Interview with Keith Campbell. Two


Interview with Keith Campbell. Two


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 when, on their thirty first operation another aircraft from their squadron collided with them. All other crew were killed but Keith was thrown from the aircraft and parachuted in to a wheat field. He began to walk towards the Swiss border but was caught and became a poisoner of war.He was first sent to Stalag Luft 7 at Bankau but then was ordered on to the Long March and ended up at Stalag 3A at Luckenwalde from where he escaped the Russians and joined up with the Americans who sent him home.




Temporal Coverage




01:11:55 audio recording

Conforms To


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AP: This interview for the International Bomber Command Centre’s Digital Archive is with Keith Campbell, a 466 Squadron Halifax bomb aimer during World War Two. The interview is taking place at the War Memorial’s theatre in Canberra. We’re here at the War Memorial for a Bomber Command Commemoration that will take place tomorrow. It is the 4th of June 2016. My name’s Adam Purcell. Keith, we’ll start from the beginning if you don’t mind. Can you tell me something of your early life and what you were doing before the war?
KC: Before the war I went to school [laughs] Silly question. I finished my leaving certificate at school. And in 1939 the war had just broken out and like all youngsters of sixteen I couldn’t get in the Air Force soon enough. I wanted to get in the Air Force because my father had been in the Australian Flying Corps in the First War. So obviously I had to follow his footsteps. And when I became seventeen [pause while coughing] Excuse me. Sorry about that. At seventeen I applied to join the Air Force Reserve, which I did and for the next, oh six or eight months myself and [coughing] excuse me, got a sore throat. Six or eight others learned aircraft recognition, basic trigonometry which was all done at school anyway. And Morse. Somehow or other, we had to get up to ten words a minute in Morse. Initially it seemed an impossible task. The lines seemed to be a collection of dots and dashes. Every sign you saw you reduced it to Morse. However, in due course we obtained proficiency in Morse and the other things like the aircraft recognition. In May 1942 I was duly called up for service at Number 2 ITS at Bradfield Park, Sydney. ITS was an Initial Training School where all raw recruits came to be sorted out and hopefully made into something resembling an Air Force type. There’s also [pause] also the categorisation as to what you were going to be. Pilot, navigator, bomb aimer or whatever. I was selected to be a pilot and was looking forward to going to initial, Elementary Training School. And one morning in the end of, I think it was July or August [coughing] Oh dear. I’m sorry about that.
AP: That’s alright. Have another drink if you like.
KC: On parade the CO came out and said, ‘There’s a shortage of observers in the Canadian schools. Anyone that likes to volunteer will be off to Canada within a week.’ The temptation was too great so I volunteered and we were off to Canada in a couple of weeks. Went down to Hobart where we went aboard the French liner Ile de France which had been converted to a troop ship and sailed across the Pacific to New Zealand where we picked up some more Air Force people. And then our next stop was at Pearl Harbour where we stopped for a day. We weren’t allowed off the ship but we could see the devastation that the Japanese raid had caused to the American fleet. Things had recovered to a great extent but we could imagine just how great the attack was. There was one battleship upside down and it wasn’t a happy sight. Our next call was at San Francisco where [coughing] Oh dear.
Where we caught the train from ‘Frisco to Vancouver. As it happened the train we took up was on Thanksgiving Day and on the buffet in the train we were entertained to a turkey dinner. Thanksgiving dinner. Which was a major occasion after the food in the, on the ship which was adequate but quite basic. Arrived in Vancouver and had three or four days to have a look around that beautiful city. Then off to Edmonton, over the Rockies. Caught the train and about four of us got on the back carriage where there was an observation platform. I think we spent most of the thirty six hours going to Edmonton just watching the magnificence of the Canadian Rockies.
AP: I’m just going to stop there for a minute.
AP: Now. We were in San Francisco, I think. Catching a train.
