Eric Arthur's audio account of his time in the R.A.A.F.


Eric Arthur's audio account of his time in the R.A.A.F.


Covers Eric's time training in Australia and his time in Britain with 627 Squadron flying Mosquito from RAF Woodhall Spa. He discusses the attack on Oslo on New Years Eve 1944. He flew a total of 45 operations, all with the same pilot, John Herriman.



Temporal Coverage




01:02:58 audio recording

Conforms To


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EA: And we were in the middle of Britain. In the middle and we were in a holding pattern really.
I: How did you end up in the RAF then rather than the RAAF? Was it —
EA: Yeah. Well, you were in the RAAF. The Australian Air Force were posted to Britain but they joined, we joined British squadrons. We joined the Royal Air Force as extra personnel really. That’s what it was. We were just attached to the Royal Air Force.
I: They did have plenty of RAAF squadrons there.
EA: They were plenty of those depending on —
I: Just fully RAAF.
EA: Yeah. There were. There were some that were just RAAF but depending on where you got posted to. Some of the Mosquito squadrons were RAAF too but not many. But then some were night fighters. Some were photo reconnaissance aircraft but most of those were RAF squadrons. So we were in this holding pattern. We went in and had an assessment and then we were posted to an Operational Training Unit.
I: This is where you met John Herriman.
EA: Yes. Well, that’s where I met John Herriman at a place called Warboys. That’s a good name isn’t it? And Wyton. Wyton was another aerodrome there and that was a peacetime permanent RAF aerodrome which had brick buildings and all. A very formal sort of place, you know. Parade grounds and all that sort of stuff. Anyway, we were posted there and that’s where I met John Herriman and we were in a room there with about eighty or so pilots and navigators and we had some New Zealanders, some RAF blokes and some Canadians there and us and only three Australians in the room and so on. John Herriman, who was a pilot he came over to over to Bob [Bolster] and I. Bob was there, a friend that I had. Bob and I were there and he came over to us and he said, ‘Well, if we’re going to be in this Mosquito two of us have got to crew up to make a crew.’ So we decided we’d toss a coin to see who stayed with John and I won the toss and I said, ‘Well, yeah, I’ll go with you John.’ And Bob went away to the other side of the room and met an RAF pilot and they were discussing, they crewed up and they were sent to a squadron on the east coast of England which was trecking across to Europe mainly at night and they were on Berlin raids. But Bob only lasted a month and he unfortunately got shot down over Berlin and he was buried at Potsdam just nearby. Actually about three months later the information came through from Germany that they, they found him and they indicated where he was buried and so on and they were able to put that information back to his parents. So then we, John and I teamed up and we were posted to Woodhall from there and we, when we arrived at Woodhall Spa it was, it was a very cold wintery sort of day and we arrived at this place after getting in a train and heading up north and it was so miserable, unreal you know and we felt so [pause] it was run down we thought my God what have we come to here? And this was an operational squadron and there was no messing around. No fancy buildings or anything. You were in Nissen huts covered with snow and so on. And we —
I: Sealed, sealed runways.
EA: Oh yes. Sealed runway that’s right. Yes. It was originally a farm and the government just took over these farms and ploughed it all up and made an, made an aerodrome there with a, it was a very good aerodrome. It had a perimeter track right around the outside and two long runways and one of them was a mile and a half long. And, you know they were quite, how they built all these was amazing because in the area we were in, Lincolnshire and in this area they were all so close together the aerodromes that you know if you took off and you lost a motor, one cut out or something just land on the one in front of you in most cases. Although we were fairly near the coast so we had to turn back in again. But they were. They were as close as that together and it was quite interesting to see that you could create an aerodrome in the middle of farmhouses and they had actually farmhouses right on the edge of the aerodrome and we were living in Nissen huts. We were in the back yards of farms and you know it was a great old place and real real rough and ready sort of thing. So actually of course John was commissioned and I wasn’t so I was in a, I was in the Sergeant’s Mess and he was in the Officer’s Mess [laughs] My commission came through about a month later so then we went into the Officer's Mess after that. But it was very rustic and we had an old wood or coal fire in the middle of the hut and so on trying to keep warm and all this sort of thing it was. And the food probably was quite alright. I don’t remember much about the food but we seemed to think it was alright and so on. So then we got going and training. The squadron history is very interesting in as much that the, there’s a piece here that I just had to read about Pathfinder Force and this probably is, sums up what Pathfinder Force were the elite squadrons of the RAF Bomber Command during World War Two. They located and marked targets with flares which the main force bomber force could aim at increasing the accuracy of their bombing. While the majority of Pathfinder squadrons and personnel were from the Royal Air Force the group also included many from the Air Forces of Commonwealth countries. So our squadron, 627 was formed in late 1943 and it was formed because they were not getting accurate marking. They tried marking first of all the Lancasters from a fairly high margin but they found they couldn’t get low enough to the ground so they decided they’d have to use Mosquitoes so that we could get down right close to the ground and put markers on the ground exactly where we wanted them. So the squadron was only new and that’s why we only had about fifteen crews. Only about thirty blokes on a squadron and fifteen crews and so you’d have five on each raid. So about every third night you were likely to be put on a raid and so on depending on the weather and everything else. But it was such a small squadron that you know you sort of got to know everybody and it was quite unique because they took lots of photographs and that sort of thing.
I: Were you aware of Pathfinders then while you were —
EA: No.
I: Training.
EA: No.
I: Before you actually got posted there.
EA: Never heard of them at all.
I: Never heard of them.
EA: We hadn’t any idea what Pathfinder Force was and not many people did actually and it was there were some squadrons which were Pathfinder squadrons that went over and dropped all the flares for us so we could see the ground. But they just, they just remained at about fifteen thousand feet and cruised. Their job was to arrive at a given point and given time and drop these flares so we could mark the target. But before we could do that we had to have a whole lot of practice bombing and so on so we were schooled through this thing and we had a bombing range out on the coast of the Wash just in from near Lincoln and that was about only about two or three kilometres in from the coast. The idea was to have a point on the, in the mud there where they have a target marked out and they had two siting towers and so these guys up in these towers when you dropped a marker from the aircraft it was a small bomb and we’d fly over and start descending at about fifteen hundred feet. We dived down to five hundred feet and pulled out just as we were dropping this marker and it would hit the water or the mud and explode and a puff of smoke would come up and so these two guys in the towers could then line up two, two directions and get a pinpoint on exactly where it landed. And you’d get a score from that according to how accurate you were with the hangar. All these results went back to the squadron. They were posted up on a board and found out who was missing the target and all that sort of thing.
I: Yeah. So, John was the one actually sort of doing the —
EA: Yeah. John was —
I: Pressing the button.
EA: John was the —
I: So he was —
EA: He was siting the target through —
I: Siting and pressing the button. So what were you doing while all this was going, going on? You were —
EA: Well, delving into information about and lining up the right bombs to select. We had different colours and so on.
