Interview with Allan Joseph Couper


Interview with Allan Joseph Couper


Allan Joseph Couper grew up in Australia and joined the Air Training Corps as a teenager. He was employed by the State Electricity Company until he volunteered for the Royal Australian Air Force. He was accepted for aircrew training as a pilot and later as an observer. On the ship over to the Great Britain he heard a radio announcement that the RAF had bombed a city in Germany and had lost 69 aircraft. At that point he wondered what he had let himself in for. He later remustered as a bomb aimer and flew operations with 75 Squadron at RAF Mepal. On one occasion, their aircraft lost an engine on take off but the pilot decided to proceed and they completed their operation on three engines. On another occasion the rear gunner said that he had witnessed one of their aircraft go into the sea. Couper looked out over the sea and considered their vulnerability. He recalls looking out for sight of Ely Cathedral to know they were nearly home.




Temporal Coverage




01:43:17 audio recording


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Alright. Here we go. This is an interview for the International Bomber Command Centre with Allan Couper who was a 75 Squadron, New Zealand Squadron bomb aimer which is an RAF squadron during World War Two. The interview is taking place at Cabrini Hospital in Brighton where Allan is unfortunately a patient. My name is Adam Purcell. It is the 8th of December 2015. Allan, we may as well start. Start from the beginning. Can you tell me something of your early life, how you grew up, what your education was like and what you did before the Air Force?
AC: Well my family, the Coupers. C O U P E R S. The Coupers had dairy farms at a place called [unclear] South. Somewhere between Leongatha and Mirboo North. Actually, my great grandfather selected land at Mirboo way back in the eighteen, probably the 1880s. And my grandfather, the son selected land at [unclear] South. A hundred and sixty acres I think it would have been. It was completely forested. Now, in that family there were four boys and three girls. It’s of interest to me that the first boy, son was out crawling around the veranda of what might have been the house, it was probably only a two roomed affair on the, on the farm. He got bitten by a snake and by the time I got him to the doctor he’d passed away. Always been very careful about snakes in my time. Well they [pause] yeah they milked cows for a living shall we say. I’ve been told that at the very beginning when there were no separators, cream separators, what they used to do was put the milk [pause] they used to put the cream in these big basins and then skim the, or put the milk in the basins and skim the, skim the cream off. What they did with this cream I’ve never actually found out. But obviously they must have sold some of it. Well, as time went by and the boys grew up, they acquired adjoining farms. Or their father did, I think. And so it became, and my uncles and aunts et cetera were all dairy farmers including my father and my mother and we endeavoured to make a living. It wasn’t really very successful for all sorts of reasons. By the time I, oh I went to school at the local primary. [unclear] south number 3356. I can still remember that. Initially I got there, I walked and then we moved to another farm and I then had to ride a horse. I had the experience a couple of years ago of going to a grandparent’s function at the school where my grandchildren are now attending. They were doing an interview of the grandmas and grandpas and on this particular occasion a question was asked of me, ‘How did you get to school, grandpa?’ And I said, ‘I rode a horse.’ ‘Oh. Why would you ride a horse, grandpa? Why?’ Why? I explained why. Of course, they all were driven there these days in a motor car. Anyway, in those days we were examined at eighth grade, which is what the primary school went to and we got the, whatever it was called — the merit certificate. It was decided by my parents that I would continue on doing year nine but I would do it by correspondence which was a bit of a challenge to me. Particularly if you are doing French and I didn’t have anybody to talk to in French. Anyway, after about one term of that we moved to Melbourne and I went, from there I went to the Box Hill High. I was there for two years, more or less. Left when I got my intermediate because by that time my father had enlisted in the army in the Second World War. Money was very scarce. Almost non-existent. So I got a job working as a junior clerk at a place called James McEwan Hardware Stores in the CBD. I have to say that was a new experience for me. Anyway, after a few months I saw a vacancy for a job in the State Electricity Commission as a junior clerk. I applied and got it and I was taken on. Worked there in what was called the overhead main section. The overhead main section was responsible for building the transmission lines from, for example [unclear] to Melbourne from what do they call their key, not key but [unclear] that was up in the hills where they had a hydro station and I sort of did all sorts of odd things. Then one day I saw, oh I started doing English and maths 1 at night school. That was also my mother persuaded me to take on doing mechanic studies. I was spending more time at night time going to school than anything else in the city. Then I saw an advertisement in the paper. It was just a point of time when the Japanese were, had come in to the war. I saw an advertisement. They were advertising for cadets for the Air Training Corps. I made an application. I was accepted. And then for the next two years I went a couple of nights a week to the Camberwell Boys Grammar School I think it was, for lessons. Now, how am I going?
AP: Very well.
AC: Enough detail?
AP: Very well. This is —
AC: Ok.
AP: This is excellent.
AC: Ok. One of the interesting things about that was that each morning it was my job to change the blotter on the desk of one of the senior engineers that worked on the same floor as I was working. That was in a building in the, in the city. He happened to be a chief education officer for the Air Training Corps. And it so happened that I was able to, whilst changing the blotter have a look in to his inwards tray and see what was going on in the Air Training Corps [laughs] So I was well briefed there. Nobody else would have been. Eventually, I was coming around to being eighteen and I was accepted by the RAAF. It also just happened, not that it really advantaged me, it just happened that the chief of the RAF, RAAF recruiting was a gentleman called Sir Harold Buxton. He had been the mayor and he was the senior director of James McEwan. And because of his role in the Air Force his secretary used to get me to take correspondence et cetera up to Sir Harold’s office which was at the corner of [pause] Little Collins and Queen Street. That didn’t really have anything to do with me except just that that did happen. Sir Harold had been in the, well the equivalent of the RAAF in the First World War. Obviously, he would have been a pilot. As I said before he had been the mayor. Lord Mayor of Melbourne. Well, whilst we were in the Air Training Corps we did quite a few things. Like on Saturdays on one occasion I remember we went down to Laverton. It was a great thrill for us boys of sixteen, seventeen to go down there and see the planes. Many of them being, of course almost obsolete. I remember on one occasion we were asked to go to the Hawthorn Town Hall. They were having a loan function. It was for advertising how they needed money to pay for the Second World War. Me and the boys, we all went. Made up the audience of course. That was the idea of it but on the platform we had some very good speakers. One of them was a well-known correspondent, war correspondent who’d just been to New Guinea and had experienced the traumas of the Kokoda Trail. He talked about that. Of course nobody in the audience really knew anything about the Kokoda Trail but he sort of filled in. Another one that spoke was a lady. I can’t think of her name now. But anyway her mother, she was the mother of a gentleman who was in the RAAF who later on made his name when he came and brought an aircraft home and flew underneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge. He later on went on to be involved with publishing. How are we going?
