Interview with Keith Campbell. One


Interview with Keith Campbell. One


Keith Campbell grew up in New South Wales and joined the Royal Australian Air Force when he was old enough. He flew 35 operations as a bomb aimer with 466 Squadron from RAF Leconfield and RAF Driffield before being shot down. He became a prisoner of war and took part in the long march.



IBCC Digital Archive




Julie Williams


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00:56:45 audio recording






DG: This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. My name is Donald Gould and I am interviewing Keith Campbell of the Pacific Highway in Sydney. And you just speak from there and that’s fine. What is your name Keith?
KC: Keith Campbell.
DG: And how old are you Keith?
KC: Ninety two years, Don.
DG: Where were you born?
KC: Oh, in the city of Bathurst.
DG: That’s in the country of New South Wales. What, what did you parents do there?
KC: My father was an engineer in the railways.
DG: Right.
KC: Course in those days Bathurst was quite a large depot.
DG: It would have been.
KC: For steam trains.
DG: The railways.
KC: Yes.
DG: Yes. Yes, certainly. And where did you go to school?
KC: After a couple of years in Bathurst my father was transferred to the West Tamworth branch of the New South Wales Government Railways to take charge of the depot there and after, well, being about two at this stage I think aged five or thereabouts, it might have been a bit before I went to kindergarten. Preschool as it’s called now and subsequently went to junior school at the Tamworth School complex and subsequently went to high school where I spent five years and ended up with my leaving, leaving certificate.
DG: And that was in Tamworth.
KC: That was in Tamworth High School.
DG: Yes. Another country town of New South Wales.
KC: Well yes that was [?]
DG: Where were you when the war broke out?
KC: At school.
DG: In Tamworth.
KC: In Tamworth.
DG: And how, how old would you have been then? Around eight, er no about-
KC: Oh war broke out on -
DG: Sixteen. Something.
KC: 3rd of September.
DG: ‘39.
KC: ‘39. I was, what was I? My birthday was on the 18th of September so I would have been about seventeen, sixteen.
DG: Sixteen.
KC: Ahum.
DG: And at, and at that stage what, just as the war broke out and you were still at school did you have any thoughts that you might end up going, going to war? Or were you thinking that it might all be over in a couple of years or what was happening?
KC: I’m sure most of us thought we would be going to the war one way or another.
DG: Right.
KC: My father had been in the Australian Flying Corps during the first war so I immediately said, ‘If I go I’m going in the air force.’
DG: And you, you, you went into the air force because your father had been in the air force.
KC: Well that was one -
DG: And that was one of the -
KC: One of the main incentives and the air force appealed rather than the other services.
DG: Why was that?
KC: Flying.
DG: Oh right. Did you have, did you want to fly? Was it something you wanted to do?
KC: Well, ever since the mid ‘30s when Kingsford Smith was doing his barnstorming tours I had, my father gave me five shillings to do a circuit with Kingsford Smith in the Southern Cross and ever since then I’d been hooked on flying.
DG: And had you, although the war broke out had you or when you were at school had you any thoughts about what you might do? Apart from going to the war of course. Before that happened did you have any thoughts of what you might do when you left school?
KC: Oh. I wanted to be an analytical chemist.
DG: Right. Did you ever follow that up in the future?
KC: I followed that up, had an interview and I was told that if I took the position it was a reserved occupation so I abandoned it.
DG: Oh right. Ok. And how did you, how did you come to join the air force? When you decided you’d join and you went along to one of the recruitment centres I presume and -
KC: Well, I was eighteen in, whatever -
DG: Oh that’s alright. At eighteen you went along -
KC: And then I went. The nearest recruiting centre was at Newcastle.
DG: Right.
KC: So the 31st of December 1941 I was accepted into the reserve of the RAAF and duly received my Reserve badge.
DG: And what did they, what did they do with you then? Where did they, send you somewhere for training or -
KC: No. When you are on the reserve you just had to -
DG: Oh I see. Yeah.
KC: There was such a -
DG: Right.
KC: Oversupply of potential aircrew -
DG: Yes.
KC: That you just had to wait your turn.
DG: Right. Right. And then when you, when you were called up, where, where did you go?
KC: Well during the, about four or five months before I was called up a group of five of us who were also on the reserve in Tamworth and we used to do Morse code and aircraft recognition and similar things to that to prepare us for the possible future.
DG: Right.
KC: And in May I was called up to QITS at Bradfield Park in Sydney.
DG: Oh that, oh that seems to be a very popular spot.
