Interview with Don Browning. Two


Interview with Don Browning. Two


Don Browning was posted to 463 Squadron at RAF Waddington. On one operation two aircraft collided and Don lost friends he had undertaken training with. On an operation to Calais the weather was very poor and the attack aborted but not all aircraft received the recall including Don’s. On that operation eight of the fifteen aircraft was lost. The Australian crews were noted for their exuberant behaviour in the mess including building pyramids of chairs and shooting at the ceiling. On one occasion a crew was waiting at dispersal when the ground crew started working on the plane. When the bomb aimer asked was it scrubbed the ground crew said no, their pilot had just accidentally shot himself.







00:41:43 Audio Recording

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ABrowningDJ[Date]-01, PBrowningDJ1601


DB: No. I think it must have been the raid to Mont Candon. There was two planes collided and all the crew were lost in those two planes. They collided. Went down together. Both of those people in those planes were on course with us at Conversion Unit. So, it was quite a nasty initiation to go on to the squadron and have those mates from our conversion course all go down in that crash.
JH: Before you did that operation did you do any pamphlet flights? Dropping, what do you call them? Nickel raids.
DB: Yes. We did a nickel raid whilst we were at the OTU and that was done [pause] we went to Chartres in France. And we flew, we did that in a Wellington bomber and on our way back we were supposed to change our tanks over. This was the navigator’s job to do this but he wasn’t able to turn the cock. And he asked me to have a go at it and I couldn’t do it even though I had a spanner. I couldn’t shift the thing. And as a result of that we were running short of fuel. And I can remember Alan was calling up on Darkie requesting a landing ‘drome in the south of England as we were coming back but no response. We were near Boscombe Down. Anyway, I said, ‘Oh well look, they’re not answering you. I’ll zero feed my transmitter into their frequency and they’ll damn well answer you then,’ which I did. And of course immediately he came up requesting landing lights for Boscombe Down. Eventually we got them put on and we landed. That was an experimental ‘drome and they didn’t want us to stay that night. Stay overnight. And it was already dark of course as you can imagine and they rushed out to us to see what was wrong. And they, they fixed the petrol so we were able to, or gave us more petrol and fixed up the cocks so we could move it. And then when Alan ran the motors up, we got a magneto drop and he wouldn’t take the plane off so we stayed the night there. They were very very anxious to get rid of us the next morning. They didn’t want us to see what was going on at this experimental ‘drome. But they had, at that time they had Lancasters with twenty millimetre cannons in the rear turret which was something which was quite new to us because we only had Browning machine guns. And the name just expresses how good they were. Being Brownings. They were good.
JH: Of course.
DB: However —
JH: Did they, that’s an interesting point — did they, did they adopt the cannon?
DB: No. I think there was some aircraft that had the cannons later in the war. And they flew, I’m not sure whether they were for the ones that had the Black Widow turret which was a sort of a blacked out turret and operated on a radar system and the gunner used to just have to put the blip on the, on the line sort of thing and pull the trigger. And they got, I don’t know about ninety eight percent accuracy. But they couldn’t establish what the planes were. So they were, that was 100 Group. And they used to fly at a different height to us when on operations.
JH: Before you, you mentioned an operation to Calais as perhaps one of the most dangerous raids you were involved in. Perhaps you could talk about that a little bit.
DB: Well, Calais was the shortest book, the shortest trip in my logbook and everyone joked about it saying that you can hardly call that an operation because it wasn’t, you know considered to be very deep penetration into enemy territory. I’m just looking in my logbook trying to find out the date I actually did that. [pause]
JH: So there was a kind of a ranking system in the operations. Calais versus Berlin.
