Interview with John Eppel


Interview with John Eppel


John Eppel grew up in Australia and joined the Royal Australian Air Force. After training, he completed 30 operations as a navigator with 550 Squadron. He describes initial training in Australia and the journey by sea via the United States, then further training in Britain before his posting as a navigator with 550 Squadron. He says he was fortunate in having a ‘safe tour’ and describes only one incident, at Emmerich, when the aircraft had a close confrontation with the enemy. He describes the crewing-up process at RAF Finningley and also provides details about H2S and GEE. He also describes many of his leisure-time activities, the personalities me met, the friendships he formed with his crew members and others he met during his years in Britain. He also gives an account of how he spent VE Day and VJ Day. After the war he returned to the same company where he’d worked before the war and retired after forty-eight years.




Temporal Coverage




02:02:26 audio recording

Conforms To


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JM: This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Jean MacCartney and the interviewee is John Eppel. The interview is taking place at Mr Eppel’s home in Eastwood, New South Wales, on the 19th of April 2017. Now, John, I said that we would just have a bit of an informal chat and we’ll start way back in, um, when you were born in 1923 in, I believe, in Marrickville ?
JE: Marrickville.
JM: Does that mean you were born at home or —
JE: No. It was a,a local health centre, private hospital.
JM: Right OK. And was your family there all living around Marrickville?
JE: We were living in just one street right from grandma Blake who is as you see just up there by the fire place. She bought property in just one street in Marrickville right from the man who first settled there, or one of the early settlers was a Frenchmen, Du Ponte [?], so of course it was ang— anglicised to Despointe, later to D E S P O I N T E S. Anyway, grandma Blake took, er, took, er, bought the first property in 1902 and from then, er, well, her son and her grandson extended the prop— the other properties. So, I was then grew up in number 56 Despointes Street which she bequeathed to my father and it stayed in the family until my mother died. My father died, er, just after we married in 1949 and then my mother was there until she died in 1972 or thereabouts and the property — she moved up to her sisters at Earlwood — and the property was then sold so we had landholdings in Marrickville for a long time.
JM: Over fifty years. Well over fifty years. Yes, that is a long time for — very — I believe so and, er, obviously in that case you did your schooling around Marrickville. So primary school —
JE: Primary school was in Despointes Street at one time. This was a British school. The Good Samaritan nuns ran that, and from there we went up to the Duracel [?] brothers up on Livingstone Road [background noise] and finished up there, in a secondary school up there.
JM: And what sort of things were you doing in your youth around Marrickville. Were you playing in sporting teams, in, um, in clubs or —
JE: I played football, I played football at school, you know, for the school teams. Never much good at cricket but, er, football I was, I was reasonable at and my father — well, when I was young I was joining the cubs, a local scout group, and just about that time the loc— scoutmaster that had been there by name of Catch [?] he retired and my father, being an ex-navy man so he took it on. He became the scoutmaster for a while. So, he did the, er, the scoutmaster’s course at Bennet [?] Hill, Bennet Hills and so he took that on for a while. Then finally he retired from that also and the time he retired from it, well, I gave up too, but —
JM: You gave up too. Did you go through and do your King’s Scout badge or didn’t you go as high as that?
JE: No, I got one or two badges I think at the time but I didn’t go in the scouts. I just stayed in the cubs.
JM: Oh, OK. Right. Right.
JE: But, er, one of my sons, my son Peter later in the piece he went right through the Sea Scouts at Lewis Point.
JM: OK. OK. And, of course in, in your sort of — about twelve or so, um, would have been the start of about the Depression years so how, how did that impact on your immediate area?
JE: A great deal. I remember the, the difficult situation in the early ‘30s when Governments were falling and so on. Jack [unclear] was, er, taken out as State Governor and all that sort of thing. I had a small bank account in the New South Wales which was taken over by the Cobalt and my little bank account became a Cobalt bank account which I’ve been with ever since, since 1932, so that’s just by the way. But, er, my father, he’d been something of a motorbike enthusiast. He got himself a brand new Harley Davidson, right, in ‘29, which was his pride and joy. But come the Depression had to sell it and he was out of work for two years and he got a little, little Douglas that ran on the smell of an oil rag. He put his tools on the back, back of the bike and went for looking for work. But he was still basically out of work for two years. So the Depression affected us all. We all knew what was going on. We had patches in our pants and so on and even at school we, we knew we were poor little boys and our fathers were out of work and, you know, it was a bad time and I feel that’s influenced our attitudes for the rest of our lives. My attitude to investments these days is still influenced by what happened then.
JC: That’s right. That’s’ exactly right. And did — when you went through schooling did — sorry I meant to just check — and so what sort of — you mentioned your father had tools — what sort of — was he sort of —
JE: He was a carpenter, carpenter in general —
JM: Carpenter in general but probably turning his hand to anything.
JE: Carpenter and joiner. He had been in the Navy and that was his basic trade. He worked on many of the major cities and the theatres of Sydney city. He, you know, in fact he’s part of the building of Sydney city. On the Regent, the Capital and all, and State theatre. All those theatres he worked on.
JM: That would, that would give you a very interesting insight when you would have gone and visited them in later years to be able to hear about the work what he did so —
JE: Being and ex-Navy man, he was very proud of that, and he had his ex-Navy friends and we went to inter-State gatherings and so that First World War background I was very much aware of it.
JM: Very much part, very much part of your DNA, so yes. And you went — you mentioned the schools you went through. Did you finish school at the end of the intermediate certificate or, er did you go through the —
JE: No, I finished but I didn’t do particularly well but [unclear] improved at Tech after I left school at the beginning of ’39 and I was trying to get in — I had been interested in drawing and interesting building model aeroplanes and making drawings of model aeroplanes out of a magazine I used to buy. So I was buying Flying Aitchison [?] and popular aviation magazines with my little pocket money I managed to get from 1934,’35 onwards. And then about 1937, er, my schoolteacher at the time, a Duracel [?] brother, he encouraged me to re-join the Sydney Municipal Library and I have been in, in, a library member for, oh, ever since. So, primarily it was for geography and a lot of other school subjects but I started to read aeroplane books and a bit about aircraft because I was still interested, and I started to build little balsa model aeroplanes and finally went into Berstex [?] but so I‘ve been building aeroplanes for many, many years so that was — I was interested in the aeronautics so that’s how I got then to where I finally ended up.
JM: You didn’t join the Air Training Corps?
JE: No. No. I don’t think there was an Air Training Corps then. I’m not certain now whether they were they in existence then, the ATC?
JM: But, er, but nevertheless you developed this interest in, in planes and —
JE: So, so I was interested and, of course, I wanted to get, being interested in drawing, I wanted to do engineering drawing and, of course, and while about August of 1940, 1940 I managed to work a couple of — through my mother’s brother I was introduced to Wormald Brothers, which became Wormald International finally, finally an international, before becoming an Australian international company, and I stayed with Wormald International for, then, for forty-eight years, from 1940 until I retired in 1948 [?].
JM: Goodness me.
JE: So — but starting, er, in that industry, in August 1940, the war had started, jobs were still difficult to get and there might be about a hundred kids lining up trying to get a job in a drawing office. I was lucky I got sort of assistance from my mother’s brother so that helped. So, I got in and I was there 1941,’42. I was still in the drawing office but then, in those years, fire certificate passed in the fire protection of Australia’s liquid fuel storage. I’d been there for twelve months in, by 1941, and I took my first annual leave and I went up to Katoomba for a holiday and while I was away the company contacted my father and said, ‘We want your permission to send him to New Guinea,’ and my father agreed. We had the contract for the naval fuel oil depot in Port Moresby. We also had contracts for fuel depots in, naval fuel depots, in [unclear] Sydney and Brisbane so August 1941 I was sent to New Guinea to Port Moresby. I got to the, of course, we were bound by contract to get site details. That’s why they picked me to go and get it and I went up there and at that time did one of the silliest things I’ve ever done. I was the only one made to go the site sentry at the gate, with my arrival ticket to explain it, and, er, I was up on top a hundred and eighty foot diameter, about forty foot high navy fuel tank, about three quarters full, and I wanted to check some fittings see if we could work with them. They were already installed fittings. And I opened the roof and climbed down the ladder inside and with the fumes of the fuel oil and the tropics I could have slipped on that ladder and ended up in fuel oil and drowned and never been found. But anyway I got out of that, overcome that. But also I remember at Port Moresby, while I was in Port Moresby, the flight of the US flying fortress came from the United States, er, across via New, via New Guinea, up to the Solomon Islands and they landed in Port Moresby for the day and I met two members of the crew of the USA Air Force and had a chat with them so that was interesting.
JM: So did you get to look at the planes themselves or just chat to the servicemen?
JE: That’s in here, the record of that flight and I didn’t close to the aeroplanes but I talked to two of the crewmen and that was interesting. So, of course, from then on I had this important information in my brain and by September 1941 I was called up for military service [unclear] 53a and of course the company gave me a letter to take with me and I slipped into in my birthday suit for a medical examination and I hear the area officer’s voice raised, ‘Where is this fella? Let’s have a look at him,’ after he’d read the letter. So I was exempted from military service on account of my information, the fact that I was working on a naval oil tanks, I was working on other, other work for all these oil companies and improving their, their fire protection and so on. So, we were doing important work, and came the start of 1942 the company was declared a protected industry so that made me even more stuck. So, I was, by that time I was going into the Air Force depots that were being built for the Air Force Empire Training Scheme but their, their fuel storages, we were doing fire protection for them also. So I was getting into a uniformed environment in [unclear] Isle, places like the [unclear] Air Force depots and so on, as an apparently physically fit civilian, in this uniformed environment. And knowing my father being in the Navy and the fact that my grandfather had been an Army man in two wars I was getting a bit sensitive about my position so at the start ‘42 I applied to join the Air Force. After I applied to join the Air Force I went to, er, what are they called? The, er, Women’s Emergency Signals Services, for learning, how to learn Morse code. So I was learning Morse code as a civilian on the side. So, all of ’42 I was fighting the company, ‘Are you going to release me?’ They said, ‘No, no, no.’ They sent one other executive sent to the Air Force and said, you know, ‘Can he be released?’ They said, ‘No, no, no.’ So, anyway after that the Air Force made me release the reservist badges, the books rather, the books I had for study. They said, ‘You have to give them back because you haven’t been released.’ So, I had to give them back so I wrote four letters to the manpower authorities at Kingston, Kensington and ended up at state power director in New South Wales in Martin’s Place and the upshot was I was released for the Air Force in 1943 and at that time I was finally released from the company and became an AC2 and I started as an Air Force Courier so the Air Force correspondence with the, with the manpower authorities is appended to this.
