Interview with Bob Smith


Interview with Bob Smith


Bob Smith was born in Brisbane, Australia. He recalls moving to the family farm in 1932 and being a member of the Air Cadets during his school years. Upon leaving school, Smith undertook training as a bank clerk. Following the events of Pearl Harbour, Smith registered for the Royal Air Force as an air crew guard on the understanding that once he turned nineteen, he would train under the Empire Air Training Scheme. In May 1942, he was called up for initial training. He describes his first experience of death, while stationed at the Air Observer School in Cootamundra, and persuading the selection committee at Bradfield Park to alter his crew role status from pilot to navigator. On the 10th February 1943, Smith embarked from Sydney on the USS Hermitage. He recounts the details of the five-week voyage to San Francisco including kitchen duty on the ship, hunting for a record needle in Honolulu, and observing the damage at Pearl Harbour. Smith trained on Ansons in Edmonton, Canada, before traveling to Britain, where he attended Officer Training School in Sidmouth and the Advanced Flying School at RAF West Freugh. He describes the formation of his crew at RAF Chedburgh, training on Wellingtons and Stirlings, and receiving blunt head trauma on a training flight (which he traces health issues in later life back to). While stationed in RAF Feltwell for the Lancaster Finishing School, Smith recollects supporting D-Day by dropping Window along the coast of France, and using Gee during a mining operation over the Garonne River. Smith’s crew joined 15 Squadron, stationed at RAF Mildenhall, where he carried out 30 operations and remained on the squadron as a wind navigator. He details the events of his first and last operation, the process of morning and night-time operations, and flying over the Ruhr, Arromanches, Malmö, Duisburg, Stettin, and Dortmund. Finally, Smith describes demobilisation, reuniting with his family in Australia, and visiting Scotland to marry his wife, Elma.




Temporal Coverage




03:30:53 audio recording


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LC: Okay, this is an interview with Robert, Bob, Wally Smith 425992, navigator, 15 Squadron, Royal Air Force. The interview is being conducted at the residence of Bob and Alma Smith [redacted] Boulevard, Queensland, on Monday 25th March by myself, Wing Commander Lee Collins of People’s History and Heritage Branch. This interview will be recorded and may be transcribed and will become property and part of the Historical Collection of the Royal Australian Air Force and Bomber Command and be available to future researchers. So Bob, thanks again for agreeing to be interviewed. It’s my privilege to interview you and to obtain your personal account of your experiences of service in the RAF and particularly as a navigator on ops with RAF Bomber Command during World War Two. So, I’d like to maybe begin the interview by, if you go back to your early childhood and upbringing, and your family and schooling before you joined the air force. So, your early life, so where were you born? Where did you grow up?
BS: Well now, I was born in Brisbane, back in 1924. My father had been in the World War One, he was a, wounded three times, and he was original in the 41st Battalion.
LC: 41st Battalion, okay, yeah.
BS: He came back and he, when he got married to my mother, you know, she was also in that, from that district, they rented a corner shop, at the corner, a corner shop, was at the corner of Ipswich Road and Victoria Terrace in Annerley in Brisbane.
LC: Yeah, yeah, yep.
BS: Now, well we grew up there, normal thing, and started school I think it was 1928, at the Junction Park State School. Now his mother had another daughter and a son-in-law who were managing the farm for her, the old family farm known as Greenwood, in Harrisall.
LC: And where was that?
BS: Harrisall, ‘bout two and a half mile, or a couple miles south east of Harrisall on the Malara road, on the road to what they called Malara, or on through to Kalbar, and Boonah, you know.
LC: Boonah. Yup.
BS: Well at the end of 1932, he had to, he sold the business and we went back to the farm. Went to, took up the farm, so the family, we went, while he was arranging transfer, my mother took the family, myself and my two sisters and young brother, went on holiday up to Maleny while dad organised the thing and he, he drove the horse and cart from Annerley up to the farm.
LC: And how far was that?
BS: Oh all day. And we come up, take it after there, well of course then we followed, we went up to the farm then and settled in with Granny Smith. Now we thought at the time, woah great, Granny Smith, you know, she must be famous, she’s had an apple named after her!
LC: Exactly!
BS: But we soon found out, but she was a wonderful person, mum, granny; she was an original. Between Granny Smith and myself, Granny Smith, migrated to Australia as a young girl in 1855 while Queensland was still part of New South Wales, you know. They moved to Queensland then a couple of years later and with her father she moved up to the, near to the district what they call the Pink Mountain Holding in about 1858, ‘59, something like that. They were then since at Churchill, a place called Churchill down where there was a cotton ginnery established, ‘cause cotton was the main thing in those days, you know. And that’s how they, the Smiths had to, worked up to Harrisall ‘cause they were given a grant and land to grow cotton. Now we started school then at Malara. In 1932 get on and I did a, went through there and did scholarship at the Malara School, at the Malara School and now by virtue that dad was a returned Digger, I won a Naracelle scholarship to attend the Ipswich Boys Grammar School as a boarder for two years, so ‘cause dad couldn’t afford to be, at the end of that, I did, I finished and while just before -
LC: What years were that, your last two years of high school?
BS: ‘38, ‘39.
LC: So that was your last two years at high school.
BS: Yeah, ‘38, ‘39, the, and when we finished, ‘39 just before we finished the junior exam, war had been declared over Britain, you see. Now, I came back with the scholarship and with the tertiary education opened up room for me to apply for work in the public service or the bank or thing, which I did, I applied to commence work in the bank in Harrisall, and I was accepted. Accepted as a temporary clerk on probation I think it was, whatever it was, and I was still a temporary clerk on probation when I went to join the air force two years later!
LC: So you are what, about seventeen, seventeen years of age at this stage?
BS: Yeah, now where, I went into the bank then. Now just after I joined the bank, I got a communication from school and from the air force, we were given notification to apply, if we were interested in joining the air force, ‘cause I always stated I would be, we could apply to be registered as air cadets by correspondence.
LC: Okay, yes, yes.
BS: So I took that offer up. I asked, got my parents’ permission do that there. Dad was quite happy that I go in to the air force in a way, although I realised what, what strain I did put on him, to go in, but not into the army, you know.
LC: So did you have any, what was the reason you were more interested in the air force than the army? Your dad was a Digger in the 41st Battalion.
BS: The air force, so I did that, I did the courses with the air cadets, get this thing, when I finished the tests each, as each step went along, the air tests, took ‘em to the headmaster at the Woolora School, he ticked them off, that okay and advised the air force, the air cadet training system okay, see me right, carry on.
LC: And that’s that exercise book you showed me.
BS: Now, when Japan raided Germany, raided -
LC: Pearl Harbour.
BS: Pearl Harbour then in December ‘41, there was a bit of a panic among the air force, because all of us, we couldn’t join the air force until we were nineteen, that means you, in those days to be, you had to go into initial training at about two months before your nineteenth birthday, so that you were ready then for flying, you couldn’t fly till you were nineteen, you know, or go overseas anything like that, volunteers, so and then also on the reserve at that time were a lot of unprotected occupations, school teachers, a lot of school teachers had applied and they were very keen to get school teachers to do the course and they could go on as instructors ‘cause they needed them for the Empire Air Training Scheme you know. The air force jumped at the crews then, that they would form what they call air crew guards and that means that we could go in and that avoided us being called up into the militia. It was quite good. So with that I then had to apply to the bank for leave then and that was granted and so in May 1942, it didn’t take ‘em long, air crew guard callups were held in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne to bring up a lot of these, make sure the militia didn’t get us, you know, the army didn’t get us at that age. Although some blokes did, were called up for the militia apparently and, but they then told the militia to go to hell. They went in to the air force.
LC: Can I just step back one? You mentioned where you were when, you were at the bank when Germany, we declared war on Germany in ‘39 and then when Japan attacked Pearl Harbour in December 1941, do you remember those times well? Do you remember sort of, you know in September 1939 when war was declared do you remember what you were doing or did you have any particular thoughts what were you thinking when something was declared? What was Bob Smith thinking?
BS: Just put the thing into working, getting organised in the bank, you know, winding the office clock every Monday morning, getting out the fresh blotting paper, gradually working in, getting on. No, but that was right. Still carried on, played a bit of sport around Harrisall, lived on the farm, where you learned a lot.
LC: What about December 1941, when, so, Australia had already been at war for a while-
BS: Yeah, that’s right.
LC: So in, suddenly you hear Japan has attacked Pearl Harbour, do you remember where, what you were doing when you heard that news?
BS: No, no, not much, we just thought ah, well things are coming and then of course we found out on the news about it, this going on and coming out and then it was all in the papers, conscription was gonna be brought in.
LC: Was there much an awareness before that of any concerns about Japan before war was actually declared, for a number of years?
BS: Yeah, there was, bit like, in 19, back just after we went to the farm there was a bit of concerns going on about Germany, you know, because we had German occupations and I remember an old German farmer that lived near us, we used to meet him now and again and ‘Oh you’re joining the air force eh, you’re going to go over there, good show, that Hitler he bad man’, you know things just sort of rolled one thing into the other. Then when we, when the call came up and we went in to, in May 1942 we were called down to Brisbane, to the recruiting depot. Went through all the jazz there, then that evening given our numbers and whatnot, told us to take the oath and all this business, and sign up and shoved on a train that night up to Maryborough.
LC: Right. So then when you then signed on do you remember where exactly in Brisbane that was? Where did you actually sign on?
BS: Eagle Street in Brisbane.
LC: Eagle Street, okay.
BS: Recruiting Depot. Number, number whatever Brisbane number 3 Recruiting Depot in Eagle Street in Brisbane.
LC: Now that stage, you were going in the air force, but did you actually have confirmation that you were going in as aircrew or were you just joining the air force and see what?
BS: No, we were going to be training as aircrew under Empire Air Training Scheme.
LC: Right, so you knew that when you went and put your hand on the bible.
BS: I asked that earlier about the thing there at that stage when you went in air crew were you aware of the dangers of flying over in Germany, things like that, you know, I said, well we were. Because I had two cousins from, who lived up in Maleny, they were both shot down in England, one in 1940 he was in early in a Blenheim, flying in a Blenheim, the other one, no he was in a Whitley and the other one was flying out of Libya, he crashed, he was shot down off Tripoli, rescued by an Italian ship, navy ship and taken to Italy. When they came down into the sea, he was badly damaged, these reports as they say, in Germany, in the German reports for the thing ‘received in damaged condition’, but he couldn’t walk, okay. Now he thanks the German doctors for getting him back to walking. Their spinal treatment, that was way above. They came, he was shoved from hospital to hospital in Italy and one night a Luftwaffe officer came in there, looked at him, and looked and he says we’re taking you back to Germany, I we think we can fix you. To a German Luftwaffe -
LC: Hospital.
BS: Which they did, and they got him. I think the bloke was a bit like Douglas Bader, I think they might have been sorry they did fix him up.
LC: [Laugh] So he caused more trouble after they fixed him!
BS: I tell you what, he caused them a bit of trouble! He was that sort of bloke.
LC: So he’s wonderful. What was his name?
BS: Cuthbertson. Guy Cuthbertson.
LC: And the other guy that was shot down in the Whitley?
BS: The bloke was Bill McLean.
LC: Did he survive?
BS: No, no he was killed. He was killed. They shot down, they’ve since found out the pilot that shot him down and got a rough idea of where he crashed into the North Sea. That’s all right.
LC: Okay, but you knew about this.
BS: Then my others, my brother’s, my mother’s other sister that lived in Ipswich, she had a son who was in the navy, he was in, he went down with the Perth, actually didn’t go down with the Perth, they found out later that he did get off the Perth, and they got ashore and they were murdered by the Indonesians who thought they were Dutch.
LC: Is that right? Okay. You know a lot of the survivors of the Perth were captured by the Japanese.
BS: Yeah, yeah. We more or less knew the dangers we were going in to, you know.
LC: So knew, all this occurred when you, before you enlisted. Okay, so you put your hand on the bible, you’ve gone up to Maryborough. So what happened at Maryborough?
BS: Route marches in the morning. First thing out, you’re up, got issued with your dungarees and stuff like that and a route march first in the morning, quite try to remind them we didn’t join the air force to march.
LC: What was that unit called?
BS: Eh?
LC: Do you remember the name of the unit?
BS: No, just Recruit Depot.
LC: Recruit Depot, okay.
BS: No, no, in that thing there, Maryborough, yeah, at the Maryborough airport, yeah.
LC: Okay right. Fair enough.
BS: We quick learnt to go into town, get a, probably walk in to town or get a, don’t know how we got in to town half the time or something, but to come home at night all you do was pick a, outside the pictures grab a bike, ride it home and leave it the main gate. Of course Maryborough soon got used to it I think if your bike was missing you went down to the base and there it was the next morning!
LC: You went down to the base. It was like an honour system.
BS: It was quite good. So when we finished our course there we were assigned to guard duties and I was posted through to Cootamundra, Number 2 AOS at Cootamundra.
LC: Cootamundra?
BS: Yeah. They, they looked upon the Queenslanders quite freshly, they gave us an extra blanket, we used to say they should also give us a WAAF, but they wouldn’t be in that.
LC: No, no, no!
BS: No, no. So we decide the better thing there was a newspaper in between the two blankets and that was quite warm enough, you know. Down to Cootamundra.
LC: It gets a bit nippy down there doesn’t it!
BS: It was a bit nippy, yeah. We found out. You could go on guard duty at least, but at least you could take a, have a heart or an ice cream, type of thing out leave it on top of a post or something it stayed frozen for the night, you know. Bit cheeky, you could crawl up in to an Anson or something now and again, and have a bit of a sneak look or if nobody was around, nobody looked around.
LC: What was that school there? What was Cootamundra, what was the purpose?
BS: Air Observer School, Number 2 Air Observer School and also 75 Squadron was formed there at the time. Now when we were at Cootamundra, a couple of things happened there, that’s the first experience we had of death in the air force, crews from the training unit, one of I think it was about 76 Squadron, or something like that, in a Beaufighter come in and they landed at Cootamundra, but must have done a tight turn in the thing and stalled and then crashed on take off. Well we were called out to the scene and I’ve got to thank an old, he was a fatherly sort of a corporal in charge of the guards or something like that, when we got out there he said to us young blokes, he said ‘Now listen you young fellers, don’t take this to heart. There’s nothing you can do for these fellers now, they’re gone; death is death. Accept it. That’s it.’ And it was wonderful advice, for what we.
LC: Yeah. Because they’re beyond suffering at that stage.
BS: We sat out there at the beginning of that and it was, it was a mess.
LC: You were guarding the aircraft were you?
BS: I can still remember the pilot, he was thrown out of it and his body was, what was left of it, was about well probably a couple of chain away. The second officer, it’d be his observer, was just a, every bone in his body had been smashed, he was just a lump sitting in that, in there, and they moved it out and what struck us then too was they come in, they picked up the pilot, bits, they come in and they looked out and on the thing and to make up a bit of weight, put in a bit of a sand bag, to make it look okay and that. So they’d get it back to the thing.
LC: To go for the burial later.