I: Ok.
EA: These had to be selected so —
I: You’d individually select which ones you’d drop.
EA: Yeah.
I: And then go around again and select another lot.
EA: Picking each one. We dived in. Then you had to watch out for other aircraft coming around and you had to dissect all the information that was coming in on on radio and so on and also of course try to keep a record of what was happening and write down where the target was going to be. So —
I: So —
EA: Anyway —
I: John, he deliberately tried to get on to Mosquitoes because he’d been flying, don’t know how long he’d been flying fighters beforehand?
EA: Yeah. Well, he’d been —
I: For a while.
EA: In the Middle East for about a year or so and they posted them back to have a little rest or something. I think he had about six months off and then he went into another pool and they’d had you know you’re going to after you’d been on leave they take you in another pool and they say righto we’re going to have some for this, that and the other thing and they’d go from the record. And he was chosen to go on to these Mosquitoes because of his calibre. But he was thirty, nearly thirty one years old and that meant that he was near the end of his Air Force time because once you get about thirty two they say you’re too old for the Air Force and you’d be discharged. So he was on the end of the line as far as the Air Force was concerned but because with experience and that’s one reason why I happened to get on the squadron because I went along with him. But I had records too because Bob and I both got to this Operational Training Unit because of our score in maths and whatnot that we’d been doing.
[recording paused]
EA: We got on to, on to that and then we had a whole lot of night flying practice. And one of those air exercises I was talking about was we used to fly from there, do cross countries, we’d be out for about three hours and this aircraft by the way was one of the best aircraft there. We, we crews had about six hundred and eighty kilometres an hour at normal cruise speed and you’re moving over the country fairly fast you see. And when you initially come in as a navigator unless you really get cracking you can get lost in no time. And so we used to go around Scotland. We’d fly from the east coast up to Scotland down to Land’s End and back again and this is you know you’d cover that distance in no time. And one night we were out there fairly early on and we were coming down from Scotland down to the south of England and I was checking the going position with what we called Gee which was a very accurate means of navigating in Britain. It was made by two transmitters in Britain were sending out signals and they had a means to electronically of measuring the time interval, the distance the signal took to travel from both stations and where they intersected was the position where you were. So we had this as a natural way of navigating and was pretty accurate.
I: So that was on a little screen or something was it? The set in front of you.
EA: So we could transfer this on to our chart and tell exactly where we were and I was coming down then. I said to John, ‘I can’t make out where we are because our ground speed’s too high.’ And we were getting up. We were flying in knots in those days. About three hundred knots which was our normal speed for flying and not in kilometres an hour and our speed was getting up. We were getting up to about six hundred knots which was a phenomenal speed because we were normally flying about four hundred. And I found from this I found I had a tail wind of about two hundred knots and I couldn’t believe it. I mean, we’d never had winds like this before and, and so John he was, ‘Come on there. Where are we?’ And so I guess we went down and I found another, another fix and we were over the end of Land’s End and by the time we turned we were over the middle of Spain [laughs] So we turned around and headed home from that. But we had plenty of altitude so it didn’t matter what was going on down below. We were out. We were above all that so we got away from it.
I: You must have dropped a bit of altitude then to get out of that Jetstream.
EA: With the speed, you know with the high winds and speed of the thing initially when you were a rookie it really set you back a bit but we soon picked up on it. We just got used to the whole thing you know and that was our night time but we did a lot of night flying practice and then we, we went on. Our first raid we went on was a practice one. They said, ‘Well, you go out and see if you can follow the markers and do something. Otherwise just observe what it’s all about.’ So we went out to Munich. One of the Munich raids and we found our way across all right and of course Switzerland is on the, because it was all neutral and the lights were all on and actually Switzerland at night flying from fifteen thousand feet you could see it just like a chart drawn on the ground with these lights. So we knew where we were when we were heading for a corner of Switzerland. You know where it came in and you knew where you were then but we, we found that interesting because there was an easier way of picking up Munich which wasn’t all that far away from the Swiss border. But that was one of the first trips we did and we didn’t do any marking that night. We just observed what was going on but we were in the circuit and did a lot of flying around. Saw what they were doing so that was a good way to learn the tricks with that.
I: So could you see other aircraft?
EA: Yeah, oh yeah.
I: Yeah.
EA: We could see other aircraft.
I: Yeah.
EA: Against the light on the ground. Yeah.
I: Right.
EA: But they were shadows just tearing around but the Lancasters were all above us. We couldn’t see those unless they had searchlights on them you know so — [pause] But in one of the aerodromes near Woodhall it was interesting that they had a large hangar, it was a pretty big building and they had a stage set up whereby they, they had a demonstration raid. And they, you stood up on a railing high up on the wall and looking down a map was drawn on the ground and they depicted an actual raid with the lights and all the explosions and everything else were going on and you assumed you were in an aircraft going around and watching this on the ground. And it was rather interesting that you could learn, you know the tricks of this marking and so on and actually the atmosphere of a raid from this. And I thought geez that would be a good idea if we get back to Australia after the war. You’d have something of all the various shows and you could put this on. Have a bit of a circus. People would find it very interesting you know. But that was one way we learned to do the marking on the targets there. The main targets often were railways because at this stage the invasion had started. It was moving across towards the German border and they were bringing up from Germany supplies to the front on these railways. The problem of course is that you know a railway stuck in the middle of never never like that trying to bomb it as the Yanks were doing during daylight had very little chance of hitting a railway junction as such. And so we were able to get out there, the flares would come down when we arrived at a, at a certain time at this location. The flares would come down over the top of the other PFF squadrons from higher altitudes. We could see the ground, we could pinpoint this railway junction and there were five of us on marking and we’d spill around there and before this came we would call in there. We would calculate the bombing wind and at the height of fifteen thousand where the bombers were coming in the five of us would be there calculating drift and we’d do three quarters and catch a drift each time and we could calculate the exact wind at that altitude. And once we’d had that the [unclear] leader as we called him would then broadcast that wind to all the main force coming in and they’d be back a hundred miles or so and they’d hear this, set this wind on their bombsites so that when they flew over the marker that we put down the aircraft was flying straight and level and wouldn’t be drifting off target. And so they had that the proper wind on the target and this had been the problem with trying to bomb anything like that from a height. If you, same as when you were taking in aerial photographs of the ground if you’re flying over a target the wind will push you over and you miss the target and so you have to have the drift offset on the aircraft before you start moving in to it and we did that and then we’d start the marking and once we saw the marker on the ground we’d be down to fifteen hundred feet or so, see this and the first aircraft of ours would call out, ‘Tally ho.’ That was the answer. And as soon as someone called, ‘Tally ho,’ they knew that they were going to dive for the target and the first one to see the target would, would dive in a drop a red marker on them. If that was accurate we’d say, ‘Just back up. Back up the markers,’ and back up the raid and you see and from the other aircraft and we’d all come in and drop some more and make it bigger. This was, the markers were exploded from about a hundred feet and they sent down red phosphorous stuff that burned on the ground and you’d get a circle of perhaps a hundred yards or so that would be burning phosphorous on the ground which would be a very bright red from a great distance. And then if they were not in the correct position they’d call out for a green to cancel out. You drop a green on top of the red and then start another marking position. And the Lancasters coming in from a long way back would just see that red spot on the ground. After about ten minutes all the flares that had been dropped would be coming down just near the ground and they were big cannisters, had phosphorous in them with parachutes on them. And they would be dropping down and so by the time the main force were getting anywhere near the target these were all on the ground and the whole place had gone dark . And so they could see this red spot on the ground. That was all they saw. They didn’t see, they couldn’t see any buildings or anything from there.