AP: Yeah. That’s alright.
AC: Alright.
AP: We were talking, I think Peter Isaacson you’re talking about.
AC: Yeah.
AP: Yeah.
AC: Isaacson.
AP: Yeah.
AC: And also, at the end of the evening we had the pleasure of hearing Sir Robert Menzies speak. And then subsequently answer questions. And whilst I was only seventeen, I was fascinated by his ability to answer questions. Talking of questions, on one occasion, one Saturday afternoon we were all brought together and the gentleman that I spoke of who was the chief educator for the Air Training Corps and who worked at the SEC and whose inwards I used to inspect every now and again came to sort of make a visit. I suppose to check us over. The interesting thing about it I said, prior to him coming we had a series of questions asked of us and funnily enough those same questions were asked when the gentleman [laughs] the chief training instructor was there. Of course we, we all knew the answers. Anyway, eventually when I was just before I was eighteen I asked to attend the RAAF recruiting I suppose. It was in a building on the corner of Little Collins and Russell Street I recall. Had the name of Piston Motors or something like that and went through a series of interviews. Had medical examinations. And one of the examinations, oh yeah, the medical examination I had one of the doctors conducting it recognised me. A couple of years before, after I’d been attending a church service shall we say, I fell off my bike. He happened, his surgery happened to be opposite the church in Surrey Hills and he looked after me and when I got into this medical in the RAAF he recognised me. Anyway, he passed me. Well eventually a few days after I was eighteen I reported to this place in Little Collins and what was it again? Russell Street.
AP: Yeah.
AC: We all came together. All swore on the bible. My father must have accompanied me and I recall he’d come back from the Middle East by this time. I recall him saying to me, ‘Now don’t go, go to Victor Harbour. Don’t go to Victor Harbour, Allan.’ Victor Harbour was another training area like Somers I mentioned about. Victor Harbour was in South Australia and of course it was I suppose a business of an eighteen year old one day going into the State and not being able to come home. Anyway, we were marched off down to the station and went off down to Somers. Will you want to know anything about Somers?
AP: Oh yeah. Yeah, that’s, we’re getting up to pretty well my next question was talking about your Initial Training School. So tell me. Tell me what you did at Somers.
AC: Well, when we got down to Flinders, no — Frankston Station, got on a bus, went down to Somers. We must have got there by about lunchtime and probably had a bit of lunch and then we were taken to the equipment room. And one of the first things I remember happening there was that they pointed to a pile of hessian bags and then a pile of oats, not oats — hay and said, ‘That’ll be your bedding for the night.’ Anyway, we got our blankets and I suppose a pillow and then would have had equipment to sleep in or sleep on and shown where which hut we were going to be in. And then, probably the next day we would have been lined up and allotted to our class. I think I was in B Flight. A B A B C D E F. I was in B flight. That’s right. And we started a lecture series. Going, going over some of the things we’d already been taught at the Air Training Corps but you have to remember that most of the people involved with that course, course 35, Somers, Initial Training School — most of them were, hadn’t been in the Air Training Corps schools. Hadn’t been with the Air Training Corps. So, I think, I think I’ve still got a letter. I was number two from my, second one in from my squadron. And so, you know it was very, in one sense very early days. Well, we did all these various things. Did a lot of drill. Did physical exercises. Went to the pictures occasionally. Every morning we had to line up and go onto the parade ground. Do our parade. [pause] One of the things I remember about it was we all had to do eye tests and my, apparently my, I had some problem with my vision that hadn’t shown up before. And I was put through a series of exercises to try and improve the situation. It may or may not have. I’ll mention it later. One of the other interesting things that happened there was at the time somehow or another I broke my upper false teeth. Cracked. So I went to the dentist and must have been home on leave at the time of the break. Of course it was very sharp and I couldn’t really wear the two pieces of teeth. It was very sharp. So I got a nail file and I relieved the situation. When I went back to the dentist he couldn’t understand why the teeth didn’t sort of come together like they used to. But nobody was, nothing was revealed. As a consequence I got a new set of, new set of teeth. Well, eventually we finished the three months. We finished the course. In the process we had been and had a series of interviews. Now, the adjutant at that, for our squadron was the cyclist. What was his name? Famous cyclist. Went into parliament later.
AP: Opperman.
AC: Yeah. It was Hubert Opperman. He was a very nice fellow. Treated us all very well. At the end of the three months our flight went out to dinner at some café along the coast down at Somers. One of the things I remember about that was they asked Oppy to give us a bit of a talk about his, when he was the cycling in various tournaments. And he made mention of a twenty four hour ride in Paris. And when he’d finished one of the smart boys got up and said, ‘Sir. How did you cope with your wee wee problem riding a bike for twenty four hours?’ I can’t remember [laughs] what he said.
AP: But that’s the best bit [laughs]
AC: Anyway —
AP: Oh dear.
AC: In the process we were selected out to be either pilots, observers or wireless air gunners. And then we were sent off to the appropriate station and I went to Western Junction as a trainee pilot.
AP: As a trainee pilot. Right. I sense there’s a story here if you were a trainee pilot.
AC: Well, at the time. I wasn’t in the end.
AP: Did [pause] so ok so how, how far did you get through the pilot course?
AC: I got to twelve hours.
AP: Did you solo?