BS: While we, while we sat there, we, while there, time passed during the day with, I can still remember once, we had a young bloke from, he was from Sydney or something, looked out and he saw these rabbits running around over there, he’d like to shoot one. He said, ‘Well there’s one under the fence over there’, but we looked out and said ‘No, can’t see a rabbit there’, but there was a fair size of a stone, a stone there. ‘No, I’ll have a shot.’ Well he did. He was pretty good: he hit it, but the bullet ricocheted off that stone, and the whine of the bullet, well what was the funny part of that was, just after that whine there was the sheep all over the place, scattering, the whine then sheep going everywhere.
LC: Didn’t have to account for the bullet? He didn’t have to account for the bullet?
BS: Then also at night they’d have to occasionally send us out to the fuel dump which was about a mile out of town or something on the road and we’d live in a tent there, and unfortunately, we’d take a bit of fruit out or something and we trained the possums to eat out of our hand which we regretted later ‘cause they’d get up on the top of the tent and bash up and down and make a hell of a racket! They were a nuisance. Then to fill in a bit of time one night, we get on with things that, oh this is boring and whatnot. I’m to blame for this, the, I don’t know what it was that flew overhead us, something went overhead, but I upped with the rifle, had a shot at it and missed. Well it wasn’t long before boy they heard it back at the station, come flying out and we had to report to the CO the next day. So I told ‘em at the time, I said, ‘No, no’, I said ‘Look there’s a bloke coming along the fence there, and he was trying to get through, I gave him the order, halt or fire, and I fired a shot in the air, there were two shots and he didn’t get, so I fired another one’ and ‘Yeah, yeah, oh yeah, okay, righto, well you better get out the range tomorrow, you blokes, the company.’ So went out to the range. I don’t know what the report was I think, ‘cause when we come to the range they put us on two hundred yards. I got two bulls and three inners, and four inners with me six shots!
LC: That’s all right.
BS: When he said to me, ‘Oh’, he said ‘Don’t worry, that bullet wouldn’t have gone too far off him.’
LC: Excellent.
BS: I got him. But they tried to look through the fence to find a bit of clothing, and wander round the fence, but nothing was there.
LC: Yeah, yeah. Of course.
BS: That was all right. But that went off and then eventually came before, a few months to go we were called up to Number 2 ITS at Bradfield Park for initial training school.
LC: Where’s Bradfield Park?
BS: Bradfield Park at Ipswich, in Sydney.
LC: In Sydney.
BS: Linfield I think it was, the name, it was a, it didn’t have a very good name, old Bradfield Park apparently.
LC: Can I just ask a question first before you go there. You mention when you went to Cootamundra was the Air Observer School, now at what stage, did, how did they make the decision, you knew you’re going in as part of the Empire Air Training Scheme, at what stage was the decision made which guys would go off as pilots and which ones would go off as navigators?
BS: At the initial training school.
LC: Right. How do they make that decision?
BS: That’s the idea of the Initial Training School, you go through all this training, various things, you know. They used to have a thing like a pilot, like kicking around to adjust your thing and I, I came through that when we went to the selection committee for the, after that, they just looked at it and say, they looked at it and say, ‘Oh, you’re a pilot.’ God. You’re above average at everything or something, like that you’re going to be a pilot. I said ‘I don’t want to be a pilot’ because not long before this came out rumour was getting around that those who were selected as navigators and air bombers were to go to Canada for training and then to go on to the new four engined aircraft that were coming in to operation over in England, you know. I said, boy go to Canada, that sounds all right to me. I said ‘No, no I want to be a navigator, my thing’s set on being a navigator’. ‘Why do you want to be a navigator?’ ‘Well I’m just interested in maths’, you know. He said ‘Well you got a good high score in your maths stuff like that. All right’, he says. So I went off happy as Larry.
LC: There you go.
BS: So we went off on leave then, home for pre-embarkation leave. And we had to be back at the embarkation depot number two it was, in Sydney, wasn’t it, embarkation depot, on the 10th of January. That was my nineteenth birthday.
LC: That was ‘43. January 1943. Yep.
BS: Yeah. 1943.
LC: That’s pretty quick from you know 7th 8th of December when Japan attacked Pearl Harbour to early January, that’s very quick.
BS: 19, yeah. So we got sorted out then. So that was us at the embarkation depot. While I was at home, of course naturally our farewells and whatnot, moving around and the normal things, you know, and I suppose one of those things but I was, somehow I never doubted, that I’d, that I’d be killed; I’d come back. It was just there, something, something told me and I believed it. So that stood by me.
LC: Yeah, yeah. Well it worked obviously.
BS: Never knew fear when I was operating, we never worried. We had a crew that, all the while, we only had one, but had a pilot, I can tell you more about him later on, but he was excellent and he always believed in: “you’re not in trouble till you’re hit”. You just carry on as normal; things are normal. There could be flak flying around you, could be fighters looking, lurking around. Until he hits yer, you just carry on, then you treat the position as it is.
LC: That’s right.
BS: That’s well, and he, I suppose this is what stuck to us when we, when we went into Canada, forgot now, oh where were we there?
LC: You’re at the embarkation point. Can I just ask one further question? At the Air Observer School, was there any flying training there or was that all ground school? At the Air Observer School did you do flying training there at Maryborough or was that-
BS: No, no, no.
LC: That was all ground school.
BS: No flying training, we weren’t allowed to fly, until you’re nineteen. Through Initial Training School at Bradfield Park, there’s no flying training there, anything like that.
LC: That didn’t really start till you got to Canada.
BS: It’s not till you go to, then if you’re a pilot you go to what they call an Elementary Flying Training School.
LC: Then on to the, you know, Tiger Moths and that sort of thing.
BS: Or a navigator to a nav course, to a bomber, to a bomb aimer’s course, to WAGs course, or wireless operators course, that sort of thing.
LC: So you’re at embarkation, so at this stage so you’d had some period on leave, some embarkation leave. So you got back to Queensland.
BS: Yeah, yeah, got back to Queensland and I went, caught the train then went down to Brisbane on the train and down to Sydney and while we’re at, attached to the embarkation depot at Sydney, we were allowed, leave was pretty good, lot of sports and that. A few, they put us through a bit of a experiment there. We were called up one day to go out to the University of Sydney, they were doing experiments on sea sickness.
LC: Okay.
BS: And what they, what we done, we were strapped to, we were put into stretchers and they were swung from ceiling to ceiling.
LC: Are you all willing volunteers for this?
BS: Out we went, oh, we’re given a lovely dinner, roast lamb and peas and whatnot sort of. Mine didn’t last too long I can tell yer! [Laughter] But we had one bloke there, they couldn’t make him sick. That was this.
LC: And that was handy training before you jump on board the ship.
BS: Yeah, and a lot of other things you could do, you could go on, there were lessons in sailing and swimming and all various things you get to do.
LC: So how long was this period?
BS: And then a few lectures during the day from blokes that coming back from England, that had completed all the latest on the war, or something like that, you know, intelligence reports, various subjects going through there while you’re on embarkation, but leave was pretty good, over weekends.
LC: So how long was that period, you know, of embarkation?
BS: We were there not all that long, about a month I got. We, I embarked on the 10th of February.
LC: 10th of February.
BS: On the Hermitage.
LC: The Hermitage.
BS: On a ship called the Hermitage. It was an Italian ship that had been, when war broke out in England and it was in the Suez Canal port and it was interned there, so it left.
LC: Okay, yeah.
BS: When Japan bombed Pearl Harbour the American government commandeered it, they took it over, moved it to the east coast of America to a place called I think it was Norfolk or something.
LC: Norfolk, Virginia.
BS: Yeah. For it to be converted to a troop ship.
LC: Okay.
BS: Armed, armed with guns on the rear and stuff like that, you know, it could do about, travel about twenty four knots or something like that I think and was regarded, it could zigzag a course and fast enough to dodge submarines, you know, so we ended up on the old Hermitage.
LC: Right.
BS: Now, get on the Hermitage, landed there, Woolloomooloo on the night, on the day of the 10th I think on the 9th, it might have been the 9th of February and sailed on the 10th anyway, of February.
LC: Did it sail on its own or were you part of a convoy?
BS: Eh?
LC: Was there any escorts or did you sail on your own?
BS: No, we sailed on our own. We, out of, the first day out of Sydney, we sailed from Woolloomooloo, the first day out of Sydney we were escorted by two destroyers. One was a Dutch destroyer and they get out but the next morning they’d gone.
LC: Yeah, ‘cause there was the submarine threat.
BS: More or less the zigzag course, then they got, put us on to lectures during the day and stuff like that, you know.
LC: Were you aware of the submarine threat, of the submarine threat while you were on board the ship?
BS: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
LC: Did they have special, any drills?
BS: They did because they, on these lectures and that, we thought well this is a bit of a gem of an idea, the lectures, I thought, and I went round once on the deck, we’re allowed the deck space, you’re on a Yankee ship, now you only got two meals a day when transit, the American ships, you know, and I wander around looking, I’m on the deck and didn’t have a life jacket on, you see so I’m nabbed, Oi! No life jacket on the deck, down to kitchen duty. Three days kitchen duty but I tell you gee this turns out all right.
LC: All right!
BS: You can have three meals a day, you cart hot stuff around and although that’s where I got to like sauerkraut and saveloys and of course baked beans, typical Americans. And then after the three days, we get on, get up to wander round the deck, [unclear] I got nabbed again, back down the kitchen duty you see. But then we’re getting to on then, was on the last day of that when we called in to Pango Pango.
LC: American Samoa.
BS: No leave there, and word got around then the next stop would be Honolulu, we’d be given leave there, we would be stopping overnight you know, Pango Pango we stopped overnight. So I said well no after this we won’t worry about this ‘cause you know we better have a bit of leave in Honolulu, when we get there, if we get there. But just before we got to Pango Pango, I think it was about two days before, we drifted for quite a while one night. Now what it was there was some rumours around they think there was a sub in the area and they shut the engines off, something like that, but the next day we get going again and whatnot, if they’re worried about a sub or leaving any remark, then woke up during that day that it had taken on a lot of supplies for the north, to take the troops over for the North American landing and they had a lot of supplies on board, you know, but they had a lot of chocolates on, Chorley’s chocolates, and they’d gone bad in the Tropics, stuff like that, so these Chorley’s chocolate bars, they were leaving -
LC: Leaving a trail of chocolates.
BS: Leaving a trail of Chorley’s chocolates out, oh god.
LC: I can just picture that, a Japanese submarine following a trail of chocolates to the Hermitage!
BS: But they wouldn’t have caught up with us anyway ‘cause they were doing twenty four knots and that, they cruise along pretty well, it was not a bad ship like that.
LC: So when you’re not getting nabbed and doing kitchen duty, what was the standard routine on, you had lectures, training, PT?
BS: Yeah. You were on training or you could be assigned to gun duty at the back, but they soon gave that away to the Aussies, ‘cause they used to have to put up a weather balloon every so often, if Aussies were on the gun crew they shot at it.
LC: Took pot shots out of it.
BS: They popped at it. They’d get it. So we were out of favour. [Laughter]
LC: So the crew was all American were they?
BS: Yeah, but they had the canteen was open for an hour a day, you could get sandwiches there, and we’d generally get on. Now, while we were going across there, we had a group we called the Bunduck club, I don’t know how they got that name, but they used to, they sat around the deck. Well I never had much to do with them ‘cause I got sent down for kitchen duty. But this bloke had a gramophone, only had one record, it was “In the Mood”, and of course by the we time got down there and get to Pango Pango and going off on this one record the needle had had it, you know, [unclear] so when we go on the leg up to, going up to Honolulu they reckon they’ve got to, on back on the Bunduck Club, they reckon right we’ve got to get a gramophone needle when we get to Honolulu, you know. So we cruise along to Honolulu all right, with odd lectures and stuff like that. We managed to get by.
LC: So how long was the cruise?
BS: Eh?
LC: How long did it take to get to Honolulu?
BS: Four weeks.
LC: Four weeks to Honolulu.
BS: Well no, three weeks, we got the, we got six days, it was a week to Pango Pango, another week to Honolulu, another week to, or just about a week.
LC: Okay. So your time in Honolulu did it that, you said you had some leave. Did the ship go in to Honolulu Harbour or did it go in to Pearl Harbour?
BS: No, into Honolulu Harbour. Now we were split into two, one lot were given leave the afternoon we arrived there, it was about midday we arrived there about then, they were given leave till about eighteen hundred hours or something like that, then in the morning we were also given leave till 23:59 hours. So away we go, few of us, and this bloke out chasing this gramophone needle, you know. Now that’s the first time I’d ever struck traffic driving on the wrong side of the road.
LC: Oh yes, of course you did.
BS: So my mother went close to receiving that telegram!
LC: Oh dear!
BS: You look right and step out and the next minute, this thing come phoom, great negro driving this truck, bloody hell! Oh boys we got to look the other way! So we go round looking for this gramophone needle. Well, we’re getting shown everything: bloody knitting needles and darning needles and sewing needles, and all sorts of needles, you know. We had this bloke Russ Martin, Russ was a bit of a wag, real outgoing bloke, so we go into one place, and of course what we couldn’t understand, what we noticed also there was the large Japanese population in all the stores, and guards on every door, on every shop door.
LC: American guards.
BS: Yeah. And of course If any, they they stuttered they get shot, no muckin’ around. So we go in to this place, and old Russ no, no gramophone needle, you know, you’ve got to think thing you turn round and round and you put the thing down – ah you mean a phonograph needle!
LC: Oh right, yes!
BS: So then we’re right, we got our phonograph needle.
LC: Once you know the American lingo you’re all right.
BS: So we got that and another bloke and myself, Noel Hooper, we come out, and we’re wearing our tropical uniforms, Noel came from Nambour and he was shot down too, but evaded capture and died not long after the war, but he, we’d come on back and this Yankee bloke come and talk to us, what you got to do, would you like come and have a look at Pearl Harbour? He was a Yankee officer. Well, that’ll be great, but he took us to, we went through two check points, now at the last checkpoint we’re looking down on Pearl Harbour and now at this time it was about half past eleven, you know, we said to him ‘Listen we can’t go on we’ve got to be back on the ship by 23:59’, ‘Oh okay’, he said, no, no but we’d got that far, you know, he was quite willing to, take us down there. Generous, so he took us back to the ship then.
LC: But you didn’t quite get to Pearl Harbour.
BS: We got a chance to look down on Pearl Harbour. Just to look down on.
LC: Oh, you looked down on it. Could you see the damage?
BS: Yeah, yeah. So that, that was a bit of an experience.
LC: Well it would have been, yeah, only months after.
BS: Then we went, went back on to board the ship then sailed. And as for sitting out on the deck playing the gramophone record that was out of the question, ‘cause God it was cold! The seas were rough and cold eh, once we left Honolulu, oh, just lousy. Fortunately at Honolulu they must have anticipated this, we were issued with sheepskin jackets those, from the Australian Comforts Fund. They come in handy.
LC: Yeah. They would’ve. So where were you sailing to now?
BS: Going to San Francisco.
LC: San Francisco, okay.
BS: So we met then, came into San Fran after a couple of days of that, getting the seagulls around and whatnot, come in to San Francisco, under the Golden Gate Bridge, coming up the Golden Gate Bridge, the ship’s not going to go under there! Look that! But there was tons of room.
LC: Oh yeah, just a bit!
BS: Oh what a sight, you know. Pulled up opposite Alcatraz, the prison camp, and we were unloaded pretty quickly and put on to ferries to go over to Oakland, where we were put on to a train, we got a meal and put on to a train and then sent north to go up to, through, Oregon, Seattle and Vancouver. That was a⸻
LC: You didn’t get any—
BS: So on the train--
LC: So you didn’t get any time off in San Francisco, just normal movements.
