Interview with Arthur Loudon


Interview with Arthur Loudon


Arthur Loudon was born and raised in Goulburn, New South Wales, Australia. He talks about his early life, jobs and family, before he enlisted in 1943, aged nineteen, into the Royal Australian Air Force. He was trained as a navigator at various stations in Australia, before sailing for England. After further training, he was posted to 12 Squadron, at RAF Wickenby. He talks about the process of crewing up and flying in Lancasters. He describes his trade as a navigator, using H2S and Gee. He took part in 30 operations and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal. He met his wife Dot, a Women’s Auxiliary Air Force member, at RAF Hixon. He talks about life after being demobilised, his large family and his trip to the unveiling of the Bomber Command Memorial in Green Park in 2012.



Temporal Coverage




01:45:43 audio recording


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RG: This is an interview with Arthur Loudon for the International Bomber Command Centre on 5th May, 9- er, 2016, interviewers are Lucy Davidson and Rob Gray.
AL: [Background noise] Snowden.
LD: Ah yes.
AL: [unclear] minister for veteran affairs and about 2012 and then er, I met the next two, Ronaldson, I can’t think of the other one.
LD: Johnson, Johnson, he was one of the recent defence ministers.
RG: No, [unclear] of affairs.
LD: Ah, right.
AL: But er, I said to er, Snowden, when we were in Sydney before we went away to [background noise] I said, ‘now don’t behave yourself, it’s not worth it’ [laughter].
RG: A waste, a waste of time [laughter].
LD: Warren’s a cousin of mine.
AL: Eh?
LD: Warren’s a cousin of mine [laughter].
AL: And er, he er, the last thing he said to me just before we left to go to the, planned to go to Britain was, made a point of coming up and said, ‘don’t behave yourself’ [laughter].
RG: And I hope you didn’t! [laughter].
AL: We had no time to do anything [laughter].
LD: That’s not very fair!
RG: Well, right what I want to ask you about, sort of find out a little bit about your early life and erm, early days in the RAF and then time in the UK with 12 Squadron.
AL: Well, I had a long service, January 30th 1943, and I was out on the street again on the 19th of November ’45.
RG: You were demobbed quick, that was a very quick, erm, demob-
AL: Well.
RG: November ’45.
AL: Once the war finished over there, at that time, er, I was, instructing on a landing beam which was never ever used.
RG: Ah.
AL: It was accurate within feet.
RG: Right, okay.
AL: Erm, they wouldn’t let us use it, because er, they said there was too many German aircraft [unclear] landing.
RG: Yes, yep, yep.
AL: And diverted us from our own station up to Scotland, but it was accurate within feet.
RG: Wow.
LD: Oh.
AL: If I sat over there [unclear] over the boundary [unclear] we were within a few feet of either side of it.
RG: Wow, that was very accurate, and they never used it at all? Oh okay, sorry, I just want to check that we are actually [background noise] [unclear].
LD: That doesn’t look like it should be doing anything really, it’s far too small [laughter].
RG: So, so Arthur, coming back to the early days, erm you were born in Goulburn, were you or-?
AL: Born in Goulburn.
RG: Yeh.
AL: Back in er, the dim dark ages [laughter] don’t ask what my date of birth is. I say it’s a good cricket score [laughter] two, four, two, two, two.
RG: Oh well, that is pretty good isn’t it [laughter] and what did, were you Goulburn, did you live in Goulburn, did your parents live in Goulburn or were they rural or farmers, or-?
AL: Dad was on the railways.
RG: Ah, okay.
AL: A guard, and he spent half the winter in bed because of the effects of the gas.
RG: Right.
AL: It was er, bronchitis.
RG: Right.
AL: So, he [unclear] when he, he said that when he had the choice he had [unclear] or Goulburn, he picked Goulburn, he would never move.
RG: Right, ok, I think he chose well actually, yeh, so he wasn’t from Goulburn himself?
AL: No, he was born over in a place called Legan, a sort of [unclear].
RG: Ah, okay.
AL: The youngest of ten.
RG: Okay.
LD: Oh.
AL: I’m the second one of five, that’s four boys and then a girl eight years younger than me, and, now, I’m the patriarch of the mob [laughter] and the last of that family.
RG: Yes, yeh, how many children did you have Arthur? Did you have children; did you have children?
AL: Me?
RG: Yeh.
AL: Oh, I only had eight.
RG: Eight.
LD: Only eight! [emphasis] [laughter]
RG: It’s not really keeping the score, up is it?
AL: Thirty-two grandchildren and thirty, er, thirty-one great grand children.
RG: Wow, okay, you’re still one of ten though, you’re not keeping the score up [laughter] so, so, whereabouts, so did you grow up in Goulburn or did you erm?
AL: We grew up and stayed in Goulburn because Dad would never move.
RG: Yeh.
AL: And er, Anzac Day, he used to be glued to the radio, until TV came in, and then he got glued to the blasted TV, from the time it started to the time it ended, finished, well I could never stand it, you know, and he never ever spoke about his war experiences.
RG: No.
AL: Other than when some of his old, any of his old buddies used to come.
RG: Hmm, yeh.
AL: Which wasn’t very often.
RG: Hmm, hmm, so, do you know which unit he was with?
AL: He was with the 18th Battalion.
RG: 18th Battalion, okay.
AL: Did the Somme and all of those places [unclear].
RG: Yeh, yeh.
AL: I’ve got a lot of the, war histories there, that DVA gave me.
RG: Yep.
AL: And, there’s four or five volumes, and the 1916 one, sets out, where the people went, and it tells you what battalions were in what areas.
RG: Yeh, yeh.
AL: Most of it’s all photography, beautifully done.
RG: Yeh, yeh.
AL: And the girl [unclear] anything and all had to be sent up, was a terrific [unclear] er, Courtney Page- Allen.
RG: Does ring a bell, so you went to school in Goulburn obviously, and what did you do after?
AL: After the war?
RG: Before the war.
AL: Before the war, I left school after the intermediate certificate, with, a good pass with all B’s, no English er, maths 1, maths 2, business principles and chemistry.
RG: Right.
LD: That’s why they took you as a navigator isn’t it?
RG: Yeh.
AL: I went for a job in the bank and the bank manager looked at me and he says ‘you should go to do chemistry’, but I didn’t want to do anymore study, all I wanted to do was to get a blasted job and er, first job I got, I used to do odd jobs with one of the neighbours, who was an odd job man, I’d go and help him lay some concrete or do others and work with him, and then my first real job was a milkman.
RG: Ah, okay.
AL: The bloke had a dairy out at Yarra, they had a shop in Goulburn and inside the [unclear] and he paid us ten bob a week plus threepence a gallon commission.
RG: That’s not bad money, is it?
AL: The average wages was ten and six.
RG: Yeh.
AL: And I was [unclear] earning two quid.
RG: That’s not bad money, is it?
AL: [unclear] quite a little run, we used, he used to make his own, er, ice blocks, which I could sell, then we start off flavoured milk, then he bought us er-
RG: I didn’t know people did flavoured milk that early, you know, I thought that was a bit of a later thing?
AL: I was using my own bicycle and the milk used to rot the front forks.
RG: Hmm.
LD: Ah ha.
AL: So, they’d break off [laughter] [unclear] but he bought us a push bike and side cart
LD/RG: Ah, okay [emphasis].
AL: So, we could get around, the milk can inside, was covered, you had a cover over the tap where it stuck out the back.
RG: Ah, okay, you could get around and just dispense, yeh, okay.
AL: Fill your measure and poured in the cans to put in people’s places, and er, of course if I had stayed there, I’d have had my own run, eventually, but, Dad made us, go on the blasted railway.
RG: Right.
AL: A secure job.
RG: Yeh [unclear] sounds like-
AL: And it wasn’t any more secure than any job you ever had, ‘cos I finished up in the railway, before it got political, I just walked out on them, dad started going crook at me one day, about it, when I went to visit, I said ‘look I’m a lot more happy and I’m getting a lot more bloody money’.
RG: Hmm, hmm, yeh, yeh.
AL: So much for the safe job.
RG: Yeh, yeh, yeh, exactly, so, so did you do, did you stay on, that did you stay on, the between the milk run and the air force, was there something else in between?
AL: No, I went to the [unclear] railway.
RG: Oh, railways, of course, sorry.
AL: I decided to go join up the air force, went in three weeks before twenty-one, cos dad was dead against any of us going into the services.
RG: Right.
AL: Because of what he went through.
RG: Yeh.
