Interview with Fred McCullough


Interview with Fred McCullough


Fred McCullough discusses his series of abstract art works which are an homage to his uncle, Sergeant Harry McCullough, a flight engineer with 61 Squadron. He was killed on his tenth operation and is buried at Durnbach Cemetery.




Temporal Coverage




00:48:22 Audio Recording


IBCC Digital Archive


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DE: Ok. So that’s recording. So, this is an interview with Fred McCullough about his Uncle Harry or Henry. Sergeant Harry McCullough. He was a flight engineer with 61 Squadron. This is an interview for the International Bomber Command Centre Digital Archive. It’s taking place over the telephone. Fred is in Tasmania and the time is sometime just after 6pm and I’m in the UK and it’s sometime just after 9am. So, Fred, thanks very much for agreeing to do this. This telephone interview. Obviously, your uncle died before you were born. How did your family remember him and what’s your experiences of his memory when you were growing up?
FM: Well, his name was just brought up obviously from time to time in my early years living in Belfast. You know. From my father mainly. He obviously, he was killed three years, I was born in 1946 so I never did meet him. My elder, my older brother had vague memories of him but mine are, mine are all from photographs and sort of family stories basically. And it wasn’t until later years, I mean as a young lad there was a lot of, a lot of our family were involved with various aspects of the military during the Second World War. My father was in the 8th Army. He was in the [unclear] campaign and the Italian campaign. My Uncle Harry who was killed, his younger brother, younger brother Joe also was in the RAF and had, he was taken prisoner in in Greece, just north of Athens for quite a while and so a few stories and then he was released and we have back in Northern Ireland. So a few stories from my father and his brother basically that I know of the background of my Uncle Harry really. And its probably not until my later years, when you’re a bit older you sort of start really taking all this stuff in. So it’s not really until probably when I was in my fifties and then I was married with children my father and mother came visiting quite a few times from Northern Ireland to Tasmania. And it’s not until you’re a little bit older that you start to take a bit of interest in your family history and where you’re from. Also, I had taken a lot of interest in more local history. I worked for a while at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery here at [unclear] and started to learn, take on board more about your surroundings and the people that led to where we are now. So that’s probably how I came to be interested in the first place. My father brought his logbook out and gave it to me in the late 1990s. I want to say something like logbook. That makes it a sort of concrete bit of documentation as opposed to just a story but it was from then on that I took a more personal interest.
[recording interrupted]
FM: We were lucky that the logbook actually was on a whole passed from my grandfather to my, to the eldest brother in the family. My father was one of four boys and two girls. Harry, who was the second eldest. An older one again and he had, he had all our family logbooks and history and medals and all that sort of stuff. So, I don’t know why it came in my direction because as I say have an older brother. He lives in [unclear] in the South of Ireland but for some reason they decided maybe it was because of my artwork and [unclear] with family history but his medals were given to me. I have them here beside me hanging up on the wall in fact with his photograph and so through that sort of thing my father bringing those out to Australia and giving them to me was what sort of triggered my interest in the background. There had been different pieces prior to that. And then I suppose I started looking at the logbook and just starting random pieces of work based on, on the information in the logbook that was operating to Essen [unclear] and so on. So I just took a random one and started doing that and after a while it became largely because I did the series from, it was in his tenth operation as you know that he was killed.
DE: Yeah.
FM: So it just seemed logical that I, from that sequence I did an introductory painting called, “Above and beyond,” and it was all to do with, the paintings are quite abstract in, visually with perhaps [unclear] relating to the contents on the back. But interestingly these paintings, and I did ten paintings on his logbook and then I did a conclusion painting which was based on Fürstenfeldbruck which is where he was shot down north of Munich and [unclear] a photograph of his first burial site, the cross etcetera. Him and the crew.
DE: Yeah.
FM: So, I did sort of contain the [unclear] twelve paintings in all and I have that series here at my home in Glengarry. I’ve used it a number of times. Particularly at an exhibition in Hobart back in 2015 as a lead-in. But in 2009 I put, I reproduced [unclear] on canvas [unclear] and added more information from the logbook of aircrew names etcetera and dates and flight times and that’s what I took to Belfast in the Waterfront Hall in Belfast and all those things that are now in East Kirkby next to Lancaster, “Just Jane.” The Belfast was significant in that my father and his family all grew up in the very centre of the city. My grandfather was a fireman.