JM: Right. OK. We’ll —
JE: At the back of this is my correspondence, correspondence with them.
JM: OK. So, John’s documented a lot of his, um, experiences in a — which also incorporates his family’s military experiences in a, in a book called “Footprints on the Sands” and, um, it’s a very thick document and very well augmented by lots of photographs and other subsidiary documents so it’s a very interesting compilation that he’s created. So, um, so you finally, as you say, got your release to go and enlist and so you, um, did your ITS at Kingaroy I see from your log book?
JE: Kingaroy. Yes, so I enlisted at Woolloomooloo and then on the day we had to turn, turn up we all had to line up at Central Station and the man who had been sent by Wormald Brothers who had been sent down to get me out he saw me that night and didn’t admit to it until many years later [laugh] that he had seen me there. So we were posted off to Kingaroy. There was about thirty of us and on a troop train with a lot of RAF and other people on it was waylaid on the way because an RAF man had an argument with an American and broke a window on the train and the train was stopped and so it was late getting to Brisbane. We get to Brisbane and there we are in civilian clothes and we were late. We lost, missed the train to go to Kingaroy so we bunked up at an army camp on boards overnight with a blanket between four. That’s all they could find for us and the Air Force came and got us the next day, took us to an Air Force base at Sandgate and then we got our selves cleaned up from our trip on the train and had a shave and so on and the next day we got posted off to Kingaroy. So we ended up in Kingaroy. So that was ITS and, of course, we were then stripped of our civilian clothes and we got our Air Force issue and so on, and then we were now in the semi tropics, and we started off in shirts and shorts but they were somewhat ill-fitting so the CO said, ‘No. That’s no good. You look terrible.’ So he made us wear the [unclear] skins, the blue winter overalls, and they were better so we got to wear them. So again we went through the RAAF course then of course, learning all about the new regime. We had to be certain we had read the daily regiment orders and all that sort of thing otherwise we’d be on a charge and swing our arms up, up there otherwise our names would be taken and, oh, all the things that happened to us and [emphasis] got our first flight in a service aircraft. 5 Squadron were there at Kingaroy at the time, flying Wirraways, and they were practicing dive-bombing the tanks of the [unclear] Division out on the [unclear] so they gave us aircrew trainees a flight in a Wirraway, and that was the first service aircraft. Then they converted to Boomerangs and they went to New Guinea. So that was the start.
JM: So, that was the first time you’d actually been in a plane so —
JE: Oh no, I’d flown to, um, Port Moresby.
JM: Oh yes, yes. Of course.
JE: That was Delta Airlines. They were flying Lockheed 14s, which became the Hudsons. Up in Port Moresby was the base for the Lockheed 14s, which became Hudsons. So that was the first flight I had, up to Port Moresby.
JM: But — so that those two planes would be slightly different though, a very different experience. So from Kingaroy, um, you then went to Cootamundra.
JE: Cootamundra. Yes. We were stuck in Kingaroy for a while. We finished our basic ITS course. Anyway, we were in a pool, going out digging in the roads and doing all sorts of silly things and it was just filling time but it was still useful things. But Cootamundra for navigation skills were being flooded by sub pilots and Cootamundra was being killed with sub pilots from Temora and Bundaberg and other places like that. They were, weren’t not good enough to be pilots so became navigators so we had to wait until they were processed through so we were delayed. We were 38 Course at Kingaroy then became 39 Course at, er, at Cootamundra. So, er, that was the situation.
JM: Right. So that’s when you started your navigator training? And so that was —
JE: So by the time we got to Cootamundra it was getting the middle of winter. It was quite cold.
JM: Oh yes, that’s right. It would have been quite cold in June, June and July and August —
JE: You’d put your feet on the ground and they would ring, you know?
JM: Yes. Yes. So hopefully you had slightly heavier clothing by that stage?
JE: Oh, yes. The only time you were warm was when you’d got your flying gear on.
JM: So what, um, flying — did you do flying down in Cootamundra at all?
JE: Yeah we flew mostly over the towns of, er, southern New South Wales and learning all the basic things we had to do, with square searches and, er, taking pictures [background noise] of, er, of silos and railway stations and things like that. It, er, was introducing us to, to basic navigation at that stage.
JM: Well. We’ll come back to the book later a bit later on so that —
JE: We’ll come back to it later. Yeah. Yeah. Righto.
JM: Yeah. If that’s OK. And, um, so that, that’s all good sort of introduction stuff to, for you, and so —
JE: Yes. It was. We did one long cross country to Adelaide and stayed over. The pilot was on instructions ‘Don’t stay over and don’t be delayed.’ Unfortunately during the [unclear] drop on the way across [unclear] like watching a weather balloon going up and I just missed a few readings and so he called me then everything. Anyway, things that happened [slight laugh].
JM: Yes, that’s right. So from there was off to Evans Head for your gunnery training I would assume?
JE: Oh, from Cootamundra we got a little bit of leave in Sydney on the way back to then and I was posted to bombing and gunnery at Evans Head. One of our mates who’d been with us Cootamundra — he was from Queensland, named Alf Dess [?] — he wrote a little poem and — which I’ve got in there about the — and, er, about the, the mistreated men, clock watching, mugs of foaming ale, we got various little bits. There was our sorry little flight at Cootamundra. And, er, he didn’t turn up at bombing and gunnery school at Evans Head. So anyway, ‘What’s happened to Alf Dess?’ Anyway Alf turned up a week or two later and told us his tale. He was a little bit older than the rest of us and he was a man, red faced, reddish faced man, and he liked the strong, strong liquors and he’d been imbibing his latest favourite tipple in Sydney and, er, unfortunately that affected him internally and he had to go to the hospital, hospital at Bankstown, and at that time was a VD hospital. And he turned up there and of course they said, ‘Where did you get it?’ He said, ‘I haven’t got it.’ They wouldn’t believe him. So, anyway, that was his trouble, you know, the strong alcohol affected him down, down below and, er, so he was telling us his tale and had us in fits about the situation, you know, about what could happen, you know [laugh]. And out at Evans head, you know, while we’re on the subject, the huts at Evans Head they were full of lurid places [?] and other things about the more sordid parts of service life, you know, warning us what could happen. In later times, when we went to Britain, we found that Scunthorpe at one time was out of bounds by Bomber Command because it was called the red light of the north for the same reason. So we were warned.
JM: You were warned. That’s right. So any particular, um, memories from that bombing and gunnery training at Evans Head? Any near misses or —
JE: The main thing was we had contend with as bombers and navigators we, we had to fly in the back cockpit of the Fairey Battle and these were Fairey Battles that had been given to Australia. There were hundreds of them sent to Australia and Canada and other places because they were, they were obsolete and they’d been shot down, well, dozens over France in the early days of 1940 and, of course, they were vulnerable in that way but for training they were quite good. But they had Merlin engines [background noise of drilling] and they were glycol cooled and for us as well, and for me particularly, we had to lie down and drop bombs through the hatch under, under the aircraft, and we got the fumes, the glycol fumes from the engine, from the radiator sometimes back to us. It was a sickening thing, you know, when you were trying to concentrate on dropping a bomb.
JM: Yes. Not, not easy.
JE: Breathing glycol fumes wasn’t very good. Then the staff pilots of course were getting, were bored with this job they had and after they’d finished the job they’d go down the beach and fly along the beach at North Victor [?]. They’d go and have fun and games, yeah, yeah. Well, the pilots at Cootamundra used to do the same thing in Ansons at Cootamundra, they used to get fun and games too. They’d get to North Victor [?] farmers’ fences [laugh]. The things that happened.
JM: Yeah. Yeah. So then you went to Parkes for —
JE: Well, Parkes was more pleasant. That was our final astro navigation. We were basically trained as general navigators at Cootamundra and astro navigators at Parkes and that, that was reasonable. My main memories there was, again a staff pilot, who was so short he had a cushion on his seat to, apart from his parachute, to see up over the cockpit cone to fly the aircraft. And then one night we were up because of course we were flying mostly at night to Esso [?] and there had been a dust storm and the ground was consumed but the stars were quite bright so we managed, we managed to do what we had to do. That’s my memories of Parkes. That was reasonable but by that time, um, we had the final sort of send-off after each place, Cootamundra and Parkes and so on. My colleagues had, we all got to know each other, our foibles and so on, given each other nicknames and so on, so I was given the nickname of “Keeper of the Good Guts Book” because right from the beginning from Kingaroy onwards we were given ordinary exercise books to make notes in. That was alright. It was a reasonable thing it was to do for us but I thought I had a better idea. I’ll use the foolscap size spring-back binder they used to use as a text book. My father sent it to me. So, from there on, I used this spring-back binder, foolscap size [unclear] binder and with loose leafs my father sent me and I started putting all my notes in that. So the other fellas said, “The Good Guts Book” so at the bottom there the name now is “The Good Guts Book” as it I today. It finally broke the back of the spring-back binder after I’d got my Bomber Command and Transport Command notes in it but it’s still alive.