I: Right.
EA: Couldn’t see the railways or anything. Just this green spot.
I: A green spot.
EA: And that was where we were still flying around the outside of this having a look to see where the bombing was going and if, if an area had been wiped out we, we were one of the, usually the bombing leader would ask for an overshoot of a hundred yards or something like that and the next lot coming in would overshoot the target by a hundred yards and wipe out the next area up. But that was one way of doing a railway area. We did a lot with these fuel dumps up in Latvia and so on up on the north coast there.
I: That’s a fair, that’s a fair flight, isn’t it?
EA: Yeah. That would be —
I: So —
EA: That was over those areas we had to go over the North Sea across to those. But they, they, that was for the submarines and a lot of those came up and the fuel dumps up there were targets waiting to be taken out you know. But they reckoned they’d never find them. What we did with these flares you know I had aerial photographs of this and I haven’t got them now but you could see the, see all the huge oil containers on the ground clearly and we just put a marker in the middle of them and wiped them out the same way and the same thing went with all of the submarine bases. They had very heavy concrete bases and so on but they were, they were quite easy to find at night over there. They didn’t believe, I don’t think the Germans ever believed that we’d be able to find all this sort of stuff, you know. And so the only way would be, was just to get down low and do what they were doing.
[recording paused]
EA: The guy who thought of the Pathfinder force was DCT Bennett. He was an Australian bloke. He came from Brisbane but he was part of the RAF and he came up with this idea of the Pathfinder force. And so that’s how we did the fuel dumps.
I: So you’ve, you flew out there at height. On the way to the target you flew at sort of fairly, fairly high.
EA: Yeah.
I: And then dropped down. And on the way back again would you climb back up again or would you fly low going home?
EA: It depends on where we were but we would usually try to climb up if we could. Yeah. It depends on the weather too a lot and it depends where the wind is. We would always try and get a tail wind and if we found there was a wind lower down on the way there well we would keep a note of this and use it on the way back to save fuel. But usually we would climb back higher again. But sometimes we were right down on the deck over the water and so on. But it just depends if someone shadows you whether you would stay down low and try to kick them off your tail you know. And the Germans were very persistent. The fighters they sent would go after everything that was flying and of course a lot of our Lancasters were lost that way too.
I: And do you have many, get chased many times yourselves?
EA: Oh yes. We did. But we had a booster in the Mosquito there and we could get away from, from them quite a lot like that without any trouble. So that was one advantage with it.
I: You were too low for sort of searchlights to sort of find you when you were sort of doing it. They were, I mean they were trying to cone the —
EA: Yes. They were then.
I: They hadn’t twigged.
EA: In the target area.
I: They hadn’t twigged that it was a good idea to try to sort of get the Pathfinders.
EA: Yeah.
I: Or something you know.
EA: The, yeah well this —
I: So if they knocked you guys out they would have knocked out the raid wouldn’t they?
EA: They would have but well we were going too fast for the ground. The ground defences were very difficult to hit us.
I: Right.
EA: A low flying fast aircraft. They were mainly able to hit the Lancasters because they were much higher up and they could aim at them you know. But it’s just a matter of where you were was the main thing you know. But near the, the dive bombing particularly too they brought this in to particularly when the invasion started they wanted to avoid bombing the cities if they could. And so railways and that near cities they aimed to mark them so that we would bomb that area and not the city itself. Especially around Paris and those places. They wanted to save that. But as it went on further it was much the same although the industrial areas where they were bombing those anyway because just the same as London was bombed. Areas were used in that way but they were trying to avoid the [pause] you know the residents in these cities and so on if they could but of course it was quite difficult to do that. The Norwegians were a different group of people but we went to Norway a couple of times but the Gestapo took over Norway and they went through all of Scandinavia and took over all those countries and really the Norwegians were given a terrible time up there by the Germans and especially the Gestapo. They had a big Gestapo Headquarters in Oslo and anyway someone came up with the idea that they ought to be wiped out or something like that. So they reckoned we could go up and do this and this is New Year’s Day in 1945 and we went up to Peterhead right up the north of Scotland and we stayed there overnight and refuelled the aircraft the next day and then we flew across the North Sea and there were ten of us. We were number seven on the group and the CO he was in the front of this and he took five in the front and we took and we were all following one another and we had a beautiful clear day. It was rather fascinating. We were flying at about I suppose ten thousand feet or something and we were just coasting along and heading straight towards Norway and when we got up there Norway came up with all the mountains and so on covered in snow. It was just a fantastic sight you know. The aircraft coming along and all coasting along up and down gradually as we went into there. We came in, around and the idea was to come to land in to there about 11 o’clock so that the angle we were tackling into the city we’d be coming out of the sun and so any anti-aircraft guns would have found it hard to see because you’re coming right out of the sun. And so we did that. We lined up and then we went and the first five went and we followed them in and it was rather interesting that straightaway there seemed to be flak galore and the sky was black with things bursting all around the place and around the first that went in. But they were lucky because they say I knew that if he could get in first he was surprised when they wouldn’t be shooting at him they’d be shooting at the last ones. And so by the time we got there they already had some target practice on us because we were only about a thousand feet but were diving down to the ground but we were all going pretty fast of course. And they had, there were all these [pause] we found out afterwards the idea of the raid was that the Underground suggested, and there was a hotel there where they were all housed in. The Underground did all the planning of it, the Norwegian Underground and there was a sign we could go in there and so on. So they told everybody in there they all had to go to church on New Year’s Day in 1945. Pray for peace and this sort of thing and the idea was to get all the people off the street and so they did. They went in there and they always did as they were told the Norwegians because there was a reason for it. And so we headed for this hotel. Well, that was alright. The CO could see the hotel up in front and he was getting lined up for this and then we had, they said we found out afterwards that the German Navy was all in the harbour at Oslo celebrating New Year and we didn’t know they were there and neither did the Underground [laughs] And of course, by the time we got there all these battleships and so on all had their ack ack guns on us and the sky was black with these blooming explosions and so on. We wondered what the hell was going on. We said, ‘This isn’t right. They shouldn’t be doing this.’ [laughs] Anyway, the first few aircraft that went in they put a few bombs into this hotel and there was so much smoke and stuff by the time we got there we couldn’t see the place. So at the side of, someone screamed down for us to stop bombing and clear out. So we decided we’d do this full on, full bore right down over the rooftops getting out through the top of Oslo. And in front of Oslo, in front of us there was a big lake, frozen lake and all a lot of people on there were skiing or skating rather, were skating on this and there were people all over the place. And of course, we could see there were a lot of German blokes there and so on as well and we were right down over the rooftops like this. Right over, right down there and John said to me, ‘You watch them go.’ And as we got over the ice he put the nose down. We were just getting over the top of the ice and these blokes all looked and they all dived for the ice and laid down and they all had machine guns and they had these guns that were pointing up at us firing these blooming machine guns at us, you know and we were down right on top of them. And we were just starting to climb out from the other side of it and I felt down. I said, ‘Hey, we’re all getting wet John.’ And we had water all over the place inside the aircraft and I said, ‘It’s the glycol out of one of the radiators. They’ve hit one radiator.’ And then the temperature gauge started going so you had to feather the left, the port motor. We were, we hadn’t got any radiator on there so we cut one motor out. We had to climb out on one engine. And the interesting thing there was that a young guy in Oslo wrote to me years afterwards. He found out through the RAF that I, we were in the raid and they got my address and so on and he wrote and he said he was writing a history on aviation in Norway. He believed we were on this raid and he wondered if I could give him some information. Anyway, I finished writing to him a few times and he told me that he met a guy who was there skating that day and he saw us go down and he saw our port motor stop as we were climbing out. And this happened afterwards and this young fella wrote this in this book on Norway in Norwegian and he sent me a book on this. It’s all in Norwegian and I couldn’t, well I didn’t have anyone here reading Norwegian so I gave it to the State Library.