DE: Yeah.
FM: All the family lived there from the early days in the fire station. That was prior to him joining the Army and therefore [unclear] where they were living. So his family had a big association with the fire brigade and just coincidentally on the Waterfront Hall where I exhibited is just across, literally a hundred and fifty, two hundred metres across the road [unclear] building in the centre of Belfast from where they lived. So that made it quite appropriate. Yeah. So that, that’s as far as that first series goes. I, after I’d displayed those paintings I also then and the coincidence of where all these events took place and my wife and I travelled from Australia. I’m to Ireland virtually every year right up until my father died in 2003. My mother lived until 2011 so I would go home every year for a number of weeks to look, just to check on her and on the way my wife if she was with me rented a van unit and travelled [unclear] stayed there and cycled out to find Durnbach War Cemetery and you know obviously had a look where the whole crew are buried.
DE: Yeah.
FM: Which was quite a fantastic location. When I got there they were actually renovating. They were actually landscaping over landscaping and they had actually closed that one section of the cemetery. So I thought well I’ve travelled twelve thousand miles. I stepped over the rope to get in to have a closer look and I had with me a small, about four inch by twenty section of a Lancaster I’d purchased from the International Bomber Command. They were, they had refurbished the tail section of the Phantom of the Ruhr. They were selling off small sections which were advertised through the Lancaster Association. And I had bought, I bought two small sections and one of them I had engraved with the family names starred my father, sister, my grandfather and grandmother.
DE: Yeah.
FM: And I sort of hastily buried that.
DE: Oh wow.
FM: Beneath the headstones of where the crew are buried in Durnbach. So hopefully that is still there.
DE: I’m sure it is. Yeah.
FM: Yeah. So that was significant and I brought back, I have sitting here in front of me a pinecone from Durnbach, from the cemetery and I took two small soil samples from the, from the area because from Munich we flew to England.
DE: Yeah.
FM: I’d arranged through the RAAF Association here in Launceston in Tasi, to put me in contact with flight lieutenant [Hughie] Hector. Now, I hadn’t ever met [Hughie] Hector but I had close communications with her so I told her I wanted to visit Syerston where he flew from. She arranged, and she arranged something. I knew they were flying gliders.
DE: Yes. That’s right. Yeah.
FM: Up there. And through her she arranged that I would get in. We go there and they actually if we went to, we spent two or three nights in that area and they actually took me up on two glider flights off the same runway that Harry would have used in 1943.
DE: Oh wow. So you got to see the area from, from the air. Yeah.
FM: Yeah. The whole, the whole set up of the, of the Trent coming through at the end of the runway and frost and all that sort of stuff. And I was really lucky getting that because we visited there in 2017 and I think there has become stricter now with the Ministry of Defence. The young gentlemen that came virtually was very sceptical that I had actually managed to get a flight there. He was telling me who the pilot and that was so it happened some of the photographs of that flight and that, dad actually encouraged me and said [unclear] state of the logbook by the end of the series based on the glider flights flying from there quite a few painting based on that and one of the painting which was a link between that, a glider flying and again randomly chose one aircraft W4270. I did one on that and within a number of weeks just coincidentally again through the [unclear] link at the Lancaster Association they had an article about [unclear] services and it just coincidental I recognised the aircraft number and that then triggered off that he had, my uncle had actually flown that, that aircraft two weeks before he had his operation to Dusseldorf and Nuremberg and the aircraft I think was probably shot up a bit and they then used it as a training aircraft for another crew. And so in this the article was saying pieces of that aircraft had been found in the area by a local farmer [unclear] Ablewhite who you may —
DE: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
FM: Have heard. They were sitting on the Memorial. Anyway, I got in touch with Di Ablewhite through the Lancaster Association and when we visited them in 2007, sorry [unclear] my times now.
DE: That doesn’t matter.
FM: Yeah. We were able to look at some [unclear] very small fragments of the aircraft and they knew it was that aircraft because one of the fragments in particular had a serial number on it. And that’s how they identified it still. So then that started me off on the ones that I sent you, Dan.