KC: Going over the Rockies was a magnificent experience. Bright moonlight night and to see all that snow which we’d never, most of us had never seen before. It was a wonderful introduction to Canada. We arrived at the RCAF station at Edmonton where we spent another week being sorted out and see just where we were going. Who was going to be a navigator and who was going to be a bomb aimer? And subsequently I was categorised as a bomb aimer. And there were others, along with myself caught a train to Lethbridge in southern Alberta where the RCAF training station was situated. Lethbridge was quite a small Canadian town. Very pleasant. And we spent about five or six months there, I think it was, flying Ansons, and Battles, and whatever, bomb aiming and doing a bit of gunnery to fit us for the trials of squadron life. Having spent, finished the course at Lethbridge we were posted back. Back to Edmonton where the navigation school was. We spent another couple of months there flying over the vast expanse of Canadian prairies. If you got lost you just went down and the nearest railway station you read the sign and you knew where you were. We had a wonderful experience at Edmonton. It was a big Canadian city and the Canadian people were wonderful to us. The hospitality was outstanding and we made a lot of friends in Edmonton. After the, finishing our course we went to a Wings Parade. Apparently, this particular Wings Parade was quite an occasion publicity wise. An American colonel had been brought in to present our wings and we all duly lined up at the, in the sports centre. And after much ceremony we were all, each called out and given an Observer’s wing which we subsequently sewed on our uniform. Or if you had a girlfriend, she got the task. The next port of call was to be Halifax in eastern Canada. We had two weeks to get there and what we did in those two weeks was entirely up to ourselves. We had a leave pass, a pocketful of money, comparatively and myself and two or three others decided to go to New York. And we had a ball there. In Australian uniform it was impossible to buy a drink. If you went to a night club you were entertained by the top brass and it was a quite weary [laughs] After a week in New York we thought we’d better start going to Halifax. And on the way, we went to Niagara Falls and had the opportunity to see the Falls and go on the ride on the, oh, Lady of the Lake or whatever the steamer was called. And subsequently arrived at Halifax. Halifax was a very major port for Atlantic convoys and we had to wait there until a ship came that could take us to England. Spent about two weeks in Halifax and the people were very good to us but it was very much a service town. After a couple of weeks we were put on the French liner the Louis Pasteur which had been converted from a luxury liner to a troop ship and set sail for England. Having got out of the harbour I think they just pointed the ship at England, full speed ahead and off we went. Supposedly, and I’m sure it was, too fast for the submarines and we did a very rapid trip and arrived at Liverpool where we got off the ship and onto a train. It was evening. The contrast was dramatic. After the bright lights and plenty of everything in Canada here we were in England. It was dark, wet, foggy and crowded. And dark. Blackout was on. And we subsequently boarded a train and after many hours arrived at Brighton on the south coast where the RAAF had their accommodation for aircrew. Spent a couple of weeks in [pause] at Brighton waiting for a posting to the Advanced Flying Unit which gave us an opportunity to explore the countryside that’s around Brighton which was a very, very pleasant spot. And we availed ourselves of the opportunities to enjoy ourselves. And after a couple of weeks we ended up in a place called Pwhelli in North Wales where we did an advanced training course. Another pleasant spot. Quite a small town. And I think we were flying Ansons there. In due course we finished our training there and went to an OTU at Lichfield which was more, mainly an Australian OTU. They had a satellite station at Church Broughton which was quite nearby. And our course was posted to Church Broughton where we were to do our Operational Training Unit on Wellingtons. As a Wellington crew was five people and we were all bomb aimers a course of bomb aimers, roughly the equivalent number of pilots, navigators, wireless operators and gunners were put in this huge hangar and told go to it. Crew yourselves up. And fortunately, I happened to know one person there so we became a two, two part crew and within half an hour of talking to the other people we subsequently formed a crew. Seems a very haphazard way of selecting a crew for operations but oddly enough it worked out very well. Very few crews proved to be incompatible. We