AC: No.
AP: Bugger. That’s always my, my next question really for anyone who went through pilot training. I always ask them about their first solo. But you can probably tell me something about the Tiger Moth. What did you think of it?
AC: What?
AP: You can probably tell me something about the Tiger Moth. What, what did you think of flying the Tiger Moth during your brief time pilot training?
AC: Well I’d never flown in anything else. Didn’t know anything about it. It was the standard training plane. We had to start the damned things by twisting the propeller. But it wasn’t, the trainee had already got into his cockpit. He didn’t do that. It was somebody else that did it. But the fundamental reason for me getting, we used the term scrubbed, was the eyesight problem. The judgement. The judgement on landing. It was very important to be able to precisely know whether you were three feet above the ground or thirty feet. So that was my understanding of it. Well then I, we were shall we say stood down. I wasn’t the only one. About twenty five percent of them were. And I’ll mention that in a minute. And then we were stood down and just sort of re-allotted quarters and put on to digging trenches because still at this time the Japanese, the Japanese event was very much to the fore. And the fellow that was in charge of us, I suppose he was a corporal or something had been in Darwin in charge of much the same thing but had obviously been re-allotted. Given the boot I suppose. And that’s what we did for a while. But eventually I was interviewed by the wing commander in charge of the squadron, or the base and I was made, re-allotted to being an observer and then transferred up to Cootamundra to the Air Navigation School for further training. It turned out that most of the people that went there were scrubbed pilots. So obviously it was part of a plan. Every hundred pilots and twenty five would be given the boot and then sent on to the air navigation. That’s how it worked as I understand it. Shall I keep going?
AP: Absolutely.
AC: Well —
AP: What we might do. I’ll just let you talk. Keep talking until you run out of things to talk about and then I’ll go back and fill in the gaps later. Like you when you get to the end I’ll go back and see if there’s are any other questions that I need to ask you. So just, just keep going. There’s good, there’s good stuff actually. This is really good.
AC: Well, we went to, I went to Cootamundra and met up with, of a course a different set of people. Fellas. Mostly they came from Queensland and New South Wales. We weren’t there very long before we were put on to air training in the Avro Ansons. Two, two trainees would go up with a pilot and stooge around doing different things. I remember one of the things we had to do was, say go to [pause] the name just comes to mind, Lismore and do a sketch of the Lismore township as we flew over. That was all part of the training. I think we got down to Mildura on one occasion on training. And one of the things I do now remember is we went over to the coast. There’s a place with an inlet, a big inlet. River coming in. And we had to do a sketch of that. It was near Merimbula, but you had to be pretty quick. And on that particular exercise one of the planes, I don’t, didn’t ever find out what happened but failed and would have crashed and one of the trainee navigators or, trainee observers they were, parachuted but hadn’t done the straps up under between his legs and he, of course he couldn’t control his fall and he was killed. There was a story, I don’t know that it had any truth in it but the other one, there were two of course, the other one was in the UK over Wales. Much the same happened. He’d forgotten to do his straps up. Just don’t believe it but I did hear that story. Anyway, we worked our way through the course. It was as cold as buggery being in the winter. There was no real heating. And eventually we had our exams. I did well. I came third in the class. Got above average. Very happy with my role in life. I would have been the youngest there because of the Air Training Corps bit. And from there we were shifted on to number 3 BAGS — Bombing and Gunnery School. That was at West Sale. Yeah. All the new, all the new, no, all the boys from New South Wales, Queensland et cetera went off up north to another training station there and I was sort of well, I didn’t know anybody initially at BAGS. We did a month on gunnery training. We did a month on bombing training there. For the bombing we flew in, well Oxfords I think. I can’t remember whether Ansons or Oxfords. And for the gunnery we flew in Fairey Battles. Well that was an experience. A Fairey Battle. Terrible. And one of the things that used to happen was the pilots, of course it was pretty dull for them just flying alongside an aircraft towing a drogue which we were supposed to fire at. And after the exercise was over they’d do a few aerobatics. Well, I’m afraid I didn’t enjoy the aeroplane. One of the exercises we did was low level bombing. Had to drop ten bombs on a, on the target. This was all out near the coast at Sale. I had to drop ten bombs. The little fellas. And the pilot and I managed to get all ten on target which was quite an achievement. It had a lot to do with the pilot mind you. Thinking about it there were no real highlights when we were there. Oh. From there, that’s, we got our wings there. I don’t know why but we did. Then we went on, I went on, I went on to the Air Navigation School at Nhill.
AP: Right.
AC: Where we learned to fly by using [pause] what did we use? [pause] It’ll come to me.
AP: Astro?
AC: Eh?
AP: Astro?
AC: Yeah.
AP: So, so a sextant.
AC: Yeah.
AP: Presumably. Yeah.
AC: We were there for about a month using the astro navigation. Learning where the stars were et cetera et cetera. Yeah. On one of the missions I got lost. Course we were all sort of over Mallee country. There were very few features that we could sort of identify. And then we had the exam. As a result of the exam I got a below average. It didn’t mean, I don’t know whether it meant much. So then we were put on to leave for re-direction as qualified aircrew. Had to report in to the Spencer Street Station every day for instructions. Of course I was at home. I lived in ‘Bourne at the time. Eventually we were put on a train to Sydney. It turned out there was a couple of others I must have known. We eventually got to Sydney. Caught the train out to some station. Well known station north of Sydney. Got off the train. The station must have been next door to the RAAF station I think. When we got to the RAAF station we were about to go in [pause] there was a fellow I knew there. A trainee who’d been at some of the places I’d been to. ‘Hurry on,’ he said, ‘Hurry on,’ he said, ‘Hurry on, I’m making a selection. Hurry on.’ So we sort of picked up our bags and went down to where there was a line up. It turned out that we were lining up to be exported the next day to San Francisco. We dashed around to get a bit of clothing and that sort of thing. The next day put on a bus and put on a ship. It was an American transport. Something Vernon. Mount Vernon comes to mind. Put on there and away we went. Now then. What are your questions?
