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ALLEN WAND AWM INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT
TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL HISTORY RECORDING
(6708) Wand, Allen Jack (Sergeant)
3 November 1990
Allen Jack Wand as a sergeant, 3 Squadron RAAF, interviewed by Edward Stokes for The Keith Murdoch Sound Archive of Australia in the War of 1939-45
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BEGIN TAPE 1, SIDE A
This is Ed Stokes with Allen Wand, No. 3 Squadron, tape one, side one.
Allen, could we just begin please with your date and place of birth.
The thirteenth of the fifth, 1919, Arncliffe [NSW].
Right and that’s in Sydney. I think when you were fairly young you moved up to Lismore.
Yes, when I was about four, four and a half, I moved up to Lismore.
The period in Lismore was where you went to school and grew up and so on; how do you remember those years?
Very good years, floods in the river, good weather, good beaching weather, good surfs around the place and high school. They were very good.
I think your father was a baker.
Yes that’s right, he was for quite a few years and then the latter part they had a small grocery business in Lismore.
And any other brothers and sisters?
Two sisters, no brothers, no.
Right. The period, or during that period of growing up and your early manhood, the general memory of the achievements of the ANZACs at Gallipoli and in France and so on, the tradition of ANZAC, was that something you were very conscious of, or not?
Yes, I was because I had – my father was in the First AIF and I had three uncles in the AIF that served overseas. Yes, no, I was always conscious of it and had, you know, a lot of memories of it.
Did they all survive the war?
Yes they did, yes.
And did they take a very active part in the ANZAC Days and so on?
No, none of them. No, none of them did, after that, no.
The period leading up through the Depression years up to World War Two when there were very major political events and so on in Europe, the rise of Hitler to power and so on, was that something you and your friends were particularly conscious of, or not?
Oh yes, we were all aware of it. There were half a dozen of us knocking around together and we were all aware of it and we all joined up when war started,
Did you ever talk before the war about the possibility of war?
No, not really, no. It was always in our background but never thought of it to any extent.
Right. Just going back to your own life, I think in ’35, about aged sixteen, you left school. Tell us what you did in the next couple of years.
Well, when I first left school I had to go into the bakery and learn the trade [inaudible] parents and later on I went into a garage for a couple of years and at the time the war started I was working back in a bakery.
And the period in the garage, you were working as a mechanic, I think.
Yes, I was doing a bit of tech. and learning the mechanical trade, yes.
The declaration of war in 1939, this is war in Europe, do you remember that, or not?
Remember it well. I was sitting in a milk bar in Lismore having a malted milk and the news flash came over. One of me mates joined up first thing the next morning. I tried but I was too young to join the AIF, people knew me, I couldn’t get in. Yes, I remember that night very well.
And when you got home – and you were saying about your father being in the First War and so on – what was the reaction of the family to this news and were they anxious for you to join up or not?
I don’t think that Dad was that worried but Mum wasn’t keen about me joining. But after I failed getting into the AIF and I decided I was going to join the RAAF, well Mum sort of came round a little bit and went along with me.
The decision to join the Air Force, why the Air Force and not the Navy, or why not waiting to have another go for the AIF?
Well I always, as a kid always been interested in aircraft and I had my first flight with Keith Virtue when I was about twelve years of age and Keith went on to become founder of New England Airways which became Airlines of Australia. And I was always out the airport Saturday afternoons trying to cadge a flight with Keith and, no I was always interested in aircraft.
So you were rather caught up with the mystique of flying in the ‘30s.
That’s right, yes.
(5.00) Well, going on Allen, after you signed up it was – we’ve got the dates here – 8 January ’40 – you went to Richmond. Leaving home and going down to Richmond, how do you remember that?
Well, I had to go up to Brisbane and ‘cause I joined in Brisbane. I had to go up to Brisbane and catch the train back and came down overnight on the Brisbane Express – 200 of us so it was quite a, I suppose, a hectic night on the train. And the next day we arrives at Central and taken out to Richmond by the – in the trucks.
Was excitement or apprehension the main thing?
Oh I don’t know. Everybody was more or less in the same boat. We were all wondering what was going to happen next and no, I’d say it was more excitement.
Well, when you did get out at Richmond, what actually happened; what was the first thing you’d remember?
The first thing I remember was when I went through and took the oath and they gave me a number and I had to go at the hut next door to pick up my clothing and what have you and the chap said, ‘What’s your number?’, and I said, ‘What number?’ I’d forgotten, so he smartly told me in no uncertain manner to go back and get my number and not to forget it. I haven’t forgotten it since.
What is it?
Six, seven, O, eight.
That early induction into the discipline of the Air Force, do you remember that, the regimentation and so on?
Yes, remember it well. It was a bit hard the first few days, the corns on our feet. I’d never worn boots before. But no, those four weeks of doing our rookies, I think was very good after the initial shock had worn off and the corns had been pared a bit, no, it’s good.
Did you have any sergeant-major types who really went over the top, or were they fairly mild?
The majority were good. But there was one at Richmond who was aptly named the ‘Screaming Skull’.
He was a bit over the fence if he caught you going for your breakfast in the morning and you were out of step, you’d missed your breakfast and you’d drill for an extra half an hour. Actually, one of the aircrew training there took a shot at him one night with a .303 and took the haversack off his shoulder but he was the only one, the rest were good.
So he was the exception. The general living conditions at Richmond, how do you remember that, how comfortable or otherwise were they?
We were in what they called ‘Tin City’, the tin huts. Our beds were three boards on a couple of blocks and a palliasse with straw. . It was a shock coming from home to get into this but no, after a while it was comfortable. You learned how to make your bed properly and be comfortable and it wasn’t too bad.
And were there any other recollections that you think are significant of that two-month period at Richmond?
No, I don’t think so, once you got over the initial shock of having to be up for breakfast at a certain time and being on parade ground, clean shaven, boots polished, no, it all fell into gear after a while.
Smartened you up a bit, no doubt. It was 11 March 1940 when you went to Number – actually we’ve lost the number here – but the Service Technical Training Unit was it?
Yes, the one down at Ultimo.
Well, the actual number doesn’t matter. Anyway, that was early March when you went there for two months. What were the main aspects of the period at Ultimo?
Well, we were down to the Tech. each day for our eight hours, learning how to use basic tools, files and drills and what have you and you used to have to march down through the streets of Ultimo and march back of an afternoon. It was alright, good.
And where were you billeted?
It was an old wool store, which they’d whitewashed out days before, just before we got there. We slept on the floors; whitewash would fall off the floor. It wasn’t the best of conditions. We had about half a dozen showers for a couple of hundred men but we all managed to get through it alright.
During that time at Ultimo, did you have any chance to get out and just take day leave or evenings and so on in the city, or were you rather confined to service quarters?
No, we had the weekends off and we could have night leave too.
Turning to the actual work, perhaps in a little more detail, was this period solely to do with teaching the skills of different tools?
Yes, entirely, yes. How to use files, drills, the lathes and what have you. Yes it was entirely on the one use of tools, yeah.
Was there much book work involved or was it mostly practical?
No, no book work, all practical.
And if you had to judge your, the training that you got there from, if you like, very good to good to adequate to perhaps poor, how would you rate it?
I’d say it was very good because we had good instructors and they were very strict. You had to meet a certain standard with them otherwise you were not in at class, so no, it was very good.