were very fortunate that we were all Australians and we had similar interests so we didn’t have problems. Spent some months at OTU and in our spare time we used to go to, the nearest city was Derby and patronized the local hostelries there. In due course we graduated and posted to the Conversion Unit where we converted from twin-engined Wellingtons to four-engined Halifax Mark 2s. And we spent about six weeks there and did a lot of flying around England which we found a very great difference to flying in Canada. There was fog. There was hundreds of other aircraft. There were, all over the countryside were aerodromes. And we just had to make sure we dodged the aircraft, found where we were and got back to base. Subsequently we did duly finish our training there and were posted to Number 466 Australian Squadron at Leconfield. Well, while we were at Conversion Unit the Halifax, being a four engine bomber, required an engineer and another gunner. The one, the engineer was a twenty four year old English chap and the gunner was a thirty three year old chap from Birmingham. He was the real grandfather of the crew. However, we all got on very well and went to Leconfield where we were allocated accommodation. We were very fortunate, Leconfield being a peacetime squadron and all the amenities that went with it. After living in Nissen huts for a considerable time it was pleasant to be in regular barracks. New Year in, at that stage it was New Year 1944 and we were the new ones on the squadron. We were flying, at that stage, the new Halifax Mark 3 with the radial motors and the rear designed tail plan which had eliminated a lot of the problems which the Mark 2 Halifax had. And after flying in the Mark 3s they were a magnificent aircraft from all points of view. From the pilot and the rest of the crew was very, well, not exactly comfortable but a lot, a lot less crowded than the previous ones we had.
AP: What was your position in the aircraft like? What did it look like? Can you, can you describe the bomb aimers area?
KC: Coming in the entrance to the aircraft near the tail you walked through the fuselage. There was a rest area. Bunks on both sides and two or three stairs up to the pilot’s deck where the pilot sat and there was a second dickie seat which we folded up and allowed us to go down four or five steps where the navigator sat, you know. Compartment. The, rather the wireless operator sat in a compartment just under the pilot. Next to him was the navigator and the bomb aimer was next to him. All the bombsights and everything else, the bomb panel was right at the front and that was my domain. The Mark 2 Halifaxes had a front turret which had been considered superfluous and in place of that there was a plastic front which gave a much better vision and also a Vickers guns which was really only a pop gun. On the squadron the navigational aids were the Gee and we also had H2S and between the navigator and myself he worked, had the Gee and did the navigation and I did the H2S. Which was a very compatible way of doing things. After a lot of local flying and getting used to operational conditions we finally did our first operation. I think it was the end of February, on a, on the first of what were called the French targets in France. This one happened to be at Trappes which was the rail junction outside of Paris. Subsequent operations consisted of quite a lot of trips like that to disable the communications such as bridges, rail junctions, road junctions and any other ways that would impede the ability of the German armies to get supplies both before and after D-Day. My first trip to Germany was to Stuttgart in southern Germany and we went, duly went to briefing and navigators and bomb aimers went off to a separate briefing to do their navigation. Draw up their charts and get things like that underway. And operational meal. Bacon and eggs. Then up with the rest of the crew and waited for the, drew our parachutes and waited for the trucks to take us out to the aircraft. Going to Germany for the first time was quite an adventure. We managed to keep on track and on time and in due course the target was a quarter of an hour away and I went down to the bombsight and set it up with the height, speed and did the bomb drop panel and got ready to direct the pilot. PFF had laid flares which we saw and I directed the aircraft through the bombsight to the flares. And a little to the left, a little to the right and we finally got on course, dropped our bombs and spent the next ten seconds, the longest ten seconds you’ll ever spend flying straight and level and waiting for the camera. As soon as that happened set course for home. And we had a fighter come in to say hello to us. Fortunately, the rear gunner saw him and we went off in a corkscrew and that discouraged him. He had easier