KC: Well that was, all the New South Wales people started there.
DG: Oh did they? Oh I see. Right.
KC: They were put there as AC2s.
DG: And what, what did they do, what did you do there?
KC: You did some basic exercises. Training and indoctrination in to the air force. Discipline, laws and conduct and various assessment interviews to see what you would, to see what they would assess you as. Where you would go.
DG: And what did they assess you for?
KC: Initially they said I was going to be a pilot.
DG: Right. And that, did that eventuate?
KC: No.
DG: Oh right [laughs]. What happened?
KC: I was ready to go to be posted to a training centre but one morning on parade they announced that there was a shortage of observers in the schools in Canada and anyone that volunteered would go within the week.
DG: Right.
KC: Well the temptation for overseas trip was too great so -
DG: Oh right.
KC: I was one of the twenty or thirty that volunteered and we did go within the week or two.
DG: Oh right. So you weren’t at Bradfield for very long?
KC: Only a couple or three months.
DG: Right. And what happened when you got to Canada? Whereabouts, whereabouts did you go in Canada?
KC: Well we could be shipped from Hobart.
DG: Right.
KC: To San Francisco.
DG: Right.
KC: And we called in to Pearl Harbour on the way and saw the devastation.
DG: Oh right.
KC: The Japanese raid had made on the American navy.
DG: Yes.
KC: And then disembarked at San Francisco. Caught the train to Vancouver. Had a wonderful trip across the Rockies.
DG: Yes.
KC: To Edmonton.
DG: Right.
KC: And then we were put in the camp there for further assessment.
DG: And what, and what did they, how did they assess you there?
KC: I was, most days an observer. An observer consisted of navigation and bombing.
DG: Oh right.
KC: And by the time we got to Canada it had been re-categorised as a bomb aimer or a navigator.
DG: Right.
KC: And I was one of the ones categorised as a bomb aimer.
DG: Ok.
KC: And I went to the Bombing and Gunnery School at Lethbridge in Alberta.
DG: Do you know what they, you said they assessed you to be a bomb aimer. What did they, what did they do to judge your abilities or whatever to decide that that sort of thing would suit you?
KC: I think they -
DG: Do you have any idea?
KC: A to N were bomb aimers M to Z were navigators [laughs].
DG: Oh right. So -
KC: I don’t know.
DG: It was, no. No. Ok.
KC: I’m sure they just checked your records.
DG: Right. Yes. Not terribly scientific perhaps.
KC: I don’t think, not at that stage.
DG: And, and when did, have you, can you remember when you finished your training there and went to, to England?
KC: Well, spent about three months at Lethbridge Bombing and Gunnery School and then went to Edmonton to Navigation School and spent, I suppose, another three or four months there.
DG: I should, I should ask you that yes. The training there. I’d skipped over that. The training you, so you did some training in bomb aiming and some in navigation.
KC: Navigation. Yes.
DG: And how did you, what were your, what were your feelings? What? Regardless of what they asked you to do. What would, what did you like the idea of being? A bomb aimer or a navigator?
KC: I just wanted to fly [laughs].
DG: Oh right [laughs] and so how, how did they, they train you in bomb aiming. What did they, how did they do it, did they take you up and show you how to use the sights and all of this sort of thing I assume.
KC: Well, firstly, you had to learn how to use the bomb sight.
DG: Right.
KC: Which was the, the early bomb sight. Not the mark 14 and we went up, about four of us went up in an Anson and dropped nine pound practice bombs on the target and did that for oh however long it took and after about fifty or so bombs I suppose over that period and interspersed, interspersed with that was gunnery as well. We used to fly up in a Fairey Battle and -
DG: Right.
KC: Or something similar.
DG: So you did drop a few bombs.
KC: Oh well nine pound practice bombs.
DG: Oh that’s right. Yes, I missed, yes. Yes, that’s right. And what about the navigation? What sort of, what sort of training did you get with the navigation?
KC: Oh you had to do your star shots. Use of a sextant.
DG: Oh right.
KC: And how to operate the navigation instruments.
DG: Right.
KC: Sorry. Now, I’ve forgotten most of it.
DG: Yes. Yes.
KC: In the -
DG: Sorry.
KC: In the meantime we enjoyed the wonderful hospitality of the Canadian people.
DG: And how did you find that? They looked after you well, did they?
KC: Superbly.
DG: Excellent. And then when, when did you go to the UK?
KC: We -
DG: Any idea of what -
KC: We received our wings in, I think it was the end of May or June 1943.
DG: Right.
KC: We thought we knew everything.
