Interview with Max Barry


Interview with Max Barry


Max was born in Beaufort, Victoria and grew up on his parents’ dairy farm. Gaining a scholarship led to him becoming a student teacher and attending training college. He was called up when he was 18 and applied to become a reserve in the Air Force, as an air gunner. He was posted to Bristol in England for training and then went to Brighton and Lichfield where they formed crews. Training on Wellingtons, Stirlings and, finally, Lancasters took place at Church Broughton. Max then joined 463 Squadron based at RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire. The squadron carried out many operations to France, including Orléans where they bombed railway yards. On returning home their aircraft caught fire and the crew bailed out. The crew, apart from the pilot, survived. After walking for three weeks, he was offered a barn to stay in. He was finally arrested by the Germans and was sent to an interrogation centre at Frankfurt and then taken by train to Stalag Luft 7. He described a typical day in the camp. Max was on the long march, which began in January 1945, and described the conditions and their destinations. After the war, Max enrolled on a five-year vet training course and married soon after graduating. He kept in touch with some of his aircrew and later went to Normandy to find the people who were kind to him during the war. The friendship has continued. Max thinks that Bomber Command did the right thing and contributed to victory.




Temporal Coverage




00:53:59 audio recording


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JH: This interview is being conducted for the IBCC. International Bomber Command Centre Oral History Project. My name is John Horsburgh. I’m the interviewer and today I’m interviewing Max Barry. The interview is taking place at Mr Barry’s house in Port Kembla, New South Wales and it’s the 28th of March 2018. Good afternoon, Max. This is a real pleasure to be able to interview you this afternoon. Perhaps we can start with when and where you were born and a bit about your family background. For example, were your parents involved in the First World War and so on? So, Max, over to you.
MB: I was born in Beaufort, Victoria and grew up at Elliminyt which is near Colac, Victoria. My parents had a dairy farm at Colac and that’s where I grew up and attended school. Primary school at Elliminyt and high school at Colac.
JH: What, what did you have in mind to do after school? Presumably you hadn’t decided to join up at that stage.
MB: Well, I’d been fortunate enough to be one of two hundred young people who got a scholarship from the Victorian Department of Education and that required me to become a teacher in the Education Department of Victoria. The funds of course at that time were fairly limited and my parents were very pleased that I had this extra scholarship which provided books and certain other things. So, when I finished my schooling at seventeen and a half I became a student teacher and was teaching at Cressy. A two teacher school and I was the student teacher waiting to go to Training College in Melbourne. But of course, as I got to age eighteen I was going to be called up and like most young fellas at the time I wanted to learn to fly so I’d applied to become a Reserve aircrew person and duly joined the Air Force in September that year. 1942. And that began my training which I ended up as a gunner, air gunner and then went to England after I reached nineteen years of age. We left from Adelaide. There were about six hundred of us in a ship called the Denbighshire. It was a cargo ship and the decks had been cleared out and we had hammocks to sleep in at night and rolled them up in the daytime. We went alone across to New Zealand, then to Panama and then to Bristol in England all by ourselves. Once we arrived in England we were sent down to Brighton and from there up to Lichfield, 27 OTU and formed crews. The crewing up process was quite interesting in that they put say a hundred young fellas in a room in five categories, twenty of each and said, ‘Crew yourselves up. We’ll be back in two hours.’ So we wandered around and found four other people to join, make a crew for a Wellington. That was it.
JH: So, did you look for the pilot first or was he looking for a gunner first? How did it kind of all work out?
MB: I can’t remember exactly but I think I might have met up with the bomb aimer. He was a Melbourne fellow. He was a Victorian. The other three were Queenslanders.
JH: So, you were all Australians in —
MB: Yes.
JH: In the hangar.
MB: Yes. And we formed a crew and became very close. In the crews you had to really know the other people and trust them because everybody depended on each other and we became very close. And we then went off to do training at Church Broughton which was a satellite of Lichfield and trained in a Wellington. And from there we were converted to a Stirling aircraft. Four engines. And gathered two more crew members. A flight engineer and a mid-upper gunner. And from there we converted to a Lancaster and went to Lanc Finishing School which was at Syerston, I think. And from there to a squadron. 463 at Waddington. Arriving there in late May ’44.