ones to find. And we subsequently set course for England and the engineer said that we’d been using too much petrol. So we had to decide just what we were going to do. And when we got over the channel we decided it was much safer to land at one of the coastal aerodromes. So, we landed at, I think it was Ford, where we spent the night. Between us I think we had seven shillings so we went off for one round of drinks at the local pub. We went there and found everyone drinking cider at sixpence a pint. So that was wonderful. We had two or three drinks of cider decided to go home and we found out cider was a very powerful drink. However, we finally made it. We got, went back to the squadron and started on our trips together. I think there were two or three, without my logbook I don’t know who or what, just where we went but we did some more French targets. I think we did a trip to Happy Valley. Another one up to Kiel. And by that time it was the, in March and we were briefed for Nuremberg. And this was our first really major target. Well, Stuttgart was but Nuremberg was further. Further east. And it was, the briefing there was it was cloudy but the target would be clear and we were flying straight to the target from our crossing the coast which was most unusual and a lot of the navigators queried it because we were being too close to the German fighter ‘dromes. However, that was it and on. We pressed on and shortly over France we had a fighter attack and escaped from it but we found we were losing petrol at a very rapid rate. So, we had a conference and decided to turn back which we did and subsequently landed back at base with not a lot of petrol. Waited four or five hours until the rest of the aircraft came back and found what a disaster the night had been. The cloud cover that we were promised hadn’t eventuated. It was a bright moonlight night and all the fighters were up waiting. Flak was just aimed at us and subsequently it was a loss. I think it was ninety seven aircraft over Germany. Plus, the ones that were damaged and managed to stagger home. Fortunately, we did survive that one and I think the next one was to Happy Valley and more French trips and then where was it? Without my log book I don’t remember. But went to a Berlin trip but got to within ten or fifteen miles to Berlin and we were hit by a fighter and got badly damaged. So, we decided to, we decided to go home and, on the way back we lost an engine from fighter attack and we staggered back to base and lived to tell another day. That was another disaster raid. I think we lost seventy one aircraft on that one. That was [pause] but between there and June I did two or three trips a week. And with our six week, we got leave every six weeks which we enjoyed very much. And eventually came the big day. We didn’t, at the time we didn’t know it was D-Day but we were programmed to bomb a target fairly close inside the French coast. Coming back there was an armada of ships on the Channel. You could have jumped out of the aircraft in a parachute and not got your feet wet. There were battleships, row boats, destroyers, paddle steamers. Anything that could float was on its way to the beaches of Normandy. It was a [pause] we did fly over the same place again a few days later when the beach head had been established but it was a very major effort. After that we just continued on our tour. We had about twenty five trips up by then and looking forward to finishing. And on the 25th of July, 24th of July we were booked for a return trip to Stuttgart. So, all the usual briefings and instructions. Had a very uneventful trip into Stuttgart and did our bombing run successfully and kept our ten seconds to get the camera and set course for home. After about ten minutes we were happily flying on, anticipating a, an uneventful trip home when suddenly there was an explosion. At the time I thought it was a flak shell. Subsequently I found out that an aircraft had run into the back of us and the aircraft just exploded. I was in the front, in the bomb aimers position still. Doing the bombing check and as it happened, I had my parachute on. I always used to lean on my parachute but this night I was leaning on it and had inadvertently clicked on with the wriggling around. The next thing I knew I was flying, descending at about ten thousand feet with a parachute above me. And I have no recollection whatsoever of opening the parachute. I didn’t have the handle so somehow the explosion must have opened it and I landed in a field about twenty miles west of Stuttgart [pause] And took off my parachute harness and hid it under a tree with a parachute and took stock of things. I had all my usual escape kit and similar things and waited around to see if I could hear any, any of the other crew. But there was no sign of them at all. Seeing the