AL: The older brother was on the railway, he finished up in the railway army contingent and was up the Northern Territories, he was stationed at Katherine, and the younger brother was an apprentice printer, he got dragged in under the draft scheme.
LD: Oh, yes.
AL: He was a sergeant gunner, and the whole, whole little unit transferred to AIF which got him then to go overseas, he went to [unclear]
RG: Right, okay.
AL: While, I did navigation at Mount Gambier, the er, nav instructors there said to me ‘there’s only one thing keeping you on this course, and that’s your ability to do a dead reckoning navigation,’ he said, ‘others have managed it, but you will never get out of it alive’. Only wish I could have remembered his name and looked for him after the war.
[loud laughter]
RG: So, so, when you joined up, where, where did you go for your initial, initial training?
AL: At er, Retford Park in Sydney.
RG: Ah, yes.
LD: Ah, right.
AL: Er, I went in, in January, was three or four months there I think, and er, down Mount Gambier for Nav, across to West Sale for bombing and gunnery.
RG: Oh, you were in gunnery, even though you were a navigator, did you?
AL: Well, in those days, like that little, see the wing?
RG: Yep.
AL: The o, you, were, an observer.
LD: Yes.
RG: Ah, yes, okay.
AL: So, it was only after, we got to England, that they decided.
RG: To make them a navigator.
AL: You was a navigator not an observer.
RG: Yeh, okay.
LD: It was a later- [unclear]
AL: You had to do your bombing, and your gunnery, I didn’t do really good at either one, ‘cos you were only on Fairey Battles with the Lewis machine guns used to jam, [laughter] shooting was a joke, you know, with coloured boards, so that the colour of the trail end of the trailer [unclear] I think I got two or three per cent [laughter] I don’t know if anybody else got any more.
RG: Oh, I was gonna say that air gunnery was a bit dodgy even by, for the gunners, wasn’t it, you know, bombs.
AL: Our rear gunner shot down a ME 109.
RG: Oh, okay.
LD: Oh.
RG: Oh, okay, that’s quite a distinction. So, so, sale, for gunnery and bombing.
AL: Yeh, then we went to Park for astro, nav, and the last course was there, they closed it and sent it up to Evans Head.
RG: Oh, yes, yes.
LD: Oh, right.
AL: And then back to Bradfield, had a bit of leave, back to Bradfield Park, and get ready for embarkation, and er, I used to tell the cousins in Sydney, if you didn’t see me tomorrow or the next day then I were gone.
RG: So, you had no idea when you were going?
AL: Nobody would tell you anything.
RG: Yeh, it sounds like the services doesn’t it, [laughter] nothing’s changed, Arthur, nothing’s changed [laughter].
LD: So, when you left Sydney, where did you leave from?
AL: Brisbane.
LD: Oh, you left from Brisbane.
AL: They put us on a train, up to Brisbane.
LD: Oh.
AL: On, er, New Year’s Eve, we got to Brisbane, pouring [emphasis] rain, they had us this little Yankee ship, oh you smell the sauerkraut, the rain, and the smell of the oil, and rotten cabbage.
RG: Can you remember the name of the ship at all?
AL: It was er, captured from the Eyeties in the First World War.
RG: Okay.
LD: Ah.
AL: They re-christened it, USS President Grant, ten thousand tons.
RG: Yep.
AL: The sea was so rough when we left Brisbane, New Year’s Day, 1943, no ’44, that the frigates that were supposed to escort us, couldn’t go out to sea, so we went by ourselves, hundred and fifty troops, all Australian navigators, the rest were Yankees, going home after the Pacific, up the top, most of them Negroes, they used to knock, er, two bob, bits into rings.
LD/RG: Oh, yeh, yeh, yeh.
AL: Made a good double silver ring, depend on the widths and all the rest of it, some would do engraving on them, but they had er, there was four berths on the main deck which wasn’t very big, er, more like cages, all wired up, they were nuts.
RG: Oh, okay, yep, yep, yeh, okay, sorry-
AL: I got to know one or two of the, white blokes on the boat, nice fellas, but they put us on, sub watch, and we all had intercom, we were up there one day, north west of New Zealand, I think second or third day out and we spotted a plane, and we were all talking about it, the four of us, on the guns, and the crew decided that we didn’t report it.
RG: Hmm.
AL: They were all ready to shoot at it [laughs] but it was a New Zealand air force plane [loud laughter].
RG: So, you went by New Zealand then did you, or did you?
AL: I don’t know, we never got any feedback at all.
RG: Right, yeh.
AL: We were three weeks on the Pacific, about three days out from Vancouver where we were posted to, they decided, we’d go to Frisco, and straight across to Britain, they were screaming for Aussie navigators, and er, had a day and a half in Frisco, put on a [unclear] at Alcatraz, Angel Island and er, on the boat train, couple of hours at er, Salt Lake City, where a lot of the fellas first seen snow, then two hours in Chicago and er, straight through to New York, three days there and then, four days on the “Queen Mary” going across the Atlantic.
RG: Oh, right, sub watch again on the “Queen Mary”?
AL: Got to Gourock, near Glasgow, on the 4th of February ’44.
RG: Did you do sub watch on the “Queen Mary”, across the Atlantic?
AL: No, the boat was full of Yanks [emphasis].
RG: Right, okay.
AL: They were on the outside of the deck, and open to all the weather, with four bunks, on the deck.
RG: You’re joking?
AL: Up, they had to get down, fold them up, put their gear away every morning, we were privileged, we had four to a single cabin.
RG: That is good.
AL: Two meals a day, because there was too many on the ship.
RG: Yeh.
AL: And of course, we used to go down this way and up, and that way a lot, they took the stabilisers off to give it the extra speed.
RG: Yeh, yeh, so, so, were you in convoy or steaming alone? Were you in convoy or were you steaming alone? The “Queen Mary” sometimes steamed alone.
AL: She’d go faster than a blasted convoy.
RG: Yeah, exactly.
AL: And er, because of icebergs they went, further north than they were supposed to, we went in around the top of Ireland, into Glasgow.
RG: Yeh, okay.
LD: I have heard though, that on those transport ships, that erm, I’ve heard people say that basically they would queue up for one meal and the queues were so long that by the time they got that meal it was almost time to queue up for the next meal, is that right?
AL: No, I don’t remember much about that, all I remember is that we used to go to the dining room.
LD: Oh, okay.
AL: We were waited on.
RG: Well, you were sergeants, then weren’t you?
AL: Sergeants, yeh, there was, there was only ever three or four at the most, got commissions at the end of the course.
RG: Right, yeh.
AL: You had to be bloody bright, I think, to get them.
RG: Right.
AL: But, er, in the navigator, nav exam at Mount Gambier, I was second on top, there was only one bloke beat me, and the poor bugger’s not alive, to tell the tale, I got, he got a hundred and forty-nine marks and I got a hundred and forty-eight, hundred and forty-seven.
RG: That’s not bad.
AL: He made one mistake, I made two.
LD: That’s pretty good.
RG: You did pretty well, the erm, the, the group that you trained with at nav school and bombing and whatever, did many of them, end up in Bomber Command or did some of them end up in the Pacific theatre or-
AL: Well, some ended up on Pacific, but I think most of my course finished up in Bomber, going over together.
RG: Hmm, okay, yep.
AL: And, once you got started to split up, for Britain, [unclear] Britain, cos they shipped up from Glasgow down to Brighton, er, train to London, across London in the bus, and on another train to Brighton, we was there for a couple of weeks, in a couple of hotels, were condemned anyway, and had the first, couple, a day or so there, and then a week’s leave up, I and a couple of me mates went up to Scarborough, for a week, middle of winter of course.
RG: Yorkshire in winter [laughs].
AL: And then, er, Isle of Anglesey, to, er, what do they call it then, advanced flying school I think it was, on the tall boy, look at my log book, but er, you can see, that we were on the north side of Anglesey, and you can see the fog of the morning or during the day, one boat [unclear] come across from the North Sea, across to the island, so if it was foggy you couldn’t fly, so then they shipped us into, other schools for more training, to a conversion unit, they picked up a [unclear] to conversion, I went to er, [pause] one unit I was flying Wellingtons, and then we went over to a conversion unit to get on to the fours, the four engine, Halifaxes, and then over to [pause] get crewed up and then on to your squadron.
LD: So, you crewed up at the OTU?
AL: Yeh, my skipper, he joined up, when the war broke out, became a pilot, put onto Spitfires, as an instructor, the only way he could get off that, and see the war, was to transfer to heavies.
LD: Ah, right.
AL: He had two thousand hours.
RG: Wow.