JH: Max, Max what sort of training did you do as as a gunner? I see there’s mention of Gunnery School. How did that actually work? How can you train to be a tail gunner?
MB: Well, the Gunnery School that I went to was at West Sale in Victoria and they used to have two aircraft. I think they were Fairey Battles. One towed a drogue so he had it yards behind. And the other aircraft had the pilot and the trainee gunner who flew alongside where the drogue was and you had to aim at the drogue. And that was your training. You aimed at the drogue so you learned to use a gun, machine gun in in the air and you became a gunner.
JH: Was growing up on a farm, maybe you had a shotgun. Was that any help?
MB: Oh, well I certainly had a rifle as a fellow of twenty two. Used to shoot rabbits and things yes, but well, a machine gun is a bit different to a rifle [laughs]
JH: Yes. Okay. Well, so, what happened next? You crewed up and you converted to the Lancaster.
MB: Yes. Well, we as I say we arrived at Waddington in late May and at that time the big effort of Bomber Command was to make life difficult for the Germans to bring up troops and equipment to the Normandy area where the landing was to take place shortly after. So all my trips were to France in that sort of purpose. On D-Day morning for example we had been to the coast of Normandy bombing German gun emplacements and then we were flying back west of Cherbourg and I looked up the Channel and there were five thousand ships there. Amazing.
JH: So, you weren’t in on the secret that D-Day was, was on.
MB: No. But it was fairly obvious that things were going to happen because of the activities that went on. We had expected it to happen. Didn’t know just when.
JH: Yes.
MB: And our role was just to make life difficult for the Germans.
JH: Yes.
MB: To move up troops and equipment.
JH: Yes. That must have been an incredible sight seeing that huge armada heading, heading to Normandy. What, what, what was the crew, what was their feeling about seeing that? Must, must have felt pretty excited about it.
MB: Well, I guess everybody was excited that the thing was happening. They expected it to happen and there it was actually happening and then about four nights later on, actually four nights later, 10th, 11th of June our mission was to Orléans to bomb railway yards which we did. And then we were flying home west of, or north of Le Mans area when suddenly I saw great sheets of flame coming past my turret. Our aircraft was on fire. The port inner engine was the main one there. Then the port outer. And then the controls became difficult for the pilot and the engineer to handle. The pilot told the two gunners to get out of their turrets and throw overboard anything they could to lessen the weight of the aircraft because we were losing height fairly quickly. And this we did.
JH: And you had, you dropped the bombs at that stage.
MB: We had, yes.
JH: You were on the way back. Yeah.
MB: We bombed at, at Orléans and were going home. But the, as it became impossible to control and it looked as if we’d either crash or ditch in to the Atlantic if we kept going the pilot said to bale out, the crew to bale out. And they did. The two gunners were standing near the rear hatch which was open and the mid-upper gunner was the first. He had to, according to instructions sit there facing backwards and roll sideways. He did sit there and didn’t fall out so I gave him a shove and he fell out then on his way. I sat there and tried to do the same but without success. It think it was centrifugal force was holding me back in but fortunately I’d grown up on a farm using slip rails and whatever. I was quite capable of going through them so I quickly got back in to the fuselage and faced forward and rolled through the door, clear and floated down in the dark.
JH: So, so this was your first parachute jump.
MB: Yes
JH: I guess it’s something you can’t practice.
MB: No. No. And once was enough.
JH: Yes. So, what was the routine? Did you count so many seconds and then pull the cord? Or did it —
MB: Yes. You were supposed to count to —
JH: Open automatically.
MB: About ten. Ten. And I can’t remember what happened.
JH: Yeah.
MB: With the counting but I certainly pulled the rip cord.
JH: Yeah.
MB: And floated down.
JH: Yeah.
MB: The first thing I knew near the ground was the tree branches came past my face.
JH: Yeah.
MB: Because it was pitch black. You couldn’t see anything.