DE: Yeah.
FM: The paintings, “The Seven from Syerston.” So, and they took me to see the location where the aircraft went down and that sort of thing and again through as you know, a man who follows history the more you find out the more, the less you know.
DE: Oh, definitely. Yeah. Yeah.
FM: Lead to a bigger picture. I discovered that Warne who was the pilot had actually flown with my uncle’s crew at one point when my uncle must have been off on leave or doing a course or something but they did do a flight. It was an operation to Milan with [Walters]as the pilot and all the rest of the crew so he must have flown as second dickie or perhaps as the flight engineer with the same crew that my uncle had flown with. So, there it was. What maybe just a number of weeks later that Warne and his crew were doing that training flight from Syerston and the aircraft had engine failure and the crash. So there was that double link if you like from finding out the name of the crew and the crew had flown with another crew. And then handling bits of aircraft were just [unclear]
DE: Yeah.
FM: So all of that became part of a greater exhibition I did in 2015 at a gallery in Hobart. About seventy paintings I had and the lead in of the exhibition was to do with his logbook series. And then that led into my experiencing the, “Seven from Syerston.” Then other, other aircraft, local ones near in Australia came with one called Little [Neva]. It was a [unclear] bomber crashed on the way back from New Guinea and I took, that coincidentally was called after my daughter. Coincidences. It was called Little Neva. And it was something based on that. Flying up the Gulf of [unclear] and there was the wreck of the aircraft. it’s pretty well inaccessible. So all of those sort of the Bomber Command stuff was the beginning of the sequence if you like and lead in. But then gave me a pathway through to explore other aspects in a broader way.
DE: And so you know your original interest in this was, was sparked by the stories you’d told, you’d been told about your uncle and finding the logbook. And then, “The Seven from Syerston.” It’s, it’s you know it’s largely it seems to me it’s a coincidence that you chose this aircraft that crashed that you found later on had a, had a connection. Yeah.
FM: Yeah.
DE: That’s incredible.
FM: It was actually a coincidence to that is for some reason I’d chosen as W4270 prior to reading about that because it featured in one of the larger paintings with the number. Yeah. I mean my paintings that are not paintings of aircraft which perhaps disappoints some people. I know people tend to like things like look like what they expect to see. But I find my paintings, the way I do that I’m able to include broader information than just depicting an aircraft if you know what I mean. It was pulling other information together past and present.
DE: Yeah. I mean I’ve looked. Looked at the work you do and yeah it’s mixed media isn’t it? It’s a mixture of Perspex and acrylic paint and digital and, and there on the, they’re unframed, aren’t they? Just on the canvas. Is there, is there a reason behind that?
FM: Sorry Dan? [unclear]
DE: Is there, as I remember they’re not framed. Is, is there a reason behind, behind that? Is that —
FM: No. The actual central surface has a small trim around them. The, the logbook series they have a frame. The frame is actually part of the painting. The central piece of the painting and the central piece I tend to imply it’s more about the person, the experience. The experience of the moment in time if you’re sitting there in a very confused situation and the big broader outside piece which had been in the original pieces of 30 ml of craftwood with the middle bit inserted in that. And the outside of it is more to do with the aircraft so, but at times, and the same with the [unclear] at times the outside finds itself competing with the inside and vice versa because of the confusion of the moment.
DE: Yeah.
FM: I’m not trying to replicate the situation but I would imagine they were having a very confusing time and the confusion of the moment the inside and the outside sort of come together. [unclear] outside the aircraft the centre. The frame itself is the frame but it’s also part of —
DE: Yeah. It’s part of the art. So yeah, it’s quite, it’s quite abstract and there’s bits that represent the crew and there’s bits that represent the aircraft and then its about the relationship between the aircrew and the aircraft I suppose. Is that —
FM: That’s right. Yeah. Yeah. And particularly, there’s one there is only one which you actually see a figure [unclear] a clear image of my Uncle Harry from a photograph. His head is the operational [wing pattern] and I used his head. I engraved that. I engraved his head and made it on a bit of Perspex and then in the ink so that name fits over the top of a piece of the painting. So you get an interaction between the transparency of the Perspex and the paint and the images behind. So it’s almost like a reflected or refracted imagery coming together as one. You bring the person and the object together.