LD: Wow, oh I would have chosen him, when I was crewing up.
AL: That’s a lot of flying.
RG: It sure is.
AL: Particularly in small aircraft and training, and er, the rest of us were all greenies, sort of thing, you know, the skipper, er, come from down near London somewhere, he was a motorbike mechanic by trade, er, I was the import, bomb aimer was from, er, rear gunner from Nottingham, mid upper gunner was from Bury, which is near part of Manchester anyway.
RG: Ah, okay.
AL: It’s a suburb of more or less then, wireless operator he was a south, south England bloke, we got him, he was on his second tour, he’d been over on his first tour in the desert.
RG: Ah, okay.
AL: It was always Richard, the flight engineer of course, you never got him until, er, pretty well the last, and he didn’t seem to cotton on to the crew, as well as he ought to have done, but he was the bloke that controlled the er, petrol flow from, the tanks in the engine, in the wings, so that the weight was more or less evened out.
RG: Hmm, get the trim on the aircraft, yeh, so, so you say he was the last, so-
AL: He was the last one to come into the crew.
RG: Yeh, we’ve got a friend of Lucy’s uncle, was a rear gunner, erm, and he was killed on Christmas Eve, ‘43 over Berlin, but, er, we’ve got his log books and things, and he, erm, with his crewing up, he crewed up initially on Wellingtons.
LD: Wellingtons.
RG: So, there were five, and the other two came in later, so, is that what happened with you, did you crew, you said that you were on Wellingtons at the OUT?
AL: Well, er, Wellingtons, we didn’t get to crew up until we got on to a Halifaxes, I think.
RG: Ah, okay.
AL: Four, because then you had your gunners, and the navigator, and the bomb aimer, and of course, the other bloke come in late.
RG: Is that because of the extra training for the flight engineer, they came in late?
AL: I don’t know, I’ve never ever bothered enquiring.
RG: Hmm, but that was normal though the flight engineer was later?
AL: He was the last one to come into the crew.
RG: Okay, and how did the crewing up work because we read about the, you just go into a hangar and find yourself a crew, just do it, how did it?
AL: Well-
RG: But that might have been earlier in the war, I think?
AL: First, you come to the station to get crewed up, there was two of us, couldn’t care less, we was, just wandering along the road one day-
AL: This surly looking bloke, standing up, big officer type, you know, standing on the top step of this building, he come down to look at me, he said ‘will you be my navigator?’ [emphasis] [laughter]. He was a squadron leader, and er, he finished up 2 i/c of the squadron.
RG: Right.
AL: And er, then between us, he did all the picking, he picked up, and ditched a rear gunner and then we got, and finished up with a crew anyway, erm, from then on it was just getting to know each other, you’d get more instructions and one thing and another.
RG: Started to work together as a team, yeh?
AL: Yeh.
RG: So, that squadron leader, he, was he a skipper all the way through then or what? [unclear]
AL: The only time we didn’t fly with him, was the squadron commander, always took a new crew out on one trip.
RG: Okay.
LD: Ah.
AL: Your own skipper went out on a trip, with another crew, to get the, experience, before he took the crew out, in case something went wrong, I suppose and panicked.
RG: Second dickie, I think they called him.
AL: Well, [pause] the squadron leader, was a wing commander, Stockdale, was his name, he er, took us out, and I finished up with more operational hours than the skipper.
RG: Oh.
AL: Because of the length of the trip he did against [unclear]-
RG: Oh yes, yes, of course.
LD: Yes, of course.
AL: But, overall, with all the flying on the squadron, I think I got er, [pause] three, work shy [unclear] I worked it out at one time of flying, yes, it was continuous.
RG: It was continuous.
LD: They’re long trips over to Europe, aren’t they?
AL: Well, a lot of them were, they are too, the longest trip was to Dresden, which was just under, just about ten hours and then the next night we went to [unclear] which was Norway, so from the time we took off to Dresden, and the time we landed after [unclear] was nineteen hours out of thirty, flying.
LD: Yes.
RG: You would have been buggered at the end of that wouldn’t you?
AL: Yeh.
LD: And you had your debrief in the middle there as well, which takes away your time to recover as well, doesn’t it?
AL: You had your debriefing, then you went and got your eggs, boiled, it was the only time you saw eggs, on the squadron, really.
RG: Before you went.
AL: Before you went and when you came home.
RG: And when you came home, yeh, who, sorry-
LD: I heard that some people got bacon and oranges and strawberries as well for those ops meals?
AL: Oh, well, we got er, I think there was always bacon with the eggs but er, [pause] after, when we weren’t flying, we went, down to the local pub, we’d be down the mess, and when the bar closed, there would be bottles of beer and the big platters of pickles [laughs] and hard [emphasis] biscuits.
AL: State that and your finished-
RG: There’s a bloke down, who was a wireless operator, his record is in the national library, and erm, he was saying on his squadron, when they came back from ops, their debriefing went, they landed and had to remain in the aircraft, until a vehicle with a couple of service policemen arrived, they were loaded into the vehicle and they weren’t allowed to talk, taken to a large room, sat in there, silent until they were called up by the intelligence officers and debriefed.
AL: Oh, no we-
RG: He said that it was really harsh, that as on his squadron.
AL: We landed, we’d get out of the aircraft with all our gear and things like that. That photograph, that was taken off a little box camera one, about three by two.
RG: Yeh, yep, little tiny fella.
AL: Ah, I’ll tell you the story but after, erm, you get out of the aircraft and the first thing you do is light up a cigarette, and wait for the truck to come, hop into it, into an ops room, where you were debriefed then you could go and just chill out.
RG: Right, okay.
LD: That’s more like the experience that we’d read about.
RG: I think this fellow might have had a particularly hard squadron, we heard a lot of moaning about the conditions.
AL: Ah, no, it’s a, I suppose it was a good experience, we didn’t take any notice of it, you know, you were there doing a job.
LD: Yes.
RG: Yep, did you think about, you didn’t think at all about, at the time, about the-?
AL: Never thought about not coming back or anything, you know, so, er-
RG: Yeh, so, were the operations, because you did thirty-three and you did thirty-three ops?
AL: I did thirty-three.
RG: Yeh, but thirty was the tour that?
AL: Yeh, but towards the end of the war they put it up to thirty-five.
RG: Ah.
LD: Ah, right.
AL: We did thirty-three and sat on the fence for three weeks, sort of thing, then they said ‘right, you’re finished’.
RG: Right, okay, did that did they put you, did they earmark you guys for Tiger Force, for the invasion of Japan, did they?
AL: No, the skipper arrived, I don’t remember saying hurray to the rest of the crew actually, the skipper and I got posted to back to Lindholme, to instruct on this erm, landing beam, and, there was only three crews there did that, and I put in for commission and I finished two, or just about finished and the squadron commander held it up for three months, I went to the adjutant and said ‘what’s wrong?’ He looked at it and he said ‘oh, I don’t know what’s going on’, he said, and put it straight through. So that came, the commission came through, when I was at Lindholme, and er, down to London straight away, and got me commission a week before I got married.
RG: Ah, okay.
AL: I said to the Savile Row tailor [coughs] ‘can you do it within a week?’ he said ‘no, I can do it in three weeks without a fitting.’
AL: I said that’ll do, so I got married with a stripe on, you could see where the stripes had gone on.
AL: And, er, I went to pick, I went back to London to pick up the uniform and it was a perfect fit.
RG: Ah, there you go.
LD: That’s a good tailor.
RG: Yeh, did it all by eye.
AL: Savile Row.
RG: Yeh, well, you’ve got the best there haven’t you?
AL: Well, I had the choice of [pause] taking it and finding your own tailor, taking your stuff or go to Savile Row, so, I can’t remember the name of the tailors, but they did a hell of a good job.
RG: Where, where else would you go if you are in London, where else would you go but Savile Row? [laughs] So, with the ops then Arthur, at that stage of the war were they still doing a lot of mine laying ops and leaflet drops and stuff like that-
AL: Say that again.
RG: Were they still doing mine laying, sea mine laying, leaflet drops and that sort of thing at that stage of the war?
AL: The last couple of weeks, the squadron was doing the food drops over France.
RG: Was that Operation Manna?
AL: Well, all the other ops were finished.
RG: Yeh, okay.
AL: There you go, I finished in March ‘45, so it was April I think when they sent me.
RG: Back to Lindholme?
AL: To instruct, and that was a good thing, I enjoyed that, yeah.
RG: Shame it never got used, used the device.