BS: No, no, we caught the ferry across. We were away that afternoon on the train from Oakland, you know, and just with our wanted on voyage luggage or something, you know, not wanted on voyage would have been unloaded, it was following us somewhere. So we get, and that was an experience ‘cause to get on to the train then oh god it was comfort, it was warm and negro walking around, magazines, ice cream, anything, oh god everything, you’re whipping through, the damn thing’s going that fast you couldn’t count the telephone poles going past, you know. Boy this is not like the Queensland ride! [laughs] What a great trip that was.
LC: Did you do any stops on the way to Vancouver, did you stop on the way?
BS: Yeah, couple of stops at Salem or something.
LC: Or Seattle.
BS: All the meals were on the train. One thing we sort of noticed a lot, no fences between buildings, and a lot of them not painted, you know really a difference you know, different, fir trees right on up till we got nearly to Seattle and then we couldn’t get over, that’s when we first sighted Mount St Helens, blew up later there.
LC: That’s the one, yes.
BS: All the snow on top of it.
LC: Yeah, yeah.
BS: And then in to Seattle and then moved on then up to Vancouver.
LC: Right.
BS: Got to Vancouver and then, that was early morning, the meal, breakfast at the station, issued with Canadian currency and given the leave for the day. Now that was my first contact with Rotary. A bloke, a Rotarian, said you blokes come round, you like to look around? So he drove us around town and out to the Capilano -
LC: Yup. The Narrows.
BS: Where it is, the park out there, you know and looked out at about mid-day, he says ‘What I’ll do’, he says ‘I’ll take you round’ and he went away, come round, then he arranged to come back and pick us up, ‘You go out and wander around the park there, you know, I’ll come back and pick you up at about three o’clock or some [unclear] and take you back to the station, give you a look around town and take you back to the station so you can meet, you’ve got to be there at 1800 hours or something and head off up over the Rockies to Edmonton.’ So he did that.
LC: And he was with the Rotary.
BS: We had a pretty full day.
LC: So you’re back on the train again heading to Edmonton.
BS: That was one of the greatest days out, that trip up through the Rockies.
LC: Yeah. It’s still winter isn’t it?
BS: Yeah. The middle of winter, go outside, and all the rivers frozen.
LC: At this stage were given you any extra clothing? Had they given you any extra cold weather clothing at this stage?
BS: Oh no, the trains were air conditioned, we were warm as toast in there. We were just sitting there in our dungarees more or less, looking out, getting over and some of these blokes, the waiters on the train there too, looking out, look all the snow cover and down between the trees there’d be a clean line of snow, down, you know. And they’d tell us: oh the bears keep that clean so they can skid down. I don’t know whether they were pulling our leg or not, might have been. But we believed them anyway.
LC: Oh yeah well, why not.
BS: Then we got to this place called Avola, and they had to stop there, we had a couple of stops before that, you know, going past Mount Robson but we couldn’t get over not a tree on them, you know, just bare rock and snow. What a great water, water resource that is, you know, we could do with that here, just then it melts quietly during the summer and sends it all down through the Prairies and whatnot, and down through the Mississippi and whatnot. So I did, we eventually got to Avola, got there into things, fixed it up in camp and then we set off from Jasper to Edmonton. Now, there’s a bit of a hold up just outside of Edmonton when we get down a bit, and then we arrived at Edmonton. I tell you, you blokes are lucky, the temperature’s twenty six below, now you’ve gotta get out, there’s trucks here to take you out to what they call the Manning Depot at Edmonton, you know, M Depots, they don’t call them reception depots or anything, it’s like the embarkation depots were called Y depots, I don’t know what the Y stood for, but the Manning Depot. I get this, the temperatures this side and they’re gonna get the trucks out, I said the best thing to do is make sure you’re about the first on. I’m grabbing the back and everybody else piles in behind you, they went out and they told us there the truck driver said there, if you were, if the temperature was two degrees cooler, that was twenty six degrees Fahrenheit, minus twenty six degrees Fahrenheit, if two degrees further and everything would be closed, everything would stop, okay so. Anyway we got out, we got us to Edmonton all right. We back down, put into some barracks there. The first barracks we were in, they were older barracks and the ablution blocks and that were, oh, about a chain away or something, you know, twenty, thirty, forty yards away, something like that.
LC: In the cold weather.
BS: If you had to race across to ‘em, you know, if you did, you had a shower or anything like that and you’d come out and your hair was wet, time you got back to the barracks it was all ice! You got back in a hurry. But not long after we were transferred to new barracks just across the road and they were all air conditioned and the toilets, everything was inside all in the one building, you know, and then we got issued first of all at the Manning Depot got called and then to issue our battle dress and our instruction books, text books and that on various, meteorology and navigation and whatnot, you know, and the first day like that, we didn’t get, another bloke and myself we didn’t get our battle dresses that day because they’d run out of Australian battle dresses there, so we had to go back oh, about a week later and get ours, back to the Manning Depot.
LC: So this would have been the dark blue.
BS: So this was out of the aerodrome, yeah. This was out of the aerodrome. So we settled in then.
LC: So your course was starting there then?
BS: Settled in to lectures.
LC: And Go!
LC: Oh yeah, right on, you know. It was on.
LC: Almost the day you got there, you went right into it.
BS: Right into it, yeah. They didn’t muck about. They get on and you did certain amount of lectures before your first flight, you know and they had to be ready for that and got issued with flying gear and whatever. And all various things and that’s where I had, I mentioned to you there before, where one of our blokes, the three of us that were good mates and stayed together we, and one of them had gone out and met this girl or something, we went into the, what we couldn’t get over there, we went into the YMCA, the YWCA rather, no YMCA over there, YWCA. Terrific facilities, you know, indoor heated swimming pool, dance floor, bowling alley, cafe, you know, dining facilities, dance floor and all, oh, terrific, you know. And Eric, who met up with one girl there too the first day and tied up with and we were invited then to be the, there was a group called the Twentieth Century Club, this girl was Italian and she used to organise hikes and that of a Sunday and we would go on them you know and that, Eric must have been out somewhere and he met this other girl, and just on the lectures a couple of days later this, the phone rings, wanting to speak to Eric Sutton or one of his friends, and this is this girl, ringing up, going oh yeah, well look Eric’s told me about you two friends look I’ve got two lovely friends too she says and they’re quite interested in meeting, how about come out and come meet us and we can go shagging one night. And you know shagging. I come back to the instructor and of course after the haw-haws about the shagging and whatnot going on, the instructor explained that shagging in Canada is dancing! So we said yeah.
LC: That’s all right though still. [Laughter]
BS: So we went out. They were great kids, they put no pressure on us, they were just - we were brothers, and that’s the way it was. Now the girl I went with, her father, told us when we left, he come out, he couldn’t thank us enough, now look, I can’t thank you boys enough for what you’ve meant to our, these three girls. He said none of them have got brothers, and they’re good friends, you’ve put no pressure on them, apparently, well it’s, I don’t know whether he explained, there’s never any pressure like this, they couldn’t attend all the things, they couldn’t come to our passing out parade because they were occupied, one was away, on holidays, one was a schoolteacher, you know they had their thing, but they were great kids, and their parents.
LC: So the locals were very happy, very happy to have you around.
BS: Yeah. He was great. When we left, when we had to go on to embarkation depot when we left from there, he come out to the train, we went to his place, to go along, thing is he said ‘I’ll drive you all to the train. I’ll take you in to the train’ then, but the girls didn’t come with us. They just, well, said goodbyes at the house.
LC: So you’re training at Edmonton, so now what aircraft was that on? What aircraft are you on?
BS: Ansons.
LC: Ansons, yeah.
BS: And you did, you flew in pairs, you had two, you had a flying mate come in. The second one, the first one did the navigation, you did practical navigation, you’re on set courses. There were a number of set courses which you flew by day then you flew the same course by night. And they were all bush pilots, Canadians, leased out, the bush pilots and they, they flew by the seat of their pants, I’ll tell you that, they were good pilots.
LC: Was this medium level, low level navigation?
BS: No. Very, very seldom went above two thousand feet.
LC: Okay, right, so it was very much visual.
BS: Yeah, bit of cloud that forced you up, but no, down low.
LC: So what you are learning is primarily visual and dead reckoning and that sort of thing.
BS: Yeah, just dead reckon navigate. The second bloke, the second nav on that trip, you’d do the first trip and he’d do the second. Second nav sat there, he did map reading. He practised his map reading and the old Ansons there didn’t have automated wind up the undercart, he had to wind up the undercart, hundred and thirty six turns.
LC: Oh bloody hell!
BS: Bloody. They were good. The er, we had a couple of trips there I think were, were memorable. The first trip we went on, well, our first flight, we had a bloke, his girlfriend was a schoolteacher at a school just outside of Edmonton, something business well did he do that turn up, I was starting to get a bit airsick by the time we was finished, he’s getting [unclear] was down there looking through the window of the school.
LC: Is that right? Beating up his girlfriend.
BS: That poor old Lanc he must have thought it was a Spitfire I think, the Anson, you know.
[Other]: I’ll give you two minutes. I’ll give you two minutes.
LC: Okay. Alma’s just entered the room and we’re being told to take a break in a few minutes.
BS: Right oh.
[Other]: [Unclear] we haven’t even left Canada yet!
LC: Yeah, we’ll get there, oh we’ll get there!
BS: That was, you know, gave us the two minutes. Then we had a trip later on, which is a, which a pilot, one of the few pilots who didn’t, who was not always on course ‘cause the thing there, for training and for navigation over in England was a bit rich ‘cause you go, your first leg’s to Ellerslie, well Ellerslie, that’s the three wheat silos down the line there, so you see it, and of course they know it’s there. But we had a trip, we had to go to a place well down, was a long way down and we were over ten tenths cloud and a lot of them pulled back, they came back. We had to go to two thousand feet to get above, I said ‘No we’ll carry on’ [unclear] and the pilot gets there, I said right we should be over, oh hang on [pause] no, I just, oh Coronation, a place called Coronation, and he looks around, he come down, there’s a break in the cloud there, yeah, we went down. ‘Oh’, he said ‘We’ll have a look at the railway station there and see, should be there’s a railway station there’, so he gets down. So he runs along, I think he damn near ran the wheels along the train track, Coron-wheesh, just went like there, no chance, so he goes round again and we shot off a bit, yeah, Coronation, he said ‘Righto, we’ll climb back up.’
LC: You’re reading the signs on the station were you!
BS: Yeah, yeah, read the name on the station to make sure. ‘Oh’ he says, ‘That’s good.’ Well I think I got brownie points for that trip, come back the old nav kind of thing. You’ve got to thank the pilot, he flew the course you gave him, you know, not tracking it, you know. Well he had to, he couldn’t see the ground anyway.
LC: So how many training trips did you, flights did you do on the course before the end?
BS: I think, I think the course was about twelve days, twelve or fourteen day trips and twelve or fourteen night trips.
LC: Okay. And how many a day, was it sort of you know, fly, day off, fly, day off?
BS: Oh we finished there the end of July, it was only over a couple of months, it was solid.
LC: Okay so you’re flying almost every day?
BS: Yeah yeah yeah yeah, quite a few, weather’d stop you quite a few days stop you, then you’d have catch up, night time and whatnot.
LC: Okay, we might take a break in a second, but so basically we’re up to, you’re coming to the end of the, coming up to your passing out parade so when we come back after the break we’ll go from there to Halifax and then we’ll get stuck in to operations in the UK.
BS: To Halifax. We’re going on holidays to New York [unclear].
LC: Okay, this is part two, we’re reconvening at half past twelve after a very, very nice lunch and a cup of tea. Okay welcome back, Bob, okay, now we got to, we’re talking about the time at Edmonton on the Ansons, the, so at the end of your training there, so was that the stage where you passed out, with your passing out parade. Was that the stage where you actually, did you get your wings, your brevet at that stage.
BS: Wings, yeah. Navigation brevet and then we get on, [cough] and after we left as I said with, we had that, spent the last day with the families of the girls, the three girls we were friendly with there. One of the fathers drove us to the station so then we left Edmonton then, by train, at night, all across the prairies, down through Winnipeg to somewhere got off, changed trains then to go on down to New York, via by Niagara Falls had a few hours at Niagara Falls and a couple of days at New York, looking around there sort of. And then Noel Hooper, one who along with myself were commissioned off course, we came back early from New York to Montreal to pick up our pilot officer ribbons and that, you know, we were given our slip on the pay parade, last pay parade at Edmonton, here’s your commission, sort things out yourself, something like that. Then we decided there in Montreal no, we’ll just take that, we’ll just do the pilot’s thing hang on to our present uniforms and wait till we get to England to be issued with officers uniforms, you know [cough] and then we caught up with the rest of the crew, the rest of them coming back from New York, coming up to Montreal and then we head off by train then again and along the Hudson river to Halifax, arrived at Halifax at the Y Depot.
LC: Right, that’s embarkation depot.
BS: Yeah, we were, completed our clearances, as they say in Canada they’re clearances whether you’re arriving or going, they’re all clearances. Completed there and settled in to officers quarters and whatnot, you know and pretty well straight away the first day, the first couple of days exercises in the decompression chamber. The Y Depot, the air force’s Y Depot emigration there, was situated on the naval station so they had those facilities so we did the decompression chamber and then a bit of practice or what to do, how to get into a dinghy from off the wing sort of. Generally leave was pretty good, mucking round there. After a few weeks we suddenly got the call yeah, go on parade: we’re on to the Queen Mary.
LC: Right, okay.
BS: So right, get on to the Queen Mary and we were billeted, there were twenty four of us, we were up on A deck, A24 and run by the, under the Americans [unclear] sort of thing and as you know on the Queen Mary the top decks were reserved for Commonwealth troops, officers and even men, you know and non-commissioned officers and the ship’s crew and American officers like that, and I think they went down to about the first four or five decks and below that you were then below decks where the main force of Americans, ‘cause after we boarded the Mary, the Queen Mary we went then straight to New York to pick up Americans. They, and I believe on that trip we go, there were fifteen thousand personnel on board the Queen Mary for that trip over.
LC: Bloody hell! Oh dear.
BS: So you can imagine the Americans, particularly the negroes, and that who were confined to below decks.
LC: Yeah.
BS: Conditions there were rotten.
LC: Because it had been refitted, it wasn’t like normal passenger cabins.
BS: No, no, they were rotten. At our deck we had, we soon learned that we had to follow the yellow line down to our eating, our mess as you call it sort of is, and I think it was the green line down to the big cinema where they showed pictures at night, the entertainment area and stuff like, and another red line to go somewhere else. But it was sort of colour coded where you go.
LC: So how long was that cruise across to?
BS: So we arrived in America late one afternoon, they loaded all night I think, and got away late the next afternoon. Then for three days went on a zigzag course across to -
LC: And you’re with a convoy as well?
BS: No, no, no, on your own, the Mary was on her own, see the Mary operated, from, its regular run at that time was from Gourock in Scotland, across to Halifax to New York back to Gourock. I think the Queen Elizabeth was also on the run but I got an idea the Queen Elizabeth operated from Southampton, and come down south of Ireland, you know, across there. We come in to north of Ireland. Then coming in to north of Ireland we cruised in lately and we were greeted pretty well by few low flying aircraft coming in to meet us round the north of Ireland and in towards the, the Ayrshire coast, moving up into the Clyde into Gourock and the most moving part of that was the Band of the Royal Marines which was aboard, down on the open deck, just below where we were standing, thing we were standing on, played Land of Hope and Glory.
