Interview with Colin Fraser

Title

Interview with Colin Fraser

Description

Colin Fraser grew up in Hawthorn, Australia and joined the Royal Australian Air Force. He flew operations as a navigator with 460 Squadron.

Creator

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Date

2015-11-13

Contributor

Julie Williams

Rights

This content is available under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0). It has been published ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre. For more information, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ and https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/legal.

Format

02:10:16 audio recording

Language

Type

Identifier

AFraserC151113, PFraserC1501

Conforms To

Temporal Coverage

Transcription

AP: This interview for the International Bomber Command Centre is with Col Fraser. A 460 Squadron navigator. The interview is taking place at Camberwell in Melbourne. My name’s Adam Purcell. The date is the 13th of November 2015. Col. I believe you have got something prepared. Let’s go.
CF: Yeah. I was born in Melbourne on 5th of November 1922. My air force number was 435111. And when the Japanese came into the war I decided to join the air force but they had many volunteers and the army wanted me so I went into the army on the 31st of December ‘41 and it took me ‘til March ‘43 to get back into the air force at Number 2 ITS Bradfield Park in Sydney. Where I was then classified as a navigator which is what I wanted. By changing Australia where the system was to have a observer, which means you could be a navigator, a bomb aimer or both depending on the size of the crew. I graduated in February forty — oh sorry. It was ‘43. ’44 sorry. Yeah. I graduated, sorry, in February ’44 as a navigator and had leave and then lived in the Melbourne Cricket Ground grandstand for seven days before I sailed off to England. I arrived in Brighton where the Australians were — had a reception centre, in February, sorry in March ’44. And we were told then immediately that there would be a delay because the fact is that the Bomber Command was not losing the people and aircrew were surplus for the moment there. I took leave courtesy of the Lady Ryder Scheme at a farm in, outside York. And I then returned to the new area of the instruction things at Warrington in Lancashire. And I and my mates spent a lot of time from there looking around various parts of England while we were waiting and we had some leave. At that time the RAF stopped the number of pilots being trained and there were empty airstrips and aeroplanes. So they said the pilots had been waiting a long time, for three weeks down to these airstrips and an empty backseat. They sent the navigators and bomb aimers to learn about map reading in English conditions. I finished up at Fairoaks which is in the Windsor Castle area. And we arrived there in early June ‘44 and we could see with flying at only a few thousand feet around the area that the invasion was well and truly on. And a couple of nights later we were not surprised at the amount of aircraft flying around for the invasion date. The — and then about ten days later we woke up to the sound of the V2. The flying bomb. We were not on the direct route from France to London, but the stray ones often were within our sight and two at least came over our area. We went back to Padgate and there we were split up into navigators and bomb aimers and I, being a navigator went up to West Frew in Scotland. And there we were joined by a section from New Zealand boys and I did my first DR navigation for six months while there. Then we were sent to 27 OUT at Lichfield which was the Australian OTU. And there we met up with our bomb aimer mates who we’d trained with, and I crewed up with Dan Lynch for the following day. We discussed having a pilot and decided we wanted one who was big and strong and had to be mature. About twenty three or twenty four [laughs] so we mixed with the pilots and picked out two pilots who seemed to fit the bill a bit. And we were at the same meal table as them that evening and the following morning when we decided that we wanted as a pilot Harry Payne. Known as Lofty because he was six foot three. So later that morning when we all got in the big hall we sat behind Lofty and were chatting to some gunners who’d also paired up. And when the chief flying instructor said, ‘Righto boys. Crew up,’ we tapped Lofty on the shoulder and said would he like a navigator and a bomb aimer and he said, ‘Yes. Do you know any others?’ and we said, ‘There’s two nice gunners over there. So we had them. They in turn knew a wireless operator from the night before so we finished up with a crew which was Harry ‘Lofty’ Payne from West Australia. Dan Lynch, the bomb aimer from Tasmania and myself, Colin Fraser from Melbourne. Our wireless operator was Bill Stanley from Melbourne. And then we had two Sydney boys as gunners. Jack Bennett, upper, mid-upper and Hugh Connochie known as Shorty, as the rear gunner. We then did ground subjects for a couple of weeks. Everybody. And I was then introduced into the mysteries of Gee. The radar navigation aid. We were taken out to the Wellington aircraft with a instructor pilot and he showed Harry how things were done and then said to him, ‘Now you can take off for three landings and take offs and then call it a day.’ Well, we took off and landed twice and the third time as we reached height the port engine failed and we went into emergency drill which for my position was in the middle of the aircraft where I couldn’t see anything. As we went around I pulled a nacelle cock to get rid of some petrol from the plane. And when Lofty turned in to make the landing he instructed me to pull the air bottle which I did and down came the undercart. The original Wellingtons that would also blow all hydraulics. But the pilots had all been advised that all planes on the station had been adjusted. That this would not happen. However, as Harry went to put down the flaps nothing happened. And he finished up banging the aircraft down halfway down the strip and he ran through the fence, across a road, a fence the other side, a bush or two, and finished up in a ditch with the back broken and up in the air. We all managed to get out of the escape hatches with any trouble, no injuries except a few minor cuts. And we took on, went back to flying the following day. And the only one there the one night the heating failed just after take-off and I had to navigate around with frozen hands. Putting them in gloves and out again. Navigation was a bit sketchy. And when I handed the log in, the instructor said to me it wasn’t too good. I maintained that in the circumstances it was quite ok. His comment back was, ‘In Bomber Command there are no excuses,’ which stayed with me for the rest of the tour. We finished there on the 11th of December and then we went in to Poole which meant sitting around for nothing for a couple of months because it was winter and there wasn’t any flying going on anyway. And we took leave to several places such as Edinburgh and there. Then on the 2nd of February we then went to Heavy Conversion Unit at Lindholme and met up with the mighty Lancaster bomber. As the navigator I met up with the H2S which allowed you to look through cloud and pick up the signals from the ground. It was good on the coast but not too good with towns. And one night when we were flying on a decoy raid which meant you flew within a few miles of the enemy coast and then turned back to make them think you were going to attack them. And that night it turned out that my oxygen tube got twisted and I was only getting half the amount of oxygen, and as such I got — cut out a dog leg we should have done and got back earlier to be noted that they were bandits in the area which was code for German fighters. Anyway, we got down. The last crew in to land while a mate of ours at 460 Squadron, Binbrook was shot down on a training flight and two of his crew were killed.
AP: Col.
CF: There were about a hundred JU88s came back with the bombers.
AP: Col. I’ll stop you there for a minute.
Other: I’ve heard this story.
AP: I haven’t yet.
[recording paused]
CF: Ah yes.
AP: Now where weren’t we?
CF: That’s how it goes. Now, where was I in this?
AP: We were talking about bandits returning from your decoy trip I think. Bandits. You were returning from your decoy trip.
CF: Oh yeah.
AP: And there were bandits.
CF: Yeah. Which meant that therefore we landed. I think we said we landed. And got, Binbrook. That’s right. Yes. Yeah. Yes. Yes. Yes. So we’re as we said before any former on there. We finished on that at Poole, there we’ve got the — ah that’s right we’re at Lindholme. Ok. So Ok. Now where do I start from now when.
AP: Say again. Alright. Have you finished.
CF: Yeah.
AP: Your prepared statement shall we say. Ok. You said you were picked as a navigator and you said you wanted to be a navigator. Why?
CF: Because I’m good at figures. I’m not very good with my hands. I never wanted to really drive a car like all the other kids were fighting to get the steering wheel and I’d say, ‘Give me the map.’ So [laughs] yeah. I haven’t got the co-ordination with my hands. Well the obvious thing is my wife very nicely said to me, ‘You know dear if we lived on what you made with your hands we’d be below the poverty line.’ [laughs]
AP: Fair enough.
CF: No. I’m good at maths and I enjoy doing the figures. And secondly to stare, to sit with your steering column in front of me for five, six, eight, nine hours. That’s deadly. I like, I’ve got figures in front of me. I’m working on this time . Doing it there. So all in all the idea of being a pilot, although I had all the things. In those days my eyes were good for landing and everything. I was pilot/navigator category only because I was six feet one and they would not make you a gunner if you were over six feet.
AP: That’s why you’re —