AP: Your wings.
AC: Eh?
AP: Your wings you said you got at West Sale. Did you have an O or a B or something else?
AC: Oh a B. No. No. No. No. I had an O to start with. I had an O.
AP: When did that —
AC: Observer.
AP: Yeah. When did that change to the B? And do you know how it sort of happened? Or did someone just kind of give you another one and say you’ve got these ones now.
AC: Well, how it happened was when we eventually got to the UK we went to Brighton which was a personnel depot. Once again we were all lined up. And they called for volunteers for bomb aimers. Saying that they needed this sort of background, that sort of background et cetera et cetera, and there would be an immediate posting. So the group of us, half a dozen of us who had been mainly Cootamundra put our hands up and about two days later we were on a train to a place up in — Wigtown, I think it was. Wigtown. Up in Scotland. That’s how we became bomb aimers. Or how we started off being bomb aimers. And then after we’d been there we went to what they called the Operational Training Unit at Westcott. The navigation leader said, ‘You shouldn’t be wearing those O’s you should be wearing a B.’ That’s how it came about.
AP: Alright. Presumably this is the first time that you’ve, you’ve been overseas.
AC: Oh yes.
AP: Yeah. What did you think of the US? You probably weren’t there for very long but —
AC: Well we were there for about a fortnight. The US. Well we got to San Francisco. We were put into a US army station which of course it would have been a permanent place. Well-equipped and everything. We had a couple of days. Might have, might have been more than that in this camp. We were allowed to go into San Francisco. I remember going in to, somehow getting in to an ice skating rink [laughs] and doing some ice skating. Then we were put on the train and set off. Well, we didn’t know where we were going of course. We thought we might be going to Canada which a lot of people, a lot of them did. Anyway, we set off late in the afternoon and had to go over the Rockies. And one of them, and of course it was a troop train. It just had us. It would be about three hundred I think. There were probably others in addition to the, you know the navigators, the air observers et cetera. I can’t remember though. Probably we never even mixed with them. I always remember when we got sort of up to the Rockies it had been snowing and all the boys were crowding at the window, windows looking out at the snow. Course some of them had, the Queenslanders and that had probably never seen snow. Don’t know whether I had either. Well, we continued to look out at the snow for the rest of the journey to New York. Eventually we got to New York. We had stopped off in Chicago I remember but we hadn’t got off the train. We went to, got from Chicago to New York. The last bit of it we were filing down the Hudson River which was ice-bound. Ice topped. We got to New York and we were taken to some sort of a gathering place. Christmas Eve 1943. And there we were allotted out to homes in New York. Probably two by two. And I don’t recall but we must have been put in a taxi. We went to this place, American family where we had a meal. And then went to the pictures about 1 am in the morning. And the next day had Christmas lunch. And one of the things I remember about that is I think the, the father there was a stockbroker or something. Something like that. Anyway, he had a couple of bottles of wine on the table. My mate who would be only my age you know, I don’t suppose he’d ever drunk wine said, ‘Oh I don’t drink wine.’ So the poor fella took the wine bottles off. So it must have been a disappointment for them. Anyway, we had a couple of nights there. We went back into New York and sort of got accommodation in the basement of the hotel. And we had a, we had a — we managed to get to an opera that we didn’t pay for. And then eventually we gathered together. We were taken to another army, US army place. An island it was in the Hudson River somewhere. We were put on a ship. The Ile de France. Oh, from there we were put on a ship the Ile de France which had been under repair. We were there for two or three days down at the, right down the bottom of the ship. One of the things I do remember about it is that they were able to broadcast BBC news. I remember a story being told over the wireless of course how the RAF had bombed some place in Germany and they’d lost, I think it was sixty nine aircraft. Something like that. I thought my God. What are we letting ourselves in for? Well, the Ile de France had some problem. Engines perhaps didn’t work or something. We were taken off. Taken back to where we’d been. A couple of days later we were taken off again and put on to the Queen Elizabeth. We had much, much, much much, much better accommodation [laughs] It was pretty crowded. Supposedly there was sixteen thousand on board. I well believe it. Queues for the meals ran all day and night. Anyway, we set off, not knowing where we were going but we could guess. About two days out, at about 1.30 am in the morning the captain comes on the, shall we say the loudspeakers, ‘I want everybody to put their life jackets on immediately.’ Which of course we did. Well, it turned out, later I found out, I met a fellow that was on the, up on deck on the sort of, what do they call it the viewee. Sort of had got to know what had happened was there had been a submarine scare and obviously the Queen Elizabeth had been diverted. Just as well wasn’t it? Well eventually we got to Glasgow in the UK, in Scotland and were taken down to Brighton by train where we were, get back to the, we were accommodated for a few days and then sent up to this place in Scotland where we started our real training as bomb aimers. Much the same as what we’d done as observers. Out over the Irish Sea. Of course, one of the issues there was it was a matter of getting to know the signals and all that sort of thing. All the specialities of the RAF.
AP: What do you mean by signals?
AC: Oh. When you got to point B there’d be an orange light flashing three times. You get to the point. This wouldn’t be for the UK but this was for training. When you got to the next point there would be one end that be flashing orange, blue or something. And all, and of course we were all the radio, we didn’t do the radio but you get to know the radio bits and pieces. The landing arrangements and all that. But in between we did a lot of bombing practice. Bombing practice.
AP: What did you think of the UK in wartime?
AC: What?
AP: What were your impressions of the UK in wartime? Particularly England.
AC: [pause] Impressions. Well of course the place was absolutely over run with troops because when we got there they were getting ready for the invasion. And where we were down in Brighton there were mostly the Canadians were stationed there. Lots and lots and lots of Americans. Lots and lots of Brits. And what people don’t realise is, you know there was a fair sprinkling of Poles and that sort of thing. Well, there was food rationing. Very severe food rationing. The roads were [indecipherable] on occasion, not all the time, on occasion tanks and that sort of thing. A lot of women in uniform. We were restricted to where we could go. When we were, when we were at Brighton we were sort of fenced in. You could go to there or there. So one day some three or four of us got on a bus, went there and met up with the RAF boys, men. They took our names and we were put on a charge. It wasn’t very far but we were sort of, hadn’t listened to the instructions. It was really sort of unbelievable actually. And of course another issue of there was the number of aircraft.
