Interview with Frederick Arthur Bowman


Interview with Frederick Arthur Bowman


Frederick Bowman was born in Sydney in 1924. He was a member of the Air Training Corps, and when he was eighteen he joined the Air Force. He went to Kingaroy for basic training, and did his wireless course at Maryborough, and Evans Head for bombing and gunnery training. He arrived in UK at No. 11 Personnel Despatch & Receiving Centre RAAF in Brighton, and was posted to RAF Millom to the Advanced Flying Unit flying in Avro Ansons. He was posted to RAF Westcott where he crewed up, and was posted to 138 Special Duties Squadron based at RAF Tempsford where he flew on operations to Scandinavia. Close to the end of the war he joined Bomber Command on bombing operations flying in Lancasters, notably to attack the docks at Kiel which resulted in the sinking of the German Pocket Battleship the Admiral Scheer. He published his memoirs in a book titled, “You Will Be Too Young to Die.”




Temporal Coverage




00:59:00 audio recording


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ABowmanFA181121, PBowmanFA1801


JH: This is John Horsburgh and this afternoon I’m interviewing Fred Bowman and we’re at [buzz] in Sydney, New South Wales. This is part of the International Bomber Command Centre in Lincolnshire. The Oral History Project. Today is the 21st of November 2018. So, good afternoon, Fred.
FB: Good afternoon. How are you? Lovely to meet you.
JH: Likewise. So, a very interesting interview we’ve, we’ve got coming up I’m sure. Fred was a wireless operator with 138 Squadron and Fred, maybe we can start with, right from the beginning. Your date of birth and where were you born.
FB: 17th of June 1924. Born in Paddington in Sydney.
JH: And you went to school in Sydney.
FB: Yeah. Sydney Boys High.
JH: A Sydney boy.
FB: Yeah.
JH: All through.
FB: And I made up my mind. I just didn’t, this business of running around sticking bayonets into people didn’t appeal to me. So I made up my mind that I was going to join the Air Force when I turned eighteen [laughs] and so I did.
JH: And was that because you were in the —
FB: Yes. Yes.
JH: When you were growing up.
FB: Yeah. Yeah. Yes. That’s that was.
JH: Yeah.
FB: I had this interest in it, you know. Like most boys of that age, nineteen, twenty, they all imagined themselves to be Paddy Finnucane or somebody, you know. He was a fighter ace. I don’t know whether you remember the name, do you? Paddy Finucane.
JH: No. I don’t. I have heard about it.
FB: Yeah.
JH: But I can’t remember any details to be quite honest.
FB: So that’s where it all started.
JH: So, you were following the progress of the war. So what made you join up and when did you do that?
FB: Well, I knew after I joined the ATC and everything. Of course, when you turn eighteen, if you don’t join up in the Air Force or the Navy or something they conscript you in to the Army and I couldn’t imagine myself in the Army sticking bayonets in people so [laughs] So I, for my eighteenth birthday I went down to Bourke Street or somewhere. Somewhere in Sydney and signed on the dotted line. And most of the call ups were on a, for a Saturday and I got this one for the Thursday and they said my name had been accepted and so the next move is that you’ll be sent up to Kingaroy in Queensland to do your ATS, and the train leaves at, sets off at half past seven tonight and you’re on it.
JH: That’s unusual, going to to Kingaroy rather than —
FB: Yes.
JH: New South Wales.
FB: They must have been short of numbers you know to make up the intake. So I finished up in Kingaroy in November and the dirt and the red mud and the red dust. Shocking climate.
JH: And what sort of training were you doing at Kingaroy?
FB: You don’t do any flying at Kingaroy. It’s all ground stuff, you know, medical stuff and discipline and all that sort of thing.
JH: Some square bashing.
FB: Square bashing. That’s right. There was no flying at all until we went to Maryborough to do the wireless course, and they, you get flying instruction in the, in a Wackett trainer. A little single engine thing. Used to be a sort of a, do a competition amongst the crews there to see which of the first one that would have to do a crash landing because these things [laughs] they wouldn’t last. They were always sort of having to have a forced landing somewhere. These little CAC trainers there.
JH: So this would have been, correct me if I’m, if I’m wrong, in 1943.
FB: Yeah.
JH: This second training. And —
FB: The end of 1942 I went.
JH: ’42.
FB: Went to —
JH: Kingaroy.
FB: Kingaroy.
JH: Yes. Yes. And I presume you would have been hearing some of the stories of the Bomber Command effort.
FB: Oh yes.
JH: In Europe.
FB: Yes.
JH: Did that put any second thoughts in your mind?
FB: Well, it didn’t put any negative thoughts in there because you thought you’d, you know, ‘I’m here to win the war.’
JH: Invincible. Yeah. Yes.
FB: Personally.
JH: Yes. And —
FB: You just think you were [pause] you were just quite sure that you were going to survive it all and that’s it.
JH: Yes. But tell me a little bit about the final training. Maybe you did some gunnery training as well.
FB: Yes. We finished up. We did our wireless course and [pause] at Maryborough in Queensland and then we went on to Evans Head. That was the Bombing and Gunnery School there and they were flying Fairey Battles. One plane would have a drogue, dragging a drogue and then the guns that we were using were from the First World War. A Vickers GO Gun. GO meaning gas operated and two, two gunners went up in this plane and they used to, your bullets were in a round canister sort of thing with the tips exposed and I dipped mine. Two of us went up. They dipped the tips of these things in red for you and blue for me, and they could then work out how many hits you’d got with this Vickers GO gun thing. And that was our gunnery course at Evans Head.