CF: When I went in for my interview as to what I could be and they said, ‘What do you want to be?’ I said, ‘A navigator.’ And they probably looked at each other and said well that’s a change because ninety percent or more say a pilot. And they had a look at my figures that I had done pretty well in the exams. The mathematics and so forth. So yeah. So I was happy with being a navigator, yes. I wouldn’t have liked to have been a bomb aimer. Again, you would be steering there on a bombing trip for hour after hour whereas, you’re working on it. Mind you, at the same time you have a lot of pressure on you because if you’re not there and where you should be the crew look upon you. I always remember reading memoirs of some fella that when he said they got there and he said, ‘But we’re there,’ and the pilot and the rest of the crew said, ‘There’s no markers down. No, nothing. Are you sure you’re right Bill?’ You know. And then all of a sudden some markers went down and the pilot said, ‘Oh well done. The markers are down.’ He said, nobody apologised for all the queries and suggestions that I’d stuffed up really [laughs] yeah. No I enjoyed being a navigator. Yep. Yes.
AP: Very good. Can we — we might backtrack a little bit actually. Your early life when you were growing up. What, what did you do before the war?
CF: What?
AP: Yeah.
CF: Well I grew up at, in Hawthorn you might say. Down near the Quay on tennis courts on Scotch College where we had the Gardiner Creek winding around and like all the little kids along the Gardiner Creek we played down there when we shouldn’t have probably. We even had a bit of naked swimming there when we were six or seven or eight sort of business there in the creek. And somebody asked me once what was the, your memory of childhood? And I said, I thought for a while and I said, ‘Freedom.’ We were free. There was never any worries about anything sort of business there. Admittedly in the Depression I never gave my parents enough credit for the way they looked after us four kids during the Depression sort of business then. But the point was that as I said at my elder brother’s funeral my first memory of him was mother calling out, ‘Take you little brother with you and look after him.’ And that was the way that it acted in those days. Big sisters and big brothers looked after little brothers and I had what you might — and of course there was no TV. And we played games within the family and with our mates, sort of business, there. I had a great mate who died only a few months ago with a sudden heart attack and I went out my back gate and up a couple of houses in his back gate and vice versa and he was just as much — had two sisters he didn’t [pause] but he was just as much an elder brother as I was for the girls. They just treated me like a brother. He was over so often, he was always with us. Yeah. But the freedom was that was it. I could do what I sort of liked. Mother never said ‘Where are you going?’ Or something or other. I would just say, ‘Oh I’m going down to see Bill Jones or something like that.’ There was no worries that there were going to be any strange men or odd people around about. I had the — and there weren’t that many cars on the road either sort of business. That was it. It was freedom type of business that I had on there. And I was in the, one of the higher ones up in class. Again fortunately I had brains. I had nothing with the hands but the brains. I had the brains. And I can remember at state school you had two, what you’d call, very smart bastards, and I was one of the next three or four after that to get fired over two or three or four of us. But those two were outstanding and then we three or four or so were varied from time to time as to who was the smartest bastard shall we say. But that was it. We had freedom type of business of it there. And what was more. To do it there, more we had security ahead of us. It was obvious that if we’d ever thought about it we would grow up and get married and have kids and have a house. And that was, you know, the feeling was there was life ordained and certainly anybody who took a job in the public service would be, assume that they would see their life out in the public service. Again, if you joined a big company like BHP or something like that you would again, would assume that you’re there. So that was also better. But on the other hand of course as you were growing up you didn’t think too much about security. You just assumed I suppose that there was a instruction. And living in Hawthorn black was black and white was white. It was only when I went into the army I found there was a lot of shades of grey, depending on circumstances and the viewpoints of people etcetera. But in Hawthorn where I was, as I said we had all those. We had all that creek and the open land to run and play and fished and so forth etcetera there and I can remember the actual Quay on tennis courts there being built shall we say on it there. But that was it. It was the freedom of doing things. We might, as I say, Depression we might have had a second hand football or cricket bat or something or other. You had something. That was it, sort of business there. You weren’t looking for much sort of business there, and as I say you had a lot of, a lot of kids in that area I suppose moved at the same time and there was always. You walked out the house and walked around to the next over or you’d run into a couple of kids and you sort of business there. Yeah. Yes.
AP: Yeah. [unclear]
CF: A good childhood really. As I say not a very, not a rich one in any way or form sort of business there but a good childhood of freedom. Yeah.
AP: What— was the army your first job. Was the army your first job?
CF: What?
AP: Sorry. Sorry. Your first job. Was, was that — did you come straight out of school and straight into the military or did you do something?
CF: At that stage, Year 10, the intermediate was where everybody except the, the title used recently — only the swots went past Year 10 and they would be the future doctors and so forth there. The only the very, very smart ones you might say, the top ten percent or something went past Year 10. The rest of but again, looking, you went to work in a big company and when you started out they had — shall we say half a dozen new boys started at the end of January or something and you worked in the mail room. And for twelve months you delivered papers and picked up papers all around and you got to know what happened in the company. And then after that or sometime during it perhaps you then got a job of doing — writing something up or doing something and you stepped up your attitude. And you also went to work — you went to night school to learn book keeping accountancy. Or whatever was the thing of it there. So for two nights a week and maybe a bit of time to do a bit of study you were occupied shall we say. You didn’t have much money so you couldn’t go out much sort of business there. You did the things. Yeah.
AP: So why did you want to join the air force? Why? Why did you want to join the air force?
CF: Well I’d never had much to do with the water so the navy was out for a start. The idea of being on a ship sailing around on water had no appeal. The army — well I had read a few books about World War One. In the trenches and such and again the idea of face to face, shall we say, bayonet and so forth didn’t appeal much to me and so I couldn’t see a place in the army for my clerical skills shall we say. That type of business. So the air force and being a navigator appealed to me. Yeah. Yeah.
AP: Fair enough. You were, I think you said ITS was at Bradfield Park. Your Initial Training School was at Bradfield Park?
CF: Yes. Don’t ask me why they sent a Melbourne boy, like a fella said to me when he went to do his initial training as a pilot, he lived in Adelaide and thought he’d go to Padfield or something.
AP: Parafield.
CF: And no. No. No. They sent him over to Wagga.
AP: Ask not. Just do.
CF: The mysteries of postings. Yes.
AP: What happened at ITS? What, what sorts of things did you — were you taught. What sort of things did you do?
CF: Well you learned the theory of flight was the main thing there. Why did a plane stay up shall we say. You did mathematics for your because later on your skill. You did plenty of PT to keep yourself in good fit there. Incidentally, the fittest I ever was after the army induction because we did marching, drill there. PT. And then we’d finish up at four in the afternoon with a swim in the [Goulburn River?] And at the end of six weeks of that or something like that we, at nineteen years of age you were very fit when you’d been doing all this exercise every day for six weeks sort of business there. Yeah. The [pause], I can’t really think what else you did in there as I say the theory of flight. The theory of there and as I say mathematics. And PT. Yeah. I can’t think of really much else you did in that sort of days. I didn’t ever keep any records of what we did but certainly when you were on the reserve they would send you homework to do on mathematics. Do that there. So we had a reasonable amount of mathematics in there. Teaching up at there. But now I can’t remember really much other than the fact that we did the mathematics and the theory of flight etcetera up at there. Yeah. They might have had something else up at there. I don’t think if that was the question when you know they would ask you how you got up there. Yeah.
AP: So the first time that you ever went in an aeroplane what aircraft was it? Where was it? And what did think?
CF: It was an Anson aircraft at Mount Gambier which was Number 2 Air Observer’s School. So that was where I go on from ITS to Mount Gambier. And we went on [pause] I think it was an initial flying thing. We flew over the land and we flew over the ocean. And I think that was, you might say, showing us what flying was about. I don’t think we did anything other than fly around and see what was there. Yeah. And the Anson. Yeah.
AP: Did you —
CF: And what was more you had to wind it up a hundred and six turns because you were the, you were there. The pilots wouldn’t wind it up. You were part of the crew who had to wind it up. Yeah.
AP: That’s the undercarriage. That’s the wheels.
CF: That was the navigation. Yes. And you flew two to a crew. Two to a crew. One was the navigator and the other was the secondary one who had to take some notes about the countryside. Yeah.
AP: Did you, did you encounter any accidents or incidents in that early training? Did you, did you see any or —