[telephone ringing]
AC: You’ll have to excuse me.
[recording paused]
AC: Where were we?
AP: We were talking about wartime England.
AC: Oh yes.
AP: And you said it was pretty amazing.
AC: Well it was [pause] Yes it was, well of course it was all geared and I made the point that everywhere, everywhere there were aircraft training. At our time, for example when we were in Brighton it wasn’t, we weren’t there very long. About seven or eight days I expect. But it, perhaps every afternoon a formation of Fortresses or Liberators would be coming back and coming over where we were. And other aircraft would be coming and going all the time. So yeah, it was all go go go go. So were the pubs. All go go go. There were six hundred pubs reputedly. There were reputedly six hundred pubs in Brighton. Alright. Well, eventually where did we get to? We, did we get up to Scotland?
AP: Yeah. Yeah.
AC: Yeah.
AP: You were at Scotland.
AC: Oh we’ve done that.
AP: That’s where you started training as a bomb aimer. Yeah.
AC: Well, ok.
AP: I think you got to OTU next.
AC: Yeah. The time came for, to be re-allotted and the next station was the Operational Training Unit and I was allotted to one at Westcott. Down near London. Westcott. And on the, I and another fella from where we had been were sent to Westcott. He was a New Zealander. And when we got to Westcott we were there apparently ahead of schedule before they formed up the next course. We had [pause] I had two or three days on my own shall we say. I met up with an another New Zealander. And whilst we were filling in time we went off to London which was something new to us. And then we, we went back and they had enough to make, make up a course. I can’t remember the course number. And shortly afterwards we were all brought together and the pilots in the group were asked to form a crew by going around, seeing if he had any friends or knew anybody or something or something. That was all very deliberate of course. And I was asked by a gentleman — Mr Boyer, Len Boyer, if I’d be his bomb aimer. And with others we made up, we made the crew. Except for the flight engineer who was to come later. And as a crew we were allotted a hut. A hut. Very tenth, tenth rate beds. Out in the mud because where we were, oh, sorry I’ve got the wrong. I got ahead of myself. We were in huts. In huts. I don’t think we were in Westcott. Yes, we were in huts as crews. That’s right. That’s right. And we did a lot of training as a crew. A lot of bombing, a lot of navigating and also learning how to fire the guns and so it went on. We were sent off to another station for a while. Probably because there was better landing or something like that. Eventually we, oh in particular we were supposedly being trained to go to the Far East. This particular, this particular OTU was supposedly training crews for the Far East. And we did quite a bit of familiarisation there. And when it came time very few went to the Far East but some must have. Or one crew must have because when I was coming home on the Athlone Castle, when we got to Bombay one of the fellows that was at Westcott walked up the gangway [laughs]. I never actually met him because he went somewhere else. But, well Westcott of course was very challenging because of all the different exercises we had to participate in. Very, very challenging. We were learning to be a crew. Each one was learning to do their bit and we allowed for flying in the dark. One thing or another. Well the time came to move on. We probably had a bit of leave then and the New Zealander who came in to the crew who was the wireless operator I recall he and I went off down to London. The others went home because they were Poms. Well, then we were re-allotted again. This time we went to a service training school I think it was called where we went on to four engine aircraft. Stirlings. I can’t remember off-hand the name of the station. It was very, very, very rough put together. Obviously one of the stations built during the Second World War. We did about six weeks there flying the, the Stirling which was an aircraft we were very pleased to move on from. It didn’t have much height. From there we were re-allotted to the final training school. Lancaster. The LFS. Lancaster Flying School. It was a pre-war job. Good accommodation and everything. We were only there about seven or eight days just to learn how to fly the Lancaster and learn how to, what all the knobs meant. I suppose we did a couple of bombing exercises. And then one day we were put in a truck. Two crews. We went off and found ourselves at the Mepal Station which was the station for 75 NZ. And my crew, we had been allotted a hut and from there we were met up and I probably, oh yeah we went out on a few training exercises to start with. Two or three, I think. We were doing just, once again learning the various calls and signals and so forth. The etiquette on the airfield. Then we went on our first trip. We were allotted for the first trip. That was to an airfield in Holland. At Eindhoven. Now this was late August, early September 1944. The Brits and the Canadians had just broken out from where they’d been held up in the invasion point. They were moving up to Holland, through Belgium to Holland et cetera and the Americans were moving up towards Germany. I suppose Eindhoven at the time had seen everything of the German Air Force and we were to bomb the airfield. Well, now it became quite a saga because as we were setting off of course Mr Boyer had a very nervous crew. As we were setting off, about a minute and a half after we started on track the navigator announced that we were doing the reciprocal of what we should have been doing. So we immediately of course turned back onto the right course. That, in a sense, meant that we were three or four or five minutes late which subsequently became a real issue. Anyway, we set off what we were supposed to be doing. Somewhere over Holland, don’t know really where, we got attacked by anti-aircraft in very great volume because we were the only one [laughs] flying relatively low. But we managed. Well the pilot managed to get out of that by [pause] had a term for it. Diving left and right. We went on, eventually got to the airport, aerodrome. We were the only ones there. Dropped our bombs. I don’t know whether we hit anything. Then turned. Turned to port. Left. And managed to join up with another attack. Probably our squadron was taking Eindhoven and some other squadron was taking the next German airfield sort of down the road. We joined up with them and we were with, you know sort of with company and we got home ok. That was the first trip. Now, it was said, it used to be said that if you managed to survive the first three trips you had a fair chance of surviving. That was a fair illustration [laughs] of what the first three trips was all about. Terrible. Ok. Well, what do I do? Keep on going?
AP: You can keep on going if you feel like it.