JM: Still alive. Goodness me. All these, all these years, ninety-odd years later. Yes. Amazing. And so then off to embarkation and, um, so December ’43 you were on a boat to —
JE: Now that was interesting also because, er, there were eighty, eighty-nine navigators now were being posted to Britain. Some of them were coming from where we’d been, at Cootamundra, Evans Head and Parkes. Some were coming from Nhill in Victoria, and we were all gathering at 2 ED [?] at that little park in Sydney but we were to sail from Brisbane. So, the eighty-nine of us were again put on a train and sent to Brisbane to join the American Army transport, The President Grant. The President Grant at that time, er, had been a peace-time liner and the US Army had taken over and it had become US transport, The President Grant, and it was taking wounded from the battles and so on back to the United States. So it was crewed by the US Navy of course and with some Army nurses to look after the wounded. We were, of course, the eighty-nine of us were the main able people otherwise on board and so we were given a job. We had to man the gun tops, gun tubs, on a rostered basis and watch for submarines and be hypnotised by flying fish and things like that, using our imaginations. Er, we never, never met any submarines but flying down the, going down the Brisbane river on that day (it was a week day when we joined the ship) we were floating down the Brisbane river, the PA system on the ship was playing “California, here I come”. There were submarines off the coast, for goodness sake. We thought, you know, where’s security? So, anyway, eventually we got to sea and it was a little bit rough for a start and — but we got our sea legs and that was good for the time we crossed the Atlantic. So, anyway, we crossed the Pacific, we crossed the date line, the equator over the Marianas and of course [unclear] for that, and they fired the rear gun one time and that shook the ship a bit but they didn’t do it anymore. But we were in steel bunks in the hold and sort of thing and I got one all to myself, to sleep there and put my gear in. We had to shave of course and we only got one bottle of cold water every day to sue to drink and to shave and everything else you needed it for. So the alternative was shaving in cold water, cold sea water. That wasn’t very nice. So, eventually some of us woke up to the bright idea, if we go up to the forward winch, to the forward deck, we can drain the winches. There’s hot condensed steam in the winches, nice hot water to shave with. That was good, so use your head.
JM: Use your head. Well, it was what was needed.
JE: Also on the forward deck were the gamblers that played poker and games like that and took the money from the others that were not so good. Oh, the things that happened on that ship. Then, of course, the mess was in the forward hold and going down on the companion way into the forward hold was very tight, you know, and stuff like that and not our cup of tea but still we put up with it. So, eventually we got to San Francisco and, of course, sailing under Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco. That was delightful for the wounded men and of course on the way over they were old school. While we were doing our duty in the gun tubs and if we got bored and started to sing or whistle the [unclear] officer would come down on us. And we had to ignore the American Naval officers and the Army nurses on the deck down below, sort of doing what comes naturally, and we had to ignore all that sort of thing [laugh]. Still that was [unclear]. So at San Francisco we were taken to Angel Island, a US Army base of course, and lectured and my US Army officer he said that, ‘I know you fellas don’t bother about saluting your own officers,’ because some of our officers were pilot officers even then and the rest were sergeants, and of course we didn’t salute each other, and he said, ‘Would you please salute the fella with the eagle on his shoulder. He’s the commander of this post.’ [laugh] So we had to salute the colonel. Anyway that was alright. So anyway, a day and a half in San Francisco, another, Ted Cook and I went, went to the movies, sat all night through a movie, and one of the favourite movies of at that time — no, its name won’t come at the moment. Anyway that was enjoyable.
JM: Yeah. So then on to the troop train?
JE: Onto a troop train across the United States. There was a little bit of snow there on the ground at that time. But the trains were so hot we wore our socks, our shirts and shorts, you know, as the trains were hot. And that shocked the Americans a little bit. And then they got a porter of course came around that we used to tip every so often and the flying officer in charge of us said, ‘Now cut this out.’ He said, ‘You’re only getting five dollars just to keep you going so you can’t afford to give a tip to somebody.’ So we had to stop doing that. We got into, er, middle of the United States and stopped there somewhere in Carolina, er, Carolina. Anyway, somewhere in the middle of the United States and got off the train for a milk shake and so on, and looking around, and a couple of us went and asked the girl for a milk shake and she said, ‘Oh, I can’t understand you.’ Typical southern accent, so anyway [unclear] we got by but the same was in Chicago. You know, the usual interest in Chicago, the stories of the — Al Capone and all the things that had happened in those days we’d seen in the movies and so on. That was our interest in Chicago. Then, of course, eventually we arrived in New York and, er, to another camp and that — we weren’t there long. That, that was alright. So we got into New York as soon as we could and a few of us went to Jack Dempsey’s Bar and did various other things, went to Sonia Heeney’s ice show and so on. So then me [emphasis] since my mother was a soprano and I’d been brought up on operatic arias and all sort of things, since she used to take me to the concert parties, to Long May gaol and veterans home at Upper [unclear] and various old peoples’ homes, I’d grown up with a singing background. I’d grown up on operatic arias, so I took myself to the Metropolitan Opera. I went to the Magnifica [?] and Metropolitan Opera and stayed and sat, stayed for supper on that for ever afterwards and sent, sent the programme back to my mother and made her green with envy [laugh]. Anyway, I got to the Metropolitan Opera. So that was good.
JM: Very good.
JE: So then one cold night we were loaded on to trucks with motorbikes with screaming sirens and so on, and we were taken to the side of a great ship and into the side of a great ship. We didn’t know what it was until we got inside and we found the names of the RAF carved into the railings and all over the place. It was the Queen Elizabeth. And she’d been taking the RAF from the city to the Middle East and now she was taking us to Britain and some thousand American troops bound for what became D Day finally, and they were with us, and again we were one of the smaller groups. There were some French Canadian girls that some of us got pally with and the purser on the ship was telling us what we would need in Britain, like lipsticks to give to the girls. We found we didn’t need lipsticks anyway. He was doing a deal. So, things came. On the Queen Elizabeth there were so many people on it, so many thousands of troops with their arms, and with the ship itself being armed and the gouting [?] cables around the ship and, with so many people using the water that was normally used for so many number of passengers laid down, the ship was unstable. So it was sailing across the Atlantic unescorted, on its own, and depending on the speed to beat the submarines and, as the captain said later, we ended up with a roll, with a high speed roll, and at one stage of the game, they had ropes across all the big open areas, and people had to give up going for meals. There was two meals a day and the PA system was going all day, ‘This is the second call for the third sitting in the sergeants’ mess. Fall in for chow.’ And this would go on all day. So we only got two meals but when this high speed roll was on a lot of people didn’t turn up for meals so that helped us to.
JM: It was impossible.
JE: And of course we were all given a big disk with a number, a coloured disk, with a number and it would say, ‘Stay in our part of the ship. Don’t go wandering about.’ If you wander out of your own area the MPs will be after you so you were under control.
JM: Yes, so you then get to Glasgow?
JE: So we ended up in Glasgow, in Gallowgate, in, up in, oh, in Finch [?] in Greenock, and
JM: On the train down to Brighton?
JE: We were let loose in there for, oh, half a day. And that was in Gallowgate and so we went strolling round the town and we encountered groups of girls. That was a cultural shock. These groups of girls singing, ‘Roll me over in the clover, roll me over in the da da da.’ So, I spoke to the MPO, I said, ‘Are all the girls like that? Do you know that song or what?’ But that was our next cultural shock. When we got back to the RAF base we were based at that time I went for the train and told the NCO about it and he said, ‘You were lucky you didn’t meet some of the fellas with razor blades in the backs of their caps.’ So that was no go, no go at that time. Had no idea.
JM: That’s right. So on the train down to Brighton?
JE: On the train down to Brighton and we met some of the French girls we’d met on the ship. And Don Patten was bloody, ‘Oh, fancy seeing you again.’ Oh yeah, Don Patten was loud [?]. Oh yeah, so down to Brighton and — via London of course — and transferring through London and a quick, quick view of some of the sights, and then down to Brighton and the two hotels in Brighton, The Metropole and The Grand. We were NCOs in the Grand. The officers were in The Metropole and, er, near the famous pier. We were out on the pier for lectures and things like that and sighting new and newer aircraft that used to go over the [background noise] and some others that we’d never heard of before. They were flying over Brighton.
JM: OK, John. Hold on a minute. I think we have a bit of competition here. So — OK, we’ve shut the door now so we won’t have that tree mulcher, the mulching and, er, chain saw going on. So, sorry we were just talking about Brighton and —
JE: We had lectures on the pier and so on and I found out looking after us at that time was our local post man. He was now a warrant officer disciplinary in Brighton and, of course, I knew him and he warned us that there’s six hundred pubs in Brighton but there’s one you shall not go into. Of course, there’s been a fight between the Canadian, Canadian soldiers and Australian airmen so this pub you shall not go into. Of course we all wanted to know the name of it. So, anyway that was that. But we went dancing at the Dome, you know, the famous Dome, the Prince Regent’s house in Brighton. And that was nice. You could ask a girl for a dance and, of course, you’d be favoured. They were nice girls. So that was nice, dancing at the Dome.
JM: And from there you moved on to your advanced flying?
JE: All the way back to Scotland again.
JM: Back to Scotland.
JE: Back to West Freugh on the Mull of Galloway. Well, that again was a nice place to be and we met new friends and a group of us there, there hadn’t been Australians, Australians there for some time so we were, we were welcomed nicely. And we got buddy buddy with the photographic WAAF, Joan Shaw, and she leant us an iron to iron our shirts and I had some starch with me and I offered the starch to starch our collars and so we got a good relationship with Joan. Later in the piece she got friendly with one of my mates, Kevin Curtin. He became an architect in the city. He — and his twin brother Pat was finally lost on ops but, er, she asked me later what had occurred to Pat and Kevin Curtin and she got some of my ops photos but she was to fly from West Freugh to the RAF Interpretation Centre, Interpretation Centre at Metheringham. So I met her later, some years later, sometime later in London. So that was our first friend in there. As I say, we flew up and down in Scotland, over Northern Island and up and down the Irish Sea and got to know about RAF procedures and local weather and so on and leant that they, if the enemy happens to be around they’ll shoot at you and don’t fly over any Royal Navy ships either. They’ll shoot at you. So things, things we had to learn.
JM: Kind of useful buy anyway, yes —
JE: Useful, yes.
JM: Yes, yes, yes. So, and being in March, basically most of March, early April, the weather was just early spring, should have been reasonable. Although, up in that part of Scotland was a little bit cool still at that stage but —
JE: Still a bit cool still but we used to wander around during our time off and even at one time we were down at, er, Oban and a couple of fellas said, ‘Oh, it’s time we had a pin-up.’ So we go past a ladies’ wear shop and there in the window is a hosiery advertisement with a blonde with the long socks on of the time and he said, ‘Oh we’ve got to have that as our pin-up.’ That became our pin-up.
JM: Well, there you go. So all you had to do was ask. So from there down, back, down to Finningley and then after Finningley, Worksop. Of course 18 OTU, um, started off at Finningley and then —
JE: Well, Finningley was the basic OTU, the permanent station, and Worksop was the satellite for it. Finningley was very much a spit and polish type of station and we had to behave ourselves there but the beauty of being now at Finningley was we crewed-up.