JH: Yes.
MB: And I landed safely.
JH: Could you see as you were coming down presumably you didn’t see or make contact with other crew members in this forest.
MB: No. I didn’t see the others at all.
JH: Yeah.
MB: I was the last one out and delayed by people —
JH: So, they were behind you.
MB: Who were having difficulty getting out.
JH: Yeah.
MB: The bomb aimer who was first out saw the aircraft crash. So, it happened —
JH: Yes.
MB: Pretty soon after.
JH: Yes, and unfortunately, I believe the pilot didn’t get out.
MB: No. I think —
JH: Yeah.
MB: He would have had trouble because of the centrifugal force.
JH: What was his name? Your pilot.
MB: Joe Fletcher.
JH: Fletcher. Yes.
MB: So, getting down in the dark I gathered my parachute together and stuffed it under some bushes.
JH: Yeah.
MB: And then walked off north.
JH: Yes.
MB: On the basis that the allies had landed up north and I knew sort of roughly where we were.
JH: How, how far do you think you were from the allied lines at that stage?
MB: Probably about a hundred and fifty kilometres.
JH: Yeah.
MB: Two hundred kilometres.
JH: A fair way. Yeah. Yeah. So, you, you had an escape kit which included a compass and —
MB: Yes.
JH: Some food.
MB: A little pack of a compass, you had a compass and we also had little buttons which were a compass. Fortunately, at high school in the leaving French class there was six of us and a local lady who was Swiss born had invited the students in the senior French class to come to her house one afternoon each week for one hour discussion. French conversation. We only spoke French once we walked in the front gate. So that was only eighteen months before so I still remembered. I could talk to the local farmers and get food and I swapped my uniform for farm clothes. Old farm clothes. And then I could walk in daylight as long as I kept away from the Germans.
JH: Did they give them to you? The French people. Or did you find them on the on the, on a clothes line somewhere.
MB: No. I did a swap.
JH: Okay.
MB: I swapped a very good uniform clothes.
JH: Right.
MB: For some old farm clothes.
JH: Okay.
MB: And yes, I walked north for the three weeks and came to a village of six houses. I could hear the front not too far away so I was close enough and found a French family who were friendly and initially got some milk to drink and then the lady was obviously friendly. She could see I was a stranger so I told her that I was an English airman on the run. I didn’t mention Australian because that didn’t mean a lot —
JH: Yes.
MB: To people in Europe at the time. So, we talked for a while and then she said I could hide in a barn on their farm which was about a kilometre away and told me how to get there. So, I did. Went down there, hid upstairs in this old barn and they used to leave out some food each night. I would go out and get it and hide again. And a week later the lad who worked on the farm came down early in the morning and said, ‘Get out quickly. The Germans are in the village.’ And they were. I took off in a hurry and was about a few fields away before two German Army men said, ‘Halten halt,’ and then, ‘Papier.’ I had no papers. I was immediately arrested, marched up to the local town which I remember the name of, La Ferriere-Harang and then questioned there by the Army. And they accepted that I was an airmen on the run, passed me over to the Luftwaffe people who then took me to Oberursel, near Frankfurt which was a big interrogation centre for airmen and after questioning and being photographed and fingerprinted I became Kreigsgafengen vierhundert zwei und dreissig Luft 7.
JH: How did you manage to convince them you were an airmen? Did you have your flying boots for example or —
MB: No. No. No. All I had really were the little metal discs. Identity discs that the Air Force used.
JH: Yes.
MB: That was a little bit of a problem really in that all the Army stuff was a plastic sort of material but the Australian Air Force had these little metal ones. Anyhow, they accepted my view fortunately.
JH: Yeah.
MB: I was lucky. Had I been three kilometres east I’d have been in SS territory.
JH: Yeah.
MB: They would have been [pause] like that.
JH: Not so sympathetic. Yeah.
MB: Yes.
JH: Yeah.
MB: So, at Oberusel after the initial questioning and fingerprinting and so on I was moved off to Bankau. The Stalag Luft 7 for NCO airmen, and went there with other people, other similar men. On the way I received a Red Cross parcel of clothing and toilet gear.