AC: Number one to Eindhoven. I have to say the bomb aimer didn’t have a very high opinion of the navigator to start with [laughs] His confidence slipped a bit after that. Anyway, that’s another story.
AP: You were a fully trained navigator yourself.
AC: Well there’s that.
AP: The same course as the observer. Yes.
AC: I was.
AP: Understood.
AC: Of course, that was his bad luck. Anyway, we went on and did more. Most of the ones we did, the next three or four we did were down in to France. For example, I think we went to Boulogne. That’s the way you pronounce it. German troops holed up there. We went. We attacked the German front line somewhere. It would be in France. But somewhere around there. Down. Then eventually after trips, probably four or five we went on to night trips into Germany. Here, there and everywhere. Well, they were at night and you didn’t see much [laughs] Eventually of course you got to the target. The navigator would, largely got you there. We would, we had Pathfinders in those days. The Pathfinders would be dropping or have dropped target signals. Colours which we would have, we were, had, the idea was we bombed the target indicators. Sometimes we would get instructions to say allow for another hundred, hundred yards or something. As the targets, the target indicators were, had been dropped short or something like that. I wouldn’t have liked to have been the master bomber in all that. Well, that went on until about the seventh or the eighth flight. We went to a place on the Rhine. No. Yes. That’s right. I just can’t think of the name. It started with S I think. On the Rhine. And I haven’t told this story. Whilst we were training, at Westcott I think it was, we used to do night vision exercises. That was to, we used to sit in a sort of a hut or something. The lights turned on and some mythical light would, the idea was that gradually you recognised features. Follow me? Ok. Well it became obvious that the rear gunner had much better night vision than the rest of us. Well it became obvious to me anyway. Well, no notice was taken of it because it was just another exercise. But this particular night, after we’d left the target, he sighted a fighter attacking us and he called out to the pilot, me and to do a dive. Which he did. The gunner did get his machine guns going. Anyway, we managed to dive out of it. But I’ve always seen it, maybe not be correctly, seen it as his better eyesight. Because not many of us survived the fighter attacks. Anyway, we got out of that and got home. Well, we continued on doing these here, there. For example, we participated in the two trips that went to [pause] Driffield. Driffield. No. That’s [pause] they put on two bombing raids on this Northern Ruhr city for the one day. I was told later the idea was to show the Germans that we had the capacity to do that sort of thing. They were thousand bomber. Or one, the first one was a thousand bomber raid. We were part of it.
AP: Dusseldorf perhaps.
AC: Eh?
AP: Dusseldorf.
AC: No. It wasn’t Dusseldorf.
AP: Dortmund. Dortmund.
AC: Eh?
AP: Dortmund.
AC: No.
AP: No.
AC: Driffield.
AP: What else is there? No. Driffield is in the UK.
AC: It might come to me.
AP: Anyway.
AC: Anyway, we did, also did the night flight. We were, you know [laughs] we were sort of up for so many, so many hours. When we got home the thing that I always remember we were offered a small drink of rum and I don’t know what else [laughs] That was that one. [unclear] North end of the Ruhr anyway. Well, we had to get to thirty. That was the target. The next problem we ran into we had to stay for, oh one of the flights we did was to fly to the Dutch coast and drop bombs on the walls that were holding the water back from the Dutch land. We dropped bombs on the walls and the water flowed in and eventually we managed to kick the Germans out because the Germans couldn’t sort of operate their units. Well we had that. Feltwell. Not Feltwell. No, it wasn’t Feltwell. We did that. That was in a sense relatively simple. I believe we killed six hundred Dutchmen in the process though. Later on, just perhaps a week later on we had another of these flights to the south of the island which was on the coast of the estuary that led into Antwerp. And what they were really trying to do was to get shipping into Antwerp to supply all the troops and they had to get rid of the Germans. Well anyway, this city, town, on the south, we had to do this bombing exercise which we did relatively low and as we were leaving, turning around to go home the rear gunner said, ‘The aircraft behind us is going into the sea.’ Which it did. At the same time within seconds I suppose but might have been a half a minute one of our engines failed. And of course that wasn’t the best but we got rid of the bombs and that, that got rid of a lot of the weight. Anyway, the pilot tells us to don our parachutes which of course were here and there. But luckily, he managed to keep it all going and we got, we got home alright. The thing that always struck me, has always stayed in my mind is I was at the front of course, lying down, looking out. I’m looking out down there at that bloody great sheet of water. But we missed that. I mentioned, I should have mentioned earlier on one of the early flights that was going to France. We lost an engine on take-off with a full bomb load. Eighty thousand pounds I think it was. A full load. A lot of bombs. We were a fully laden aircraft. And we lost the engine on take-off. Well, normally the pilot would have gone back. First of all he would have had to get rid of a lot of the petrol and then he would have gone and landed it. But our friend Mr Boyer decided that the trip wasn’t all that bad. That we’d go on. And we went on and did the mission on three engines. You have to give him credit. You have to give him credit. So anyway, eventually we, we get to thirty two because at that stage they were increasing the number of missions as the casualties were sort of falling. And we were stood down at thirty two. And then from there we were all sent off to places for re-allotment and I was sent to, with some of the others, sent to a station in Scotland. And from there I was allotted to another station down near Coventry where I became a navigator. When I was, we were being used, well not used, our role there was to check the accuracy of signals on runways and each day, or each day and a half or something we would be allotted an aerodrome somewhere in England or Northern Ireland or Scotland to go and check the accuracy.
AP: So, this is like a standard beam approach.
AC: Yeah.
AP: That’s the signal you’re talking about.
AC: Yeah. They did have names for them but I can’t remember.
AP: You’d probably be interested to know they still do something very similar to that.
AC: Oh, they’d have to.
AP: Yeah.
AC: And they do it here. Here. They do it in Australia.
AP: Yeah. They certainly do.
AC: They’d have to.
AP: I’m an air traffic controller. They’re a pain in the backside but that’s another story. Anyway, cool. So how long did you do that for?
AC: Well, I got there about January. And I left about October.
AP: Ok.