JM: That’s right, that what I was going to say. That was where you would have crewed-up.
JE: They got us all in the sergeant’s mess there one day and, er, some words from the CO and from the site padre about aspects of this marriage, which basically was what it was, and so we — they let us loose to crew ourselves up. So John Conway, er, he was also a navigator bomb aimer. He’d, he’d done, been trained in Canada and he’d done a coastal command course in Canada so I got to know him. I’d met him somewhere on a run and so John Conway as bomb aimer, he teamed up with me as navigator, and we looked around. We picked on a fair haired RAF pilot from Liverpool, John Harris, so there was now three of us. So the three of us approached Bob Bickford from Canberra as a wireless operator.
JM: Sorry, Big— Bigfoot?
JE: Bob Bickford.
JM: Bickford.
JE: He was from Canberra and so we picked on him so there were four of us. So we looked around again and here were two gunners, two RAF gunners, er, Jock, Bill Waddell from Dunfermline and Bryan Barby from Birmingham. They’d already got themselves together so we approached them to join us. And here we were in fairly a short space of time, there was six of as the enemy of the few [?].
JM: And so that was the way you came together. So how long had you known John Conway? Sort of —
JE: Oh, a little time. I can’t remember where I met him now. Whether I’d met him on a train somewhere or on leave somewhere but I, I had known him, had a fair acquaintance with him but I can’t recall now where I met him.
JM: Right but was it only in England or —
JE: Oh, no. In Britain. I knew him, met him in Britain.
JM: Only in Britain. Yep. OK. And, um, and you liked the cut of the cloth of the pilot but —
JE: Yes. We all got on well. That was the point then. We were all NCOs still and were bunked in together. We had to get to know each other and we got on well together. So when we, when we finally flew there was no nonsense about pilot and skipper and all this sort, sort of nonsense. It was, we had three Johns: John Harris, John Eppel, John Conway so the pilot became Johnny, I became Jack and John Conway, since he was John Cornelius, he became JC, so that became our terminology throughout. Bob being, er, being, being Robert, Bob, he became Bob. He was the wireless operator. The other gunner Bill, Bill Waddell from Dunfermline had a Scottish accent so he became known as Jock and Bryan in the rear turret he was just Bryan. So we called ourselves by our first names or by nicknames as appropriate and we got on well together from that day.
JM: That right. So then you —
JE: We went to Worksop. Well, Worksop we didn’t do any flying at that time. We were there for a few lectures, and, er, did some training lectures, and training, plotting, navigation plots and that sort of thing but no flying. We didn’t go to Worksop to fly. That was a pleasant place. It was near Retford in, in geography and the beauty of Worksop was we now got into Bomber Command rations and not only more in food and things like eggs and oranges and things that the others could enjoy. I was never an egg person. I couldn’t eat my eggs but the chocolate ration improved. We now got Mars Bars. Mars Bars were nice. So as that, that was England and the chocolate ration was Mars Bars. So Worksop was quite good but what happened at Worksop, of course, was the eve of D-Day. We were, we were there on the eve of D-Day and we had all been flying that day and that night and we were told to be down before midnight because the colours of the day were going to change. And when we got down we realised when we were going to bed and having a hot [unclear], well we couldn’t, mostly it was lukewarm, but flying overhead were the aircraft of the Eighth Air Force who were taking off from East Anglia, formatting overhead, on their way to Normandy. So we knew why the colours of the day were changing so we saw Normandy, saw Normandy starting. So that was that.
JM: And so, and you were flying —
JE: Flying Wellingtons at that time.
JM: At OTU, yes.
JE: And of course we had Wellingtons. We’d flown on Ansons before and Wellingtons were new and bigger aircraft and different things about them and, of course, things we had to be wary of then, things we had to learn, that the Wellingtons had their fuel tanks in the wings and also smaller fuel tanks in the engine themselves and the drill, the drill was that after we’d been out for some hours the pilot, prior to landing, would switch from wing tanks to the cell tanks so he would still have a half hours flying to land himself. He didn’t, wasn’t uncertain about how much he had left, what he had in the wing tanks. So the drill was that me as navigator and Bob Allsop as wireless operator, we were down in the middle of the aircraft and we had to reach past us, had to pull a toggle and pull the toggle for the port and starboard engines, turn the cell tanks on. That was alright. However, the stage where I was told to put the cell tanks on I reached the outer one, pulled it on. Bob puts, pulled it on. Each of us pulled that one. The engines going splutter, splutter, splutter. It was the same one. ‘Get your act together fellas.’ We were switching the engines on and off. One man one job. A very a good thing to learn. Whoever was going to turn the engine on, switch those tanks on, one fella does it and he does it in the correct sequence. You don’t get yourself [unclear] so we nearly got ourselves into trouble but anyway we got out of it alright. It’s just the engines started to splutter and Harris was very upset [laugh] anyway we survived that.
JM: You did. So that and that was —
JE: And of course the other thing we had there was the start of, er, corkscrews. You know about corkscrews do you? Yeah. Well, we learnt about corkscrews there and, you know, this sort of thing. Oh yes. Again the pilots were learning their trade also and they had to do various, various things.
JM: Well, of course, they were in a totally different train again and so they had to learn, adjust to a different plane and learn these manoeuvres at the same time so it was hard for them as well. But hard for everyone adjusting. So, so then having done that you went through and you then ended up with your heavy conversion at Blyton.
JE: Blyton. Well there we met our flight engineer. He didn’t chose him. He was appointed to us. Charles Simpkins was older than the rest of us. He was about twenty-nine and, er, he was basic, his basic training as a sheet metal working. He had been trained by Avro, apart from being ground staff man, he’d been trained for Avro at the Avro, Avro works and, er, so he came to us and, of course, being a married man and twenty-nine he was a steadying force for all of us. John Con— Conway, he smoked a great deal, and drank a, drank a reasonable amount. He’d often say, ‘Remind me to have a beer tonight.’ He didn’t need reminding really but it was one of his favourite statements. So he was a bit disap— disappointed with Charlie but Charlie wasn’t, wasn’t that sort of a fella but anyway Charlie blended in well with us. We all got along together and of course in our name calling he was Charlie.
JM: Yes. So you each had your own names and were able to continue on with that.
JE: Yes, that was just it.
JM: Yeah and so, um, so now you have got new experiences because by at this point you were on Lancasters —
JE: We moved on to Halifaxes.
JM: Oh, Halifaxes.
JE: It was nice from my point of view when I went on the Halifax as a navigator I’d fly right up in the nose. I could look out the clear nose and see where I was going. And John Conway, he used to always — he was born and bred in, er, Western Australia and he was there and he used to drool about the green fields of England so John Conway used to like to look out at such things. So we got on, on reasonably well on the Halifaxes and there were no real problems. The — he and I got buddy buddy with a couple of WAAFs, Nora and — Nora and — Nora and Vera, I think it was, a couple of WAAFs. And at that time it was high summer and long nights and twilight and the local hostelry near Blyton was very much favoured, and it was nice to sit and quaff the mugs of foaming ale in the, in the long twilights. That was a very pleasant place.
JM: Yes, I’d say, because his was late July, early August, so it was a very good time of the year, very pleasant time of the year and, um, yes, I could — well if it were not for the circumstances otherwise —
JE: Yes D-Day was coming up but you know —
JM: But, yeah, it certainly provided some sort of minor diversion or distraction from the other things at hand. So from, after then, um, so you went to Lancaster Flying School —
JE: Lancaster Finishing school.
JM: Finishing School.
JE: That was only a week or so at Hemswell.
JE: Hemswell.
JE: Oh, at Hemswell we weren’t exactly welcome because we, as NCOs (we weren’t sergeants or flight sergeants at that time), the sergeants’ at mess was largely inhabited by the local inhabitants of course and they seemed to resent our presence in their [emphasis] mess so we weren’t exactly welcomed. We didn’t feel happy exactly at Hemswell. We were there just to learn something about Lancasters and about flying them and the fixtures and fittings of them and so on. So we survived Hemswell. There was no real hassles there.
JM: No unsettling experiences with converting to the Lancasters having —
JE: Not really no, no, no.
JM: The adjustments was OK converting from Halifaxes to —
JE: No problems with converting to Lancasters at that stage.
JM: And then you got the news that you were going to be posted to 550 Squadron.
JE: 550 Squadron. So, from Hemswell we were put on a train of course with all our gear up to Market Harborough up towards Grimsby and, er, eventually we unloaded onto a truck and the railway truck was approaching towards North Killingholme and the first thing we were interested in, or all I was interested in, was all these Lancasters. Have they got a bump underneath them? Have they got H2S? H2S was still being fitted to the main force squadrons and did North Killingholme have H2S? Yes. Most of the aircraft did. Oh, good. So I was happy with that. Of course, at that time, from Worksop onwards, I’d been using GEE. GEE was a very accurate navigation system in Britain but as we approached over the continent it was jammed. All the little pusles on the ray tube disappeared into the grass so you couldn’t read them. So, in, in Britain it was very good but over the continent, of course, we was doing this sort of thing, diversions over the continent, astro just wasn’t a proposition. Apart from the clouds, there was more clouds, it was difficult to pick up a star, and changing course all the time astro was more difficult. So, er, with H2S, as a self-contained ground observation radar, which gave us a picture of the ground, a picture of coastline, a picture of the towns and such like, er, it was far better when GEE was jammed, GEE was unusable. So, I was happy that H2S was on the aircraft. Now approaching North Killingholme it was the feeling of exhilaration, apprehension if you like, but here we were, we were approaching the front line at last, after two years, one and a half years after I joined the Air Force in Woolloomooloo, eighteen months later here I am at the front line. That was the feeling.
JM: And so that’s when the operations started?