DG: I bet you did.
KC: And after, I think it was two weeks leave, we ended up in Halifax waiting for a ship to go to UK.
DG: And where did they send you when you arrived?
KC: We arrived at Liverpool and after the bright lights and no restrictions in Canada it was a very different country we arrived at. It was blackout.
DG: Oh yeah.
KC: Everything was rationed.
DG: Right.
KC: And it was a country at war.
DG: Totally different.
KC: Totally different.
DG: And where did they, what base or centre?
KC: Well from there we all went to the RAAF centre at Brighton -
DG: Right.
KC: Which was a holding centre for air crew until they found space for them at the training stations.
DG: Right. Were you there very long?
KC: I was there for about two to three weeks I think.
DG: Right. And where did they send you after that?
KC: After that we went to, what was called AFU Advanced Training Unit at Pwllheli in North Wales where we just, we were acclimatised to the conditions in England.
DG: Right.
KC: For crowded skies, fog and -
DG: Ok.
KC: Aircraft everywhere you could see.
DG: Yes.
KC: And we thought we were, we were trained. We very soon found out we, what we didn’t know.
DG: And they gave you more thorough then in er, and were you doing that in bomb aiming or any navigation there?
KC: Well as a, mainly in bomb aiming.
DG: Right.
KC: And some navigation.
DG: And were you there very long?
KC: A couple of months I think.
DG: Right. And what happened after that?
KC: After that we were sent to Operational Training Unit.
DG: Right.
KC: Which was really the start of serious training.
DG: Yes.
KC: We all, I forget how many. it was probably about twenty of each category.
DG: Right.
KC: Pilots, navigators, bomb aimers, gunners and wireless -
DG: Ah.
KC: Operators.
DG: Yeah
KC: Put them all together in a hangar and said, ‘Right. Sort yourselves out as a crew.’
DG: I’ve heard that. And how did you go about finding a crew?
KC: It seemed a very haphazard way of doing things.
DG: Yes.
KC: But it turned out remarkably well. You just talked to people and if they seemed compatible –
DG: Yes.
KC: Said, ‘Well I’m looking for a pilot.’ And he said, ‘Well I’m looking for a bomb aimer. Let’s team up.’
DG: Right.
KC: And then you’d go and talk to someone else who might be a navigator.
DG: And did you did you pick up your whole crew at that stage?
KC: The five crew.
DG: What did that, while you were talking. Right, yeah.
KC: The five crew of a Wellington.
DG: Oh yes, of course. Right ok.
KC: A training station.
DG: Did the Wellington have a flight engineer?
KC: No.
DG: Right. Just had a, what crew did a Wellington have?
KC: Pilot, navigator, bomb aimer, signaller and gunner.
DG: Ah right ok. Were you all Australians?
KC: As it happened we were.
DG: Right.
KC: Lichfield seemed to be an Australian centre.
DG: Oh I see. Yes. Yes.
KC: There were other RAF people there and Canadians and -
DG: And did -
KC: New Zealanders.
DG: And then did you, did you, did you do your further training there at Lichfield with your newly found crew?
KC: Yes, you flew as a crew from then on.
DG: Right.
KC: And learned the responsibilities to each other -
DG: Yes.
KC: You soon learned that you had to be completely compatible and er because each one’s life depended on the other ones.
DG: Yes. Yes. And how long were you at Lichfield?
KC: From memory about three months.
DG: Right. And then did you go to a squadron? [or whatever?]
KC: No.
DG: Or whatever?
KC: We went from there to an advanced, to a conversion unit where we transferred from Wellingtons to the four engine aircraft which we’d be flying on a squadron.
DG: And what, and what plane was that?
KC: That was the Halifax. The Halifax mark ii at that stage we were flying at con unit.
DG: And you -
KC: There we picked up another engineer, another gunner and an engineer. Both were RAF.
DG: Right. And then after that did you go to a squadron?
KC: When we finished our conversion unit and passed out.
DG: Yes.
KC: We went to 466 squadron based at Leconfield.
DG: Where is that? What county.
KC: In Yorkshire.
DG: And did you stay at that, with that squadron all the way through the war? 466.
KC: I stayed with 466 but early June 466 transferred from Leconfield to Driffield. Also in Yorkshire.
DG: And then for the rest of the war? Was it from Driffield?
KC: For the rest of my war it was.
DG: From your, yes. Yes. From your - Ok. And did you only fly the Halifax?
KC: Yes. Driffield, 466 squadron had very recently traded in, for want of a better word, their Wellingtons on to the new mark iii Halifax.