DE: I suppose there’s a sort of ghostly element to it as well a bit. You know it could be interpreted like that anyway. I mean, yeah. I see. I see your point about you know some people who are expecting to see a sort of photo, realistic painting of, of people in aircraft but my, my son has just completed a degree in animation so I’m, he uses mixed media and he’s very abstract as well. So I kind of get that sort of thing. It’s all about impressions and feelings isn’t it?
FM: Yeah. Well, the guy who did the interview in Belfast [unclear] prior the afternoon before the opening. I mean he said there were a lot of aircrew and there were and I actually gave a short talk the previous day to the RAF Association in Belfast. A number of those guys there and they were all coming that night. And he said, ‘Well, you know what do you think they’re looking over it?’ And I said well it depends [unclear] open ended. Different people will take different things from from the work.’ And I said, ‘I suspect with people who are coming from the RAF Association perhaps would be more interested in the documentation and information that they can read as opposed to interpreting [unclear] in mind you know and make up with composition. So —
DE: Yeah. But that’s, that’s included on the, in the artwork itself as well, isn’t it?
FM: Yeah. Yeah. The crew names and the numbers and the flight times, and the operational times. All that is included. More so in the three that are in England. I would choose one where we had a little bit of information. Series one they’re in relief and for example you know the location of the operational [unclear] would be Munich or Dusseldorf or whatever was actually raised up as three dimensional relief from the object. So the huge one which I have here is much more physically three dimensional. They are more relief panels whereas by transcribing it on to canvas obviously it’s more of a flatter painting.
DE: Yeah.
FM: And I did that but then I had the work tools so they’re not just reproductions of originals. They are another step forward and more information added. And also logically it had taken me twelve thousand miles to actually transport them to Belfast and they were, just rolled the canvases up and then I put them together, set them all together in frames and what have you while I was in Belfast trying to make the exhibition transformation from there.
DE: And they’re the ones that are now in East Kirkby. Yeah?
FM: Yeah. That’s right. Yeah. I went to East Kirkby in 2017 with my cousin who lives in Woking and another cousin is [unclear] outside London. And she was getting married and my cousin and my wife came with me and my cousin, Sam who lives in Woking who has also been stored a lot of family history as well. And the only living relative of my Uncle Harry and my father was a sister and she was alive until she died about two or three years ago. But she came with us from, we drove from London up to, well they drove, we took the train up and met up with her, went to, I went to East Kirkby and had a look at the paintings [unclear] quite a few [unclear] there. Just Jane and the paintings [unclear] it isn’t actually hanging. In fact, it’s interesting, a coincidence in one history cabinet I discovered, we always assumed that the crew, my uncle’s crew, Sergeant Walters I always assumed that they were all [unclear] at the beginning and end of their career but in fact I discovered an [unclear] in one of the glass cabinets there [unclear] the crew prior to my uncle joining them like in the November of 1942. So I [unclear] five operations with Sergeant Walters [unclear] he actually had quite a few. More than ten when they were done.
DE: Oh right.
FM: Operations of my uncle and that was a [unclear] thing because my father [unclear] was that he thought my uncle was getting very close to his tour but in fact, as you know a tour is thirty operations.
DE: Yeah.
FM: So he was far from the end. But I think he might have discovered that in fact, the historian we met and my grandfather was perhaps it was Walters and the rest of the crew that had done a lot more than the ten operations. So you know they might have been getting close to the end of their tour. They were just unfortunate to not get out of it altogether [unclear]
[recording interrupted]
FM: Flight engineer. He joined in 1939 and he went in, he trained, this is just information he trained at St Athan in Wales, in Cardiff as a flight mechanic. My grandparents, it’s quite funny because I have a letter here. The last and only letter I’ve got which [unclear] gave which my uncle wrote. He must have written it [unclear] from St Athan. I can read it. Would you like me to read you a little bit of it?
DE: Yeah. If, if you’re ok. Yeah.