way I got out I doubt very much if there would be any survivors. As it happened there weren’t [pause] It was about 3 o’clock in the morning. I could hear the other, the rest of the aircraft flying home and to a nice warm bed and a bacon and egg meal. Here was I stuck in a wheat field in, in the west of Stuttgart. Far from home. I spent the night in a forest and the next morning I checked up where I was on the map, or as near as I could. And the only nearest frontier was the Swiss border which was seventy or eighty mile away. So, I made for that. So, I spent the day in the forest and when the evening came I started walking and went through a village and there was a village pump. So I filled up my water bag and had a wash which was very acceptable and had a few Horlicks tablets from my escape kit. I walked. Walked all night and at dawn I found another wood and subsequently spent the day there having a sleep and working out what I was going to do next. I was fortunate in having the new flying boots that had been issued which were detachable leggings on a shoe which was much easier to walk with than the old flying boot. So, I removed all badges of rank and brevet and set off again. I think I covered about 20K that day. Not a long way but I wasn’t hurrying. Trying to keep out of everyone’s way. Even, even though it was night there was, there was still a few people around and the villages which I tried to walk around but sometimes it was much easier to walk through them. The next day I spent hiding up and set off again at nightfall and passed through a village. And a mile past the village a truck came along and passed me and stopped. And he came back and said, obviously he was going to give me a ride. Asked what I was doing there. Anyway, I tried to make out that I was, I was a French worker but he could speak far better French than I could. At that stage I was feeling well down on very little to eat and water bag was empty so I wasn’t too unhappy to be taken into custody. I had three or four bits of chocolate over from the, that I hadn’t eaten and in the truck was his, another man and his little daughter. So I gave this kid a couple of bits of, pieces of chocolate and he was most impressed. When we came through the village he stopped, went to the local pub and bought us all a bottle of beer. So, it was a very good investment with two or three blocks of chocolate. Subsequently I was handed over to the local police and they called in the army and I was officially a POW.
AP: Alright. That’s, we got up to that stage. Can we maybe backtrack a little bit? You were talking about an escape kit. You were talking about an escape kit that you had.
KC: Yes.
AP: Obviously when you found yourself ejected from the aeroplane it was with you. Whereabouts did you actually have it?
KC: Oh you just carried it in your battle dress pocket.
AP: Oh ok. So, it was only a little thing.
KC: Little.
AP: Yeah.
KC: Well, a box about five by seven inches and about an inch deep and, which fitted inside your battle dress.
AP: And what sort of things were in it?
KC: Horlicks tablets [pause] very basic food stuffs. Some chocolate, not to enjoy but to [laughs] to survive on. And [pause] I’ve forgotten now. It’s so long ago.
AP: Maps and things like that as well.
KC: Oh, maps and a compass.
AP: Yeah. Did you have one of those special compasses that were hidden in a button or hidden somewhere or — ?
KC: Had a button compass.
AP: Yeah.
KC: I also had a little hand compass which I always carried.
AP: Very cool. You were saying as well you, about fifteen minutes before the target you’d go down into where the bombsight was and set it up.
KC: Set it up.
AP: And all that sort of thing. What did you do for the rest of the flight?
KC: I worked the H2S machine.
AP: Where was that physically?
KC: That was next to the navigator.
AP: Ah.
KC: And as I had not a lot to do it was a lot more practical that I did the H2S and he did the navigation. Getting all the fixes. It worked out very well.
AP: What did you, what did you think? Can you remember much about the H2S and what it looked like? And —
KC: All the H2S was, it was a machine, a dial about eight or nine inches diameter and it gave a profile of what was underneath. It had a long range and a short range and once you learned how to read it, it was a very desirable navigation tool. Especially on coastal areas, of course. It had a very sharp delineation between the sea and the land. Flying over land such as southern Germany it could pick up any lakes. It also picked up cities and towns as a darker green on the lighter green of the screen. Once you learned how to interpret it, it was a very useful tool.
AP: You also mentioned a couple, or there was at least three times there you mentioned being attacked by fighters. What does a corkscrew feel like for a bomb aimer?