JH: You travelled there by train.
MB: By train.
JH: Yeah.
MB: Yes. Now, I arrived in the camp at Bankau on the 5th of August ’44, and initially we were in small huts. They were temporary huts. Of course, that camp had only started in June and Russian prisoners were building bigger barracks with rooms of bunks for us for winter accommodation and we moved in to there in October. I think it was the 13th of October ’44. It became quite cold and the icicles used to hang down from the guttering, or not the guttering but the eaves of the house and if you put a comb through your hair it went white with frost.
JH: Yeah.
MB: Straight away.
JH: Had you by then come across your fellow crew members along the way or at the camp?
MB: Well, three of them were waiting at the gate to see us arrive and saw me [laughs]
JH: Looking for you [laughs] Nice welcome.
MB: Two others had successfully evaded capture and returned to England and one of them cheerfully wrote to us in the camp and said, ‘Oh, I’m in London having a beer. I’ll think of you.’ [laughs]
JH: So, when was the first time your parents back in Victoria knew you were safe? Was that from Frankfurt when you were in the interrogation?
MB: Oh, I’ve just forgotten the date [pause] The system was that the German authorities advised the Red Cross in Geneva of airmen who were captured and the Red Cross then advised our Air Force people of our capture and we were in a prison camp and the Air Force people quickly advised the parents that their son was alive.
JH: Yes.
MB: And in a camp and they could relax because before that they only knew their son was missing.
JH: They got the “missing” telegram. Yeah.
MB: Yes.
JH: So what, when you arrived at the camp what was the culture like? Were people, you know digging tunnels or were they resigned to the fact that it could be over at some stage?
MB: I don’t think at that stage there was a lot of enthusiasm about digging tunnels because it was pretty obvious to us that it would be over before long. The Red Army was marching westward and the allies were advancing from France. So it was a matter of wait it out.
JH: Yes.
MB: And we’d be released.
JH: What would a typical day be in the camp?
MB: Well, in the morning we would receive some food and then we’d roll call about 9 o’clock, I think. And then we’d stand in rows and be counted. And then during the day we could walk around in the camp. We could play cards. We could play games. We could go to lectures on all sorts of subjects because many of the people in the camp were highly trained in some field or other. And then we would have an issue of soup each day and some potatoes. The roll call in the afternoon at about 5 o’clock but mostly the Germans left us alone as long as we stayed inside the trip wire. The trip wire was a wire about a foot off the ground about three metres or so from the big wire fences and as long as you stayed inside the wire you were safe enough. But step over it and they’d shoot. The main thing was not to get too much boredom. We had little trading tables. Cigarettes in the Red Cross parcels became the currency in the camps and you could trade cigarettes for food. For example, for a bar of chocolate. And the Red Cross parcels were really, made a lot of difference because they contained meat, milk, sugar, cheese, tea, coffee, chocolate, fruit, and that was a big help because the diet, the German diet was pretty meagre. Also, the Red Cross provided cards, games, writing materials, medical supplies or clothing. They made a very big difference. During the war I read that the Red Cross issued or sent some sixty million parcels to Geneva to be distributed back to POWs. Most of them came from Britain, Canada and USA. And they really made a big difference.
JH: Were you able to keep abreast of what was happening on the Fronts via, you know, illicit radios and so on?
MB: Yes. There was, there was a certain amount of information released to us.
JH: And new, new prisoners coming in would have news.
MB: Well, they would bring the news of the latest but also there was a radio in the camp and we got some word about various things.
JH: Yes.
MB: For example, how the Russians were going.
JH: Yeah. Let’s talk about the long march. Did you have any warning about this was coming up?
MB: Well, yes we did have. Towards the end of ’44 as the Red Army marched west we were alerted that we might have to move prisoners to, prisoners in Polish camps might have to move to Germany. So, we had Christmas in our camp and then in January, the 19th of January I think it was we had to -
JH: ’45. Yeah.
MB: ’45. Yes. We had to march out early in the morning.
JH: So, you had, you had a few hours notice.
MB: A couple of hours. Yes.