JE: That’s when the operations started. Well, as part of the operations, it’s something that comes into here that I’ll tell you about and show you about. We were, we were posted from, er, Hemswell, the Lancaster Finishing School, I think around about the end of August, and in early September we were at, we reached North Killingholme, and of course the pilots had to do a second — that was the routine — they had to do a second dickie, second dickie trip with another crew, with a more experienced crew, before they took their own crew out. So the pilots arrived, arrived from Hemswell, and they had to do this second dickie so the day Harris and others had to do it, er, Bob Allsop and Bryan Barby were down at the runway with the members of this other crew and some of the flight commanders and they were waving the aircraft off and it was photographed. The scene was photographed and it, the photograph came to be finally used falsely on a number of other occasions. The aircraft that has been shown that was taking off was BQ-F Fox, a well-known aircraft, which finally flew over a hundred operations, and the crew that normally flew that was a Scotsman, named ‘Jock’ Shaw, David Shaw, er, who made a name for himself in Normandy. It flew its hundredth operation later, about November, but this was now early September and the photographer of the station’s photography section took this photograph of part of our crew and part of another crew seeing our pilot off on their first trip to Le Havre, their first second dickie trip, and the photograph was finally used falsely to illustrate the supposed take-off of BQ-F Fox on its one hundredth operation in November. And it went into the 550 Squadron history. It went into RAF history. It’s an official Air Ministry photograph which I have and it went into other publications which I have down there, “Lancasters at War” and so on. It was used again, again and again, and it was only until last year that my bomb aimer’s, er, daughter in Uxbridge, whom I’ve been communication with for the last three years now, namely Bryan Barby’s daughter. She saw — I sent her a copy, a copy of this which has that photo in it and she said, ‘Oh, look at this photo. Is that, is that you in this photo?’ It was Bob Bickford. She thought it might have been me. She said, ‘That looks like my father, Bryan.’ So, anyway, she start asking questions so I replied. I said, ‘Yes, I had the same questions when I saw that photograph purporting show the hundredth take-off of BQ-F Fox on its hundredth operation.’ It wasn’t. It wasn’t taken in November. It was taken in September. So I got the Squadron records changed and Peter Kildare [?] who looks after Squadron records these days he acknowledged the errors I gave and he changed Squadron records there but that was what happened. The station photographer cheated. He used that photograph he’d taken in, er, September for a purported take-off in November because he had the photographs. The light in November was too dark to take a reasonable photograph so he said, ‘Oh look I’ve got this photograph. I’ll use it.’ So he cheated and so that photograph was then changed. So that was, that was early in our career at North Killingholme.
JM: Quite early in your career, um, on 16th of September by the looks of it. Yeah, so, um, yes, so then this, that and then your career stretched for the full tour, right through then —
JE: Into January.
JM: Into January. But —
JE: Including the period of Battle of the Bulge. It was Christmas and there was an icy fog right across Europe and, er, the Tactical Air Force just couldn’t operate. We operated to, er, the marshalling, marshalling yards of Cologne and we couldn’t get back to Killingholme. We were diverted to an American Air Force base down in East Anglia and remarkably it was one of the stations, er, basing the aircraft that we’d seen from Worksop so that’s how it turned out. We were stuck with them for four days, helped them to drink their whisky, eat their Christmas dinner and so on. They gave us Christmas dinner then we came back to North Killingholme and had a New Year dinner and, of course, in the meantime North Killingholme people had been drinking to absent friends and, er, so at North Killingholme we had a New Year dance and I brought my Ulceby girlfriend to the dance and we won the spot waltz and the spot waltz but, er, apart from that dance at North Killingholme I went to a village dance at nearby Ulceby and met the girl, a Lincolnshire girl, who became my girlfriend for the next five months and she was a tower of strength for my morale during that time.
JM: Did — they often were. They provide the understanding.
JE: That is the point. The women of Britain stood by us. Our girlfriends, the others that we met, appended to other things here, er nostalgic memories of the, of her, a WAAF girlfriend that I had (that was a more, became a more serious affair), to ATS girls I celebrated VE day with in London, er, a girl on Transport Command who was a secretary to one of the directors of Dunbolts [?] and others that we met. There was the feeling of the times that — what was happening at Worksop that I hadn’t mentioned was a movie was being made at Carnforth at that time, er, we didn’t know about it. It was ninety miles north of us at the time. It became an iconic movie based on, based on Noel Coward’s play, er, what’s its name? “Brief Encounters” “Brief Encounter” and so all, all these meetings with our girlfriends and others, they were brief encounters, but no less memorable for being brief. We still remember them [clears throat].
JM: Absolutely and [clears throat] with, um, the flying and with the various ops that you did right through. I mean, I can see just very quickly scanning through your log book here that, that you’d —
JE: Well, being navigator I gave the full — lots of people just wrote duty so and so, op so and so [unclear] — but I wrote the full details of the route.
JM: I can see that and it’s very, very interesting that you had done that because —
JE: I gave the full details of what I did as navigator.
JM: Yes, yes. And, and — but also I can see, you know, obviously part of all the raids that I’ve seen before in terms of, you know, the destination of Essen and Stuttgart and, er, Dusseldorf and, and all the rest of it, it’s, um, yes, what of all of these ops, which ones perhaps stand out for you? I mean, I know they are all significant in various ways but which ones do you think? What, what sort of —
JE: The main point was, I mean, the fact is today that we survived. We had a safe tour and, as the now secretary of 550 Squadron Association, the wing commander, said the navigator had a great responsibility in this. The navigator had to keep everybody safe and twice during our tours all our logs and charts were collected and taken away, where they were analysed and plotted and the plot was put up in the library of the Squadron and there was BQ-D of 550 Squadron on track, on time, in the middle of a crowd, in the middle of the bomber stream. That was the safest place to be. If you were out there the night fighters could pick you off. That’s what happened. But twice during, during our tour that was done and my crew were, er, impressed. They said, ‘We’ve got a [unclear] navigator.’ It was good for their morale, good for my confidence and finally good for our survival. Our gunners Bob, Bob and, er, Bryan and Jock never had to fire in anger. They reported seeing fighters and so on. They reported other aircraft around us but they did not shoot at them. The basic principal was you don’t shoot they wouldn’t shoot at you. You know, don’t draw attention to yourself. That was, that was their instruction. So they didn’t draw attention so we stayed safe. But the only time we nearly got in trouble — we got flak holes, we got flak holes continually and they were patched up and so on and the ground crew were happy that we brought back their aircraft intact, time after time. We flew, we flew twenty-three operations on BQ-D. We flew on, briefly on Fox I’d mentioned. We flew on that and we flew on a few other aircraft —
JM: Fox and V for Victor a couple of times. Victor as well.
JE: While BQ-D was being serviced, but that was, basically BQ-D was our aircraft when we got it and it was our aircraft from there onwards. But when the British Army were, were crossing the Rhine, um, Montgomery tells in his, in his book “Normandy to the Baltic” that the Germans thought there might be an airborne operation for crossing the Rhine and the area around Emmerich, that area, and other towns in that area were heavily fortified with anti-aircraft to counter an airborne operation. So we were sent to — Bomber Command was sent — to three towns around there and we were went to Emmerich at eleven thousand feet, on a bright Sunday morning. Mostly we flew up around the nineteen or twenty thousand, even higher sometimes if we had to get over a front, but on this day we were at eleven thousand feet, and one of the few times — most of my time I spent under my black curtain. Of course there I can use the light and of course outside no lights are supposed to be visible. So I stayed under that curtain most of the time. I took it to be my duty to tell John Harris what the next course was and so on. But it was far more, far better for me to stay cool, calm and collected under there and not get out and gawk at what was going on and what the others can see. I depended on what, what was happening outside by John Conway’s reaction. He was the bomb aimer. He can see exactly what was going on. Yes, as we were approaching a target if he said, ‘Shit.’ It was just average. If he said, ‘Shit!’ It was a little bit worse and if he said, ‘Shit!’ [more emphasis] it was really going to be difficult. So, I knew from that reaction what things were like outside. So that was good enough for me. So anyway, on this particular day, at eleven thousand feet, Conway had already got himself an aiming point photo at, at Calais earlier in the piece, and an hour later he was thinking this was a nice fine bright day and no cloud for an aiming point so he said, ‘Can we go round again Johnny. I wasn’t aiming for it.’ Meanwhile up in the turret when he looked round a quarter of a mile behind us the Lancaster behind us went poof and disappeared in a pall of black smoke. The flak had probably hit it, the enemy bomb aimer hit the, hit the “cookie” the four thousand pound bomb and blown the thing apart. Bryan in the rear turret inside, had warned us, ‘The flak’s following us.’ And we all heard bang, bang, bang up our tail. We all heard it and here’s Conway saying, ‘Oh, let’s go. I want to go round again.’ We all said, ‘Drop them, JC and let’s get out of here.’ So he dropped them, Harris put the throttle through the gate, he changed course and changed altitude and got us out of there. Now, that was our closest incident. The flak could have got us that day. So anyway, that was the worst. But otherwise, as I say, we had a safe tour. So, this I feel is sort of another side of what Bomber Command experience was about. We know that many fellas, like the Bomber Command losses over there and [unclear] over there, many fellas had far worse confrontation with the enemy. We didn’t have a close confrontation with the enemy apart from that day but this is my story, our story, we survived.
JM: But that’s it. Every, every story is different.
JE: Every story puts another face onto what service with Bomber Command was about. The very fact of serving in Bomber Command was a risk to be borne I feel. The fact that you took it on was a risk and the fact that I was exempted from military service so I didn’t end up on the Kokoda like the other fellas did who’d been called up at the same time as me. They ended up on the Kokoda. I could have been on the Kokoda but I ended up in Bomber Command. Which was more dangerous? Anyway, survived that.
JM: Well, I mean, I guess the point is though that the statistics are there to show that the Bomber Command was —
JE: Was very dangerous, yeah, fifty-five thousand or so lost out of hundred and fifty thousand as we know. We know it wasn’t exactly a picnic.
JM: No. That’s exactly right and so it’s —
JE: Well, you know, all of the fellas, of the eighty-nine of us that left Australia together, they are all listed here. I know exactly — now in that little black book over there records their names, ranks and serial numbers and what happened to them. The eighteen of the eighty-nine who didn’t come back, exactly what happened to them. Two particular mates, Pat, Kevin and Pat Curtin from Canberra, who were particular friends of mine. I went on leave with Pat Curtin from Brighton, from Brighton, on one of the [unclear] schemes and we went up to one of the farms, on leave, and Kevin Curtin went somewhere else. But Pat unfortunately, he was, they were both flying from Elsham Wolds (they were twins flying in the same squadron) and they, they, he was delayed, he and his crew were delayed due to some sickness and February 1945, since ‘44-‘45 had been a bad winter, the training stations like Finningley and Worksop at that time weren’t bringing on more crews because there’d been delays in training so the command came down, those that were on the squadrons were to stay there. If you’d done thirty ops you now got to do thirty-five ops. So, unfortunately Pat Curtin was caught on that. He was shot down, shot down over Pforzhiem, on that thirty-fourth op. Nasty. I meant he survived till that time. Only their wireless operator parachuted out. I met him, I used to meet him in later the years and Kevin on Anzac Day. He was the only one that survived. So, that was the way it was. And even, even later, even you see there, I went — after Bomber Command — I went to Transport Command.