JH: So it sounds like you passed that ok.
FB: Oh yeah.
JH: Main colours as they say.
FB: The worst part of it was the smell of that glycol. It’s a sort of a, like a burnt oil smell. Boy, it makes you feel a little bit ill just smelling it.
JH: Fred, at what point did you learn that you were being posted in, in Europe rather than the Pacific campaign?
FB: Well, when, when you finished up at Evans Head that was your last training post. And I think they told us right then that we were going to get leave and we’d be issued with another uniform I think and, and said, ‘You’re going to be posted to the UK.’ Joining Bomber Command over there. We didn’t think that was terrible. ‘We’ll fix Hitler,’ you know [laughs] ‘We’ll, fix Hitler.’
JH: Sure. So I assume an adventurous trip to the UK.
FB: Yeah.
JH: By steamer.
FB: Yeah. Straight across. We went across the Atlantic. Not the Atlantic. We went across the Pacific on the Matsonia which was a cruise ship. American cruise ship. No escort. It just did a few sort of zigzags as it went across. Went across. Went across the Pacific to San Francisco and then they put us on a train in San Francisco and we went across America by train in a sleeper. Lovely.
JH: And how many of you were there in the group?
FB: I think that course there was fifty of us I think in that course. Fifty Australians. And we went across to leave and had a week’s leave in New York. Spent every penny we had plus drew some of the next week’s pay and [laughs]
JH: Yes.
FB: Really whooped it up.
JH: Then you had to run the gauntlet crossing the Atlantic.
FB: That’s right. That’s right. The first thing we saw when we got, took us to the, in the, whatever the docks are in New York I just forget what they are there was the Lusitania that was scuttled or something in in, in the harbour. And as you get on to the boat the Queen, we went across on the Queen Elizabeth at that point and you get on there, you look straight down and here’s the remains of the Lusitania on its side. A very nice welcome, you know. This could happen to you.
JH: Back to reality. Yeah. Yes.
FB: This went across the Pacific, across the Atlantic on its own, just zigzagging.
JH: Zigzagging. Yeah.
FB: But no, no escort. We never saw any allied planes or allied —
JH: Yes.
FB: Boats or anything. Just should be alright mate.
JH: Yeah. So was that to Liverpool?
FB: No.
JH: Or up to Scotland?
FB: Greenock.
JH: Greenock. Yes.
FB: Greenock in Scotland. Yes.
JH: Yes. And still you had no idea exactly where you were going to be posted or what squadron at that stage.
FB: Not at that stage. Then you were sent, the Australians had a holding camp over there. Listen to this. A holding camp over there called 11 PDRC. Personnel Dispatch and Reception Centre, and do you know where this camp was? Where the, where the 11 PDRC was?
JH: No.
FB: It was in the, in fact it was in two hotels. Two of the best hotels in Brighton [laughs] Right on the sea front. You could look out your window and there was the sea front and all that. You weren’t allowed on to the seafront of course but that was the 11 PDRC. We thought how long has this been going on? And then, and the town was not open to civilians so we had all the town to our, to our own self. The town of Brighton. And we had a ball there.
JH: And then the Nissen huts was it?
FB: No. No. We were staying in these two hotels.
JH: Yeah.
FB: The Grand and the Metropole.
JH: Yes.
FB: But then after the war, well first of all we’d been there a few weeks, they said, ‘Listen, you blokes need a bit of toughening up.’ So they sent us up to a toughening up course at Whitley Bay that was run by the RAF Regiment. The RAF Regiment was a sort of a semi-army unit.
JH: Yeah.
FB: Operated by the RAF, and it was a toughening up school. You know, running up and down on the seaside.
JH: Sergeant majors. Yeah.
FB: With your signet on.
JH: Yes.
FB: Yeah. 11 PDRC.
JH: Yeah. So, so from there did you go to an OTU?
FB: Well, the first one you go to is an AFU.
JH: AFU. Yeah.
FB: That was at Millom. You go up there and just flying in an Avro Anson and getting accustomed to British radio expertise and so on and that. So that was about adjusting to English sort of operational —
JH: Yes.
FB: Conditions.
JH: And at what stage did you crew up? Was that after that?
FB: Yes. From OTU. No. Not OTU. From AFU they sent you to an OTU.
JH: Yeah.
FB: And that was down in Bed, yes in Bedfordshire and the CO came straight out when we got there. He said, ‘Now, look,’ he said, ‘The way we do this — ’ he said, is we all, you sort of get together at the White Angel Hotel or something in Aylesbury.
JH: Yeah.
FB: And you, you know talk around the blokes and you say, you know, you’re a wireless operator or I’m a navigator and how about crewing up? And so you crew up.
JH: Yeah.
FB: And they said, ‘It’s not binding. When you wake up the next morning and say, ‘I couldn’t possibly fly for that bastard, [laughs] So what?’ The raids were just cancelled. You were, you crew up again with somebody else.
JH: I wonder where it was in Bedfordshire.
FB: Oakley. Oakley and Westcott.
JH: Oh, ok. Yes. Yeah.
FB: Westcott was the holding —
JH: Yes.
FB: Station.
JH: Yeah. And was this not just Australians. This was British and —
FB: British and —
JH: Commonwealth.
FB: New Zealanders. Yeah.
JH: Yes. Yeah. Ok.
FB: South Africans. We had South Africans on the squadron.