JH: A couple of hours. Yeah.
MB: We were told to pack up and be ready.
JH: Yeah.
MB: I think we were awakened, awakened about three o’clock in the morning and then had to be ready by five.
JH: Yeah.
MB: We didn’t actually move out straightaway but we did take off shortly after and marched off through the snow. Or I should say trudged off through the snow.
JH: Yes.
MB: And it began a very miserable journey because we had little food and little shelter on the way. The second night we were, we’d marched forty two kilometres and it was minus thirteen degrees temperature. But once we crossed the Oder it was a bit, well being a bit more slowly. Now, about three weeks on the road we were at a place called Goldberg and there we were crammed in to train trucks. So, about fifty five or so people per truck, standing room only and we’d been given food for two days but no water and then we started the three day journey to Luckenwalde, about fifty Ks south of Berlin.
JH: Yes. Were there streams of refugees, Germans heading —
MB: Oh yes.
JH: East. Heading west as well.
MB: When we were walking. When we were walking there were streams of old people and little kids, all heading back for Germany. Apparently, they’d been told to pack up and get out at short notice and they did and they would have had a terrible time.
JH: And so you ended up in Luckenwalde. Tell me a little bit about the conditions at that camp.
MB: We had a big hall like building that we were in. I think it might have been say four hundred men in that room. We had straw on the floor to sleep on and you had enough room for yourself to lie down and maybe a walkway here and there. And three of us had travelled together on the road. It was better that way because when we were in a barn if we were lucky to have a barn we would take it in turns to sleep in the middle because the one in the middle was warm. Put our blankets over ourselves. We didn’t take our boots off at night because they froze. It was difficult to get them on in the morning and the Germans didn’t give you much time. They’d come in with their snarling Alsatians.
JH: Yes.
MB: And fire a few bullets around the roof. So, we slept with our boots on.
JH: And what about people that were straggling in the column? How, how did the Germans treat them?
MB: They provided a wagon and a horse on the road we were walking one night. The worst night was that one. People who fell down, couldn’t walk they put them up on the wagon for a half an hour or so to recover. Our doctor, RAMC medico man, he told us as we, before we started, ‘Do not lie down and go to sleep. You will never wake up.’ And it would be true enough. You see, when you get exhausted in the cold it’s so easy just to go to sleep. Stay there.
JH: Just a, just the minute. The RAMC. What does that stand for?
MB: Royal Army Medical Corps.
JH: Yeah.
MB: Dr, oh I’m not sure of his name.
JH: Yes. So, how long were you in the Luckenwalde?
MB: Probably three or four weeks. We’d been one afternoon, or one day, I can’t remember the time of the day now but a couple of American war correspondents came in a jeep with big white stars on it and they, they called at the camp to pick up one of their friends who I think was also a war correspondent or something. And they said they would arrange for people to get trucks to take us out because we were only about forty miles from the Elbe River which was the boundary between American and Russian troops. And sure enough a few days later ambulances did come and took the sick people away for the hospital and then a few days later a whole lot of American trucks came early in the morning and nothing much happened. By lunchtime we were wondering if it would be possible to go in these trucks. Word came around that they were not going to be able to take us out so quite a lot of our people started to walk down the road towards the —
JH: American.
MB: River.
JH: American line.
MB: American line. It was only forty miles away. Now the three of us who were on the road together stayed together. We walked out because we got fed up with staying in the camp. We thought we could walk over there in a couple of days. So down we go on the road and there are people, and there are people streaming down the road. And then along came a Russian car followed by empty American trucks followed by a Russian car. They’d been, the Americans had been told that we were not allowed to go out and if they took us on the truck they’d intern the lot. Apparently there had been an agreement at Yalta that British or allied prisoners would go back via the Black Sea and they were holding it up on that basis. However, some of our people took off across country including the three of us. The others went back to camp. That night the three of us stayed in a little place called Treuenbritzen, and stayed with a German family overnight. And the next morning we go down the road heading towards the American line and along came a small Russian convoy of half a dozen trucks and we hitched a ride. Now, everybody at that stage were putting little flags on their shoulder and we’d made up little American flags with stars and stripes because the Russians knew the stars and stripes.