KC: A corkscrew, in a four engine bomber you’re thinking of a Spitfire. It just goes high, right or left as the case might be, nose straight down, and round and round and pull out and go the other way and hope you’ve lost him. And if you haven’t lost him keep on doing it.
AP: Keep doing it [laughs] It would be quite, quite strenuous for the pilot I imagine.
KC: Oh, it was. The [pause] where they was over the target area if you, if you saw the fighter and went into a corkscrew he’d go and find someone who hadn’t, or hopefully hadn’t seen him.
AP: They were looking for, for easier prey. How did you cope with the stress of flying on operations? What did you do to relax?
KC: It was stressful. I think I coped very well.
AP: What sort of things did you do to, to handle that, or to deal with the pressure? If anything.
KC: Went to the local. And the local dances. The theatre. The pictures. And any entertainment that was on at the squadron when we weren’t flying.
AP: Alright. You’ve mentioned pubs and the local a few times. What, for Leconfield let’s just say, or any other pub that you can remember what did the pub look like and what was in there? What sort of things went on?
KC: Well, the nearest town was Beverley which was a market town and it was quite a big town. We got to know a few of the locals and we used to go to the, the Beverley Arms. Found ourselves a corner and some compatible people. Had a few drinks. Sang a few squadron songs and enjoyed ourselves. At that stage most of us had bikes so it was quite an adventure getting from the local back to the squadron. Fortunately, we made it.
AP: Very good.
KC: A few spills here and there.
AP: Very nice. Were there any superstitions or hoodoos amongst your crew or amongst your squadron that you knew about?
KC: We had a thing about our little, one of us had a little fluffy rabbit. About six or eight inches high and every operation we took the rabbit. And every operation we marked it on the, on the rabbit. And our ambition was to cover the rabbit. We didn’t, [pause] Stuttgart was our thirty third operation so we were looking forward to finishing but unfortunately, we didn’t.
AP: What, how many operations did you need to do for a tour at that period?
KC: Well normally it was thirty.
AP: Yeah.
KC: But with the French targets being shorter and supposedly easier they increased it to up to forty. The first two or three French targets were quite easy. But as soon as the Luftwaffe found out what we were doing they moved their fighter squadrons in.
AP: They did. Yes. I think at one point I think a French target counted as one third of a trip.
KC: Initially it did.
AP: Yeah.
KC: But subsequently they scrubbed it .
AP: There was a 467 Squadron man who said you can’t go for one third of a burton. That’s the way he put it. What sort of things happened in the, in the mess at the airfield?
KC: We were fed. And again had a few drinks and played cards or sat around and talked and had a sing song. There was no shortage of suitable songs [pause] I’m just wondering where Fiona was.
AP: Behind you.
KC: Oh, she’s there is she.
AP: She’s been there for about forty minutes, I think. She’s crept in nice and quietly. Alright. Can we, can we talk a bit about your prisoner of war experience? What — where were you taken after you were, were captured?