(10.00) And I’d assume part of the learning to use these tools was also learning something about the characteristics of the different materials you were working with, the different types of metals and so on.
Yes, it would be. Yes, yes it would be different metal to use.
What do you remember of that?
Nothing very much really but I just remember going to Tech. and that was it, no.
Well you did go from there, I know, to 12 May ’40 No. 1 Engineering School at Ascot Vale where you did your airframe work. The choice that you were to – that was to become your mustering, was that something you desired and set in motion or was that just a decision put on to you?
No, I originally when I did my trades test, I joined as a transport driver –hopefully – but the Air Force in their wisdom and latter years it came to be helpful for me, saw fit to make me a fitter 2A, which I have no regrets about.
Right. And in the musterings that other men went to, men you were training with, mates, how logical were the choices, how well thought out do you think they were in retrospect, or was it a real lottery?
I think it would be a lottery, because as I said earlier, one of my friends had had about fourteen years with the RMA as a motor mechanic and they made him a fitter 2A, which our way of looking didn’t seem to make sense but the Air Force thought it was the best thing because they wanted to train him their way.
I see, so the rationale was that if you put a mechanic into an engine job you couldn’t retrain the fella.
That’s correct, yes.
Was there much bucking against it, say that friend of yours, how did he take that?
He went to the officer in charge and had a few words to say, you know, complained about it, but the decision was made and that was it. You had no redress; that was it.
Well let’s move on to the No. 1 engineering School at Ascot Vale, you were there for four months. This was the real guts of your airframe training, I think?
That’s right, yes. That would be.
What were the main aspects that you studied?
Well a lot of the – most of it was theoretical work, nothing practical. We had a couple of aircraft that we used to have a look round but most of it was theory and exams every week and you did all your basics, you know, aircraft construction, hydraulic brake systems, flap systems, control surfaces, so that would be ninety per cent theoretical.
I see and in that theory, you were looking into what? How planes were constructed and how to repair them or why they were constructed the way they were?
Yeah, the way they were constructed and how different systems worked and how, I suppose, how we were going to cope with them in latter years.
In retrospect, if you had to judge that training was it – or two questions: was it too theoretical and not practical enough, do you think, or was it right the way it was?
I thought it was very good; it gave us all a good grounding. No, I think it was very good.
And I guess you’re saying from that also the general level of training was good?
It was, yes.
What planes did you work on when you did your practical work?
The ones they had down at Ascot Vale was a Wapiti and I can’t think of the other one – wait a minute – no, Wapiti’s the only one I can think of now.
In terms of the main techniques that you would use in terms of – perhaps not servicing aircraft so much as repairing them, what were the main techniques? I’m thinking– I don’t know a lot about this but I’m thinking of things such as welding or riveting, those sorts of things. What were the main ?
Well, welding, we would never do welding because you had to have a special licence to be a welder and – But no, the main thing was on maintenance on aircraft is tyres, wheels and brakes – that’s a fitter 2A – all your flying controls, your main planes, fuselage, the whole aircraft except your engines and instruments which come under another category. So virtually you’re looking after all the aircraft except for engines and instruments.
Did it include doing structural work on the structure of the aircraft, or more on the moving parts of the aircraft?
Unless you had any damage done, no it would be all on the actual controls and moving parts of the kite.
Well we’ll perhaps come to talk in that in a bit more detail when we actually get to the Middle East. 23rd of – these dates, incidentally, are great to have from your record there, Allen. 23rd of the ninth, that’s September, isn’t it?
September ’40 you went to Evans Head Gunnery School. What was your main work there?
Servicing, I was in the servicing section, which was overhauling, forty hourly inspections and any major defects they’d come in, into the maintenance hangar and be serviced. After each forty hourly inspection we always got a test flight with them on the aircraft. They used to take an engine and airframe fitter with them. But –
On those test flights as an airframe fitter were you – what were you looking out for?
Just the sharks in the ocean below us, actually, we were just there to enjoy the flight. There was nothing really to look for because well, everything was right. We were flying in it.
(15.00) Right. So it was more a perk of the job. The period at Evans Head and this goes on to the 16th February ’42, how full-on was your work, were you was there much time to relax or was it fairly intense?
No, we used to get, I think, four days a month off. And then we were right on the beach, of course, and summertime with daylight saving – we had daylight saving – so we had our relaxation. A little pub down the street – we could get a beer until ten o’clock at night so it was quite – a real good camp.
Did you ever get time to get away and have long leaves – getting to Sydney and so on, or not?
Those that wanted to could, yes. I just forget the leave now but you’d get a week every so often. But those that wanted to could always get away.
And the actual living conditions on the base, how would you rate those?
At Evans Head, were very good, excellent. The meals were good and we had a terrific CO, so it was a great base.
Who was the CO?
Val Hancock, who is now somewhere, I think, knighted and ended up as an air vice marshal – a very good CO.
Just perhaps to talk a little bit more about the actual work at Evans Head, the work you did on the Fairey Battles there, did that involve new experience and I suppose you’d say, improving your abilities, or was it more doing what you’d already learnt?
Well, it was doing what we’d already learnt but it was all new aircraft, so we had to improve our knowledge of the aircraft, because we hadn’t seen these Fairey Battles until we were posted to Evans Head. And as time goes on, of course, you learnt all the little lurks and perks of that particular aircraft – and they all have them. They all have their little perks with them.
Right. And I guess that transition to one aircraft made that transition to another a bit easier.
It does, yes, it does make a difference.
Well, we’ll come to talk about that in more detail with the No. 3 period. The 16th February ’42 was when you went to No. 1 Embarkation Unit at Ascot Vale and you stayed there for a month. What happened during that month, were you kept busy or was it just idle time?
No, at one stage we were moved up to Deniliquin for a few days because they had to evacuate all us troops out of Ascot Vale to make way for the refugees from up the islands. We spent a couple of days at Deniliquin and then we came back to Ascot Vale and later on, of course, went across to Adelaide.
Right and Adelaide was the 19th March and you were there for about – not quite a month. That period in Adelaide, were you kept busy or was it fairly idle?
Pretty idle time, actually. We saw Adelaide and made the most of the spare time we had. No, we had nothing to do but to wait for a ship.
You obviously knew you were going overseas, did you while you were in those embarkation depots know you were going to No. 3 Squadron or not?
When I went home on final leave I told my mother where I was going, I knew I was going to 3 Squadron. Yes, we were told definitely, we were definitely going to 3 Squadron.
Were you pleased or not?
Yes, I was very pleased about that.
Could you say why?
Well we, you know, lots of guys were posted and they didn’t know what was happening but we knew we were going to a squadron that had a history and we were happy to go along and become part of it.
And how did your parents, perhaps particularly your mother, feel about your leaving Australia – how did you feel, yourself?
Well, it was a challenge for me but I guess my mother wasn’t very happy but I was quite excited about it, of course. Being only what, twenty-one years of age and posted across to the Middle East to a famous squadron, you’d have to be excited.
What do you think was uppermost in your mind, being part of a squadron and fighting the war, or the general adventure of travelling and seeing different places?
I think adventure be mainly but joining the squadron, of course, had to be something to look forward to but no, mainly to go overseas and see some of the world.