JH: Yeah.
MB: After all America gave them ten percent of their armaments. Now we were on these trucks we were heading for the Elbe. I didn’t speak any Russian. They didn’t speak English. I said to one of them waving my hands like wheeling a car. ‘Shoo’ and I said ‘shoo’, and I said ‘Forward. Forward.’ Like I knew the trucks. They dropped us off at a place called Zerbst, on the Elbe and there were hundreds of people there. All sorts of folk. Some wanted to go west across the Elbe but they couldn’t get over. The Russians wouldn’t let them. We spotted three American tanks with big white stars on them. We went over and said to the sergeant at the tank, ‘Can we get a ride back with you fellas?’ ‘Yeah, where you? What are you?’ We told him. He said, ‘Oh, get one on each of these tanks. Keep your heads down. Things aren’t too happy over there.’ Their tank guns were pointing across the square. The Red the Red Army tanks were the other way.
JH: The turf war going on.
MB: Oh, yes. So we did that and mid-afternoon we got back to the American camp only a few miles over the river. The thing that amazed me, the sergeant on the tank said to us, ‘Have you fellas had anything to eat?’ I said, ‘No.’ ‘Come with me.’ He took us over to the cookhouse, said to the sergeant cook, ‘These fellas haven’t had anything to eat. Got anything for them?’ ‘Oh, yes. Yes.’ He went over to a refrigerator, a huge refrigerator, opened the door, took out half a cooked chicken each. We scoffed. The next morning, we stayed overnight with them. The next morning we lined up in the chow line with the Americans. They had a tray system they put stuff on. I came along and the bloke doing flapjacks. I said, ‘I’ll have that one.’ He said, ‘Oh no. That’s stale.’ Threw it out. Made me another one. Amazing. Across the other side of the river people would have scrambled in the dirt for it.
JH: For that flapjack.
MB: Oh yes. But anyhow, they passed us on to other people and from there we were following through we were treated on the way for lice. Interesting technique. American fella, Army fella standing there with a big drum of powder and powder puffer thing and then he goes, ‘Pull up your shirt,’ and squirted down your front. Pulled up the front of your trousers and squirted down the back. Same down the back of your neck, same down the back of your trousers to stop the lice. It was probably DDT [laughs] but it worked. We got to Brussels and then flew back to England.
JH: With an RAF flight? Was it Lancasters going back?
MB: I don’t think it was the Lancaster. No. I think it was a Douglas DC3, I think.
JH: DC3. Yeah. Yeah. So did you end up in Brighton after that? That seemed to be.
MB: Yes.
JH: A lot of the POWs ended up in Brighton.
MB: Yeah. Yeah. We did.
JH: Yeah.
MB: We were all pretty lean.
JH: Yeah.
MB: I suppose. And the Australian Red Cross I suppose it was, they had a small, not a café but a sandwich bar. You could go in there any day, any time of the day and they had beautiful sandwiches. Corned beef and asparagus. Lovely fresh sandwiches. They wanted to build us up and they did. We enjoyed the pubs in Brighton.
JH: I bet you did. I think my father was there as well.
MB: Yeah.
JH: Yes. So, tell me, tell me how you ended up. How you actually got home from there.
MB: Oh, I came back on the Orion. A whole heap of us on the Orion and we arrived in Sydney and we’d been re-equipped with clothing and whatever and we had a day in Auckland on the way. No, not Auckland. Wellington I think. And then Wellington on the way. We came back via the Panama Canal as well. Came from Wellington to Sydney. Unloaded. Victorians were then put on a train down to Melbourne and were given a ride around the city in cars with people. We were welcomed. Then we were sent off on our leave at home. Met our parents.
JH: Colac.
MB: Yes.
JH: Yeah. What a journey.
MB: Yes. Well, now they’d be lucky.
JH: Okay. Well, let’s talk a little about what happened after that. Trying to pick up the pieces and looking at a career. And then later on a family.