I: So on that raid you were carrying regular —
EA: Oh yeah.
I: TNT or whatever regular explosives.
EA: On our bombers yeah.
I: The bombs weren’t sort of —
We had five thousand pound bombs. Yeah, it was —
I: It was just the Mosquito on that raid, wasn’t it?
EA: I think we had probably on that raid they all probably all carried a few five hundred pounders and one on each wing and a few underneath to carry the blockbusters on it for that one, you know. But then we —
I: So what did you do? Did you take them all home again or did you drop them all in the sea on the way.
EA: Yeah. We did on the way. We dropped the lot as we went.
I: Dropped them in the sea. Yeah.
EA: Yeah. In fact, we dropped them off in the mountains as we were going out.
I: So landslides.
EA: Caused an avalanche on the sides of the mountains when she went off. Anyway, of course we, we got left behind you see and the others all nine of them all cleared off.
I: Right.
EA: They didn’t know anything about it. They didn’t, they didn’t know we’d been hit. We didn’t scream out anything. They just —
I: Well, you still had to maintain radio silence.
EA: I found and of course they were home first. We took a while to get back. We had to pump fuel from one tank to the other and all that sort of thing but we headed across there. We were very pleased we had a British aircraft. None of the American aircraft would have done it anyway. They would have been in the water before they got home.
I: So you had to get back to Peterhead.
EA: Yeah.
I: Back to Peterhead.
EA: Yeah. And we sent out a distress call on the way back and we had a Sunderland homed in on us and by the time we got down to the coast they were flying beside us and so I took it back in there but we had to leave the aircraft at Peterhead and we went home with another, another Lancaster and we had to go back the following week to pick it up after it had got a radiator fixed up on it. So that was the end of Norway. But the other ones to Norway were mainly up there up the west coast and that was all pretty rugged stuff up there.
[recording paused]
EA: We had leave between our operations. We’d be there for about ten days I suppose or two weeks and we’d have, we had a few raids to go on in that time and then we’d go on leave for a few days. We used to go to London and that was rather scary because they were still using the buzz bombs on London in those times. That was 1945, about February ’45 and the invasion was well on but the Germans were still had those buzz bombs coming over London. They were fairly, and you know we were in the streets. It was complete blackout.
I: You could hear them coming, could you?
EA: Yeah. You could hear them coming.
I: Yeah.
EA: Yeah.
I: The motor would stop and you would go uh oh.
EA: The motor would stop and you would wonder where it was coming down you see and you’d come out and you know you’d go into, go over the railway station. It was pitch black. Actually pitch black. It was so black it’s unreal. I mean no lights anywhere and you had to feel your way along the gutter and on like a drunkard you know and you couldn’t use torches or anything. You weren’t allowed to use torches or anything. Anyway, it was, it was very scary and we said, ‘Well this is no good to us. We’d rather be back at the ‘drome.’ It was dangerous down in London.
I: So you didn’t always have the same aeroplane though did you?
EA: No. you —
I: You see I was looking at the pictures at M-Mike had done an awful lot of missions.
EA: Yeah.
I: Like seventy odd missions by the look of it.
EA: Yes.
I: By the number of —
EA: Yeah. That one, some aircraft were interesting. Some aircraft seemed to be too heavy to fly and so on and they didn’t function quite as well as others. I’m not quite whether they were some a lot of the Mosquitoes were made in Canada because they had the timber there. The plywood and so on. And so they were, some were much more efficient aircraft. A bit like cars you know. They vary too even in mass production. But so therefore we would use some of those aircraft that didn’t seem to be functioning quite so well for bombing practice and that sort of thing.
I: Ah.
EA: But the ones that were purring like a kitten everyone wanted to fly that on a raid and that’s why some of them were on the squadron for a while and they got used a lot if they were efficient. Because the engines were all fairly new you know. They had hardly any maintenance on them. They used to put a new engine in and send it off again. So I think that the amount of maintenance that was put on to aircraft in those days was nil. They just said wear them out and then put a new engine in it.
I: So would you have to swap aeroplanes? If you went out one night and then someone else went another night did they take your aeroplane?
EA: Oh yeah. Yeah.
I: Or did aeroplanes get reused?
EA: It just actually —
I: You got allocated an aeroplane.
EA: It depended on how much maintenance was on it and all and if they had it ready to go and it would be put on the flight plan and just get allocated an aircraft and you take whichever one was allocated to you.
I: Right.
EA: And I think they avoided anyone using or claiming.
I: Claiming one.
EA: The Air Force and so on I mean, it’s not like that. You’re just part of a crowd then. You do as your told, you know. The people, the personnel there the people we had on the squadron were interesting. The CO was a guy called Currie as a matter of fact C U R R I E his name was and he was a permanent RAF bloke and he had been flying a long time and he tried to get, he was trying to the get the VC. That’s why he took us to Norway and so on [laughs] But he —
I: He got a DFC didn’t he?
EA: Oh, they got DFCs and all that. Most of these guys were decorated, you know. I mean they’d been around for a while and in the finish though he was, he was flying a Mosquito at an airshow and he, he rolled it along the ground. He got too low and was killed and we got a message from his wife and so on and she said, ‘Oh, well he was doing what he wanted to do and that was all there was to it.’ But he was fairly, he was a pretty reasonable sort of a character. A bit standoffish. A bit, you know. A bit of the old school sort of thing blooming Australian.