FM: This is a letter from my Uncle Harry to my father and mother who were still in Belfast. This is in 1939 and he obviously had only joined. He’d had gone to St Athan and Glamorgan for training and he says just a few lines, “Dear Sam and Marg, just a few lines to wish you luck and give you, give you Sammy [pause] Britain,” oh try again, “Britain has a lot of men who are so called heroes out here without you joining. So for God’s sake use your brains and stay at home and leave it to Joe and I.’ Joe was the younger brother who was in the RAF [unclear] 1944 and became a POW. “And let them do things to keep Jim from doing.” So also, he was the younger brother. So he had to [unclear] join up because they were streetwise and they can, “They know the ropes. They’ll not get into any trouble. If you do join now you would have to, you will have a hell of a time. They’ll push you all over the place. It’s not so bad for us. I’ve seen others train and the best way is to run like hell. Believe me I ain’t no hero and don’t intend on pushing my way to the front. I hope to be able to use my brains also and come out alright. If I don’t I will have had a good time.” Anyway, and it goes on in a more personal level of celebrating out on the town that night.
DE: Yeah.
FM: Local people he’d met and they’d got to take [unclear] Someone obviously knows and stay at home. By the looks of thing you will have plenty to do.” My father was in the Reserve Police at the time in Belfast. A [unclear] special. So there’s a man and he went on. Trained as a flight mechanic and obviously then obviously with the big Lancasters came on board and he’s obviously seen operations of that sort.
DE: Yeah.
FM: And for some reason ignored his own advice and became a flight engineer.
DE: Yeah. With, with the expansion of the RAF you know ground, ground crew were under a lot of pressure to, to remuster as, as air crew and particularly as flight engineers. So yeah.
FM: Yeah. And that would have suited him in a way because he always had a, one of the photographs that comes up on the internet he always has a [unclear] motorcycle and how they work and —
DE: Yeah.
FM: Weekend rides on the motorbike when they were living at the fire station pre-war which obviously [unclear] a Sunday morning ride and would snap the bike and put back together again. So he obviously was mechanically minded so the engineering and things obviously suited him. And then just transferred that skill and information interest to aircraft.
DE: Yeah.
FM: Yeah.
DE: And I’m just, it’s interesting that, you know you discovered that the rest of the crew had done more ops than him. Perhaps, I mean flight engineers weren’t needed in, in aircraft like Wellingtons so perhaps they’d fly on ops in something, you know, twin engined, and were then moved, yeah, to 61 Squadron wasn’t it? So yeah. Interesting.
FM: Again, some of the interesting things you find in the logbook after one of the operations they didn’t land at Syerston and they landed [unclear] they were then because their aircraft and the thing actually it may have been 4270 which was damaged and they flew back to Syerston and he flew back as a mid-upper back from England where the base was at Duxford or —
DE: Yeah.
FM: Bottesford. To Syerston, and he was mid-upper and the pilot was Flight Lieutenant Hopgood. And then again it turns out Hopgood in the end, they were his, they were down at Syerston introducing, the radial Lancaster being introduced and Hopgood was ferrying a radial Lancaster around Syerston and Harry just hitched a ride as a mid-upper. But it turns out Hopgood, as you probably know turned out to have had a second go at the Mohne Dam.
DE: Yes. A bit of a famous name. Yeah.
FM: Yeah. So they were, they were most, a lot of the Dambusters were selected from that, from Syerston and they formed that squadron command but I guess not from Syerston and of course by that time Harry was obsolete on 9th of March 1943 this [unclear] called the Dambusters.
DE: Yeah. Yeah.
FM: But [unclear] there was fantastic. I mean [unclear] operational place the whole landscape there [unclear] and we really, we’ve had two trips around that area and fantastic bit of landscape. Unfortunately, when we went into this with my aunt [unclear] who is now dead they wouldn’t let us on the day for security reasons and she and my cousin went back to London and my wife and I went back the next day and chanced our arm at the gate and spoke in the intercom and explained we were just over from Australia and the guy came down and could take us in, ‘I’ll take you in for five minutes.’ [unclear] and what have you but Margaret she never did get the chance to actually go on the base even. However, a lot of the side roads you are able to drive up and park right next to the [unclear] where the bays were.
DE: Yeah.