LC: Oh, okay, for the Yanks, for the Poms.
BS: Well you can imagine, the Americans, there were tears in their eyes because Britain then was the land of hope and glory, there’s no doubt about it.
LC: Hope and glory, yeah that’s right.
BS: Anyway, so into Gourock lined us up on to lighters straight into, early in the morning, ah, that was about midday when we came, straight on to lighters, over on to the railway station. I think we got a meal and stuff like that, waited there, then set off that night down to England.
LC: So what was your first -
BS: So that was, travelled all through the night and then in the morning woke up, we’re getting in to the outskirts of, down past the Midlands a little bit and the first evidence of bomb damage I think, and what struck us most too, was we sped through the Crewe railway junction, that train just rattled through there at a reasonable speed and you suddenly realise in those days all the signals that were probably operated by hand, no automatic stuff or anything like that. Rattled down and then further on after we come into the real bomb damage and into London and on down to Brighton where we were accepted. The officers in Brighton were taken in to what they called the Red Lion Hotel, along and then the NCOs were billeted up in the, the Metropole and one of the other hotels further up, bit west. So we settled in there for a while, then about the second night come in, I’m suddenly given the job on duty, officer in charge of one of the guns on the front. Right, on the front, go down to this gun and a couple of other gunners come there, sort of looked at it, what do we do now? I says ‘Well I hope they’re working. Well, we’d better fire a couple of shots just to make sure’, you know, so bang, bang bang, ‘Oh they’re right’, okay. Well of course it wasn’t too long before some officious looking English sergeant major of some sort came flying, ‘What’s going on here, what’s going on here? You’ll have to be court martialled’, I said ‘What’s the sense of us being here if we’re not out testing the guns?’ We’ve got to make sure they’re working.
LC: This is on the main, when you say the front, that’s that main area on the foreshore.
BS: That’s right, the long the esplanade. Along past the main, what do they call it? The pier. So anyway he settled with that, it was all right. You can do that. Then with, we’re on to lectures that day on the pier, and I think one of the lectures on the pier, we’re on there one day, and all of a sudden there’s, you had to go up a plank on to the pier and all of a sudden there’s an unholy explosion, something happened. They were mined and one of the mines on the pier had gone off.
LC: Oh bloody hell!
BS: Got off there okay, that was all right and then it was only a few days later most of the crew we went, suddenly got their transfers, a couple of us went to London to organise our uniforms, officers uniforms and stuff like that and get to know the Boomerang Club and what it meant, had a look around.
LC: Where was the Boomerang Club?
BS: Eh?
LC: Where was that?
BS: In Australia House.
LC: In Australia House, okay, yup.
BS: I opened an account at the National Bank there as I was a bank officer, and it was then all the, the bank was all boarded up and that, there was a bit of bomb crater damage across the road with the St Martins in the Fields and that is now the official air force.
LC: Certainly is.
BS: Organised the Boomerang Clun and got the way, air force headquarters were up in Kodak House, Kingsway. We’d come in to Kingsway on the train up and come down to Boomerang House and then do the runs around, did the run up through there, to Buckingham Palace and around, got to know a bit of the area sort of thing.
LC: So getting your uniforms, were there tailors there just did standard work?
BS: Yeah, uniforms were fitted, in Oxford Street I think it was.
LC: Was that one of those places like Gieves and Hawkes or Johnsons?
BS: One of the great ones, yeah, all made to measure, beautifully made and got that settled. [Cough] It was only after a couple of days then Noel Hooper and Johnny Honeyman and myself were transferred to an Officers Training School down in Sidmouth.
LC: That’s, where’s Sidmouth, what’s close, where’s that, that’s down on the south coast?
BS: In Devon.
LC: Devon. Right. Yeah.
BS: So right, we got shot off to there, that means we then got shot behind the rest of our blokes who went through the course with us, they all got, while we were away there they nearly all got transferred to advance training schools and round about. So down to the Officers Training School and that was an absolutely solid four weeks training, in air force history, protocol, everything, you know. Run by the RAF Regiment and largely designed to train you to, if you were shot down to escape. Now, first day there, we’re put through an obstacle course. Now I’d been doing a lot of work as an, because before we left the squadron to, to go to Halifax, no wait a minute, no that’s later on, no, and in Edmonton you know, that’s the next squadron, [unclear] group there, and the, I got through the, I did the whole course within the time.
LC: Yep. That’s the obstacle course.
BS: The obstacle. But only one thing the, one thing was two pine tree poles something long enough with bars across, you had to climb up one and go over the top bar, come down, I looked when I got up there and I thought I’m not going over bloody top of that: I went underneath it. They spotted it!
LC: Oh bugger!
BS: They got it. Now there’s only one other bloke that was within the time. Now about three days before we left, the course finished, we were still there, the whole course did that course and they all completed it, in time and everything, so it showed you how they built up our fitness, the fitness of all those blokes. We would do, get on this training course was how to avoid - if you were shot down and somebody shot at you - to avoid so you go through all this drill all using live ammunition.
LC: Oh, okay.
BS: So you had to know what a 303 bullet felt like that whizzed past you a foot or two away, you know, from the rear. No mucking round.
LC: Health and Safety wasn’t very big there.
BS: So right we go on a route march one day, come along, there’s a bang, crack, crack, bang! You‘ve got to, bang! Now I get back, tell us on that route march what did you hear, what was that first one as you were coming up? Oh, some bloke, somebody let off a couple of double bangers. Oh that sounds reasonable. The second one? That was a rifle. Where was he? It was behind us, to our right. Now, if you think he’s going to shoot again, what do you do? Which way do you go? He says you go to your right, you don’t go that way, to avoid the chance of hitting you again, you go this way, right, and down, that, and down. So do that. What was that? A grenade. You’ve got to know a grenade. So we do grenade practice, get in a sandbag area, and the blokes get in, and of course half way through the grenade practices you’re told what to do, if grenade falls, you get out. Half way through, what does the instructor do, oh shit! I dropped one! Your reaction has to be straight away. Boom. Out!
LC: How long did that course at Sidmouth go for?
BS: Four weeks.
LC: Four weeks and then straight from there to -
BS: Now when we, they give you an exercise to go on, on that practice. Now you set off at the, at the school or you go to a place just outside Sidmouth, there, set off to go to school, start from here, now you got till three o’clock this afternoon to arrive here – told you where you had to go – up was a place about oh, I suppose ten or twelve mile up to the north east. So right, away you go! And we get off, you can go individually or you can get into a group, this is, you’ve got to use your own judgement, you’re own, right. Well Noel Hooper and John Honeyman and myself, the three of us said okay, she’ll be right, well we were, of a Sunday morning we’d all go, the three of us would go on hikes around, we knew a place with a bit of a cafe up just north of the thing and that and talk in there and we’d hike, we’d do twenty or thirty mile of a Sunday; we were pretty fit. So we go to this cafe and Noel, John Honeyman come up with an idea, he said, ‘I’ve got something, I was up talking to a girl the other day and I’ve got this woman’s hat’, Noel takes out a woman’s hat, thought about it, so we go to this, cafe, sitting there, do you think we can get a taxi, can we get a taxi? The taxi says, ‘Yeah, I think there’s a bloke’, organises this, this taxi turns up, so we explained to him what we wanted, oh, you beauty, says, I can do that for you, we probably gave him five months of [unclear] we get it so we worked out, we get in this taxi. So Honeyman sits up in the back seat of the taxi like they do in English taxis, come in and you sit in the back seat not beside the driver, I’m in the front seat with the driver, lying down, Hooper’s in the back seat, lying down. So we’re driving this taxi round, up they get, gets along, we knew the route, we had a fair idea where this instructor would be too, you know, so we’re coming up, up along a road and there’s a ditch along this road and a tree up along there and Honeyman looks over there: there he is, over against that tree over there, look, oh yeah, okay make a note and we just, we kept going. And the taxi let us off, went up, went up to a place and dropped us off about two mile north of where we had to go and we walked that last two mile, came out of there so we’re coming in as a group. So three o’clock comes about, it’s about a quarter past two, a bit before three o’clock, he turns up, to this point, this instructor, and a couple of others. ‘Now right, are they all here? Who’s not here – the three Aussies.’ Next minute we walked in – ‘Where the hell did you blokes come from?’ Ah. ‘How did you get past me?’ ‘Oh we got past you all right, oh, we’re coming up this road and there’s a bit of a ditch along there, we’re coming up this road and we looked and we see and there you are up against a bloody tree we lie down again and we said oh no we can’t go on past there, look around, so we crawled back down the ditch and went down further along, along past a tree, there’s bit of a dip in the road went up past there went, come a bit past and a bit north again and then come out.’ Oh bloody hell, fair enough. ‘Well’ he says, ‘Bloody amazing how these Aussies always seem to put it over us in these things isn’t it’, he said, ‘But you did, get you went together, well okay you used your initiative.’ The day later he found out what happened.
LC: Well, it’s still initiative.
BS: And he still accepted it.
LC: Good! Well you used your initiative!
BS: That ended up, so anyway we ended up, passing the course and getting out. Got pretty good. The course had a screaming skull, there was, you gave certain duties. They felt sorry for me because, I know now why, but one was Sergeant Major of Parade or yeah, Commanding Officer of Parade and Reviewing Officer of Parade: they were Colour Parades. Now, what bloody happens, but who’s, when this time when they come on, Commanding Officer of Parade one week, who’s Commanding Officer of Parade the first? Me. You’re sort of the drill sergeant of parade, you see, sort of. Now, you’ve got to parade, you’ve got to be awake here, this is parade ground drill this is, ‘cause now you’re here and the parade’s there. Now, this is advancing, that’s retiring. That‘s to the right, that’s to the left. Now, if they’re advancing if marching, if they’ve to move to the right they’ve got to do a left turn, to the left of the, you know a left turn to the right of the parade, you’ve got keep your wits about you to get right turn, parade off, [marching commands] retreat or something like that there, about turn, there, quick march, come on, yell out, they’ve got to bloody hear you! [Laughing]
LC: You’ve got to make sure you got your left and right turns right.
BS: The, get down there, the parade will advance, about turn! Come on. Parade will move to the left, or to the right, left turn. You got it right, you got it right, that same instructor. And he was, yeah, that’s all right. There’s the same as CO on parade, you’re doing other things, Commanding Officer on Parade with bloody nothing to do but stand round.
LC: Exactly.
BS: He gets on, we trained a couple of those, one day before this, we were out when he was teaching us how to yell, you know. How to, you’ve got to throw your voice, now come on, get out here now. You’d get the blokes out, line up, march them down the road, he’d hang on till they’re about eighty to a hundred yards away. Right, give ‘em, tell ‘em about turn, about turn, well of course your voice wasn’t too good, they wouldn’t do it. He’d show you. Come on, I’ll show you how to go. Right, he’d get up, he’d get one of the other blokes there, up about turn so we’d head off this day, we’re going down, there’s three of us there and then another bloke, he was a Canadian I think, he said listen, us and the ones in front hesitate. All you blokes behind do an about turn, the other blokes in the front there the three four ranks in front keep going, so he’s there, well, about turn! well back he bloody comes. You buggers, I know what’s going on here! You organised that, didn’t yer! He knew bloody well. Oh yeah, there’s a good YouTube thing on the return of the Black Watch to Glasgow and that’s got, that. I’ve often wondered why one unit of the Black Watch carries the shoulders on the right arm and other one carries them on the left arm, you know that screaming skull there, it was a screaming skull there, you bloody heard his voice, they threw that voice. Bloody terrific.
LC: Amazing. So that was, was that all practice for your passing out parade, was it?
BS: That was all the thing. And they said review, now I found out later towards the end, find the thing it was, squadron, the CO after we were in training to bring the squadron back here, that I was supposed to be navigator of, and be promoted one above substantive rank, you know, which would have been to squadron leader. Now, when my report comes back was recommendation about if ever approved for rank above or substantive rank by wing commander or above to be approved, without further question.
LC: Okay. Is that right?
BS: Yeah.
LC: Oh, that would’ve been right.
BS: Now, none of that records on your things. It’s like those records come through, it’s like the nav records from training. I’ll get to that when I get, when we got to the squadron. So we got that, we come back then. And then when I got them we were transferred up to Scotland, to West Freugh. I was with a course, blokes that went through, also went through Edmonton but they were two courses behind us.
LC: Yeah. Because they didn’t have to do the officer training.
BS: Eh?
LC: Because they didn’t have to do officer training?
BS: No, no. They didn’t. Not too many did that. There were a few Aussies on it. A couple were there for disciplinary reasons.
LC: Okay!
BS: Well, one was a bloke had pranged a Wellington on take off at an OTU. He was sent there for disciplinary reason for some reason or other; I suppose he wiped the bloody aircraft off, you know. But he was only there for a few days, he was recalled back to the Operational Training, to the OTU because he was upsetting the staff, his crew, see they’d already had a crew organised he had his crew so he didn’t last too long. He went back and there were others who were called off the course back to squadrons or back to courses or something like that, yeah.
LC: Okay.
BS: But it was an excellent course on the history of the, the psychology of the British Army, the British and the history of the air force, protocols and whatnot. I was set up. So you know you benefited a lot from it. So we went back then, so we went to West Freugh and then that’s where you started training with staff pilots. They were air force pilots, not like the -
LC: Bush pilots.
BS: Bush pilots in Canada, yeah, they were air force pilots and so on. The first courses there were set courses too, on the navigator, they also had set courses that you flew at day and flew at night, about a half dozen courses.
LC: What aircraft was this on?
BS: Most of them were over the Irish Sea, back out, over to Northern Ireland, back of Bangor, or across to, towards Newcastle from Ingham, where they were allowed, they didn’t interfere with operations or you know.
LC: So what aircraft were you flying?
BS: So they were sort of training areas for flying schools and that. So right, we did those, we and in the old Anson the main things there was the, going on Anson once we had to watch the hills round Dumfries and that, Scotland, something there called Criffel, which was a fairly high peak you know it claimed if you had flown into it you know, like around Wales there and the old Anson wouldn’t fly through a hill.
LC: Not real well.
BS: We set off one day on a flight, actually I think it was to, to Newcastle. We had two flights, we had trouble to Newcastle. We, we start off, all of a sudden, the met winds were supposed to be about, I think only about twenty five knots or thirty knots or something, but they got up to about sixty or seventy knots, you know, bloody hell we’re flying along we, and suddenly they woke up, no, no, we were recalled, we’re gonna get there too soon, you know, recall. Well by that time we were, what the hell we were getting pretty close to round about Gretna Green or somewhere, round Dumfries there, something like that, we had to come back. Well, we’re going, coming back that bloody Lanc we had a ground speed I suppose, of twenty mile an hour at the most.
LC: Yeah, with that wind, yeah.
BS: Twenty miles an hour. We come back, now we come over couple of these high peaks and you could have damn near jumped out. And then on our night exercise to go to, we had a, go to Newcastle. That was to combine the Newcastle anti-aircraft with a practical exercise, you know.
LC: Okay yes, so they can have, they can see an aircraft.