AC: It was really, for me, of course I’m only nineteen at that point. To me it was one of the best things that ever happened to me because the people that were at this station they were all very, they were all trained crews. All very experienced crews. They’d been all over the world three times [laughs] They’d done everything. They were very experienced and, you know their backgrounds. But mostly, hang on. I was the only Australian. I was the only Australian on the station. There was a Canadian for a while. There might have been one or two or three New Zealanders. The rest were all Poms and of course they were all, they’d all been long term hadn’t they? Some of them were permanent people. Very interesting it was. And as a consequence, of course we went all around. All over England and all over Scotland and Ireland. And Northern Ireland. I was talking to a lady here this morning she was a New Zealander but spent quite a bit of time over in the UK. Some years actually. And she’d been up to, spent time in the Hebrides and all that. Well very, well I wouldn’t say it was the making of me but very interesting.
AP: From, I’m just interested on the bomb aimer side of things.
AC: The what?
AP: Just interested on the bomb aimer side of things.
AC: Yeah.
AP: What did a target indicator actually look like? Can you describe seeing one burst and what it looked like in front of you?
AC: Oh, it was just a big flame really. And I mean we’ll talk about night at the start. At night it was just down there somewhere. There. There. There. There. It was just a sort of a big flame. A big light. A big light. And of course, there’d be hopefully two or three of them in close proximity. Not always. Far from it. In daytime [pause] well they must have shown up in the daylight.
AP: Big and brighter I suppose, yeah.
AC: Eh?
AP: Even brighter than the first.
AC: Well, must have.
AP: When, when you’re, you were saying that the master bomber says you know aim at the reds.
AC: Yeah.
AP: Or aim at the greens or something. Could you as the bomb aimer actually hear that over the intercom?
AC: Oh yes. Yes.
AP: So it was patched over the intercom.
AC: Yes. Yes. I and the pilot probably. At that point in time it only lasted minutes. At that point in time the pilot and the bomb aimer were, shall we say running the show. But after the bombs had been dropped et cetera the navigator would give you a course to steer. With us though, just to make the point, for it was never explained to me, but I think some of it reverted back to our pilot. We were given the task of having special photography which meant that we had to fly what they termed the straight and narrow. Straight and level. Straight and level for, it might have been say fifty seconds. It doesn’t sound long [laughs] but up in the air under those conditions it was a bloody long time. Well we got, some of us got anointed with that somewhere after we’d started and we stayed in that role the whole time. It was something that the rest of the crew weren’t very keen about I can tell you [laughs]
AP: I can imagine.
AC: I don’t know. They weren’t very keen on that. I don’t blame them either.
AP: I’ve, I’ve seen a letter that was written by a wireless operator.
AC: Yeah.
AP: A friend sent home during the war. He described his bomb aimer as, ‘our best passenger.’ You know, ‘We carry him thousands of miles so he can drop his eggs and then he has a sleep on the way back and asks us how the flak was like.’ That’s probably a slightly jaundiced view. But what, what did you do as a bomb aimer when you weren’t actually in the nose with your finger on the tit?
AC: Well, in the first place, as a bomb aimer I was in the nose all the time. Except on one occasion where our pilot had to go to the toilet which of course was quite an experience for everybody. I was on my belly lying in the front of the aircraft. I was also theoretically the alternative front gunner but we didn’t use those. I used them accidentally once. I didn’t tell anyone.
AP: Yeah.
AC: But you lay there. You were the sort of assistant navigator. For example, if you were crossing the coast or you’d tell the navigator, ‘We’re now crossing the coast.’ Or crossing here or something over there. If you saw anything like it’s, well I used the word cathedral because we used Ely Cathedral all the time when we were coming back, as a landmark. You’d sight, sight the cathedral and you were watching out for aircraft, enemy aircraft or our own aircraft because they were a menace too. And also we in our squadron anyway I was the one that operated what was called the H2S. H2S. Have you heard of that?
AP: Yes. I have.
AC: And while on operations we didn’t use H2S too often. Well, it wasn’t encouraged actually because the enemy apparently put a locate on it. I did use, I did two or three times have to get up in the main cockpit and use the H2S. So that’s about it really. Yeah. Well, in a way the fellow was right but not really. You know. Because I see, well the whole thing sort of revolved around emergencies didn’t it? Of one sort or another. The example of an emergency was the pilot and the toilet. Yeah. In some cases and there were two on our squadron I don’t really know what happened to them but the pilots were wounded and the bomb aimers took over. I knew both of those. They took over and they managed to land. Don’t know how [laughs]
AP: So —
AC: Well, you see with me I’d done, I’d done the pilot training for twelve hours. That got me to the point where I could sort of fly an aircraft. We did a lot of the make believe training on the, we had these make believe aeroplanes. Did that all the time when we were on the squadron. So in a way I I wasn’t exactly dim witted, in the sense I’d done it all. But let me just say that this time when Lenny boy had to go to the toilet it starts off with, ‘Allan could you come up?’ I suppose, so, ‘I need to go to the toilet.’ That means I’ve got to sort of get out of where I am. Get up. We’ve got to get him out of his seat. Equip him with a parachute which must have been hanging somewhere. Get him fitted out with an oxygen mask because he couldn’t, couldn’t go to the toilet without oxygen. He’d never come back. We were in formation. Three other, I think three aircraft. We were on what was then termed, I think GH. That was another form of navigation. We were in formation and we were in cloud. And when we got home three aircraft didn’t come home on that trip. You can see how dicey it was.
AP: Very much so.
AC: Terrible.
AP: Speaking of dicey you mentioned earlier you accidentally used the front guns. I sense a story.
AC: Yeah. What? How did I do it?
AP: Yeah. What happened there?
AC: Well I must have been setting them into position or something and I must have pressed the trigger.
AP: In flight, or on the ground?
AC: On the ground.
AP: Oh dear.
AC: Going around. We was going around the tarmac. We had been at a night and it had all happened in a second.
AP: Very good.
AC: Not really.
AP: No. Not really at all [laughs] So anyway you’ve told me about your operational flying. When you weren’t on ops on the squadron or elsewhere in England what did you do when you weren’t on duty?