FM: So she at least got a feel of where he had flown from which was pretty, probably pretty emotional for her. Because she was only young. She’d have only been a baby. Very young. Well young. During her early, in her teens when her brother was killed she was. Yeah. So she actually joined the WAAFs towards the tail end of the war. She must only have been about seventeen.
DE: Oh right. Ok.
FM: She was a WAAF until the war finished.
DE: Do you think the —
FM: So I don’t, I don’t know Dan what else I can add. I mean I could ramble all day. I’m not sure what you really want.
DE: Well, you’ve answered most of my questions. I understand now your new project you’re looking at sort of a maritime trilogy is it?
FM: Yeah. I I had again a lot of my things become not necessarily coincidences in my family and what have you. My grandfather on my mother’s side was with the Royal Irish Reg. He was a runner in the First World War. I did as part of that exhibition in Hobart I did a space based on the Great War including some information on his background and I visited a friend of mine in Melbourne with the Sandringham Yacht Club. I understand that he sailed [unclear] actually he sailed from Sandringham Yacht Club. It turned out there was a eighty five metre 1917 British submarine which they brought to Australia in 1918. One of five and in the end they [unclear] scuttling it at the breakwater at Sandringham and it lies there to its massive hulk. So I did a [unclear] from that and that led me in to all the maritime information. My daughter is up in Queensland near Fraser Island. At the back of Fraser Island there’s a boat called, a ship called the Moheno. The Moheno was built in in Dumbarton in Scotland in 1904. She was the New Zealand Steamship Company but they brought it to New Zealand and took it back and converted it into a hospital ship and it served Gallipoli.
DE: Oh right. Ok.
FM: [unclear] Then locally here we have working, having a worked in the museum here I knew of a vessel called the Nairana. Now, the Nairana as it turns out because [unclear] I started looking at history of the different vessels it turns out it was built in the same shipyard as the Moheno in Dumbarton. And the Nairana was a fantastic looking vessel because they converted into an aircraft carrier in 1917 which is [unclear] livery. So you got this, these two vessels built in the same place for two totally different functions and in the Great War and off the back of [unclear] the aircraft by gantry from the back of the carrier in 1917. I mean that was, aircraft were only flying what five years or something from their invention. This thing was very much it appears the dazzle had been very [unclear]
DE: Yeah. Yeah. Dazzle paint’s fantastic, isn’t it?
FM: [unclear] 1911.
DE: Yeah.
FM: [unclear] if you like but the aircraft was picked up [unclear] there was an aircraft called [unclear] one, two, three of the top of my head and they were built in Belfast from where I was born. So there was a bit of a Belfast link there and also in that the Nairana at the end of its service went back to Australia. It was refurbished at Harland and Wolff Shipyard [unclear] that was built in East Belfast and then it came and it served between that and the Tasman run between Melbourne and Tasmania until 1948. So again, yes I did that maritime thing with bringing past and present together if you like. I did it on the Moheno on Fraser Island and took a lot of photographs and I presume that Maritime Exhibition is until the 19th. Yeah. But again [unclear] even though it, even if it’s maritime it still has the actual flavour of —
DE: Yeah.
FM: Past. Bringing past and present together.
DE: And the geographical connections as well. I’m just, I’m just looking at my notes and some of the questions I’d put. I think I read or heard somewhere that during some of your research you were, you got in touch with a family member of one of your uncle’s crew.
FM: Yes. Well, I I exchanged emails many years ago with, I think it was Young. A Canadian crew. And it was a bit strange. I’d go on to the emails but they weren’t enthusiastic emails [unclear] and whether it was a brother or uncle I’m not quite sure but sort of lost that chunk out. And the only other one that I sort of come across was the machine gunner called Briggs. He was called Briggs and he was only twenty two and he actually appears, there’s a photograph of him in the last few years. More recent form of publication for the Lancaster Association. I had a query if it was him. A guy called Jack Waltham who lives in [unclear] sorry in Newark and [unclear] giving them to the Lancaster Association to publish by this Jack Waltham and I have a telephone number for him. I actually wrote a letter to him because I would have liked to have got a copy of that photograph but I’ve had no response.
DE: Oh right. Ok.