JH: Yes. Yes.
FB: All on the OTU.
JH: Yes. And, and then how did you end up at, in Tempsford with the squadron?
FB: Well —
JH: How did that happen?
FB: I really don’t know whether we were asked to do it or not but we had a very conscientious bomb aimer and bomb aiming was very [pause], good bomb aiming was very necessary because we did a lot of map reading. But we were doing mostly low level trips into the occupied countries. Very low level. And so the bomb aimer used to go down in to the nose and then he’d actually map read.
JH: Yes.
FB: Map read.
JH: Not the navigator. The bomb aimer.
FB: The bomb aimer. Yeah. The navigator would keep the overall —
JH: Yes.
FB: Navigation but the bomb aimer would be specific. He’d be sitting in the nose.
JH: Yes.
FB: And he’d be directing the pilot.
JH: Yes.
FB: ‘Left. Left. Right. Right.’ And so on.
JH: So, I mean the reason I asked about that is that you ended up with a very unusual almost top secret.
FB: Yeah.
JH: Squadron.
FB: We were.
JH: And maybe that was one of the factors in the, in the selection of your crew.
FB: Yeah.
JH: Do you think it was?
FB: I’m sure. I’m sure our bomb aimer, our bomb aimer was one of those conscientious blokes. He wanted to be, he wanted to be involved and he was very very capable of map reading and so forth. He had all the attributes. So I’m sure he had something to do with it.
JH: Yes.
FB: And so we were just, when that finished we were posted to Tempsford.
JH: Yes. So, so what was it? How did you get there? You ended up in Bedford or Cambridge and then across to Tempsford.
FB: Well, I don’t know what, what trains or anything.
JH: Yes.
FB: If we couldn’t make it, find you somewhere to sleep for the night and they tell you nothing and it’s not until the next day that they get you assigned and tell you exactly what’s going on at Tempsford and the secret work they’re doing and all very hush hush, and hush hush and don’t say a word to anybody. So whether, I’ve got an idea our bomb aimer might have sort of asked a few questions as to whether we could go on this special duties squadron. He was that sort of a guy. So that’s where we finished.
JH: How different was it to other bases do you think? Presumably there wasn’t a signpost, “SOE —“
FB: No. No.
JH: “This way.”
FB: Well, I suppose the main difference was that it was all single flights. You’d be in a different crew to me and you’d be in a target to Norway. I might be out that night and I might be on a target up to Denmark and you didn’t know. But I didn’t tell you where I was going and you didn’t tell me where you were going. It was all terribly secret stuff.
JH: So —
FB: Say nothing.
JH: Yes.
FB: Don’t tell anybody sort of thing.
JH: Yes. So what, what sort of aircraft were used for these operations?
FB: Well, at that stage we had our first, the first operational aircraft we went on to were Stirlings because they were doing all low levels to the Resistance movements. We were only flying at a few hundred feet.
JH: Yes.
FB: And we used the treetops and so —
JH: Is it true you only went out on, you know like full moon?
FB: Yeah.
JH: Or moonlight.
FB: Yeah. That’s right.
JH: Yes.
FB: Well, you had to you see. Which was more important? You did your [pause] going, go out on a moonlit night so as you can see where you’re going and low level. You know, you had no accompanying, no accompanying planes with you. You were on your own, low level and there was no fighter escort or anything. You was just low level from here. It’s a long haul from Tempsford up to somewhere in Norway and you burst. You, well it’s hard to believe but when you leave Tempsford it’s all low level from then on ‘til you get to the drop zone, and it’s, you know, you actually, your objective is a field no bigger than a paddy field. And that’s where the drop zone is and that’s where the Resistance guys are. And you, if you think you’ve got to the drop zone they can hear you coming. The Resistance group can hear you coming and they’ll come out and flash a torch. A signal. And you, you just opened your bomb doors and let the stuff go and wave them goodbye and off they go and get rid of it the best way they can.
JH: I would guess the Germans on full moon or moonlit nights would be —
FB: Watching.
JH: On full alert.
FB: Watching for it. Yeah.
JH: And would, did they ever try and decoy these signals?
FB: Yes. They would. Yeah. They would. Yeah.
JH: Yes.
FB: We never struck it.
JH: Yes. So this was dropping off agents I presume.
FB: And supplies.
JH: Parachuting. And supplies.
FB: And supplies. Yeah.
JH: Were you on operations? I guess a smaller aircraft where you actually land and picked up people?
FB: Well that’s, that was, we were 138 Squadron based at Tempsford.
JH: Yeah.
FB: And there was 161 Squadron based at Tempsford and they were flying Hudsons.
JH: Hudsons. Yeah.
FB: Which was a twin engine —
JH: Yes.
FB: Plane. They wouldn’t land unless it was, it would have to have the proper provisions for them to land.
JH: Yeah.
FB: The main planes they were flying in, these were mainly operations in to France was a, was a Lysander.
JH: Single engine is that?
FB: Yeah. It was a single engine.
JH: Yes.
FB: And that would actually land and drop off these Joes in a field. Or pick them up and take them back to Tempsford. They would actually land on the —
JH: Yes. So, that was 161 also.
FB: Yeah.
JH: Not 138. Yeah. Yeah. Yes.
FB: 138 was confined to the Stirlings, and 161 had the Hudsons and the —
JH: Yes.
FB: The Hudsons and Lysanders there.
JH: I would guess the problem for the Lysander if they’re landing and get stuck in the, in the field.
FB: Well —
JH: Did that ever happen?