Right, so the travel and adventure came first, the rest second. Well let’s go on to the actual travelling. You were to leave Adelaide, I think, in the American ship the Eastern Prince but it was a mechanical ...
It had mechanical problems waiting for the parts, so we were transferred to the Dilwara.
Tell us about the Dilwara, what was your first impressions of this well-known troopship?
Well, the Dilwara was a great ship, actually. It was a 12,000 tonner and it was a troopship built before the war, I believe, that carried troops from England to China somewhere or somewhere around there. But no, the Dilwara was a good ship: the meals were good, it was a clean ship, well run, we couldn’t fault it. It was great.
When you say it was well run, the discipline on board the ship, was that organised by your own – some of the officers that were with this batch of men going to No. 3, or did the ship have its own core of people?
No, we were controlled by our own officers but our engineering officer, who was a WO at the time, was our main stay. He looked after most of us very well and organised us into PT of a morning and gave us a bit of a workout occasionally.
(20.00) What was his name?
Right, I thought so. I’ve actually spoken to Ken; I just wanted to confirm that. So he kept things going well.
Yep. He was very good to us, looked after us well.
Tell us about leaving; steaming out of Adelaide, do you remember that and your first day at sea?
I’ll never forget it. We hit the Bight and it was one of the roughest seas the skipper said he’d ever seen. I think there was four of us up in the, what they call the ‘sharp end’, way up in the bow, rugged up in our greatcoats, watching these great waves breaking up front until the skipper sent up one of his offsiders to say if we didn’t get off the bow and come down aft, he’d put us in the brig, because the sea was so rough. No, I’ll never forget that, it was something I’ll never forget and the skipper said it was the roughest sea he’d seen in the Bight for years, so ...
Mmm. There’s something wonderful about being in the bow of a ship. Were the waves actually breaking over the bow, or not?
Some were coming up, yes. There was a mighty sea. That was an interesting half hour before we were removed from there.
What about seasickness, was that a problem for you?
Not for me but for some of our ‘bods’ it was, yes, but once we got through the Bight, of course, and got into the Indian Ocean it was all calm sailing.
And did you step off at Fremantle?
No, we went straight through to Colombo first.
And then I know, Bombay. The general pattern of your day; days at sea once you’d got through the Bight and no doubt the seas were quieter and bluer. How do you remember those days, what did you do?
Well, we were one ship alone. We had no escort and we had to have guards or lookouts on the ship, looking for anything that mightn’t be on our side. But after our PT and the day was your own, you could please yourself what you did. We had boxing tournaments for those who felt like it; card games of course and none of us had any money, so we couldn’t do any damage with our money so no, it was quite good.
Was there much spare time sub-watching or was that left to people who were actually on lookout duty?
No, I don’t think I spent much [time] but some of my mates did. But I think if you wanted to do it you could but it wasn’t compulsory.
Well, going on to Colombo and Bombay, your first sight of countries and cultures outside Australia, did you get ashore at those places and how were they for you?
I didn’t get ashore at Colombo because we were told that we weren’t to have shore leave. But we had twenty rookie officers on board who only finished their administration course before leaving Australia and some of those decided they were going ashore. A few of my mates and I went overboard for a swim and the next thing they’re all calling us out because all the old bods had sliding down the ropes and jumping on what they called the ‘bum boats’, the fruit boats, that came out and the majority got ashore. We missed out because we were swimming. They were rounded up later that night and brought back and as a result, the next day we all got extra duties. I was down on my hands and knees in the hospital with a holystone, cleaning the floor for every day for an hour or two for the rest of the trip but it was no problem. Those that got ashore enjoyed it; those that didn’t still enjoyed it so ...
Did people gripe about not being able to get ashore after a long sea voyage?
No, not really.
Going on to Bombay, you trans-shipped there to a ship called the Varella; did the Varella measure up to the Dilwara?
Actually we stayed in the camp at – Colaba Camp for four days in Bombay, which was quite an experience but no; the Varella was a real down, a real dump. We... I think the first night out we got an orange and a biscuit for our evening meal, which didn’t go over too well and conditions were bad and we had Indian troops, Sikhs, Indians, Gurkhas, Ceylonese, you name them; we had them and it was overcrowded. Actually we put on a bit of a disturbance because we marched off the ship; we weren’t going because there were too many troops on board. But they took the Ceylonese off and so we went back on board and went on our way.
I think I’ve heard about this camp in Bombay; that was really fairly rugged, wasn’t it?
It was a real, typical English army camp. We went on parade the first day and the WO beefed out a command and everybody springs to attention except the Aussies, because we didn’t know what he was saying. He got quite excited and came over and said to the marker, ‘Do up your top button’. He said, ‘I can’t’. He said, ‘Why’. He said, ‘I have no button on it’. So with that remark he dismissed us from his parade ground, didn’t want to see us anymore, so we were happy. And we had four days of leave.
Did you take pleasure at those instance brushing up against British authority, do you think?
Oh no, we just did our – we weren’t used to that rigmarole so it didn’t go over with us but no, we were happy that we were dismissed from his parade ground.
(25.00) Well, perhaps. The voyage on the Varella, Allen, was there anything outstanding about that, or not?
Well, only the night that our meal wasn’t the best and three or four of my mates and myself raided the kitchen and knocked off a churn of ice-cream and two plum puddings that were supposed to be for the officers and NCOs – senior NCOs – they didn’t get it, we got it instead.
And did they get you?
No, no. Nobody knew who it was till later, till it was too late.
You must have had a good feast on that. Well, the journey on through the Red Sea, of course, must have been getting quite hot. What were conditions like down below where you were sleeping?
I can’t remember too much about it really, I don’t think they could have been too bad but it was all crowded, of course but I don’t think they were really too hot or anything like that.
Well, you arrived at Port Tewfik on 20th May ’42 and in fact you were with No. 3 Squadron two days later. Could I just ask you a few general questions, although these refer not only to arriving but to your you know, the general period in the Middle East? It was a very different area to Australia, both in terms of countryside, the land and the people; what do you remember of that?
The first day well, seeing all those acres of sand, I suppose but I don’t think we had much time to realise what it was going to be like because we were on a train, I think, that evening to go up to the desert wherever the 3 Squadron was at that time. But getting on the train, of course, all you saw was the flats of sand and sand and sand, so it was quite a change to what we’d been used to.
And as time went on and obviously you did have some periods when you got back to Alexandria and places, leave and so on – the way of life of the people in Egypt and along the coast of North Africa – how did that strike you; was it something you enjoyed or not?
No, not really because it was such a big class distinction. The people, the rich people lived well and of course, the poor old slave just lived like I suppose in some cases our dogs are treated better than some of those poor people. Conditions were terrible for a lot of them. No, it was a complete change to what we’d been used to seeing back here in our good old country.
And did you get much of a chance to see to get to places like the pyramids and so on and the history of the area?
Yes we did. We actually for a while some of us were camped just down at a place called Mena not far from the pyramids. No, I had a visit to the pyramids and the Sphinx and no, we saw quite a bit of the area before we headed up the blue.
And what about the back street life in Cairo, did you get much chance for that?
Well, you could but most of it was off limits, so anything with an ‘Off Limits’ sign the military police were handy or it wasn’t a good place to be in, so most times you avoided those areas.
Right. Well, let’s move on to actually joining No. 3 Squadron, you did go by train, you were saying, to Alexandria and on from there to No. 3. I think there was a bombing raid on the way that night, on the way to No. 3.