BS: They get, do a thing, probably do a camera thing or gawd knows what. So we head north, but we had the same thing, getting pretty well along about Carlisle something, we were recalled - Newcastle was having an actual.
LC: Oh okay, having a real air raid.
BS: Air raid, a proper air raid.
LC: So the anti-aircraft guys having some real practice, okay.
BS: Then we had another interesting flight which was, one of our flights used to take us -
LC: And this is still on the Anson. This is still flying the Anson.
BS: On Ansons, these were on Ansons, nearly all our navigation exercises from West Freugh would start from Ailsa Craig, that was a well known landmark, off the coast of Ayrshire, you know, Ailsa Craig. You go there, and of course they’d take off, they get over Ailsa Craig and away you go, down to Anglesey, Wales and across and come back to Ballyquintin Point or somewhere in Northern Ireland. Now on that leg you’re flying straight over the Isle of Man. This day, crew one, mates the, one of the crews they were over cloud on this, they flew that, and coming down, coming back to the Isle of Man they’re over cloud and the Ballyquintin Point had to be back below under cloud at a certain height, you know, do something, and the, come down through cloud, what do they do, straight into the mountain on the Isle of Man. Killed.
LC: Oh dear.
BS: That was the first, first accident of on that crews in flight now on that course. Then when we got to, when we finished that course, okay -
LC: What was that course called?
BS: Advanced Flying.
LC: Advanced Flying Course.
BS: Over there, yeah, and flying and bit of conditions you get over there, crook weather and half the time you can’t see the ground. Now, I’d say the six, it was about five or six weeks we were at West Freugh we only saw the sun about for a couple days, on the ground, [emphasis] at twelve hundred feet, or fifteen hundred feet you’re up in sunlight.
LC: Was that just fog or low cloud?
BS: So we were then transferred to Chedburgh so that was the first indication that we, we’re heading for Bomber Command. Because Chedburgh’s Number 3 Group’s training, training, Operational Training Unit and where crews are formed, you know.
LC: Starting to feel a bit real now was it.
BS: Settle in to Chedburgh, went down, got in, settle into Chedburgh, settle in to officers quarters there, as they, so called, and straight on to a few exercises and a crews, and to train crews, instructors, fly with other pilots and stuff like that, you know. We’d be under as a navigator, they’d check your nav courses on the bomber, do a couple of exercises, nav you know. Come back and your logs would be checked, same as the pilot, he’d be under instruction or something like that. To do, that conversion on to Wellingtons, they’d be doing circuits and bumps and you’d be doing with odd crews circuits and bumps, navigator.
LC: On the Wellingtons.
BS: And then after that they’d say right, all passed, you passed, everybody’s passed the thing. Now, into that hangar and by tomorrow morning sort yourselves out into crews. It worked. It was the best, it was the preferred method. So I go along, get on a crew and next minute Ron Hastings come up to me he says, he says you got a crew? No. He says I’ve got two, two English air gunners here who’ve been through courses together and want to stay together, they were all right and another bloke was there which the name of the bomb aimer [unclear] bomb aimer, he hadn’t been taken to a crew, Bobby Burns, we take him, and then there was another, older bloke there Vic Pearce, nobody’d take him, came up to Vic. Vic had come off, an instructor, been an instructor for quite a while so he didn’t come through with crews that had been training, you know, so he didn’t have mates or anything get him sorted out with others going through. Now Vic said - oh God yeah, Vic, Vic had so many hours experience, so we formed a crew. And they said we’d be right.
LC: Okay, so it was basically as you said, that you’re just put in the hangar, and just sort it out amongst yourselves.
BS: So we set out. Then once you’ve got a crew, and then you’re under instruction out to the, out to the satellite ‘drome to do a few circuits and bumps with the pilot on his own you know.
LC: That’s still on the Wellingtons, still on Wellingtons.
BS: Still on Wellingtons, then back to the squadron, back to the squadron. Now the first exercise we had to go on, nav exercise, bombing and high level bombing and nav exercise supposed to be, you know, from that, from Chedburgh, we were in this aircraft – it was U Uncle the same as the first aircraft we had in the squadron. And so it was, the first thing Ron on his own and that, us all as a crew, so right we’re taking off, and I’m sitting as you do in the Lanc, you know looking at the runway flying past and all of a sudden the runway goes wheet, what’s that, the runway didn’t do that, the aircraft did that, the wing dropped. The fuel tank flap on the port wing flew open and stalled that wing.
LC: Oh god.
BS: And that wing stalled. And how that wing didn’t touch the ground, if it had touched the ground we would have been killed, would have piled in, probably gone up in flames, you know.
LC: Fully loaded aircraft.
BS: No, no bombs.
LC: No, no. But full fuel load.
BS: Right, and it took the pilot straight away, we get a call for [unclear] Uncle, that was our callsign [unclear] Uncle you’re in trouble, yeah we can see that, we’ll hand you straight over to a pilot, to a trained pilot, an instructor pilot to guide you in, guide you now from now on, you know. So he come on to Ron. Now Ron at that time, and he needed the, the bomb aimer to help him hold that stick right, right over down here, low, hold that stick to get that aircraft flying level ,to keep that wing up, you know. And I’m standing up at this time and he said, ‘Smithy, see that strip ahead of us keep your eye on it and guide us around to it will yer?’ So I, looking at it, yeah, yeah, she’s right, keep going, we’re right now, we can see it okay, get back to crash positions! So I get back and I crawl past the wireless operator. Now this is where I learned something. I should have tapped him on the shoulder and told him come down to crash position, but I just walked past, and got down to crash position, sat on, the two gunners were sitting there and I sat on the edge over beside the fuselage, out on the starboard, or the port side and there we go, next minute down, down, down, come in there, landed, you know. That instruction was to come around again. Now what we didn’t know, and I didn’t know, till thirty, forty years later until another bloke that was on that second nav course that went to, went to Chedburgh with us, they weren’t flying that morning, and the word had soon got around, ’cause all the sirens went, the fire brigade had to get out, the ambulance everything out on to the runway to meet this aircraft coming in to crash land you know and it soon word got around that it was Hastings’ crew and of course Keith Dunn, there was a navigator, this navigator that I met thirty years later, he knew, he knew Brian Hastings, our pilot ‘cause Ron’s father was in the Union Bank of Australia, and Keith was in the Union Bank of Australia, and they both worked at the [unclear] Hunter Street Branch of the Bank of Australia at the time you see, so he knew of Ron. And they thought oh god, don’t tell me it’s Ron, it’s Ron and Bob Smith because we’d become good friends and next minute goes on, we land. Just as we land of course, the land, the sometime, my son said to me at the time he says, and the pilot, the plane swerved, because the rear gunner left go of the, and the pilot couldn’t hold the stick there again, we’re still at flying speed and the son said to me once, that wonder the undercart didn’t collapse I said no, no weight on the undercart, that’s still at flying speed, the weight’s still all on the wings. You know. But it swung. Now, I felt the wheels touch the ground, [unclear] and went to stand up to get out, and the rear gunner had done the same, and he was a big bloke, and of course when we swung, when it swung there, he fell against me and bashed my head against the - well I got a blunt trauma.
LC: Is that what that scar is?
BS: Led to all my troubles later on, you know. Yeah. So, I’d been knocked out, I know that, ‘cause they told me then, they were laughing, what you laughing at, they said the field ambulance had just come back, Chedburgh, just came back [unclear] Uncle, if you pancake you haven’t pancaked here! So Ron took a look around, he looked around and he, and oh no, took a while, the wireless operator looked around said what’s going on, ‘cause wireless on, sitting on, listening to some bloody -
LC: So he didn’t know what because you didn’t tap him on the shoulder.
BS: No, no. He’s away in another world, what’s going on, so with the joke and I’d got up then too and we looked out and I could get up stand up well I said we’re back at Honington, this is, we recognise the screen, went out, so we told them then, they worked out, they sent a crew out to take us back, we had to go straight to the medical guy to get checked. A feller there told me there, he says well you’ve got a bit of a bump there, you got and, bit of a bump there and oh god, that eye’s bloodshot, that should come all right, if you get a bruise come out and a bruise comes out probably okay, but he said if it doesn’t you might have trouble later on and that’s what did happen. It had damaged the optic nerve as well, you know, and caused pressure and also caused that cancer, meningioma core something, which didn’t happen till I retired, you know, just after. I never mentioned, the bloke treating for me glaucoma the ophthalmologist in Brisbane, I never mentioned to him that I’d had a trauma there and he couldn’t work out why I was getting, you know. And with the, about three days later the skipper said to me, he says ‘You’d better go and see about that eye again, it’s still bloodshot’, I said ‘Oh it’ll be right, we’re not bloody losing you as a pilot, the way you handle this.’ So it just went on. It never worried me then till oh, 1960, oh about twenty years after, when I was at Cumbria, you see I noticed driving that little smirr in the vision of the eye, you know, so I went to the optometrist. Oh he said I’ve got to send you to an ophthalmologist, a specialist down in Brisbane he says you know, you’ve glaucoma, high pressure, glaucoma there, if I’d mentioned it then he might have said, you know, he said yeah, he did that, put in a bit of a valve up there, which was supposed to last, only supposed to last for twenty five years but was still going fifty years later!
LC: Bloody hell! That’s all right.
BS: But it looks as though, no, he says it’s been damaged under that optic nerve and he says it’s gradually getting worse, he said no, you’ll gradually lose sight there, then when I come up and got out, that tied the two together and went, put in for disability with it, you know, with the, the Vietnam boys got on to me, they went through with it and then they said that could see no evidence of sharp trauma or something, we’re not talking about a sharp trauma, we’re talking about a blunt trauma sort of thing, but the he come in had me allowed, traumas, these traumas they can move too and also are allowed that can form non-malignant growth, tumours can form, you know, on the skull if the skull’s been damaged slightly somewhere there.
LC: But at the time though that didn’t preclude you, obviously didn’t preclude you from flying after that.
BS: No we had, the old bloke, the, Ron always reckoned we disturbed the medical officer and his WAAF assistant, he couldn’t get rid of us quick enough!
LC: Okay.
BS: So we got that out of the road anyway and we kept going and completed the tour there, went on and had a few quick trips in the old Wimpeys, good experience, get on, nothing more greatly unusual, just the usual thing, lectures and stuff like that.
LC: So that point then -
BS: And of course a lot of lectures from blokes that’d already completed tours or had escaped, been shot down and escaped given a few clues on what to do, what happens over there you know and the present position [unclear] shot down and whatnot. Then from from Chedburgh then we were shot through to what they call 31 Base at Stradishall. That attached us to Chedburgh which is Stirlings, we were flying Stirlings to convert on to four engines and they, we also picked up a flight engineer there, you know. That was our first flight engineer that we had the problems with. Our troubles with, or Ron’s experience, unusual experience with aircraft went, now Chedburgh was on a plateau and it happens there one day they’ve got to do a take off, they’re doing the engine failure on take off see, so right, taking off and the old the instructor cuts an engine. What happened then? So Ron, put a little bit of extra revs on, not getting anywhere, couldn’t start the bloody thing again.
LC: Oh dear.
BS: But fortunately it’s on the plateau, the ground fell away from us.
LC: Of course, ‘cause you’re on the plateau
BS: So the ground fell away from us to give us a couple of hundred feet to do a bit of a dive to get up speed, get a bit of flying speed and then the engines would, so that, that worked out all right, you know, so he had a go, so he, he had a, so the instructor said well you handled that all right he says you might as well try a three engined landing. So righto, I know I’m no [unclear] right now, so he’s got’d to do a three engined landing, that was good experience. So that was a great, we got the [unclear] of Ron.
LC: How flights did you take?
BS: So we weren’t going to let him go.
LC: How many flights did you do then on the Stirlings, four engine on the conversion.
BS: Oh, between circuits and bumps and I wouldn’t know, probably about twenty. It’d be quite a few.
LC: Okay. Over two or three weeks.
BS: Quite a few various ones. We, one day there we had to deliver, we had a, got an instruction out just Ron, Ron and the flight engineer and the wireless operator, I think there’s only three of us. Ron come, said ‘Come out here we’ve, we’ve got to go out, we’ve got to do an air test,’ he said to me, ‘The CO’s taking us out’, so we get out to the Stirling, we’re told there, you got to go to Stradishall, well we knew Stradishall you can do a pub crawl to Stradishall. So we got in. There’s this gorgeous looking girl sitting up in the Stirling, on the nav seat. You’re to go over to Tuddenham.[pause] Don’t fly over five hundred feet, so Ron didn’t take any notice that extra nought, that means fifty feet, so right we go over, in your log book you don’t say landed, and then took off again, just come back and land back here, you’ll be met over there. So over we go, landed Tuddenham airfield, this girl to come in, she’s to be dropped over France that night, one of the Special Duties Squadrons, you know.
LC: Okay, so she’s one of the SOE agents.
BS: Yeah, yeah. Whether she’s parachute, or drop her by parachute or drop her or a Lysander or something, jumps in and jumps out, you know, well of course she was a lovely girl, could speak perfect English and French I suppose.
LC: Was she French was she?
BS: What?
LC: French was she?
BS: She was French, I think, I think she was French. I’ve got an idea she was. Yeah, yeah she was, that was an experience on the old Stirling, get on, and then once we got the flight engineer then, he’d come off straight on, well he was just straight to the crew come in from the course somewhere, plumped on and well I don’t know what good he does on Stirlings, on Pratt and Whitney engines or whatever they had, I don’t know, but then we went across to the Lancaster Finishing School at Feltwell for a few days and that was just circuits and bumps with the pilot under instruction. We get on to and a for a, oh I think about a few hours each, a couple of days up. That’s when I first met Keith Miller, cricketer. Ray Lindwall was there at the time and I think that’s where they met and Keith came over, something to do with the cricket, or something like that, and yeah, we had a game of cricket and get on and then we come along, we’re told then right you’re appointed to 15 Squadron. We pack up, there’ll be a, get your clearances, called round here, there’ll be transport, there’s a couple of other crews, I think there was one other crew went to 15 Squadron and another one came from another Lancaster Finishing School or something I think at the same time you know. So we moved across to 15 Squadron, got settled in.
LC: And where was that at?
BS: Went round to the nav section.
LC: Where was 15 Squadron located?
BS: At the nav section, that’s where these, where you realise how the training under the Empire Air Training System and then with the RAF was pretty damn thorough. Now, I walk into the, I go in to the nav section and our flight lieutenant, the nav looks at my things, oh you’re the sort of nav bloke we could do with, good on yer, we’re not going to have any problems with you, okay, so led away. There was another navigator there who’d just finished school, a bloke called Flying Officer Johnny Moore. He was the first Australian that finished a tour with 15 Squadron. He said ‘Well now listen, you blokes should be right. I’ve just broken the hoodoo on Aussies on 15 Squadron, I’ve finished a tour, I’m the first Aussie that’s finished a tour on 15 Squadron.’ And of course the two English blokes that were with us, they thought that’s a bloody good idea, if he’s got, finished a [unclear], we’ve got a fair chance of getting back too sort of business. But and [unclear] sort them out, but now.
LC: That was at Mildenhall.