FB: Not that I know of.
JH: No.
FB: I suppose they could have picked a muddy field.
JH: Yeah.
FB: You had to put in a report when you got back from these operations as to what, what you thought of the landing site that they’d given you. Whether you thought it was suitable for future. For use.
JH: Yes.
FB: Or whether it was a little bit dickie or so on so —
JH: Yes.
FB: There was full cooperation with, with the Army and the other [unclear] concerned —
JH: Yes.
FB: As to whether it was going to work or not.
JH: Yes.
FB: There’s some funny stories come out of it. I don’t know whether you’ve heard this one or not but [laughs] they had one where, I could go back to the start. Yes.
JH: Tell me a bit about the agents. I I would think that you didn’t know their names, for example.
FB: No. You —
JH: You couldn’t really talk to them too much.
FB: Yeah. You could talk to them. You could talk to them. We spent the night with one in particular. We took him over to Denmark and we came back, heading back to England across the North Sea and we had a radio message to say, ‘Don’t go back to Tempsford. Go to Lossiemouth.’ Up in the north of Scotland. So we went to Lossiemouth and just put us all, the whole seven crew plus this agent, they put us all into one hut and we had a great old talk to this bloke about it. We said to him, ‘Well, what happens when you, when you, if they catch you.’ He said, ‘Well, first of all— ’ he opened up his coat and he had this great big Luger pistol in his, in his coat and he said, he said, but he said, ‘They’ll interrogate me,’ he said, ‘They’ll torture me to find out more.’ He said, ‘Then when they are finally satisfied they’ll shoot me.’ He said, ‘I am not covered by the Geneva Convention in regard to prisoners of war.’
JH: Yeah.
FB: Because it’s not a, it’s not a wartime project that that they’re on. So I don’t know what the Germans would have categorised them as but they would just shoot them when they’d finished with them.
JH: Yes. Well, what about you and the crew, Fred? If you were shot down and captured by the Germans if, if they had any inkling that you were involved in special operations was there a feeling that you could get, could get harsher treatment from the Germans?
FB: I don’t know what happened. Some of my friends were taken POW but I don’t know. I’ll say this for the Germans they stuck by the rules of warfare, you know. They stuck by the, whatever the Geneva Convention said about that. The Germans stuck by it. They were very, well, they were a military nation and if that’s the way it should be done that was the way it was going to be done but —
Other: Mr Bowman.
FB: Yes.
Other: Oh, hi John.
JH: Hello.
Other: Happy hour upstairs Mr Bowman.
FB: Oh, I wouldn’t mind.
Other: You can bring your friend upstairs.
JH: Yeah. We’re just doing an interview then we’ll come up.
Other: You can carry on drinking as well while you’re interviewing.
FB: You’re trying to lead me astray aren’t you?
Other: Or maybe the other way around.
JH: [laughs] Thank you.
FB: Oh, deary me.
JH: Ok, I’ll leave that in there Fred. Yeah. Yeah. Well, we were talking about you had some friends that were captured and you know in general the Germans were, were pretty good.
FB: Yes. They were.
JH: Yeah. Yeah.
FB: They stuck to the rules of the game.
JH: Yeah. One thing I’d like to ask you. I think you’ve touched on it is, is the number of countries that you went out to on these operations. You mentioned Norway.
FB: Norway. Denmark. Norway.
JH: And France would have featured quite a bit —
FB: Denmark, France, Holland mainly.
JH: Holland and Belgium. Yeah. Yeah.
FB: But I didn’t become operational until July 1944.
JH: Yeah.
FB: Of course, in July 1944 it was all France.
JH: Yes.
FB: But then as, as the British Army swept across France the operations converted then up to Norway and Denmark.
JH: Yes.
FB: Which was a long way away.
JH: So were you kind of following the lines? Keeping ahead of the, the front lines in operations to some extent.
FB: Yes. Yes. Yes. There was no point in getting behind them. You had to be in front. We had to be in front of them all the time and they had a special identification. They had armbands. I’ve got one sat in the window frame there. You’ll see it. The Cross of Lorraine. And there were armbands that we dropped to the Resistance movements and they had the Cross of Lorraine and when they decided that they would come out and surrender. Well, not surrender but join up with the advancing —
JH: Yeah.
FB: British and American armies. That they would wear these armbands to say that they were friends and —
JH: Yes. So the nature of the operations sounds like it was changing. The Resistance. As the front lines were going east they became more open.
FB: Yeah.
JH: More overt. The Resistance.
FB: Well, towards the end of that stage the only two German occupied countries left were Norway and Denmark, the others had all been liberated.
JH: Yes.
FB: And that’s when they, that’s when they said to us, ‘Oh, listen fellas. You’ve been [bludging] around for too long. We’re going to stick you on main force.’ [laughs]. So we finished up at a Lancaster Finishing School.
JH: That’s interesting. Just before we get on to that I read somewhere that the peak effort with the SOE work was about June, July ’44 which is —
FB: Yeah.
JH: Which was when you arrived there.
FB: Started there. Yeah.
JH: So it was full on then.
FB: Yes. Yeah.
JH: And so these operations were there occasions where you go out to say some, some target field in France and you couldn’t find the target area? Or you know, did you hit the target area every time?
FB: Not every time. No. No. You see, it could be any number of reasons. The whole drop area, drop zone might have been taken over by the Germans. They might have found them and no doubt they shot them and so that was one reason. They [pause] but —
JH: So a pretty good success rate to your, your missions.