DG: Right.
KC: Which was a superb aircraft. Was -
DG: Did you prefer to the Halifax to the other -
KC: Well you didn’t have a choice.
DG: I know but I mean just, did you, did you have any, did you, you felt, did you enjoy flying in that more than -
KC: Having flown in a -
DG: Halifax.
KC: Halifax it it, I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t have wanted a better aeroplane.
DG: Oh right. Oh well that, that’s good to fly in something that, that you enjoy doing.
KC: Complete confidence.
DG: A plane that you enjoy.
KC: It performed well. Had, with the new radial engines their performance was outstanding.
DG: What sort of engine did the Halifax have? A radial?
KC: Four radial engines um oh Hercules.
DG: Are they, were they Rolls Royce?
KC: No.
DG: Oh, no. Do you know who made those?
KC: No.
DG: I had, oh well I -
KC: Rolls Royce made Merlins.
DG: Yes. Yes, no, ok. What was the daily life like on, on the base?
KC: Well the -
DG: Daily routines.
KC: Very relaxed. As much as you did what you needed to do. Attended every lecture, parade or things like that. Turned up at the bombing section every morning and compared notes from the people that’d flown previously on raids and generally acquainted yourself with the other crews.
DG: Did you, did you have any sort of roster in so far as did you have, were there times when you’d be on flying duty and then times when you’d have a little bit of leave for a few days or something like that?
KC: Generally after you flew for six weeks and then got a week’s leave.
DG: What did you do on your week’s leave? What sort of activities did you get up to?
KC: The whole of England to explore.
DG: And did you?
KC: As far as possible. Yes.
DG: And you enjoyed that?
KC: Oh very much.
DG: How did you get around?
KC: You had, we were given a rail pass to wherever we wanted to go. So I used to get a rail pass as far north in Scotland as I could which gave me unlimited scope.
DG: You enjoyed Scotland?
KC: Very much.
DG: And when you’ve, after leave, when if you were on flying, six weeks that you were on flying duty what was the sort of routine then?
KC: Well, you’d wake up in the morning and have a look, see whether you were on flying duty and if you were on, on that night you prepared yourself for going to briefing, getting your gear ready and going out to the aircraft.
DG: So, how much, how much of your day was taken up in that preparation from the time that you first started.
KC: Oh.
DG: Getting things to -
KC: Generally the raids were at night so the briefing was afternoon and by the time you got your charts in order and time for dinner and from there you just were taken out to the aircraft by the girls in the transport section and waited until take-off.
DG: Did you have to do any checking out in the aircraft earlier in the day or were you just pretty much just did those final checks when you got out to the aircraft then?
KC: Well, from my point of view there wasn’t much to check.
DG: No. No, we’ve, no, I see. Yeah. Yeah
KG: The pilot used to go out and make sure that everything was oh according to him it was ok.
DG: Yeah. What, how did you, how did you feel? What were your nerves like? What were you, what did you think about when you were going out on a mission?
KC: Oh.
DG: Did you, were you nervous? Were you worried or -
KC: No. No. I don’t think so. You knew what, you knew what you were doing. You knew the odds and, well, I accepted them.
DG: Yeah. And what, now, that was when you were getting ready to go. Did that, did you still feel the same way as during the mission. Did things change or did you just feel pretty much the same all the way through?
KC: I did.
DG: Yes.
KC: Didn’t have time to do myself. By the time I’d done map reading and one of my other jobs was operate the H2S which was a navigation instrument and I had a fairly full time job there.
DG: There was, there was a navigator on the Halifax isn’t there?
KC: Oh yes.
DG: But the bomb aimer operated the H2S did he?
KC: It was up to each individual crew.
DG: Oh right.
KC: The -
DG: I’d understood the H2S was a navigation aid -
KC: It was.
DG: So I presumed the navigator had done it.
KC: Oh it’s a navigation, Gee and H2S -
DG: Yes.
KC: Were navigation. We worked it out between them that I’d done navigation training in Canada.
DG: Right.
KC: So he would operate the Gee and the charts and do all the setting courses and I would operate the H2S.
DG: How many missions did you fly Keith?
KC: Thirty three.
DG: Crikey. So you did your, you did your tour.
KC: Well the tour in those days was flexible.
DG: Oh was it?
KC: Up to, probably up to forty.
DG: Oh I see.
KC: We started off, I arrived on the squadron at, I think it was just after Christmas ‘43 and we spent the next six weeks on the squadron doing training on the Halifax and becoming proficient as a crew.
DG: And did you have any, did you have any memorable experiences from your, from your missions or were they all pretty routine?