I: British.
EA: Well, yeah British, and Australians are a bit of ragged lot.
I: Colonial types.
EA: Oh, John Herriman used to wander around with a flying jacket on and was real, the flying the wings were just about torn off with his parachute harness and so on. He couldn’t care less how he looked [laughs] you know. But oh yes it was quite funny the difference between things like that but it was performance he wanted best and of course it’s a bit like playing sport. You know, they kept a record of everything you did and then after a raid you’d be debriefed. He’s come back and we’d come back and maybe we’d go there and get back at three or 4 o’clock in the morning and have to turn up in the flight tower and do a debriefing on what happened and what you did and what was wrong and what you could do better and all this sort of thing. And we had various characters come up. We had Winston Churchill came up once and got in the squadron. He wanted to find out what all this marking thing was all about. And actually, the squadron drew a lot of attention there because they were small and they could get in and see what was happening you know. And then we heard afterwards it was the invasion was getting on and Germans were getting a bit [unclear] and we had Lancasters coming into the circuit. We would always get back about a an hour before the Lancasters. We’d do our debriefing, get home and get our eggs and bacon and start getting into bed. But by the time they were coming in and we heard all this firing going on, guns firing all around the place and they started to turn the lights out in the place and some of the German Air Force had followed in our Lancasters and they started to shoot at them just as they were lining up to land on the runway. And that was hell to pay. And so we were all in our Nissen huts by this time. We raced outside to see what was going on and saw all this going on and then we had a slit trench next to the thing for safety you see. And we jumped into this and of course it was half full of water. It had never been used. We never used to have any defence and we were in an awful mess and all this coming. It was a very dangerous time.
I: Right. Yeah.
EA: And that was just about the end of the war.
I: So when they were landing they would switch the runway lights on would they? As they were coming in.
EA: Yeah. They had little, little blue lights. You could see from the aircraft as you were coming to land but you wouldn’t see them for a distance. You know, from a height or anything like that.
I: Right.
EA: A very little amount a light.
I: Right.
EA: And we had, we had some accidents with the thing. One, one night we were coming back and it would have been early in the morning and you get pretty tired after you’ve been. Actually flying like that at that altitude and everything else is not funny. There’s no pleasure in it whatsoever. It was just a damned nuisance and you were breathing oxygen all the time until you feel like nothing on earth. And you think God let’s get out of this thing, you know. And you would really feel you couldn’t get out and get home quick enough and forget about it. And so we were just landing. Just taxiing along the runway just to come off and all of a sudden at the end of the runway there’s this dirty big figure in front of me. And I think I said, ‘Look out for that.’ And there was another Lancaster crossing the duty runway. He was going the wrong way around the aerodrome.
I: Right.
EA: And very unfortunate because you know just for us to be at the end of the runway just when he did and we hit this thing just behind the wing and broke it in half and of course there was no strength in them. That sideways motion on aircraft is the other way.
I: Yeah. Yeah.
EA: That’s got the strength and so we our propellers chewed into this Lancaster and we stopped. Stopped dead there and then we, the pilot on that had a court martial. We had to go to his court martial a week or so later and he was scrubbed off.
I: Or grounded.
EA: Grounded. Yeah. He didn’t do any more flying. Though I mean you know they just don’t ask any questions.
I: Right.
EA: Or give any consideration and so on. But that was —
I: It didn’t damage the nose of your aeroplane. It just sort of —
EA: Oh, yeah, oh they, I don’t know. They had to replace all the engines or something.
I: Right.
EA: No, she was a bit of a wreck. So it went on but didn’t have that sort of thing all that much and so on. But when when John was getting used to the aircraft we used to skid all over the, all over the runway when we were taking off because there was so much power in those engines that we had too many revs on one they’d drag you straight across the other side, and we’d tear across the aerodrome at right angles to the runway and jam on the brakes and start turning around to go back again and it took a long time for him to get used to it because he was only used to the one engine in a Spitfire before and this was quite a different proposition. But we kept alive. But we did a lot of experimental flying and I worked out how I could home in on a runway in a blizzard and land on the runway without seeing the ground.
I: How did you do that?
EA: We did that. We navigated with usually Gee. I could navigate him in and put him on. John was the sort of character that would practice something experimentally all day long if you wanted to. And so he’d just sit there flying and I’d tell him where to go. In the long run he used to say, ‘Right, we’ve got it.’ And when he said that he knew he was confident that I could put him in there at night without seeing the runway. We’d put him down on the ground and we tried to get this message through to some of the others but they thought it was too hard to do so they didn’t bother with that.
I: So you used to Gee to sort of line you up on the approach and then what? Had to use an altimeter sort of thing to —
EA: Yeah. Yeah.
I: To —
EA: Calling out the altitude to him and he would judge, yeah. So it was a matter of a team run, you know. You did. But you were doing, there were so many things to do. You see the fuel selection was another thing the navigator would do. Had to watch the fuel. And we had to keep some fuel ready in one tank and start using the other ones and to balance up the aircraft you’d drain some out and balance the other one. So this had to be done on the way across as well as finding your way and so on. So —
I: So you were kept busy the whole time.
EA: Oh yeah. Yeah. Busy. Especially now in the target area saying when he did the aiming and the bombing but you know you had to do this. Not only select the right colour for the markers and so on you had to watch fuel as well then and so on and you had, you know, when you’re in the target area you’d use the tank with the most fuel in because coming out of a dive and so on sometimes you know you could lose revs when you were coming out of a dive.
I: Right because you ran out of fuel.
EA: So you had the fuel in the main tank. Now, if you didn’t, if you happened to be in that situation and you were on a tank just about dry you were in real trouble so you know. It was a two man thing. And you both had your responsibilities and I mean the pilots they were such he didn’t have time to worry about the fuel on one of these jobs. John, he used to go with me on leave. We used to take the bike up. We had a motorbike.
I: Tell us about the motorbike.
EA: We had. Yeah, we had —
I: What sort of motorbike was it?
EA: It was an Enfield 350. Enfield.
I: Single cylinder.
EA: Yeah. Yeah. And we called her Euphemia and we went all over the place.
I: Who the hell was Euphemia? That sounds like an ancient Greek name.
EA: Oh that’s just a name that John came up with. This is typical him. He, I think he read Shakespeare and all that.
I: Right.
EA: He must have picked it up from somewhere but he come up with some fancy name and I said, ‘Oh yeah, that sounds alright. We’ll go up.’ We’d never argue about anything. Just go along with whatever both of us decided to do. And you know we only saw him here once. He came, he came to Charleville and he went back there afterwards and came back on the boat with me. We went to get out of Melbourne and I said to goodbye to him and you know you’re here today and gone tomorrow and you don’t no big crying session or anything like that. Say goodbye to him and never see him again.
I: Yeah.
EA: But we’d been so, you know together so much and yet he came when Ev and I were just building the house. We’d had and I was [bitumenising] the back out near the clothesline the day he came. He came unexpectedly. It’s the sort of thing he did. He’d never bother forewarning you or anything like that. Just turn up on the doorstep.