FB: Well, I think we did. Yes.
JH: Yeah.
FB: I mean we didn’t have any of this flash blooming navigational equipment that they’ve got today.
JH: Yes.
FB: And we actually had to find, say in Norway an actual paddock. And in the bushes around that paddock was the Resistance group waiting. Waiting to hear an aeroplane.
JH: Yes.
FB: A Stirling coming. And then when they were identified as being a Stirling they’d come out and start waving to you. We’d make the drop and off we’d go. So —
JH: Was there radio contact with the people on the ground?
FB: There could have been. There was what they called S phones I think they called them.
JH: Yeah.
FB: But we never used it.
JH: Yeah.
FB: But, but we did carry this sort of portable phone to contact them but we never saw any reason to have to use it so —
JH: It would be quite dangerous I should think, communicating with the ground crew with the Germans trying to vector in.
FB: Yeah. No thanks.
JH: Yeah. Yeah.
FB: It opens up too many avenues.
JH: Yeah. So, of all those operations, Fred maybe give me one or two examples of ones that really stick out for whatever reason.
FB: Well, I think at that time when we dropped those two Norwegians in to Norway stands out in my mind.
JH: Just finding them. Finding the place to start with.
FB: And they did.
JH: And that’s a long, one long trip.
FB: Normally there’s somebody to meet them but they said, ‘No. Nobody will meet us. You get to the drop zone, where you think the drop zone is and kick us out.’ You know, out you go. ‘And we’ll find our destination from there.’ They carried their skis with them. They were sent out when they were shot out of the aircraft and they just teamed up with somebody that they would have gone to. So we had to be a hundred percent accurate when we were dropping so as they knew where they were.
JH: Yes.
FB: And knew which way to go to meet up with their, with their mates.
JH: Yes.
FB: And the next day SOE contacted us and said that the drop was successful.
JH: Yes.
FB: They were landed safely. You got them in the right place and everything else.
JH: Yes.
FB: So we were rather pleased with that. And that, that same people that I made contact with after the war.
JH: Yes.
FB: Mr and Mrs, well he was Mr Fosse.
JH: Yeah.
FB: I just, through the Norwegian Embassy in Canberra and they told, told me that yes they had got in touch with Mr Fosse. First of all to see whether he was happy to talk to me and he said, ‘Yes, I am.’ He said, ‘But I’m deaf. I’m not very good but my wife could take all the messages.’ And so I got on the phone to Norway and this voice answered the phone. A woman. And I said like a couple of, you know. She only speaks Norwegian so this is going to be a bit of a problem [laughs] So, I said, ‘Oh, are you Mrs Fosse?’ ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘Well, look, Bowman’s my name.’ I said, ‘You’ve probably been expecting a call from me.’ She said, ‘Yes. Yes.’ I said, ‘Oh, I can’t speak Norwegian,’ I said and so, you know, ‘What do we do? Speak English?’ She said, ‘Don’t worry, mate,’ she said, ‘I’m a Scot.’ [laughs] So, I said, ‘Look, that’s great. That’s great,’ I said, ‘So my name’s Fred. What’s your name?’ Whatever it was. And we had a great old conversation and he was sitting down beside her and I asked about the drop and she said it was spot on.’ She said, ‘They landed in the snow and it sloped down towards a lake.’
JH: Yeah.
FB: She said they would have rolled down that snow in to the lake, she said only they came up against a tree which saved them from [laughs] saved them from freezing to death. Honestly, I had a great conversation with her.
JH: Yeah. Did you ever meet up face to face?
FB: Not meet up.
JH: No.
FB: But I had a lot of, a lot off the telephone conversations.
JH: Yeah. How marvellous.
FB: Yeah.
JH: Yeah.
FB: Yeah.
JH: Gosh. Yeah.
FB: That’s why. So she was the one I said that, I said that sort of Mr Fosse went up to the north of England to do his training to become an agent and he met this girl and he went back after the war.
JH: Yes.
FB: And married her.
JH: What a story.
FB: They got married.
JH: What a story.
FB: Yeah.
JH: Yeah. Well, Fred, why don’t we move on to when you went on to heavy bomber conversion. Lancaster conversion. What, what happened there?
FB: Well, the [pause] at that stage when we did that all the other work, the other type of work was, was finished, you know. I mean virtually the whole of occupied Europe except Norway and Denmark had been relieved or released or whatever the word is.
JH: Liberated. Yeah.
FB: Liberated. Yeah.
JH: Yeah.
FB: And they said to us, well look, you know, over you go to Main Force Bomber Command. So we went and did a conversion course up at Blyton I think it was.
JH: Yes. Was this the end of ’44 or 1945 now?
FB: No. 1945.
JH: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
FB: And so we went up there and did this conversion course on to, on to Lancasters and joined Main Force which was an entirely different thing because on this special duties thing that we were doing with the drop zones in to the Resistance movements was all low level and of course the other Bomber Command is all twenty thousand feet.
JH: In formation. Yeah.
FB: Oh no. Not formation. When I say not form, not the strict formation that the Americans used to do.
JH: Yes.
FB: You [pause] it’s a sort of a loose formation. You sort of congregate up around the Wash somewhere and you don’t fly in formation but you leave there in a group.
JH: Yes.
FB: And they used to divide at least, suppose there were six hundred planes on a job
JH: A stream. Yeah.
FB: There might be four meeting up times.
JH: Yeah.
FB: You say, you know when there was one group and then another ten minutes later the next group of that group sort of —
JH: Yes.