BS: Yeah. Now at Mildenhall. On that, on that report it comes in for the flight engineer must have been a report to the flight engineer as well, there was some concern about our flight engineer, ‘cause in our first op the flight engineer came with us as a instructor. See the, on the squadron the nav officer can’t fly with the crew for some unknown reason, don’t know what that is, the, the COs can, I don’t think the flight officers can take a sprog crew, but the gunnery officer can take ‘em, the wireless officer doesn’t need to I don’t think [unclear]. So right, so we had the nav officer, the flight engineering officer, now which was fortunate, ‘cause change of wind, we were on the short runway, which comes out and goes in, went pretty well over the officers quarters, the old Mildenhall officers quarters, you know, and, on the short runway, now this is the first time that a pilot takes off with the full bomb load and full petrol load and we’re just starting to take off and he says ay, ay, ay get those things through the stick we’re on the short runway you’ll never take off, you’ll never get off if you don’t, so he rammed it full through, we got off.
LC: But this was your first operation.
BS: Yeah, yeah, this was our first op. But after that things were pretty good, was down to flying bomb base there, a good trip down, individually, flew in, we were on the second wave on this flying bomb base, dropped our bombs, light bit of, there’s a bit of light flak, no fighters things like that, they had a turn off down to the right and dive, go down towards where the troops had landed after D-Day, you know, and then go out over, that’s our first sight of the Mulberry.
LC: Oh yeah, Mulberry Harbour was it. Aramanches.
BS: What a sight, so we got down, good sticky at that and back to England.
LC: Now you mentioned to me earlier on that you did a sortie supporting D-Day. While you were still on your training, on Lancasters.
BS: Yeah, we went to north of France, that was down up off the north of France, went to, had to fly down and stop five miles short, well Gee set was operating good, and it was all right so five mile short, if you were out, if the navigator was out and he overshot by five mile, he could have been in trouble, he would have been in the defences on the coast, you know, but no, it was all, we just cruised along the coast dropping the Window out there. So then on the, after we did, there, that was in Uncle, which was a brand new aircraft, oh it was a great old aircraft, first one and our next trip there in Uncle, we did a couple of trips after it that Ron came with us, he was all right, he went in to to Fleurie de Louche, was an oil dump in the north of France and that was okay, no flak or anything like that. Then we went to Chalon sur Marne a railway marshalling yards just north east of Paris, or north west.
LC: Yep. And this was in support of the D-Day landings.
BS: Yeah, yeah and it was a pretty solid trip for navigation dodging the defended areas and stuff like that, and the, got over there, bit of flak, fair bit of flak, got back and the flight engineer, Ron, that flight engineer Ron then, he, he reported sick the next morning and he was still sick when we, when we were, went to Kiel. Now Kiel was an unusual target, the place we only got flak and searchlights, were a problem, you only got, the flak there was what they called flaming onions. Now it wasn’t the anti-flak gun, you know, the 135mil or the 128mil, it was rocket propelled 38mil because the rocket was over Peenemunde you know where they experiment with the rockets and that, Peenemunde, rocket, and this thing, and we took, and so we get to Kiel, now just as well when we arrived, Ron wasn’t with us - we got caught in searchlights.
LC: Ron Hastings
BS: Yeah. We got caught in searchlights, and these flaks, they’re amazing things, you’re looking at it, you get a light pinkish sort of a glow, and looking at it from the aircraft they just seem to go “deeee, wheest”, explode a few hundred feet above you. Right, we got out of that, got out of the flak all right, got back, okay, well, and then the next trip, one more trip I think was okay, he was all right with us, down to, that might have been Falaise, down to the Falaise Gap or something like that then we were sent mining down to the Gironde river.
LC: You’re dropping mines?
BS: Sea mines, into the sea lane of the Gironde river.
LC: Okay. I actually didn’t realised Lancasters did that.
BS: This was where Uncle’s, that Gee set in Uncle was a terrific Gee set. And I only used Gee, like most of us did, on, where you had a coastline. There were a couple of blokes could use it inland, they could pick up a lake, or a town or a slightly different signal from a forest, but I never got down that, picked up a Gee set, you know.
LC: That’s just, gives bearing doesn’t it.
BS: And so we go down, we had a fly over ten thousand feet over the Brest Peninsula ‘cause the Yanks were in there then, then drop down to eight thousand feet, down fast, the estuary of the Gironde river, bit below the estuary, cross the, cross over the river then, go on to a course 010 into the shipping lane, you know, now I’ve got the, the old Gee set was good, looking out and as soon as we crossed the coast a bit there, the bomb aimer gave the skip, said righto skip go on to 010 now on to the thing to drop the mine. And I looked at this if we’re on that we are going to be over the narrow part of the thing we’re gonna drop on the narrow lane, we’re not be on the thing, no, I said no, no, no, no, we can’t do this, we’re not in the lane, we’ve got to go round again. So round again we go. I said I’ll tell you when to turn. We went across, I watched it on the Gee set, and then this is it, righto, now, so right, we’re on course, beautiful, with the Gee set one thing we were right on target with it, you know. Now up we go, drop the Gee set, and it went, the instructions were there, to, on the last, on dropping the last mine to turn sharp to port and dive at two hundred and forty mile an hour, now, that’s what it is, sharp to port, and that’s what happened, just after we dropped the mine, the bit, they couldn’t get this straight away but when they did, we must have, there must been a hill, or were defending that gun position at Royan to the aircraft, where we were to drop the mines. By the time he was up, we were on a dive, and we had oh, tracer and that’s going, that only seemed to be going that far above the aircraft, but I suppose it was a bit higher, you know, but he couldn’t get down quick enough, we were driving too fast for him, and got out of his range, you know, and now by the time we got out through the estuary, Hastings was just about down in the mists of the waves. [Laugh] And of course when we get out there, I got cursed at, Smithy, you don’t do that again.
LC: Was that go round again?
BS: Now, what happened, [unclear] will know that either, when I was doing those cruise ships there and going through the history of there was a raid on Royan in January that cost five aircraft. Now, and the position of Royan, what it is, now if we had been on that first round, we were flying straight at that garrison, at that, he couldn’t have missed us. We’d have been straight at him, straight for him, at eight thousand feet and then when we turned on the thing, he couldn’t have bloody missed us. We’d have been gone for sure, you know. And at Royan, it’s very interesting the history on Royan, cost five aircraft, that garrison. A German, a French officer committed suicide over it. He got word to the Yanks that this Royan, they should get a message to the Bomber Command, they should bomb Royan, the garrison at Royan, is the only, the only French are left there favoured, on the side of the Germans see.
LC: Collaborators.
BS: Yeah. They were collaborators, yeah. Now what happened is, they did two, did two raids on that, the first raid went, bombed it, did bloody lot of damage, not too many civilians were killed, they were all, the warnings were given, they were all in air raid shelters stuff like that come out, and then when that stopped, they all come out of the air raid shelters, the guns are quiet, next minute another raid comes and a lot of them think, and a lot of them were still the old French, the German garrison’s still all right and of course a lot of in that area of France they were, they supported the Germans a little bit, round Bordeaux and that, ‘cause they provided employment, you know, bought their fruit and their vegetables, and the farmers, so. And those, in the second wave they were [unclear] by time the second wave, the a lot of the aircraft, I think there were five Lancasters went down, a couple of them collided and a couple didn’t make it, they had damage over the thing and had to prang [cough].
LC: Amazing yeah. [cough] So could you -
BS: Amazing. But what, see what happened there, when the, when the Yanks took over, when they took over Paris, and the Vichy French, you know, sort of come in and de Gaulle’s troops, the Free French forces up in the Brest Peninsula, they were given control of that area but they were not given the equipment to go and bomb, go and get stuck in to these other units at Royan and those places, you know, they just held back and held back and held back, they didn’t have the equipment. So when we came back we had to climb back over ten thousand feet over the Brest Peninsula again.
LC: Oh, bloody hell.
BS: Because at night time, the Yanks, anything up there’s not theirs so they just shoot at ‘em!
LC: So could you give me a sense then, of a, could you just run through a typical day if you’re on ops, how your day would start or [unclear].
BS: If you start like this. Well, I’ll give it you like this then, the, yeah, well after that we had no in flight engineer for a while, you know we got to do so – I’ll cover that in a minute - and then one day this engineer turned up, a Jock Munro, a Scottish lad, he turns up, Jock comes and straight into it. Well there’s, now Jock’s first flight was a trip to Stettin, nearly ten hours, in old Uncle again, and with its good Gee set, we got wonderful fixes all along the north coast of Denmark and that, you know, and down across Malmo and over Sweden, across Malmo, what happens over Malmo, anti aircraft sets up a fair dinkum, shot down about five of us, but there’d been a bit of story something before that they were, the Yanks had got stuff in to the Swedes about they were shooting and they were shooting going too low and not being fair dinkum and the searchlights were pointing towards Germany and all this sort of whatnot, but they and the Swedes must have thought they’d better do something about it, you know. So they shot down a lot, they were Sweden now.
LC: They were Swedes, okay, Malmo of course.
BS: Over Malmo. Yeah. So Jock sitting there, this is all right, we get over Stettin, and over Stettin was another target, the flak was heavy, searchlights again, searchlights got us, we got coned there again, it’s an experience being coned in searchlights, oh god, you just, you just, but they weren’t quite as severe in Stettin as they were in Kiel, ‘cause the atmosphere was pretty clear and stuff like that. In Stettin, by the time we’d bombed, I think we were on second wave, you know, and time we got there there was a fair bit of smoke down the ground, it was cloudy over the target area, the searchlight were rendered a bit ineffective, you know, so anyway then we got back, and when we get back over Stettin, over Malmo, there’s quite a few had held up one of their thousand pound bombs, was quite obvious, now and again boom, boom, and then all of a sudden -
LC: Oh dear.
BS: I’m looking out, I’m looking out and next minute this bloody almighty explosion, now, that was more, either that or he hit an ammunition dump or something down there or, or somebody saved his cookie.
LC: This round by Malmo, this is Sweden.
BS: Somebody saved his cookie, there’s this almighty explosion. What’s next? A blackout. [laughs] So now we go, now we’re headed out across over Denmark, down low over Denmark and that’s where we come out over Denmark, out, no we’re still a fair height then, we had to drop to two hundred and forty mile an hour down across the North Sea, to beat the sun, you know, so right, Ron sets the must have set it on Gee set two forty down to eight thousand feet, so right down to eight thousand feet, seven and a half thousand feet, seven thousand feet, oh look at Ron, give the old flight engineer a ring, see if Ron’s asleep – he was! Flight’s on Gee.
LC: Oh no! Single pilot too. Bloody hell!
BS: So what does that do? That, that gives us, puts us ahead of the rest of the squadron or anybody else that wanted to do the same, get back, you know, anyway, back we get and get back and I’ve got a note on one of those log sheet of mine, you’ll see the notice by the nav assessment officer - good trip spoiled by uncontrolled speed on the way home. But we arrive back a bit before the rest of the crews, which was, did happen a bit later, [unclear] but old Jock, Jock just stood there, as calm as you like, we said well, boy, this is the flight engineer we want on the crew.
LC: Oh, brilliant.
BS: And he did, he proved himself, another one Ron then, just after that was, we were on, was it more or less, wasn’t a typical day, out of typical day, one day we were on the battle order to bomb Stettin in the morning, a m raid on Stettin in the morning. Wake up at two o’clock for, get out of bed, get down to the mess and have a meal at three o’clock, half past three four o’clock, be at briefing at four o’clock, you know, over to briefing, stuff like that, get all that down. So away we go, this is all right, and we’re on the second wave here, this is on the second wave on Stettin, on Duisburg, Operation Hurricane, on the morning raid, the Yanks were following us, after, they bombed after us, and so we come in, old Jock’s carry on, but Ron this time, time we come up, our turn to bomb, just before we released our bombs, the Master Bomber gave the code word for “bomb at your own discretion,” ignore the, don’t worry about the thing, the target area’s been hit hard enough and bomb at your own discretion and now as soon as he said that, Ron come out, I can still, I can still hear it: he didn’t call the pilot, the bomb aimer by bomb aimer, ‘Hey Burnsy don’t bomb, don’t bomb a residential area!’ Just screamed like this, you know. Now, Burnsy, oh Burnsy said ‘Don’t worry, I’ve got a target ahead the same as this aircraft that’s just up in front of us, there’s a ship berthed beside a dock up on the Ems canal up just ahead of us’, I can see him, and this bloke I think has got the same thing, he did, and both our sticks of bombs get in there, but I can still hear Ron with that -
LC: Don’t bomb a residential area, yeah.
BS: Now I didn’t know till fifty years later when we met Ron over in Perth, went over Ron in the 1990s, to meet him: he was German descent.
LC: Okay, yeah.
BS: His father was, his family name was Hohenzonberg, it’s in the thing there, he was in the ANZ Bank, and had been transferred to Dubbo I think it was, well one of those places in New South Wales, in 1936. At the time when Hitler was starting to get a bit unpopular and the Germans, and the ANZ recommended to him that he anglicised his name, the family anglicise his name and Ron picked the name of Hastings, he was at high school at the time, Ron picked Hastings. That just explains it. I can see a lot of German in Ron: he was methodical, very methodical. The German methodical business. We’re not in trouble till we’ve finished. Old Ron. So there we are. And then we get back from, from Duisburg, what happened, about midday, get up and go and have dinner, you know, after debriefing and dinner, there’s another battle order out: we’re on it to bomb Duisburg again the same night.
LC: You’d only just finished!
BS: Back at, back at the darned briefing again at about seven o’clock or something, and too late to go to bed, just going, so we hung on kind of thing, go to briefing, get sorts out, and away we go.
LC: Did that happen often that you’d -
BS: No, no, no.
LC: It was just a mistake in schedule.
BS: Just the way it was, yeah, just the way, we had to catch up a bit I suppose. There were a couple did the two trips, maximum efforts, you know. It’s a saturation raid, and on we go. Over on the night, well of course going down no trouble finding it that night, the fires are still burning, you carried on and carry on and you look down on there and say how the hell would you like to be in Duisburg tonight, today, come back out, then on the way back out, it was bloody cold night, I think that might have been the night we got to a temperature about thirty five degrees centigrade outside, you know Lancs, the instruments, the temperature instruments were in centigrade, the speed, that was in miles per hour!
LC: Just to confuse things.
BS: So we’re on the way out, at twenty thousand feet and cloud tops and whatnot come out, and just I suppose oh, ten, fifteen minutes later, out of the Ruhr and then by that time, getting over probably over you know the top of Belgium, France somewhere, out of the Ruhr anyway, going, over France and there’s these cloud tops and all of the sudden there’s a bright moon shining on the cloud and this great canyon between the two clouds and the moon, you took one look and said what beauty. Now you look back there, now there’s what man has made, and look at that: what God has made.
LC: Yeah, yeah. Contrast.
BS: Just hits you, it just hits you, you know. You’re not meant to, and the Lanc with the purring you know old engines didn’t seem to interfere with it. You just sat there. You’re sitting on a platform and a lot of people never got the chance to see that, only now you know, night time. Beautiful sight. We got back to bed I think, got back to bed about two o’clock, four o’clock in the morning. We had to get over it, it was a long way, bit of a route out, come out four o’clock in the morning, we had to, we held up, no we weren’t held with briefing or anything. See a lot of, you’ve probably seen in a report with ninety five aircraft were shot down over, over Nuremberg one night, you know, the greatest loss in one night and somebody, they come out on the record books and operation books, ninety, over five hundred aircraft reported no problems; didn’t see anything. They won’t use their nous like. Now, you’re about a seven or eight hour, nine hour trip, you know, by the time you come back it’s got to be something bloody important before you tell these these interrogation, intelligence blokes, ‘cause when they get their teeth into something, they hold you up there for about a flamin’ hour, you know! No, nothing to report.