MB: Yes. Well, having been in the camps I wanted to be in the open. I had in mind I’d like to start a poultry farm. In those days you could have a useful poultry farm about three thousand birds and my father said we could make land available we could put sheds on. But it wasn’t possible to buy any materials to build the sheds. Everybody wanted them for houses. So, it was suggested to me by some government advisor chappie that I could probably benefit by doing a training course. I’d already qualified for university because I’d started to study mathematics at Melbourne before I went off to the war and he said why don’t I do an agriculture course if I was going to be in poultry farming. And then I thought I’d be better doing Vet. Vet Science means I could move here or there or somewhere else if I wanted to. So I opted to do Vet Science and at that stage a requirement, a pre-entry requirement of that was physics. Physics, chemistry and English. Now, I had English and physics at leaving. I didn’t have chemistry because the school didn’t teach it and they said, ‘We can give you a year’s training in Melbourne if you like.’ So I went to Melbourne, to a Taylor’s training college, private little show and studied chemistry for a year and got that and then went off to Sydney to, to start the Vet course which was five years. And while there I had the good fortune to meet my wife who was a student doing medicine and we ended up we both qualified a day apart. She was a day ahead. Stayed ahead ever since. And, and then we were married about a year after our graduation and then our family came along in due course. Two beautiful girls who both continued their tertiary studies. Still are studying. And I then worked initially for a couple of years with the Department of Agriculture because I’d taken a traineeship with them in the last two years of my course. I was a bit short of chips at that stage. I could take a scholarship, a traineeship. All I had to do in return was work for two years with the Department which I did. Then transferred to what was known as the, in those days as the [unclear] Protection Board as a veterinary officer.
JH: Yes.
MB: And I spent the next thirty five years doing that. And my wife having graduated in medicine ended up being a general practitioner.
JH: Yes. And how did you, how did you keep up with the veterans and fellow air crew? Is that something that happened more recently or were you able to do that after your marriage.
MB: It wasn’t, well in Aubrey there wasn’t much chance in the organisation there. But our bomb aimer was in Canberra and he and I kept in touch. And sometimes I’d be able to go to Canberra to some function that the bomber people were having. Might be a squadron reunion or something like that. And then of course eleven years ago when we moved here to Port Kembla I was able to get involved much more with Bomber Command people in Sydney and attend things there.
JH: Yeah. I think 463 and 467 have been quite a strong group over the years.
MB: Yes. Yes. We used to have a Lady’s Day at —
JH: At Kalara.
MB: Kalara.
JH: Yes.
MB: And we would go there. My son in law and daughter.
JH: Yes.
MB: Would drive Ruth and myself up.
JH: My wife and I met you at that. We were on the same table. Yeah. That was a couple of years ago and my sister was over from England. Yes. You’re right. Well, that’s fantastic. That’s really interesting. I’d like to ask you about, you had a trip back to France and I think you were hoping to meet up with the French people that helped you evade capture.
MB: Oh yes. Yes. That was very interesting. In 1985 my wife and I went over to Europe to have a trip around and then visit our daughter and son in law in Cambridge, England. Son in law David spoke French quite well and I said to him I’d like to go over to Normandy in France to see if I could find those people who were so helpful to me because I remembered this little town and I’d looked it up on one of the maps. La Ferriere-Harang in Normandy. He said, ‘Yes, we’ll go over.’ So one Saturday morning we flew over to Le Havre, hired a car, Avis car, drove down to the area. We started talking to a lady in the front garden of her house and she wasn’t very interested but the lady across the street heard all this strange commotion and noise. She came over and she was quite interested and helpful and for a couple of hours she took us around. We found the farm. The little village was only about two kilometres, three kilometres away and I described the farm and the old barn, the old house. But the old house on the farm was vacant. Nobody in it. There was something there I’d never seen before. It was an alcove bed. Now, an alcove bed, there was a big sitting room, a living room. In the wall there was a cavity the size of a double bed. A curtain drawn across at the front. So, daytime it’s shut there and that’s the bedroom shut off. Night time back goes the curtain, inside, pull the curtain all sides. Warm inside. I described this old house on the map and anyhow it clicked. We found the place. The old house had been demolished. The new people were there and we had a few drinks together. I said to them, ‘I suppose the farmer and his wife who had this farm may have passed on.’ ‘Oh no. No. They’ve retired just recently. They live at —’ such and such. Only about twenty kilometres away. So, we got the address and drove over and they were delighted of course to know that I’d survived.