DB: Well, when we were briefed for this I must mention that. We were briefed to take off at [pause] around at around about dawn. We were actually to go down and bomb a gun site which was near the walls. This gun site was apparently holding up Omar Bradley from going into Calais and he had requested this as an army cooperation job. And the weather was absolutely appalling. We were briefed for that early take off. That didn’t happen. They took us back to the mess for breakfast. Then they took us back to the aircraft. We sat there until lunchtime waiting for the green to take off but nothing doing and eventually I think we went back and had lunch. Then we went out to the aircraft and we sat there until we took off eventually. Which was — let me see if I can see this. [pause] I have it here. I can tell you exactly when it was. Calais. Calais. Calais. Calais. Where are you? [pause] [unclear] see that. Here we are. I’ve got it. Strangely enough it was operation number thirteen in my logbook. Calais. We dropped our bombs from nineteen hundred feet. It was on the 24th of August 1944 and it was described as a, ‘Death or glory,’ raid by the intelligence officer who said, ‘You must drop your bombs from,’ I think it was originally ten thousand feet, ‘But you’ll go no lower than two thousand.’ I think it, I think it was no lower than twelve hundred he said but we actually dropped down to nineteen hundred feet. And on this raid there was a complete muck up of the radio. The thing was confused and there was a recall because the weather was so appalling and — but a lot of the aircraft did not receive this recall. And the time that we’d taken off was 17.30 in the afternoon. That was five thirty. So, it was when we got down to Calais it was very appalling weather still but we were able to make visual contact with where those guns were. But our bomb aimer being a meticulous character as he was made us do a second run around going into the target. And, ‘Go around again,’ said Paul. He wasn’t terribly popular as a matter of fact because as soon as we made, moved to go around we had this light flak coming up at us six at a time. Red dots. And they seemed to follow us around the circuit that we were flying. Anyway, we had to drop the bombs and our bombs dropped right on the gun sights. But on that raid we lost eight aircraft. There was fifteen aircraft went in to bomb. Seven Lancs and one Halifax were shot down. And one of my friends that I have mentioned before who’d been at Kodak House was one of the few that got out of his aircraft. His name was Doug. Doug. Doug Michelmore. I couldn’t think of his name. He was involved in the accountancy field that I also had been involved in. Anyway, he spent his time in the headquarters there. Down under the ground in German headquarters. He’d gone down in his parachute, saw all the stakes in the water and so forth and left his harness on. Thought, ‘That will give me some protection.’ But the Germans were standing on the shore with guns trained on him. They didn’t attempt to help him or anything. But anyway he got out eventually, out of the water and they put him in German headquarters. And the British kept shelling and we were dropping bombs and so Doug wasn’t terribly happy there he said. But the Germans, the younger officers were drinking a large quantity of Cognac which they had stored there and they offered him drinks so he thought, ‘ Well, I’d better drink this because the way this is going I’m going to be killed anyway so,’ he said, ‘ I got a bit high on the Cognac too.’ But he told me all this when he came back about three weeks or a month after this particular raid. I saw him in the mess. And I said, ‘How are you, Doug?’ And he said, ‘Well, not too good at all’ he said, ‘My nerves are shot.’ He said, ‘I’m waiting to go home. They’re going to take me home.’ And I said, ‘Well, how are you generally?’ He said, ‘Well,’ he said, ‘The trouble is if anyone passes wind rather loudly I’m running for an air raid shelter.’ That was a story that I thought was rather amusing.
JH: So that raid, was that just 463 or 463 467 combined?
DB: I think there would have been some group, other aircraft from 5 Group. I don’t know but I know and I mentioned previously about the radio connection. We, they picked the frequency right near the BBC frequency and the only thing we heard as we were lining up to run in on to that target was the, the anthem being played. “God Save the King.” And you can imagine what the crew, what the mid-upper had to say about that when they had the red dollops of flak come up around him. But anyway he was a funny guy this fellow but he used to sing this song, he’s “Going to Buy a Paper Doll to Call His Own.” [unclear] and Alan Stutter made the comment, he said, ‘I had the idea that the mid-upper gunner was singing his favourite song.’ Anyway —
JH: Well, that, that was heavy losses in that raid.
DB: I think that was possibly one of those raids which was described as a death or glory raid so they accepted it as a full operation.
JH: They got it right didn’t they? You were telling me before you were involved in a few operations targeting the canals in Germany.
DB: Yes.
JH: And I think you played some havoc in that department. The Dortmund Ems Canal for example.