JM: That’s right.
JE: I chose that because after Bomber Command I was posted to Catterick which was the Aircrew Allocation Centre to decide what are they going to do with you now? Are you going to training ATU to train for Bomber Command or do you become [unclear] dresser, all sorts of things? ‘You were a draughtsman. You can be a draughtsman again?’ Well, hang that for a lark. So, I was interested in India. My father in the Navy in the First War he’d spent two and half years on the HMS [unclear] sailing down the Bay of Bengal and he used to tell lots of tales. He used to — I’ve got the photos out here — he used to turn over these photos and telling tales and from that and from that. I regret having a tape recorder in those days. You know, I couldn’t record he used to tell, some of the tales he used to tell. From all these photos and from that and from that. And I thought India would be nice so I asked for Transport Command and I went to India with Transport Command OTU, which finally gave me civil navigator’s qualifications, er, but, while we were at Bitteswell, we did training at Ramsgate for basic intensive lectures and learning about civil navigation. Then flying from Bitteswell VE Day came. We knew VE Day was coming up and we were due to fly that night and we were standing around Flying Control, ‘Do we fly or don’t fly?’ The chatter of the [unclear]. Anyway, it came over the tele printer AFCAN [?], all flying’s cancelled. Back to the mess. There was an almighty mess party of course that night up with some of us up at the mess. We ate and drank everything that was available and sang all the songs we ever knew, all the rival’s songs and that kind of thing, and some of the officers came down to the sergeants’ mess from the officers’ mess and joined us. And somebody, somebody had got on the steam roller and started to drive the steamroller around the perimeter track and the CO says, ‘Tell the steamroller to come back to base.’ So all things, all sorts of nonsense went on that night. I, I went down to London. London was going mad of course. There were thousands in the streets and all sorts of people and I went into, into the Nuffield Centre. I managed to get to, into a Services Club to put my gear and, er, I went to the Nuffield Centre, which was near the town centre, for anything going on there and I started dancing with a Scots girl, Scots ATS girl, so I was dancing with her and going to her and so on, so eventually I asked if she wanted to go out to see what was going on. So she came along with her friend Mary and tagging along with her friend Mary was a sailor. So anyway, we started going down the round and I was turning to Mary, er, Ann, and anyhow Mary said, ‘Oh, I want to go back to camp.’ They were based in Chislehurst in Kent, Army Pay Corps. So, Ann wasn’t keen on that idea but Mary was insisting, ‘Oh, I’m fed up with this. I want to go back to camp.’ So right, we get to Charing Cross Station, so get into Charing Cross and the train was waiting for us there and Ann stood, stands, stands at the door of the train waving to me and Mary sits down in the train and ignores the sailor. The sailor stands by and he gets fed up after ten minutes and wandered away. As soon as he wandered away Mary’s out of the train, ‘Right, come on. What are we going to do now?’ So here I am stuck with two ATS girls for VE Day and so we had a whale of a time. So the other thing’s that’s in here now, as you can see, the famous movie that came about in recent times of the Queen and us, we were in — oh, never mind — [unclear]. We sang and we danced, danced the coca cola [?], the rhumba and oops-a-daisy, all those silly things, silly things all day, then finally at midnight we were down in front, in front of Buckingham Palace with all the crowd ‘We want the King. We want the King.’ So, eventually the King and the Queen came out on the balcony and waved to us. So that signed off that day. So, we were all so happy. There were bonfires in Green Park and so on. We wandered back to, er, to Trafalgar Square and we were all a bit tired so we sat down somewhere and the two girls, I had a girl on each shoulder, and curled up together we had a snooze. There were still lights and nonsense going on while we had a snooze. So anyhow the next morning we said we’d better get something to eat because all the pubs and things were closed. So, we wandered back up town all the way through to Fleet Street and we finally ran into a policeman and he said, ‘Oh, some of these places around Fleet Street might open in the morning.’ Oh, well, we said, ‘We don’t want to wait here. Let’s go back.’ So the girls then said they wanted to go back to town then, back to camp, so back to Charing Cross and, er, they went back to town and round the station there were inert bodies all over the place. There was dead tired people all over the place. So they got their train and they went back, back to camp, and I went back to Australia House and had a clean-up at Australia House and I went back to Bitteswell but the next morning Transport Commands, ‘You’ve had your holiday. Now you’ve got to do your flying again.’ So, I was on flying again. I didn’t fly that night, woke up the next morning and there’s the service police collecting the gear of the other three RAF fellas who were bunked in with us. Into Wellingtons again, into — it had failed on take-off. They crashed and everybody was dog tired. And the fact that they were dog tired wouldn’t have helped. Three of them were killed. They’d just come back from being with their families and they were killed. So it wasn’t only Bomber Command that had losses. So did Transport Command. So that was a sad end to VE Day really but apart from that VE Day was enjoyable and Ann, the Scots girl I was buddy buddy with and I was dancing with, I wrote to her later in Edinburgh and, er, she stayed in the ATS until after the war and so did Mary. She was a London girl and I don’t know what happened to her.
JM: And when — OK that was a very different experience because everyone was in such a celebratory mood but when you were in, um, during your ops, period of ops with 550, what leave did you have? What did you do in any of the leave that you had then?
JE: Basically, we had six days leave every six weeks. And I used to go down to London and at one stage of the game, albeit I think it was, might have been from Worksop, my first cousin, Len Froy [?] was on leave. He was a mid-upper gunner with 467 Squadron at Lincoln and I rode my bike (I had a bike at that time) I rode my bike down to Lincoln, saw him. He’d been, he’d been to Berlin and he was asleep in bed. I hadn’t seen him for two years and he looked terrible. As mid-upper gunner of course he saw everything and one particular night, the night of the strong winds, which he learnt about from his navigator. He looked terrible and, you know, I thought, ‘Geez, this is what Bomber Command does for you.’ You know, so you know anyway I met him at that time and, as I say, one of the things I did learn at that time again when I met him and met his navigator, and his navigator told me about the night of the strong winds, which from a navigator’s point of view was interesting information. The — what had Bomber Command been doing? Earlier in the piece when, as you probably know, they weren’t getting close to the targets for various reasons. Air— Aircraft were operating more or less individually, they weren’t operating as squadrons or in bomber streams. They were allowed to operate individually and not always finding their, the right place. So Command got the bright idea at one stage there, let’s get the skilled navigators to find the winds over the continent, broadcast them back, the Metrological Office Command will assess the situation and they’ll broadcast a wind for everybody to use and theoret— theoretically everybody using the same wind, they’ll all end up in the same place and everything will be lovely. It was a lovely idea in theory but it didn’t always work out in practice. This part night the jet stream wind came out of Sweden which was not forecast. Nobody knew about it. The Metrological Office didn’t know about it because, of course, they got most of their information out of Britain and they weren’t ready and didn’t know about this jet stream and the navigators, they detected it. They were detecting winds of about hundred and hundred and twenty miles an hour. They didn’t believe it. Can’t believe this so they were coming back, they were coming back with about a hundred or so. They broadcast back to Command and the Command’s Metrology Office didn’t believe it either, ‘That can’t be right. Let’s make it ninety something.’ The upshot was the stream went to Berlin. Instead of bombing the city of Berlin they bombed the southern suburbs and on their way back they went over the Ruhr, which they were not supposed to go over, and got a pasting. And my bomb aimer, he was in another aircraft, they lost an engine over the Ruhr, they got coned by the searchlights over the Ruhr and they lost one engine through flak over the Ruhr. So, it was a disastrous night, the night of the strong winds, and Len Froy’s [?] navigator, a Welshman, he told me about this and I thought that’s worth knowing, so — but after that disaster they got the [unclear] they didn’t do it anymore and, of course, H2S came into, into greater use and of course gave us all the facility to find our own winds with a bit more confidence and not depend on the broadcast winds, so the broadcast winds idea was scrubbed. Unfortunately not a good idea, no good at all. [cough]
JM: Yes, so —
JE: So, as I was saying, you were talking about leave from North Killingholme, well apart from, as I say, going down to London. I used to go down to the shows and I met another ATS girl at that time named Pam. I don’t know what — I lost her surname. I took her to three shows while I just met her occasionally and she introduced me to drinking gin which gave me a headache which I didn’t drink it any more [slight laugh]. Terrible stuff. So anyway, er, she was another nice girl but, as I say, I liked going to the shows, going the ballet and all that sort of thing. And, er, also I went to Edinburgh and the Victoria League. I used to stay at the Victoria League and they used to run parties and at one of the parties they had us named, all named after fish, and I was offered hake or something like that, and hake turned out to be Hazel. Hazel was a little, a little Edinburgh girl, and I got friendly with her. Every time I went back to Edinburgh several times I took Hazel to the movies, I took her to dances and all sort of things. She became my girlfriend in Edinburgh every time I went up there on leave and she got my watch repaired at one time. So she was another good friend. So, you know, as I say, the women of Britain stood by us.
JM: Yes, yes, and when you went to, er, Transport Command did the rest of the crew go with you or is that — you were all split up? You were all —
JE: No, we were all individuals. We were all individuals, ex, ex operational, and one of the other fellas John Lewis [unclear] he was another one who nearly died. He joined us at Ramsgate and Bitteswell. He was the only one I knew there but they were all ex operational people. There was an RAF fella who walked out of Germany. He’d been, er, parachuted down and walked back from Germany into Switzerland and eventually got home, got back. He still had worn boots and he’d walked out of Germany and now he’s on Transport Command. So, you know, an interesting group of people.