CF: No accidents in the early training.
AP: No.
CF: Australia had none of the training actually till I was a sergeant and I didn’t actually get involved in any accident that time at all. Sort of business there. No.
AP: Alright. Once you got your wings you passed out as a qualified navigator. You then went to the UK somehow. How did you get there?
CF: We actually went to Brisbane and we caught a American twelve thousand dollar victory ship. They were the ships that they were welding for the first time. They had the, what was the seven thousand tonnes was called the something or other. And I was on a twelve thousand tonne called the Sea Corporal. And we went from Brisbane to San Francisco. And the two things I remember was A) I could see a rain storm and I could see a rainstorm had length and it had width but living where I was in the sort of valley a bit really of Gardiner Creek you only ever saw the rain coming at you sort of business there. You could never see the width or the depth of it but then all of a sudden there you had the ocean. Look across there and there is a rain going across and it’s got width and it’s got length. And the other thing. One day we went into the doldrums when the sea is perfectly smooth. There was no waves crashing. Smooth. There’s no, not a ripple on the water. This was what the old time sailors with the sail used to dread getting. I can imagine. That’s it there. I saw that one day. Yeah. It was eerie to watch this, shall we say, waves — not raising high obviously but, you know, up in the air, yeah.
AP: Very nice. You got to the States. Did you spend any particular time in the USA or was it straight across?
CF: Oh we had six hours. We went to a place called Angel Island in San Francisco Bay which was an American camp and we were given six hours from 6 o’clock in the evening till midnight to see San Francisco. That was our time in San Francisco. Then the next day we caught a train. A train across America. And the great thing about that — on the Pullman carriages they had sleepers. Great thing. Yes. We had to sleep sitting up in Victoria. Well in Australia and in England and then we got to outside New York and we got three days leave in New York. And then we went down to the harbour to there and on one side was the Queen Elizabeth of eighty four thousand tonnes and on the other side was a boat, I’ve forgotten the name, fifty five thousand tonnes. And we had never seen a ship bigger than twenty thousand tons. So eyes opened up big and wide. We didn’t know actually we were going to go on, you see. We actually slept in the Queen Elizabeth. In the third class cinema with bunks three high. And they had something like twelve to fifteen thousand troops on. I understand the American soldiers had eight hours each to sleep. That was it. There was only one bed for three American soldiers when they were taking them across. Six were there. So that was — you had two meals a day. And you had about, I think about half an hour you were allowed up for fresh air once a — once a day you got half an hour on the deck to get a breath of fresh air or something. Because the Queen Elizabeth had done that trip, you know, how many times they had the work down to a fine art. You had to wear a colour patch on your uniform and you weren’t allowed to move outside that colour patch except to go down and have your meal. It was a highly organised thing of it sort of business there. Yes it was. Yeah.
AP: How long ago — sorry, how long did that take. That voyage.
CF: Five or six days it took us to get across. Yeah. Yeah.
AP: Not much fun. Not much fun.
CF: Yeah.
AP: Alright. You get to England. This is the first time —
CF: Actually you finish up in the Gourock in the Clyde. Firth of the Clyde.
AP: Ok.
CF: Yeah.
AP: You get to the UK though.
CF: You take the train down and in actual fact you get in the train and you go to Glasgow and then you come to a city that’s got a big castle. And it’s got Waverley. That’s when we asked where we were. ‘You’re at Waverley.’ We couldn’t find Waverley on the map. And of course later on, some a month or two or so later somebody went up to and said, ‘Hey that was Edinburgh.’ Waverley is the station like Flinders Street.
AP: Certainly is. This was the first time you were overseas.
CF: Yes. First time. No. Sorry the army was the first time I was outside Victoria.
AP: Really.
CF: Yeah.
AP: Ok. So as a young Australian, the first time you were overseas wartime England would have been fairly confronting I suppose. What did you think of wartime England when you first got there? What was it like?
CF: Well, wartime. We got there in April which was spring you might say. And we had seen many pictures of England. Of the green land and so forth there. And coming down from Scotland the land was open shall we say and pleasant and the main memory I got down there seeing, for instance all the poles to stop planes landing from the invasion and other matters that indicated there was a war on around the place and England, I read a book. The same thing. It seemed to fit in pretty clearly of what you’d seen in the papers shall we say because you weren’t looking at the slums of London or anything of that nature. We were at Brighton which was the big as you probably know was the big holiday resort with the pubs all along the front. Like something, you might say, like the Gold Coast or something or other like that. And plenty of, actually in peacetime B&Bs behind that, also around places etcetera there. But no England was comforting I would say. There was no problem in there and of course they spoke the language [laughs]
AP: What did you think of the people?
CF: Incidentally, going across to America we had one naive nineteen year old saying to some American officers talking about America and he said, ‘Won’t they think it funny we haven’t got an accent?’ Took the Americans about five minutes to calm down with their laughter.
AP: Fair enough. What did you think of the people in England? Did you, did you have much to do with the civilian population?
CF: Well as they said in the book of, “No Moon Tonight” the author said if there was ever a Commonwealth spirit it was in England during the war. There were no — the Canadian, the English and such and one of the great things about being an Australian was that there were no Australian army troops to stuff it up in England. The air force by and large were ground crew admittedly as well. But by and large the Australians over there were, shall we say middle class and educated and were very popular with the locals and with the girls. That’s it. Yeah. And we were pretty well paid shall we say. Not as well paid as the Americans but we had — yeah.
AP: What — what sort of things, when on leave and these could be at any point when you’re in England. When you’re on a squadron or when you’re in training. What sort of things did you get up to when you were on leave or when you were off duty?
CF: Well, I went on leave with Dan Lynch who — he’d been doing the first year of a medicine course so you might say that we, on leave looked at seeing what we could of England, Scotland and Wales sort of business of it there. So we were always looking for the views and what was there and the old castle and all those types of things of it there. We had a few drinks but basically we didn’t hang around the pubs etcetera there. We, we wanted to see the actual country and as a tourist shall we say there. Yeah. That was my particular little group of, shall we say half a dozen mates and so forth you mixed. In other words you soon found out who wants to, you know, we were friendly with a couple of older blokes who, you know. They were shall we say twenty five or twenty seven or something like that. They’d like to, and they were married they liked to just go down to the pub and just have a drink and a talk. That was fair enough. Whereas we would possibly pop into the pub for one or two drinks and then on to the dance or something of that nature of it there. Yeah. So, like, how things go, when we were at OTU we got a week’s leave and Dan Lynch and I went out and went to hitchhike a ride with the Americans trucks to Brum. Birmingham. And we –they pulled up and, ‘Where do you want to go.’ I said, ‘Birmingham,’ and, ‘That’s ok we’re going to Oxford.’ ‘Could we come to Oxford?’ ‘Oh yes. Hop in the back.’ So we finished up at Oxford. And the following night we went and saw a George Bernard Shaw play which I had never seen one before. But that’s, as I say, a mate of mine. Dan Lynch. He was, that was his culture more so than mine, shall we say, etcetera. Yeah there. Again it was mixed up with you that for instance out of hours, 7 that was what we had to go to get back by the way that we picked up with the English. Bill Stanley and Dan and I would often make a three and go to the dance shall we say. Whereas the navigator Jack Bennett would then be he was a bit of a, he had a couple of other blokes or something. He was chasing the girls and so forth there. And he would, he’d go there and go sometimes with Shorty and the pilot. They tended to do other things shall we say. Yeah. But that was it. You, you soon found the people that wanted to do things that you wanted to do. Yeah.
AP: Did you spend much time in London? Did you spend much time in London?
CF: No.
AP: Not at all.
CF: No. We thought, having had a good look around London on a couple of occasions when we were there. No we didn’t spend, we spent some time there but no we wanted to, when we went on leave we would head down to either Cornwall and Devon or John O’Groats up in Scotland. We never made either place, or land. We didn’t make Lands End. We didn’t make John O’Groats but we would head off with a pass and went off with a thing and we’d stay one day, two days, three days and then all of a sudden realise that we’ve only got two days left. Perhaps we had better in that case make a firm plan where we’d go but that was it. Yeah. We went we made the opportunity. The one little group I sort of mixed around in was to see as much of England, Scotland and Wales as possible in the time. Yeah. In fact, Ireland as well. When the war was over, over there I actually went over to Ireland. Yeah. Where my Irish grandfather came from.