Yes, somewhere on the way up that night there was a raid somewhere quite handy. There was I don’t think there was any casualties round our area but it was our first initiation of a bombing raid. Nobody, I don’t think, worried too much about it because it couldn’t have been that close to us.
I was going to ask you that, both as you approached the Middle East and perhaps on the train that night, you obviously are really approaching the scene of active warfare, were there any was there much apprehension either in you or in other people? Did you talk about it?
I don’t think so. Nobody seemed to be worried about it. It was just one of those things; you’re moving into a war zone and whatever comes next, well, you just take it in your stride.
I understand your arrival at No. 3 Squadron left, you might think, something to be desired.
Yes, we were lined up and the adjutant, Col Greaves, was giving us a pep talk about the squadron and what was expected, which we were all happy to hear but ...
What was he saying?
Oh, I just can’t remember at the time but at the time Bobby Gibbes was the CO of the squadron and as he walked by the Adjutant said, ‘Do you want to have a word with these [three?] new recruits? And Bobby Gibbes says, ‘No, I don’t want to talk to the bastards’, so you know it was, I thought, “This is a strange place to come to when the CO talks to us like that’. It wasn’t a very nice impression but still we got over that.
That is a memory that’s not elaborated by the years?
No, they were just what he said. And I’ll never forget it because I just wondered what I was coming into.
Well, we’ll come back to questions of leadership and so on in a minute.
END TAPE 1, SIDE A
BEGIN TAPE 1, SIDE B
This is Ed Stokes with Allen Wand, No. 3 Squadron, tape one, side two.
Allen, just going on, having joined the unit but perhaps looking ahead a little over the month or two when you first joined it and excluding this obviously rather ‘off’ comment, what was your general impression of the morale of the unit, the style of the unit?
Oh, very good because the chaps that were there that we were relieving, some stayed on but when we got to know them and got into our working ways with them, everything sort of fell back into one pattern. No, everything was fine apart from our first words of introduction to the squadron; no, everything worked out really well.
Well the people, some of the men who were going back did stay for a transitional period, I think you said, of about two weeks. In that period –and of course you were working on planes you hadn’t seen, Kittyhawks – what knowledge, experience was passed on?
A lot, a lot because we needed – we hadn’t seen these aircraft before, as you stated, and we needed these chaps that had been there working on them to pass on their knowledge to us so that we’d have a grounding on them. No, it was very good. The co-operation between the original guys and us recruits [inaudible] relieving crew was quite good.
Was that done in a kind of, if you like, a formal way, a structured way or just in a sort of informal way with men passing on bits of knowledge as they were needed?
Mostly informal as you if you had a problem you didn’t know how to fix you’d go and see one of the older bods and ask them and they’d only be too pleased to help you, no, it was great co-operation between the two parties.
Did you have any clear manuals listing things such as specifications and so on to help you work with?
I think there were a few manuals but there was always one somewhere available, probably the engineering officer would have them in his tent but they would be available if required.
Did you use those much or did you work just from a practical working knowledge?
I don’t think we had to refer to them very often, no we’d learnt what we had to learn and, as I say, the older chaps gave us a good grounding.
What would you say were the main difficulties or the main problem areas in dealing with a new aircraft as an airframe fitter? What were the things that you might have to learn again?
I can’t think of any offhand because you just have to work out the new systems but they all work on the same basis really – flying controls, hydraulic systems, brakes, all that stuff – I don’t think there were any great problems. It was just a matter of getting into the routine of it and that was it.
Were there different things such as different tolerances or different amounts of grease or oils to put on working parts and so on, or not?
You’ve got me lost there. I can’t remember. I don’t think so, no, I don’t think so.
Let’s just talk a little about your general camp life, if you like and talking generally about the period at least in North Africa, of course Italy was a bit different. You were living in tents; what was tent life like?
Tent life was quite good. When we first went there we had a big tent which held eight of us but they were taken off us after a while and I think we used to have four to a tent. No, tent life was quite good. Of course, you had no night life; once the sun sank below the horizon that was it; because of a night you sat round and played cards if you were allowed to have a light on in the tent with no raid on. But taken all round the tent life was not that bad.
What sort of lighting did you have in tents and how much did you have to black out because of air raids?
(5.00) Well, most tents had a kerosene – hurricane lamp. Tents had to be blacked out especially if there was an air raid coming on and if you happened to leave the flap of your tent open with a light on, somebody would fire a .303 over the top of your tent to remind you to put the light out.
Just a sec. – now there was a particularly loud bus going by. Could I ask you that question again about lights?
Most tents had a hurricane lamp. But if you happened to leave the flap open, the light was visible and there was an air raid warning sounded, well, the next thing you know somebody would fire a .303 over your tent to remind you to put the light out or put the flap down.
Right. You do have extremes of heat and cold in the desert – very hot days, cold nights – how did that affect tent life?
Oh, I don’t think it worried us greatly. The days were hot for sure and the nights were cool but after the first few weeks you became acclimatised and you just put up with it. It was no great worry.
What about washing and water; how easy was it to get water? How much did you wash?
Well, times it was pretty grim. Washing your clothes – you always washed you clothes in hundred octane petrol because you had no water. Sometimes all you got was a water-bottle of water a day which had to do you for all your washing. You’d get up in the morning and just wet a finger and rub your eyes and kept what you could for cleaning your teeth of an evening. Sometimes you – I remember once I went seven days without a wash and then we hit a beach and of course, that was real luxury.
How often did you actually get down to beaches and so on?
Well, I couldn’t really say that. Whenever there was a beach handy we always managed to get time to go down and have a swim but I wouldn’t know how often.
What about the dust that was obviously part of desert living; how much did that affect life in tents?
The sandstorms, it was bloody awful, to put it crudely. It got everywhere. You couldn’t eat; you’d open your mouth to have a bite to eat and you’d get a mouthful of sand. No, when you got the dust and sandstorms – that was something hard to put up with.
Eating, you were talking about eating and dust, Allen, would you normally have eaten in the tents or outside somewhere, or some – in a mess tent?
No, we didn’t have a mess tent, we usually used to eat out in the open but when a sandstorm came, you wouldn’t be able to find your way to the mess-kitchen and back, so you’d eat in your tent. Every tent used to always have a can of bully beef and a packet of dog biscuits and so you weren’t game to go out in a sandstorm because you’d get lost.
I see. But the general meal was just sitting around ...
Out in the open.
Did you have tables and seats or just squatting on the ground?
On the ground. No tables and chairs, no.
The food, tell us about the food.
Well, I guess it was healthy food. None of us suffered from it but bully beef and M and V and hard biscuits and – what else? Oh, occasionally we got what they used to call the ‘gold fish’ – herrings in tomato sauce – which didn’t go over too big with a lot of us. But taken all round none of us starved; we all got there, so I guess it was good food.
Was there much griping about food and those things or were they just accepted as an inevitable consequence of the situation?
No, there was never any whingeing. We used to get when the 9th Division AIF were there, we used to get some – a bit of frozen beef occasionally from Australia. But when they went home of course, we lost all that and our rations got a bit worse than we’d been used to. But no, taken all round nobody complained. It was it or you went without so you had no option.
And what about friendships, were you really close friends with men you shared tents with or did they come from other places in the squadron?