FB: Come to the fore and —
JH: Yeah. So, so were you assigned to a new squadron or was it your squadron en masse?
FB: No. No. It was our squadron there.
JH: Yeah. Ok.
FB: Which of course, it was, it was our squadron and they sent us to a new base. [unclear] Anyway, it was, it was a new base.
JH: Was it Lincolnshire or in Cambridgeshire?
FB: No. No. East Anglia. We had Cambridge groups.
JH: Yes.
FB: Bury St Edmunds. That sort of area.
JH: Was this Number 3 Group.
FB: Yes. All Number 3.
JH: Yeah. Still Number 3.
FB: Yeah.
JH: Yeah. Yeah.
FB: But as I say all the operations were initiated by SOE but Bomber Command —
JH: Yes.
FB: As such didn’t come into it.
JH: Yes. What the hardened bomber, Bomber Command crews what did, what did they make of you guys coming out of the blue?
FB: There was a little bit of a [laughs] there was what you might call a settling in period [laughs]
JH: Yes.
FB: Because we went over. Oh, I forget where we were based then, and of course this bomber crew was already, you know was already there and we were the sort of new boys on it.
JH: Yeah.
FB: The new boys. A lot of bloody skites you are.
JH: Yes.
FB: The usual story.
JH: So, was it sorted out in the pub?
FB: Yeah.
JH: On the dartboard.
FB: Oh yeah. It doesn’t take long. The old, the old pub solves a lot of problem. You probably asked me that question, I think. How you crewed up? Did you?
JH: Yes, I did. Yes. You went to the pub.
FB: Went to the pub.
JH: Yeah. Yeah. Not a bad place to start.
FB: I mean the CO told you to do that. He said, ‘Go to the pub. Meet up, crew up and if you wake up the next morning and say, ‘I couldn’t possibly fly with that so and so, just tell them you can’t. You won’t be joining the crew.’ And find somebody else.
JH: These, these days you’d do psychological profiling and see who matches up.
FB: Oh yes. There would be a lot of, a lot of tests.
JH: Yes. Yes. So, so, so you got on to some operations from there.
FB: Yes, we did. We did. Funny, I think we only did three or four bombing operations.
JH: Yes.
FB: It, it was right at the finish of the war.
JH: Yes.
FB: And, but we, we did one that was probably worth recording.
JH: Yes.
FB: And it was to Kiel.
JH: Submarines. Yeah. Submarine pens.
FB: Kiel. Kiel Harbour.
JH: Yeah.
FB: They said, they said —
JH: Yeah.
FB: We were bombing dock installations and so on.
JH: Docks. Yes.
FB: So we went to Kiel and we were making our run in and the Pathfinders had been there ahead of us and so forth and the, all of a sudden we had this terrific explosion or something go underneath us because we were about twenty thousand feet.
JH: Yes.
FB: And this explosion would have been on the ground. Anyway, we got back and reported it to intelligence at the interrogation and they said, ‘Oh, all the crews are talking about this.’ Anyway, so a day or so later the headlines, “RAF sink the German pocket battleship the Admiral von Scheer in Kiel Harbour.” Somebody, some plan ahead of us must have dropped the bomb down the funnel.
JH: Down the funnel. Yeah.
FB: And up she blew in Kiel Harbour.
JH: Yes.
FB: Boy. Yeah.
JH: Yeah. And in those operations I’m, I’m guessing that the fighters and the flak were manageable at that stage.
FB: Oh yes. It had eased off considerable. I mean, I’d have hated to have been doing the same operation in 1943 as what we were doing in early 1945. Early 1945 the Germans were —
Other 2: Sorry Fred.
FB: That’s alright.
Other 2: Come up for a drink you two if you like.
FB: Pardon?
JH: Yes. So, so then it was all over I guess pretty soon after that. Were you in any operations bringing the POWs back?
FB: Yeah.
JH: Or Operation Manna.
FB: Yeah. Manna.
JH: For example. Yeah.
FB: Yeah. We were in the one, the one bringing the POWs back was called Exodus, wasn’t it?
JH: Yes.
FB: Yeah.
JH: Exodus. That’s it.
FB: That we flew them back from Juvencourt.
JH: You might, you might have flown my father back.
FB: Oh, for goodness sake.
JH: He was a POW. Yeah.
FB: We flew a lot of Sikhs back.
JH: Yes.
FB: And they were very very disciplined too and I, one came up to me with a little box brownie which was quite illegal [laughs] And I said, ‘You line up. You line up there and I’ll take a photograph of you.’ Oh, he yelled out two few commands and this whole group, twenty four I think we took, yes so they all lined up outside the aircraft.
JH: Yes.
FB: And —
JH: And what about Operation Manna in Holland.
FB: Manna. Yes. That was, that was very interesting. That was —
JH: Yeah.
FB: That was dropping the food into, into Holland.
JH: Yes.
FB: And it was all dropped. Mostly it was either in sacks.
JH: Yes.
FB: Where they had just, we dropped them on to a muddy football oval or something and something went falling into the mud didn’t do any damage to them.
JH: Yes.
FB: And then we just dropped them there and, and went on our way. But the thing that struck me was the first one we did the war hadn’t finished. It was a couple of days before the war finished.
JH: Yes.
FB: But the Dutch people arranged with the German High Command or something to allow us to go ahead and drop this food.
JH: Yeah.
FB: To the Dutch people and the Germans said, ‘Yes, we’ll let you go in but you’ve got to keep at a certain height.
