourly and perhaps an engine change. Am getting another kite, I think I’ll call her “Cleo II”. Although old Cleo is done, she’s been a damn good kite to me and it’s marvellous how a chap gets attached to his kite. Oh well, we’ll see how Cleo II takes it. Old Cleo went through the Gambut show and was my first kite. Here’s luck and a toast to her.
7 November 1941
Was in a crowd to do stand-by at L.G., but my kite wouldn’t start, so stayed behind. Went up as attacking A/C to a formation and had a swim in the afternoon. Nothing unusual happened. Oh, a 30 Squadron Hurry smashed-up again on the drome, pilot unhurt.
8 November 1941
Dust storm all day and no flying. Took over Cleo II, AN373, and she seems good. Went for a swim in afternoon. Went over to 250 Squadron for a party with Barney and John Manford. Great show. Jerries bombed Matruh and Fuka. Parachute flare dropped near our base drome.
9 November 1941
Flew Cleo II in practise formation; dogfight with two Hurries [Hawker Hurricane fighters]. Blenheim [twin-engined bomber] force-landed near us with full bomb load and fire. Crew landed OK.
10 November 1941---14 November 1941
Nothing worth writing up. Big Push coming off soon [“Operation Crusader”]. Lot of ground crew up at LG.110 now. Roy Bothwell and a couple of us went up there by ambulance [DH82 biplane air ambulance]. Saw Squadron Leader Pete Heath’s grave [3 Squadron’s first combat fatality in 1940] and the boys later flew up the crates to here.
15 November 1941
112 and 3 Squadron escorted Tac Rs [Tactical Reconaissance flights] over Gambut and Bardia. No E/A seen but some A/A [anti-aircraft] over Bardia.
16 November 1941 - 20 November 1941
This period was spent at LG.110, from where we had a few patrols, all in large numbers, but there was no aerial opposition. One patrol, where we escorted Blenheims and Hurricanes over an L.G. east of Gambut - the bombers dropped their eggs and the Hurricanes went through and strafed some A/C on the ground. We stooged around up top under some cloud and the Wing Commander and I went down and looked at a 110 on the ground which had force-landed [Me110 twin-engined German fighter]. The next day we did a Wing sweep with 112 Squadron, but saw nil. On the way back we ran into a heavy dust storm over our LG and the boys landed everywhere with no causalities. I landed at LG.111 amid a lot of dust and taxied across to LG.110. Later I found I had shot my prop [propeller] and was very short of juice into the bargain.
On the 20th some of us came into 122.LG by railway. We had 60 miles to go, rose at 0500 and arrived here at 1600 hrs. The dammed railways are terrible. They stop every ½ hour and muck around for hours. When we stopped for lunch a Tommy [Tomahawk] crash-landed alongside us; it was ‘Slinger’ Nitschke and he had been in a scrap with Ju87s and 109s. His hydraulic gear was shot away. He apparently shot two Ju87 and a 109.
[Pilot Officer R. H. Nitschke was an Australian ace, flying with 250 Squadron RAF. He was killed in action on 21.12.1941.]
When we arrived here at LG.122, we found we’d missed some fun. Altogether our squadron had shot down four crates. Frank Fisher had got one 109 when he returned from a patrol with an oil throwback [engine problem]. He was coming in to land when he tackled eight 109s strafing 451 Squadron. He got shot down, crash-landed; got out and the Jerry shot his crate on the ground. Frank received many splinters of shrapnel in his leg and shoulder.
[Frank Fischer, later rising to the rank of Squadron Leader, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for this action. Despite his windscreen being covered with oil, he had managed to shoot down one of the attacking Messerschmitts.]
Altogether the “Push” is going well; patrols have been doing a good job and the new Beaufighters [Bristol Beaufighter twin-engined long-range fighters] have 20 Huns to their credit [German aircraft destroyed] when they strafed a drome this morning.
Buzz our pet monkey is very frisky and is jumping around our tent and crawling in with everyone; into their beds and snuggling down.
Little "Buzz" the Monkey
[AWM 010911 - It seems possible that Harold modelled for this photo, taken by Harry Silk.]
21 November 1941
“B” Flight did patrol over Armoured Division in morning and I was 13th man, so didn’t go off. At 4 o’clock, “C” flight on the job; on patrol over area N.W. of Sidi Omar. No e/a sighted but witnessed tank battle and shelling of Armoured Division. Cloud very low. Area is very wet and boggy while dozens of tanks and lorries are bogged. No.2 [Squadron] S.A.A.F. got two G50s [Italian Fiat G50 fighters] - one of the Africans rammed one and damaged his wingtip, but landed OK.
--- [End of the Diary] ---
The sudden ending to his Diary was because he was shot down on 22 November 1941 and taken prisoner by the Italians. He spent the next three and a half years in captivity. - But that’s another story!
Newspaper Clipping from Harold's album
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