AL: Well, the skipper used to say, ‘right, foggy morning once’ he said, ‘give it a good test’ up we went and did a circuit, which I think was eight k’s, or eight miles, in those days and this little Ford truck or panel van so far in front of the main runway, the H2S in the aircraft, would send a beam down and it would be reflected to tell you whether you, where you were within-
RG: A transponder system?
AL: Yeh, whether you were past or on the right end of it, and this day we took up in the fog, the fog opened up, we were so low, we were below the sight line of the, er, of the tower.
LD: Oh.
RG: Oh, wow.
LD: That’s low [laughs].
AL: Yeh, you see, heard this aircraft flying, got in touch with them, get him down quick.
AL: But, that showed you -
RG: How accurate the thing was.
AL: Yeh, of course with atmospheric changes they couldn’t tell really accurate height, if you was over water you couldn’t tell the height within fifty feet anyway.
RG: Oh, fifty feet, wow.
AL: When we were at the squadron, we went out, to do some, er, shooting, out over the North Sea, there was two of us, two crew, and this other bloke, who was a nut, really, he was there flying so low, you could see the spray coming up under the engine.
RG: Ooh [emphasis].
AL: And I said to my skipper ‘come on Kurt, get down get down’ [emphasis].
AL: ‘Cos we flew across the North Sea, to er, lay some mines near Denmark, and they had to stay at about fifteen hundred feet, so the under the radar all the time and we used to get up to a height going over Denmark then [unclear] they put a camera on the H2S, where I had to take a photograph, at three different points, well, I’d never used a bloody camera [laughs] they showed me how to do it, you turn this, to get the next [laughs] screen up and I took the three photos in the one neg.
AL: ‘Cos you only had about a minute [laughs].
RG: Was this to prove the drops, were, you’d done the drops in the right place or? The photos-
AL: Well, yeh, they had to get, we went across Denmark, up to [unclear] Island and then back across, and if you did, you had to drop your mines within a half mile or the whole thing was aborted, so I said to the, the er, radar bloke when I got back, and he said ‘you did it on the one negative’, and I says, ‘oh cripes’ I says, ‘did you plot it?’ and he says ‘oh yeah, we managed to do that’.
RG: Try not to do it again [laughs].
AL: He was an Australian, but you had to do twelve hours training, air training, on the H2S before you were qualified, I’d done eight .
LD: Right.
AL: You are going on mines, I says ‘but I’m not qualified on H2S’, he said ‘you bloody will be’ [laughs] when you get back.
RG: That would give you great confidence, wouldn’t it?
LD: Did you use anything other than H2S? Did you use anything other than H2S?
AL: Well, in the earlier days, we had what they called a Gee Box which [laughs] hardly ever works, had a little tiny screen, on the end, and it come up with blips, that you had to read, to give you the location. Hardly ever worked, I used to carry a screwdriver and stick it in the side [laughter] sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t [laughs] so, you had to rely on your own dead reckoning knowledge or use the er, radio beams, which were stationed, in different spots in Britain and places, which the wireless operator had to take a reading for you.
LD: Ah, right.
AL: So, that, that bugger was a hundred per cent accurate anyway, because it didn’t know with the weather, what the waves would go, so it gave you a direction, the time you were, to where you reckoned you was, the angle, so you got a line across the, that’s your route, you got a line across that, wait ten minutes and take another reading from a different one.
RG: Yeh.
AL: So, that gives you another reading from that, and you transpose that up here and that would tell you whether you were on course or off, so, you can work out a new wind speed direction. So, that was quite an exercise, but once we got the H2S, which was underneath the aircraft, you’ve seen the bubbles underneath, that sent the signal to the ground, if it hit earth, buildings and that, it would come back to you and you got an exact-
RG: Map of the region.
AL: Map of the TR, if it hit water [unclear] you could tell the coastline, and rivers.
LD: Ah, yes, yes.
RG: How accurate was that, I’m not a radar man, but I know how inaccurate these things can be at times, how accurate did you find H2S in identifying, you know, if you picked up a town, could you?
AL: Identify it? Well-
RG: Yeh, by the shape of it, you know.
AL: You knew where your towns were and where you were headed and you’d have to be well off course, to miss it, but it was a good thing the, that H2S, we had it about three or four months before the Yanks got it, they called it Mickey Mouse.
LD: Oh, ‘cos I’ve heard of Mickey Mouse, didn’t know what it was, so-
AL: The Yanks, twelve aircraft in a V formation, if you got too close to them, you’d be shot at, didn’t matter whether you were friendly or not, and if they shot somebody down, that would be twelve aircraft.
RG: Yeh, they’d take a claim, hit it each, yeh, yeh.
AL: I reckoned you could always treat their, scores with a grain of salt [laughs].
RG: That’s the Yanks.
AL: They never did any night flying.
RG: No.
AL: Well, they sent us down to a place called Rouen, just on the mouth of the river, near Bordeaux, so that one gun emplacement there, to stop people getting into the river and into the port, we had that gun emplacement to get rid of, and they said the Yanks, they’ll be going to this place here, not far away, at the same, nearly the same time, I don’t think the Yanks went, we never saw any of them, ‘cos it was daylight when we were coming home, you know, you could see the daylight come, and the sun come up and all the rest of it.
RG: That’s a thought actually, some of the, you see erm, bits of film and stuff, with Bomber Command aircraft towards the end of the war doing daylight, daylight raids, erm, things like that, precision, more precision stuff, did you do any daylight stuff, or was it all night time?
AL: We did daylight and night, it was er, at one time they had us, what they used, said was a gaggle, that’s two lots of three aircraft in a V formation, two or three hundred feet apart, and everybody in the raid had to climb in behind them, now, I forget where we were going, daylight raid, you’d see this aircraft way over [unclear] like a damned dog belly, with the aircraft, guns, burst, fire bursting all around it, they was one of the squadron, er, squadron on the same station as we were, 12 of us here, 626 over there, Canadian, two hundred mile off course.
LD: Oh.
RG: Wow, wow.
AL: And he got shot to buggery, the navigator, got sent home, immediately, given him an immediate DFM, what for, I’m buggered if I know, the bomb aimer, he got his leg busted up with shrapnel.
RG: Two hundred miles off course, that’s a bad error wasn’t it, day time as well?
AL: I still, mate of mine was on 626, I didn’t know at the time, but I met him in London, he said, he had to bale out, in a cumulous cloud, which is a big storm cloud, and he said it took him forty-five minutes to get to the ground.
RG: Oh, kept getting blown up on the up drafts and-
AL: The updrafts, were stronger than the downward.
LD: It must have been so cold.
AL: He got back to the squadron the next day, to find all his gear was missing, other crews had gone through it.
RG: Another crew? Oh, truly?
AL: We were in Nissen huts, there was two crews in each hut, is that it, yes, two crews, maybe you’d get a stray, like in our hut, we had a young Tasmanian bloke, that was a rear gunner, I don’t know what happened to him, but, he’d, he’d wake up in the night, sit up and start singing out ‘I’ll be [unclear] you’, [shouts] [laughter] and then he’d flop back down and go to sleep [laughs].
RG: I had a mate in the navy like that, he’d sit bolt upright, shout something, clear as a bell, nonsense and then just, yeh-
AL: You’d have to hope that one of the crews in the place would be there when the, coal delivery got, so you get enough to keep the place warm.
RG: Ok, yep, yep, actually, that’s a thought, talking about the committee of adjustment, when a crew was lost, erm, how the gear was removed or?
AL: Well, the crew got lost, there is, station people would have to take all their gear, and label, so that they knew whose it was, but, if they weren’t quick enough, anybody could get into it and take what they wanted.
RG: And, that did happen, did it?
LD: Oh, really.
AL: Well, I don’t, never heard of it happening on our squadron, but er, that one time in 626, yeah, I was in 12 Squadron which was at Wickenby, about a mile north east of Lincoln, and we used to, it was only a mile away from the pub-
RG: That’s convenient.
AL: We used to go down there, get sozzled and we’d been, briefed to go to Stuttgart three days in a row, and er, I said to the skipper after the third one was aborted, I said to him the next morning ‘anything on?’, he said, ‘I don’t know yet’, so I said, ‘I’m going down the bloody pub, if anything’s on, send Titch down’, so Titch turns up down there, so I was in the bar, I’d only just got a new pint, I used to drink Youngers No 3, black as the ace of spades [laughter], he says, ‘Lofty, we’re on’, I said okay and I downed that pint straight away, and they fed me oxygen half way across France to sober me up, [laughter] they reckon in the briefing, I could put the route written on the chart here and drive a straight line across-
LD: A sober navigator probably is a good idea.