KC: No. Well, they were routine in as much as you had, you flew there, changed course to there and somewhere else and changed course on your run up to the target and -
DG: Did you have any interesting situations -
KC: Oh many.
DG: Arise? Could you just tell me about a couple of them? Some of the interesting ones.
KC: Well, going over the coast there was, first there was a belt of searchlights from Denmark to Spain and you had to fly across those.
DG: Right.
KC: And as far as possible avoid the concentrations where you knew there were flak guns and from the time you got over the coast which was the coast of the bombers be very aware that there were potential enemy fighters around.
DG: And did you have, did you, can recall any, any attacks by night fighters on your plane?
KC: Oh yes.
DG: Yes. You get -
KC: Fortunately most of them we, the gunners saw the plane.
DG: Right.
KC: And they gave it, well the gunners tracked the fighter in and then gave the pilot the order to corkscrew port or starboard as the case may be and hopefully discourage the fighter.
DG: And you obviously survived those.
KC: We survived those, yes.
DG: And what about flak? Did you get hit by flak at all?
KC: Every target was infested with flak.
DG: Yes. And not enough to bring you down.
KC: Oh yes. If you got coned over the target you were -
DG: Yeah.
KC: Hopeless.
DG: Well did you, did you come back from all missions ok? Or did you -
KC: From thirty three missions, yes.
DG: Right.
KC: The thirty fourth was a disaster.
DG: You didn’t ever have to bale out or anything exciting like that?
KC: Yes, on our last raid on Stuttgart in July ‘44 we were coming home and another aircraft ran, ran up our rear.
DG: Crikey.
KC: Which upset the whole scheme of things.
DG: And what, and what happened? Obviously the plane came down but what were you aware of. What, what was happening what were you aware of while this was happening?
KC: I was at the front of the Halifax, had just finished dropping the bombs and doing the check on the bomb panel and during the bombing run I used to lean on my parachute and sometimes it would [roll way out of it] the clips on the harness used to, clips on the harness used to connect with the ones on the parachute. On this occasion I was fortunate that the parachute was connected ‘cause I heard an explosion. I heard someone say, ‘Bloody hell.’ The next thing I knew I was about ten thousand feet underneath a parachute in the night skies outside of Stuttgart
DG: So you, you, you were out without really recognising it. You weren’t consciously trying -
KC: No.
DG: To find your way, working out how to get out. You were just out.
KC: I didn’t have a choice. I just went straight through the front.
DG: Right. And how high did you say you were?
KC: Oh about twenty thousand.
DG: Twenty? Oh golly. And it took you a little while to reach the ground.
KC: Well I came to at, I think, at about ten thousand where the oxygen level was sufficient.
DG: Oh yes. Yes.
KC: The force of the, I can only assume the force of the explosion opened my parachute because I have no recollection whatsoever of opening it.
DG: Heaven’s above. And did you, were you very cold? At that altitude you would have been cold. You’d have your flying suit I suppose.
KC: Yes.
DG: But you’d have been pretty
KC: I wasn’t
DG: Pretty chilly.
KC: I wasn’t conscious of being cold.
DG: Right. Yes.
KC: That’s, where I was and what I was doing there.
DG: Yeah, and you landed. Did you injure yourself or were you -
KC: Fortunately, no.
DG: Right.
KC: I landed in a field and rolled over a few times and took my parachute off and found a tree and hid it, hid it under that and assessed my situation.
DG: Did you see anybody else come out of the plane? Did you -
KC: No.
DG: Did you ever find out what happened to the others?
KC: They were all killed.
DG: Were, and, dear oh dear. That was tremendous luck for you.
KC: It was.
DG: Unbelievable. And you didn’t have a reception committee there when you landed.
KC: No. I took off for, at about 3, 2 o’clock in the morning and I looked up and saw in the sky aircraft heading for home [laughs].
DG: Oh golly. Yeah.
KC: Good luck to them.
DG: Yes.
KC: I could see them up there.
DG: Oh golly. What a lucky fellow.
KC: And I spent about three days sort of wandering around Germany with the ultimate aim of trying to get to the Swiss border but in Germany proper it was fairly hopeless.
DG: So you weren’t able to evade being captured.
KC: Well, eventually, I used to hide up of a day and walk at night with the aid of the compass we had.
DG: Right.
KC: And I think it was the third night I was starting out to walk at dusk and a truck came down the road. It was too late to hide.
DG: Yes.
KC: So I just kept on walking and he stopped to give me a lift and I tried to make out I was a French worker but he knew far more French than I did.