DB: We, we regularly visited the Dortmund Ems Canal. I think about once a month we would go there. I’m just looking to see whether I [pause] The first raid I did on Dortmund Ems I think was [pause] the 23rd of September and we strafed that canal down and let all the water out. And it was the raid before the Calais one that we did that. And we used to go after that about once a month but not necessarily to the same spot and we would smash the canal up again. The last raid that I did on Dortmund Ems Canal I think was on the 21st of the 11th ’44 when I’d done the 4th of the 11th ’44. Each of these raids were taken on different parts of the canal and they were usually about, oh about a six hour duration. It was a target that was a special target from the 5 Group aircraft particularly. And I think that was the 1st of January ’45 which was a daylight on Dortmund Ems Canal and yes that’s six hours fourteen. I think a guy got the VC on that particular raid. Then we did it again on the 20th of February ’45. So it was a regular target for 463 and 467.
JH: Were those canal systems heavily defended?
DB: Very heavily defended. Yes. But we had quite heavy losses on them.
JH: Don, perhaps you can talk a little bit about not so much the operations but tell me something about your leave from Waddington. I understand you’d go down to London and probably the Boomerang Club. And you were telling me before about some fairly wild mess parties.
DB: Yes. I remember. I think it was the night that Bill Brill, who was the CO of 467 squadron received his DSO. I’m not certain on that but it was a pretty wild mess party on that occasion. But of course some of the guys insisted on carrying .45 revolvers. I think. I never was involved in it but we had one fella who was playing around with his gun in his flying boots. A pilot as a matter of fact. And he was, they were sitting out the aircraft waiting to take off. Waiting for the green from the control tower. And the bomb aimer was asleep in his compartment [laughs] Anyway, the next thing he knew the ground crew were coming through putting the [unclear] on the plane. And he woke up and he said, ‘What’s happened?’ The ground staff crew said to him, ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘Has it been scrubbed?’ He said, ‘No,’ he said, ‘Your pilot’s gone and shot himself.’ He’d put, he put a shot straight through his foot. And that was one. One occasion but we had another one in the mess where a bloke came in singing out the pistol packing mamma and put six shots across the ceiling. That wasn’t very well received by the RAF people up there. They thought it was a bit rough. But the Australians were a pretty wild mob anyway.
JH: And what about the famous pyramid of chairs?
DB: Well, they yes they used to make these pyramids of chairs. On another occasion they made a pyramid in the anteroom of the mess and they set it up on four mini type glasses, a table and then the lounge suite. And then eventually, it was a fairly high ceiling because this was a peacetime ‘drome they’d, I think on one occasion they even had a motorbike up there. But they then all climbed up with their cigarette lighters. Wrote their names across the ceiling in the mess and of course the CO didn’t like that either. Made them all get up and scrub the things off. Yes. We had some wild parties. But I think that you know they had to let their hair down some way because you know, we were never sure whether they were going to be there to make the next one anyway.
JH: Well, Don you actually did thirty seven operations which is well above the odds.
DB: Yes.
JH: Well above the average.
DB: I did one. My spare bod that I did was on a raid I flew with another crew. A Flying Officer Roe. And I was, my crew were off. I don’t know what was wrong. Some of them were sick or something and they were off duty because we were down on personnel. And anyway I did a trip to Karlsruhe I think with Roe and the following night we were briefed to go to Königsberg which was probably the longest raid of the war. Right over in East Prussia. And I said, well I was briefed to go again with Roe but I said well look, ‘My crew are now on stream. I’d sooner fly with my own crew.’ So, I went with Alan and our crew. Our crew happened to be one from Nick the Nazi Neutraliser but I don’t think Nick was on that Konigsberg raid but that was the plane we used to fly. But anyway the —
JH: That was, that was the nose art you’re talking about.
DB: That was the nose art.
JH: On your Lancaster.
DB: A great big picture of the devil on the front of it. Anyway, and then we had all bombs there for the number of trips that we’d done. Nick was actually did ninety six trips and we had hoped to fly that on a hundred but because it was lost in an exercise of fighter affiliation with a Hurricane. And the whole of the crew of the Lanc and the fighter plane, the Hurricane were all killed. That was a great disappointment. We had hoped to fly it, as I say on the hundred.
JH: What a warhorse. A hundred.
DB: Yeah.
JH: That would have been.
DB: Just going back to this Konigsberg raid. That was on the 29th of August and it was a trip of ten hours thirty two. Well now, I flew that with my crew but the signals officer took my place in Roe’s crew and they went west so there it was a case of not being in the right place at the right time unfortunately. Just bad luck.