RG: That’s probably not too bad, follow the bloke in front, he probably knows where he’s going.
AL: Maybe, that’s what they gave me the DFM for? [laughs]
[loud laughter]
RG: That’s a thought actually, was there a particular, your DFM citations, are there a particular thing, or event, or was it-?
LD: Just surviving a tour? Which is good enough really.
RG: For your award of the DFM, was there a particular, particular thing for that or-?
AL: Ah, I can’t think at the moment, I’ve got to, do you want to look at it?
RG: Yeh, later on, we’ll finish this first.
AL: It tells you that I was exceptional [emphasis] navigator, I think.
RG: Right.
AL: And it lists a few places where you went, and er, that’s all.
RG: Ok, okay.
AL: So, then, I had the choice, after I got home, I had the choice of going to the Queen to get it or getting the Governor General, well Twitchy McKell was the Governor General at that time, his face never stopped twitching.
AL: Mum, and the wife and I, went to the damn investiture, and er, of course the DFM was the last, and after it was over, I said ‘come on we’re going now’, [background noise] I couldn’t stand to put up with a whole lot more, it was too much, I never did like all that pomp and ceremony.
RG: Neither did I Arthur, I was never good at that, the military bullshit side of the services, not my thing.
AL: Well, I’ve got a grandson, he er, when he was a kid, he wanted to be in the air force like I was, and when he got er, finishing school, he got a scholarship to ADFA and it took him a while, but he decided to go to the army because he could learn more of what he wanted, that he couldn’t in the air force, so, he did mechanical engineering, he’s now a lieutenant colonel.
RG: Hmm, ok, he’s done well.
AL: He’s in Turkey, transferred to the Pommies, because he could learn more there, than he did here, he was a major at the time, and he had to wait a lot longer to get his-
RG: Colonel here.
AL: Than over there, then over here, they offered him a temporary one, to stay here, but er, he said no, and now he’s doing [cough] more ambassadorial work.
RG: Ah, ok, I can think of worse place to be than Turkey. Do you need a need a glass of water Arthur, you sound like you are getting a bit?
AL: Ah, no, that’s just the, way that I am.
RG: Alright, alright.
AL: I’m emotional.
LD: Oh.
RG: Right, erm, now what was I going to say, I know, I was going to ask you about your wife, you met her, she was in the WAAF?
AL: She was a cook.
RG: Ah, yeah, yep.
AL: I met her at Hixon, that was the first place I went to after being on the Isle of Anglesey, and, er, they shifted me from there across to the satellite station where we did more flying, near Hixon, at a place called Seighford just outside Doncaster.
RG: Where’s Hixford, where’s Hixford, whereabouts is Hixford?
AL: Hixon.
RG: Hixon, sorry.
AL: Hixon, near Doncaster.
RG: Ah, ok.
AL: Seighford wasn’t far away, but it was called their satellite station, so that was there, and she was the only Scotty in the cookhouse.
LD: Ah, so, it was that lovely accent that lured you in, was it?
AL: Well, she’d lost most of the accent, because she spent most of the time in the, in England, but er, she still had an accent.
RG: Comes out at times doesn’t it?
AL: Not like the er, niece who, I still keep in touch with, her and her husband have been out here, he came from the Isle of Skye, and broad. Glasgow’s the broadest of the lot.
RG: Oh yeh, yeh.
AL: The Glaswegians.
RG: Where’s your wife from?
AL: Aberdeen.
RG: Aberdeen.
AL: Her father was a railway man, they called him Black Jock because he had a very dark olive complexion, and his hair was snow white [laughs].
RG: Quite a combination.
AL: The first time I went there, I couldn’t, don’t remember understanding much of what he said, [laughter] I was saying yes and no, or something else, I must have put it in the right place.
LD: So how did they feel about her getting involved with, well, an airman to start with, and an Australian airman, that’s you know, maybe a bit difficult for a family?
AL: I don’t know. Dot’s father, her mother died when she was seven years old, and he remarried, they had two sons and a boy, the eldest boy he was a bloody rascal, but his step sister was only four years old, I used to sit her on my shoulder and walk them around Aberdeen-
RG: So, you got on well with the in-laws then?
AL: Oh, I got on well with most of them, but the youngest boy, he insisted on, after we got married, he just stopped speaking with us.
LD: Oh.
AL: And he did it between Dot and I, and during the night he’d go whack [emphasis].
AL: Straight across my face, but he’s still, the only one still alive.
RG: So, did you, sorry, going back to your demob, did you demob in the UK, or did you come back to Australia to demob?
AL: I come back here.
RG: Came back here.
AL: I had no choice, they just said one day, pack up your off to Brighton, oh no, to London it was.
LD: Were you married to Dot at that stage or did you get married afterwards?
AL: No, I married on the 5th of, er, 8th of June ‘45, I wanted to get married earlier but she, Dot, wouldn’t until the war finished and, she had to have a wedding because of her father, you know.
RG: So, did Dot stay, while you got sent off to London and then back to Australia?
AL: Er, no, they just said pack up you’re off, down to er, down to London, hand in your heavy winter gear, and pick up your car keys and er, over to Portsmouth, I think it was, and er, before we left they said you can buy a watch, they had three different prices, we used Longines watches for navigation, all the, all the time, but I bought one, I think for five pound, it finished up going crook with the sea water, eventually, but on one raid, I knocked, knocked me watch somehow on the nav table and it jumped ten minutes.
LD: Oh.
AL: And I said to the skipper ‘we are behind time, thrash those engines’ he didn’t and port outer gave way, it conked out, I said to him, ‘cos it controlled the rear turret.
RG: Oh.
LD: Oh.
RG: The general motor in that one, the hydraulics in that one.
AL: He port outer, controlled the hydraulics of the rear turret.
RG: Oh, okay, I didn’t realise that.
AL: I said to the skipper, we had better go home, don’t want to go near a bloody tough place, with Titch having to operate by hand.
RG: Did you go back on that one? [unclear]
AL: So, we turned around and dumped the bombs in the North Sea and only got back ten minutes before the rest of them.
RG: Right, so you were almost there then? Yeah, God. So, so the port outer controlled the rear, what about the mid upper turret, was that by another?
AL: Not sure, that’s the only one, that’s how I found out it controlled it.
RG: Yeh, okay, I didn’t realise that, I thought they were all inter connected so that, yeah.
LD: Was there any comeback about returning, because I have read of crews who were, sometimes, even accused of LMF for returning?
AL: Well, I would hate to go anywhere without the rear gunner and his turret.
LD: Oh, yes.
AL: Operating one hundred per cent, but it’s a funny feeling, in that turret, you’re twisted sideways and there you are looking out, the tail planes there, your ears, the tail planes there, nothing on this side.
RG: Hmm, a serious place.
AL: Yeh, ‘cos you get in the turret, you shut the door and its locked, you’re the only one that can operate it.
RG: [unclear] We’ve looked into that one a bit [unclear] the rear gunner the you know of and, yeh-
AL: The mid upper gunner panicked on one raid, it was pretty, a lot of flak, a lot of fighters I think were out, and we’re flying, you had to fly straight in the middle, for a minute, from the time you dropped the bomb over, let the bombs out, so that you, the aircraft, you take a photograph, where they landed and he says ‘let’s get out of here’, [emphasis] I said ‘shut up boy, we just got a job to do’, he shut up like a shot then, the skipper thanked me later on.
RG: Hmm, was that the only?
AL: Something like that, just knock your mind off.
RG: Off what you’re doing, is that the only incident you had like that, one of the crew panicking, was that the only incident you had with one of the crew?
AL: Yeah, oh yeah, oh yes, the first raid we were on was to Frankfurt, and we were loaded up with incendiaries, and you could see planes that are flying too low, but go into the ground and burst into flames, they had all the incendiaries and that there, now the officer used to say, ‘come on Lofty have a look out it’s all pretty, see the pretties’, ‘cos the flares they dropped.
RG: Oh, the Pathfinder flares.
AL: The Pathfinders.
LD: The Christmas trees.
AL: They were red, blue, green, red and green, a mixture, they said ‘Oh, it’s pretty’, I said ‘I’m too bloody busy here’, I was shit scared [laughs] but, eventually I got up to look around.
RG: Did you have a look from the astrodome, you said the astrodome, didn’t you for sights?
AL: The astro, a little dome, the astrodome was over the WOPS part.
RG: Ah, okay.
AL: I had a dark curtain to pull across, between the pilots, and the pilots and the engineer and myself, so I could use the light, so I switched the light off and then get up, and I’d stand behind them, and I could see what’s going on.