DG: Oh dear.
KC: At that stage I was, had very little to eat and wasn’t in particularly good shape.
DG: I was going to ask you, what did you do for food?
KC: Well you had your emergency rations.
DG: Oh right.
KC: Which were very basic but -
DG: Yes.
KC: Very necessary and if you saw a fruit tree you picked some fruit.
DG: Did you get any meat? Did you -
KC: No.
DG: Right. And what was this fellow that picked you up? Who was, who was he? Was he -
KC: He was a farmer.
DG: Oh right. And this, this was in Germany.
KC: In Germany. Yes.
DG: Yes. Yes. Of course. Yes.
KC: Three days walk out on the west side of Stuttgart.
DG: Yeah. And so, yeah, and so of course he had, well what did he do?
KC: He had his little daughter with him.
DG: Right.
KC: And they were going to market and at that stage I still had a few squares of chocolate left from the rations so I gave the little kid some chocolate.
DG: Right.
KC: And when she found out what to do with it she wanted more but I didn’t have any more and when we got past through the nearest village he stopped and went into the local hotel and brought back two bottles of beer and he gave me one of them.
DG: That was a very nice fellow.
KC: He was. And -
[Phone ringing]
KC: Excuse me.
DG: Just pausing the interview for a moment.
DG: We’re continuing again now. So, he bought you a bottle of beer and what did, what did he do with you then?
KC: He took me to the local police station.
DG: Oh right.
KC: And from then on I was a POW.
DG: And how did the police treat you?
KC: Reasonably well.
DG: Yes.
KC: I was taken over then by some army people who took me to the nearest, I think it was a RAF station, and there I met with about eight or nine other air crew who had been picked up. Presumably from the same raid.
DG: Yes.
KC: And from there we were taken to Stuttgart and put on a train to the interrogation centre at Frankfurt.
DG: Right.
KC: That was an experience too of course. The RAF were still raiding Stuttgart and we were on the platform waiting for a train and an air raid siren went and there was a raid and I think there was about four or five German guards looking after us and the civilian population were very, very hostile.
DG: Ah.
KC: The ones that were at the railway station.
DG: Yes.
KC: And the guards turned their bayonets outwards.
DG: Right.
KC: To, we were valuable property.
DG: Yes. Yes.
KC: And we were subsequently taken down to the, one of the cells of the station until the train came in.
DG: Right.
KC: And then we went by train from there to the interrogation centre at Frankfurt.
DG: How long did they interrogate you?
KC: I was there for about a week.
DG: Right. Was it pretty routine sort of questioning?
KC: Fairly routine. Yes
DG: Yes.
KC: Who you are. Yes. Can I have your name, rank and number? What squadron? I can’t answer that. And all these questions I can’t answer. He was a very, well I say, decent German.
DG: Yes.
KC: He’d spent four or five years in England pre-war and he knew, he knew very well we weren’t supposed to answer the questions.
DG: Yes.
KC: And he said well don’t worry about it. Pressed the button. A girl came in. He spoke to her in German. She came back with a file and he said your squadron is 466. You’re stationed at Leconfield. Your CO is so and so. Your flight commanders are, whoever they were and your local village is Beverley. The barmaid’s number in the Beverley Arms is so and so.
DG: Right.
KC: And there’s nothing you can really tell us.
DG: Yeah. Yes I suppose you couldn’t.
KC: I think a more, a more senior person would have been, had a much more severe interrogation.
DG: Yes. Yes. And you went to a POW camp after that?
KC: Yes.
DG: And how long, from, can you remember how long you were in the POW camp till the end of the war?
KC: We started off in the interrogation centre to go to the POW camp at a place called Bankauer in Poland. Near, quite near Breslau. The Red Cross were marvellous to us. They, what clothing we didn’t have they made up for us. They gave us food parcels.
DG: Right.
KC: Looked after us.
DG: And these were obviously getting through to you.
KC: Well, in those days -
DG: Of course.
KC: They were yeah. And they gave us a parcel between two of us for the train trip.
DG: Right.
KC: And subsequently after about three or four days travelling on a very slow train and we arrived at the POW camp.
DG: And how, how long were you there until the war ended?
KC: I arrived in the camp probably about, shot down on the 25th of July and by the time I got to the camp it would be about the middle of August.
DG: What year was that?
KC: ‘44 ’45.
DG: ’45.
KC: Yeah. No ’44.
DG: 44 Yeah ’44.
KC: 1944.
DG: July ‘44.
KC: Yeah.
DG: So you weren’t there for very long.