JM: And did you, was it possible to stay in touch with the rest of the, your other former crew at that point or you didn’t worry about that. You were too busy —
JE: Well, I tried to keep in touch with them. But, I learnt that — and all of us went to Catterick first on re-allocation. Conway and Bickford they were both posted home. They came home earlier than I did. I learnt the others, er, the other four RAF fellas, they were posted to things like Air Traffic Control and so on. I learnt where they went to. And Bryan, Bryan Barby, particularly (his daughter I’ve now been in contact with the last three years) he came back to my civilian life after he was finally discharged but he found that wasn’t very good so he went back to the RAF for the next thirty years. He stayed in the RAF for thirty years, in, er, in Egypt and Germany and then Singapore and such like. So, I know all about — I’ve got the complete history of — I’ve been in contact with her for the last three years now and he’s completed a history for the first thirty-odd years. So, you know, and as far as the others were concerned, finally back here in Australia — well before we get to that — John Conway, John Harris [emphasis] our pilot, er, I finally learnt in a letter from his mother, that, er, after he left us he went on fighter affiliation. He wanted to fly Spitfires so he was flying a Spitfire, on training bomber crews, on fighter affiliation. And he was flying from Hemswell to another place up in Yorkshire somewhere and he didn’t have his navigator [unclear] to help him anymore and so the story goes is that he got lost. He shouldn’t have got lost in South Yorkshire, after all it was a County we all knew well. He tried to do a forced landing in a Spitfire, he was in line with some power lines, turned the Spitfire over and killed himself. That was in January 1946. He was newly married. He’d only been married a few weeks. He married a Liverpool girl and here he was killed. His mother wrote to me later in great distress. That girl took all his entitlements, his pension and everything else and refused to contribute to his grave. I’ve got a photo of his grave in there and I’ve told all the others this what happened. You know, a horrible situation. So, anyway, then the others of course, back home Western Australia, John Conway, er, he became a leading light in the public service. He had been in the public service in Western Australia. He came to Canberra where he got an OBE, OBE and the higher [unclear] for public service in Canberra. And he was instrumental in Charles Simpkins’, sponsoring Charles Simpkins’ migrate, migrating to Perth and Charles Simpkins was set up in Perth. As far as Bryan Waddell, er, Bill Waddell was concerned, the Scotsman, he was another ten pound Brit. He migrated to South Australia. He had been an electrician in the mines in Dunfermline back home. He got onto, er, the work on the rocket range but being a Scotsman and very fair he got skin cancer on the rocket range and finally he got kidney trouble. He had ulcers there for a while and finally he died at a very young age. And Bob Bickford, er, he had a hobby farm. He was in the post office there for a while and he became an army, army reservist. He was a captain in the army reserve but, er, he had a hobby farm just out of Adelaide and we visited him there at one time. Of course I had a company car with Wormald and I used to work late at one time and I visited them all and, er, he had this hobby farm and we all had a great time there and all met in Adelaide. All our wives met together and they got on well together so, you know, we all kept in touch but I didn’t, er, I didn’t, I didn’t meet Charles Simpkins until many years later. I was doing fire protection work for the [unclear] gas wells which is now a controversy off the Western Australian coast and I had to go to Perth in connection with this so I looked up Charles and went to visited him at [unclear] so I met Charles later in the piece so, you know, we kept in touch. So it was good.
JM: And so when, er, you were discharged from — well, the official documentation says you were discharged in December ’45 — but I see it said from 105 but, I mean, December ’45 you were back at, you’d returned, you’d returned to, you were in Bradfield Park, back to Australia and Bradfield Park at that point so —
JE: The situation was I was on indefinite leave so after finishing the Transport Command course and getting the civil navigator’s certification I was loose. So I was, I had indicated I had friends and I had my various girlfriends, yes I had girlfriends, so I wasn’t interested on an early permanent posting back home so I was on indefinite leave. So I was based really at Cranfield which was some sort of, became a training base, a permanent base for test pilots at one time. Anyhow I left my gear there with a WAAF black woman and, er, the only time I had a black woman because, of course, at Bitteswell I got my commission. When I finished my tour at North Killingholme I applied for my commission and Group Captain MacIntyre, an RAF stuffed shirt type (I shouldn’t be saying that I suppose perhaps) he said, ‘You’re supposed to be going home. I don’t see why you should get a commission.’ So he wiped it. So I didn’t get my commission at North Killingholme but when I got to Transport Command six months later I applied again. Transport Command were kinder people, they gave me a commission. I thought I was possibly going to fly to the Far East and being a pukka sahib out there and I got my commission so anyway that was alright, that was nice. So, by that time I had a commission, so when I went, I went on indefinite leave and left my girl at Cranfield (a WAAF black lady to look after my gear) so I went on indefinite leave and went to London and did various things, and one night I was wandering around and I wandered into a pub in Convent Garden, “The Lamb and Flag”, and there were two WAAFs doing the Evening Standard crossword so I offered to help. So, anyway when we finished the crossword and I had to stand at the door of the convenience and — while the girls went to spend a penny and that sort of thing that happened in a small pub. Anyway we left and went outside and Ann was a Scots girls and the other girl was a Welsh girl called Rianne. Anyway, Rianne wandered off, knowing that I was attracted to Ann, the Scots girl, and I said to Ann when we got outside, ‘Have you ever been kissed under a lamp post?’ So, from that became an affair for the next four or five months. So she was — I had asked them while we were in the pub doing the crossword, ‘What do you girls do?’ ‘Oh, we’re in filter.’ I said, ‘Oh, what’s that?’ ‘We can’t tell you. It’s secret.’ They were the girls of filter in a fighter command filter room. They’d signed the Official Secret Act and they weren’t supposed, still in 1945, they weren’t supposed to tell me about what they did. So, of course, they’d signed the Official Secrets Act so it wasn’t until later that I really found out what it was all about. The story of filter was, er, was broadcast, was publicised, and knowing that those girls in filter were known as the ‘beauty chorus’ so I became, one of the beauty chorus became my girlfriend. She, she, er, then got posted from Fighter Command Headquarters to RAF Halton at Wendover, forty miles out of London, which was a pay training station. She was supposed to deliver pay accounts. So, I helped her move her gear and on that posting and so on and so we carried, carried on dating. So then came VE Day, VJ Day came. I was in London and she was out at Halton. She started to come to London and I started to go to Halton. We met near the clock tower in Wendover and flew into each other’s arms like a scene from a Hollywood movie. It was a romantic night. So we went to Halton and danced the night away at Halton. That was VE Day. So we celebrated VE Day. So that was that. That was an interesting time. So she came down, down to Brighton to see me off at the time I was finally posted on the Stir— when I came home on The Stirling Castle, and she came down to Brighton to see me off. I’d given her a ka— kangaroo badge which she wore on her tie but inside her coat, against her heart, were the wings of a New Zealand pilot, who was in Second Tactical Air Force. He was still serving on The Portsmouth [?]. So, after I came home and thinking I was more or less engaged, I told my mother and she wasn’t very happy, wasn’t too happy about the situation anyway. Then I get a ‘Dear John’ letter. Well, Leon [?] had come back from a conference and had come back to New Zealand. She met him, well, before he came home of course, and him feeling lonely he wrote from New Zealand and proposed to her. She went to New Zealand and married him and finally the letter I got from them, they’d left New Zealand. He got, he got a short term commission in the RAF, went back to the RAF, and they had a son by that time. And they went back to Britain via Panama so I never saw her again. So, another facet of life. Another facet of life. The things that happened to us all. So anyway, anyway —
JM: That’s right. So you get back home, come back on The Stirling Castle and you —
JE: Came back on The Stirling Castle —
JM: When you were discharged.
JE: There was a group of Dutch troops who were bound for the East Indies to re-establish the Dutch presence in the East Indies and we got on well with them. But when we arrived in Sydney the wharf labourers in Sydney put on a demonstration against the Dutchmen because, of course, they were seen as continuing colonialism in the Pacific so the wharf labourers gave them a poor reception. Of course we got a good reception but they didn’t. So, anyway that was an unfortunate incident that happened there. Then I got leave, disembarkation leave and I got home and so on. Then called up for discharge four days before I was would become a flying officer [thumping noise] which I’ve been unhappy about ever since. I’d got a commission at Bitteswell. Four days later and I would have been a flying officer. Such is life. Such is life. Ah well, never mind. Never mind.
JM: So then you went back into Wormald?