AP: Excellent. What did, what were your thoughts when you finally got out of that Wellington? Or the Wellingtons that kept having engine failures.
CF: Yeah.
AP: And you’re now on four engine aeroplanes. You’re looking at a Lancaster for the first time.
CF: Well, wait a second. When I, when after the Wellington crashed or when we moved in to the Lancaster.
AP: Sorry. In general. When you moved on. So you’ve left the Wellingtons behind.
CF: Left it behind you. Yeah.
AP: Yeah. Thank goodness for that.
CF: The old story was that the following day we went flying and that crash was they rolled the Wellington. That’s what happened. We didn’t suffer any and our main thought then was we’d got a bloody good pilot who didn’t panic. He did everything he could to keep the aircraft going and so forth. Safety sort of business of it there. Because as I said they found out that aircraft somehow had not been modified. I never found out why and so forth. Anyway, no, you, we were young. You got on with it and when you got to a Lancaster well let’s face it, let’s say the Lancaster at the Heavy Conversion Unit might have been a little battered but it was better than the Wellington. At the OTU sort of business there. Yeah. And you had four engines too. Yes. Yeah. Yeah. No. You didn’t worry too much about that.
AP: Can you, can you describe for me what the navigator’s position on the Lancaster is like? What? What’s there when you’re sitting at your desk. What’s around you and what’s it like?
CF: Well a Lancaster you had first of all you were the pilot and the flight engineer stood alongside of each other with the great things in front of them. You, then there was a big black curtain could be pulled across there where [unclear] and you actually faced sideways with a desk in front of you and therefore in front of you you had a compass which theoretically agreed with the compass in the — [paused]. You had to check that there because sometimes it didn’t. And you then had a set for the Gee which you used frequently. You read the thing and you got two, and two things on that and then you plotted on a special sheet which curved and let there. And then you had a, then a thing for the, on the side, for the H2S when you had that equipped on it there. And the rest of the thing of course your tables had your log and most of all you had your flight plan which you drew on as you went along and filled the detail in it there. So you had a couple of pencils and a compass and you had then a, the calculator. I’m trying to think of the name that is that you put your thing on and drew a couple of things on. It was a calculator for navigators to use. I’m trying to think of the name of it now. Yeah. That was it. At that stage you hadn’t, the navigator didn’t have a drift recorder and the ones we had which you had in the Anson and so forth to get there but when you had the Gee in the aircraft you didn’t need that. You had your map on there. Yeah. So as I say you sat on the side and then as I say you had a curtain between you and the, really, flight engineer and then you had a curtain on the other side to keep the light going out that way type of business of it there. So you were in your little cocoon with the light going on. As they said one navigator came out of the second or third raid and had a look at it, and said, ‘Bloody hell,’ and he said he never looked, he never would come out of his cocoon again. He didn’t want to see it.
AP: Did you ever have a look at a target? Did you ever come out and have a look?
CF: No. I went out and had a look. As one navigator said if you’re coming this far let’s have a look. But as they say in my thing that I had down there that on my first trip we were down for a place near Cologne which is in the Ruhr. Where the ack ack is pretty severe and the point was that we got there. We — ok there. Everything was going nice and easily and you’re thinking it’s a nice and easy sort of business there and then you see what’s there. But the bomb aimer’s there and he says everything and then all of a sudden he says, you know, ‘Bomb doors. Bomb doors closed.’ That’s the thing and then he called down a rather, ‘Let’s get the hell out of here.’ I must admit that the rest of the crew including me were feeling much the same way as he was feeling. This is no, no place to be for us nice blokes. That was straight out of there and say, as we were flying across occupied France and Germans had —half an hour later something after we’d dropped the bomb or something, maybe there, a shot come up and went through our wing and kept on going thank God. And it was dark. You couldn’t see outside and our pilot, having already done one trip as a second pilot said, ‘Oh it’s alright boys. A near miss.’ And about twenty minutes later when daylight appeared the mid-upper gunner said, You’ve got a bloody big hole in the wing,’ [laughs]. But that’s it. We got back home and we felt a bit guilty that, bringing back an aircraft another crew normally flew with a hole in the wing. As if we had been a bit careless about the whole thing. Yeah.
AP: That sort of leads on to the next question. The ground crew. What sort of relationship did you have with your ground crew?
CF: I didn’t have much of a relationship because as the navigator I was working up to the last minute finishing the plan we’d been told and so forth. And I was taken out to the aircraft just before it was time to — I never, never really saw the ground crew at all. And of course when we got back there was a no talk for the crew. So I had no relationship with the ground crew for the simple reason, as I say, that I didn’t — I was not there like the rest of the crew had been out doing a check and so forth etcetera there. But I was a late comer because I was there and sometimes you got you had to then finish your flight plan because you hadn’t had time to finish it beforehand. Yeah. So our pilot had a good relationship with the ground staff. I don’t know about the other crew members that were there as to whether they did or didn’t. I have a feeling that we only did seven trips so we weren’t there a long time and I don’t think, I think basically our flight engineer and our pilot had a good relationship with the ground crew but the other members I don’t think they really had much relationship with them type of thing.
AP: Alright. I’ve done that. Were there any superstitions or rituals that you, either that your crew took part in or that you saw in the squadron? Hoodoos or anything like that?
CF: No. No. I heard of various rituals and odds and sods but as far as I know there was no rituals about you always wore a blue tie or a certain hankie or something or other. As far as I know, in our particular crew, there was never any particular ritual, as you said. Some crews there was a ritual something or other but with our crew as far as I know there wasn’t any.
AP: Did you have any nose art painted on your aeroplane or were you not there long enough? Did you have anything painted on the front of your, on the nose of your aeroplane.
CF: No.
AP: You weren’t there long enough.
CF: No. No.
AP: That’s alright. Just thought I’d ask the question. So oh that was what I was going to ask you. As the navigator you’re working pretty hard when you’re flying. I believe it was fixing a position every six minutes or something along those lines. Can you remember much of the process of the actual physical what you were doing?
CF: Well when you were in England and you had the Gee which gave you your position, as you, I think you mentioned, every six minutes. You had to get a reading where you were and from that you had to work out the wind that had blown in the last six minutes and then readjust your flight plan as to whether to tell the pilot to change course if so what to change to. And you also had to check your estimated time of arrival likewise. Every six minutes. Which meant that you were working steadily shall we say? Yes. Yeah. As I say that was the great thing as I was good at mathematics I could, I could meet those six minutes all right shall we say. Yeah. Yes.
AP: And when, when you were no longer —
CF: And then once you, once you got over Germany and your Gee was jammed or you had difficulty getting a good reading because Gee lines were curved and over a certain distance they tended to merge into each so you could you know could be a half an inch deciding where they actually crossed sort of business there. But when you, after that you were dependant on if the bomb aimer can tell you something and sometimes the Pathfinders would drop a light to say this is the turning point to something of that nature there which I don’t remember ever having that myself. And basically we were flying on what information we’d had and anything we’d had in the first half hour or so or an hour or so of flying. And that’s one thing. When we started operations the [pause] see this was the — we started in March ‘45 the actual operations and the, that stage they were getting into the German border which meant that you possibly had a couple of hours of what the actual wind was that you could do yourself, sort of business a bit there. Other than that you flew on your flight plan and if you were over cloud, well, there and there were at times a wind direction might be come over from the Pathfinders. They might send it back if the wind was so and so and you might get a thing from them. Very rarely we did that but I heard it happened at times. We basically flew on DR. Dead reckoning. Once you got past the, into the German jamming and so forth there. Yeah. And of course it was always nice to see the Pathfinders drop the markers and you got off the course. Or you could see them ahead of yourself. Yes.
AP: The [pause] alright, what was the drill if one of your gunners spotted a night fighter and said, ‘Corkscrew. Port. Go.’ From your perspective as a navigator what happened next?