LD: I had wondered how the navigators saw out, because all the pictures I’ve seen, it’s just the navigator in this little dark cubicle, and I wondered how they saw out.
AL: Well, the War Memorial at one time, had a little, thing, as a navigator, for show, [pause] makes out with voices so that you knew what was going on, and I had a look at it and I said oh, nothing like what it was really.
AL: But er, I went through a B17, at one place, and I had to turn sideways, to get through the bomb-
RG: Bomb bay? Truly, they sound like they have more room in them now.
AL: Their bombs, were either side of the walkway, and straight up through the aircraft.
RG: Oh, truly, so you walk through between the bombs.
AL: There was a length, all down underneath, now, back in it, in the Yankee aircraft, you had a belly gunner, you had side gunners, as well as your rear gunner.
RG: Upper.
AL: The rest I’m not sure, who fired the ammunition.
RG: Hmm, they were, heavily, heavily armed weren’t they, they had machine guns.
AL: They’d open fire at anything.
RG: Hmm, they still do.
RG: Seriously.
AL: Even today, my grandson said, ‘the Yanks will not take any notice of anybody’, they’re right, doesn’t matter if they are right or wrong, what they say goes.
RG: And they are very dangerous in weapon practice as at sea, you can’t trust them to take, to obey the rules.
AL: That’s why Afghanistan gone so long.
RG: Hmm, yep, they are not really good at what they do, I don’t think.
LD: My brother worked with the Americans in Vietnam, he was in the navy, he said.
AL: Rubbish?
LD: They were dreadful.
AL: He says you can’t trust them.
RG: No, no, it’s true, so you were Halifaxes then, you were Halifaxes through all of that, what did you do?
AL: The Halifax was only for training.
RG: Ah, okay.
AL: Er, they’d taken them out of ops, most of them anyway.
RG: Ah, okay.
AL: I remember, I remember another crew, just on a local flight, and I went down into the bomb aimer’s compartment, they had the bed where he lay on, but you could put the back up like a seat [unclear] bomb aimers, low flying over a railway line, just -
LD: I’ve read about the bomb aimers, erm, loading up underneath them, the bomb aimers in Lancs anyway, loading up underneath them with window to try and prevent the shrapnel -
AL: The bomb aimer’s compartment had a bed in it, like, so that you’re there and you looked at your bomb site, which was a bit more, meant that you were elevated than the floor of the aircraft itself, so the only protection you had was the skin of the aircraft, no paddings, that’s why my ears are crook, sitting too close to the engine’
RG: The engine noise, yeah, okay.
AL: I blame the Halifaxes
RG: Sorry?
AL: ‘Cos they, the engines on those were so close to the fuselage.
RG: Oh, okay.
AL: I think, er, some of the jet engines are pretty close to the fuselage in a similar position, today.
RG: Yeah, but they got more padding.
AL: You get into an aircraft today, you can still hear the roar of the jet, even though you’ve got your skin, you’ve got the inner, and that’s probably well-padded anyway.
RG: I’d imagine so, yeah, you can still hear them quite clearly can’t you, they are only just behind you in places too .
AL: The A380-800s is the best.
RG: Hmm, I haven’t flown in one of those yet.
AL: Ooh, business class on those is wonderful.
RG: Oh, I can’t fly business class Arthur [laughs].
LD: Was that when you went over for the memorial?
AL: Yeh.
LD: Oh good, that’s wonderful.
AL: We went from here to-
LD: What a lovely change from a Lanc.
AL: The interesting thing on a 747, they put me, instead of down with them all, they shut me upstairs sitting right behind the cockpit.
RG: Oh yeah, yep.
AL: And, once we got up and settled down the pilots came through and had a yarn to me, and then er, I went into their cabin, when we got to Singapore, and er, the bloke that was looking after me was a wing commander, I think he’s up in Darwin now, he er, took a photo of me in the cabin and then [pause] the 380 from Singapore to England, we had the 380-800 all the way home.
RG: Hmm, comfortable.
AL: Very comfortable.
RG: You hate flying, [laughs] So, Arthur, with your, so, going back to Dot, you came back to Australia at the end of the war, Dot was still over in-
AL: Yeh, they said, that they would have the wives cross here, within six months, some bugger mislaid the papers over there.
RG: Right.
AL: And, the wife was pregnant, so, by the time they got to it, they said she was too far.
RG: Too pregnant to travel?
AL: Into it, to be, to come out here, straight away, so she had the first child over there, I never saw her until she was six months old, just about.
RG: Right, ok, so it was over a year then, before-
AL: Well, she came out, I got here November ‘45, she got here in October ’46.
RG: Right, so nearly a year.
AL: Came out with first Australian, with the first Pommie cricketers after the war.
RG: Oh, okay.
AL: Same ship, same boat as I came over.
RG: Oh, ok, that’s a coincidence isn’t it, yeah, coincidence.
AL: It was a good boat, I got up to it [top bunk?] by the blower.
RG: On either side, oh, okay.
AL: When they said [unclear] and I got all the benefits.
RG: Yeah, it sounds like it, yeah, so did, with er, going back to the missions again, were you, were your aircraft ever hit, or, were you ever hit on a mission, your aircraft?
AL: Ever which?
RG: Hit, were you ever hit?
AL: Ah, the only hit we got, was, I come back from one raid, there was a dent in front of the bomb compartment, you could put your arm up in and not see it.
RG: Ah, okay.
AL: That’s all.
RG: That was fairly lucky then, wasn’t it?
AL: Oh, yeah, luckiest man alive [emphasis].
RG: Yeh, I say so.
LD: I think so.
RG: I had a friend here in Canberra, who was erm, a pilot on Stirlings, and he had a lovely photograph of him and his navigator, standing on the wing of their aircraft, and between the engines, there’s a hole where another aircraft dropped a bomb through their wing, between the engines and he reckoned he was the luckiest bloke alive, it missed, but the engines kept running, didn’t stop either one.
AL: Oh, a lot of things happened like that, but er, [coughs] at night time, if you were, you could be flying over the top of somebody, dropped your, dropped your bombs, you could have wiped them out.
RG: Yeah.
LD: And, you wouldn’t know, would you?
AL: There was no guarantee, particularly, in what, in that formation called the gaggle.
LD: Yes, yes.
AL: Because you were in between, and you had an aircraft above you, behind you, below and everything.
RG: Yes, yes.
LD: I’ve also read about the problems, you know, where, once the aircraft released its bombs, it lifts because it loses the weight and I wondered how that would affect that kind of-?
AL: You never felt anything once the bombs, leaving the aircraft, I never felt any reaction.
RG: Right, okay.
AL: Each aircraft had a camera, that was at the back of the bomb bay, so when you flew, er, dropped the bombs, flew straight a little, that took one but never had a lens, er, a lens on, it just had the thing, it would just operate, take a photo, operate again, so there was three four inch-
RG: Yeh, okay.
AL: And I pinched some of them out of the intelligence office before I left the squadron [laughs].
RG: Good cameras?
AL: Oh, I’ve still got them.
AL: Yeah, three of them, one of them, when we bombed the sea wall at West [Cappelle?] to let the water into er, to allow ships and that to get into Rotterdam, and er, you could see, the bombs burst, big four thousand pound a burst, in the water and I reckon the one that I’ve got was the best photograph of the squadron, they enlarged it to three foot square, stuck it up on the wall, but er, there was a wall of water, I reckon, at least thirty, forty feet high, sweeping in to flood the island.
RG: That would be interesting to see.
AL: But, because of the cloud cover, they said, we had to drop down about six thousand feet, well, stupid, bloody pilots they were coming this way, that way and every way to drop their bombs, it’s a wonder there weren’t some accidents.
RG: Yeah, but there were a lot though weren’t there, collisions on the ops?
AL: When we were in different parts, towards the end of the war, they had what they called a Master Bomber, on daylight raids, he would be down about a thousand to fifteen hundred feet, relaying, where to drop bombs, and er, one of the prints I’ve got has got-
RG: You can see the aircraft in it, was he in a Mosquito or something, or was he?
AL: No, in a Lanc.
RG: In a Lanc, right, ok, fifteen hundred feet.
AL: [inaudible] was the Pathfinders too, most of them was er, were Mosquitoes, one of the fellas I went through nav school with, he finished up on them, he was unfortunate, he had a crash and buggered up his hand and he had springs instead of his fingers, back on, keep them straight.
RG: Keep them straight, yeah, that friend of mine here in Canberra, he’s dead now, but he was, he went from Stirlings onto Lancs, and then he said, him and his navigator, they saw a sign up one day, special service, you know, get promoted, he said, why don’t we, it was Pathfinder force, he said, you know, bad decision.