KC: I was there till after Christmas.
DG: Right.
KC: And the Russians were making their advance and we were right in the path of it.
DG: Oh right.
KC: So the German Command informed us we were going to be marched across Germany in front of the Russians.
DG: Right.
KC: Because we were apparently valuable personnel.
DG: When people were, there were some people who did have very bad nerves and they would perhaps refuse to fly or something and they’d perhaps be put out for LMF.
KC: Yes.
DG: How did you guys feel about that?
KC: It was a disgusting thing. A man had flown twenty missions and he lost his nerve and he was denigrated.
DG: So you had sympathy for them.
KC: More than sympathy.
DG: Yes. Yes.
KC: It was, I suppose using that as an example to the others, don’t do it.
DG: Yes.
KC: But you were stripped of rank and given the very minor duties to perform.
DG: And when the, how did you, how did you come to be released from the POW camp. What happened?
KC: Well we had to march across Germany from our camp at Breslau across to oh I forget the name of the town -
DG: You were freed by the Russians were you?
KC: No.
DG: I thought they were. Sorry I’m -
KC: We were kept ahead of the Russians.
DG: Oh, I see. Right, yeah. Ok.
KC: ‘Cause they wanted us. The Germans wanted us
DG: Oh yes, sorry. Yes.
KC: And subsequently after a march through the coldest winter in twenty years -
DG: Yeah.
KC: We arrived, I think it was about two or three weeks on the march and then they put us on a train and after spending three nights on a train with seventy people in a cattle truck with no amenities we would have rather been marching.
DG: Yes. Yes.
KC: We eventually arrived at another POW camp at Luckenwalde which was about fifty miles south of Berlin.
DG: That was in Germany now.
KC: In, yeah, Germany proper.
DG: Yes. Yes.
KC: Where we spent the next that would have been probably, March, April.
DG: Right.
KC: And we stayed there and the Russians eventually overran the camp and after considerable problems we were repatriated to, taken by American trucks to the American lines and flown back to England.
DG: And what happened to you after that? In England. When did you, how long were you there before you came back to Australia?
KC: Well there we were taken, taken to Brighton to the RAAF centre. Given medicals and re-equipped with our uniforms and given back the personal belongings that had been kept for us. Or -
DG: Oh right.
KC: Kept to send to, either if we came back, if not they were taken, sent to the relatives.
DG: How was your health when you arrived?
KC: I was reasonably good health.
DG: So you -
KC: Very, lost a lot of weight.
DG: Yes.
KC: And fortunately I was one of the ones that were healthy.
DG: Right. And when did you come back to Australia? Can you -
KC: We spent, we were given a months’ leave.
DG: Right.
KC: With a years’ pay.
DG: Oh right.
KC: And an open rail pass.
DG: Oh good.
KC: I went to stay with various people that I’d known in the UK.
DG: Yes.
KC: And eventually went back to Brighton and was transferred to Liverpool.
DG: Right.
KC: And caught the Orion back to Australia.
DG: And how, when you got back to Australia how, how were you treated? How was Bomber Command or veterans from Bomber Command treated in Australia at that time?
KC: We were taken off the ship, taken to Bradfield Park, checked in and all the administration things done and sent off on leave.
DG: Right.
KC: No tickertape parades. No walk down George Street. Just, off you go.
DG: Were they, they, were they trying to sort of keep it quiet or was it just, that just the way it was?
KC: Just the way it was I suppose.
DG: Right. Yeah.
KC: Being Australia they mainly concentrated on the Japanese war.
DG: Yes at that. Yes.
KC: In many cases Bomber Command weren’t highly regarded.
DG: I gather. Yeah, I gather they weren’t terribly well and did you, were there, were you was you conscious of any ill feeling or -
KC: Oh no.
DG: Was it just not, not terribly, just perhaps not quite as well regarded as much as others perhaps.
KC: Well why you weren’t here fighting for Australia?
DG: Oh I see. Oh. Oh golly.
KC: We didn’t have a choice where we were going.
DG: No, of course you didn’t. Oh, crikey.
KC: Actually, at one stage, I think it was ’44, a lot of, well some air crew received white feathers from people in Australia saying why are you enjoying yourself over in England, lots of leave and occasional exhilarating trips over Germany and that appeared in the Australian papers.
DG: I’ve never heard that. That would have been terribly hurtful to you. What you went through to, yes.
KC: Well the flying conditions over Germany compared to New Guinea and the Isles had very little comparison.
DG: Oh yeah. Totally different.
KC: The living conditions were infinitely worse.
DG: Yes.