FM: But at least I have a magazine with a photograph.
DE: Yeah.
FM: Of one guy, a twenty three year old in it. So other than that that’s the only sort of contact I managed to have with any sort of vaguely any crew. I’d love to get a photograph of the crew but I haven’t been lucky with that forthcoming. I don’t know how whether there were any taken or what have you.
DE: Yeah. I don’t know. I mean it always astonishes me that you know so many years after the, after the events that people keep coming forward with, with photographs and you know bits of memorabilia and things like logbooks and letters and diaries and those sorts of things so, yeah.
FM: The only photograph I have of Uncle Harry in uniform I don’t know where it was taken. [It came in a case] with my grandfather but there doesn’t seem to be any insignia at all on his tunic. But it’s pretty [unclear] formal tunic but I can’t see any. He actually looks quite old in it. He was. He was probably older than the rest, any of the crew at twenty seven when he was killed.
DE: Yeah.
FM: And the pilot was twenty six. Most of the crew were around the mid-twenties other than the two, the gunners was only twenty two sort of age. But I haven’t any of him in any sort of formal [unclear] insignia or what have you. I do have, sort of in here medals and that sort of stuff and in [unclear] I have the one that was awarded to him for service because there was no campaign medal as you know for, for bomber crew and you know three or four years ago they did actually strike a bar with a —
DE: Yeah. The Bomber Command clasp. Yeah.
FM: And the clasp. Yeah. And when I was there she [unclear] gave that to me myself from that year because she had a medal collection. So yeah.
DE: Yeah.
FM: If you’re interested I have actually got sitting in front of me here on the table is my, one of my nieces who lives in Belfast she sent me a poppy from the poppies that were exhibited in the Tower of London.
DE: Oh yes.
FM: There was like thirty thousand of them and she, at the end of it they sold them off and she bought one. Beautifully packaged they were. A really good project they did. She sent me that and I, what I did with that [unclear] I have it mounted on a beautiful slab of blackwood which is a Tasmanian timber with part of a shell case inverted and that, then the stem comes up through that and on the shell case I have engraved my uncle’s name, my father’s name, service number plus my wife’s, my wife’s from Tasmania, her dad and what have you all served with the Australian Army in North Africa, Borneo and what have you. And my grandfather named [unclear] I’ll send you a photograph of that if I can bring it up on the internet. It’s just a really nice piece of sculpture. I mean it was a fantastic project the installation they made in the Tower of London.
DE: Yeah. It was. Yeah. Yeah. It really was.
FM: So rather than just keeping the poppy I made a sort of [feature] of it and I actually included that in the Hobart exhibition of 2015 as part of the [unclear]. Yeah.
DE: Smashing.
FM: Quite coincidentally in the 2015 exhibition I, there was a bit of, particularly a local Legacy here which is a bit like the British Legion. They look after wives and families of ex-servicemen and a guy I met who was a pilot in the helicopters in Vietnam. He got the DFC. A guy called Peter [unclear] Through Peter I had a table and I actually sat next to him for the two weeks it was on and I paid for three panels and they were one from the Great War period, one for the 1939/45, some post-war things and I created part, I’d done a sort of preparation of imagery as a sort of background imagery and the bottom I gridded it up and people who visited the exhibition were invited to put something on the bottom segment of these paintings and they were up for auction. For sale at auction then all the money raised from those three paintings went to Legacy.
DE: Oh, that’s a good idea. Yeah.
FM: Some very interesting people came in and gave me a whole range of thumb prints on that. Some from ex-Lancaster crew [unclear] who was Australian who flew DFC [unclear] years ago and a lot of interesting people came through and put a thumbprint. Then I took them away, worked on the painting and people then could bid for them.
DE: Wow, ok. Yeah.
FM: Initially the poppy inspired me. I did some wood blocks based on the poppy installation. That was going to be too complicated so the thumbprints were the second best thing and that turned out actually better. Much more personal.
DE: Yeah. Definitely. I mean some people, some people collect signatures but a thumbprint is, is —
FM: Yeah.
DE: Yeah. Ok. I just have, I just have one more question that I usually ask in these sorts of interviews. It’s just how, how you feel about the way Bomber Command is being remembered. I just wondered you know if you have a different perspective from some because you know you’ve seen how it’s remembered in the UK and in Australia.