AL: Yeah, Pathfinders wouldn’t have been too bad because, they never had a special time, they had to get, take off, shoot the, drop their flares and back, because all they had was the flares, bit of ammunition in case they had to try and fight their way out.
RG: Hmm, yes, but of course then the bomber streams coming after, everybody’s alerted.
AL: They had to get there before the first bombs were dropped, or just about then, drop their flares. I remember Munich, they dropped two rows of white flares, big bright ones, and I reckon I could see people on the floor, on the ground, even though we were at eight thousand feet and they dropped the coloured flares in between, so they could drop the bombs.
[background noise]
AL: I’ll get er, me box down and you can have a look.
RG: I was gonna ask you Arthur, there’s something, is there any, I guess your stuff, you know log book and whatever has probably all been scanned, and it has been recorded somewhere, but, has it, you’ve got log book and stuff, has it been scanned and kept, because one of the things here is, if you’ve got any documents, or your log book or whatever, we can scan them.
AL: But, I’ve got it all on the computer .
RG: That’ll be really good, it will save us scanning them, so, yeah, that would, would you be happy to transfer those files to?
AL: I can er, send you some, I’ve got a lot, my log books there, I sent a copy of it to er, Wickenby, because the er, the control tower there now is a museum.
RG: Right, ok, yeah.
AL: And, I don’t know how I came into getting into contact with them, the fella that I got hold of first, he said he had a basic, er, computer, but to send them to another woman, called Ann Law, who was one of the curators there, so, they’ve got a copy of the log book, and er, it was through them that I got, the list of the names for, of my crew, I’d forgotten, so er, if you’ve just about finished I’ll show you what I’ve got on there .
RG: Well, we can stop this and have a look, and then do a bit more talking if you are up for that?
[background noise]
AL: [inaudible] is was not there, when we got there, so it was a hell of a devastating raid, but erm, [background noise] [unclear] wasn’t as bad, but that was the worst of the war, I said that to, Red Cross, requested not to bomb Leipzig again [pause]-
LD: Yeah.
AL: But er, I saw one, one of our own aircraft, go into the Hohenzollern Bridge, at er, [pause] Cologne.
LD: Yes.
[background noise]
AL: Something went wrong, he went over Cologne, turned around and came back, baled his crew out and crashed, crashed his aircraft into the approach to the bridge, I don’t know whether he got out or not, but they did discover there was one of the aircraft of our squadron.
LD: That must have been very hard seeing that.
AL: Oh, er, hard for the people concerned, but er, you don’t think of these things at the time [pause].
LD: I suppose it’s, it’s part of kind of what happens every day, I guess and maybe you just can’t afford to think about it too much?
AL: You couldn’t afford to think of anything, and er, [pause] you’d go mad I suppose if you started thinking about.
LD: Yes, yes.
AL: Whether you are going to come back or not.
LD: Yes, yeah.
[background noise]
RG: I’ll take a copy of your log book as well, your log book has got all the pages.
AL: That’s the log book.
RG: Yeh, do you mind if I take a copy of that?
AL: You can take a copy of it.
LD: So, did you go back, [background noise] when you came back to Australia, what it says on the internet anyway, is that you went back to work at the railways.
AL: Yeah.
LD: Erm, but you’d been, you left the railways before you joined the air force, didn’t you?
AL: Oh, no.
LD: No, no, so they held your job for you, did they?
AL: When I went in the air force.
LD: Right, so they held the job for you?
AL: Well, they had to, you know, that was the law.
LD: Yes, yeah.
AL: If you left a job, it was there for you when you came back.
LD: Yeah, yeah.
AL: Whether they liked it or not it didn’t matter [laughter].
LD: Oh, I am sure they were happy to have you back [laughs].
AL: With the railways, on the clerical side, they stipulated that you had to do a hundred words a minute shorthand, and, er, sixty words a minute typing, well, I could never get more than sixty words a minute shorthand, and I couldn’t, I couldn’t use me little fingers, ‘cos I didn’t have time to learn properly, I had to type at work and consequently, I was only using three fingers, and I could type over forty words a minute, it was that, and then, they [pause] got to teach alphabetically, and they told me that I was going from my job, which was a good one, I was very happy in it, not far from home, I had to go right into the city and out again, a bit, to a different department.
LD: So, you moved back to Sydney, is that right, when you came back?
AL: Well, I had to because there was no position in Goulburn.
LD: Right, yeah.
AL: I was, I had to go to Sydney, I went back to the railway and they didn’t know what to do with me for a while, so they stuck me down on one floor, of er, their headquarters, in amongst the court reporters, they were doing a lot of court work.
RG: Oh, okay, yeah.
AL: The stenos, it’s the reporter, he spent ten minutes in the er, in, half an hour to get it typed up, so he talked to the typewriter for half an hour and then he probably only had a few minutes before he went back in to do another stint, I had nothing to do.
RG: It’s hard isn’t it when you’ve got nothing to do, when you’ve got to be somewhere.
AL: So, the younger brother and a cousin were doing their first year at Uni, and the cousin used to get me to type up all his notes.
LD: Oh, yes.
AL: Well, by the time I started he had to get out and do a posting [laughs] I knew more about Psychology than he did.
[loud laughter]
AL: He finished up as the headmaster at Wesley College in Perth.
LD: Ooh.
RG: That’s pretty impressive, yeah.
AL: He was headmaster of Orange High School for years, oh er, he was, yeah, he only died last year, he was in the air force, they stuck him up in the islands, he said some of the islands up there are mud, must be bombers still down in amongst the mud.
RG: Yeah, yah, the North Sea must be absolutely littered with bombs that were ditched on the, yeah.
AL: Japs.
RG: Yeah, yeah, Arthur with the, when you, when the war ended how did you manage it, did you do anything, you know, when your war was over, did you celebrate or how did you feel?
AL: I was in bed, up in Scotland, when VE Day came, middle of the night [laughs] they came to wake you up, ‘War’s over!’ [emphasis] [laughs] but er, I was still over there on VE Day too.
RG: Ah, yeah, you would have been, yeah.
AL: Well, you know, my younger, youngest brother he joined up not long before the end of the war and he became a returned serviceman by taking a, put on a stop boat to Japan.
RG: Oh, right [laughs] yeah, is there anything else you want to ask?
LD: Erm-
RG: Lost track a bit actually.
LD: Yeah, no, no, we are all good. Look one thing I’ve read about, I don’t know how common it was and I think this may not apply to you but, when the Japanese invaded New Guinea, that there were people in Bomber Command who were sent white feathers from Australia, but, you know, by people who were unhappy that they weren’t in New Guinea, thinking that they were having a nice easy run over in Britain, did anything like that ever happen to you or that you know of?
AL: There were some come back from Britain that did go up to New Guinea.
LD: Yes.
AL: But, er, I don’t think they had the equipment?
RG: No, what we mean, is that people, there were people in Australia who thought that the chaps over in Bomber Command were having an easy time, they weren’t here fighting the Japs, did you never heard anything like that at all, the people sent white feathers or anything?
LD: I think you were there sort of, a bit later, so it may have been a little different, I was a bit curious.
AL: I don’t know what goes on with, ‘cos you get politics and everything.
RG: Well, the 9th Division blokes that were still in Tobruk, after the Japanese went, they were getting white feathers sent to them because they were over in Africa having a whale of a time, they were only fighting Rommel, or maybe that was easy, obviously, you know.
AL: Well, my Dad went to Egypt in the first war, I don’t know what, he got very sick, they shipped him home and discharged him, and then he joined up again [laughs].
LD: Oh, he was keen.
[background noise]
RG: I think this is probably about all really.
LD: Yeah.
[background noise]
AL: Ooh, er, every serviceman’s papers, are available, through archives or the War Memorial, I think we paid twenty-five bucks to get a copy.
LD: But, some, it’s getting the, I think what’s really important, is getting this personal experience like you’ve just given, you know, my father never talked about what he did during the war and we knew nothing until dad died and we started having to look and-
AL: This is the first, this is only the second time that I have said anything-
LD: Hmm, yeh, and I guess, I don’t know, maybe?
AL: It’s inbred into you, if you saw as much as action and that, you’d probably never say anything.
RG: No, no, no, I’ve done one of these interviews before, the chap was from Collector, he was a Kokoda veteran, and he’d never told his family a single thing, and er, he was getting quite old and they wanted to know and they asked if I would go and talk to him and he did, and erm, yeah, it was the first time anyone in the family had ever heard anything.