LC: Exactly, just want to get to bed.
BS: No, nothing to report, bombed on the markers, we think they were out a bit, but we bombed on the marker, get out and get back and get your cup of tea and get back into bed! [laughter] You’ve got to be practical. You’ve got to be practical.
LC: Yes. They probably knew it too.
BS: That was Bomber Command.
LC: Bob, do you want to take a short break?
BS: See that was a short, like a typical day, would be up, you’d be on the battle order, when you’d have to report for meals, then your briefing, then out to the aircraft and go and some things. Intelligence was quite good, we were always warned, after, some book I read once after the thing they went back to the mess and the hotel for a couple, [unclear] that was out, no way in the world would we go, ‘cause we’re always warned the old Bird in the Hand Hotel, they had ears in the walls and this was proved a couple of times, blokes would come back that were shot down they told us, we’d only given our name and numbers but they told us who our new CO was and he’d only been there a couple days.
LC: Is that right?
BS: Intelligence, we were put on to a target one night there when we flew in Sugar. Now Sugar was, Sugar’s dispersal point was out right against a sugar beet block, a bit of an old wire fence against it, so we get out and just as we’re ready to go out intelligence bloke comes flying in. Hold on, he says, time on target’s been put back an hour, word had just come through that Jerry’s changed the changeover, changed the shift an hour. So the idea was and then he woke up after a while, that if there were the shift coming on didn’t come on till half an hour later till that other shift had gone, the two shifts weren’t there together, that’s the idea [unclear]. So we go out to Sugar and we’re killing time you know, that’s when I took that photo that’s on the, and walked over to the fence to have a yarn to a couple of Land Army girls there and these two blokes, I don’t know where they come from, Cornwall or something I think, chipping the sugar beet - you boys flying tonight? Yeah. [Rural accent] You won’t be coming back here in the morn, be foggy. They were right too. Now this was, now what happened this night we got we went, on the way back we got recalled to - Mildenhall was closed for fog - and we were diverted to Honeybourne, down near Devon somewhere or some thing, Honeybourne, Honeybourne. Now you might realise Mildenhall is nearly on the Greenwich Mean Dateline, you know, and this night took us all, we’re never going west anyway, so you had nothing west on your chart, that was, so soon as that comes up, everything lines up greatly and sweetly must have lined up around Bomber Command, where the hell’s Honeybourne, what’s the lat and long of it, you know? But fortunately they came back with a Gee set, with the Gee reading for it, you know, so you got to a Gee on a certain channel, on 18.2 or something 18 02 or something, and follow that till you come to and you see the pundit, so that that worked out you know.
LC: Okay. You got in there and were okay.
BS: Yeah. So we got it and then we flew back the next day, you know. And then the last op, when we thought we were on the last one that was Dortmund. We come back, I, I got called up, the skipper come to the, down to the nav section, we’re on a bomb, on a battle order again to go to I think it was Gelsenkirchen I think it was, on the battle order that night, to go there and in this, after Uncle was shot down I didn’t tell you about the one we had the trouble at Homburg with after Uncle was shot down over Hindburg, you know, we got given another new aircraft: N Nan. So Nan, we’re in Nan for this to go to this event in to Dortmund in Nan, and get back, the skipper comes to us: we’ve got to go up and see the CO. He said well listen, you blokes, you’ve done your thirty trips, you’ve done one more as a matter of fact, he says now will you do another two to see the mid upper gunner finishes his tour? And Ron, that night over Hamburg when we got badly hit, Ron wasn’t in the best of things for that, that’s why he didn’t, wouldn’t take the, I think the CO could see, didn’t want him, want us to take him to as the Master Bomber to Hindberg, you know, so he Ron said no, no, no I can’t do any more, and I backed him, ‘cause I could see he was no good and also we had to consider three of the others, there were three others in the crew had completed.
LC: That was it then.
BS: Anyway, they, they saw their crew out and anyway, it was getting to a time when the risks weren’t all that great. Just, just the odd one, where the petrol became available to the thing, or the weather went against or something. weren’t all that great you know, or that unlucky shot, which does happen. Does happen, yeah.
LC: So when you’re officially told okay your tour’s over, what then happens, what then happens to you, once you’ve done your tour what do they do with you?
BS: Well, I was, we were given a fortnight’s leave, fourteen days leave. So I went back up to Scotland, moved around about, then when you came back, we were, I was posted as a navigator to a place called Husbands Bosworth, great name.
LC: They’ve got some great names in UK, don’t they.
BS: Husband Bosworth. So went and got our clearances, another bloke: Jim Claresbrook, he finished his tour. We used to fly together, we were the two lead navigators. There were three of us who were appointed what they called wind navigators. After a couple of trips when Met winds were out to billyo, they decided they’d have, get their main navigators to send back their wind, their wind speed what the wind they’d calculated at, and give it to the wireless operator and he would transmit it in code, right. So he was another wind navigator and the two of us always led the squadron on DH raids over the last few, last few six weeks or so. So Jim and I come in, so we go up to the CO’s office: he’s not in! But his offside is there, you know the old adj, he said oh the adj’s not in, but I’ll, just take a seat there if you want. He said there’s a bit of, bit of a mess, signal in from Bomber Command that might interest the two of you, better have a look at it on the table. We read it and this read two commissioned navigators who have just completed a tour of operations are to be retained on the squadron. One as a navigation assessment officer and one as a GH officer. Well Jim used to usually be at the GH lead, so we looked at them, so the adjutant comes in, we looked at him, and said look hey that job’d suit us, well you bloody beauties, he said, that solves a problem for me, doesn’t it, he said, I’ll cancel your postings, get back to the nav section!
LC: Okay!
BS: So Jim and I went back to the nav section where Flight Officer Webb couldn’t have been happier. Oh you beauties! I can do with you two back here so he’s laid down what he wanted. We could go, as long as one of us was there, that was right, the other one could be on holidays or do whatever he liked, as long as he was doing his duty wherever he was wanted somewhere else, that’s all right, and as long as we didn’t disturb him, he would, we could do briefings that he might not be, but he’d be there when the crews returned from operations, he’d pick up the turn, he would do that and he would always be in his room for an hour, an hour and a half after meal time, after meals, after he had his meal every day, he apparently he stood on his head behind the door or something and he had some separate yoga system or some bloody, he was an odd bod in some ways, very good bloke, but boy was he pleased to see us back there. So that was, that got him good.
LC: All right, okay well we might take a break now and then we come back just for a bit more final session and then maybe just cover the last stage of the war and the end of the war and demob and return to Sydney.
BS: That won’t take long, I’ll just cover that.
LC: Do you mind if we just take a quick break?
[Other] I’ll make another cup of tea, cheers.
LC: Okay, this is now part three, at twenty to three. So where were we Bob? Just sort of you’d done the end of your tour, you’ve gone back as a -
BS: Finished the tour, yeah.
LC: You’d been back there as one of a couple of navigators working back on the squadron.
BS: Yeah, yeah.
LC: So I asked you earlier on, what was your feeling though, when you, when you landed after that final mission on your tour how did you feel? Was it just, did you get out of the aircraft and sort of just -
BS: No well we didn’t know.
LC: Oh you didn’t know!
BS: The last time. We didn’t know until the CO told us, no.
LC: So did you know, did you know at the beginning how many missions you had to do to complete the tour or did they change that?
BS: Thirty. Though they lifted it at one place at one time to thirty five. Yeah.
LC: Okay,
BS: But that didn’t last long, they withdrew that.
LC: Okay, all right. So you hadn’t, had you been counting your missions as you went along, number eighteen, number nineteen.
BS: Put them in your log book, op one, op two, op three. Better not call them missions!
LC: Oh sorry. Ops, sorry! [Laughter]
BS: So we went down and then six months in I was called in to, after we settled in to the nav office with the nav officer outline what he’d be happy for us to do. Got tied up in a couple of enquiries about, one about a WAAF who had been promoted but it didn’t work and then another about an Aussie aircrew who had more or less referred to one of the girls in the Parachute Section as a Malvern Star who lodged a complaint when somebody explained to her what Malvern Star was in Australia!
LC: Oh dear! [Laughter] Oh dear.
BS: Called in all sorts of things, you know, but quite interesting, kept going, you know, kept up our our athletic training, we had a good athletics team there that sort. [Cough] At the end of the war after the end of the war when the, when the British Games were back in, the News of the World British Games at White City were on we entered a team for the 4 x 880. We come fourth in that, we should have won it, but we came fourth, we made a bad blue in the order of the runners, that worked out all right.
LC: Wonderful.
BS: Just with filling in time more or less, waiting, coming out here, you know. And then I, we got, eventually got called, they called down to Brighton then at about the end of May or something it was, time went around, at that point gave us leave weeks to do, up to Scotland a few times, round, just just more or less time was your own, got a bit boring as a matter of fact ‘cause you’re more or less waiting for a draft for a ship to come home.
LC: So at this stage, was the war in, Germany hadn’t surrendered at this stage, it was still the war in Europe’s still going.
BS: Europe had finished, yeah.
LC: Europe had been. So did it at any stage look like you may be posted or 15 Squadron deployed to the Pacific?
BS: We were, when we were called back I was in line then, 15 Squadron and 622 Squadron were forming a squadron of Lancasters and be supplied with Lancasters designed to carry the larger bombs, you know, to come out here to Australia, but when the RAAF or the Australian Government recalled us all to Brighton you know, that fell through.
LC: Okay.
BS: So if, if it was a decision made at the time without knowledge that the nuclear bomb was on the way, it was a very risky decision.
LC: Yeah, yeah. So would you have potentially then, so you said you were waiting for a draft to get on the ship to come back to Australia, was there any, was it definite at that stage you would demobilise or would you then come back and be part of the Royal Australian Air Force in Australia and go on operations with RAAF in the Pacific.
BS: You could do, some of them re-enlisted back in the air force, but no I, I wasn’t at that stage.
LC: So which stage, you mentioned earlier on you went up to Scotland when you’re sort of biding your time there, is that where you met Alma?
NS: Oh no, I’d met her before locally but then it wasn’t till we came back till, I was, after the tour and then, oh, a few month before we left home and was on leave, we sort of realised we had soft spots for each other.
[Other]: Ah!
BS: And agreed and worked out then, if when we eventually got the call to, on to the troop ship to come home, agreed that we’d correspond for a year, just give a year, kind of thing, and if we still felt the same way after twelve months we’d announce our engagement.
LC: There you go.
BS: And then get married. So that stuck to it, you know. Come back and got stuck into the war, I went back and we got married.
[Other]: Courted by correspondence for two and a half years.
LC: Two and a half years!
BS: Went through a heap of dry gullies and whatnot since, up and down like everybody else does.
LC: Yeah. Outstanding! So how many years have you been married now then?
[Other]: Seventy!
LC: Seventy years!
BS: A bit over seventy years.
LC: You’ve got your little card from the Queen and the Governor General and all that. Sixty.
[Other]: Sixty and seventy.
LC: Sixty and seventy, yeah.
BS: I got that from Queen Elizabeth, Bessie. When I got transferred to the squadron, I didn’t mention there before, but just a few days after we were there, the Royal Family paid a visit, that was one of the most interesting days I’ve had in my life.
LC: Yeah, is that right. Young Princess Elizabeth.
BS: When we found out that the old King he was, well, how he enjoyed talking to us, no errors in his speech, something like that.
LC: No stuttering?
BS: After he had visited the squadron and made an investiture over in the, in one of the hangars, and after lunch, we’d course we had all been given the protocol we had to follow with the royal at lunchtime: we couldn’t finish our meal before the King and we had to address him as Sir, the Queen was Ma’am, strict rules and tried to hide ourselves in the, in the lounge area after meal, till the visitors came in, was about three or four Aussies together, stood together over the side, the window near the main entrance to the officers mess, and when he come in to it he made a beeline straight for us.
LC: Did he!
BS: Yeah, straight for the, come over, how‘s it going, seemed to be very interested in what we were doing and whatnot, and one of the fellers said to him ‘You seem to be interested in something outside the window there, Sir.’ He says ‘I’m just looking-‘ where we’ve had that thing out there, I said ‘In that garden bed over there, they’ve whitewashed all the stones’, he said ‘I’d like to go over there and see if they’ve been whitewashed underneath!’ And that’s what his aide de camp told us, he says he’s with it all the way. He just get on, and when he explained a few things to us, to about Elizabeth was, made some remarks about one of the fellers gone up, we said to him well she could have come up and talked to us, he said oh no, there are -
[Other]: Are you recording this?
LC: Yes, yes.
BS: He says, there is a restriction he said, that made the Queen mother with the restrictions, but better not mention that.
LC: Not at all. Okay.
BS: But he was, he enjoyed it, and we gained the impression from him and from the aide de camp - that he’d given specific instructions that Elizabeth was not to be commissioned, she had to be, go through the ranks, and both her and, both him and her mother, were quite aware that since she’s been in the army and as a driver, she was learning quite a lot about boys. She had a real, he gave the impression she had a real fun attitude about her I can understand why she married a bloke like Philip, who’s the same as [unclear] tells things as they are.
LC: Yes. Exactly.
BS: The situation as it is.
LC: They only got married a couple of years later.
BS: Eh?
LC: They only got married about what, 1947.
BS: Yeah, yeah, you know just before that. Good on.
LC: So can I just get a general question then? You experienced some initial time training with the Royal Australian Air Force in Australia, and then you did the Empire Training Air Scheme, training and Canada, ops then, do you have any general observations of the efficiency of it all? The Empire Air Training Scheme?
BS: The whole, the general idea I think of the whole training was tremendous, it was really well thought out, it was tremendous. A Bomber Command squadron was a unique family: ground crew, aircrew they depended on one another and they treated it that way. I was on the squadron, there were two COs, the commanders of both squadrons made it quite clear that we were a family, [emphasis] we were brothers and sisters, the WAAFS. Now probably, might realise in all families now and again there is a black sheep brother and a black sheep sister, accept them, but that’s it. The ones that are, you’d treat them as sisters and I’d like to think that Bomber Command in particular goes down as one of the main factors in winning the war.
LC: Yup. That was going to be my next question.
BS: Because they tied up, they tied up so much of the German defences protecting their cities, that great heaps of guns and ammunition and manpower was not available to fight on their other, the African front or the Western Front., you know, gets on. When you look at it and I think some of their leaders recognised this at the end of the war, they suddenly realised that if they’d had this equipment available on the Russian front, or on the, down in Africa and the Middle Eastern Front, they’d have come out on top there. But they didn’t.
LC: So the, looking back at it now, while you were there on ops, did you get, you saw the sort of the targets you were bombing on a, you know, on a regular basis. Did you get much, were you given the opportunity to get much appreciation of the overall campaign? You got briefings on this is the way, this is what we’re trying and this is your part in it.
BS: At the time, the overall campaign particularly after D-Day and with the American Air Force bombing, we, we could see whether Montgomery and Churchill, or whoever was behind it, or Bomber Harris of Bomber Command, who had a definite strategy, don’t worry about the tactics, the strategy, you know. It was quite obvious to us that the Eighth Army Air Force had adopted Bomber Command strategy of area bombing, and by some great spin as I suppose you might call it, they somehow still got the word back to America they were still tactically, tactical bombing. ‘Cause we know some of their, some of their blues they were well out.