KC: Well from the army camp where we were assembled with about another ten people from a Lancaster crew, or two Lancasters that had been shot down in the area and there were about ten survivors. And we were taken from there to Stuttgart and subsequently to be taken to the interrogation centre at Frankfurt. We got to Stuttgart under heavy army guard and put on the platform waiting for a train. It was about midnight and the RAF came over again in force. Sirens went and people started running for shelters, saw us there and [laughs] we were, we were not popular. But the German army protected us, fortunately, and we were taken down to the cells until the train came which was Stuttgart to Frankfurt where the interrogation centre was at Oberursel. Spent the first three or four days there in solitary and then was taken to an interrogation room where the German officer started off with cigarettes and, ‘How are you?’ And all the welcoming. ‘Welcome to the Third Reich,’ He could speak perfect English. He’d apparently spent four or five years in the early thirties in England. And he said, ‘What’s your name?’ So, I gave it to him. ‘Your rank?’ So I gave it to him. ‘Your number?’ I gave it to him. ‘What aircraft were you flying?’ ‘You know I can’t answer that.’ Five or six more questions and he said, ‘Well I know you’re going to say no but we know it anyway.’ So he pressed the button and a girl came in. He spoke some German to her. She came back with a file. A file on 466 Squadron. And he told us the CO’s name, the flight commander’s name, most of the other people. The group captain. What the, how the aircraft, or how many aircraft there were. The fact that we’d transferred from Wellington’s to Halifaxes in 1943. And he knew the name of the barmaid at the local pub. There was nothing I could tell him. So, he gave me permission to have a shave and a shower which was very acceptable. Then back to solitary again and after that three or four days there were enough POWs to make a contingent to go to a POW camp which we subsequently caught a train and three or four, about three days later we arrived at a place called Bankau which was near Breslau in Poland. A very uncomfortable train trip but we finally made it. We were taken in to the camp and searched, interrogated again and duly given our quarters. All the people in the camp welcomed us, wanting us, wanting to know the latest situation on, on the second front. And being new people gave us a welcome dinner. The camp at that stage was very very basic. It was just huts on a dirt floor and bunks. There was a new camp being built just next door and we were looking forward to moving into that which we did after about four or five weeks. They finished the, enough of the camp to move us in which was a very pleasant change and there were rooms rather than huts. A big, big, a big area converted into about eight rooms with a toilet block at the end which was a much more pleasant life than going on, getting in the huts which were very crowded. The Red Cross there were marvellous to us. Before we left the interrogation centre, they fitted us out with warm clothing, boots and any other supplies that we needed. At the camp we were getting, at that stage we were getting a Red Cross parcel every fortnight which was the difference between existing and surviving. The Red Cross did a fantastic job in Germany for the POW’s. And [pause] and when were we there? That was about the end of August, I think. September. October. We used to fill in our time there with games which the Red Cross supplied. And they supplied us with a good library. And we walked around the compound for our exercise. We had to discuss trying to escape but at that stage of the war we were advised not to because they thought it would be over by Christmas. How wrong they were. In due course there was a Russian advance to the westward and the Germans wanted to keep us so we were told we were going to move camp and in January ’45 we were turfed out of our comfortable quarters into the coldest winter that, in Germany for about forty years. Four or five feet of snow on the ground. Cold. About five or six hundred people heading eastwards. We were supposedly to be marching but it soon very, very soon developed into a straggle. Everyone had found they were carrying far too much kit so the non-essentials were abandoned and whatever you could carry was what you had. We marched all day and stopped for a cup of lukewarm soup about mid-day and came to a suitable village at night and found a farm and were billeted in the farm buildings and hopefully had something to eat, which was problematical. We did have a Red Cross parcel each before we started which we tried to ration. We didn’t know how long we’d be marching so we tried to keep as much as possible of that intact. That went on for about two or three weeks. Marching by day and hopefully finding a barn or somewhere covered at night. Fortunately, on most occasions we slept in the farmers barn and threw out his livestock. Food was a very basic problem then and with, with the German army rations and what we had from the Red Cross parcels we managed to survive. And after how long? Three weeks? We were told we were going to be put on a train to our next destination. We were put on a train, about sixty five people to a four wheel cattle truck and there was room to stand up. You had to take it in turns to lie down. We spent three days in that. It was not a happy trip. After about a day we decided we would have been far better, far happier, marching. We eventually arrived at a place called Luckenwalde, about fifty miles south of Berlin and were taken to some barracks there which had originally been barracks for the German army in the Franco-Prussian war. They were in a very decrepit condition. It was a very large camp. All, a lot of POWs had been transferred there and many other, other nationalities. Thousands of Russian prisoners. And conditions were very basic. We used to sit there with nothing, nothing to do. Watched the Americans come over Berlin in the daytime and at night Mosquitoes came over Berlin at night. Subsequently the Russian army overran the camp and we were under the control of the Russians. Initially they were very good. The army people. A couple of thousand Russian prisoners were given a rifle, they said, ‘Come with us which they did. They were very keen to get their own back on the Germans for the appalling treatment that the Russians had had. We stayed in the camp there and the Russian army moved on and the administration took over. And it was a very different story. We were under Russian control and we were so close to the American lines and couldn’t do anything about it. Subsequently an American war correspondent and about six trucks came along and, to take the American survivors out but they wouldn’t, a few got away but the Russians wouldn’t let us go. But the, we were told that if we could possibly get out the trucks would be at a certain position until about 4 o’clock that afternoon. Another four or five of us managed to escape from the Russians, literally, through a hole in the wire and we found our way to the American trucks where two or three trucks had already filled. And at about 4 o’clock in the afternoon they said, ‘Well we can’t wait any further,’ and off we went. And after about an hour or so crossing an emergency bridge over the Elbe to the American army camp which was the front lines. They gave us accommodation and apologised profusely because the ice cream machine hadn’t caught up. From there we made our way to [pause] well the Americans gave us any kit we needed and fed us well and we went to an aerodrome where we were subsequently flown back to England.