JH: Don, talk us through, well VE day and and the trip home because I’d like to talk about the Bomber Command Commemoration Day Foundation. How that was set up. But yeah talk us through your, your return after the end of the war.
DB: Well, I came home on the Dominion Monarch which was quite a comfortable ship. And the captain, but I can’t remember what his name was but I always remember he used to, he was never whenever I looked at the bridge he was there. He was a man with a great big beard and you could practically see the relief on his face when we went in to the harbour at Christchurch. Going into the harbour of Christchurch in New Zealand. I’m trying to think of the name of the [pause] — Lyttelton. The port of Lyttelton. That was the port of Christchurch in New Zealand. And when the pilot came on board you could practically look and see the look of well, relief I suppose for want of another word on his face. He hadn’t overcharged for the pilot having made the trip out from the UK. We were, it was a very very long trip. We got on the boat at Liverpool. We pulled up and took on fuel and water at Suez. In the Canal. We went, they wouldn’t let us off the ship at all. And we were, we were in, we were moored the night in the Bitter Lake. Right out in mid-stream so no way you could swim [laughs] ashore and have a look at anything. And then we took off. We went the rest of the way through the canal and we left England on the 31st of August ’45 and I didn’t arrive back ‘til the 14th of November ’45. No. Wait a minute. That can’t be right because I, that was the day I was discharged. Well, it was certainly the end of October. That’s right. I went from Brighton up to Liverpool and I left on the 31st of August ’45. I’ve got in my book here that I was discharged on the 14th of the 11th ’45. I don’t know what date we got back but I know it was a heck of a long trip. And I had a, well I don’t know I think I had [unclear] down to Brighton.
JH: So, so back to Sydney. Back to family. And what about a job? What prospects did you have?
DB: Well, I eventually didn’t have a — I’d worked for the auditors and so forth but there were a lot of people that had been involved there and they said well they didn’t know whether they could employ me or not but I was a sort of a stand-by. So, I applied to take on accountancy and I did that under the Repatriation Scheme. Following that I was I was employed at Australian General Electric for quite a while. I was in charge of power machinery up there. Doing their costing. That was out at the Warburton Works. After that I’d taken over a business with another air force friend of mine. We had a hardware business which we ran for a while. And when that was more or less experience for me because I became involved with the retail trade which was my family business and I was there until that was eventually sold put it that way. Actually, I sold that to my cousin and the thing was eventually sold.
JH: And by then you’d met Pat.
DB: After that.
JH: Marriage.
DB: I wasn’t married then. I was married at twenty seven. I was twenty seven when I was married and we had three. Three children and —
JH: And now some grandchildren.
DB: I , I, following, well during the time that I was involved in the retail game I bought a farm and I was running a farm more or less as a, well a tax. A tax dodge I suppose in one respect. But farm properties enjoyed plenty of depreciation and so forth. And I did that until I retired.
JH: All quite legal we should add.
DB: Eh?
JH: All quite legal.
DB: Yeah. All quite legal. Yeah. Certainly it was legal.
JH: Yeah.
DB: As indicated.
JH: So, why don’t I see if I can get you to reflect on what you thought of the treatment of Bomber Command post-war and you know, your feelings on the area bombing strategy that was adopted.
DB: Well, now let me think about this because I became very much involved with the reunions of the 463 467 Association which was formed following our return. I think it started probably ’46. It might have been ’47. I can’t actually recall. I do recall marching in the Anzac Day of 1946 but I went in to find our mob but couldn’t find them and I marched with a group called, “The Desert Harassers.” Another friend of mine who happened to be, he was in Coastal Command but we couldn’t find either of our group and so that’s who we marched with on that first Anzac march. Eventually we had, 463 and 467 had numerous interstate reunions. In fact they also had one reunion in 1975 which went over to the UK and subsequently went off to Germany and so forth. Met some of the fighter pilots who’d shot them down and that shot planes down and whatnot. But it became quite a strong Association. We, we included our wives in this. That became the mainspring of the success of the Association. And during the course of this Rollo Kingsford Smith who was our first CO of 463 Squadron he had been instrumental in sort of trying to arrange commemorations for, for the people that had been lost on Bomber Command. Because following the cessation of the war they had been no particular recognition of Bomber Command as such. In fact we were more or less ostracised and considered by lots of people to be murderers because we actually bombed women and children in some of our targets. Now, this must be considered as a two way event because the Jerries came over to Britain and did exactly the same thing. They killed women and children. And so let’s face it it’s war and that’s what war is all about. We only did what we were instructed to do and so for a long while there was great antipathy towards Bomber Command. Well, Rollo had to write, during the course of his command of 463 lots and lots and lots of condolence notes. Now, he said to me, ‘Look. I would like to see some commemoration for all those people that were lost and, and the work that was done by those in Bomber Command. And I think there should be a Commemoration Day. And there should be some recognition.’ Well now Rollo was involved in the Bomber Command Memorial in Canberra.