I think they were everywhere around the squadron because the pilots lived in separate tents to the airmen and there was a great comradeship between the pilots and ground-crew, great comradeship.
Well, I was going to lead on to ask something about that. The general discipline of the squadron as you might see it in the wearing of uniform; whether you called every officer ‘Sir’; parades, that sort of thing, how do you remember that?
Well, parades were virtually non-existent. Your uniform consisted, for the ground-crew; most of them wore a pair of shorts, a pair of sandshoes and a hat throughout the day. The pilots, of course we had NCO pilots as well as commissioned officers but most of them were on first name basis; of course if any strangers were around you’d always say ‘Yes Sir’, or ‘No, Sir’, but otherwise it was just by Christian names. No, great friendship.
(10.00) Right. Perhaps a related thing to this, the styles of the different squadron leaders. While you were there I think Nicky Barr had been squadron leader although Bobby Gibbes was acting for him for a time, I think. There was Bobby Gibbes, there was Brian Eaton, in particular, how do you remember these different men? Who stood out as the best squadron leader?
I wouldn’t like the job of having to say who was the best but Nicky Barr was a thorough gentleman and he was – you couldn’t get any better. Bobby Gibbes, of course I mentioned him earlier with our welcome to the squadron which didn’t impress us greatly. He might have been a good pilot but I think he was lacking in administrative ability, whereas Brian Eaton was top of the world – he was great. We had a couple of other good ones too: Rex Bailey, Murray Nash, Jack Doyle. But no, the majority of them were a hundred per cent, were great men and you couldn’t get any better.
I think you, yourself, did have one particular run in with Bobby Gibbes. This is –. The story began when you were on leave, I think.
Oh, yes. We were charged with AWL and he fined us – my mate and I who were both caught – with fourteen days’ pay plus two days’ AWL but a couple of months [later] we were told that we had fourteen days’ pay refunded because unless court-martialled we could not lose more than the two days we were AWL.
Why were you actually being charged AWOL?
The retreat was on from, I think, Gambut and there were four of us in a truck, packed up ready to go and the WO told us that we could go if we were ready and spend a day in Alexandria and we got to a place called Wadi Natrun the day after, so we took off drove all night and had a day in Alexandria and got to Wadi Natrun, third vehicle there and that afternoon we were placed under camp arrest for being AWL. Apparently as soon as we left the squadron, the WOD got the SPs to see if they could find us, which they couldn’t do, and that’s why we were charged with AWL.
So in fact, basically, you were doing roughly what you were supposed to be doing anyway.
That’s true; we did as we were told. We took off and had a day in Alexandria and had to pay the consequences.
Allen, I’d like, if possible, to talk just a little bit more about the actual work of airframe, or your airframe work in the desert. The conditions you had to work under and what were the greatest difficulties?
I suppose when we had the sandstorms, trying to keep the sand out of things. See, you had to make sure the pitot tube was covered over in a sandstorm because if you got sand in that, your airspeed indicator went haywire. Keeping sand out of your gun barrels – you had to cover them up and, of course, covering up your engine and cockpit – trying to keep the sand out of that.
What about the days that were extremely hot, did they make it difficult to work on the aeroplane because it – I mean, the body of the plane was hot or not?
Oh, yes but I guess we all became used to that after a while. It was no great problem, I don’t think, the heat.
What about working at night, were you ever called on to work at night or not?
Yes, sometimes you’d have to work on at night and finish off repairs. Of course, we had no tents or hangars to work in and no lights. You’d work by moonlight or by the aid of a torch. But you had to have the aircraft serviceable by the next morning so you had no option but to work through. But what else could you do in the desert, anyway?
Yes sure, I’m sure that’s true. The issue of spare parts and the equipment you had to use, I mean the actual tools, how flush were you with spare parts and tools or not?
Well, we weren’t too well equipped with spare parts and tools when we first joined the squadron but just before the battle of El Alamein, when the American fighter wing came to join us, that was one of the greatest things ever because we became very friendly with some of the Americans and we could always go across and with a little bit of smooth talk, get some spare parts and you could always get the odd tool from the Americans because they were always well equipped with blue-point spanners.
I see; by and large they had much better supplies that you did.
They had full tool kits to start with, yes and they were only too happy to help us out if ever they could.
Did you – it sounds as if, generally, you had good relationships with the Americans you were brushing up against?
We did. We had a great relationship with the wing that was attached to us and they came right through into Italy with us. Yes, they were great guys.
The cliftying [sic] of material, scrounging and so on, I’m sure it was often fun, how necessary was it?
(15.00) Well, at times it was very necessary because we were always short of trucks to use on the squadron – trucks were like hens’ teeth to get, I suppose. But, oh no, I suppose we did our share of it but we only did it because we had to.
Were there any instance you recall particularly of, well particular successes in getting material that was very, very useful to you?
Well, I acquired a jeep once. My mate and I at Tripoli and we saw two English officers drive up to the Officers’ Canteen and park their jeep and so we waited five minutes and walked up and gave it a shove and pushed it down the hill and jump started it and took it back to camp. They painted it in the squadron colours and markings and about a month later the CO called me up and said he thought he had more use for the jeep than I did, so I couldn’t argue. So we handed the jeep over to him.
That’s an interesting story, can I just develop that a bit. Where this issue of appropriating equipment, if you like, in an instance like that it was quite clear you knew the jeep wasn’t a sort of, kind of abandoned jeep that didn’t have an owner; it quite clearly did have an owner. That was acceptable was it, to do that?
Well, we thought so anyway, they might have – the English officers mightn’t ‘ave but we did. We thought it was right.
What about – what attitude did your officers take to that kind of behaviour where you had quite clearly taken something from other people?
Well, they wouldn’t have known where we acquired it. You know, we’d say we found it somewhere. It would never be approved of but once we had the jeep for a month and there was no repercussions anywhere, I suppose the CO thought it was time to step in and have it for him.
Yes, I see. Did you ever have any second thoughts about that sort of thing?
No, not really, no. I think it was an accepted thing with most bods over in the Middle East. If something was there and you needed it, well why not have it?
Right. Just going back to the airframe work. I thought it might be interesting, Allen, just to talk through the daily servicing of an aircraft. It goes off on operations, it comes back and it has to be ready to fly the next day. What were the key things that you had to check through?
Well, if it came back without any pilot’s defect report, so you check your oil, your glycol, all your hydraulic systems et cetera; tyres, wheels and brakes; make sure there’s no damage to the aircraft and make sure it’d refuelled and re-oiled; the armour is loaded up again and it’s ready for take-off. Some nights they came back and they had to be serviced and turned round in half an hour and move off again. So it was no great hassle; everybody hopped in and did their share. I suppose it was just like a well-oiled clock – everything went according to clockwork.
During particularly intense operations, besides obviously refuelling an aircraft, would aircraft ever land and take-off again without these checks being done, or not?
No, you always had a check round and off again.
Absolutely, you would never ...
No. You’d always have a quick look round them and make sure there was no defects, no visible defects, and if a pilot had no defect report well, your aircraft’s serviceable.
What happened? I realise with major problems where a whole fuselage had been shot up or that sort of thing, the plane went back to a repair and salvage unit but where you had minor damage such as a cannon hole through the fabric of the wing or fuselage, what happened then?