CF: Never happened to us fortunately there but as a navigator you mean when they said, ‘Go.’ Well, as a navigator you just sit there and grind your teeth or something or other. Or say, that there is nothing you could do and the only great thing what you had to do was to make sure that the, your gear on your desk when they flew into a steep curve didn’t go flying anywhere. And particularly because I remember the first time when we’d been practicing doing it for the first time when the pilot flew it down and the bomb aimer for some reason was having a rest on the bed, the rest bed which went along the aircraft. And my compasses flew up in the air and was flying towards him. And he was trying to push away this compass coming at him. At that — so I learned from that that if there was at any time the first thing I would do would be yes to put my hand on my gear and hold it there.
AP: Hold on for dear life.
CF: But fortunately I didn’t have to do that. Yeah.
AP: Ok. You mentioned something when we were at the RSL at Caulfield the other day. At the EATS lunch. You came up and you said something happened on Anzac Day 1945.
CF: Happened on —
AP: Anzac Day 1945. You haven’t told me that story yet.
CF: Well that’s what I’m getting on to later on. That was the, in actual fact that’s the day we got shot down.
AP: That’s what I was hoping you’d say.
CF: Yeah. Yeah.
AP: Please tell me about that experience.
CF: Yeah. Well I’ll tell you about the whole story. That’s part of my story.
AP: That’s part of your story.
CF: Yeah.
AP: Well ok.
CF: In actual fact I did that for this group, did one and I got for what turned out to be would I have my photograph taken and I said yes and I turned up like this and the, I found out that there was a team of five or six people. Not just one from the publicity. And one wanted the story and one wanted a photograph and so forth there. And I finished up getting my medals out and having a photograph taken and then they said, ‘Would you say a few words?’ I said, ‘Well a couple.’ A few words turned into, ‘Will you make a ten minute speech?’ So I finished up making a ten minute speech which described what happened from the day before when we were on the battle order which was the, picked like lead teams. That was the team that picked for the following day which was Anzac day. And my story lasted from there till the time that [pause] where does that go? Till the time we got to the Stalag. That’s right. Yeah. Ten minute speech. Yeah.
AP: Well I’ve got to the point in my questions now where we’ve been talking about operations so this is probably an appropriate time to carry on with your story if you —
CF: Yeah.
AP: If you’re happy to do so.
CF: Yeah. Yes. Well as I say. Right. Ok. Well now. Where were we? We’d got [pause] oh we got to Heavy Conversion Unit. I got introduced there, that I forgot to mention the fact that we picked up a flight engineer there. English flight engineer at the, when we got to Lindholme we picked up a English engineer. He had been, he was one of those fellows who’d been trained as a pilot and been sitting around for eight or ten weeks doing nothing and therefore he volunteered to go to go to a six weeks to be flight engineer and therefore get into operations. So we finished up, as I say a bit there that he was happy to fly with an Australian crew and we were happy to have him as a second pilot shall we say because he was a qualified pilot on it there. And he did a little bit of flying of the Lancaster while we were there and while we were at 460 so that he could take over if anything happened to our pilot. It was reassuring to have him. Yeah. Yeah. So then we get to, let me see, then we get to the 460 in March. Yeah. Yeah. Yes. Yeah. Ok. We start on that now?
AP: Yeah. Go for it.
CF: While at the start of our Heavy Conversion Unit we met up with our new flight engineer required for a Lancaster. He — name of Rick Thorpe and he came from Sheffield in Yorkshire. He was happy to join an Australian crew and we were happy to have him as a flight engineer and second pilot if necessary. We finished our training at HCU in March ‘45 and was transferred to Australian squadron number 460 at, near the village of Binbrook in the Lincolnshire. We did a training trip and the [pause] our skipper then did a second dickey trip with an experienced crew over Germany and after he came back about three days later we were on the battle order for that night. And we had the briefing. Found out we were going to bomb [Bruckstrasse?] which was a town close to [pause] what was it? Cologne. Everything went well. We took off at about 1.45 in the morning. Flew to [Bruckstrasse?] Started our bomb run. Everything was going nicely along. Nobody was saying anything. There was radio silence except for the navigator. The bomb aimer giving directions. And then the bomb aimer said, ‘Bombs gone. Bomb doors closed. Let’s get the bloody hell out of this,’ in a rather excited voice. And the rest of the crew felt that they had the same feelings. It was time to go. And on the way back across occupied France the plane got a shudder and the pilot told us that it was a near miss but it was dark at the time. Twenty minutes later when daylight came they found out that they had a hole in the wing that the shell had gone right through. We went back somewhat shamefaced that we’d injured the plane that was usually flown by one of the more experienced pilots. We then did several more trips and went ok. And then we went to Potsdam which was our longest trip to that date and as we dropped our bombs on Potsdam we were grabbed by the searchlights circuit and that’s very dangerous because the guns keep following those searchlights. And we dived very, very smartly and very steeply and heaven knows what speed we got to but we got out of the searchlights and flew back home. We did a trip to Bremen and as we were starting our bomb run the word came over, the code word, ‘Marmalade,’ which means cancelled. No bombs. So we had to dodge over Bremen to miss the flak and come home and land with a five or ten tons of bombs. Then on the 24th of April we were on the bomb order for the following day which would be our seventh flight. And wake up time was 2.15 am. So an early night. Up next morning, breakfast, flight plan, briefing and we were going to Berchtesgaden area. Not the town. In two waves. The first wave of a hundred and eighty planes was to bomb the houses of Hitler and all the Nazi leaders who’d also built their holidays home there and the communication centre and administration buildings. The second wave, of which we were one were to bomb the barracks of the Gestapo and the army that were looking after the Nazi leaders and their communication centre and administration quarters. That was one hour later. We took off just after 5 o’clock in the morning and flew down to the meeting point, joined the gaggle and were flying over The Channel and along over the French countryside. It was a lovely day. Beautiful blue sky. No clouds. Green fields, lakes and rivers down below and on the right was the majestic Alps and with the snow shining on the snow tops. Absolute picture book. We got near the target area and I left my table and moved behind. Ten inches behind the seat of the engineer because on the floor was a parcel of metal strips for [pause] we looked ahead, the flak looked light-medium so no worries. And the bomb aimer took over and he said, ‘Left. Left.’ And then, ‘Bombs gone. Bomb doors closed.’ And as he finished that word we were hit and something flew up past my face and out over the roof. And I looked down and in the centre of the parcel there was a jagged hole. In the meantime the pilot and the engineer were closing down the starboard engine which was a mess and the two inner motors which had also gone. So we were flying on one engine and an empty Lancaster will fly on one engine. The pilot checked the crew and found that everybody was ok. And he then said that the port outer engine, the remaining one was not giving full power and perhaps it would be best if we jumped while he had full control. Nobody wanted to jump. And the flight engineer said, ‘But we can’t do that Lofty. We’re over the Germany.’ At the time I thought that was a very sensible remark. Then we decided that we would try to reach the line of the allied army but very quickly the port, the remaining engine stopped and we were gliding and we had to go. And the drill was to all escape underneath the plane so you wouldn’t get hit by the tail plane. And the bomb aimer was the first to go and the four others all followed in due rate. And then the rear gunner appeared with the parachute in his arms. It had caught on the way up and opened. The pilot told him to get the spare parachute. He came back to say it wasn’t there. Later we found that they had taken it out to repack it and not — failed to replace it. The pilot then made a very very brave decision that rather than leave the rear gunner to his fate he would try and make a crash landing. At this time there was petrol floating around on the floor of the cockpit. His chances weren’t too good but he found that with the five men gone, the petrol also gone and such the plane would glide much better. And he saw a field down below of what looked like wheat and he glided the plane down. Dodged some wires close and put it down on a cornfield. They then both got out of the plane. Ran forty or fifty yards. Threw themselves down on the ground, looked back waiting for the explosion but nothing happened. The earth they’d driven into had apparently put out the flames. But appeared four Hitler youth boys aged about fourteen or so carrying a couple of machine guns which they pointed at the two Australians who were pretty worried. The boys were very excited. Talking to each other. And then along came the Volkssturm. The German Home Guard who took over and took the two Australians back to the regular army. Harry, the pilot, Harry was interrogated by a very high German officer there who said to him, ‘Why are you Australians here? We haven’t got any argument with Australia.’ Harry didn’t attempt to explain it but — meanwhile I had parachuted down to the ground and landed near a couple of houses in which the housewives were standing. Presumably looking at me coming down. And I hastily unbuckled my harness and parachute and left it there and went, walked quickly over to where there was a large clump of trees. The Volkssturm didn’t take long to turn up and no doubt the ladies pointed out where I was. And they were — I thought they said, ‘Pistol? Pistol?’ and patted me. I said, ‘No, and shook my head very vigorously. They said, ‘Parachute.’ and I just raised my eyebrows there and I assume that the couple of German ladies would be wearing silk underwear in the future. They took me to an army camp where there were my, the [unclear] were, was there and in the next couple of hours along came the mid-upper gunner and the flight engineer. And two or three hours after that again the pilot and the rear gunner appeared. The remaining member of the crew, the bomb aimer dropped first. He landed in the snow in the foothills and was captured by the mountain troops who took him deeper into the mountains and he actually didn’t get out of there till two days after the war ended. On May the 10th. The Americans turned up there. We were taken from the camp into the town where they had taken over the hotel as a headquarters and we were put in a room and finally given a piece of dry bread and it was covered in honey and ersatz cup of coffee. There was no hostility there. They were, but they were treating us as prisoners but not close guard. And came the evening light was there and we were put in the back of a covered wagon with the parachute of the, we think, the flight engineer. And we left there with a couple of guards. You might say nominal. Nobody was taking it too seriously. And we drove into the mountains and through the night. There was lots of traffic both ways on the roads. The Germans were using the darkness to avoid the allied fighters who were everywhere. And we then changed over half way across. We changed over to an open truck and we got under the parachute to open the parachute. Yeah. And at 6 o’clock we arrived at the Stalag 7a. Moosburg. Where they opened, a couple of the allied troops actually opened a couple of Red Cross parcels and fed us some breakfast which was very welcome. They then drove us further on to a communication centre at [Mainwaring?] about twenty kilometres away. And that afternoon the interrogating officer had Lofty, our pilot, in and asked him the questions and they got the usual answers there. And they said where, ‘Where do you come from?’ Lofty said, ‘West Australia.’ And the interrogating officer said, ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘I know that quite well. I was an agent out there on several occasions for German firms buying wheat and wool.’ And Lofty said we then had a chat about the west Australian back countryside of which he knew more than I did. And then he said, ‘Well you’d better get back to your crew.’ So he said that was the interrogation. The Germans had given up. And the next morning, we stayed the night there and the next morning we were taken back to the Stalag on a tray, a horse tray with two horses to carry us back to the thing and we did a mixture of walking and sitting on the truck. And we talked to various Australians along the way who had been working on the farms. Where was the question? And we got back to the Stalag and the chief Australian officer said, ‘Do you know what’s going to happen to us prisoners when the allies arrive?’ And our pilot said, ‘Oh yes. We’re going to be taken back to England in the back of bombers.’ ‘Oh,’ said the group captain, ‘How would you know?’ Our pilot said, ‘Well the day before we got shot down they marked twenty five places on our plane where people could sit.’ ‘Oh.’ That was the end of that. The, on the 29th of April the American 14th Division came in and we were free. But it was some time before we got back to England.
AP: And you did go back to England in the back of a bomber. Did you go back to England in the back of a bomber?
CF: Yes. I think that’s about enough there but in actual fact what happened was that was the 29th of May. On May the 1st, yeah the 29th of April, May the 1st two days later General Patton arrived sitting on the front of a truck and at least a hundred correspondents and photographers if not a thousand were there and he announced that we would all be home in two or three days. Back in England in two or three days. And the, some of the Americans would be back in America in two to three weeks. At which the old timers such as me and such were a little bit cynical because of the amount of numbers. And we, yeah, so we sat in the Stalag with the — somehow or other the food was still coming in and the Red Cross parcels were being tapped and so forth. There wasn’t much difference under the Americans than there was under the Germans shall we say because I wasn’t going to go out into the town that I couldn’t speak the language and there were some wild people around. And, yes, I stayed in camp. But the long term prisoners who could speak German went into the town and in actual fact slept in some of the houses because the German, the German civilians liked to have you sleeping in their house if you were well behaved. There was no, any wild men turned up in the middle of the night sort of business, there. On the 7th of May. The night of the 6th of May we were told the following morning at 5 o’clock we would be taken by semi-trailer to air strips where we would be loaded on DC3s. A Dakota who would take us to the main ports, airports where we would then get into either American or British bombers. On the 7th of May we got up at 5 o’clock and duly got on the back of semi-trailers there and we were driven, I reckon forty odd kilometres if not more to an airstrip, a grass airstrip and quite a few. A big crowd. Only a few planes turned up. And therefore that night we were taken back to the German, at Ingolstadt the German. And we did some souveniring of some German wear and tear. And they took us back to the airstrip again the following day. And that was May 8th. Everybody was celebrating. One plane turned up, don’t ask me how they got to one plane there. So at lunchtime, by then the fella in charge of the shipment out said, ‘Go away and have a swim in the river or whatever you do. There’s nothing. Nobody is going to come in today and get it there.’ So an, sorry English long term prisoner who slept just near where I was in the hut said, ‘Oh come into town.’ I said, ‘ Oh ok.’ He said, ‘We’ll go and get, go in to the house and get some hot water for which we’ll give them American cigarettes,’ which were a very strong bartering tool and we’ll take some coffee in. He said, ‘I’ve got some of the stuff that the Americans who got taken out yesterday left on the ground. And let’s put it this way. A long term prisoner never threw anything away. You could, if you didn’t want it you could barter it for something else. And, ‘Yeah. Ok,’ and we went in and I don’t know whether he’d sized it up before we went in this house and we saw them and said you know could we get some water for a wash and a shave and we got some American cigarettes. And yes that’s ok. So we had a wash and a shave and then we said we’d got some coffee and they said yeah. So we were there and two daughters appeared aged, well they might have been nineteen, twenty, twenty one. Some like that age. And we found out that they had married some local boys who had then been grabbed by the army where ever it was. They were taken into Stalingrad. Do you know? Have you heard of Stalingrad?
AP: Yes.
CF: And as such they wondered whether they’d ever see their husbands again, sort of business, there. So that was their message. That we were celebrating the end of the war and they of course weren’t celebrating. And the two daughters were wondering you know just what the bloody hell was going to be the future of them. Anyway we had some nice cup of coffee with them. We having produced the coffee grains there to do it. Yeah. And we went back to the camp and we were taken to a jail that night and there was a bit of a fire about four in the morning or something or other. Some screaming. We got out of that and went and spent the rest of the night back at the airfield and using the overcoats that had all been abandoned by the, because they wouldn’t let you take overcoats on planes. It would make the load too heavy. And that was the 8th. The 9th and the 10th a few planes came in and the English bloke with the German language and so forth managed to wangle himself on one of the planes. So we didn’t go back to the house again and we just filled in the day just walking around. It was nice warm weather and such. So on the 11th there we were having breakfast. Oh we slept out those two nights using the overcoats and so what shelter there was and such so the following morning we’re there and the whole bloody plane, DC3s turned up. So we have to grab what breakfast we could and go and get ready, ready to go and you know make up plans. You had to go and list. Before you got on a plane you had to list everybody who was getting on the plane so if anything happened you knew what was happening . So we got taken to Rheims. To the small aerodrome and then we were taken by semi-trailer across to the major airport which of, was Juvencourt which was, you know, had about, probably had about five runways. Whatever it is. Anyway, we got there and I was allocated to a New Zealand Lancaster crewed by new Zealanders. And the pilot — I’d been in advanced flying unit with him six months before. He looked at me a bit surprised. ‘What are you doing here?’ ‘What the bloody hell do you think I’m doing?’ ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘Come and sit alongside me.’ So I, I didn’t sit in my designated spot but sat alongside him and got quite a nice view as we flew back. So anyway I was back on the 11th but the rear gunner, the bloke in there, he got back late on the 7th. He was the only one that came through on the one day where we were at the whole five thousand were supposed to do or something or other. Don’t ask me who was doing the statistics and everything around the place. Anyway, he got through on the night of the 7th and he was tired and they slept at some English ‘drome near London. Were there when fighter ones probably saw it and in the morning he and the other blokes hopped in a bus or something or other. He said, ‘What’s all the people wandering around shouting and jumping and everything else.’ ‘Oh the war’s finished. They’re celebrating.’ They said, ‘Oh is it?’ Oh. So he said he got down to Brighton on the 8th. The mid-upper gunner and the wireless operator had got as far as Holland no the 7th in other words but there was no plane to take them back to England that night. And so they got back on the 8th. That’s three. We don’t know what happened to the English engineer, he, after that he didn’t reply to any mail or anything etcetera. That was four. That’s right. So I got back on the 11th when, as I say, I got back to England on the 11th and the pilot actually stayed another four days after this. He didn’t leave the Stalag until about the 11th. Then he got flown to Nancy and then he took the train to the [pause] somewhere near the English Channel. And then flew across The Channel. He got back about the 15th. So if you get the idea that all your POWs are going to be flown back home in two days [laughs] — but I will say this much. We got very well treated when we got back to Brighton. In England. There, we got special treatment from there and when I went on leave I got, I think quadruple rations, I think, to take to the people I stayed with etcetera. Yeah. I got very well looked after. So that was the story of there. That as I say and that’s one thing on the DC3s you get quite a nice view of the Maginot and the what’s the name, the Siegfried Line. And all the debris of war was still spread out across the countryside shall we say. Nobody had had time to clear it up. It was, it’s out of the way, just leave it there and we’ll do it next week or something or other like that. The debris was and the bridges had been blown up and you could see what war had done to the countryside. You know. Yes. Oh yes. So that’s the story.
AP: Well I have three more questions.
CF: Yeah.
AP: Alright. So after that experience you came home to Australia. What did you do? How did you adjust back to normal life again?
CF: I had very little time adjusting back shall we say. And for instance my mate, Dan Lynch, who I, he was Tasmanian but he’d come over to Melbourne and he stayed in Melbourne and did the, went to the Melbourne University and got a degree in biology and then joined the fisheries and game department as their first biologist actually. And I formed a lifelong friendship and so I for the next few years while we were batchelors we saw a lot of each other. As we did with another couple of fellas who we trained with — Frank Kelly and John Hodson etcetera there. Yes. Four bachelors played around and one went up to The Northern Territory and then three bachelors played around. Yeah. So we all, as far, we all seemed, we all seemed to get pretty much, Frank actually I know started to do a course on something. I forget now. But he gave that away and then he got a job with a international there. The motors and so forth with them and from there he moved on to the South Melbourne City Council. I got a job back with a small building firm that I’d worked with and went back there. And went and did my accounting studies and then moved to a job with what was then Vacuum Oil which is now Mobil oil there. And Dan, as I say, got this thing and then he got a job. Those three of us, none of us had any, well as I say Frank had got shot down. And Dan and I had got shot down. And in actual fact the other fellow, John Hodson, he was sick one night. Didn’t fly. His crew didn’t return. So he had to get another crew etcetera. He, he, he sort of felt the war, shall we say, more than he did because he’d been pretty friendly with that crew and did a lot with them whereas we didn’t lose over there the same feeling as he got. And we also adjusted quite well to doing it there and I don’t quite know. By and large aircrew seemed to adjust pretty well back to there. Maybe the fact that we did it at remote distances as distinct to fellas that were there but on the other hand there were like the other day one fellow who didn’t do too well. And I know another fellow who didn’t, for thirty years did nothing because his best mate had got killed on 460 Squadron. I don’t know much about it. His third of fourth trip the plane crashed and killed the whole lot. Now why the plane crashed about twenty miles from base I don’t know. It could have been that something had been frayed and wear and tear over those next hundred miles might have caused something and all of a sudden some control might have snapped and the plane went in before the pilot could do anything about it. If he was flying at only a couple of thousand feet ready to land you don’t know. But that fella wouldn’t just come, for thirty years he wouldn’t come back to the air force. So there were people who were affected by the things but in my immediate knowledge of the people I trained with and saw a lot of in the next few years, none of them suffered from any kind of mental stress that showed in any way at all, sort of business there. So it did appear that being possibly a little bit away from it and so forth there but that’s how it goes on it there. In actual fact my biggest loss was a friend I grew up with who joined the air force before I did and went up to New Guinea. And on his first flight was shot down and he was injured and captured by the Japanese and the bloody Japanese sergeant then bloody murdered him. Which was a nasty one at the time but you know that one of your boys had not only not killed in action but bloody murdered sort of business there and we were told like, and the family afterwards said that they were told that they, that sergeant had been killed and they couldn’t do anything about it as a result sort of business. But that was the only, really he was the only one that was, really hurt me shall we say. My brother was in the army in the anti-aircraft in New Guinea but he was ok. And the other as I said this mate of mine. This is the odds of course. In Berkeley Street which is the next street to where I was in Kooyongkoot Road, Hawthorn. My mate did the thirty trips. The one that was there. Next door to him was a fella called Bob Benber who later became a big dealer in the insurance industry. He did a trip and got his DFC. And exactly opposite them was where Alec Wilde who did two trips — two tours. A tour and then another tour with 460. They all survived. And Kooyongkoot Road where I lived there was this lad I was telling you about got killed by the Japanese. I was a prisoner of war and a little further up the street was a fellow who was captured in the army at Crete. So two streets, three blokes all had tough luck. Next street three blokes who lived as close as you could possibly get all survived Bomber Command which was a dangerous place. Don’t ask me about the statistics. Yeah.
AP: Someone. One of my interview people said, ‘That’s the important thing in war. To have good fortune,’ he said.
CF: Yeah. Yeah.
AP: That, yeah. That’s exactly what you just explained.
CF: Yeah.
AP: I’m getting closer. I have two more questions. You mentioned when, I think it was your pilot, Harry, was being interrogated or when he was captured the German asked him, ‘You’re Australian. Why are you fighting us?’ I’m just curious. If he had attempted to explain why Australia was there what might he have said? What I’m interested in is why was Australia there?
CF: Well Lofty was not shall we say a well-educated man. He was a country boy. Grew up in the wheat fields and then moved into Perth. As such his, I don’t quite know what he might have said actually with his background of it there. It’s a little hard to say what you would say on it there. And whether he might have said, you know, we were fighting for the king or something. I can’t quite, can’t quite imagine him saying kind of thing that er. We were fighting. The best thing I could say he’d say we’re fighting because you Germans are threatening the rest of the whole of the world. Something of that nature is about all I think he might have said at that stage. But as I said he was not well educated in the sense of the word. He was a doer rather than a thinker type of business there. But as for a man in an emergency he comes out much higher than anybody else I know.
AP: I guess he was tested there.
CF: In other words, we said on his eightieth, so much so that both Dan and I worked it out that we would be in Perth around his eightieth birthday and we then took him up to Frasers restaurant, by name. Which is the big restaurant in Perth overlooking the township from what’s its name there? Have you been there at all? Anyway, we went there and we said, I said, ‘Except for picking our wives — Dan’s wife was there so she said, Thank you Colin.’ Picking Harry as a pilot was the best personnel decision we ever made. And he said, ‘Yes. I agree entirely. It was the best personnel decision that we made.’ And as you heard before we just about picked his crew for him. But as I said he was, we were right he was a solid citizen and that was it type of business of it there. He’s the type of bloke thank you want in your back line I suppose, at football. Sturdy. Dependable. And always be there. Yes. Yes a real bloke. A pity of it that they only had one daughter who was a smart lady. In actual fact she didn’t get married. Yeah. You could pass some of his genes down shall we say but there it is. Yes. Yes. He died some years ago and I flew over for his wedding [laughs] for his wedding — for his funeral and made a speech on there. Yes.
AP: The final question and probably the most important one. In your opinion what is Bomber Command’s legacy? What is the legacy of Bomber Command and how do you want it to be remembered?