FM: Mixed feelings because only recently a book was being published that mentioned Bomber Harris. And they make Bomber Harris out to be an ogre of course. I mean they mention I think that Bomber Command went too far with their bombing too and they perhaps didn’t really need to but I I can understand why [unclear] much longer. So I have mixed feelings about it. Some [unclear] in the community perhaps think it shouldn’t have happened in terms of how they went about it. I’m perhaps more sympathetic as to why they had to do it. I mean my, my mother was actually at the receiving end of the Blitz. They called it the Blitz in Belfast in 1941 because she, we grew up in East Belfast. My brother was born. My brother was like one year old and my father was away in Africa and my mother’s house, she remembered the Blitz and [unclear] coming down. And lucky enough after the second wave they had taken her out to the country so back home the house was demolished. So family wise was quite an interface out of that fact that Britain had [unclear] as Churchill said they’d sown the wind, they shall inherit the whirlwind but I can, I can understand that attitude. And the things is all the Northern Irish men were all volunteers. There was no conscription in Northern Ireland so we were very much there voluntarily for whatever they were [unclear]
DE: Yeah.
FM: If you like, which is another story.
DE: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
FM: Well, Dan I don’t know what else [unclear] I’ve answered all your questions or made them more confusing but —
DE: No. It’s been wonderful. It’s really interesting. Yeah. Thank you very much unless you can think of anything else to add I shall, I shall press stop on the recording now. But [pause] yeah.
FM: Well, [unclear] one thing I’ll do I’ll forward you a photograph from the internet if I can bring it up on the poppy sculpture. Because I think that link [unclear] which are down here. Yeah. So, as I say if you have any other specific questions [unclear] if you want to ask by email or something I’m happy to reply to you.
DE: Smashing. Yeah.
FM: There are, there have been a number of articles. In fact, you can probably access them. There was an article with a guy who did an interview and it appeared in the Belfast, a weekend Belfast paper 2019. The guy lives in Canada. America. From Los Angeles actually. A writer. He contacted me after the [unclear] exhibition in 2019 and he publicised [unclear] with his family background and there’s a double page spread in the Belfast Sunday paper talking about [unclear] operations in their family. What he did and [unclear] and what have you.
DE: Right.
FM: And it also appeared, a similar article was printed in the, in the Irish Herald in California prior to that so there are other people’s websites. It gave a potted story about [unclear]
DE: Okey dokey.
FM: Questions [unclear] and then he put it all together and he was a professional journalist he went on to publish them. Yeah.
DE: Right. Well yeah, we can have a look for that.
FM: Yeah. I could ramble on as I say which I’d probably be repeating myself after a while. The only thing that Durnbach as a cemetery was fantastic. It was a beautiful location. It took my wife three hours to get to it because we were staying at [unclear] which was about thirty kilometre from the main route. You were directed by the scenic country route and the Germans are worse than the Irish for giving directions I can tell you. It took us a long time to find the cemetery and they didn’t call it a war cemetery they call it a soldier’s cemetery. The local population there. But we found it eventually and had a look at that. My son actually had been there the year before.
DE: Ok.
FM: With his then partner. He’s since married her and they were tourists. They toured around. They went by car and just coincidentally when he was there [unclear] out of nowhere no people, very quiet and while they were sitting at the headstones of the crew there was a fly past of a jet aircraft.
DE: Oh wow.
FM: They did a pass and did a half wing pass over the cemetery because I think [unclear] is still an American base not far from Munich. May have been probably again coincidental but it was were quite strange that this happened.
DE: Yeah.
FM: [unclear] flew over the cemetery.
DE: It was. Yeah. It felt quite poignant I imagine. Yeah.
FM: Yeah. But the cemetery itself is in a brilliant location. A brilliant location. Real atmosphere. Yeah. Yeah. And hopefully my piece of the Lancaster is still at the headstone.
DE: I’m sure it is because, yeah no one else is going to go digging around there are they? So, yeah. Right. I shall press, press stop on the recording. Right.



Dan Ellin, “Interview with Fred McCullough,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 2, 2023,

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