If it was in the fabric area, you’d re-patch it, or if it was in the metal, you’d put a metal patch over it.
And how did you do that? How were those patches worked?
Well, if we had the metal to replace it with, you’d cut out a patch and rivet it on.
And with the fabric?
Oh. The fabric’s only attached with dope, dope it on.
Right. During this work on servicing the aircraft, how closely did you get to know individual pilots?
Well, some of the crews knew the pilots very well because you’d probably have two or three pilots sharing an aircraft, one particular aircraft and you’d have an engine and airframe fitter attached to each aircraft, so those four or five people become very attached, very close to each other. No, there was a great comradeship between pilots and ground-crew.
And did the pilots take a fairly keen interest in what the ground-crew were doing in terms of servicing or did they just take it for granted that you were getting on and doing what had to be done?
Oh no, I think they were all interested to know what we were doing and, you know, to keep an eye on things too; that was to their own advantage as well. No, they were always interested to see what was going on.
Was there any pilot that you had become close to through a sort of reasonably long association who was killed?
Yes, there was one, Allen Field. I was very close with him for quite a while. That’s the hard part of squadron life.
Can you talk about that? I mean how you remember feeling when what ever happened to him did?
(20.00) No, I don’t think it really hits you at the time. You meet the aircraft when they come back and that aircraft’s missing and then you’re waiting to know what happened and when you do find out, it just doesn’t seem to register for a while.
What actually happened to this fellow?
I think he was shot down. I’m not sure now but I think he was shot down by ack-ack fire.
And you never heard of him again?
He was killed. He went in. Yes.
Were there ever any occasions when you, yourself, came under reasonably close attack while on the squadron airstrips?
Not in the desert but there was a couple of occasions in Italy: one at Cutella when the American Thunderbolts came down and strafed us and there was one in Sicily at Agnone when we were raided one night, I think with eighty-plus Ju88s raided our ‘drome and there were, I think, sixteen killed and seventy injured on the ‘drome. There were no casualties in our squadron but they were heavy elsewhere on the ‘drome.
Could you tell us in any more detail about that second attack when there were these – this large number of casualties.
Yes, I can. It was a Saturday night – Saturday night was our card night; we used to play cards in a little Italian – I suppose it looked like a dairy building and we used to – Because the mosquitoes there we used to put a can of cow manure in of a morning and set fire to it to smoke the mosquitoes out. And this particular night, about ten o’clock, we were playing cards and we heard the ack-ack whistles go out the side and I’ll never forget it because in my hand I had – we were playing poker – I had the seven, eight, nine six, seven, nine and a ten of diamonds in my hand and I bought the eight which gave me a running flush. And just as I was about to start punting like a man with no arms, the bombs started falling, so that was the end of the poker game, so I never ever won on that hand. First time I ever got one and I couldn’t win with it.
Still, it sounds like a good omen.
Yeah, I guess so.
What happened in the subsequent few minutes?
Well, it was more than a few minutes, it was quite a while. They had these big chandelier flares over the ‘drome and we lost three or four aircraft and there was quite a few delayed action bombs dropping in the area. I think two or three of our chaps took off from this little farm building heading down towards the beach and one of the German planes must have spotted them because they dropped a row of incendiaries between them and the beach and set fire to the bamboo, so they were crawling back through that somehow. But we were grovelling on our stomachs in the dirt outside the building, we weren’t too afraid to – we were afraid to get out there, we were down to ground level. Yes, that was our worst raid.
Just a minute. Allen, after incidents such as that, did it take a while to get over or did you forget it fairly quickly?
No, I don’t think we worried unduly about it. It was just part of what we were up against and you just accepted it and nothing you could do about it. They come and they go and you just wonder when the next one’s going to come.
Well, stepping back in time and this really is going back, a way back to the period in – shortly after you’d joined the squadron. This is the period leading up to El Alamein; would it be possible to describe – oh, and I think you were at Amiriya at this period. We checked on that before. Would it be possible to describe a typical day from when you got out of your bunk, stretcher, whatever until you got to bed that night?
Well, round about those days we were probably doing a shuttle service and they’d go off at first light and as soon as they came back they had to be refuelled and re-armed and checked again and sent off. And in between flights, if we had time, we’d whizz back to the tent and put the billy on and make a cup of tea and that was the program for the day. Come in and reload them and re-arm them and send them on their way again.
Right. And would you be still out there on the airstrip late in the day, or not?
Sometimes, yes. Sometimes you’d go all day. Other days if the weather, you know, depending on weather and conditions they might stop flying early in the day. But no, most days you’d be going most of the time.
And were there ever times when you really would not only work into the evening but right through the night?
There were occasions. You’d have problems and you’d have to keep going because you had to have them serviceable for the first flight the next day. So time didn’t have to enter it as far as we were concerned, we had to get them ready.
Well, just talking about the general activities of the squadron itself, Allen, in the period after – in the months after you joined, leading up to October ’42 when you had your 200th kill, or so it was said anyway. In those months how do you remember the squadron operating, what were the main roles it was engaged in?
(25.00) Well, just after we joined the squadron they became fighter-bombers and this was the main use of them, then they became fighter-bombers and close army support. But it was mainly the fighter-bombers, the role they took on from then on.
So here there was quite a lot of strafing and bombing of airstrips and so on?
That’s right, yes – supply lines and enemy equipment.
Do you remember the shifts of camp during that period, how often they occurred and how difficult they were for you?
I can’t remember how often they occurred; some occurred very rapidly, others were quite a while. No, I think it’s like everything else, we got used to packing up on a minute’s notice and throwing our gear on the truck and taking off to the next ‘drome. It was just part, I suppose, of the daily routine.
Were people such as yourself involved in the packing up of camp, or was that, or were you more tied up with the aircraft at those times?
No, the flight sergeant and myself, we had a three-ton truck; we just took all our flight gear with us, that’s all we took. But the transport drivers would have to load up the other troops with their tents and all their gear. But we were fortunate, Frank Kirtland and myself that we only had ourselves to worry about and we had a flight truck and we took all the flight equipment.
By the flight equipment, you mean the equipment you used for doing your work?
Our general servicing, yes. All our spares, if we had any and what have you; and all the camouflage nets or whatever else we had on the flight truck.
That’s interesting, that all that equipment could be got into one truck.
Well, we never had a great amount to carry so you never had great worries about what you had to carry.
Right. The celebration of the 200th kill, although I know there is some dispute as to whether it was actually 200 or not, but obviously it was a lot of planes; do you remember the occasion?
I remember the night well, yes. It was a big party, a big do, I think it was the biggest do we’d had till the time war finished so everybody – All the squadron was there of course and the squadron leaders and what have you from the other squadrons. They sent a truck down to Alexandria and ordered a load of grog and food and no, it was a great night.
Was it the ground staff, non-commissioned officers and officers all mixing in together or separate dos?
Everybody was together, no distinguishing marks, everyone was the same that night.
And I think this was when Bobby Gibbes was CO?
Did he – well he was obviously part of it, did he have anything to say?
Oh, I think so but don’t ask me to remember that; I couldn’t remember what he said that night. I don’t think anybody would remember.
Right. Moving on, after the El Alamein period the squadron moved on towards Tripoli, beyond there, Tunisia and so on – that period of reasonably rapid movement, how do you remember that?