CF: Well I’m not too sure where Bomber Command stands at the moment as you said. The thing is that hurt most of all that Churchill deserted Bomber Command. In fact he did it there and the — Harris, the one said he was sitting with on May 8th listening to, with the head of the American bombers and they listened and he mentioned Fighter Command and Transport Command and Coastal Command. Not one word one way or the other was Bomber Command in the Churchill’s speech of the victory over Germany mentioned. And in actual fact a couple of there before that after he was the man who agreed with Stalin that Bomber Command would bomb Dresden and he then sent the message back to the head of the air force — Portal. Who then passed the message down to Harris. And as Harris said all he said was the decision was made by somebody much more powerful than me and he was quite aware that no doubt he had a good relationship with Portal. He was probably mentioned of it there and he [pause] that, that hurt most of all. That later on there but that was it. When the war was close to finishing and all of a sudden shall we say the bishops and the [unclear] were saying oh we shouldn’t have bombed. Oh no. Look. Bombings nothing supposed to be like that. It’s just supposed to be drop a little bit in their garden or something. Look. Look at all the houses you’ve knocked down. Look at all the [pause] No. So in England there was great horror that those nice German people they used to see on holidays had been. Yeah. Anyway. The point is that it should always be remembered that the amount that Bomber Command did for the — well they sunk more capital ships then the navy and as Harris said didn’t even get a thank you [laughs] The army in the war in Europe would go back, instead of calling up the artillery they would call up Harris and say would you drop a few bombs on something or other on the business of it there. And while the, for instance the Americans got — grabbed a lot of praise for stopping the advance the Germans made in December, January sort of business there. Nobody ever mentioned that Bomber Command went and, in the, where there were the roads, two very important roads crossed. That Bomber Command just blasted that crossing out of action and nothing could move through there for another twenty four to forty eight hours. Reinforcements and so forth etcetera. That sort of thing never got talked about. Yeah. Well the thing is that in more recent times they have come around to realising that Bomber Command did a lot of things there. And one of the things that they did was that they bombed the artificial petrol factories there and the German fighters basically from the invasion on, or before the invasion were short of their hundred degree err hundred octane petrol because of the artificial petrol being made from coal — I think it was about eighty seven where they wanted a hundred. So they had to add things to it to make it a hundred and the, from before that the German fighters were not sent up anywhere near as often because they were trying to save petrol and of course the funny thing was that [pause] what is really never said and that is both against the Japanese and the Germans that the code breakers were able to get the messages that had been tracked on the wireless and they could then tell you what was going to, they could then tell you what was going to happen, sort of business of it there, and they never got the accolades. It did sort of business of it there. Because anyway they got the message and Churchill and the head of the army, the head of the navy and the head of the air force and I think about two other leading politicians etcetera there. I’m not too sure. They were the only ones that were allowed to be given the information that was coming through and they knew how it got there. So Portal, as the head of the air force knew that the Germans were short of petrol. Not only for their planes but for their tanks and so forth etcetera there. And he’s wanting Harris to really bomb the artificial factories more, more, more, and Harris who’s been told over the years it’s ball bearings, its gear boxes, there’s something else that was going to win the war was getting this message about it, about this. And in fact that it got to the point when Harris said to Portal, ‘Well if you don’t like my bombing programme I’ll hand my resignation in and you can get somebody who will do it.’ Portal couldn’t say, ‘I’ve got this information.’ You could understand why Harris was irate. So it was a bit tricky for some months there as to a bit of a chill between them because one knew all the information he was right but on the other hand he could understand why the other one was arguing against it there. But oh well it’s like there and I think in the last few years that the Bomber Command has been done there but it will never get the credit because it certainly did the damage and I must admit when you see the damage that Bomber Command did they did it, sort of business. And probably this is the old story of course people say oh they should have stopped it much earlier and you ask people in January ‘45 how long would the war last? You know. January February. Could go on for twelve months or so. And they say well why didn’t they stop doing it etcetera there. They probably could have stopped it a little earlier but it’s very difficult to say. Nobody knew that Hitler was going to commit suicide. If they knew that Hitler would commit suicide. Ok. Sort of business there. But as I say our raid that we got shot down on was completely unnecessary because Hitler was never going to come back to Berchtesgaden but a lot of people thought he was and he did sort of the business of it there. Ah yes I was quite glad as several leading people have said there, said the main character is that, I’m trying to this of his name. He said — he was a farmer in the Wagga area and he and another fella in Wagga further on he said, the war as he saw it was it’s like how you are at home. If there’s a fire or a flood on a neighbours territory you down tools and go over and help him. And he said, that’s what we were doing. Australia. England was in trouble and we were going over to help it sort of business of it there.’ And he [pause] Bill Brill and Arthur.
AP: Doubleday. Doubleday.
CF: Yeah. Yes. They had amazing bloody careers on there and I read somewhere that neither ever had to bring back an injured crew member. Absolutely amazing the fact that they had flown. Each of them had done sixty trips or something or other. Or more. Just one of those things. Yeah.
AP: Well that’s all the questions I have so unless you have anything, anything else to add to the discussion just before we wrap up.
CF: I don’t think so. The business of it there. The great trouble was of course after the war here as you probably knew that the fellas who came back from Europe were blackballed a bit. In fact some of them were accused of running away and actually anyway when the war was over the people who were out here were very annoyed when the people who’d been in Europe came back and told them what a real war was about. And as the fella who later became chief of the air force and the actual Governor General — sorry, the Governor of New South Wales he said he was in the mess and he said and somebody was saying, ‘There must have been forty planes, forty guns firing at me. It was terrible.’ And as this fella said, ‘I didn’t say something but I had had four hundred guns shooting at me sort of business of it there. And that was the thing. The reason there and they appointed the wrong bloke as chief of the air force during the war. They got the wrong diagram or something or other. I forget what it was. Anyway. Yeah. So that was a pity that it took ten years after the war I think to sort of get that nexus between those who had been in the war there. The fella I was telling you about Eric Wilde did two tours now he’s a bit of a character but he went to having got the DFC and the DFM and a flight lieutenant and all the rest of it. He was, went to an OUT, up I think to Mildura or somewhere like that and he was classified as not suitable for flying in The Pacific. And he promptly got a discharge and went and got a very nice job with A&A flying planes and he was made for life and that sort of business there. But some other fella came back, he’d been a wing commander over there and the best they could offer him was a flight lieutenant’s job or something or other. Those sorts of thing. Yeah. There was a bit of a nastiness as well as difficulty that fellas who had handled miles of stuff — when they came back here they would say the people who had the bit of power they’d fought in The Pacific and that was, ‘oh we had to do it. We didn’t have brick buildings to go back to at night time.’ And we had to do that and so forth there. One of the interesting periods of that incidentally was the fact that the fella came over as a wing commander at Binbrook and in that period in December, January when the big war was on. The Battle of the Bulge. And the air was there he said Binbrook when the snow came down he looked at the amount of equipment they had and he thought well in The Pacific we had one ‘drome and that was it. One big strip. That’s all we could make. So he told the bloke in charge of the ‘drome that he was to put his all equipment pick out the main one that was used and keep that one strip open. The other two strips don’t worry about them. Keep that main strip open and keep your, all the equipment on that and as he said at one time, or something or other we had seventy planes come and landed there and he said, ‘Where did you put them?’ And he said, ‘We put the one on strips we weren’t using.’ That was it. In other words where the one fella who had only ever been in England always had three strips tried to keep three strips open. Whereas he had been in The Pacific where, you know that was it. A few little things like that appeared here and there. On their, on the business side of it there. Yes. Yes. Of course there were a lot of politics on it. On the business of it there. But it’s there and the point is that’s true about Lofty Payne on there. That was in various magazines over the time and even in The Sun and it’s in the bomber what’s the name there, Bomber Boys. Lancaster man. Yeah. And I asked Lofty. He said, ‘I have never talked to anybody.’ I think he did talk to the fella who wrote the history of 460 Squadron during the war. He was Australian. I think he might have talked to him. But he said all the others — no. I’ve never talked anybody about that. Where they’ve got the information from I don’t know. But none of them ever come or ring me up or talk to me about it sort of business there. Yeah. It’s irritating slightly shall we say. Sort of business. Yeah.

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Citation

Adam Purcell, “Interview with Colin Fraser,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed September 21, 2019, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/3404.

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