JH: Yes.
FB: You’ve got to have your guns pointing northwards.
JH: Yeah.
FB: And do this. Do this.
JH: Yes.
FB: You get one warning signal otherwise bang bang.
JH: I’ve read about this. I’ve read about this.
FB: Yeah.
JH: Yeah.
FB: And, and the thing I that always remember the first time we went and the war hadn’t finished. They had to, before the war officially finished over there and the Germans were in command and it was all done very Germanic, you know. Disciplined. The next day we went after that the Germans had gone. They’d said, let’s get back to Germany and the Dutch people had taken over.
JH: Yes.
FB: And along an embankment as we flew in on the starboard side on an embankment they’d put, they’d got old sheets of paper or just sheets of —
JH: Yes.
FB: Bedding sheets or something and they had this sign up, “Thanks RAF.” And, and honestly that sort of brought tears to your eyes to think of it, you know.
JH: Yes.
FB: One of the very few decent jobs of Bomber Command, I think.
JH: Yes. Well, my wife and I used to live in Holland in the ‘70s and we met people that still talked about Operation Manna.
FB: Yeah.
JH: Because there was absolutely no food.
FB: That’s right.
JH: They were eating, they were eating tulip bulbs, and they were very thankful of this Operation Manna. These people we talked to.
FB: But I’ve never forgotten that sign. It was quite big letters.
JH: That would have —
FB: “Thanks RAF,” you know.
JH: Yeah.
FB: That’s the first time any, anybody’s thanked us for what we’d been doing [laughs]
JH: That’s as good as a campaign medal.
FB: Yeah.
JH: Well, tell me a little about what happened then. I know, I know a lot of Bomber Command air crew especially the Aussies all went down to Brighton at some stage.
FB: That’s right.
JH: And my, my father went down. He was there on his honeymoon.
FB: Yeah.
JH: And he met up with his mates from prison camp.
FB: Oh, for goodness sake.
JH: So my mother wasn’t that impressed because they were down the pub.
FB: Yeah.
JH: On their honeymoon.
FB: I agree with your mother [laughs] Yeah. N [pause] Yes they were, they sent us to a place called Gamston I think it was. Gamston, somewhere. It was a holding unit and we just, they said to us, ‘You can go on leave. You can go on leave for as long as you like as long as you keep us informed where you’re going.’ So we had free rail travel and —
JH: Marvellous. Yeah.
FB: Yeah.
JH: And then, and then you were allotted a berth in a, on a ship.
FB: On the Andes. Yeah.
JH: Yes.
FB: Yeah. Boy.
JH: Was that through the Suez Canal?
FB: Yeah.
JH: That way.
FB: Yeah. Through the Suez Canal.
JH: Yes. Yeah. You weren’t on the same ship as Don Browning, our friend.
FB: Well, I could have been.
JH: Yeah. Yeah.
FB: I could have been. You wouldn’t know. There was —
JH: Yes. Yes.
FB: I mean as I say we were packed on. Goodness me.
JH: Yeah.
FB: I don’t know how many people were on a ship.
JH: Yes.
FB: Yeah.
JH: So what was the feeling? So where did you arrive? Was it in Sydney?
FB: No.
JH: Your landfall. In Melbourne?
FB: We went to Melbourne and then it was going on to New Zealand. It had a lot of New Zealand —
JH: Yes.
FB: Airmen. So it was going on to New Zealand and we had to change ship on to the Stratheden.
JH: Yes.
FB: To come up to Sydney.
JH: Yeah. So you came in through the Heads and —
FB: Beautiful day. Beautiful.
JH: Yeah, and family waiting.
FB: Yeah. At Bradfield Park.
JH: Yes.
FB: Yeah. So [unclear]
JH: Yes.
FB: It didn’t take long to find them.
JH: Yeah. So, so what happened? I suppose you had to get a life. Get a career.
FB: Oh, no. I’d started in the accountancy business and I’d passed.
JH: Oh, yes. Yeah.
FB: One or two intermediate examinations and —
JH: So you took off where you left off.
FB: Thank goodness I had enough sense at that stage to say well I must persevere with this and get, get qualified.
JH: Yes.
FB: And I did in that sense to do that.
JH: Yeah.
FB: I didn’t have much sense to do anything else.
JH: Yes. Yeah. So then you started a family. You married.
FB: Yeah. All those things. Yeah.
JH: Yeah.
FB: But I really didn’t have many troubles settling down I don’t think.
JH: Yes.
FB: You did get your odd outbursts, you know.
JH: Yes. Yeah. One I was going to ask you whether the kind of very secretive operation you did, did you have to sign a secrecy form, you know.
FB: No.
JH: Thirty years or something.
FB: No, didn’t have to sign anything.
JH: Yeah.
FB: You were told. You were told that was top secret.
JH: Yes.
FB: And don’t you dare infringe it.
JH: Yes. Yes.
FB: Or else.
JH: Yeah. Yes. Because I know my father didn’t talk about hardly anything.
FB: Yeah.
JH: Until later on in life.
FB: No.
JH: Yeah.
FB: No. All the stuff at Tempsford in those days was top, top secret, you know.
JH: Yes. Have you been back to Tempsford?
FB: No. I’m not able to travel like I used to.
JH: Ok.
FB: It’s a bit of a problem.
JH: Well, I’ll tell you what. Because I go back there to right there where, every so often where I was born and I’ll visit it for you and I’ll have a look.
FB: Well, thank you.
JH: There’s probably not much there.