LC: Yeah. Well they bombed primarily, they decided to go mainly daylight bombing while the RAF -
BS: Well they only bombed daylight. Some of the things we‘re aware of, they’re well documented now too, in in histories of Bomber Command and the logs and that come in, the, bombed wrong targets, missed targets all together, didn’t take easy way out of things, you know, sort of. Yeah, yeah. Just got on.
LC: So have you got any observations about general command level, you said you had a couple of COs on 15 Squadron, other levels of command up the chain, did you have any observations and thoughts on, were they good commanders, from Bomber Harris down, were they, did you find them good commanders?
BS: Not really, no. That all seemed to work.
LC: Yeah, yeah. Okay.
BS: The general strategy, they had a good strategy, like I think Bomber Harris’ strategy: right, we’ll fight them on their terms - they started it, they get the same terms back, and that was it. And we backed him, his crews backed him.
LC: And now his statue is outside St Clement Danes.
BS: He never wavered from it, he never wavered from it, he never wasted time going round looking for photoshoots, making things for COs like politicians do today and COs and stuff like that, he had a job to do and he stuck to it and he never wavered.
LC: And was that generally, was that the general feeling on the squadrons at the time? Everybody had a deal of respect for this guy?
BS: Yeah, yeah. With us being the [unclear] squadron, yeah. I’d say so, yeah.
LC: So at the end you’re down there, down at Brighton, you’re waiting for your draft to get on the boat back to Australia so how did that all, that process all go, you eventually obviously?
BS: That’s good. ‘Cause we’d met a lot of blokes that had been taken prisoner of war, and coming back, you know and blokes that served on other squadrons so you met them again.
LC: Comparing notes!
BS: Went through along, yeah yeah. Made up for things. Then we could run around on the beach again, ‘cause the mines had been taken off, and all this sort of business, go to a few shows, and up to the Boomerang Club, a lot of blokes had ended up out in the Mediterranean too, see they’d come back to there, no.
LC: So how did the process work then? Suddenly you would have got a message at some stage, you’d got your slot, a spot on a boat to come home.
BS: At squadron there was a parade every morning at which Daily Routine Orders came out on, on that was, if a draft or duty the Daily Routine Orders who’s the officer in charge of the parade the next day and whatnot, sort of is, and you look at that and quite often you’d see the officer on the parade the next day is Flying Officer Joe Blow or something and you know Joe Blow is going on holidays up to some relatives and he’d be away for another three days so you or somebody else would stand in for him, that’d do and you knew darned well if you went away like that, and you got a leave pass, nobody worries about that sort of thing, and if you were away you’d send back a telegram, want an extension of two days, it was always granted. We’d go in to the Boomerang Club, we had our, collect mail and also we’d collect our pay there, going on your pay would accumulate, you’d go into Boomerang Club and get your pay up to date and then take it around and put it into your bank account at at the bank, you know round in Australia House, National Bank at Australia House. We had our contact, contacts in Australia House who would say to us there was no troop ship available for at least six weeks. So you knew right then any application for leave was going to be approved.
LC: Okay.
BS: No. But it was wasted time. And then when we got, when we did get out, I got home, I got on to the, we were told got to go on the Stratheden to come home, we came home via, through, called at Gibraltar and then at Port Said and Suez and then come around through the, straight around the corner down to Freemantle, you know, then up to Sydney. We had to wait, we had to slow down a bit after Freemantle ‘cause the Andes was coming, it left after us, but it had Queenslanders and New South Welshmen on board as well but the Andes was taking crews through to New Zealand and we had a few New Zealanders on as well that we’d picked up in the, coming through the Suez Canal and Al Quattara so the Andes caught up with us and that docked ahead of us in Melbourne so the New South Wales blokes and the Queensland blokes that were on the Andes got off and come on to, on to the Stratheden and that’s when my pilot, I met my pilot again, coming out, he’d come on the Andes and a couple of other fellers, you know, so we had a good yarn with Ron for a couple of days. We come on then up to Melbourne, shot out of Melbourne the next day up to Sydney, In the morning into Sydney, all on deck again to come through the heads, on to Sydney, into Perth at Woollamaloo again. The Queenslanders and that were the first off there and they got to shoot off out to Bradfield Park again, and told us what we had to do again, we had to be back and to be on the up at the, Gordon, to entrain to go on through to Newcastle and up to Brisbane, you see.
LC: So you did the rest of the way by train.
BS: Yeah, yeah. So when we get there that’s all right. When we come out it, I was, it was a bit confusing in a way, ‘cause when the draft come out, I was still on the draft as Flying Officer R W Smith, you know, but on my pay book and all, my war substantive rank of Flight Lieutenant had been, what they say, had been promulgated.
LC: Promulgated, yeah.
BS: Yeah, and they woke up to that just before I got on to the ship, you know, so right, but that didn’t make it, I didn’t worry about that. We get on to the train at Gordon to come home after killing bit of time. I raced back and saw an old lady I used to made her home available to me before we left, you know, and tell her I’d met a Scottish girl, she was a bit disappointed, she thought I’d pick a good Aussie girl, [laughter] but she said whatever you find probably right. So we got on the train, got in to Newcastle, [pause] Newcastle that night, yeah, that night and this Warrant Officer comes up, looking for Flight Lieutenant Smith, Flight Lieutenant Smith, yeah that’s me, you’re officer in charge of this contingent you know, no I said the first I’ve been told, he had a great heap and wad of papers that he kept to himself anyway, went and gave me through a bit of a run through what had to do sort of, you know, he’d go and then the next morning was the casino or something for breakfast and he come up and he turns up again he said now what’ll do is, we’re to be met, there are cars, RAC are providing cars to take us from the end of what was the junction – Clapham Junction, no - Brisbane -
LC: Brisbane, Run street?
BS: No, no, it stopped at South Brisbane, it stopped before South Brisbane, some there, maybe [unclear] airfield that it was, there was a some junction there, they’d be taking us from there, into the city and out to Sandgate, you know. Now when we get to Sandgate, they’ll take you right through to where you’ve got to congregate. The parents are all be up at this area here. Now I’ll parade them all, line them all, tell them up, call you up in to the front and give the order to quick march up to there and then when you get up to there we will be dismissed. I said righto, fair enough. So right, we get up to and do this: Quick march getting along, quick march, okay, there the parents there, I said well if I’m in charge of this bloody parade, I’ll just dismiss the damn thing! So we get up to court area, Squad Halt! Squad Dismiss! The bloody war’s over! Well I heard, I heard somebody say to dad waiting up there, my sister had said god, dad there he is up front. I heard some bloke say to my father – who was in the army you know in the army - is that your son, yeah, dad said to him I wouldn’t call the King my bloody uncle today. [Laughter] This old Warrant Officer looks over, he just sort of wandered off with a heap of paper.
LC: Brilliant!
BS: That’s what I said to dad, the war was over, the war’s just finished.
LC: The war is [emphasis] over. So what stage -
BS: They picked me up with my cousin who was in, had fought in Woolang Bay and got the, come out, wasn’t too good, and, ‘cause my younger brother now, couldn’t get over how much he’d grown. But now, my cousin Daniel Pampling, before the war Danny and I were great friends, ‘cause Alec was, quite a few years between Alec and myself, you know, a bit, eight years or something and Danny and I, actually we were close, we were as close as brothers, even after the war, we could talk to one another, about experiences, he’d tell of experiences with Japs, he was, he was hooked up all day in a heap of guinea grass with Japanese on the other side of it, they didn’t know, you know, and we could talk to things about that sort of, you know, Danny and I and get on now. When we came back Danny drove us down, he come back and on the way back, Dad used to take the cream into people in Harrisall, a Mrs Fresser, they were German, Karl Fresser and his mother, their son was in, was shot down and killed, about a year before I operated, you know, he’d only done a few trips, but he ended up on a, on a Pathfinder squadron and he was shot down on one of the Berlin trips, you know, in the winter of ‘43 ‘44. Well after that, she used to, I think she more or less adopted me as a son, she said to dad, she was always asking after me, you know. Now before we went home, back to Greenwood, to the farm, we come through Harrisall, dad wanted us to call on Mrs Fresser. [pause]
LC: Yeah. Oh nice, you popped in there did you?
BS: When I think about it I cry.
LC: So how did you -
BS: She was crying.
LC: Yeah. It’s a very, very emotional experience. Very emotional.
BS: Always called on Mrs Fresser. That’s how things change, never called her Pauline; and she always called him Mr Smith. You know, isn’t it amazing. Two sisters that, hey.
LC: So how did you find, you mentioned you were able to, your mate you were able to talk, your experiences with, how did you find communicating with other friends and family who hadn’t been, experienced it, was communicating was an issue or?
BS: I found that hard [cough] Mrs Fresser, but another great mate of mine, Jimmy Cossett from Boonah, Jimmy was shot down too, but he was murdered towards the end of the war, to meet his sister, you know, to meet the sisters or the close relatives of boys that had been killed. I had about three or four of them waiting to meet. It was a bit sobering.
LC: That would be very sobering, very, very emotional too I’d imagine.
BS: Little bit sobering. Anyway, we got, like Bomber Command blokes, we’re trained in the worst place to, it’s a game of life and death. There’s only two things we’re given to by our creator: that’s birth and death and death is it. That’s it. It’s like old Grey’s Elegy in a Country Churchyard: once they’re in there, all their joys are gone that’s it, the disappointments they had, well, and as Napoleon said what’s an honour or can any, any worth mean, what’s a posthumous award mean to the recipient?
LC: Exactly.
BS: Nothing. that’s why they cut out the posthumous awards.
LC: The French Army.
BS: Even with the Croix de Guerre and stuff like that. And they, of course they cut out all the Imperial awards too, like Distinguished Flying Crosses [unclear] and stuff like that. So you settled down there and that was it.
LC: So you were demobbed. Did you, did you have any sort of follow on support from the air force or the government?
BS: [unclear] I settled back into the war and then went back and got married. When we came back, after I married, we married, we shot to, Alma come to a different world, you know. And when we arrived was the best dust storm I’ve ever seen at Harrisall, when we got back to Harrisall to the farm, you know. And dad come in from the Territory, you’d better go into the bank they got a message for you, yeah, they want you to come back. I went back in, yeah, they wanted me to open a branch in Upper [unclear]. I did that, I went down and saw them, I opened that branch with a feller called Paul Gardner and he was a Rat of Tobruk. Now, and with a couple of a, couple of reunions we’ve had with our aircrew guards over later years there, come in, you realise in a way the bloody futility of, wars are not, not between two blokes, the people of the country. Now this Paul was a Rat at Tobruk, now at [unclear] on the corner of Kessel’s Road now where the Garden City or something, I had a relation bit further on had a strawberry farm there, but there were two blokes worked in the Department of Primary Industries as it was called then, you know. One was a, don’t know what he was, the other was a feller called Harry Warnenburg. Now, Harry come in to the bank one day to open an account something, and he’s sitting down talking to the boss, and Harry, he said to the boss, I’ve come out, no, I came out, I applied out here after, I think I was, came out from Germany after the war, and the war I was in Rommel’s Panzer Division over there. Paul said I was a Rat of Tobruk, he says oh we were around at Tobruk and they suddenly started talking to one another and they could remember things that both happened and seen there.
LC: Absolutely fascinating isn’t it, that’s incredible.
BS: Now there’s two blokes, ‘bout ten years before that, eight years before that they were fighting one another, or they weren’t fighting one another. They eventually come to the agreement, you found out the safest place on the war was on the patrol at night. Now, what you do as a patrol at night, if you’re coming round, you know the German’s there, so you maybe whisper something, you want them to overhear it, give ‘em a bit of false information, the German’s not going to let you know that he’s there, so he’s, he’s going to keep quiet too, get right so, and he said that happened on one particular incident that’s been well recorded with the Stuka shot down, with the one ack-ack gun that was there, got him fair and square first shot but it was a fluke, and they they immediately thought hello, hello, they’ve got a secret weapon and they stopped that raid and there were no raids for a couple days after till they worked out, somebody’d worked out for ‘em what it was. But there they are, two blokes, and then that blokes that meet at these things, that were prisoners of war, they’ve had their, over in England now at Bomber Command for quite a number of years there were get-togethers for trips down the Rhine every year. The blokes that shot ‘em down once they found out who shot them down.
LC: Have you every had the opportunity to meet any of the, any Germans?
BS: Only that feller.
LC: That bloke there.
BS: No German. I nearly did have one that had come over but he had gone back.
LC: Well Bob, I think that probably covers it, very comprehensively. But it’s been fantastic sitting down with you and hearing, hearing your experiences, but those, and your records that you’re graciously allowing us to copy, they will be a great complement to the recording of this interview so thanks again, thanks again for that.
BS: If you want to have a copy, a whole lot of those I’ll have a yarn with my sons, where to put them, you know. I happen to be a lad that comes from Harrisall which was on the doorsteps in Amberley, where my things’ll rest up there, with my grandmother that came out, between her and myself, the two of us, we’ve seen the whole development of that district. We overlapped by eight years on, on. But she was a girl, oh some of the stories, she was, she’s a wonderful woman, not like her two sisters. No, dad, bit like her father, they were get on. She had a way of telling you, if you did something wrong, she wouldn’t just chastise you, she’d say you know you’d better think about it, it might be very wise not to do that again.
LC: Yeah, just give you a hint, yeah.
BS: She’d make you think about it. It might be very wise not to do that again you know. I had a, made sure dad, mum sent us to Sunday School every Sunday morning, walk across the paddocks. I had a a Sunday School teacher, he was a Scotsman out here, he was killed later on out here, but you did something wrong in church or Sunday School he’d take you round the back behind the water tanks and give you a clout behind the ear.[laughs]
LC: Well it was effective. It was very effective!
BS: Well my dad gave me effective thing for being bullying. When I was a young lad, the bloke on this place next door, his father was a, was a champion rifle shooter, you know, the Queen’s medal, the King’s Medal they used to call in those days, go over to England, this feller annoying hell out of me, annoying things, I came to dad, said next time he does that heck, sock him one on the nose. Which I did.
LC: Didn’t bother you again?
BS: No, didn’t, not beat me. No, I got stripes in Ipswich Grammar. I’ve always been like that as a lad. Blokes’d have a go and I got caught Ipswich Grammar School having a fight in the in the thing one day, the old Dean come up and no ‘cause I, nobody would pick a fight with me because they thought he’s a bloody boxer! This bloke, when I came, I come in one day, I can still remember this like, how old would I have been ‘bout six, something, covered in bit of blood, so mum cleans me up, you know, I’m getting a hell of a dressing down, stop fighting, then all of a sudden it wakes up to mum that it’s not my blood: it was his out of his nose.
LC: What’ve you been doing!
BS: And of course dad, what you do? I just cuffed him one on the blood, on the nose. Dad said it was the best thing you could have done! I agree with that. Mum had the other one.
LC: Well seeing like Bomber Harris’ strategy, you started it, we’re gonna finish it!
BS: Yeah! Bomber Harris, he used to -
LC: Well that’s probably a good way to finish it Bob, so thanks for, thanks for the time, it’s been an absolute pleasure sitting down and talking about your experiences.



Lee Collins, “Interview with Bob Smith,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 15, 2024,

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