Well, as I say we just get on a ‘drome for a while, the next thing you’ve got orders to move so you just kept going. It was just one of those things that while ever we were going forward, everybody was happy. But I don’t remember much about it; we just kept going up the desert and another day was just another day.
And where you were was incidental.
That’s right. It didn’t make any difference, no.
We were saying before when a friend was here that although the food was adequate, it wasn’t very good and you were – there was obviously fairly constant pressure. Did you get at all tired, run down, or not?
No, I don’t think so. Desert life was reasonably healthy. We didn’t have any great problems with health problems. The food was not a great variation in food but I don’t think it did any of us any harm. We all got by on it. We’re all here to tell – oh, quite a few of us are here to talk about it today. No, I don’t think so, I think it was just one of those things; you became acclimatised to it and took it as you went.
Just a moment.
END TAPE 1, SIDE B
BEGIN TAPE 2, SIDE A
This is Ed Stokes with Allen Wand – just had a laugh about that – tape two, side one.
Allen, the last month or so that you spent on the North African coast, how do you remember that? I think it was a somewhat quieter time.
Yes, it was. I think the last ‘drome we were on just out of Tunis – a place called Kairouan – and that was a sight to see when we first arrived there because as we came over the little bit of a hillside and looked across, all we could see were these wild poppies growing across the paddocks, which after the sands of the desert was quite a big shock to us all but a very pleasant shock. Then we had a few weeks rest there after the war finished in North Africa, of course, before we went back down to get ready for the invasion of Sicily.
And during that rest period were you doing any – much work on the aircraft or was it really just a fairly restful time?
No, they were always serviceable but there was nothing much to do, no. It was a quiet time. We had a bit of a party when the war in North Africa finished.
Yes, I bet. And was there any chance to get away on leave, or not?
We could have; I think day leave in Tunis or a couple of days’ leave in Tunis but there wasn’t much to see in Tunis, so there wasn’t much else to do.
And during that whole period in North Africa had you any extended leaves or just occasional days here and there when you happened to be passing through Alexandria or whatever?
No, no extended leave. We got the odd day here and there but no, no extended leave whatsoever.
The squadron – or part of the squadron – went to Malta but I think you didn’t go there, you went directly to Sicily. What do you remember of Sicily and perhaps of the journey to Sicily?
Well, the journey over; I can’t remember much about that. But I remember our first ‘drome in Sicily where we were camped in two-man bivouac tents and we were camped in the middle of a vineyard. You’d reach out of the tent in the morning and pick a bunch of nice white grapes and have fruit for breakfast and of course it was a great change in scenery and climatic conditions to what we’d been used to and see all these green fields and grapevines around was something – oh, Garden of Eden, I suppose, compared to what we’d been used to. Yes, it was good.
And the work you were doing at Sicily, of course, the planes were flying over towards Italy, was this much the same as in North Africa, or different in any way?
Oh no, it was still the same, same flying conditions or same flying sorties they were doing, yes, the same as we were doing.
Well, going on to the period in Italy. What do you remember of the journey to Italy and the first few months in Italy?
We went across by landing craft into Taranto harbour. I remember arriving there because a few days before we got there an English destroyer had been blown up with mines and it had, I forget how many hundreds of troops on ready to disembark and they were all killed and there were still bodies floating around the harbour as we came in. It was a horrible sight. And that was our first taste of Italy. But once we got onto the ‘drome of course, those things are put behind you and things just fell back into the old pattern again. We had to get the aircraft flying and get on with the job.
Well of course, during the period in Italy there was a gradual movement up the leg of Italy, if you like. Do you remember those moves being very regular or did you stay in particular airstrips for quite significant times?
We stagnated around the Foggia area for quite a while because of the weather conditions; the rains came and we were on one ‘drome – I just [can’t] think of the name of it now, just out of Foggia – and we had to move our aircraft up onto another ‘drome because we couldn’t get our truck through to service them and the supplies and what have you. But we were there for quite a while. No, I can’t remember how long we’d stay at each ‘drome but we were on the move pretty regularly, I suppose.
(5.00) I know in the first winter snow, I think, was quite a severe problem. How did that affect both your living conditions and your work, as you remember it?
Well, it affected our working conditions more than living conditions because once we got into Italy in lots of places we were able to acquire billets, so that took that part of it – took care of that part – but some of our working conditions, of course, if you had any great problems with the snow and the cold conditions – at one stage at Fano we were working on a Mustang, we had to put a canopy over the aircraft to try and keep the snow off us while we were working. But all in all no, the work conditions didn’t improve that much but the billeting was quite good.
Were you kitted up well with winter clothes and so on or not?
I could laugh there. No, we weren’t. Actually, I was very fortunate because, as I said earlier, I was very friendly with these Americans and the Americans’ fighter wings and I became the best dressed ‘Yank’ in 3 Squadron I’d say – on the ground-crew side anyway. I had all the Yankee clothing and their fur-lined jacket for winter conditions, so I was fortunate.
As the squadron did move north through Italy, were there any real changes in the way you were working and operating or not?
Our working conditions never changed, I don’t think, and later on of course, when the war was coming towards a close, they were doing longer sweeps in their flying but I suppose all in all it was much of a muchness.
How did doing longer sweeps – did that affect the work you had to do or not?
Didn’t affect us. Be a bit hard on some of the pilots because sitting in a cramped cockpit – I know one sweep that they did over Yugoslavia, I think, was five hours and twenty minutes; so you can imagine yourself sitting in a cramped cockpit of a Mustang for five and a half hours, it’s quite a strain on every, on all parts of your body, I guess.
Yes, it certainly would be, I’m sure. I do know though while initially there was or there were opportunities to get some interesting leaves; how do they stand out in your mind? What did you do? Where did you go?
Well, I think Rome would be one of the highlights: Rome; the Isle of Capri and the Leaning Tower of Pisa, of course – we were fortunate; we were allowed to go in that and that was something to see and go up; Venice. But I suppose the Vatican City in Rome would be one of the highlights.
Did you ever get many opportunities either on those leaves or during your squadron life to mix and get to know Italian people or not?
Yes, I knew quite a few Italian people. I knew one ‘drome, a place called Iesi, and we got to know an Italian family very well and it was very interesting. You see when we originally went over we were told we were only going for twelve months and then we were told we were going into the invasion of Sicily and then were coming home. So the majority of us, like me, didn’t worry about learning the language but then later on, of course, we had to because we found we were still there. And getting with a family and talking with them you picked up the language quicker than if you were trying to learn it off one of your mates.
Sure. And did those contacts with people such as this family, did that bridge the gulf between the Italians as enemies, if you like and the Italians as people much the same as yourself?
Well, I think it did a lot of good. If you think back to 3 Squadron today, the current 3 Squadron not so much at the moment but a couple of years ago, they had a lady engineering officer whose father was an Italian. And he was a boy, I think, of about twelve years of age when we were on a ‘drome somewhere up in northern Italy. And he was so impressed with the Australians that he decided he was going to migrate out here, which he did do, and now his daughter – I don’t know where she is now but she was a flight lieutenant engineering officer in 3 Squadron a couple of years ago.
I didn’t know that. That’s a most interesting story of ...
I just can’t think of her name but it’s an Italian name of course, but so that’s just one little sideline of it all that he was so impressed with us roughies of 3 Squadron that he was going to move out here.