AP: And that was the end of it.
KC: So, taken back to Brighton. Re-kitted. Met all our, well a lot of the people that we’d known before but also had been in Germany and given a leave pass for two weeks, a year’s pay, said, ‘Come back when you’re ready.’ So, I was a survivor fortunately. I subsequently found out years later that what had happened was another aircraft, also from our squadron had collided with us and it must have been a collision in our tail because the, our rear gunner, mid-upper gunner and the engineer were never found. The front of the aircraft, the bodies were found. And all the other aircraft were lost. So that was it. And I endured a mid-air collision and I happened to be the lucky one.
AP: How did you find readjusting to civilian life after going through all of that?
KC: Oh, coming back to Australia we were, came through The Heads which was a magnificent sight. Taken off the ship, put on a bus, taken to Bradfield Park. Not interrogated but put on record again and given a leave pass and, ‘Come back in two weeks.’ No ticker tape parade. No marching through, through George Street. Back home and out which suited us fine. It was quite a readjustment getting back to civilian life after the discipline of service life but I went back to my old job and started off life again.
AP: My final question for you. What is Bomber Command’s legacy and how do you want to see it remembered?
KC: Seventy one years later. Well sixty eight years later in Canberra it was decided to build a Bomber Command Memorial which was subsequently unveiled. I think in 2007 or eight, something like that. And it was the first Bomber Command Memorial, as far as we know, that was ever made. And it still stands in the sculpture garden of the Australian War Memorial. We were going to have our ceremony there tomorrow but unfortunately due to the inclement weather we have to have our ceremony inside. But subsequent to that, in England there was a movement to have a Bomber Command Memorial constructed and it was taken up officially and very enthusiastically supported and in 2009 I was one of the fortunate official members of the Air Force, RAAF delegation that went to the opening of the Air Force Bomber Command Memorial in Green Park in London. That is a magnificent Memorial. It took seventy one years but it was worth it. We were one of the fortunate thirty people in the official delegation that were at the dedication.
AP: Any final words? Any last thoughts for the, for the tape?
KC: Well here we are today on what was the 4th of July.
AP: 4th of June. 4th of June.
KC: June rather.
AP: Yeah.
KC: For our annual Bomber Command Commemoration Day Foundation. Remembrance of Bomber Command. It’s a very major event.
AP: It certainly is.
KC: The War Memorial have done a lot of the organisation for us. Made the, made the ANZAC Hall available and the Hall of Remembrance for our ceremony tomorrow and we’re quite looking forward to that.
AP: Here’s to that. Well, thank you very much Keith. It’s been an absolute pleasure hearing your story properly for the first time.
KC: Sorry I was so —
AP: I very much enjoyed it.
KC: The coughing
AP: No. That’s gone, that’s gone really well I think. It’s good.


Adam Purcell, “Interview with Keith Campbell. Two,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 22, 2024,

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