JH: This was about 2005.
DB: That’s what —
JH: Don.
DB: Yes. With [unclear]
JH: Yes.
DB: And they were part of a committee that had, that really finished up with the Bomber Command Memorial being installed and opened in 2005. In fact Geoff actually did the opening, I think at that event. Now, from that point on Rollo had asked me for a donation and several others. And 463 and 467 came to the party to a certain extent and I remember Hugh MacLeod who wasn’t actually on our squadron but used to enjoy Anzac Day with us he put in a substantial donation towards this Bomber Command Memorial as did Rollo and myself and others. Anyway, Rollo said he wanted more of a Commemoration Day. And we saw an article that was written by Roxy MacLennan in the Air Force Association paper about there should be recognition of the Bomber Command and so forth. We decided, or Rollo decided to call a meeting. And he asked me to arrange to have a meeting with people at his home in Exeter. This we arranged and we made an approach to the War Memorial as to what, what the best way to go about getting some recognition of Bomber Command. Now, Steve Gower who was then the Director of the War Memorial suggested that if we were to do this it should be made through the Air Force Association or our Squadron Associations. So, this was the approach that was made. We went to Canberra. Ross Pearson and myself. I got hold of Ross Pearson because Ross was, was a wireless operator who I knew and he was a friend of both my navigator and my pilot and, but he did a legal course after the war. And I thought well he was the bloke to do something about this. So, so he joined this committee or suggested this committee and he said, ‘We’ll go to Canberra and front up in front of the Association,’ which was the national body down in Canberra and demand that we get this day. And if they’re not going to do something about it then we will. But we went to Canberra and Canberra accepted that. The national body did accept the fact that the Bomber Command Day would be possible and it should be done at the Bomber Command Memorial which had already been established in 2005. So, our first event was in 2008 and it’s now 2016 so it’s the ninth event that has just been concluded.
JH: And it’s gathered momentum, Don.
DB: And it gave momentum really for the establishment of the Memorial in London.
JH: Yes.
DB: Which is a wonderful Memorial which I had the pleasure, unfortunately Rollo had passed on and didn’t have the pleasure of going to see it. It is a marvellous Memorial and anyone who had the opportunity to go to England, to London should make it a number one visit.
JH: Maybe to finish off we could, we could mention that this Bomber Command Commemoration Day is not just Canberra any more.
DB: Oh no. That’s right. It’s now, well initially that’s the way we approached it. We wanted it commemorated in all States on the same day. Not only in all States. We made contact with New Zealand and Canada and both of those countries had accepted. We didn’t get acceptance in South Africa but we got acceptance in those other countries including England. And the first one in England was conducted at the Bomber Command —
JH: Memorial.
DB: Memorial. No. I’m sorry. It was at the Bomber Harris Memorial.
JH: Bomber Harris.
DB: Which stands outside St Clement Danes. And that was conducted by a navigator, Paul Wilkinson. And following Paul Wilkinson’s passing his son who was a lieutenant commander in the Royal Navy and a neurosurgeon has carried on the laying of wreaths on that Memorial and will do for, I think probably until next year. That will be, I think the end of it. And we’ve supported it every year since its inception in 2012. And we laid a wreath every year since then.
JH: Don, you must be very proud of what’s happened with that as one of the instigators so I think we’ll, we’ll finish off. I’d like to thank Don for this interview. It’s an amazing story. Amazing history of Bomber Command service. Thank you very much, Don.
DB: Right. Well now, I’d like to hear that back because I probably have made some mistakes in that. I don’t know.



John Horsburgh, “Interview with Don Browning. Two,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed October 3, 2023,

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