JE: That was now January 1946. Of course, as part of discharge procedure we were given instructions that our former employer was obliged to take us back. I’d entered the Air Force from Wormald Brothers and so they were obliged to take me back. So, I went back and my boss Frank Brook who had been the man who had been to the RAF in, RAAF in 1943 to try and get me out of the Air Force and take me, he finally took me back and was sympathetic and said to me, ‘If you like go out in the street and have a beer, look at the aeroplanes flying over and get it out of the system.’ So I said, ‘Yeah alright.’ So, I gradually melted into the, into the fire protection industry again. And in — the Queen’s Birthday weekend in 1946 I went on a holiday to, er, up at Katoomba. Stayed in Craglea [?] Guest House. There were three girls there, public service girls, and another ex-army man and I sort of acquired these girls, took them on a tour of the sights of Katoomba and I took a fancy to one of them, Eileen Dickson, and things started to get serious then, so in 1946 to ‘49 we courted, and married in ’49, January ‘49 but in the course of courting she said to me she wanted a husband who stayed at home. Of course, I was still, although I went back to Wormald, I thought that I maybe I’d like to go flying again. I put in for Pacific, into Pac— an application to Pacific Airlines to be a navigator to fly across the Pacific. Of course, another one of the Wormald fellas, he joined up before me, just before me in 1942, ‘43, Ray Clark [?], he was released and went to the Air Force. He became a pilot on, on Sunderlands in 10 Squadron in Britain and came back and became a Qantas captain on 747s and things like that. So, he had quite — he lived down, down here in Marrickville [?] so he and his wife Mary we knew him well in later years and he borrowed my navigation notes bring himself up on navigation when he was with Qantas so, you know, these associations carried on. But the fact that I met Eileen in ’46 and she said she wanted me to stay at home. So I stayed with Wormald and stayed with them for forty-eight years. And that, that, in due course, brought its benefits because, er, we were married in, as I say ’49. 1950 I was looking to buy a plot of land at Marraville where my grandfather lived. I was interested in that district. She was interested in this district. She saw this plot of land advertised in the Wednesday paper and well our elder daughter, Elizabeth, came up and had a look at it and said, ‘Oh yes. Looks good.’ I came up and had a look at it. It was a Wednesday and bought it by Saturday we owned it for three hundred pounds. The plot was seventy feet by a hundred, for three hundred pounds in 1950, and then I started to plan and build this house. So, in the 1950s so it about 1955 before we finally moved in. In the, in the meantime, initially, trying to get accommodation in those times was still difficult after the war. We stayed with her parents’ home at Russell Lea for a while and then a friend offered us a flat South Coogee so we lived in South Coogee for a while overlooking the sea at South Coogee. That’s where Peter arrived. So we had Peter and Elizabeth at South Coogee and taking them down to the rocks and that sort of thing and walking down the botanical garden and that was where that was taken. So that was our life in those years and then we got our first car at that time, a little 1932 Morris Minor Roadster which we drove from South Coogee to here and parked it outside here while we built here and, er, I planned this house and built it and I plied a trade, built it as a builder, and my wife wanted cupboards and we’ve got cupboards galore as you can see. There’s cupboards up the hallway there and I said at one stage I said, ‘Here we’ll have a power point for a TV.’ ‘We’ll never have TV,’ she says. And, of course, at the time we’d been living with her parents. It was the early days of TV and the people opposite had TV and we used to go across there and watch, hypnotised by this new thing and watch it till the kangaroo went to bed as we used to do in those days. So, anyway that was Wormald, staying there for forty-eight years, and the places we went to and the benefits we got, long service there, annual leave and long service leave, we started to travel. Eileen had always wanted to travel. Some of her friends used to travel so she wanted to travel to. So we did our first travel and we still had three children now. In 1967 we went on a [unclear] cruise to Japan on the holidays [?] and that was our first travel and that was good. We went to Japan and stayed in Hong Kong and Guam. We visited, we met the Wormald representative in Hong Kong and he showed us around. That was nice. So, from there on we did a lot of travelling. We travelled to Europe, three times on Euro rail. We went to China. We went to Japan twice. We went to India, to Greece, Israel, Egypt and finally to South America. Finally it was a company posting to [unclear] in San Paulo. We stayed in San Paulo, for the company’s association then in San Paulo. We crossed the pacific through, er, to Tahiti, Easter Island, [clears throat] Santiago, Chile into San Paulo. We were there for six weeks. It was fine living but bored with Portuguese TV. But once you finally got, got brave enough to down town. One of the Brits had warned us about how dangerous San Paulo can be down town but it was — they gave me a VW there to drive. But here I had a Holden [?] as a company car but when I got to San Paulo they gave me a VW. I’d never driven a VW, never driven on the other side of the street so here I am living in San Paulo, traffic on the other side of the street in the VW, which was exciting. So I survived that. Did that, reported to the company what I thought about the company’s association in San Paulo then to Wisconsin. There for eighteen months in the North American winter, wife all wrapped up to the nines in -27 Fahrenheit. That was another climate shock. Anyhow she got on well with the local people, the, er, wife of the one of the other engineers, went to shows there and she joined the local YMCA and went and joined their, er, aqua aerobics in the pool and so on so she, she enjoyed being there, and I generally enjoyed there. But the basic project there was to design and build hydraulics for fuel storage for the American companies, Anson Oil [?] and Baronet [?] in Wisconsin. Their exp— expertise was dry chemical and they had a training ground there for the local representatives and on the training ground the company decided we’ll getting into high pressure and long range water hydraulics, which I was an expert in, to get into the oil rigs and so on around the world. So, over and above my salary and the cost of getting me there I was five hundred dollars US to design and build this facility so I took that in ‘83 ‘84 but there again working the American winter, you know, was different. The fact of building there ,as the winter came on getting, getting straw put over what was to be the foundations to stop the ground being deeply frozen where we were going to build on and that sort of thing. Oh, you were learning new things and you got the ground water into Lake Michigan and sort of thing. There were various, various building operations, building regulations. That was a new sphere and, er, of course, as I say, as you saw out there, come Christmas ’84 we said, ‘We’re not sitting here at Christmas on our own. We’ve got to go somewhere. Let’s go on a Caribbean cruise.’ So we went to the Caribbean and got on another boat. So that was interesting too.
JM: That’s right.
JE: Went on another boat.
JM: Well that, as you say, afforded you lots of new opportunities right through and then I presume once you retired in the eighties, at the end of the eighties, you did some more travelling in your retirement or did you settle about after that?
JE: What did we do in the ’80s? [background noise]
JM: I just roughly, just interested in a couple of things but —
JE: [background noise] It might be here.
JM: You, you — you’ve obviously written down, got a time line of your various activities which is an interesting thing for your family to have further down the track.
JE: Yes, yes. [pause]
JM: So, that’s, um, so as I say I was just interested in a brief comment in terms of —
JE: After that, retirement.
JM: After your retirement.
JE: Retired ’88. I’d been in Brisbane for Exo ’88. I went to Brisbane for that. We went over to Canberra for the, er, dedication of the Bomber Command memorial down there. ’89 we did, went to, er, Europe again. Singapore, Switzerland, West Germany, Italy, Austria, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Poland, East Germany and Czechoslovakia. That was 1990. 1991 we went to New Zealand. ’92, er, we went to Victoria. We went to Victoria, and also went up the Skylon. ’93 [unclear] went to North Western New South wales, up to the corner there, up to Cameron’s Corner. ’94, well, ’94 we went to Singleton [?] was up there and then we went to one of the Eileen’s cousins called Oakland [?] who was marrying a girl in Norway and we were invited to the wedding so we decided to go and, in going to Norway for the wedding, we flew with Lufthansa and as one of the side benefits there we could have a side trip somewhere so we chose to fly to Malta. So we flew to, er, to Frankfurt and then down to Malta, toured Malta and up to, up to Norway, went to the wedding, toured Norway and across into Sweden, from Sweden across to Denmark, to Legoland and down from there, of course, all through and eventually home from there.
JM: So that was a big trip then and so obviously though you in these years you’ve obviously been able to get around so that’s, that’s really good and one other, I was going to say just to say one other thing, just by, I don’t know why because it’s not what we were talking about, but back to your squadron days the bombs you were using were they different to, um, the ones the other units, squadrons we using? No?
JE: No. I think generally we were had cookies and cans. Well, they were four thousand pound cookie and cans were incendiaries.
JM: Yes. So was everyone was using the — they weren’t using incendiaries though were they?
JE: Yes. We were using much the same thing. Yes. We were incendiaries.
JM: I know you [emphasis] were but I’m saying I don’t think, I’m not sure other squadrons were using incendiaries though. That’s what I meant.
JE: Oh, I’m certain others were using them on occasions but they varied at times. The only time we had a real humiliation was a delayed action from one of our armour piercing bombs. One occasion we went to, er, Urft Dam. The Urft was one of the dams in the Ruhr — you know about the three famous dams: the Eder, the Sorpe and the Möhne that were bombed by the famous dam busters and they had great success. At the time the American Army was heading into eastern France and trying to enter Germany, southern Germany and they were held up in that area in the Hürtgenwald Forest and the Urft Dam was threatening to be released and drown them so the Americans asked for that dam to be breached before they got there. So we were part of a small force of about seven or eight aircraft to attack the Urft, Urft Dam. We were, we were loaded with these delayed action armour, armour piercing bombs and we elected ourselves to do it and the code word was “Abandon” and “Home James” and we got, we got “Home James” because when we got there it was covered in cloud, the — what’s the name of it? Charles, the master bomber said, ‘You can’t bomb. Take it home.’ So we had to take our bombs home. We never, didn’t get to be bomb, dam busters, unfortunately, but we couldn’t take those bombs home. Surprise, surprise, surprise they diverted us back to Finningley, where we’d been originally, and Finningley didn’t like that. Here’s an, our Lancaster loaded up with a full load of delayed action armour piercing bombs. ‘Go over to the other side of the airport. Go and practice that over there.’ So we got out of their way over there, we stayed overnight and then we had to take home the next day. But now we had to take off with this full bomb load on the Finningley runway and Harris said to put the throttles through the gate, the emergency alarm on the Merlins that was supposed only to go for a minute, but full, full throttles through the gate to get it off this runway at Finningley to get out bomb load home again. So that was unfortunate but finally 617 Squadron had a go at it, they had a go at the Urft, knocked a few feet of it but it was never breached. So, finally the Americans gave up but at that time, around about that time, the Battle of the Bulge occurred. The Americans came out of the Ardennes heading for Antwerp and the Americans had to pay attention to that and instead of trying to get through the Hürtgenwald forest and gave up on the Urft Dam and went the other way. So the Urft was left alone for a while and eventually bypassed. So that was another adventure. [slight laugh]
JM: Well, you had quite a few and your recollections are incredibly detailed and I think it’s been very, er, amazing to hear, to hear so many instances given such great clarity. So, I think probably at that, at this point we might, um, wrap the interview up and —
JE: Have some morning tea.
JM: We shall have a quick look at some of the documents. So are you, you happy with that are you John?
JE: Reasonable. That’s reasonable enough.
JM: Nothing in particular that strikes you —
JE: There are just a few points I’d like to make about the support we had from the women of Britain and things like that and the people we met and things like that, you know, I’d like to point out, you know.
JM: Yes. No.
JE: But as you know, as you detected, I’d been interested in aeroplanes from way back. I mean, all these aeroplanes are beautiful things and a joy forever. I used to make model aeroplanes out of my mother’s clothes pegs even before I made them in balsa. And now I’ve got over a hundred made in plastic, books over there galore about Bomber Command, books out there about aeronautics generally and other references galore. I’m still interested and, you know, so —
JM: Yes. Oh, your collection of model aeroplanes is stunning and to think you’ve made all of them is just remarkable —
JE: This of course are our travels.
JM: These are all your travels which is a double A3 page, it’s a world map and on the other side.
JE: All my travels from 1941 at Port Moresby to Brisbane. And they’re the references to my other world war books.
JM: Yes, absolutely. Incredible detail. You’re obviously a very organised person and the attention to detail, it’s no wonder you stayed on track —
JE: On track and on time and survived.
JM: On track, on time and survived due to that attention to detail. So, I thank you very much John for that information and, er, so we’ll finish it there.



Jean Macartney, “Interview with John Eppel,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed March 4, 2024,

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