I: It’s a long way from Charleville.
EA: Yeah. But Ev said we saw him twice after the war. I couldn’t quite remember that. But anyway, then a bit down the road he was killed in a motor accident up there.
I: So this motorbike, you used to fuel it with [ab gas], did you?
EA: Oh no. We, no. We’d take it out. Take it out when we were going flying if daylight flying we would just practice practice bombing and so on. Cross countries. And we’d leave it parked alongside the aircraft and so on and then the ground staff used to drain the petrol out of the tractors and put it into our bike for us [laughs] you see.
I: Right. Ok.
EA: Oh, we used to look after them very well. We used to give them some chocolate and so forth. And of course that chocolate was another thing. Nana used to, my mother used to send over parcels with some fruit cake and chocolate and stuff in it and of course John never did get any of those things. He was unfortunate. However, I used to take some to these guys, the ground staff fellas and give some to them. We also took some in the aircraft with us and one night coming back late I was going to get some chocolate on the way home to pass the time away and I put my hand down in the seat just in between my feet and the chocolate had all melted and I pulled my hand down in the the melted chocolate. By the time we got up near my head the cold air up here and it all went hard on my hands so John and I had to bite it all of my hands to get the chocolate. But that were, the ground staff were very good fellas. I have some photographs of them too.
I: Did they ever do an investigation into why the fuel was disappearing from the tractors?
EA: Oh no. I don’t think anybody was worried about that sort of thing [laughs]
I: What were the tractors doing? Carting?
EA: Yeah, carting.
I: Dragging the aeroplanes around.
EA: Dragging aircraft and so on around. Yeah. They were doing that. Yeah. I don’t think anybody sort of worried much about that. I don’t whether anybody else got fuel for their cars and so on. Perhaps they did.
I: There was a few people with bikes or was that a popular way of getting around?
EA: Yeah. No, some of them had cars. Some of the unit’s blokes had cars. They used to go home on leave and that sort of thing but the bike was, we decided we’d buy a bike and we went and got it and we sold it afterwards and so on. But some of the characters there on the squadron besides the CO, some of them had done a lot of flying but the RAF English blokes all seemed to me, seemed to us to be fairly soft sort of characters you know. And there was one fellow that used to, Bill Topper and he used to drive around in an MG Sports and he had a WAAF that he was friendly with and she used to go around with him in this around the squadron and the perimeter track on this bloody thing and he had a big Alsatian dog. And of course, he’d fly, have a big scarf around his neck and so on. Cruising around on this thing and you know you’d see him there and you’d think oh he’s a bit weak you know but I tell you what he was so game. It was unreal the things he used to do from the aircraft. It was a wonder he, I think he came out of it because he’d been to some of the reunions and so on. It’s a wonder he ever got through the whole thing and he’s still going [laughs] So you meet interesting people all over the world don’t you, you know.
I: So how many, do you know how many missions you and John —
EA: We did forty one.
I: Forty one.
EA: On our squadron we were aimed to do fifty. This was, this was on a time basis. The Air Force would calculate you were due for a certain amount of flying, operational flying because we used to, only had two thirds of the flying time that the Lancs had on the same raid you see.
I: Right. Yeah.
EA: So they they’d had thirty missions. We had forty five. But we didn’t, we weren’t really interested in trying to finish a tour anyway. We were just about to finish one when the whole thing packed in.
So all of yours were with John. You didn’t fly with anyone else at any.
EA: No.
I: At any time.
EA: No, we didn’t. No. We stayed together.
I: Yeah.
EA: No. If they did that they usually bit the dust.
I: Right.
EA: A funny thing.
I: Tell me about the time you got shot in the foot.
EA: Oh yes. Yeah. Well, I always got some flak through the aircraft.
I: Was that a bullet or a bit of flak do you think?
EA: Yeah. A bit of flak. Yeah. But John, John got —
I: So you realised that at the time. You did, you know the moment it happened you suddenly realised.
EA: Not really. No. No.
I: Or it wasn’t until later on when you got back.
EA: A bit later on. Yeah. A bit later on that we found that. John got, he got his shoulder injured at one time. I just forget what that was about now but I know that once you get, that’s, oh that’s the other thing. Talking about, you know how high we’d come back. It depends on whether the aircraft was still pressurized because some of these were pressurised you see. That’s why flying, we were flying at high altitude.
I: Right.
EA: But once you get up to ten thousand feet you see you’re breathing oxygen. At about fifteen thousand you’d pressurise the aircraft. So, but we were breathing oxygen all the time. I mean even down low we had, we had oxygen mask on all the time. This makes it very uncomfortable when you’re flying too. You’re breathing through that all the time. Then you had a built in microphone on them as well so you were just talking to this and it goes. Goes through the speakers then you know.
I: It does. Yes.
EA: Yeah.
I: So after when you did get injured so you decided not to sort of tell the MO because you would have ended up grounded or something eh?
EA: Yes. Well —
I: Yeah.
EA: The other reason is that we didn’t want to be separated so the other thing we did we just applied for leave and we went away and had it fixed up somewhere else.
I: Right.
EA: You see, and any small injury you would do that. But as soon as you signed in on a sick parade you know they start checking up on you. There was a lot of people checking up on you in those days [laughs] And you know, because you know to be separated when you’re in a crew like that and we were very much aware of this and John said, ‘You know, we don’t want to be separated. We know what we’re doing now.’ Don’t, because it makes, unfortunately it seemed to be a jinx you know. If they started flying with someone else they were bound to be missing for some reason. It was just silly but I think they perhaps lacked coordination or something.
I: You’d just get used to each other.
If you were with someone else flying.
I: And working with a team.
EA: Guy Gibson with his background they crashed down there. Just didn’t get the right fuel [unclear] you were finished.
I: Yeah. So did you ever socialise with the 617 over on the other side or was it like two separate?
EA: Oh yeah. They, they no they were two separate places but they lived, they lived in a hotel in Woodhall Spa which now is a hotel isn’t it? And there’s a golf course there and it’s an interesting place to go to and it’s dedicated as a museum to 617.
I: Right.
EA: But in the, in Woodhall there’s a little pub there that Ev and I went to and had a look at and we used to go into this place and Bill Carey from Mount Gambier he was there the night I went to see him. He was with 617 Squadron and Bill did some hairy flying over there too and he was well known but he’d be surprised to see me turn up. He thought he was away from Mount Gambier but [laughs] ‘Have you come to spy on me?’ Initially. We always had a bit of a laugh about it even after the war. He was here and we used to laugh about that but Bill got, he died in a car accident too up in [unclear] So that’s, after all that is what he did. He came, made forced landings over in Sweden and all sorts of things. But he got out of it there and he finished up in a car accident.
I: So were you, were you sort of marking for 617? Did the two squadrons work as a —
EA: No.
I: Or you just got allocated.