AC: Well so some of us stayed in bed. Some of us went to the pub. My navigator used to go sleep with his girlfriend. We all had bicycles. And on the squadron we would be, you know, we were very close to the place. Ely. Ely. Ely Cathedral. We used to go in there on occasion. Once or twice we went to the pictures there. When I was at the, where I went to the last operation. Come in.
[recording paused]
AC: Well, you know the last station we [pause] well I have to say we spent a lot of our time in the pubs.
AP: I would like to ask you about that soon too.
AC: But also we, I anyway, I and some of the others we used to go into Birmingham, big city, and go to the piccies. And also Stratford on Avon wasn’t very far away. And well say there was a Padre. The Padre used to organise small groups to go to the theatre et cetera [unclear] or a night. Went there quite a few times. And of course we used to go on leave every six weeks. Now, I had relatives in the UK. My mother came from England. She was English. And not every time I went on leave but about half I used to go and stay with them. That would be about it I think.
AP: You said you spent a fair a bit of time in pubs. Describe your favourite English pub. What happened there and what was it like?
AC: Favourite English pub. Oh I suppose that, the answer to that is that one that was nearby the Mepal [pause] Station. It was very close. It was very sort of friendly because I mean all the other crews or some of the other crews would be going there. We wouldn’t stay there very long. But that’s where we sort of spent a bit of time. I can’t remember. They had a snooker, billiard table in the mess. We used to play a lot of that. That would be in the off times. I don’t know whether that fills in.
AP: Yes. That’s alright. Alright, we might, we might, we’re getting fairly close to the end of my, my short list here. What, how did you find readjusting to civilian life when you came back? What did you do and how did you readjust?
AC: Well I worked for the State Electricity Commission. When I left I was a junior clerk. And at that time, in the era, all the people that went into the service were guaranteed their jobs back. SEC of course very big and I just went back to the job I was in when I went in to the Air Force. Nothing. There was nothing different. Nobody ever asked me any questions. But there were a lot of us doing the same thing. And then after a year or two I thought, you know I need to move on somehow or another. And I applied for a couple of jobs and got one of them and left the section that I was in. I went into what was called the audit branch which was totally different. And that had different demands et cetera. Used to spend quite a bit of time away from Melbourne doing audits in the country. Then I got another job as a trainee which gave me a broader horoscope. I spent a month with this group of people or that group of people. Or three months or six months. It was over a period of three years all around the place being trained up. Once I, one of, one of the jobs I was given was to be a meter reader. I did that for about three months. Later on in my work life I found myself in the role interviewing people for jobs. Different scene altogether. Anyway, this particular job that was being interviewed for was a meter reader’s job. Somewhere up in Mallee or Wimma or something. Outback place. The fella being interviewed probably didn’t understand what was going on. The question was asked by me about, something about the meter reading. Some technical point. He said to me, ‘You ever read any meters?’[laughs] I was able to say, ‘Yes. I’ve read quite a few.’ And that sort of [laughs] killed his further, further questions. I know. Oh well. Then I got a series of other jobs stepping up all the time. And that Frank Sims that was there with us that day he and I sort of started together. He was in a different role to me but we sort of finished together. He was in the Air Force. In the [regulars?] He’d been to not Pakistan. He went to [pause] We now called it whatever they call it. What they invaded. I’m terrible. Anyway, Frank and I sort of we stayed in the SEC all our working lives and for one reason or another we managed to get a few promotions. And I’ve got a problem with the teeth and well as far as I was concerned it was very success. It was very successful. It was hard work. Very demanding. Managed to eventually [laughs] eventually retire thankfully. But I did a lot of things subsequently. Did a lot of things.
AP: So perhaps the this is my final question, perhaps the most important one. For you personally what’s Bomber Command’s legacy and how do you want to see it remembered?
AC: Well we forget one aspect of it. As a marvellous well-organised organisation that achieved great things against great odds. It was a marvellous organisation. I haven’t said this to anybody else but the RAF, compared to the RAAF, of course there were all sorts of reasons for that were so far ahead. Technically and everywhere else it was hard to believe that we were both doing, in one way, the same thing. And whilst they haven’t picked up too many accolades in, not recent times but over time, over time it was a very very efficient organisation. Does that help you?
AP: That’s yeah. Yeah, that’s very good. How, how do you want to see it remembered?
AC: Remembered? [pause] I think along with the other groups, Fighter Command, not the Fleet Air Arm, what’s the one that went out to sea? And Transport Command. They all made the, a significant contribution to the, well the finalisation of the Second World War as they did. What people don’t understand is, for example one of the reasons that the Germans gave up was they ran out of petrol. They ran out of petrol because we constantly bombed their refineries and as a consequence of, this has got nothing to do with that, as a consequence of bombing their refineries we lost three aircraft on that mission I talked about. And we lost eight on a previous mission where I think we filled the gap. That was the oil refineries. Of course, the oil refineries naturally enough were extremely well defended. So they all made their contribution along with the RAAF and the RCAF. The Royal New Zealand Air Force. But it was a very big contribution that sort of got lost in the upsets after the war. I don’t know. Will that do?
AP: Very good. I think that’s a very emphatic way to finish actually. I think that’s, that’s quite good. Well, we’ve done pretty well. That’s an hour and fifty minutes. That’s not a bad effort. So, thank you very much. Let’s turn the tape off.
AC: Well, in a way, when you look back it’s a minor event but it wasn’t to us I have to say. It wasn’t to us.
AP: I don’t think it was a minor event at all. I’ve just spent the last two months interviewing ten of you guys and you were all —
AC: Of course none of them knew what they were letting themselves in for.
AP: I’ve heard something along those lines as well.
AC: Well we didn’t. When I applied to go into the Air Training Corps [laughs] it was a fun thing. Sort of.
AP: That’s awesome. Very good. Alright, I’ll stop the tape.


Adam Purcell, “Interview with Allan Joseph Couper,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed March 2, 2024,

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