AL: Well, I er, there was one other fella and meself, laid a wreath on the British Bomber Command Memorial, on the Saturday before we came home, I was in the photos and the kids picked me out.
LD: Oh really?
AL: Yeah.
LD: Wow, you were the tall one I suppose? [laughs]
AL: No, it was just all of them in the stand.
LD: Yeah.
AL: They could see me, fourth from the end, fourth row from the back [laughs].
LD: How do you feel about the fact that it took so long, how Bomber Command was treated after war, how, that, that must be very difficult for you?
AL: I don’t know, I’ve never heard anything, but the British memorial was built mostly I think from public subscription, and it used to be on the YouTube, I suppose it still is, er, the way it was designed and that, the build, and er, they’ve had to clean up one lot of graffiti that I know of, but its open, there’s a street outside the green, in Green Park, behind Buckingham Palace and it’s right on, there’s a footpath, and it’s just off the footpath, and er, out the other side of it, is the wall, and there’s a wreath on the wall which was done here.
LD: Oh, right.
RG: Yep, yep, and that specifically for the Australians or for all?
AL: I think it was made in Australia, but on that trip, we had one fella, took a hell of a lot of photographs, and I said to him ‘can you give me a copy of those, some of them’, he says when we’ve finished, he says it’ll all go back to DVA, not a thing.
RG: Not a thing.
LD: Oh, that’s disappointing.
AL: DVA never got a copy of anything, apparently, he scrubbed it off his card, I don’t know, but nobody ever found out why or how.
LD: Oh, that’s a shame.
AL: He’s a cartoonist for the Daily Telegraph.
LD: So, he should know, shouldn’t he.
RG: So, it’s not like he’s not familiar with-
AL: I used to send him emails and he never ever replied, I know they have used him on other jobs.
RG: So, Arthur with the stuff you’ve given us today is there anything, do you want to put anything or any conditions on it, don’t care about any of that, alright [background noise].
AL: You should have a copy of at least, the interview, that the DVA did.
RG: Yeah, yeah, they probably have got a copy of that, yeah.
AL: well, I had a [unclear] computer.
RG: Its gone, it happens.
AL: I had it and one that was done at Duxford, that was on You Tube too.
RG: Yeah, I think I’ve seen that one, actually, or, yeah.
AL: They just disappeared off my computer, my son can’t find it.
RG: Oh, it happens.
AL: It must be in there somewhere.
RG: I work in IT, trust me I understand this [laughs] you can lose stuff in there, you put in somewhere or you think you put it somewhere, and you go to move it all, whatever, you drop it somewhere and you’ve got no idea where you dropped it, it’s still in there, but try and find it, yeah.
AL: Oh, well, I’ve tried to find it for er, what’s her name, at Bomber Command, and I just couldn’t.
RG: Yeh, well I’m sure you will be able to get the one from, well you should be able to get both of those, one from DVA and one from Duxford, they should be able to get those.
AL: Well, she should be able to get a copy of it through DVA.
LD: Yes.
AL: And, the Duxford one, it was done by a private individual.
RG: Ah, okay.
AL: We were going to lunch and he pulled me over, ‘cos one of the women there insisted that I went in this bloody wheelchair [laughs] had this camera there, did this interview with another bloke beside me, and, after he finished, he said that’s on YouTube tonight [laughter].
RG: YouTube is an amazing thing, isn’t it?
AL: YouTube, the last time I looked at, has altered a lot, that DVA interview was in three different sections.
LD: Yes, yes.
AL: And, it was only partial.
RG: Yeah, it depends what people get, what they put up, ‘cos individuals put stuff up, so, somebody’s got it and they put part of it up, yeah, can be all.
AL: If it goes on the YouTube and they say they don’t.
[recording ceased]
[recording commenced]
RG: Erm, I was going to ask you about, you know, a lot of guys seem to have talismans or something, you know, they -
LD: Lucky charms.
RG: Their girlfriend’s stockings or-
AL: Say that again.
RG: They have some sort of lucky charm or-
AL: No [emphasis].
RG: You didn’t do anything like that?
AL: No, [emphasis] what lucky charm’s gonna keep you alive? [laughs]
RG: Fair enough.
LD: Your lucky charm was probably your pilot with all those flying hours.
RG: Yeah.
AL: I don’t know of anybody, don’t know of anybody that, ever had one actually.
RG: Really? Okay.
AL: I’ve never heard of any.
RG: That’s funny ‘cos, there was really, there was a big, there was a hundred and ten thousand of you, or thereabouts, so-
AL: It’s like, you had an autograph book.
RG: I know, I know of one chap that I saw in an interview, he’d just got married before his first op, and he took one of his wife’s stockings, and he said he put it round his neck, and he said he wore it right through all thirty missions, all the time, he never took it off, he sort of, showered with it on and everything.
LD: I’ve read of people not wanting to take off because they said they’ve forgotten their lucky charm.
RG: Forgotten their talisman or something. One Canadian pilot I heard about he always used to get a lucky jumper, used to wear his jumper underneath his, and the crew would always check ‘have you got your jumper on Howard?’ ‘Yep, got the jumper on’, ‘fine, we’ll be okay.’
AL: The only thing I was ever crooked about was, here, they gave us flying boots.
LD: In Australia?
AL: Leather, proper black flying boots, you’d go over to Pommie land and you get these blasted big ones, they might have been leather, but they were more suede and more bulky.
LD: Oh, right.
AL: The Australian made ones, were good sheepskin lined.
RG: And they weren’t?
AL: No, they were warm.
LD: Those flying suits look incredibly bulky.
AL: Yeah, you read somewhere, sometimes, about people with electric flying suits on.
LD/RG: Yes, yeh.
AL: Where were you gonna plug the bloody things in?
LD: Yes, ‘cos I’ve read about the rear gunner and the mid upper having those?
RG: Because they weren’t in the heated part of the-?
AL: No, the mid upper gun, in the Lanc, you went in and you just climbed up onto the seat, your legs, you could see everything there.
RG: It was sort of a little seat, didn’t he, you just sat on that and the legs.
LD: Like a little sling.
RG: But, but, didn’t they, we heard about the, ‘cos the two gunners, because they weren’t in the heated bit of the, ‘cos the cockpit area was heated, wasn’t it?
AL: Well, if you look at the Lanc, there’s models there, I was just directly behind the pilot, then the wireless operator, then a little bit down, the mid upper gunner and then there’s quite a distance between him and the rear gunner, you don’t realise how far the distance between the mid upper gunner and the pilot’s cabin.
RG/LD: Yeah, yeah.
AL: You had the main spar going across and it would be that high and the lower roof, you can imagine how like me [laughter] trying to stop you from banging your head on the top.
LD: ‘Cos they had height restrictions earlier, in the war, when they were recruiting for the RAF, but they relaxed them, later on, basically, when they started losing so many men, but er, yeah-
AL: But, the old Lanc was a terrific kite, I know when, when we did er, the Bomber Command book, I was at the launch of that, er, they put us in a cherry picker, tied us up in a blasted harness, tied to the cherry pickers, inside the building, to put us up so we could touch the front [laughs].
RG: Oh, I get it.
RG: Tell Arthur that your-
AL: I was interviewed by every TV station that day.
RG: Well, there you go.
AL: I was the last one to be, to get in, to get a cup of coffee.
[loud laughter]
RG: You’re so famous, Arthur, you’refamous [laughter] thirsty, but famous.
AL: Only, because, the only way I got to know about the things, was that, [pause] the Monday before Easter in 2012, the granddaughter was working at DVA, she’s a journo, she came along after work, and said, here’s the papers, applications close on Thursday [laughs].
LD: Hurry up grandad.
AL: So, I had to hurry up, and my son took the papers to give to his daughter, so that, er -
RG: To get them in there.
AL: She was in the [unclear] to go, then they put me in there [laughs] they had to knock her out of it [emphasis].
LD: Oh no.
AL: Nepotism.
RG: Well, yes.
AL: But, she’s been on a few trips since, but er, her husband’s a muso, he got his degree in music at the Uni, and to get on in the music world, you have to be in one of the big cities, well, they moved to Melbourne, and the woman that was in charge of things at DVA, apparently, didn’t like her, so she wouldn’t give her a transfer to the Melbourne office, so she had to resign.
RG: Yeah, yeah, that’s a bugger.
AL: She’s, er, I think she’s working for some voluntary company now, oh, she gets about a bit.
[background noise]



Rob Gray and Lucy Davidson, “Interview with Arthur Loudon,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed March 1, 2024,

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