EA: 617 and they did more —
I: They were more specialised sort of stuff.
EA: Dive bombing like they chased the Tirpitz and that sort of thing you know. And they, they raided targets in Europe. They did a lot of daylight trips, 617. It was dangerous sort of stuff but they went out on daylights. I don’t know. Not many of the squadrons did. The Yanks certainly didn’t fly in daylight. At night time rather because they couldn’t find their way around at night. They always, always had to go out on day raids.
I: Yeah.
EA: The Yanks. We had a bit to do with the Americans when we were there. They used to land at Woodhall if they were running out of fuel or something and we had some of them there and we had a Fortress come in and the Mosquito could stick under the wing of a Fortress, you know. And of course they thought it was a bit of a joke this blooming aircraft made of wood but when they found out that we were carrying the same bomb load as they were and two of us in a crew instead of ten they changed their tune a bit. They reckoned we had something going for us, you know. But that was all part of the fun and over that —
[recording paused]
I: So missions took quite a few hours. You were actually in the air for quite a few hours on most —
EA: Yes. Well —
I: Four or five hours.
EA: Yeah, well yeah four or five hours. That’s right and down at Munich and those places that was fair, fairly nearly at the range of a Mosquito. We had some as the Russian force came forward coming west from Russia there were some raids that we did on there before then. But we had intelligence to report that you know if we got in to any trouble over there and we had to make a forced landing or bale out head for Germany don’t head for Russia because they wouldn’t know who we were and they wouldn’t have any sympathy or ask who we were there helping them [laughs]
I: Assume you were Germans.
EA: We were there helping them but they wouldn’t risk the Russians so go back to Germany and bale out over there you know rather. But that was the Russian Front when they were coming through that was a fair way. We had to watch out for the fuel there by the time we were in that area.
I: It’s a fairly sort of hazardous sort of way to spend your time flying these sorts of things.
EA: Yeah.
I: Were you frightened quite a lot of the time?
EA: Actually no.
I: Or did you sort of get used to it in some way?
EA: I don’t remember it much. We were just there to do a job and, and it was a bit of a competition. You had a challenge. You had a challenge to do what the others were all doing. We were all in together and, and you had to see if you could do better than the other fellas and I think this is the big advantage of a team. You were with, the two of us together we sort of I don’t know whether John used to get scared or not. We never discussed it. It’s all this all on you had to have a positive attitude you know and get going.
I: Did you get butterflies before it? Hopping in the plane and —
EA: Oh, I don’t know. Well, things started to happen so fast you sort of — but you get caught up in the swim of it and it’s all part of the game you know. I don’t know that we worried very much about that. It was never going to happen to us.
I: Right. Ok.
EA: We were invincible [laughs] We were absolutely invincible. It was never going to happen to us, you know. When, when Bob went that sort of set us back a bit and I started, you know and John, John said, ‘Oh, don’t worry about that you know. That’s how it happens to someone.’ I can remember quite well we had a bit of discussion about it and so on because I’d been with Bob for quite a long time and we got to know one another pretty well from that point of view and so it was a bit of a scary thing but it did seem you know yeah it’s a sort of unreal. In fact, you know when you were diving around the ground you see people down on the ground and it almost seems it’s like a story that someone’s telling you. It’s not real. Are those people real down there or not, you know. You seemed to separate yourself from the whole thing.
I: Did it —
EA: And it becomes a bit of a circus [laughs] so that’s how it goes you know.
I: These days you know you’re not allowed to go, there seems to be a long time between having a drink and you go flying but I always got the impression that sort of you sort of chaps would sort of would head off down to the pub and —
EA: Well, we —
I: In the daytime and then head off on a raid a bit later on.
EA: No, the crews —
I: Were there rules and regulations on that sort of —
EA: Well, the crews that were going out knew the day before they were listed.
I: Right.
EA: And you just don’t go and do anything. You know. No, there was no scope for that but really you’d be told to go out at an hour’s notice and things like that. I mean the thing had to be planned ahead.
I: Yeah.
EA: The strategy on where the raid was because you know they’ve got a few hundred other aircraft.
I: Yes.
EA: Tee’d up to do the same thing.
I: Yeah.
EA: But then of course if the weather clagged in and it would be scrubbed which was you know there was a lot of cancellations of the whole thing. Sometimes you know the Lancs would be starting to wind up the raid before they’d been cancelled and they had to shut engines down and all that sort of thing.
I: Right
EA: Not very often. Once they really started to, if once the Lancaster started to wind up they were usually on their way but so we, we used to go after them and we’d get to the target before them and so on. So they were the first ones that once they were all going and we would have them flying over our drome there hordes of them and you know they were going out and we knew where they were going when we were lined up. No. No celebrating, you see John Herriman he was he never had any alcohol at all. I didn’t really either. We didn’t drink. John used to smoke. He used to roll his own cigarettes and so on and so on. That didn’t worry me of course in those days. Nobody knew any differently.
I: But he didn’t drink at all.
EA: No.
I: No.
EA: No. We didn’t have any alcohol.
I: Ok.
EA: No we used to have parties in the mess and so on but he wasn’t, he wasn’t a really good mixer for that sort of thing actually. A bit of a loner John was in a way and that was all to the good actually but and I never used to either. We used to go down to the mess and all these fellas were there and had a bit of a joke. We had all sorts of funny things happening at parties and so on and we used to but no we didn’t bother much on that angle with it and he didn’t, certainly didn’t anyway so that was alright. But it could be a problem I suppose if someone had too much to drink.
I: So if you wanted to go out and see a movie or something where did you go to do that? Was there that sort of entertainment I mean?
EA: Yeah. No, not at the, not at the ‘drome. What we had was certain, not at our aerodrome. What we had was certain. Not at our ‘drome. It wasn’t big enough to warrant that. You know you’d go to one or the other aerodromes. I mean some of the ‘dromes had a few hundred folks there you see.
I: Right.
EA: So we could go across to another aerodrome in the same Group that had films on and so on. Yeah. Go to the town. Most of the towns still had cinemas.
I: Yeah. Yeah.
EA: And that was in Britain they had to keep the people’s spirit up and they tried to keep all the dance halls and the cinemas and you know the music was still going and all that. It was tried. They did well really they tried to keep the country going normally while all this stuff was going on and an influx of all the Americans and so on I mean there was a hell of a lot of people there.
I: There must have been a lot of people everywhere then. On the roads.
EA: Oh yeah.
I: The motorbike was probably the easy way to get around wouldn’t it because you’d be sort of like —
EA: Oh yeah, a big, oh yeah.
I: Trucks all over the roads and —
EA: Big army trucks and so on like this. Yeah. And if you wanted to go anywhere you just hailed one of the trucks and get on board and go with them you know. It was so easy going. It was all quite amazing. Of course, we used to put the, put the bike in the back of the train in the guards van and go all over the place on this. And sometimes we would find out that one of the, one of the Squadron, 617 were there. We used to go with them. They were doing practice navigation trips and so on. We said, ‘Well, you know we what are you doing tomorrow on this? Oh yeah, we might, we might as well end up there. Where do you want to go? Well, we wanted to go up in Scotland somewhere. Well, we’ll drop you off up there. So put your in the back.