The other men that you knew, did they also, by and large, have some contacts with local families or not?
I think that ninety per cent of them would have, yes, because they were always around the ‘drome and most places – most ‘dromes we were on there were little farmhouses next door, so you were always seeing them round. And of course the kids would come round scrounging and no, there was a lot of contact with the locals.
And was there ever any resentment from Italians you met that you were an invading force walking over their land, if you like?
(10.00) No, I don’t think so. I think the majority were so happy to see the ‘Tedeschi’ go, as they called him, that we were quite welcome. No, there would be no ill-feeling between us and the locals over there, I’m sure of it.
The other aspects of the life, the period in Italy excluding VE Day – we’ll come back to that in a minute – is there anything else that you think is significant, any particular incidents that stand out?
Offhand I can’t think of any. No, I can’t.
Well, let’s move on then, Allen, to VE Day. How much did that take you by surprise or was it all fairly predictable?
No, it was no surprise; everybody knew it was coming, so it was just another day really, yep.
The actual news that war in Europe at least was over, once it had sunk in, how did it make you feel?
Well, I felt good. We thought we were going home but a lot of us didn’t of course. I was posted to 451 Squadron after that but fortunately, or unfortunately, I suppose fortunately now, I broke my leg and I came home instead of going to 451 Squadron. But no, it didn’t take us by surprise, VE Day and we just went along with it as another day.
What were the celebrations, do you remember them?
I don’t think there was anything greatly done.
Was there any parades or...?
Fly-past or that sort of thing?
No, no parades. There was only a fly-past, I think about a week after war was over, a fly-past over Udine on the ‘drome where we were at but no, there were no parades; just another day. I can’t think of any celebrations. There must have been one somewhere.
You didn’t all go out and ...
No, I don’t think so. I can’t remember.
Well, going on you did have this incident with the broken leg, you’d along the line, I think, acquires a motorbike. Just tell us about that, was that incidentally, appropriated?
Just turn it off for a second would you. [Tape turned off.]
Allen, there was this accident and your leg was broken. While you, having come back from hospital where you’d had your leg plastered up and so on, I understand you had a rather interesting collection of weaponry.
Oh, that was before the fractured leg. I had a collection of about eight or nine automatic pistols I’d acquired in my travels and had a mishap with one and put a thirty-eight bullet through my hand and spent ten days in hospital.
I see and it was after that it happened that the decision was made to send you back to Australia, was it?
No, it was after – I broke my leg after that. And then whilst I was in hospital in Naples that the adjutant came down, an adjutant and a padre came down and told me that I was posted to 451 Squadron, Occupational Air Force, Germany, and I said, ‘Well, I can’t go with my leg in plaster’. And they said, ‘Well, you can go if you want to, go into a convalescent camp in England and join the squadron’. And I said, ‘What’s the alternative’? And they said, ‘You go home to Australia’. So I decided I’d come home.
Well, no doubt understandable at the time. That’s interesting that you were given the choice. I would have thought in that situation almost everybody would have opted to come home to Australia.
Yeah well, why not? We’d been away for three and a half years and there was no way I wanted to stay away any longer.
I think it was the 14th October ’45 you embarked for Australia, where you arrived on the 4th of the 11th ’45, 4th November. The journey back, how do you remember that?
Well, I was in the hospital of the troopship, the Stirling Castle; it was crowded with troops of all nationality, so I was mainly confined to hospital although I had – I could walk – I had my leg in plaster and I could walk on it – but getting up and down flights of stairs was a bit hard, so most of the time I was down in the confines of the hospital, which wasn’t that bad. It was a nice roomy area and we got good meals and the padre used to visit us every day with a few goodies so no, it was quite a good trip home. And we managed to get a few hours leave in Fremantle on the way home.
Did they do much for you, either the other troops or perhaps nurses or other people on the ship in terms of entertaining you and filling the empty hours or not?
I don’t know whether they had any entertainment or not but we filled in time playing cards and what have you in the hospital, so – oh the days went quickly. We were coming home; the days were going quickly, no worries.
Yes, I can imagine that. As you were approaching Australia, what were your main thoughts, what were you thinking of?
I don’t know. We had a day’s leave in Fremantle and I met an aunty I had never seen before, so that was quite an exciting day for me – I met up with my aunty and cousin. But as we sailed into Sydney Harbour, Sunday morning, sun was shining; it was the best sight in the world. [Crying]
Let’s go straight on. [Tape stopped]
(15.00) Allen, after coming back to Sydney, you went to Bradfield Park Hospital where you were convalescing and there, I think, you met your wife.
Yes, that’s right. She was a nurse in the hospital there and I met her there the first day I came home and I was in hospital there for, I think, three months and then about twelve months later we were married.
Right. During – in the months afterwards, the 5th April ’46 you went to No. 2 Air Depot and then early in ’46 you signed on for the Interim Air Force for two years, leaving it in late ’47. During that period were you continuing with the airframe work or not?
Yes, I was working mainly on DC-3s, up at 2AD but that’s all they had there at the time. We had quite a few Mosquitoes, which weren’t flying; they were just in a heap outside the hangar actually and I think eventually they were all written off but all we were servicing were a few DC-3s.
Well of course, we should put on record that the airframe work you did in the Air Force did lead quite directly to your civilian life later on; would you like to just outline that?
Certainly, yes it did. When I got out of the Air Force, I joined QANTAS at Rose Bay on the flying boats – Sandringhams and Catalinas – and then I went across to Trans Oceanic on Solents and Hythes and then to TAA and did my last 22 years with Ansett Airlines. No, it was a good grounding for me, the Air Force and I was very thankful for it in later years because it was a great life.
I think you were also saying that the specific qualifications you had from the Air Force were accepted immediately in civilian life too.
That’s right; our basic training with the Air Force was accepted by the Department of Civil Aviation, yes that was quite handy for us.
Right. So that led on to a very full peacetime life and so on. Just some final thoughts though; looking back to the war, overall if you look back on it then, or perhaps now, had the war been good for you or not?
Well, I’d have to say yes, it was good for me because it gave me a trade which I was keen on before I joined the Air Force – I was mad on aircraft and the years since then in domestic aviation [in] this country’s been great for me to. It was very good for me.
And how had the war changed you, do you think during those years? Were you a different person at the end to the beginning or not?
I don’t think so. I don’t think it changed me to any great extent, whatsoever. You know, I wouldn’t know because, apart from my mother and I didn’t – I was away all those years. I don’t know; I don’t think it changed me at all.
No. 3 [Squadron] has obviously got a very strong bond between its members. Is that an important part of your life today or not?
It certainly is. More so since I’ve been retired because prior to that I was a shift worker and could never ever get along to their reunions but since I retired nine years ago I haven’t missed a get-together and as somebody said at the last one, “What is it about these reunions; we no sooner finish one and we’re looking forward to the next one’. I think that says it all.
Is there any other thing, Allen that you feel you would like to put on to this tape, the story of your wartime life if you like, that’s not here? Anything you wish to say?
No, I don’t think so. I think we’ve covered it pretty well and if you’re happy with that, I am.
Yes, I certainly am. Well, look on behalf of the War Memorial in Canberra, thank you for your time for making this tape.
It’s a pleasure. I’m glad to be able to help you.
END TAPE 2, SIDE A
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