KC: ‘Cause we did have reasonably good accommodation.
DG: Yes. Well, how, how long before you were discharged?
KC: Oh I think I got out just before Christmas ’45.
DG: And what did you, what did you do then about, what did you think about doing as your job after that?
KC: Well the first thing I thought of I’ve got all this deferred pay and gratuity. Let’s spend it.
DG: Right.
KC: So the three of us went up to Coolangatta and had a, spent our next two weeks in riotous living as far as riotous living could be -
DG: Yeah. Yeah.
KC: In the village of Coolangatta.
DG: Yeah. Yeah.
KC: It was a very pleasant seaside resort in those days.
DG: And what, and what happened when you got back to reality?
KC: Well, I went back to work.
DG: And what were you doing?
KC: Pre-war I had joined the Department of Main Roads as a cadet draughtsman and I came back and started off with them again. They transferred, transferred me from Tamworth to Sydney. To one of the offices in Sydney.
DG: Oh I see. Yeah.
KC: And I started off civilian life there.
DG: As a draughtsman?
KC: Ahum.
DG: And did you continue that?
KC: No. I had problems with my eyesight.
DG: Oh.
KC: And another position came up and I decided to go there.
DG: And what sort of work was that? In the same department?
KC: No. No, I resigned from there and -
DG: Right.
KC: We had been staying at a private hotel for about seventy to eighty people and my wife and I were offered a chance of buying into the freehold in [Romega?].
DG: Oh right.
KC: I always said if I got out of Germany I would never be hungry again.
DG: Yes.
KC: So the idea of a career in the food industry appealed.
DG: Where, when did you meet your wife?
KC: On our -
DG: Was this before the war?
KC: No. No.
DG: It was after the war. Yeah.
KC: Time in Coolangatta.
DG: Oh I see.
KC: She had been in the women’s air force there as a radio operator.
DG: Right.
KC: And she and a few friends had the same idea of -
DG: Oh right.
KC: Spending deferred pay in Coolangatta.
DG: So you obviously got on well there.
KC: Three years later we were married.
DG: And where were you were living? Oh sorry, in the hotel. Yes.
KC: We were in the accommodation.
DG: No. Of course. Where was that?
KC: At Neutral Bay.
DG: Oh right. And then how long were you there?
KC: Ten years.
DG: Right. And what did you do after that?
KC: Well, at that time we had our family. A boy and a girl and um we went out to, oh what’s the name? My wife’s sister had a, they were living at, oh I can’t remember the suburb.
DG: Oh it doesn’t matter.
KC: Around about the [?]
DG: Yeah.
KC: And we decided to go out there to be with them –
DG: Right.
KC: For a while to - We were having medical problems with one of our children and we needed her family to help my wife to cope with things.
DG: Yes.
KC: And I had been offered a job as a manager of a catering division of a company so I accepted that and spent the rest of my career in catering.
DG: Oh right. Good. Do you, do you keep in touch with any of your old comrades from your –
KC: Well –
DG: From your time in Bomber Command?
KC: In half an hour one is going to be here.
DG: Oh right. Oh good.
KC: That’s who I was on the phone to.
DG: Oh I see. Right. So yeah. Oh that’s very good.
KC: Every June, every first weekend in June the Bomber Command Commemoration Day Foundation hold a weekend in June. A formal commemoration of the Australian Bomber Command Memorial in the sculpture gardens at the memorial and that’s officially done by the Australian War Memorial.
DG: And that is in Canberra.
KC: That’s in Canberra.
DG: Yes.
KC: And the previous Saturday night we have what we call a meet and greet at the ANZAC hall of the war memorial where G George is and we’ve got about two or three hundred people there.
DG: That’s good.
KC: Veterans and friends.
DG: Yes.
KC: And family.
DG: Yes.
KC: And after the Sunday ceremony we have a lunch at the, one of the hotels.
DG: Right.
KC: That’s a very important occasion each year.
DG: Yes. I’m sure you look forward to that to see your old friends.
KC: Ahum.
DG: Yes.
KC: We’re in the middle of organising it now.
DG: Oh good. Good. Well thank you, Keith. I do appreciate the time you’ve taken to talk to me this afternoon.
KC: Well that’s -
DG: And I know there will be many other people in the future that will, will get a lot of pleasure out of being able to hear what you had to say.
KC: There’s a lot more to it but -
DG: I’m sure there is.
KC: You could waffle on indefinitely.
DG: Yes. Thank you very much.


Donald Gould, “Interview with Keith Campbell. One,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed March 22, 2019,

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