I: In a Lancaster.
EA: And then we’d take a Lanc up there for exercise [laughs]
Oh [laughs] really?
You know, burn up a few hundred gallons of fuel. That sort of thing. The fuel situation was interesting you know over there.
I: They must have gone through a hell of a lot of fuel.
EA: They put this from the area, from the west coast and downloaded it over there at one of the ports along the coast there.
I: Where did all this come from? America?
EA: They come — yeah.
I: From America was it?
EA: Yeah. Coming in from the States and they had great pipelines and the fuel lines coming through and these pipelines are going right through and in the finish they connected up and across the Channel for the invasion and they pumped fuel all the way from there.
I: Across the Channel.
EA: Right across the Channel in the big pipes underneath the sea and so on and they’d shove fuel through. Aviation fuel. And that would go through in bulk into tanks and so then they put oil through the same. The same —
I: The same pipe.
EA: The same pipe and then pumped them through and then ordinary fuel goes through the next and they’d take it off the other end. There was, the fuel situation how they worked it all out it was quite amazing really.
I: Well, the logistics are a feat really.
EA: And this used to get all the aerodromes connected up to the fuel system going through.
I: Right.
EA: To these aerodromes and so on.
I: So you didn’t have trucks sort of driving it around.
EA: Oh no. No.
I: It was all piped.
EA: Piped in there and and had their big fuel dumps in the aerodromes and then they fuelled the aircraft from those things.
I: So in the end you hopped on a boat. Where did you get on a boat to go, come back from? Southampton?
EA: Oh, Southampton. Yeah. Yeah.
I: Not the Queen Mary this time.
EA: Not the Queen Mary this time [laughs] no. No, we were we were there they put down there was a holding place down in Brighton so we all went out of Brighton, south of England there you know and we were in a hotel down there.
I: This was after the end of the war.
EA: Yeah.
I: In the Pacific.
EA: Yeah. Well —
I: You were training to come out.
EA: When —
I: Come out to the Pacific were you? After —
EA: No, we were going to. Yeah. We actually were.
I: This Tiger Force. Whatever it was called.
EA: The squadron. We were there and they once yeah once the war went over they changed the system of training and we went on to a system of navigation called Loran. And actually they used it in civil aviation after the war for a long time before we got satellite navigation. And this Loran was sending out signals, long signals over long distances and we were going out to Manchuria and the squadron was going out there to mark targets in Japan. Then they dropped the atom bomb and they finished it off.
I: So they had these big things underneath the plane. Was this what they called the H2S.
EA: H2S, yeah. We used H2S too. That was, that was handy but and we used to practice in Lancasters on H2S. that was for low level flying along but the trouble with that is if you were following a railway line in H2S on a screen you could follow a railway line and follow along like that. But some of these had put up balloon barrages and so on.
I: Right.
EA: And you could just run into one of those and cut a wing off.
I: Right.
EA: And that wasn’t very easy.
I: You had to fly fairly low to make it, make that useful.
EA: Well yeah.
I: Was it?
EA: That’s right. Yes. When you were doing that so you had to, you had to try to find out where all the balloon riders were so you could miss them but you know. There was always someone comes and upsets everything you know. They either do that or they shoot at you and all this. It’s not fair [laughs] But anyway it’s all a bit of a mystery, isn’t it?
I: So what sort of a boat was it you came back on then?
EA: Well, we came back on the Andes which was —
I: The Andes.
EA: A boat that was in service after the war for a while. But we came a very fast trip through the Suez, the Suez was operating in those days and we I think we only took three weeks to get back here and it was a pretty fast trip actually.
I: Right.
EA: Of course, these troop ship were easy because they only had hammocks you know. No, there was no beds or anything in them. No chairs. Not a chair in the place anyway. Same with the Queen Mary. You didn’t, you had to sit, you sit on the floor and so on. No chairs anywhere around the place. Just hammocks. A good way to carry because you stay and the boat goes around you.
I: It is. Yeah. Yes. I suppose so.
EA: Yeah [laughs]
I: And where did that arrive back? In Sydney or —
EA: Yeah, we came. No, we came in Melbourne.
I: Melbourne.
EA: Yeah. And that’s where that photograph was. This is —
I: Oh yeah. Yeah.
EA: [unclear
I: Yeah.
EA: And I’m so glad someone put that altogether and that was all in the paper in the Sun.
I: Yeah.
EA: At the time. Yeah, so we arrived in Melbourne and Ralph was there too. I don’t know why. He must have been on leave. I don’t know how. I never really found out how he got to Melbourne on a day when —
I: When you were coming in.
EA: Yeah. I guess, I don’t know. I must have sent him a telegram. We used to send telegrams in those days.
I: Oh.
EA: Sent them a telegram telling them when we were coming or something I don’t know because there wasn’t much communication you know. And the letters we sent, the letters were done on a letterhead and it would go through and they’d microfilm all these and send the film out to Melbourne on a little spool by plane and they’d print them off and sent them to people from —
I: Really?
EA: When they got there.
I: So they sort of photocopied.
EA: Yeah.
I: Didn’t get the, didn’t get the original letter.
EA: No. They didn’t get the original letter at all.
I: Oh really?
EA: No.
I: Mail otherwise takes up too much space.
EA: Well yeah. Too much weight.
I: Too much weight and space.
EA: And I suppose the letter was printed. By the time it was printed off it would be a half of an A4 sheet.
I: Right.
EA: The letter would come out that size and it was pretty small lettering because you write on a thing and they’d reduce it in size you see. But that was how all the mail went around the world in those days. Yeah. No, no big mail was carried.
I: Right.
EA: It was all on microfilm.
I: Right. And that was shoved on boats or planes or —
EA: They had a regular flight of —
I: I suppose Quantas —
EA: Flying Boats.
I: Quantas was flying all the time.
EA: Yeah.
I: During the war back and forth, wasn’t it?
EA: Flying boats. Yeah. They were using flying Boats all the way. That was an interesting exercise. The blokes who were flying those I suppose they got tired of that too didn’t they?
[recording paused]
I: So it wasn’t the most comfortable of huts you lived in then.
EA: Oh, it was a comfortable hut.
I: I get the impression the 617 boys were rather comfortable at —
EA: Yeah, they had a hotel to live in. Yes. No, we didn’t have any of that. No. We were —
I: So there was a whole bunch of you in one —
EA: Oh no.
I: Room was it or —
EA: We had, we lived in Nissen huts. We had, there was about, I think about eight or ten beds and each —
I: Ok. Yeah.
EA: They were all very basic you know but quite handy if it was all covered with snow. The snow would tend to keep you a bit warm and so on.



Eric Garnet Arthur, “Eric Arthur's audio account of his time in the R.A.A.F.,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 19, 2024,

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