FB: They, they have a yearly get together. I’ve probably got —
JH: Yes. Yeah.
FB: Some of them there.
JH: Yeah.
FB: So do you want to make yourself known?
JH: Yes. And is there a pub there? Well, maybe you weren’t allowed to go to pubs in Tempsford. Did, was there a local pub?
FB: Sandy. At Sandy. Sandy is in —
JH: Sandy. Yeah. Yes.
FB: There was a pub at Sandy.
JH: Yes.
FB: We used to call it the Sandy Battle.
JH: Well, I can’t believe it. My, my people used to farm all around Sandy and, yeah.
FB: For goodness sake.
JH: So I’ll do that. So —
FB: I just wish I could travel.
JH: Yes.
FB: And go back to Tempsford and have a, because they do have a big reunion there once a year.
JH: Yes.
FB: It’s amazing really how many people will —
JH: Yes.
FB: Must have got together to preserve the story of Tempsford.
JH: Yes.
FB: Incredible. And prince what’s his name? Prince Charles is a great supporter of them.
JH: Yes.
FB: He goes to their functions, of course.
JH: Yeah.
FB: So, I don’t suppose, I suppose the other squadrons, Australian squadrons, and they probably have much the same thing. 460 Squadron.
JH: Yeah. I don’t think you hear so much about Tempsford as the other bases.
FB: No.
JH: Mainly because it was probably, you know very secretive.
FB: Yeah.
JH: In the war.
FB: It sort of got something to do with royalty too because the commanding officer of Tempsford was the King’s pilot, Group Captain Fielden.
JH: Oh right.
FB: And he was, he was station commander.
JH: Was he the station commander?
FB: Yeah.
JH: Yeah.
FB: Group Captain Fielden.
JH: Fielden. That’s interesting. So there’s a special interest from Prince Charles. Yeah.
FB: So he became, he was knighted so I don’t know whether they call him sir now. Like they did with me [laughs] Yeah.
JH: Well, Fred this has been very interesting. I was going to ask you, you participate in veteran’s activities?
FB: Oh yes. I do, and I’ve had quite a bit to do with them because I don’t know where it all started but a lot of people have been writing books and writing articles on, on the special duty squadrons and Tempsford squadrons, and I guess I’m probably one of the very few still above the ground.
JH: Yes.
FB: And so I well get involved.
JH: Yes.
FB: Tell them what was is.
JH: So is there an Association here in Australia or are you linked up with a UK Association?
FB: Well, no. I think that was, what did they call them? ATVA. The Australian Tempsford Veterans Association, I think. ATV.
JH: Ok. I didn’t know there was one quite to be quite honest.
FB: Yeah. There is one. Yes.
JH: Yeah.
FB: But I haven’t, physically speaking I haven’t been able to travel.
JH: Yes.
FB: So, that’s my only regret. That I haven’t been able to go. Because they are big events. Once a year they have it at Tempsford.
JH: Yes.
FB: They come from near and far.
JH: Yes.
FB: I don’t think there’s too many of us left who served on the squadron operationally.
JH: Yeah. Yes.
FB: But Prince Charles is a great supporter of it. He, he goes to all the functions and of course his, he, he would know Group Captain Fielden of course.
JH: Yes. Yes. Well, Fred I’ve really enjoyed this interviewing you today and learning about this special duties.
FB: Yeah.
JH: Type of operations that you were on.
FB: It is very interesting, isn’t it? I mean, I’ve had some very interesting discussions with these agents at times, you know saying, ‘What happens if this happens? What will you do?’
JH: And I believe you had a word for them.
FB: Joes.
JH: Joes. Yeah. Yes. That’s it. I’d read that. Yes. Yeah. Yeah.
FB: I, I did write a book on it as a matter of fact.
JH: Oh, you have. Show it to me and I’ll mention it in the interview here. Yeah.
FB: Look, if you promise to give it back to me.
JH: Yes.
FB: Having said that where is it? Deary deary me where is it? [pause]
JH: Is it in these shelves here?
FB: Yeah.
JH: Let me see.
FB: Yes. Joes.
JH: What’s it called? The book.
FB: Oh, there’s been quite a few books written on it really. See what a shambles this is. Oh blimey. That’s, I don’t know whether you saw this or not. That’s the book that’s for me.
JH: Yes.
FB: Yeah.
JH: Yeah. I I had a copy the other day for you but you’ve got it. Yes. Is it up here? Is that it?
FB: No.
FB: Yeah. Look. SOE. Oh, that’s one of them. I’ve probably got all sorts of books on it.
JH: Yes.
FB: Oh, deary me. What’s over here? [pause] That’s the book.
JH: Oh, thank you. Yeah. For the interview Fred has shown me a book he has written. It’s called, “You’ll Be Too Young.” And it’s his memoirs and —
FB: If you promise to return it you can take it and read it if you want.
JH: Well, thank you very much. Yes. So, it was published in 2005 in Sydney.
FB: And it’s all true.
JH: Well, thank you very much.
FB: No bulldust [laughs] Now, if you —
JH: Thank you Fred.
FB: If you promise to return it.
JH: We’ll sign off now. Thank you very much for the interview.
FB: Oh, you’re welcome.
JH: So, I’ll stop the tape here.
FB: That’s all I ask is that it gets returned because —
JH: I will for sure.
FB: I’m going to have to approach them any day now to see if they can give me a reprint on all this.


John Horsburgh, “Interview with Frederick Arthur Bowman,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed November 30, 2023,

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