JH: Yes.
MB: And that began a friendship that’s continued ever since.
JH: Yeah. I should imagine that was quite an emotional moment.
MB: Oh yes. Yes.
JH: To see those people before you.
MB: Yes.
JH: And for them as well. Yeah.
MB: Oh yes. I’ve been back to though they’ve passed on now. I’ve been back four there four or five times to stay on their —
JH: Yeah.
MB: Son in law’s current farm.
JH: Yes.
MB: Yes.
JH: Quite a connection. Yes. Yeah.
MB: Well, yes and our granddaughter in England who speaks excellent French she’s been there a few times and over [unclear]
JH: Yes. That’s marvellous. It really is. Why don’t we finish off? I’d like to, this is a question we’re encouraged to ask is your thoughts on the treatment of Bomber Command aircrew post, post-war. You know, we’re talking about lack of campaign medal. What you thought of the area bombing and what you think of this resurgence that’s going on in in trying to interview as many veterans and the commemorations and so on. Some reflections in other words.
MB: Yes. Yes. There were a couple of disappointing aspects that come to mind. One was Churchill’s attitude. In the early stages of the war when bombing was the only thing you could do against the Germans he thought they were the best thing since sliced bread. But after the Dresden episode and the fuss and bother that was made it became politically unpopular. So he didn’t mention Bomber Command in his wartime end of speech, end of wartime speech. No mention. And the Brits are still reluctant to recognise much about Bomber Command. They haven’t awarded a campaign medal. They have reluctantly awarded a clasp to the ’39/45. That’s one aspect. The other one is that there were people in Australia who didn’t know anything about the attitudes and activities in England. In Europe. They were more interested in why we weren’t here helping keeping the Japanese at bay. We should be here. Not over there. But the, the wide view is that we had to defeat the Germans before we could defeat the Japs. And I think the work that Bomber Command did was quite, well worthwhile. It, if you take the number of people tied up in the German Army system, in anti-aircraft activity, if all those anti-aircraft guns had been on the Eastern Front shooting at Russian tanks it would have slowed the Red Army quite a bit and all the people involved there. Even the people, you know transports or whatever. So, I think the Bomber Command activities were well worthwhile. Sure some people unfortunately were killed in the process. Civilian people. But in wartime it happens. Now the, from what I’ve read the losses of life in Dresden were largely exaggerated by Germans. The true numbers seem to be more like twenty, between twenty three and twenty five thousand and not the great figures that Ribbentrop was talking about. I think the Americans had the better view in that they kept talking about bombing particularly oil installations and things like that whereas Bomber Harris was concentrating on knocking out cities. The Americans may have had an easier run because of that.
JH: And the French have been showing their appreciation, haven’t they with the —
MB: Oh yes.
JH: The Legion of Honour.
MB: Yes.
JH: Awards.
MB: Oh yes. The French have. They recently, in recent years have awarded their Legion of Honour Chevalier Level to people like myself who were involved in freeing France from German occupation.
JH: Congratulations on that award.
MB: Oh. Thank you. My involvement on D-Day was the thing that probably did that but they were most appreciative. It’s quite a beautiful little medal. You’ve seen it have you?
JH: Yes. Have you showed your friends in in France?
MB: No. I haven’t been over there. No.
JH: Yes.
MB: No.
JH: Maybe your next trip.
MB: No. I’m too long in the tooth now to make another trip. But the French were very appreciative of the help that we gave. Yes.
JH: Max, on that note why don’t we finish off? I really appreciate your time for this and I found it very interesting indeed and it’s been quite a story and thank you very much.
MB: My pleasure. Had to be lucky.
JH: Yes. Very lucky. Probably still recording. Where is it?



John Horsburgh, “Interview with Max Barry,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 20, 2024,

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